ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 46-52

46. Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth. This is an utterly charming story (actually stories) within a story. Three children meet a giant panda, Stillwater. One by one, they become good friends with the gentle and wise panda, who relates stories to them. I think my favorite story was the one of the monk who carried a proud and ungrateful princess over a puddle. When the monk's companion, some hours later, fumed why the monk had not reacted and scolded the ingrate, the monk replied "I put her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her." Something I need to remember at times (don't we all?)I love the illustrations, which are done beautifully in watercolor. Just gorgeously rendered! A good story for one-on-one reading with 3 to younger grade school, or for a library or school storytime.

47. The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy), by Jon J. Muth. Another beautifully rendered story by Muth. This one centers on a boy, Nikolai, who wants to be the best person he can be, but is unsure how to go about it. His friends try to answer his questions but he remains unconvinced. He goes to talk with Leo, the wise turtle, and in the process of his time with the turtle winds up answering his three questions: What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Another good story for one-on-one reading with 3 to younger grade school, or for a library or school storytime.

48. The Strange Death of Father Candy, by Les Roberts. This was a fast read, brutally paced and doesn't pull any punches. Fans of noir mystery will most likely devour this; I know I needed a bit of a comic chaser afterwards. Roberts introduces the reader to Dominick Candiotti, a Vietnam veteran who grew up in Youngstown. To say he is not close to his family would be an understatement. He is neutral in his memories of his now- deceased parents, but his feelings towards his brother and sister are less ambiguous- he loathes them and not without reason. His brother Alfonso is a dishonest police officer who, like most of the neighborhood, is rather cozy with one of the two Mafia families. His sister Teresa is just bitter and unpleasant. The only other family member Dominick kept in contact with after moving to Chicago to escape the lawlessness of Youngstown was Richard, the well-respected and well-loved minister nicknamed "Father Candy." And Father Candiotti is dead of apparent suicide. Nick starts asking questions about the death- after all, why would a young, handsome and loved priest kill himself? What he gets at first are roadblocks from everyone, who tells him to just go back to Chicago if he can't behave himself. But Nick chips away at the walls and uncovers a lot of skeletons -- and decides to take matters into his own hands. Nick is not a nice, or even very likable character, but his motivations are somewhat understandable if a bit ironic in a way. It made me think of Michael Corleone's efforts of trying to escape his mob family, only to get sucked into it to avenge the attack on his father.

49. Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long. A very sweet picture book, written as both a letter to President Obama's two daughters as well as introducing a nice cross-section of famous Americans, ranging from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Georgia O'Keeffe and Cesar Chavez. Each of the people mentioned represent a quality (courage, strength, creativity, etc.) It doesn't get into a lot of depth of the famous people covered (there is a nice appendix at the end which gives brief biographies) but it offers a nice, easy-to-digest taste of history to the younger set. Thanks to my lil sis for recommending this one!

50. Maria, My Own Story, by Maria Von Trapp. I've read The Story of the Trapp Family Singers a couple times, and thought I'd check out a couple more books about the von Trapp family. This is a nice complement to The Story of the Trapp Family Singers; indeed, I am left with the impression that this includes a lot of the memories that did not make it in the first book, as well as adding her memories and life after the end of the previous installment. Much of it covers her life in the von Trapp's lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Maria strikes me as a very honest, straightforward woman who had her own (very strong) way and ideas of doing things. By her own admission, she could be difficult. I guess when asked if she was as difficult at the Nonnberg Abbey as portrayed in the movie and stage play "The Sound of Music," she replied that she was much worse. Even in her later years she wasn't afraid of trying new things. She took up skiing and horseback riding in her 40s, and had her first cross-country skiing venture when she was in her 60s. An enjoyable read, and fans of The Sound of Music should consider picking it up for the real story of the von Trapp family (while I will always enjoy the musical, it does take a LOT of "artistic liberties")

51. Memories Before and After The Sound of Music, by Agathe von Trapp. Another interesting look at the real von Trapp family, this time through the memories of the oldest daughter Agathe. Agathe, who died less than two years ago at 97, tells the stories of the von Trapp family before Maria came into their lives, as well as about the concerts and tours that would change their lives and fortunes. In addition to her memories, told in an engaging style, there are many photographs of the family and Agathe's own sketches included (she was a good artist) throughout. Again, fans of The Sound of Music should give this a read. I find it amazing that there were so many fantastic singers in one family- and not only a family whose members could sing, but could sing in five and six part harmony as well. From reading the chapter at the end about what happened to "the children," it looks like several of the grandchildren have inherited the musical gift as well. I know one thing the family had objected to in the play was the portrayal of the father, Capt. Georg von Trapp. In the play, he's a cold, distant authoritarian figure. In real life, both Agathe and Maria write, he was actually very kind and compassionate. Also, in real life the children all had been taught music, and at least the five older ones could play at least one instrument, before Maria came. Those are just a couple of the discrepancies between the play and real life.

52. Issac's Storm, by Erik Larson. Larson uses his storytelling skills to relate the catastrophe that was the 1900 Galveston, Texas hurricane, told mostly through the eyes and correspondence of Issac Cline, a senior U.S. weather bureau official. This was - and remains - the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the US shore.
The Gilded Age was a period of time marked by an explosion of scientific discoveries and technologies, and with that followed a notable plethora of hubris. Like with the Titanic sinking, which would take place 12 years later, there was a lot of ego here that led to the terrible result of the powerful hurricane. As "God couldn't sink this ship," man was incapable of being seriously harmed by hurricanes with the new technology, according to the opinions of the time. Cline had even written a paper about how Galveston would be safe from hurricanes because of the way it was positioned (of course AFTER the hurricane further studies showed that contrary to that wildly optimistic proposition, Galveston was actually extremely vulnerable to cyclonic activity). Actually, however, Cline was actually moderate in his beliefs and became alarmed about the strange weather he was seeing days before the storm. His opinions came more from a lack of knowledge; he didn't know what he didn't know. But the top brass of the weather bureau at the time had ego to spare, not in which the least was muzzling Cuban meteorologists who had predicted the strength and scope of the hurricane before it hit and devastated THAT country. The weather bureau wanted to be the only source of weather-related bulletins, and that led to disaster. Actually, it's amazing that the weather bureau, given its shaky start, got off the ground at all. I remember thinking that it was just as well the leadership did NOT get exposed for the idiots they were because it might have been decades before the weather bureau got any sort of start again (there were a lot of calls to have it shut down).
This story meanders; all of the information was interesting although I'm not sure all of it was needed (such as the story of Columbus' fourth trip to the new world, a wonderful example of karma coming back to haunt one). The maps included were a nice touch. I also liked the stories of the people who went through the hurricane; I would have liked to have seen even more of that.
And there were a lot of personal stories, a lot of tragedies. This hurricane would have been a Category 4 storm, with readings that were unheard of before that time. It's estimated at least 6,000 people died in Galveston alone (some place the figure as high as 10,000) and destroyed a large part of the city. Whole families were lost, and Cline suffered his own personal tragedies, not in the least of which was an estrangement from his younger brother, who also worked for the bureau and more accurately predicted the severity of the storm. Not Larson's best, but a good, informative and quick read.
Tags: history

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