Blue Clear Windows

My mom used to tease me about always having my nose in a book.    I grew up in the country, away from friends and family and books always took me places I never had the chance to go.  I read lots of things, as you'll see.  I like mysteries, romances, history, classics and biographies.   I do book reviews here and they are mostly going to contain some spoilers.    I hope to set up a button to Amazon so you can order the book if it sounds good.  I'd lend them to you if I could!!


A Friend of Mr Lincoln
 Steven Harrigan

I will start out saying this is one of the best books I've read in a really long time.   The author is a Texas Monthly writer and they tend to have outstanding writers so it's no surprise that the writing was so well done.  I had not heard of the book, I just came across it at the library and thought it sounded interesting.  I'm glad I chose it.

The book starts out with Abraham Lincoln lying in state in Springfield, IL after his assassination.  Our narrator is an old friend, Cage Weatherby, who has come to pay his respects.  Cage & Lincoln had not seen each others in years for many reasons but the main reason seems to be Mary Lincoln.  What follows in the story of their friendship.

Cage and Abe met as young men, fighting Indians.  They soon meet again in Springfield, not yet the capital of Illinois.  Cage is an aspiring poet and writer who also owns a rooming house and has a few other business adventures.  Lincoln in a surveyor and a lawyer, struggling to survive.  They become part of a circle where they dream about a better world and about leaving a legacy behind.  

We spend 9 years inside their friendship where they discuss everything from their childhoods to war experiences to politics to the women in their lives.  Cage's role is an observer and writer while Lincoln has political ambitions.  Lincoln is also a brilliant man who is sometimes a cruel opponent and a soul with bouts ouf great depression. I also found it greatly interesting that while in later life is is remembered as a opponent of slavery, his opinions seemed to whatever would get him the farthest politically at the time, changing with every situation.  Also I think more time than is necessary is given to Cage's  relationshipwith Ellie, a kept woman who he sets up in business and not enough time with Mary Lincoln although I understand that she is a minor part of the time frame of the story and frankly, a book all to herself from what I've read.

The notes indicate this is a work of historical fiction but it appears to be researched well.  Cage is a fictional character as I'm pretty sure most of the characters are.  But Mr Harrigan seems to have a handle on Abraham Lincoln's character, again from what I've read.    

I highly recommend this book and will look for another Stephen Harrigan book when I'm mentally ready.  It did not start out as the easiest read but it's well worth it.  
Tab Hunter Confidential 
Tab Hunter & Eddie Muller

One thing I've always loved is tales of old Hollywood.  I actually love the fact that there was a time when we could look at and dream about our favorite actors and actresses and not have nude pictures of them all over the internet.  Tab Hunter was a person who certainly benefited from that era.  He started out as part of the old "studio system" where basically they owned you but they also protected you against scandals and controlled what the public knew about you.  They had an investment to protect.  

I cannot say that I was ever a big Tab Hunter fan.  He did not offend me.  I can honestly say he never made any impression on me at all.  The only movie I can remember even seeing him in is 'Grease 2' and he had a minor role there.  I did, for some reason, know who he was though.  I think I probably saw his picture and thought he was attractive in that men of the 60's way.  Clean cut, handsome, clean.  Today I'd probably still think so (he's about 83 now) because he's still clean and handsome, not covered in tats and wears his pants up where they belong.  But I read a review of this book and it said he talked a lot about old Hollywood and had plenty of stories and pictures so I though I'd like it.  And I did.

Tab Hunter grew up with a single mom in San Francisco in the 30's and 40's.  There wasn't much money so his mom moved him and his brother around alot.  He grew up liking movies and horses.  He lied about his age and joined the Coast Guard as a teen.  They threw him out when they learned how old he was.   Later, he caught the eye of a Hollywood agent who thought he belonged in the movies.  He was, at the time, picked solely on his hearthrob looks.  Talent was not necessarily all that important.    As part of the studio system, he went where they wanted, when they wanted and was paid the same no matter how he did.  And he's pretty honest about the fact that he did not always do well.   But it was a pretty steady gig and he was protected by the studio system.  

It turns out that the he needed that  protection.  Tab was gay, in an era where that would have been career suicide.  He was paraded around with up and coming actresses like Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood but he was in a relationship with a male figure skater and actors including Anthony Perkins.   The name of the book, in fact, was from a scandal rag called Hollywood Confidential which had set out to find out all of the secrets of the stars.   He had once been once arrested at a "gay pajama party" where oddly enough he was really just inadvertantly in the wrong place at the wront time.  Basically, he was part of a pretty well kept secret life and the studio did all it could to keep his image as a teenage dreamboat intact.

Tab does provide stories of his movies, movie locations, co-stars and life an times to make things interesting, for me anyway.  This is not a smutty tell all and I appreciate that.  It was nice to read about how nice Gary Cooper and Natalie Wood were.  The truth is,praises for his talent have not been sung.  He ended up doing a lot of low budget, poorly rated movies, dinner theater and some TV.  His stories of being mixed up with Troy Donahue are pretty amusing.

He does talk some about personal relationships.   His mom appeared to be a harsh, cold woman who later suffered from mental illness.  He was close to his only brother who was killed in Vietnam.  He was involved in several love affairs with Hollywood insiders.   And he seemed to re-invent himself and survive without much talent in any area except looks.  One thing I thought was disingenious was that as much as he pretended to hate being judged on looks he used it as a foot in the door in everything he attempted.   He talked about not making big bucks but managed to go to Germany to pick up a new Mercedes more than once.  He hung out alot with people who wanted to be seen with beautiful movie stars.  Basically, he lived the life he had to live (in the closet) and did it in a way that he pretended to hate but certainly took advantage of.  

The book was an easy read.  It was written with a co-writer so it's hard to tell how much credit to give him.  And it gave a view of Hollywood that made it interesting to me. 
The Racketeer
]ohn Grisham

Boy, do I have mixed reactions on this book!  This review is going to contain some spoilers because I'm not sure I can discuss without them.  I never read a review until after I've read the book, seen the movie or heard the music.  I don't want anyone else's opinion influencing mine beforehand.  So if you don't want to read a spoiler, you might need to move on.

Our hero (?) is Malcolm Bannister, a Virginia lawyer who was caught in a net when the government went after a person for influencing congressman and other government officials.  Bannister was actually innocent but was charged under a racketeerng charge that caught a lot of collateral people in the net.  He was unfairly sentenced to 10 years in prison.  He was disbarred, he embarassed his dad, lost his wife and son.  We start off feeling a little sorry for him and hating the big bad government.

About 5 years in, he has a reputation as a jailhouse lawyer who helps other prisoners and finally finds a way out.  He calls the FBI promising info on the murder of a judge that they have been unable to solve.  He works a deal that if the person he turns over is indicted, he will be released, his record expunged and he will go into witness protection, complete with plastic surgery.  He turns over drug dealer Quinn Rucker, gives the FBI the full story and amazingly Rucker confesses after 10 hours of interrorgation.  Malcolm walks, gets the reward money ($150,000, an amount that he manages to do a LOT with over the rest of the book), he gets a new face and moves to Florida.   Then his cover is blown, he believes the Rucker family is after him and the government cannot protect him. and he leaves witness protection and goes out on his own.  This is where the story drops like a really big rock.

In a turn of events that comes out of nowhere, Malcolm meets Vanessa and the 2 of them spend a very large amount of money (I'd need a ledger on that $150k) convincing a man named Nathan Cooley they are making a documentary on the evil government and how they shoot drug dealers for no reason.   They lie to him, set him up to be arrested and rot in a Jamaican jail.  Suffice it say that nothing is as it seems and the rest of the story is completely unbelievable.    

Pretty much every character is unlkeable and unbelievable.  The end of the book sucks.  I'm a Grisham fan and my favorite part of his books is his not even thinly veiled disdain for the legal profession and the government but this one went so far off the rails that I'm going to have to wait awhile before I can read another and just hope the next one is better.

