So this past week I have been in Oklahoma with the kiddo visiting family. It has been a week of indulgence. Sleeping in, sunning lots, laughing more, forgetting calories, competitive bouts of dominoes, Uno and Rummy. Oh, and lots of books. In a word, it has been a little slice of perfection.

I was able to knock out three books this week before getting back to the grind of daily living. I really considered just keeping this windfall a secret and writing up a single review for each of the books and posting them across the next three weeks, but you all know I just can’t do that. Plus, I have the next two weeks of books already selected for my August book club and my work trip to New Orleans, so there you go. And, since that grind is about to start up here real fast, here I go with three reviews that are short and sweet.


Book 29: The Super by Jim Lehrer

Career newsman Jim Lehrer, famous for the MacNeil/Leher NewsHour and more recently the PBS Newshour, has another iron in the fire as a novelist. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, but my folks did and this week while I was back in the heartland they recommended I check out Lehrer’s 20th novel, THE SUPER.

THE SUPER takes readers back to 1956, a time when luxury travel was via train, most specifically, Santa Fe Railway’s The Super Chief. Lehrer weaves together actual historical events and individuals with fiction to create an interesting story of what could have been during one 39-hour trip along The Super Chief’s route from Chicago to Los Angeles. The individuals at the forefront are The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable; millionaire Super Chief regular, Otto Wheeler who hopes to die riding the majestic train; fading Hollywood movie producers Darwin Rinehart and Gene Matthews; as well as former President Harry Truman. When a passenger ends up dead just hours into the trip, an all-out investigation ensues.

Reading about a simpler, more luxurious time was certainly enjoyable; yet I felt that Lehrer spent too much time building up the action and it was only after page 100 that I was really engaged. Not a problem if we are talking about a 700 page book. But at 224 pages, that’s almost halfway in that I finally really cared. It was also hard to distinguish between a number of the Hollywood producer types in the alternating chapters of the story. Lastly, the intrigue was not at the level of a Murder on the Orient Express, which the book jacket references, but a softer mystery.

Overall, I think people interested in train travel and the days when the silver screen ruled over the small boxes in our living rooms will enjoy THE SUPER. Folks looking for a page turning, gut wrenching thriller will need to grab a different book off the shelf.

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Fiction


Book 30: Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor (Author) and Peter Parnall (Illustrator)

I adored this book!

I am not going to wait and tell you and that may make the rest of what follows not really matter since I spilled the beans in the first sentence of my review, but I don’t care.

I absolutely adored this book!

When visiting the folks, they save the kiddo and I the trouble of bringing books by swinging by their local library and grabbing a few titles for us. It’s a great way for us to get exposure to stuff we might not normally pick up and it’s even more special when there’s a gem in the mix like EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK.

Written in 1985, EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a delightful children’s book that eschews toys and other material things for the pursuit of nature and the world around us. The narrator, a young Native American girl, walks kids through the rules of navigating the great outdoors to find the perfect rock. Be it smooth or lumpy, shiny or dull, she recommends that it should be small enough to fit in your pocket and that you should select it entirely on your own (not rushed or at the direction of some adult).

Written in a poetic nature, the tone of the book is delightful and what truly makes it special are the exquisite illustrations. I haven’t seen anything like them. Peter Parnall has captured the whimsy and nature and childhood with these gorgeous drawings illustrations which embody the beauty of Native American art.

EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK is a rare and wonderful find. I loved it so much I am buying copy for the kiddo and me. Everybody does need a rock, but they need this book too.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s Literature

Book 31: Marland Tragedy by Kim Brumley

Part of my time in Oklahoma was in Ponca City, a quiet pocket of gorgeous tree-lined streets that is rich in both history and a smidge of scandal when you mention the name Marland. That’s E. W. Marland, a pioneer of the Oklahoma oil industry.
I have actually spent many a summer in Ponca City just walking distance from the Marland Mansion (and walked the grounds of the property many a time, I have). It seemed only fitting to pick up a book about the highly controversial E.W., and at just under 200 pages, MARLAND TRAGEDY it was.
MARLAND TRAGEDY follows E. W.’s contributions to the oil industry, being one of the first to find and access oil in Oklahoma and creating Marland Oil Company which paved the way for companies like Conoco to enter the scene. Oklahoma native, historian and author Kim Brumley also chronicles Marland’s numerous efforts as a philanthropist to improve the status and surroundings of his fellow Oklahomans. Marland lived, for many years, a life of luxury and opulence before poor business and political decisions would undermine his efforts. And, unfortunately, his legacy is a tainted one due to his marriage to an adopted niece, Lyde.
Yep, you read that right. Marland adopted the niece of his first wife (and her brother) when their parents could no longer care for the children and Marland then annulled the adoption in order to marry Lyde. And this was all after his first wife Virginia died. It was probably for the best she wasn’t alive to see how his life played out.
Now, Lyde was no longer a child when the annulment and subsequent marriage occurred. They weren’t technically related. She was also a willing and consenting participant in the relationship. However, it’s a little Woody Allenish and, for a number of reasons, the act was considered highly scandalous and attracted the attention of city residents, business partners, politicians and peers throughout the country. What followed were years of public scrutiny, bouts of seclusion and disappearing acts, ongoing scandal and rumor, and what was probably the total destruction of Lyde’s human spirit. Tragic, indeed.
While the facts, not all of which are proven, that surround the Marland family are indeed fascinating, MARLAND TRAGEDY is jumpy, a bit repetitive in structure and style and in need of a strong editing hand. Despite that, it’s clear that Brumley has a passion for Oklahoma history and the indelible imprints made by this highly generous, yet equally dysfunctional family. It won’t be the most eloquently written autobiography you pick up, but it reads at an engaging clip.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 188
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography