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James Paris "Tarnmoor" RSS Feed (Los Angeles, CA USA)

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The King's Stilts (Classic Seuss)
The King's Stilts (Classic Seuss)
by Dr. Seuss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.78
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The King, Dr Seuss and Me, August 1, 2005
This is more of a personal note than a review, but it serves to show how a children's book can resonate through an entire lifetime.

My first encounter with THE KING'S STILTS was hearing my mother translate each sentence into Hungarian for me. I was less than five years old, and lying in my crib. As she turned each page, she leaned the book toward me and showed me the picture. I remembered those pictures, and that fragile world under sea level -- a world constantly under threat of annihilation by wicked black birds who attacked the trees on the levee which were protected only by cats.

The place was Cleveland in the then Hungarian neighborhood around Buckeye Road. Because everyone around us was Magyar, my parents never taught me English until I got sent home from kindergarten with a note pinned to my shirt: "What language is this child speaking?" Needless to say, Mrs Idell was not one of my countrywomen.

Throughout my life, I was always impressed with levees, as when I read William Faulkner's story "Old Man" and John McPhee's essay on keeping the banks of the Mississippi in place in THE CONTROL OF NATURE. One day, I had a madeleine-like damburst of memory: I saw the book almost entire in my mind's eye and used a search engine to reveal the title. Reader, I bought the book; and it was exactly as I remembered.

I have read it several times since and love it for the reason that it stuck in my memory for more than 55 years. Of course, it's a rollicking good story, too, with an excellent moral: Never give up the things you love.

Paris in the Twentieth Century: Jules Verne, The Lost Novel
Paris in the Twentieth Century: Jules Verne, The Lost Novel
by Richard Howard
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.50
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paris AD 1960: A World of Cold Marvels, December 31, 2004
The story of the discovery of Jules Verne's novel PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is the stuff of fantasy: The 1863 unpublished manuscript was discovered lying in a safe some 130 years later.

It tells the tale of one Michel Dufrenoy, winner of a prize in poetry at a time when poetry, indeed literature, means nothing. Thousands of books are still published, but they are all engineering and scientific works with sesquipedalian titles. The real hero, however, is the city of Paris circa 1960: a city of engineering marvels with such devices as elevators, fax machines, underground trains, and gas-powered cabs. (Curiously, this future world also contains quill pens and giant accounting ledger books with scaffolding.)

Verne's vision of the future is endlessly fascinating, especially as so many of his predictions have come true. Where the young Verne faltered, however, is his failure to display the rambunctious 19th century optimism of his later works. Instead of a triumphant tone, we have a world in which the individual who refuses to be a cog in the great works of society becomes marginalized and ultimately crushed. PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is a young writer's experiment that was rejected by publishers of the day, ostensibly because its vision was too far-fetched (it isn't), but oddly not because it was pervaded with a feeling of doom (which it certainly is).

The book makes interesting reading for its insights, but fails as a story. The hero and his struggling friends are sadly short-changed.

Pelican at Blandings
Pelican at Blandings
by P. G. Wodehouse
Edition: Paperback
39 used & new from $0.01

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Middling Wodehouse, But a Gem Nonetheless!, December 28, 2004
This review is from: Pelican at Blandings (Paperback)
No, there are no fish-eating avians at Lord Emsworth's crenellated castle. There are, however, a plethora of plots involving two lovesick damsels and their beaux, a porcine pig-fancier, a walrus-mastachioed duke, the usual crocodilian sister, and, of course, the very obliging Galahad Treepwood. Oh, and there are numerous impostors, including a fake painting.

There are, in fact, so many subplots that the aging Wodehouse left a couple of them hanging. One character (the ferret-like Chesney) seemingly exists only to push the Duke of Dunstable and Johnny Halliday down the Earl's grand staircase. And there is the obligatory theft (actually two: one successful and one not). There's a chauffeur named Voules who tootles a harmonica -- but of all there is the Empress of Blandings, multiyear winner in the fat pig division of the Shropshire County Fair.

The story begins when the Empress, for the first time in recorded memory, refuses a potato proffered by the doting Earl. Before one knows it, Blandings Castle fills up with invited and quasi-invited guests and begins that delightfully Wodehousing grinding of the mill of the gods that leaves us all laughing, the crocodiles unsatisfied, and good to triumph over all.

