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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

Currently reading

Norman Lewis Omnibus: A Dragon Apparent; Golden Earth; and a Goddess in the Stones
Norman Lewis
All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Progress: 73/383 pages
Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (American Popular Culture)
Kay Mussell
Progress: 17/157 pages
The Looking-Glass Portrait
Linda Hilton
Really Neat Rocks: A casual introduction to the rocks & gems of Arizona and the lapidary arts
Linda Hilton
Progress: 61/61 pages
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer
The Power of Myth
Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers
Progress: 20 %

BL-opoly - Mainstreet #10 - Takes place in a small town

I think this is the last of my Memorial Day week-end extra rolls.


One of my (many) Kindle freebies, A Gift of Ghosts is set in Tassamara, Florida, described as "a quirky little town."


So far, I know the main character, Dr. Akira Malone is a physics professor who sees ghosts.


I need something light after The Tunnels.

Reading progress update: I've read 382 out of 382 pages.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

Disclosure: I do not personally know the author, Greg Mitchell, but I do follow him on Twitter and have had a very few direct exchanges with him.  Through one of those, I won a copy of this book.  So this was a free copy, but not in any way connected to my reviewing it.  I'm not sure Mr. Mitchell is even aware that I occasionally review books at all.

I have read two of his previous books, Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial, written with Robert Jay Lifton, and Atomic Cover-up: Two Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and the Greatest Movie Never Made.

The Berlin Wall went up a couple months before I turned thirteen, just before I entered the eighth grade.  I remember the event dominating the news.  Much of my mother's family was German, and from an area that was then in East Germany, so there was a personal, if distant, connection.  We watched the news on television every night, and the fifteen-minute broadcast at noon on the local Chicago station.  And my parents subscribed to the major pictorial news magazines, Life and Look, which often featured articles about Germany and Berlin, especially after the Wall.  I knew about the death of young Peter Fechter, killed trying to escape.

Somewhere in my consciousness all these years was probably a memory, too, of reports of successful escapes, including through tunnels, but it wasn't a memory I could easily call up.  Therefore I went into the reading of The Tunnels with only the most essential, but essentially superficial, background information.

The opening chapters of Mitchell's book expand on that background as well as introduce the main characters – the diggers and the refugees.  But as the story proceeds, others emerge on the stage – reporters, informants, politicians.  The narrative acquires a context beyond the tunnel, beyond the Wall, beyond Berlin.

Without that context, this is a thrilling escape adventure.  With that context, this becomes a powerful commentary on the human spirit in its greatest and weakest moments.

During that summer of 1962, when a small group of young men began the tunnel under Bernauerstrasse, international events were heading on a collision course that seemingly had no connection to the dirt and mud and risks.  

An NBC news crew had quietly, almost secretly, filmed some of the construction of this tunnel, intending to present the result as a documentary for U.S. television.  There was, however, opposition from the government, and by the time the program was scheduled to air in the fall of 1962, political tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were escalating over the deployment of missiles in Cuba.  Though there were American forces in West Germany, and even in Berlin – an isolated city surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany – Cuba was closer to the U.S. mainland by thousands of miles.  And there were those in the administration of John F. Kennedy who were willing to write off Berlin -- in the form of a nuclear war -- in exchange for keeping those missiles out of Cuba.

The governmental machinations exposed in The Tunnels are not pretty.  They're a stark contrast to JFK's Ich bin ein Berliner speech of the following June, delivered to 450,000 cheering, adoring Germans.

There is much in The Tunnels that applies to our current international political scene.  The book was published in October 2016, on the eve of, well, you know what.  And the final pages reference walls in general and in particular.  One passage, however, may be more poignant than all the rest.

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany remains one of America's close allies but its citizens, according to opinion polls, harbor deep ambivalence about the United States.  To a significant extent, the country is still divided politically, with a surprising level of anti-democratic feeling (and opposition to new immigrants) in the former East and plenty of left-wing sentiment in the old West.  Peter Schneider, a well-known German journalist and author (one of his books is The Wall Jumper) told a New Yorker writer that Americans in the Cold War era "created a model of a savior, ad now we find by looking at you that you are not perfect at all – much less, you are actually corrupt, you are terrible businessmen, you have no ideals anymore."

Angela Merkel, who was born in East Germany, is now sometimes referred to as the leader of the free world, a title formerly claimed by the president of the United States.

The 90-minute documentary produced by NBC and aired in December 1962 went on to win three Emmy awards in May 1963, including Program of the Year, the first documentary to do so.  The Tunnel is available online.  I watched it just after finishing the book; it is well worth your time.

