Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Children of War by Martin Walker


Children of War by Martin Walker is his most accomplished and daring novel in the Bruno, Chef de Police series. He explores three wars: WWII, The Algerian War of Independence, and the current jihads. On one front Bruno is exploring the history of Jewish children hidden in St Denis from the Vichy during WWII. On another front, Sami, a refuge of the Algerian War has been adopted by St Denis residents and has become a French citizen. Sami, who is Muslim and autistic, has gone to a Mosque in another town and disappeared four years ago only to turn up in Afghanistan from which he has been returned to St Denis a physical mess. Things get complicated when Sami is suspected of being the Engineer, the person responsible for making very sophisticated and lethal bombs that have killed and maimed French and allied troops. A third group of children are the students at the St Denis school. In their computer class they are doing the research about the Jewish children of WWII and where Sami went to school before he disappeared.
Amidst all this angst, Bruno is able to share his time with Pamela, his lover. In a very beautiful three pages, Walker has Bruno making a lovely afternoon meal, wooing Pamela, sharing a swim in the pool, and making love while the bread is rising and baking.
Bruno is a many talented man as he negotiates among a former, current, and perhaps future lover with enviable ease; contends with lawyers and the law; and battles jihadists who invade his town, all the while protecting the children of this hamlet. “’I think we’d better warn the lawyer,’ the Mayor replied. ‘St Denis is a community that believes in the virtues of our République, a town that gave refuge to Jewish children and also tries to deal honourably with its Muslims, whatever the consequences. There’s nothing else we can say.’”
The politics of war, the actual battles, and the outcomes litter the landscape of this very historically current novel as it also probes the past to provide clarity to the present and hope for a better future. My favorite part of the book was when the students presented their plans of honoring the WWII children.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee


A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee is a handbook on crisis management. Ben needs to ask for forgiveness of his wife, his daughter, his law partners, and his neighbors; while in the process he losses everything and does some jail time. His wife, Helen, leaves him with their adopted middle school daughter, Sara, for NYC after she lands a job in a PR agency. She becomes a star as she advises the clients to apologize and rises very quickly. After her boss dies in an auto accident; she is then hired by the top PR agency to join their crisis management team. Suddenly, an old grade school classmate, Hamilton Barth, who is now a huge Hollywood star, runs afoul after a reunion the two have at one of his film’s premieres at the Ziegfeld in NYC. Hamilton contacts Helen for help. In the meantime Sara and her father are communicating after his jail time. It turns out he does have some money left and buys the house they all lived in in Rensselaer Valley.
As Helen grows in her job she learns about forgiveness herself. For someone who has a natural ability to advise others about asking for or granting forgiveness, she is bereft of it herself. Ben discovers much about himself in his acts of contrition. Sara forgives her parents. The lesson learned here is we all need to ask for forgiveness and grant it. It is a double-edged sword and a full circle kind of phenomenon in life. It reminds me of one of my mottos as a teacher when dealing with the administration, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
Although this novel was written in 2013, during Lance Armstrong’s moment of clarity and contrition, I was stunned at how appropriate it was for today’s major topic, fake news. In scenes at the PR agency, Helen is confronted with the negative side of the industry as it creates fake web sites, blogs, and news all to further the careers of their clients. It is as if Dee has a crystal ball as he goes into some detail of how fake news is created, generated, and successful as he observes and reports on the culture that will allow for the election of 2016.
On a very personal note, Jonathan Dee was in a seventh grade English class, I taught my first year of teaching. I’m glad I didn’t damage his writing skills. It is always ajoy to read one his novels and to watch his success.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy


Hot Milk by Deborah Levy is a story about a mother and a daughter that reminds me of TC Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. In a final and desperate attempt to find a cure for her mother’s ailment, Sofia accompanies her mother, Rose, to a health clinic in Spain. Rose wants to amputate her feet. Sofia is her mother’s legs and feet. She has been ever since her father abandoned her when she was five. While Rose is at the clinic, Dr. Gomez, wants Sofia to separate herself from Rose. In doing so she takes on Juan, a local boy, as a lover; adds Ingrid, a local German artist, as a lover; and seeks out her estranged father in Athens. Her father has married a girl, forty years his junior who has had his baby, Sofia’s younger sister, Evangeline, which means messenger like an angel. Sofia is alone in the world. Sofia is an ABD anthropologist.
“I was beginning to understand Ingrid Bauer. She was always pushing me to the edge in one way or another. My boundaries were made from sand so she reckoned she could push them over, and I let her. I gave unspoken consent because I want to know what’s going to happen next, even if it’s not to my advantage. Am I self-destructive, or pathologically passive, or reckless, or just experimental, or am I a rigorous cultural anthropologist, or am I in love?” Sofia slowly learns the truths about those around her: her dad, her mom, Dr. Gomez, Juan, Ingrid, and even the howling dog she sets free. Is this about her mom’s ailments, or Sofia’s?
To be free one has to stop enabling others and to make and do bold things, otherwise we are alone and purposeless.

The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle


The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle is another delightful creation by the Shakespearean genius of our time. Each of his novels is like a Shakespearean masterpiece. Boyle takes known stories of the day and reproduces them into a wonderfully written, engaging, and magical event, just as Shakespeare did with his plays. The Terranauts, his latest novel, takes on the story of Biosphere 2 and replays it like the maestro he is. Biosphere 2 is a 3.14-acre enclosure in Arizona that provides an environment for eight scientists, Terranauts, to replicate life on earth in preparation for life on another planet or in space. He uses facts and weaves in his own drama and storyline to create the drama. The tale is told through three narrators: Dawn Chapman, the ecologist in the crew and the beauty every man wants; Ramsey Roothoorp, the loose cannon, hound dog, and “why is he here” kind of a guy; and Linda Ryu, one who didn’t make the cut, second string and hopes for the next mission, Dawn’s best friend, caretaker of her car and apartment, and angry.  As the action unfolds we, the reader, are passed from narrator to narrator to narrator as we hear the events from three different points of view.
The drama begins in the lower level with eight, four men and four women, who become the second inhabitants of the biosphere for a two-year mission. The support staff are the next inhabitants as well as the administrators of the project, the upper level. In any closed and close environment involving men and women for two years the tensions are going to be frequent, testy, and sexual. Everything is public, open, and observed. Secrets don’t exist and there isn’t anyplace to hide. Feelings get hurt, punches are thrown, and friendships end. “Before you set out for revenge, be sure to dig two graves.” Civility and love take a beating in this story of backstabbing at the lower level and political intrigue at the upper level. Boyle takes a simple concept and idea, men and women interacting and probes it and milks it for all of the human elements of interaction and deceipt, which makes him the genius he is as a writer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sinner Man by Lawrence Block


Sinner Man by Lawrence Block is a blast from the past, 1960. The Afterword is the most interesting aspect of this nostalgic crime novel. According to Block he lost track of this novel that he wrote in the 50’s. It was one of his first and he didn’t rediscover it until 2010, under another title, Savage Lover. In the afterward he takes us on the long path the manuscript follows from one publisher to another and even under various pseudonyms. The long and short of it is that Sinner Man is a new crime novel from Lawrence Block for many of his avid readers. When written in the 50’s as he explains many of the actions depicted were reasonable and quite possible, as he himself had proven in his own life. The most bizarre one was how easy it was to obtain a Social Security card and he created a false person at his high school who became the class historian.
In Sinner Man the antics of Donald Barshter to become Nathaniel Crowley are impossible to fathom in today’s hi-tech environment. Barshter is an insurance salesman living in the Danbury suburbs. After another night of drinking and arguing with his wife, he hits her and she falls against the fireplace and dies after hitting her head on the stones. He puts her body in the closet, collects some clothes, cleans out his bank accounts, and rides a train to Buffalo (where Block grew up) to become Nat Crowley, the newest member of a local mob and eventually rises to the top only to kill again and again and again until he has to ride the rails to another life.
The action of this novel is classic 1950’s with all the trapping of drinking, cigarette smoking anywhere, the cars, the clothes, and the clubs. Riding the rails and airplanes is a fantastic look into how it actually was for travellers in the 50’s and 60’s. It includes a classic film noir star like Ray Danton while creating another in Don Barshter/Nat Crowley. What ever becomes of Nat when he leaves Buffalo in yet another disguise? Hooray for lost novels found again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Singer from Memphis by Gary Corby