One Day at a Time
Danielle Steel

It was time for a quick, easy read and it does not get much easier than smarmy Danielle.  I have read several of her books in the past, starting with 'The Promise' in 1978.  I'm not as smart as I sound...I looked it up on Wikipedia.  I can also say it's been awhile because mostly she writes the same thing and I like a little variety.  But there was a paperback at the store that looked ok so I went looking for it at the library.  But then I actually chose another book....It's a complicated mind. 

Her heroine is Collette "Coco" Barrington, a late twenty something from a rich family who has a fabulous home and no real job.  She'd had a little heartbreak (a dead lover we never met) but really no hardships in her life-ever.  She does have an overbearing romance writing mother with a boyfriend 24 years her junior plus an overbearing lesbian sister, both of whom think Coco is a loser. 

Coco gets roped into housesitting for her sister at her fabulous San Francisco home and a friend of her sister's, an English actor named Leslie Baxter comes to hide out from a psycho ex girlfriend.  And of course they fall in love.  Ahhh.  The conflict is that even though Coco loves Leslie, she does not want to deal with the press their relationship would bring.  There is a cutsy kid and a few dogs and quick turnaround from her mom and sister and they of course live happily ever after.   I'd say spoiler alert but its Danielle Steel.  What does anyone expect to happen?

I enjoyed the book...a quickie thinking required.

A couple of asides.  First, when I was younger, there was a guy named Leslie that worked in the local department store who would follow everyone around while they were shopping, making everyone feel like potential thieves.  And of course, the ever wimpy Ashley WIlkes was played by Leslie Howard so my concept of Leslie's is not good.  I know she chose the androgenous name so Coco would be surprised that the "friend running from an ex" was a man.  No brainer.   Also, I think the picture on the back of the book of DS is the original from 1978 or she has made a deal with the devil.  Wikipedia shows she's 68.  I'll be she is kadizazillionare. 

I Beat the Odds
​Michael Oher

Michael Oher is an offensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers who was also the subject of the movie 'The Blind Side'.    Most people have seen the movie and have a general idea of the story of his life although a lot of poetic license was taken and some facts were altered to add drama to the movie.  

Michael was born in Memphis, the 6th of 12 children born to a drug addicted mother and a jailed father.  He grew up in poverty in the housing projects.  At the first of the month there was sometimes a little food in the house when mom had not yet been to her drug dealer.  A lot of times there was no food.  Sometimes mom would leave for awhile, locking her kids out of the house to fend for themselves.  They lived under bridges and begged and stole food where they could.   Michael says there were some families who were willing to share what they had and he tried to be at their house at dinnertime.   Child welfare and the foster care system was involved for many years.  All of the upheaval had the kids moving from home to home and school to school.  Sometimes Michael got to go with brothers, sometimes they were separated.    Michael always wanted his family to be together so he ran away from of the homes, always headed to home and family.  And finally they stopped chasing him.   Along the way, he had a natural desire to make a better life and had some mentors along the way who encouraged him.  Finally, one of his mentors managed to get Michael into expensive Christian school with his promise of athletic ability.    He was still living with friends and points out that his scholarship did not include lunch so he was still always hungry.  Well meaning school parents helped him along the way, letting him stay with them some but it was not until he was a junior that the Touhy family took him in permanently that he found the home he'd always wanted.  They helped him through school and to get a scholarship to Ole Miss that lead to him being drafted into the NFL.

Mainly, he wants people to know that he did know how to play football before he got to school.  He wants people to know that although he'd had a horribly inadequate education, he was not stupid.  He is a studier of men and game and life.    He always knew that somehow he would have the life he wants.  His main reason for writing the book is to encourage others in his situation to not give into the cycle of poverty.  To let people know that he got out and so could they. He also lists resources to help people who want to help kids in his situation.

