Tag Archives: Rob

“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life.”

A review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


What propels a person forward in life?  Ambition, goals, dreams?  As people move from childhood to adulthood and through their lives, it seems that many have a clear picture of what they believe their life will or should be in the future, but what if this vision and the reality of their situation never meet.  It is at such a fork in the road of life where one could possibly encounter beautiful ruins, that which is left of a person when ambition, goals, or dreams have faded in to the reality of everyday living.  But even ruins have a certain charm.

In his 2012 book, Beautiful Ruins, Mr. Walter investigates this idea through the lives of rather diverse characters.  The year is 1962, and a dying American actress finds herself in a dying fishing village situated in a mere crack of the Italian coast on the Ligurian Sea.  Fresh from Rome and the production of the epic film Cleopatra, she basks in the obscurity of the village’s one small pension aptly named the Hotel Adequate View.

With a timeline that shifts between 1960s Italy and modern-day Hollywood, a cast of characters is introduced who are all desperately trying to bring to fruition that which they have dreamed as their future.  And from where do these dreams spring forth?  What forces in one’s life are powerful enough to create such dreams?  Of one character, Claire, Mr. Walter writes:

“We want what we want. At home, she works herself into a frenzy worrying about what she isn’t – and perhaps loses track of just where she is.”

 As the novel progresses, the reader becomes intertwined with the various quests being made, ever wondering the final outcome.  In your experience, just how often does illusion become reality?

“But aren’t all great quests folly? There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant – sail for Asia and stumble on America – and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.”

 Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD), Downloadable Audiobook, Playaway

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Our Kids: the American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam

“When I was growing up in Port Clinton 50 years ago, my parents talked about, ‘We’ve got to do things for our kids. We’ve got to pay higher taxes so our kids can have a better swimming pool, or we’ve got to pay higher taxes so we can have a new French department in school,’ or whatever. When they said that, they did not just mean my sister and me — it was all the kids here in town, of all sorts. But what’s happened…is that over this last 30, 40, 50 years, the meaning of ‘our kids’ has narrowed and narrowed and narrowed so that now when people say, ‘We’ve got to do something for our kids,’ they mean MY biological kids.”  – Robert D. Putnam

In his latest work, Robert D. Putnam, the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, puts forth an issue that he fervently believes should today be one of the primary topics of domestic public policy at the government level and household discussion among the citizenry: the drastic and growing divide in the United States between affluent and non-affluent children.


In order to support his supposition, Mr. Putnam narrates many stories of both rich and poor children that he learned of through the personal interviews that he and his team of ethnographers and statisticians had with these young people. While these interviews originate in towns and cities across the country, he has an especially narrow focus on his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio in which he compares and contrasts the picture these current narratives paint with that of his own personal past in which he believes the phrase “our kids” would be taken to refer to all the children of a particular community, as opposed to one’s own biological offspring; in other words, people in the United States today tend to not care about an issue if it does not directly affect their own children, even if the overall society suffers, and Mr. Putnam warns that this is a dangerous trend, as everyone and society as a whole benefits from the success of “our kids.”

“The evidence suggests that when in American history we’ve invested more in the education of less well-off kids, it’s been good for everybody,” Mr. Putnam states. “My grandchildren are going to pay a huge price in their adult life because there’s a bunch of other kids, in principle just as productive as them, who didn’t get investments from their family and community, and therefore are not productive citizens. The best economic estimates are that the costs to everybody, including my own grandchildren, of not investing in those ‘other people’s kids’ are going to be very high.”

Our Kids is highly engaging and balances the personal narratives with much data and many graphs that do not overwhelm, but rather compliment his point. Mr. Putnam does a fine job of defining and describing an issue of great import to the country today, which he hopes, and others I am sure hope, will not become partisan; rather, the focus should be on solutions.

“This investment is not yet seen as a partisan issue, and it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The notion that all of us have a shared interest in investing in our shared future, which is these kids, is not and has not historically been a partisan issue.”  – Robert D. Putnam

Source of quotes:
Putnam, Robert D. (2015, March 19). Why you should care about other people’s kids. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/care-peoples-kids

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Facing Adversity: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin



“Let me embrace thee, sour Adversity
For wise men say it is the wisest course.”
– King Henry, Henry VI, Part Three, Act III, Scene I, William Shakespeare

Have you at any time considered your conduct should the thing you most value be taken from you, a loss that would throw in to doubt both present and future? Whether you have or not, please take a moment to carefully ponder this notion. What is it you imagine, I wonder? Bitterness, hope, resentment, or religiosity? No matter our station in life, one thing is certain: we will at some point encounter adversity, and it is at this moment that our true nature is revealed.