There are many worthwhile quotes in this book, in addition to the passage I reproduced above, that remain as relevant to 2017 as to 1962.  After The Tunnel finally reached American audiences and was deemed "nothing short of a triumph" based on both reviews and ratings,

[Producer Reuven Frank] was troubled that he still didn't understand exactly why the Kennedy administration had fought [the film] with such vehemence.  Frank realized, not for the first time but now most profoundly, how painfully vulnerable to pressure the America media remained when it came to the reporting of sensitive issues.  "Anyone with half a brain," as he once put it, "can make it impossible," or nearly so.

Reading progress update: I've read 266 out of 320 pages.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

I only quit reading at 11:30 last night because I knew I had to be up very early to catch the cool temperatures and rising sun no later than 5:00 a.m.  Otherwise, I'd have read until I finished it.  Now that I've taken care of those essential early chores, I can go back to reading.


It's tempting to skip some of the background, the non-digging narrative, and just stick with the tunneling, but to do so is to lose the ultimate context, especially its poignant relevance to the current human situation.


A superb and timely book. 


More details to come.

Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 320 pages.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

The Berlin Wall went up quickly, overnight on 13 August 1961.  At first it was mostly barbed wire with some concrete, and for the first several months it remained relatively porous, easy to slip through at various points.  But as the barrier was fortified, those who wanted to escape to the West had a more difficult time doing it. 


Though Berlin was a divided city inside a divided country, travel between the sectors had been relatively free until that August.  That freedom, however, had allowed thousands of East Berliners to permanently leave for the western sector, and many of them were skilled professionals.  Not only was the cold war heating up, but the space race and technology competition were ramping up, too, and the eastern bloc couldn't afford to keep losing its best and brightest.


Some of those best and brightest went to work on tunneling to get their families and friends and even paying "passengers" under the Wall.


One of the most fascinating features of this book is that Mitchell had so much access to first-hand source information.  As he writes in the prefatory "Note to Readers,"


It incorporates no invented dialogue.  Re-created scenes are not imagined but based in most cases on accounts of two or more participants.  Unless otherwise attributed, anything between quotation marks is either actual dialogue (as recalled by a witness, often in an interview with the author) or from a memoir or other book, letter, oral history, court record, interrogation, White House transcript, or other document cited in the Notes. . . . All of the names are real. . . . [N]early all of the central events and episodes in this narrative (and surely the most exciting sections) are based on lengthy original interviews with nearly all of the key tunnelers, and several of the couriers and escapees. . . .


Yes, I'm only 10% in, but I already highly, highly recommend this book as a testament to the indomitable human spirit.  Goodness knows we need it these days!


BL-opoly - #6 - Set in western Europe

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

A change from my usual disclosure.


I don't know the author personally, but I do follow him on Twitter, and we have had a few short direct exchanges.


The first book of his I read was Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial, which I read in 1998. It was one of two books that prompted my return to college later that year, shortly before my 50th birthday.


When I saw Mitchell's promotions for The Tunnels on Twitter, I was immediately interested. Not being able to afford it, I obtained it from my local library. Unfortunately, this was right at the height of my art show season, and I didn't have time to get ore than a couple chapters into it before it was due back. I planned to check it out again this summer when I knew I'd have more reading time.


Several weeks later, however, Mitchell sponsored a giveaway on Twitter. A copy of The Tunnels would be sent to the first person who correctly identified the "famous American" depicted in the bronze statue Mitchell posted a picture of on Twitter.


Well, I recognized the "famous American" instantly*, but never thought I'd end up being the first to post. As it turned out, however, I was, and a few days later, The Tunnels arrived in my mailbox (direct from Amazon, so no autograph!!).


I'm old enough to remember when The Wall went up as well as when it came down, and given the current state of world affairs, I though this would make the perfect reading for a space on western Europe.







*It was Lou Gehrig's Hall of Fame statue, and yes, I'm a baseball fan.

BL-opoly - Fantasyland #6

Second of my holiday extra doubles rolls - 4 + 4 puts me around Start and onto

Fantasyland #6 - Matterhorn.

Read a book set in western Europe or with a wintry scene on the cover.


My choice was easy, but a bit unusual.


Reading progress update: I've read 352 out of 352 pages.

Seven Dials - Anne Perry

Only 330 pages of this count toward BL-opoly, since the rest was previews of coming attractions.


I was thinking it's been at least ten years since I last read one of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries by Anne Perry, but on reflection it's probably closer to 15 or even 20 years.  Time flies, and all that.  Also, this is one of the later books in the series than when I stopped reading them, so there have been developments in the Pitts' status that I've missed, such as the birth of two children and so on.


