Tag Archive | reading

Book Review: A Little Trouble With The Facts

A Little Trouble With The Facts, by Nina Siegal 

This is one of the CD audiobooks I got from my parents, and I popped it in for my commute.

A Little Trouble with the Facts

Valerie Vane was once the IT girl of the lifestyle reporting world in New York City.  But then she had a rather sudden and public fall from grace, right into the obituary department of the newspaper she worked at.  Valerie of course, wasn’t satisfied writing obituaries, but it was the only way to keep her job…

She writes an obit for a has-been graffiti artist, and her fact checking mistake earns her a call from a mysterious man who calls himself Cabeza.  And Cabeza wants her to dive in and find who murdered the artist.

The book is rather cliché, with a number of twists and turns, but it is an easy to read chick-lit murder mystery.  Even though she doesn’t have a full stack of brain cells, you can’t help but want to see Valerie Vane close the case and get herself off of the obit page.

3 stars.  

Book Review: America’s Hidden History

America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation, by Kenneth C. Davis

You already know that I’m a history nerd.  This book really helps to explore some of the lesser known historic figures in American history.

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The book has several chapters on different time periods in history; between the arrival of the Spanish and the Revolutionary War.  It includes stories about Queen Isabella, who insisted the explorers take pigs along to the New World, which were likely a significant vector of disease.  And George Washington’s pesky little insubordination and war crime in 1754 that led up to the Battle of Fort Necessity. 

The stories about the Revolutionary War were fascinating as well.  We all know about Benedict Arnold and his ultimate betrayal of the Patriot cause during the Revolutionary War.  But did you know about the successes that he achieved prior to his treason?  And did you know about his role after he crossed over to the British Army? He led troops for the British against the Americans. 

I listened to this on audiobook, and my only real gripe was the fact that the last CD of the set was a duplicate of the second to last CD.  Which meant that I didn’t get to hear the end of the book!  I was able to download the corrected version from the library and hear the last portion of the book. I emailed Penguin Randomhouse Audio about replacing the last CD; I hope they are willing to send a correct recording of the last disc! 

 

Book Review: Missing 411: Off the Grid

Missing 411: Off the Grid, by David Paulides

I love these books; he has a whole series of them, and even a movie.  Not because I believe in his quirky Bigfoot, alien abduction theories, but because he compiles details of missing people who have disappeared in wilderness areas.  As I dream of a second career as a successful sleuth, who goes back-country hiking in my free time, I find these cases so interesting.  He combines the details of the case, some of them being decades old, and interesting descriptions of wilderness areas all across the U.S.

Missing 411: Off the Grid

Paulides ties his missing persons cases to a pattern, including the fact that they are mostly men, generally disappear in wilderness areas, disappear in bad weather, and disappear near water.  He also ties his cases to specific hotspots, where a large number of cases crop up over time.  And although I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions, I do agree that these cases are often puzzling and mysterious.  Of course, there are always going to be some number of missing persons cases that are unusual, and I tend to believe that is why some of these people are never found.  But you can’t deny that some of these cases are downright weird!

Worth the read if you are interested in true crime and missing persons cases.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Greatest Battle

The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II, by Andrew Nagorski

I listened to this on audio CD; it was one that I had picked up from a used bookstore several years ago, but hadn’t listened to.  Sadly, when I was about 2/3rds of the way through the book, I realized that the audio book that I had was missing CDs 8 and 9 out of 11.  Unfortunately, I feel like this might have been the best part of the book! 

The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II

The Greatest Battle tells the story of Hitler’s assault toward Moscow in the fall of 1941, as well as the Red Army’s attempt to protect the city.  The author began by comparing and contrasting the backgrounds and styles of Hitler and Stalin.  They were obviously both larger than life figures, but they were also men who had significant similarities in their upbringing.  It was interesting to hear the similarities and ponder whether there was something that could be pinpointed to explain why both men came to power and why they were so willing to resort to such incredible cruelty, even towards their own people. 

The author then explains Hitler’s push towards Moscow; he details the circumstances that gave Hitler an advantage, but also the mistakes that were made that ultimately made the campaign unsuccessful.  The Germans got a late start on their assault, and terribly misjudged the effect of the weather on the roads, and the needs of the troops for warm clothes and supplies.  The mud in the fall, and the freezing temperature and snow in winter severely hindered the army’s ability to complete their mission.

Of course, the Red Army has some major issues as well.  The Russian troops were not well equipped, often sharing a rifle among an entire platoon.  Many of their weapons were outdated or lacked ammunition.  And of course, no story about Stalin’s Russia is complete without speaking of the reign of terror that Stalin inflicted on his own people.  Stalin and the NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) often spied on their own people and troops, and severely punished their own people for perceived transgressions.  Stalin literally murdered millions of his own people leading up to and during World War II.  It’s hard to stand up a successful Army when you are assassinating and imprisoning many of your own officers and troops. 

All in all, it was an interesting look into a portion of World War II history that I hadn’t explored much.  I do want to see if I can find a download of the complete book, so I can catch the missing chapters! 

4 stars.  

Book Review: The Paris Vendetta

The Paris Vendetta, by Steve Berry

This was my first book by Steve Berry, who writes secret agent adventure novels. It came from the collection of CD audio books that my mom sent home with me.  And boy was this one ever fast paced!