It is just such a scenario faced by the protagonist of Gabrielle Zevin’s latest work of fiction, A.J. Fikry, who is the young proprietor of a small business located in a charming purple Victorian cottage whose front porch sign invites:

Alice Island’s Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content since 1999
No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World

From the start, it seems clear what A.J.’s choice is. However, fate has a way of thwarting the most carefully laid of plans, and A.J. finds himself with a unique challenge when returning from a run he discovers a baby girl alone among the few children’s picture books he stocks.

As the story progresses, the reader is drawn into the small community on Alice Island, a simple ferry ride from the coast of Massachusetts. Plagued in the past by slow traffic, business begins to increase due to the sudden youthful addition to Island Books, allowing A.J. the opportunity to share his literary expertise and to affect the lives of his fellow islanders through the power of literature.

A.J., a non-native of the island, was once considered an outsider and now finds himself creating connections and finding an acceptance that was previously neither sought nor bestowed. Book discussion groups multiply at the bookshop, with the local police chief’s, named the Chief’s Choice, becoming especially popular. A.J. navigates a variety of sticky situations, from a visit by an drunken author/Santa Claus impersonator to a sister-in-law married to a local celebrity infamous for his philandering, all the while admirably playing the hand that he was dealt.

Ms. Zevin has written an engaging book that presents the reader with an investigation of that very old concept of adversity and the role that fate can play, all through the framework of a very believable character, A.J., a person who, when first encountered, appears an unremarkable curmudgeon, but, in the end, is quite the opposite.

come on, sweetheart
let’s adore one another
before there is no more
of you and me”

– Rumi (Epigraph of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Plot According to Dinner – The Dinner by Herman Koch

“If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn’t have to be validated…unhappy families – and within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wife – can never get by on their own. The more validators, the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can’t stand silence – especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.”  – Paul Lohman, narrator, The Dinner

With some novels, the plot is discernible in the first few pages, while with others, it is issued forth piecemeal, in bites that, if well-written, are greedily devoured by the reader. The Dinner, written by the internationally-renown Dutch author Herman Koch, belongs with the latter and certainly possesses the sort of narration that propels the reader forward along with the unfolding tale.


The setting in which the majority of the story takes place is an unnamed (“…because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether we’re there.”), fashionable (“…the lamb’s-neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil and is served with arugula..”) restaurant in Amsterdam where two couples are having dinner, cleverly emphasized with the five sections of the book named for stages of the meal: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, Digestif.

The night in which the dinner takes place finds two couples meeting for some specific reason that remains initially unknown. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the two men are in fact brothers, Serge and Paul Lohman, brothers who could not be more different, as brothers seem very often to be. Incidentally, both couples have fifteen-year-old sons, close cousins whose shared actions have the potential for absolute ruin, and this is the reason for their culinary endeavor.

As the evening marches on and details come to light, the niceties and early conversation dominated by light topics disappear, and what emerges are parents desperately devoted to their sons and intent on securing their futures in the way they are convinced is best, whatever the cost. Tension can find its source in all manner of things, and at times, it is the unseen undercurrent that vexes the reader most – it is known that something is there, something is terribly wrong, but what exactly it is defies instant revelation.

The Dinner offers the reader prose of the first order and a top notch mystery, not a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense, but a mystery of just what exactly happened, who is to blame, and what is to be done. Truth can be a tricky thing, especially in a realm in which familial love and devotion is the rule of the day.

“It’s like a pistol in a stage play: when someone waves a pistol during the first act, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will be shot with it before the curtain falls. That’s the law of drama. The law that says no pistol must appear if no one’s going to fire it.”  – Paul Lohman, narrator, The Dinner

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Florida Panhandle: Where Myth, Magic, and Reality Meet: A review of Man in the Blue Moon (2012) by Michael Morris


In his third novel, Man in the Blue Moon, Mr. Morris presents the reader with Ella Wallace, a woman burdened by a promising past that went unrealized and a present dominated by the responsibility of raising three sons alone and the possible foreclosure on her family’s long-held land.