There may be better Wodehouses, and there are probably worse, but even a middling Blandings story is far better, dash it all, than 99.9999% of the cripple-crapple to be found on bookshelves. And you will feel better reading it. Dead certain, in fact.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2010 1:29 PM PDT

Maigret and the Yellow Dog
Maigret and the Yellow Dog
by Georges Simenon
Edition: Hardcover
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Patient Maigret Cuts to the Chase, December 26, 2004
The English and American schools of crime detective fiction ultimately come from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter" and "Murders in the Rue Morgue," in which the solution of a crime is effected by the application of deductive reasoning from start to finish. These "tales of ratiocination," with Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes being the apotheosis of the reasoning investigator, are still the norm today in the English-speaking world.

Such is not the case in France, where Georges Simenon has created an entirely different kind of detective, Superintendent Jules Maigret. In MAIGRET AND THE YELLOW DOG aka THE PATIENCE OF MAIGRET (1936), a man named Mostaguen has been cut down by a bullet in the Breton seaside town of Concarneau. At the scene of the crime is found a strange ungainly yellow dog. The victim belonged to a informal (and somewhat unpopular) group of businessmen who got together for cards and drinks every night in the bar of the Admiral Hotel.

Superintendent Maigret is called in to investigate, along with Inspector Leroy. No sooner do they arrive, than attacks on the little group begin to ramp up: an attempted poisoning with strychnine, a missing local newspaper writer taken from his car leaving bloodstains behind, and the murder of a notorious philanderer. All these occur more or less under Maigret's nose. As the mayor begins to lose his patience with the big city investigator, the Paris press moves in en masse and camps out in the bar of the Admiral Hotel, kibitzing his every move.

From the start, Maigret and Leroy take divergent paths. While the latter attempts to apply close deductive reasoning, his boss hangs out in the bar and has his attention riveted to the barmaid, Emma, and the yellow dog, who is somehow drawn to her. He instinctively feels that these two are somehow at the heart of the investigation and slowly begins to add to his knowledge of these two until the fog lifts.

For most of the novel, Concarneau is besieged by foul weather; and the town is full of confused, frightened people who inevitably jump to the wrong conclusions and put pressure on Maigret and Leroy to follow up on their suggestions. Maigret not only keeps accumulating evidence but rudely ignores the press, the mayor, and the residents while marching to his own drummer. In the end, Maigret's instinct trumps Leroy's patient data-gathering and the wild surmises of the others, and everything falls together as the bad weather finally breaks, leaving Concarneau and us readers bathed in sunlight.

The brooding quality of the scene, the confusion of the other characters, and the mysterious, almost solipsistic concentration of Maigret are the ingredients that make this a most delectable detective novel. This is the tenth Maigret I've read, and he seems to get better with every book I read.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard Paperbacks)
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard Paperbacks)
by Amy Ruth Kelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.98
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History As It Should Be Written, December 18, 2004
For over half a century, readers have turned to Amy Kelly's book for an exciting look at a broad swath of European history. From 1137 through her death in 1204, Eleanor was a principal player on the stage of history. She was married to two kings -- the mediocre Louis VII and the hot-tempered Henry II -- and mother to two other kings -- Richard the Lion-Hearted and King John the chicken-hearted. She had travelled to Constantinople, Jerusalem, Germany, and all around England and France.

Among the characters that pass through this history are St Bernard of Clairvaux, the Abbot Segur, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus, Saladin, King Philip Augustus of France, Thomas Becket, Popes Celestine III and Innocent III, and hundreds of nobles, knights, clerics, and others. This history is a pageant, but one played for keeps. Excommunications and interdicts were bandied about as frequently as harsh words; and every fight had an ecclesiastical dimension.

Is your wife getting long in the tooth? Just get the clergy to declare that the marriage should be annulled because of consanguinity (which consanguinity was of course known by the kings who married their cousins). Just as he is about to wed Ingeborg of Denmark, Philip Augustus has second thoughts; and the outraged Dane betook herself to a nunnery and began a years-long letter-writing campaign that finally got the attention of Innocent III.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Normans held both England and a large part of France. The Capetian kings vainly tried to take pieces of France back from the Angevin kings Henry II and Richard, but only under John Lackland (appropriately named) did they begin to have any measure of success.

Where was Eleanor in all this? To her 83rd year, she was a player. Although the chronicles tended to follow the kings, Eleanor was never far away. While Richard was being held for ransom in Germany, it was she who held the country together while John vainly attempted to forge an alliance with the enemy of his dynasty. Although Kelly's work is scholarly, she keeps her sources in unobtrusive endnotes that do not interrupt the flow of the text. If you want to read a history that is a real page-turner, I heartily recommend this book.

One of the main things I learned from the book is that Richard the Lion-Hearted was not the great hero of the English as he has been portrayed. For one thing, he bankrupted the country twice, first with his crusade and then with his ransome, and he didn't even speak a word of English. And he preferred to spend his time in Normandy.

Can You Forgive Her? (Penguin Classics)
Can You Forgive Her? (Penguin Classics)
by Stephen Wall
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.03
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Jagged Edge of Marriage, December 14, 2004
In an unusual turnabout for a Victorian novel, we have here three cases of women being very uncertain about their men -- to the point of, in one case, jilting a fiance and, in the other, with threatening to abandon a marriage by running off with an infamous ne'er-do-well. Also, we have Anthony Trollope's most dastardly villain, the ambitious and egoistic George Vavasor, with a visible fault line through his face for expressing rage.

In a Trollope novel, everything is not as it seems. The institution of marriage, in particular, comes in for some hard knocks -- all from the point of view of the women involved. Alice Vavasor, Lady Glencora Palliser, and Arabella Greenow come from the aristocracy and the upper middle class. All three women in the course of the novel grow and change before our eyes.

As the first novel in the six-book Palliser series, _Can You Forgive Her?_ also introduces us to the world of high politics. Sir Plantagenet Palliser is about to become Chancellor of the Exchequer; and George Vavasor dips into his fiancee's fortune to run twice as a Member of Parliament for Chelsea. Trollope had always wanted to become an MP himself, and ran once (and lost) for the borough of Beverley. His bad experiences were the stuff of some masterful election scenes in novels, notably the much underestimated _Ralph the Heir_.

Other Trollope set pieces include a fabulous fox hunt in Book I, in which the author himself appears under another name. There is also a dispute over an inheritance; fascinating legal trickery in George Vavasor's borrowings from his fiancee; and the typical Trollope developing of his characters' weaknesses until they pop.

While over 800 pages in length, I felt as if this was less than half that. Yes, reading Trollope requires a commitment; but his books are intriguing enough to reward it. This is one of my favorites.

Is He Popenjoy?: A Novel (Trollope, Penguin)
Is He Popenjoy?: A Novel (Trollope, Penguin)
by John Sutherland
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from $4.49

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well, Yes, He Is Popenjoy, Sort Of..., November 11, 2004
Anthony Trollope's 47 novels contain many surprises, one of which is this delightful novel, which bears one of the most unlikely titles in all of literature. There is no better way to leave the megrims by the wayside than to immerse yourself into another time and place. Trollope was the Victorian story-teller par excellence. After having read a quarter of his vast output, I have yet to discover a clinker in the bunch.

A notorious curmudgeon, the Marquess of Brotherton has quitted England for the sunny shores of Italy. News filters back to his relatives that he has married an Italian and fathered a male heir, given the courtesy title of Lord Popenjoy. His mother and siblings are in a tizzy, as they are asked to quit the premises of the ancestral home to make way for a return of the prodigal head of the family with wife and heir.

It seems, however, that there is little news and much doubt about the legality of the Marquess's nuptuals; and therefore doubt as to whether his so-called son is actually the heir Popenjoy.

There is a delightful fox hunt (common to many of Trollope's novels), and a stormy marriage between the Marquess's young brother and a clergyman's daughter. She dares to dance the forbidden Kappa Kappa (the Lambada of its day) with a young wastrel, and raises the protective ire of every duenna within a hundred mile radius.

Look for some very amusing -- and controversial -- put-downs of the emerging feminist movement.

This is a good book to start reading Trollope. His two long series -- the Barsetshire and Palliser novels -- require a long commitment. Popenjoy is just right!

Krudy's Chronicles
Krudy's Chronicles
by Gyula Krúdy
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $34.95