But this didn't take away very much from the understanding of this particular novel.  There were some explanations included, though they were neither extensive nor intrusive.


The characters of Thomas and Charlotte are still likeable and admirable -- and believable.  After attempting to read not one but two Dorothy Uhnak crime novels with utterly awful characters, I was very much relieved to welcome myself back into the late Victorian London home of the Pitt family and into the lives of their friends. 


I wish Perry had included more details of that London of the 1890s, but perhaps that's a bonus granted to those who read the whole series.  Fortunately, there was not an overabundance of fashion detail; enough, but not too much.


Better, however, was the integration of contemporary social and political history into the fabric (pun intended) of the story, which involves the tensions between England with its near monopoly of the cotton spinning and weaving industries and Egypt as the exploited colonial source of the raw cotton.


Thomas Pitt is now working for something called the Special Branch -- I missed out on the explanation of this in intervening novels -- and is called in to investigate the murder of a young man in the London garden of a mysterious Egyptian woman.  She is understood to be the mistress of a high-level government figure, Saville Ryerson.  Ryerson represents much of the cotton mill interests around Manchester, and negotiations with Egyptian interests are at a delicate point.  The mill owners and workers want to keep the cost of raw cotton down and the supply of it flowing steadily; the Egyptians are tired of being exploited and want the price to rise along with being able to develop their own textile industries.


Pitt, who comes from a working class background, has sympathies on both sides, and this makes him a more interesting character than just your ordinary detective.


His wife Charlotte, whose family is much higher on the social ladder than Thomas's, has over the course of the series become something of an amateur detective herself.  In this book, her assistance is sought by a friend of their housemaid to locate a missing brother.  Much of Charlotte's detecting is accomplished while Thomas is sent to Alexandria, Egypt, to investigate the history there of the murder victim as well as the mysterious woman who has been accused of killing him.


What I didn't like, and what pulled my rating down significantly, was the clumsy way Perry wove (pun again intended) the seemingly disparate threads together.  And the ending was just not believable.


That the missing brother is indirectly tied to the murder was bad enough.  But when the whole mystery is solved, the connections between the Egyptian woman and the British envoy with whom Pitt makes contact in Egypt, between Ryerson and Pitt's supervisor in Special Branch, and so on and so on and so on was more than a little eye-rolling.

(show spoiler)


The ending was especially awkward because although it seemed to effectively avoid exposing the most dangerous of several scandals, I couldn't quite believe that


a dramatic murder-suicide in the courtroom during a sensational murder trial wouldn't in and of itself spark further investigation that would uncover the whole sordid mess that was supposed to be covered up


Easy, comfortable reading that might have been enhanced a little if I had read all the preceding books in the series, but they weren't absolutely necessary.

BL-opoly - Chance #35 - Police Procedural or Police Detective

Seven Dials - Anne Perry

This will definitely suit me better than Dorothy Uhnak!

BL-opoly - Chance #35

I'm working my way through a bunch of holiday rolls from last week-end.


My second extra holiday rolls was 2 + 2, which takes me to Chance ? Space #35, Police Procedural Mystery.


This has to be one of my LEAST favorite genres.  I know I have an old Anne Perry/Thomas Pitt (?) book on the shelf somewhere, or maybe a Josephine Tey/Allen Grant that I haven't previously read.  And there may be some freebies sitting on the Kindle.


But seriously, I think I'd rather dust the knick-knack shelves than read a standard police procedural!!

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

The Apple Blossom Bower - Margaret Evans Porter

This is another of those 3.75-star reads, but I just couldn't nudge it up to 4.0.


Sir Edwin Page is a wealthy young baronet; Annis Kelland is the step-daughter of a local squire famous for his apple orchards.  Her late father, however, was a notorious smuggler, a fact which has slightly tarniched her reputation and lowered her prospects for marriage.


During a previous harvest celebration, Edwin and Annis shared a few kisses, and maybe a little bit more.  She has fancied him for some time, but feels she is far too beneath him to be noticed.  Therefore she offers him no encouragement.  Therefore he doesn't pursue his suit.


And of course when he actually does try to pay her some court, there are all kinds of misunderstandings.  Fortunately, some of the adults around them have enough sense to put things to rights, in spite of the threat from an alleged "other woman" and accusations of infidelity.


Though the story is set in 1794, all we really get in the way of history is the date, horses and carriages, and some references to smuggling.  So this is definitely a very light read, with few surprises.


What I found refreshing, however, was Annis's realistic approach to sex.  She acknowledges that there's a chance she could end up pregnant and jilted, but there are options that won't mean the end of the world.

[UPDATED] Booklikes Question: Is there a way to see all editions at once?