When her wayward husband, Harlan, disappears one day, and a local banker informs her of a second mortgage, hitherto unknown to her and signed with a forged signature, the situation could not be more dire. Or so Ella believes, that is until the arrival of a shipping crate in which unusual contents have been enclosed: that of a man claiming to be a cousin of her absent husband. This stranger, named Lanier Stillis, claims to be on the run from influential and violent in-laws who are convinced of his guilt in the death of his wife, a death with which Lanier claims no involvement. Despite Ella’s trepidation and distrust, Lanier offers her his much-needed assistance that includes his miraculous healing of her sickly son by means of “laying on of hands,” something that does not go unnoticed by her neighbors in the small town of Dead Lakes, Florida.

This situation is further complicated by the arrival of Brother Mabry, a charismatic preacher of grotesque proportions, who claims that the Wallace family land is the location of the biblical Garden of Eden, and the spring found therein to be capable of physical healing, a claim that leads to national attention that is neither needed nor wanted. Serving as the backdrop upon which the story is hung, the year is 1918 and despite the end of the First World War, which would have otherwise been great cause for celebration, an especially virulent form of the flu has begun spreading around the county causing widespread deaths, thus, putting an end to jubilation.

Deeply rooted in the Southern literary tradition, Mr. Morris weaves an engrossing tale involving well-researched historical fact, the unique setting of the Florida Panhandle, and his own family folklore, all of which are then whisked together with that essential ingredient of fine fiction: fanciful imagination. And for those readers interested primarily in plot, disappointment does not await, as the plotline progresses through twists and turns, disappointments, and fleeting victories resulting in the need to reach the denouement, whether it be tragedy or triumph. This is due, in great part, to the skill employed by Mr. Morris in vividly crafting characters that the reader can immediately picture and who are plausible. Characters in this story elicit emotion, drawing the reader in to the lives that are being chronicled.

Which characters will survive the 1918 Influenza Pandemic? Do the detestable antagonists emerge victorious, or does the side of good and right triumph? What was the fate of Harlan? Over the course of the novel, the reader develops a relationship of sorts with the characters, being both omniscient observer and concerned participant. In the end, Ella seems more friend than fictitious personage.

Other novels by Mr. Morris include:



Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

A Belated Review of Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

“Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis.” — Ed Finnerty, Player Piano

The following is a selection of articles recently published in well-known publications:

When it is neither possible nor practical to perform an experiment to either prove or disprove a hypothesis or question, one still has an option at his or her disposal: the thought experiment, which involves the theoretical examination of a situation and the use of logic to determine the accompanying results that are possible or even likely.


In 1952, Kurt Vonnegut published his first work of fiction entitled Player Piano that employed the method mentioned above.  Specifically, Mr. Vonnegut imagined a future for the United States in which labor has been replaced entirely with automated machines, a situation that certainly would have required the power of imagination at the time of its publication.  In this imagined future, consumer need for the entire country is determined by a central computer that directs industry accordingly, thus producing the supply that matches the calculated demand.

American society finds itself divided in to two classes: the engineers and managers, a patrician minority that oversees the machines, and the remainder of the population consisting of a plebeian majority that is in the paid service of the government performing menial work.  For the plebs, life has become meaningless and pointless, since they are unable utilize those innate skills and talents that they would so desperately like to use; disillusionment and despondency is universal.

However, although a sequestered elite, all are not true believers among the engineers and managers.  Dr. Paul Proteus, the son of the chief designer of this Second Industrial Revolution that had relegated so many to listless lives, cannot quash his qualms about the state of society and its division of class.  Through acquaintances both new and old, Proteus navigates the ruthlessly competitive world in which he finds himself a part and becomes involved with the “Ghost Shirt Society” and the rebellion that is brewing.

Despite having been published in 1952, Mr. Vonnegut paints a disturbing and visionary picture of what life could resemble in a world dominated by machines, and when one considers the ever-evolving role of technology in every aspect of life today, there is a good deal to consider.

“And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.” — Dr. Paul Proteus, Player Piano

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Lady Vanishes


What is it about a mystery that so captivates the imagination and spikes one’s interest?  Hidden histories, concealed conspiracies, and secrets spirited away spur the cogs of the human mind to rotate in double time in an effort to consider and grasp the possibilities that exist.

