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review 2020-06-03 12:31
The Last Refuge of the Knights Templar
The Last Refuge of the Knights Templar - William F. Mann

by William F. Mann


This was totally different from what I expected. I have a historical interest in the Knights Templar, who were disbanded and mostly executed in 1309. I didn't know that the Freemasons had adopted the name for their own organisation, although I've seen other modern groups do the same.


This story is set in American Civil War times and centered on a historical figure called Albert Pike, who was a general in the Confederate army and a Freemason.


The writing was reasonably good, apart from some of the dialogue, but this just isn't an area of interest for me. I feel the book is mis-titled, though I should have read the description more closely. The first few lines supported the impression that it would actually be about the Knights Templar from the title.


If someone wants to read about Civil War Confederacy and Freemasonry of the time, this should appeal. The connections to the Templars are certainly pure fiction though.

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text 2020-01-01 00:31
The Best 10 Books I Read in 2019
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes - Tamim Ansary
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir - Jean Guerrero
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions - Johann Hari
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures - Anne Fadiman
In the Country: Stories - Mia Alvar
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus - Charles C. Mann
Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming - Inara Verzemnieks
Clear Light of Day - Anita Desai
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War - Helen Thorpe
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India - Sujatha Gidla

Ordinarily I love to criticize, but the end of the year is my time to reflect on the best books I read during the year, and recommend them to all of you! I read a lot of great books in 2019, so it was a tough competition, but here are the best 10 books (out of 71 total that I finished) of the year.

Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary (review)

Destiny Disrupted A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary

An informative, wide-ranging, and even exciting history, this is a fascinating primer on the history of the Muslim world. It answered questions I didn’t even know I had, making sense of history all while telling a compelling narrative.

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero (review)

Crux A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

The best memoir I read in 2019, this is an intense story of a troubled family, in which the author peels back the layers of generational trauma in Mexico and the U.S. It is dark but brilliant.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari (review)

Lost Connections Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

Possibly the most important book I read in 2019, this is the story of a journalist examining the science of depression, and realizing it doesn’t tell us what drug companies would have us believe. It provides a look at the real causes and solutions that’s relevant to anyone who wants to live a good life.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman(review)

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

An incredible work of journalistic nonfiction, the author uses the life of one family with a severely ill daughter to illuminate the culture clash between Hmong refugees and their American neighbors, particularly regarding medical treatment. A great book for anyone interested in cross-cultural misunderstanding and medicine, or the culture and recent history of the Hmong.

In the Country by Mia Alvar (review)

In the Country by Mia Alvar

The best work of fiction I read in 2019, this is a fantastic short story collection, featuring Filipinos both at home and abroad. Great writing and great characters – this is one of those authors who can do in a short story what others require a novel to accomplish.

1491 by Charles C. Mann (review)

1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

The most eye-opening book I read in 2019, this is a real history of the Americas before Columbus, stripping away myth and stereotype. A detailed account that will likely be new to most readers.

Among the Living and the Dead by Inara Verzemnieks(review)

Among the Living and the Dead A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

The most poetic of my top books of 2019, this is a lovely multigenerational memoir of a family from Estonia – both those who fled as refugees, and those who stayed behind. It’s a thoughtful history of a place and its people as well as the author’s own journey of discovery.

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai (review)

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

The best novel I read in 2019, this short book presents the emotionally layered and nuanced tale of four adult siblings and their difficult relationships.

Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe (review)

Soldier Girls The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe

A fascinating journalistic account of three women in the U.S. National Guard serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s an honest, warts-and-all look at real life in the military from three very different perspectives, written by an incisive researcher and compelling storyteller.

Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla (review)

Ants Among Elephants An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla

A fascinating family memoir of an untouchable family in 20th century India, focusing on the author’s uncle, an activist, and mother, a struggling professor. A great look at real lives behind the stereotypes.

And some honorable mentions, because I read more excellent books this year than a top-10 list will allow:

Night at the Fiestas
Olive Kitteridge
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815

Happy reading to all in 2020!

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text 2019-12-29 15:32
24 Festive Tasks: Door 9 - World Philosphy Day: Task 4
Macbeth - William Shakespeare
Sonnets from the Portuguese - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Five Plays: The Robbers, Passion and Politics, Don Carlos, Mary Stuart, Joan of Arc - Friedrich von Schiller
Look Back in Anger - John Osborne
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
L’étranger - Albert Camus
Homo faber - Max Frisch
Mario und der Zauberer - Thomas Mann
Kaspar - Peter Handke
Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

By and large, I think it's fairest to say "I didn't mind" the books we read in school. 


A few stood out as instant favorites: Shakespeare's Macbeth which, together with Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet movie (which we watched in class) laid the groundwork for my lifelong love of Shakespeare; and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (which the rest of my class hated, but I instantly loved).


Some that I found OK without being enthusiastic about them still inspired me to take a closer look at their authors and discover works that I ended up liking much better -- e.g. Friedrich Schiller's The Robbers and Intrigue and Love (aka Passion and Politics), which eventually led me to his Don Carlos, which in turn became an instant favorite.


Some I rather disliked in school (at least in part, because of the way in which they were presented in class), but I reread them years later and they suddenly made a whole lot more sense -- such as John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Albert Camus's The Stranger (though I still liked The Plague, which we never read in school, better), Max Frisch's Homo Faber and The Firebugs; and, perhaps most surprisingly, Thomas Mann's Mario and the Magician (surprising because Mann was already a favorite author of mine at the time, so this should have been a no-brainer favorite from the start).