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow Dance at the Edge of a Cliff, January 30, 2004
This review is from: Krudy's Chronicles (Paperback)
In 1988, historian and literary critic John Lukacs wrote an article for the New Yorker about turn-of-the-century Hungarian writers, most particularly Gyula Krudy. Fifteen years of intense searching yielded only one old English translation of _The Red Postcoach_, which I found at the UCLA library. Much to my delight, there are at this date two of Krudy's works available in English: _Chronicles_ (with an introduction by Lukacs) and _Adventures of Sindbad_ -- both published by the Central European University Press in Budapest.
Why read Krudy? If you are Hungarian, like me, the answer is simple: Gyula Krudy in his writings distilled the very essence of being Magyar, that slow dance at the edge of a cliff that, along with pork and paprika, is at the heart of the Hungarian Soul. If you are not a Hungarian, you may enjoy reading some of the best journalism ever written since Dickens did his _Sketches by Boz_; or Joseph Mitchell, _The Bottom of the Harbor_. He took a snapshot of that fin-de-siecle Hapsburg world that careened into the abyss with the First World War and awoke to find itself cold and hungry in its aftermath.
The best pieces in the book were written during the 1920s and 1930s and look back to the Dual Monarchy (of Austria and Hungary) days from 1890 to 1910. Most notable are such originals as Baron Frigyes Podmaniczky, the Haussmann of Budapest (there is an entire article about his beard!); Miklos Szemere, gambler, sportsman, and parliamentarian, who was banned by Emperor Franz Joseph from Austria for an impolitic win at cards; and Istvan Tisza, the gaunt "sheriff" who ran Hungary with an iron fist.
Krudy's articles about the war start on an upbeat note, but change as the news of horrific defeats sinks in. Other articles cover the Hapsburg family, including one on Ida Ferenczy, the Queen's favorite lady in waiting. The best of the lot is a foreboding story about the coronation of the short-lived Charles IV at St Matthias church in Budapest.
For whatever reason you choose to read this delightful collection of journalism, I predict that you, too, will fall under the sway of that Magyar charmer Gyula Krudy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2011 3:40 PM PST

Murder in the Bastille (Aimee Leduc Investigations, No. 4)
Murder in the Bastille (Aimee Leduc Investigations, No. 4)
by Cara Black
Edition: Hardcover
68 used & new from $0.01

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aimee Leduc Storms the Bastille, January 20, 2004
This is my first Aimee Leduc novel, and I am happy to say that it came as a pleasant surprise. On my previous visit to Paris (in 1999), I was startled to see tough paratroopers armed with automatic rifles at the Chatelet-Les Halles metro station patrolling the platforms and corridors. Paris is no longer the city of Maurice Chevalier, or even Georges Simenon: What we have here is a rougher and edgier city with a compact tourist core surrounded by miles of slumlike banlieus along the edges.
Cara Black's flics barely have the time to deal with murder, when other events like terror-driven explosions and a horrible TGV accident in the station. Rumanian thugs in cheap exercise suits abound, selling their muscle to developers and with an eye on the main chance, whatever it may be. The Bastille area, site of a notorious castle/prison torn down in 1789, is now dominated by the huge Opera Bastille. The local neighborhood, however, is being forcibly torn down and redeveloped.
In walks private investigator Aimee Leduc. In the first few pages of MURDER IN THE BASTILLE, she is brutally attacked in an alley and blinded as a result of a damaged artery. For most of the novel, she can see nothing around her. The onus for the investigation falls on her dwarfish partner Rene, with occasional help en passant from overburdened police officers who knew her father on the force.
I look forward to reading the other novels in the series.

General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783
General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783
by Stanley Weintraub
Edition: Hardcover
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Wild Surmise" and the Long Road to Mount Vernon, January 19, 2004
Don't be put off by the seemingly trivial subject matter of this delightful book, namely: The story of a journey made by George Washington from West Point to his home at Mount Vernon between the conclusion of the peace treaty with Britain and Christmas 1783.
It was official: The United States of America was now recognized as a sovereign nation -- or was it thirteen nations? It becomes very apparent as the Father of Our Country crosses New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia on his way home that Americans were not all that sure what they had on their hands. The cobbled-together Articles of Confederation took the easy way out by giving all rights to the states and virtually none to a central government.
As Washington bid farewell to the officers who had served him so well, many times he had to reach into his own pocket to allow them the luxury of returning home safely to their loved ones. Who was there to ask for money? The states simply weaseled out of any fiscal responsibilities when they involved another state. Even in 1783, this structure was teetering on the edge of collapse; and it continued for several more years until the Constitution was adopted.
There is a sense of newness in Weintraub's America in the Winter of 1783. The only thing the people had in common was their love of and reverence toward George Washington. Wherever he stopped on his trek, people emerged from all sides to honor him with balls and ceremonial dinners. They came together to marvel in the strangeness of their freshly-won independence. It is like Cortez and his companions in Keats' "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer": "And all his men / Look'd at each other with a wild surmise..."
I like this book most for giving me a feeling of what it was to be an American at a time that most historians have seen fit to ignore. Stanley Weintraub saw a psychological moment in the history of a people and shrewdly built his story around the character of the man who held the whole shooting match together: General George Washington.
Don't expect penetrating scholarship here. Just enjoy this sparkling gem of a book and use it to point you in other directions for the big picture.

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