​I really like this kid.  Yes, he got a break but he also made his own breaks.  He worked hard to get where he is now.    It's a great book!!
 Chestnut Street & A Week in Winter
  Maeve Binchy

 I am a fan of Maeve Binchy.  I've read many of her books over the years and have always enjoyed them very much.    At one time she wrote novels ...see, for instance, 'Circle of Friends'.  But mostly in  the last few years she started  writing short stories that she wove together pretty well to make a coherent book.  The book before this one that I  read was 'A Week in Winter' where several people with complete stories ended up  at an Inn where they wound up  interacting.   I don't expect the novels anymore...I know they are short stories.  She  had announced several years  ago that she would no longer write novels.  So I mostly knew what to expect.  And I really enjoyed 'A Week in Winter'.

 If you are not familiar, Ms Binchy is a really good writer of gentle Irish stories.   No one blows up.  There are no murders.  She actually writes characters very well, people who have sometimes had hard times but always seem to survive.  This book, however is a mess.  The thing is, Ms Binchy died in 2012 and I'm sure no one would admit to this but it appears to me that someone found pre-story notes and just did a quick (and very poor) edit and published them.   The stories are about several residents of Chestnut Street.  Some of the stories just stop without resolution. The continuity is off.  We get stories of one couple and in a later story Gerry is now Harry when mentioned as a side note in another story.  A lot of the people have different names but the same stories basically.  Lots of cheating husbands and parents not liking their children's choice of mate and steak and kidney pie, which is apparently all they ever eat.    I finished the book for a couple of unrelated reasons, the first hoping the last half of the book would give some closure to the earlier stories and the second that I had borrowed from the library on my Nook and I cannot navigate to see how much is left.  So the book ended as abruptly as most of the stories and it was pretty unsatisfying.  

I hope her estate is done milking all they can out of the poor woman.   Books like this tarnish her talent and reputation.  I cannot imagine she would have chosen to print what I again can only think were story ideas.  She is too good a writer for this book. 

Forgiving Troy 
Thom Bierdz

I read this book several weeks ago and have been digesting ever since.  

Thom Bierdz is an actor who was on 'The Young and the Restless'  starting as an early 20 something in 1983.  I remember seeing him and he was an ok actor.   I remember him coming out and I think that hurt his career.  It was not a common thing then.  He kind of disappeared after that.   He's an artist and internet star now.  I don't even remember where online I came across this story but I found the book for my nook for under $5.  I'm glad I did.  

This is an autobiography.  Thom grew up in Wisconsin with his divorced mom, 2 brothers Troy and Gregg and a sister Hope.  His mom was hardworking, dad was absent and times were tough and poor.  The biggest issue  was Troy, a boy with mental health issues, later diagnosed with schitzophrenia.  There were doctors, arrests and mental health committments.  And nothing worked.  There came a time where every door for help was closed to Troy and he moved back to his mother's home.  And their mom warned Thom & Gregg who were in California that Troy was going to come out and kill them.  He didn't though...he instead beat their mom to death with a baseball bat.   And finally, he was sent to prison, where they had to keep him.  And where they keep him to this day.

Thom decided that in order to live his life the way he needed to he had to deal with his past and that meant Troy.  He began to visit his brother in prison.  He found his brother unresponsive and unmedicated.  Thom got his brother medicated to treat the schizophrenia.  And he saw different sides to his brother.  He also has artistic talent.  And he enjoyed Kit Kats and even had an odd sense of humor.   Thom got to look past the tragedy and see his brother and how the disease had made him do what he did and who he was.   And he eventually forgave his brother.   Gregg did not forgive or understand.  And tragically, he committed suicide.  Hope felt the need to protect her own family and does not feel the same.  And here is the part of the book that fascinated me is what I think Thom finally figured out:  Because the mental health system had failed them all & his mom knew that the only way to stop Troy from killing someone else was to let him kill her.  It was the only way to get the help he needed.

This is a well written book and an indictment of the mental health system in this country in a huge way.   And I have to question if I'd forgive Troy.