There were only a few books that I positively hated in school, but those I hated with enough of a vengeance never to have looked at them again -- or at anything else written by their authors: Peter Handke's Kaspar and Alfred Andersch's Sansibar.


Far and away the biggest impact on my reading preferences, though, was wielded by my final English teacher, who not only taught that Shakespeare class mentioned above and introduced me to sonnets (EBB, Shakespeare and otherwise), but who also gave me a copy of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as a gift ... and thus inspired yet another one of my most lasting instances of book fandom -- because come on, if you fall in love with Austen's writing when reading Mansfield Park, everything else is just bound to fall into place completely naturally.


(Task: Did you love or hate the books you had to read for school?  Looking back, which ones (good or bad) stand out to you the most?)


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text 2019-12-08 17:58
24 Festive Task - Door 7: International Day for Tolerance (Task 3)
Great & Small Prayers for Babies - Flash Kids Editors
Good Night, Baby Animals You've Had a Busy Day: A Treasury of Six Original Stories - Laura Watkins,Karen B. Winnick
The Adventures of Mitee Mite: The Entire First Edition Collection - John David Mann
I'm Going to Give You a Bear Hug! - Caroline B. Cooney,Tim Warnes

Task 3: The French expression for tolerance towards others is “laisser faire, laisser aller” (roughly: “let them do as they want, let it go”). Have you ever “let go” a book (e.g., given it away or decided not to yield to the temptation to buy it) and later regretted that choice?


I really do not give away books. It either because I got them and love them or their authored. But lastly. Thank to all the new babies being born in my family (My Cousins).


I have been giving away, my Children books. That are for their right ages. Books given away to them for their birthday and Christian and Christmas. One book was given to my mom friends baby at a baby shower. A few when to my mom friend daughter. (These one I might have regret if she not been using them)


I have not regret it. I think I rather give and see the return when giving does to others. (I do not give them away until after I have reviewed the books, if they were review books and most are)


Books listed and linked up above.

I have a few to give away to my cousin for their kids at Christmas this year that are not linked above.


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text 2019-12-04 17:00
24 Festive Tasks: Door 21 - Kwanzaa: Task 2
Doktor Faustus - Thomas Mann
Amadeus - Peter Shaffer
The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany - Martin Goldsmith
Dancer - Colum McCann
The Speech of Angels - Sharon Maas
The Sanctuary Sparrow - Ellis Peters
An Accidental Death: A DC Smith Investigation Series, Book 1 - Peter Grainger,Gildart Jackson
Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice
Overture To Death - Ngaio Marsh
Piano - Jane Campion

In no particular order, books (of all genres, except for artist biographies)* that I love where music plays an important role:


Thomas Mann: Dr. Faustus

Mann's gut-punch take on Faustian bargains; in this instance, by a composer who pays the price of syphilis-induced madness for a few years of success -- and whose deal with the devil simultaneously symbolizes that of the German people with Adolf Hitler.


Peter Shaffer: Amadeus

The play that reached an even wider audience when adapted for the screen by Miloš Forman: all about the punk rock genius of classical music and his rival, the "patron saint of mediocrity", Antonio Salieri.


Martin Goldsmith: The Inextinguishable Symphony

Goldsmith's biography of his musician parents (and their families), who met in Nazi Germany and, after much hardship, eventually managed to emigrate to the U.S. and establish a new life for themselves and their children there.


Colum McCann: Dancer

McCann's novelized biography of Rudolf Nureyev -- from the time before McCann moved to the U.S. and went all politically correct.  Lyrical, muscular and visually powerful prose to match the art of its protagonist.


Sharon Maas: Speech of Angels

The story of a musically gifted orphan who is taken to Europe from the streets of Bombay and has to find out who she is (Indian, European or ...?) and what exactly music means to her life. 


Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow

A young musician takes sanctuary in the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul after having falsely been accused of murder, and it is up to Brother Cadfael to find out what really happened.


Peter Grainger: An Accidental Death

Music may not exactly be central to the mystery, but blues music is definitely key to the protagonist's (D.C. Smith's) personality.


Anne Rice: Cry to Heaven and Violin

Cry to Heaven, a novel set in the world of the baroque castrati, just might be the best thing Rice ever wrote (when she was still listening to her editors).  Violin was the last book of hers that I liked; it occasionally borders on the melodramatic, but the translation of the (autobiographically-based) mental anguish of losing a loved one into music is by and large very well done.


... and Ngaio Marsh's mysteries set either in the world of opera or otherwise involving (performances set to) music:


     Overture to Death

     * Death and the Dancing Footman

     * Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool)

     * Photo Finish


Honorary mention to two movies (and screenplays) focusing on music:


     * Jane Campion: Piano

     * Andrée Corbiau: Farinelli


... and to the movies which I discovered and / or love twice as much solely because Mark Knopfler (fomerly of Dire Straits) wrote the score:


     * Local Hero

     * The Princess Bride

     * Cal


* If I'd include artist and composer biographies, this list would be endless.


(Task: Music is an important part of a Kwanzaa celebration.  Which is / are your favorite book(s) where music plays an important role in the plot?)


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