The Singer from Memphis by Gary Corby is a take on the Nico and Nora Charles model without Aster, but in the time of the Greek and Persian Wars (499 – 449 BC). This is his sixth novel in the Athenian Mystery Series and I’m just getting to it. I love the tone, The Thin Man. I love the content, Ancient History. Where was Corby when I was studying Ancient History in ninth grade? It is much more fun that the Edith Hamilton I had to read.
Nicolaos’ current client is Herodotus, the father of ancient history. On advice from Pericles, Herodotus hires Nicolaos and his wife, Diotima, to escort him to a war zone in Egypt so he can record the proceedings for history. He advises Nico to get drunk before he decides, “In Persia, when a weighty matter is to be decided, the men consider it first when they’re drunk, and then again when they are sober the next morning. If their plan seems good when both drunk and sober, then they proceed with it.”  Sound advice, methinks. Inaros, the leader of the rebel forces and Prince of Libya, is in Lower Egypt holding off the Persian army until additional forces from Persia will arrive to annihilate them. Inaros requests an agent from Pericles to help him combat an enemy agent from Persia. Pericles chooses Nico as the friendly agent and suspects Herodotus may be the enemy agent. While in Egypt, the Greek wine drinking Nico is constantly on the lookout for a glass of wine. All he can find is beer, they don’t have wine. This is just one of the everyday kind of things Corby does to educate the reader about ancient history and the ways of the different cultures. Within the team are two Greeks, an Egyptian, a Persian, a Spartan, and a Libyan, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. In this way Corby can educate as well as entertain the reader.
A funny quirk, and historically correct is reference to gods and not god as in common exclamations as “Oh my Gods,” “Thank Gods,” “Good Gods,” “Dear Gods,” and the like. It took time to get used to at first until I came to realize these folks believe in many gods, not one. In fact the characters believed in many sets of many gods. The Greeks had their set, the Persians theirs, the Egyptians theirs, and the Libyans theirs. “Meanwhile, Maxyates and Herodotus were arguing about the Gods. “But they have to be the same gods,’ Herodotus insisted. ‘You can’t have two lots of gods running the world. What happens if they disagree?’” These types of conversations throughout are entertaining for us, as we consider their gods part of our mythology, but to them very serious discussions, nonetheless. Of course, aren’t we in the same boat today, when one day, our beliefs become things of tomorrow’s myths?
The Author’s Note and Glossary are stuff of what lesson plans are made. Here Corby explains the source of his story as it is based on actual factual history and tells us when he uses the writer’s license to further his needs. I need to go back to the beginning, The Pericles Commission and work my way through them all and history.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Among Thieves by John Clarkson