Empty Mansions: the Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. attempts to shed some light on the mysterious life of an American woman, Ms. Huguette Clark, whose unconventional way of life and veiled existence leaves one with an overwhelming curiosity and a wish to pierce the cloak of her life.

But this is not the typical mystery involving murder, a legendary bank heist, or the disappearance of some person.  It is, rather, the life led by Ms. Clark that would seem incomprehensible to many if not most.  You see, Ms. Clark was born the youngest daughter of one of the wealthiest American men of the Gilded Age, Mr. William Clark, but despite her incredible inherited wealth, Ms. Clark led a quiet and extremely reclusive life.

With estates in both California and Connecticut, lodgings in the Upper East Side of Manhattan that encompassed an entire floor, and an art collection that included paintings by Renoir and Monet and valued in the tens of millions of dollars, Ms. Clark most certainly could have provided herself with every creature comfort available, yet she did not.

Instead, she chose to spend her last years in an isolated hospital room, surrounded not by family or friends, but those persons in her paid service, and what a lucrative service it was, which begs the question: had she in fact chosen this fate?  Therein lies the mystery.

After her death in 2011 at the age of 104, distant relatives, many of whom had never spoken with Ms. Clark, came together to file a suit that contested a recent will that left Ms. Clark’s family out.  With missing jewelry, art being stolen and sold, and large sums questionably spent, many questions abound, and Mr. Dedman has made an admirable attempt to provide possible answers based on his extensive research and investigation.  This is a tale that is sure to hold the interest of the reader and intrigue with its many facets.

Formats Available:  Book, E-book

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill Branch

The Millionaire and the Mummies: Theodore Davis’ Gilded Age in the Valley of the Kings by John M. Adams

 “This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community – the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.”                 – Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth (1889)

The Industrial Revolution represents the primary impetus by which the United States transitioned from an agrarian-based to an industrial-based economy, which resulted in a massive and unprecedented shift in the population moving from the rural country to the urban city. While the wealth of the country significantly increased, much of it was held by a select few, populated by familiar names such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. This group, eventually coined the Robber Barons, led incredibly luxurious lives that were far removed and in no way resembled the existences lived by the vast majority of the rest of the population. Counted among this group was a man whose name today would be recognized by very few and whose story is told in a 2013 biography written by John M. Adams: Theodore Montgomery Davis.

The life of Mr. Davis in many ways exemplified both the American Dream and the Gilded Age. He was born in 1838 to a well-liked minister known for his fire-and-brimstone preaching and was left destitute, along with his mother and two siblings, when his father died of consumption in 1841; Mr. Davis’ oldest sibling, Arthur, would join his father the following year. Despite further challenges and setbacks, Mr. Davis provided himself with education and eventually became a lawyer. While many of his colleagues had aspirations for politics or other public endeavors, it would seem that Mr. Davis’ sole interest was the employment of all means available to him to build a great fortune, and a great fortune is precisely what Mr. Davis acquired – in a rather dubious manner; a true rags-to-riches story peppered with shady dealings.

Now we come to the point that connects the excerpt that opened this short review. Once his great fortune was secure, Mr. Davis could have spent the remainder of his life in the pursuit of selfish desires, and even though he did engage in those activities that were the hallmark of his class at that time, he developed a passion for Ancient Egypt and its antiquities, and he personally funded expeditions in the Valley of the Kings in the early 1900s that employed scientific methods to excavate tombs; he was not a simple grave robber. By 1914, Mr. Davis believed that no tombs of any import were left in the Valley of the Kings, and his concessions were passed on to Lord Carnarvon, whose funding provided the famous archaeologist Howard Carter with the means to eventually locate the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922, totally eclipsing the discoveries of Mr. Davis. Through the efforts and patronage of Mr. Davis, several very famous and important discoveries were made that significantly contributed to Egyptology, and those artifacts that were uncovered by his excavations were donated during his life or bequeathed after his death to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Cairo Museum. As with his contemporaries, it would seem that Mr. Davis felt philanthropy was his duty.

Alternating between archaeological digs and stages in the life of Mr. Davis, Mr. Adams has captured an era in the United States when great fortunes produced a class of Americans of such wealth that the world was literally their oyster. It is fortunate for us, I suppose, that they were willing to share.