There is a lot going on here besides the central story of two star-crossed lovers.



Another recommendation by Smart Bitches Trashy Books, I’ve just finished this fifth and final book in Higgins’ Blue Heron series. Set in a small town in upstate New York, the heirs and friends of the Blue Heron vineyard fall in and out of and back into love and eventually live happy ever after. Romance novels of the closed door variety, there is some very nice characterization here, some big ass horse laughs and some seriously tear-jerking moments (I’m thinking especially of Lucas and Bryce and Joe’s relationship in Waiting On You, which has little to do with the romance and which part of the book I found most compelling). Manningsport is definitely a place you want to get back to. One caveat: I did find all of the heroines’ mania over having babies a little trying, especially Honor’s eggs talking to her in The Perfect Match. Right, no woman can be truly complete without babies, what was I thinking.

My favorite is this one, Anything for You, where the narrative is told in flashbacks, a literary conceit I usually find annoying but here was hooked in from the getgo. Connor O’Rourke has been in love with Jessica Dunn since he was twelve, but Jessica comes from the wrong side of the tracks and carries a load of family baggage that has to be read to be believed. It is believable, though, every word all the way through, and the secondary characters, especially Connor’s twin Colleen and Jessica’s brother Davey (I beg your pardon, Connor, Dave) are interesting enough to carry the narrative by themselves. There are some reveals you don’t see coming and I always love that. Nothing is forced here, this is a very well plotted book that begins with one proposal and ends with another, where everything unfolds in a natural, inevitable manner, and I always love that, too, probably because I so seldom find it.

There is a lot going on here besides the central story of two star-crossed lovers. This is what having a relative with fetal alcohol syndrome is like and boy it is not easy, the perils of co-dependency, finding the strength for forgiveness not only for others but for yourself, and one of the better illustrations of the problems of extended families I’ve ever seen, also the farthest thing from easy. There is Jordan the bartender with a tendency to drop glassware whenever she sees Connor (Oops, Connor thinks, that’s right, he’s not supposed to look directly at her), and the hilarious scene where Connor is left on his own to raise enough from serious money people to start his own brewery and ends up drinking a little too much of his own product. I loved the “twin speak” between Connor and Colleen, too.

Yep, this one stays on my Kindle. Recommended.

A Who’s Who of Americans in Paris in the 1800’s

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisThe Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

A Who’s Who of 1800’s Americans travel to Paris to study medicine and art and to just bask in the radiance that is the world’s greatest city. Everyone’s here, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, John Singer Sergeant, Mary Cassatt, Teddie Roosevelt, the James brothers, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, and everyone else you can think of.

They ate

“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” observed John Sanderson.
“We demolish dinner, they eat it.”

They looked at art

It was on Sunday only that the Musée du Louvre was open to the public,
and to the astonishment of the Americans, the enormous Sunday crowds at the museum included people from all walks of life, as though everyone cared about art.

They observed dead bodies

…for those with the stomach for it, there was another popular attraction of which no mention was to be found in Galignani’s Guide. At the Paris morgue on the Île-de-la-Cité unidentified bodies taken from the Seine were regularly put on public display. Most of the bodies had been caught in a net stretched across the river for that purpose downstream in Saint-Cloud. Some were murder victims, but the great majority were suicides stripped of their clothes, they lay stretched out on black marble tables, on the change someone might claim them. Otherwise, after three days, they were sold to doctors for ten francs each…As Sanderson noted, “You can stop in on your way as you go to the flower market, which is just opposite.”

The flower market might have been necessary, after that.

Charles Sumner, the senator who later, after giving an anti-slavery speech on the Senate floor, would be famously and most brutally attacked in that same chamber by Congressman and slave-owner Preston S. Brooks of (you guessed it) South Carolina, was not always an abolitionist. That changed in Paris, on Saturday, January 20, 1838, when he attended a lecture at the Sorbonne. Among the audience, he noted two or three blacks.

“They were standing in the midst of a knot of young men, and their color seemed to be no objection to them…with American impressions, it seemed very strange. It must be then that the distance between free blacks and whites among is is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things…” It was for Sumner a stunning revelation. Until this point he is not known to have shown any particular interest in the lives of black people, neither free blacks nor slaves.

Paris was not only transformative for the Americans who went there, but the world itself was transforming around them at the same time. The first wave of Americans traveled to Europe by sail, a journey that could take as long as two months, and would then board a diligence (stagecoach) for Paris, taking days to arrive. The second wave arrived by steam, taking considerably less time about it, and took the train, which took hours. Paris went through one war, two kings and three revolutions during this time, and what les Americains didn’t have front row seats to they read about via the first transAtlantic cable.

These expat Americans were so well-regarded by the Parisians that you better understand their gift of the Statue of Liberty. Stacy Schiff (read my review of her Cleopatra here,…) said of A Greater Journey in her NYT review

If anyone could get away with suggesting that room be made on Mount Rushmore for Asterix it is McCullough.

McCullough is definitely a Francophile par exellence. He’ll make you one, too.

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Global Warming? or Climate Change?

If you really want to fuel the debate on global warming/climate change/whatever, you can’t do better than read Brian Fagan’s The Little Ice Age.

It’s a fascinating book about the years between 1300AD and 1800AD, a period following the Medieval Warm Period, which extended between the years 800-1300AD. “The heyday of the Norse,” Fagan writes, “…was not only a byproduct of such social factors as technology, over-population and opportunism. Their great conquests and explorations took place during a period of unusually mild and stable weather in northern Europe.” During this Warm Period, the polar ice retreated and the Norse were free to ransack coastal communities all the way to Constantinople and to emigrate all the way to Maine. The Basques made it all the way across the Atlantic to find the cod fishing grounds off the Grand Banks. European farmers started planting crops farther north and reaping harvests large enough to fund the building of magnificent cathedrals.

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The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 17

Warning: Spoilers spoken here.

HoZ Kate17

The Suulutag mine, of course, and more specifically, gold, and most specifically of all, Alaska’s mineral resources.

Barry W Nugget edit

The largest gold nugget ever found in Alaska, 294.10 troy ounces, or a little over twenty pounds, or a little under $400,000 at today’s price per troy ounce.

I’m just going to cut and past Megan’s comment here

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 10.06.44 AM

because really, what else is there to say?

The Park’s Suulutaq mine is of course based on the Pebble Mine, the most controversial issue in Alaska today. It’s died down some since Pebble failed its EIS but I wouldn’t bet a wooden nickle against the chances of it heating up again if oil prices remain too long in the basement (cue the Donlin mine). As of the writing of this post the price of gold is $1,357.50 per troy ounce and climbing.

This is what we do in Alaska–we’re a resource extraction state; i.e., we pull stuff out. We pull stuff out of the water and we pull stuff out of the ground. It ties us to a boom-and-bust cycle we have yet to summon up the political will to change.

It’s easy to say let a beautiful place be, but the people who live there still have to eat. People like Kate, and the rest of the Park rats. All those dying villages along the Kanuyaq River in the books? They’re fictional, but there are plenty of real ones.


Though Not Dead

winner of the 2012 Nero Award

Next month, an object from Though Not Dead, the eighteenth Kate Shugak mystery and my favorite in the whole series. Please put your suggestions for said object in the comments below, and thanks!