Among Thieves by John Clarkson precedes Bronx Requiem. James Beck and his crew of ex-cons find themselves in the middle of a financial nightmare that involves Wall Street sleaze bags, a retired NYPD detective, a NYPD precinct, a Russian mob, a Russian arms dealer, and various groups of thugs all trying to get a piece of the pie. It all starts, as always, with the very seductive and beautiful woman in trouble, Manny’s cousin, Olivia. Manny is a member of Beck’s crew. This is a mind-blowing action packed thriller that requires incredible timing, arts of persuasion, very careful planning, a perfect execution on part of Beck and his crew.
Manny wants to kill. Beck has to defuse that quickly and logically so as not to alienate Manny, but getting it right. The problem will be solved with as little violence as possible so as not to brings the cops down on the house of parolees. He doesn’t want anyone to go back to jail for any violations so peaceful means are always the way to the ends desired. Of course that’s not always how it works out, mostly because the other side doesn’t know peaceful means to the ends, so Beck and his crew must respond accordingly. For Beck and his crew, force is met with a greater force.
Beck and his crew are an interesting collection of specialists. They are all mostly former cons of the same institutions with a few civilians mixed in for their peculiar talents. Beck got into a bar fight in a cop bar and killed a cop. He went to jail for eight hard years. “Phineas P. Dunleavy, (Beck’s lawyer) loved battling law enforcement. Good, bad, competent, indifferent, it didn’t matter. Cops. Judges. Assistant district attorneys. It didn’t matter. He would even badger a court clerk or a corrections officer if he felt he had to. He didn’t waste energy being mean or vindictive about it. He just took it as his mission in life.” This is the kind of lawyer you want on your side. He got Beck out of jail and a two and a half million-dollar settlement from the city and a clean record. Dr. Brandon Wright, tall and lanky, and his able bodied nurse arrived at crucial times to patch things up, prescribe proper medications, give sound and useful advice, and leave without taking a fee. Beck always donates to Wright’s favorite charity and slips the nurse an envelope. Alex Liebowitz, the computer nerd, always talks too much about how he is doing something, as Beck always needs to get him to focus on the point of his assignments. Everyone needs an Alex in their crew. Finally the Bolo brothers, Ricky and Jonas. Bolo wasn’t their last name. Beck didn’t know their last name, didn’t need to. They were the Bolo brothers because Ricky wore bolo ties. They were Beck’s eyes on the street, car service when needed, and always ready to roll in their unmarked nondescript white van that could catch any racecar. These are the five civilians.
The rest of the crew are gentle men but can be stone cold killers when they need to be. Demarco Jones is a giant of a man, “He was six four, wide shouldered, muscular, around ten percent body fat, skin about the color of Beck’s strong coffee. He was handsome, but tough looking, especially his shaved head.’ He was a dapper dresser and gay. He was always at the bar near the front door. He could always get into the trendiest places to do what he needed to do because of how he carried himself and how he looked. “Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Guzman, a former lord of a Dominican street gang, former shot-caller of several prison gangs including the most feared gang in Dannemora prison.” The third member of this elite group was Ciro Baldassare. Ciro was the muscle. No one ever stared at Ciro too long. He was big very very big. He took up the whole back seat of cars but could move like a running back.  “The one with the neck tattoo is Ciro Baldassare. He has a long record. Two incarcerations. He’s connected to organized crime based in Staten Island. Among other things he’s a bone crusher. His last bit was for assault in connection with collecting money. He broke up two guys pretty bad. Sentence was three to eight. Would have been worse if it hadn’t been two against one.”
This motley crew led by Beck makes for entertaining reading and action. Clarkson has created a book hard to put down and one you want to return to quickly.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Charm, A wicked Cinderella Tale by Sarah Pinborough


Charm, A wicked Cinderella Tale by Sarah Pinborough is the sequel to Poison that also includes Beauty in the Fairy Tale Trilogy. Cinderella is the cantankerous stepsister to the sweeter Rose and Ivy. Ivy has married a Viscount and Rose is vying for the Prince’s love. He has announced two balls that will help him decide on a wife. Cinderella of course dreams of getting out of this hovel via marriage to the prince. Her mother died she thought, but she didn’t die she ran off with another man. Her father, a newspaperman and writer stole his wife from an earl. His new wife is sad to be away from court and becomes shrewish and demands her daughters get her back to court. The huntsman turned mouse is back. He is a mouse during the day and the huntsman during the night. Children are disappearing in the forest never to return.
Once the prince discovers Cinderella is the owner of the glass slipper and the family is moved to the court, all is not as it should be. The kindly fairy godmother that grants Cinderella the magic to go to the balls has some demands of her own. The King is not happy with the prince’s choice, Cinderella is not happy, Rose is not happy, but Father and Mother are as he gets the paper back and the two love each other. Eventually the right lovers get together, much as they did in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love the furiously frantic chaotic denouement.