This is following on Debbie Spurts's question about shelves.


Is there a way to see all editions of a book at one time, so I can pick the one that's closest to mine?  I know the obvious answer is to search on ISBN/ASIN but that doesn't always work.


1.  For many Kindle editions, the ASIN is wrong, so the search won't work.


2.  For some Kindle editions, there's no way to match to print editions and thus get them combined properly.


3.  For some Kindle editions, the books have been revised and republished, so again there's no way to match based solely on ASIN.


4.  For older print books w/o ISBN, slight variations in title can result in unnecessary duplication.



Yes, there is a way to see all the editions of a title -- though not apparently variations of a title.


Search for the title.

When the search results come up, your shelved edition will have a green bar to its left.



If you click on the title on that listing, you will be taken to the book page, but not necessarily to that edition.



If you click on the actual "Other editions" text, you'll go to a page that lists all the other editions with their information.






The "Other editions" list page will not have a green bar beside the edition(s) already on your shelves.  But at least, yes, you can access a page that has all the editions.


Reading progress update: I've read 49%.

The Apple Blossom Bower - Margaret Evans Porter

A pleasant little historical romance, nothing wildly out of the ordinary.  I needed a break from the heavier stuff.

Booklikes-opoly. Roll #3 - Space #31

The Apple Blossom Bower - Margaret Evans Porter

It's a novella on Kindle so I'm not sure how many pages, but I'll figure it out.

Reading progress update: I've read 475 out of 475 pages.

The Templar Legacy  - Steve Berry

I wasn't quite prepared to give ths four stars, but it was better than 3.5.  If there had been a 3.75,, that would have been perfect.


The plot is nicely complex, with several unexpected twists and turns.  Again, it's easily compared to Dan Brown's blockbuster The DaVinci Code, but this is by far the superior book.  Plot, characters, everything, head and shoulders above.


Recently retired Justice Department agent Cotton Malone is settling into his new entrepreneurship as a bookseller in Copenhagen when he's pulled into a deadly quest to locate the long-lost treasure of the Knights Templar.  Much of the action takes place in the environs of Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France and incorporates the same background "facts" as the Brown book, generously borrowed from Holy Blood, Holy Grail.


The extensive borrowing became annoying to me after a while, but probably only because I've read HB/HG several times -- I have my own tattered copy -- as well as some of the fan fiction/fact-tion that grew up around it and some of the source material.  Berry goes into a great deal of detail, maybe more than he needed to.  That pulled the rating down for me.


But the writing is good and the characters very well done.  I like books where I can easily imagine the characters as real -- I can hear their distinct voices in my mind as I read, see their actions and even facial expressions -- and Berry accomplished this. His characters are also varied, they have baggage and doubts, and they aren't perfect.


There were a couple of small bloopers that didn't really impact my enjoyment of the story, but did bring me out of the action for a while and left me alert for others rather than being completely absorbed. 

The first blooper was that Malone didn't check his rental car for a tracking device.  The second was that the back window of that rental car was shot out, but he continued driving through the rain storm and never mentioned anything about the car being wet inside.

(show spoiler)


The ending veered into the too good to be true end of the spectrum, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with some of the moralizing, but it wasn't bad.


I have a couple more of Berry's books and may take a look at them when I have time.

My treat to me

I ordered the new Kindle Fire 7 mini-tablet.


My basic-basic Kindle reader is great for reading where I have light, but it's no good when I want to sit out on the patio after sundown.  Sometimes I would like to sit for an hour or two at the coffee shop and read, but I don't want to take the laptop, for which I may or may not have an electrical connection, so that I still have access to the internet.  My phone is just too small; though I use it when I need to, I wouldn't want to use it for any extent of time.  And I haven't been able to afford a "real" tablet.  My budget is very tight these days.


So when a friend suggested the new $49.99 Kindle Fire 7, I thought, hmmm.  I rarely buy myself gifts, and I ended up spending a chunk of my holiday gift cards on quasi-necessities rather than frivolities.  There was still some of that gift money available, and I decided to splurge.


I like the side-button page turning of the basic Kindle because it allows one-handed operation, so we'll see how the touch-screen swiping works out.

Reading progress update: I've read 324 out of 475 pages.

The Templar Legacy  - Steve Berry

I sneaked in some extra reading time this morning.


Can I finish it today?  Maybe.


Although author Berry really lays on the details of history/mythtory, the plot is intricate enough to keep the action moving.  At times the background does become intrusive -- and repetitive, especially for someone who has already read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The DaVinci Code and any number of others on the same theme.


But there are some intriguing twists, enough to keep it interesting.