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Book Review: My Ántonia, by Willa Cather

I hadn’t read this classic of American literature and having reindex (1)ad it, I really enjoyed it. Just under a century old, it shows its age in a scene with a blind black American singer that would be written differently today. Otherwise this novel has an up to date feel in the themes of immigrants being welcome or not in our country. Antonia and her family are from Bohemia and are trying to make a living on the Nebraska plains. Their farm is next to Jim Burden’s family farm and 9-year-old Jim and 13-year-old Antonia become fast friends. Cather’s descriptions of the Plains are lyrical, the characters sympathetic, and the plot held my interest. Considered a masterpiece of the American novel, it was enthusiastically received when published in 1918.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: kh

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Book Review: Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

index (2)This book grew out of the five years that Stanton has maintained his blog of the same name. During that time he has interviewed and photographed more than ten thousand of New York City’s 8.5 million residents. Each of them, as does each of us, has their own story. Ranging from a line or two to a few paragraphs along with the photo, the entries are sad, tragic, hopeful, silly, serious, weird, just all over the spectrum. I found reading this pretty addictive.

Rating: * * * A good read

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Reviewed by: kh

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Review: How to be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, by Ruth Goodman

25622831The Tudor period (1485-1603) is historian Goodman’s favorite. There is nothing dry or tedious about this depiction as the author has been an enthusiastic participant in actually trying out aspects of Tudor life. It’s hard to imagine how different life was from today. Everything is done be hand, for a piece of clothing the sheep needed to be raised and shorn, the wool cleaned and spun and the cloth woven before the garment could be cut and sewn. If there was bad weather and a poor harvest people were hungry. Goodman explains in detail the importance of ploughing the fields and why it was an almost year round task. I enjoyed the explanations of the Tudor origins of expressions such as “pin money” and why we eat our meals in a particular order still following Tudor health guidelines today.

Rating: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Shoemaker’s Wife, by Adriana Trigiani

Loosely based on the lives of the author’s grandparents, this novel follow Enza and Ciro and their families from the time they are children in their native Italian Alps to their later meeting in New York City. They had first met in Italy as teenagers but Ciro is suddenly forced to leave when he witnesses the local priest acting in a most unpriestly way. Enza comes to New York to earn money to help her family buy a home back in their Italian village. She works for a time at a blouse factory in Hoboken and later finds work in the costume shop of the Metropolitan Opera as a skilled and creative seamstress. Ciro is apprenticed to a shoemaker in New York City’s Little Italy. The story starts in the early 1900’s when great waves of Europeans, including some of my relatives, came to the United States. I found this story warm and a satisfying read.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Inspector Ghote’s First Case, by H.R.F. Keating

Keating was a prolific British crime fiction writer and the author of twenty-six Inspector Ghote novels. Though titled “First Case,” this book from 2008 was the twenty-fifth written in the series. Ghote has just been promoted to the rank of Inspector in the Bombay Criminal Investigation Department and he and his wife Protima are expecting the arrival of their first baby. Retired chief of the Bombay police, Sir Rustom Engineer, asks Ghote to investigate the apparent suicide of the young wife of a longtime friend of his, English ex-patriot Robert Dawkins. Protima is not happy to be left alone so close to her due date as Ghote travels north to the Dawkins’ home but Ghote is determined to thoroughly investigate the death of Iris Dawkins. I listened to the book on CD and the narrator, Sam Dastor, a Bombay native, did an excellent job.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice, by Polly Coles

The author writes about the year she spent living in Venice with her husband and four young children. She loves Venice, its beauty, and its unique position as a 21st century functioning city of some 60,000 people but one without cars or trucks. There are however, problems with no easy solutions. On many days, except in the winter, there are as many or more tourists as there are residents in Venice, with thousands of these arriving on cruise ships for the day. The vaporetti (water buses which are a daily necessity for residents) are hopelessly crowded and real estate prices are soaring due to foreign buyers which makes it difficult for the native Venetians to buy or rent apartments. The food stores, pharmacies and other local establishments give way to shops catering to tourists since the latter can afford to pay higher rents. Still, Coles remains hopeful that solutions can be found so that Venice can be “not a mere monument, but a living city.”

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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