The Paris Vendetta (Cotton Malone, #5)

Cotton Malone is a retired secret agent for the US Government, who runs a bookshop in Denmark. He is interrupted at home one evening by a young man creeping around his apartment, and when confronted he spins a tale of being followed and being sent by one of Malone’s old friends.  When two men follow and try to kill them, Malone gets tangled up in a new case.  It involves the mysterious Paris Club, a group that is thought to be working to overthrow the world by creating chaos in the world’s financial markets.  Can Malone get to the bottom of this?

The book interestingly touches on the legend of the lost treasure of Napoleon Bonaparte as a side plot.  After Napoleon invaded Russia, he is said to have carted away hundreds of wagon loads of gold, which disappeared.  It has been searched for over the last 200 years, but never found.  Some of the members of the Paris Club have a side deal to find the treasure, which further complicates Malone’s mission. 

The plot of this novel takes the reader all over Europe, to many of the most famous historical sites, including Westminster Abbey, the killing sites of Jack the Ripper, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides, where Napoleon is now buried.

I don’t normally read action/adventure books, but this one kept my interest with its fast pace and historical intrigue.  Which is a good thing, since my Dad had several more books by Steve Berry that I’ll be reading in the future.  And a final note; it was narrated by Scott Brick, one of my favorite audio book readers!

3 stars.

Book Review: Martha Washington

Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady

Think for a moment about how much you know about America’s first President, George Washington.  Now think for a moment about how much you know about his wife.

Martha Washington: An American Life

Martha Washington was born in 1731, and was quite successful in her own right, even before she met and married George Washington.  But how much do you really know about her?  Patricia Brady’s biography goes into detail on the inaugural first lady’s life, from her childhood to her death in 1797.  She explains what is known about Martha and what has been lost to history, and the fact that women’s stories of the time were rarely told. 

Much of George’s wealth came from his wife, as she was indeed a wealthy woman by the time she married him at age 27.  They had a marriage of love, respect and partnership, and by all accounts George genuinely appreciated his wife’s presence, even sending for her to come to winter camp each year during the Revolutionary War.

It was interesting to learn more about this woman, her strengths and failures, and her life within a period when women typically did not run businesses or manage their own affairs like she did.  It was a worthwhile read!

4 stars.

 

COVID Diaries: Day 535…

It’s been a looonnnnggg couple of weeks.  I’m still working everyday in the office, so that’s adding a lot of commute time into the daily schedule.  But what else?

I’m taking this opportunity during my commute to work through some audiobooks on CD.  I’ve finished three so far, after getting a bit of a slow start.  I count this as purging – because after I finish them they can move on to new, bookish homes!  Sadly my most recent book had a recording error and disc 6 had the same tracks as disc 5!  I wasn’t able to hear the end of the book! Thankfully the library has the audiobook version, so all is not lost.

Yellow had to go back to the vet yet again today.  This time to have his wound staples redone.  About a third of his armpit wound has closed, but the rest of that sucker is stubbornly holding on.  He was not pleased when I picked him up to once again rudely shove him into the carrier, so he expressed his strong dissatisfaction by peeing on me.  I mean, some might say he was just scared, but let’s be real, I’m pretty sure he was just pissed off.  I can’t blame him.  Once again though, within a few minutes of our arrival at home, he was willing to forgive me.  He has been enjoyed some loves, and some lap time and and extra lunch meal as I suck up to him.  Of course, I did get smart this time and trimmed his claws last night before this morning’s caging attempt.  I do, at least sometimes, learn things.

I continue to be disappointed at the divisiveness and meanness that is exhibited by so many.  I wonder if when we all look back on these days in a few years, if some people will reflect and feel the slightest bit of shame about how they treated other people.  I guess we will have to see.

My dad’s birthday was last week.  I miss the conversations about world events and his guidance on things.  I miss sitting with him watching the evening news.  Each year is another year where I have new experiences that I don’t get to share with him, and that is hard.

Last night I had book club – a chance to talk about interesting reads with a wonderful group of kind supportive women.  It is still summer, but the evenings have cooled off, so we spent the evening in my friend’s conference room, which has a nice view of the city and the bay.  Sunset photos anyone?

I’ve been on some nice walks around town and the beach, and that always helps me find my happy place.

I hope you are all enjoying the Labor Day weekend with friends, family and loved ones.  Cheers to the last days of summer!

 

 

Book Review: Unsheltered

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

In poking around on the library’s website, I found a novel by Barbara Kingsolver that looked intriguing. It had been a while since I had read her work, but I had enjoyed the Poisonwood Bible several years ago.

Unsheltered

Unsheltered is the story of two families who live on the same block of Vineland, New Jersey 140 years apart.  It is a planned, utopian city, founded by Charles Landis, a notable eccentric who wanted the community to abide by his rules.

In the present day, Willa Knox and her multi-generational family move into a large, run down home that was willed to them when an aunt passed away. She goes looking for ways to help fund a renovation of the home, including seeking out grants based on the preservation of a historically significant home.

Back in the 1870s, Thatcher Greenwood lived in Vineland, a high school science teacher who is at odds with his principal for teaching evolution based science. Thatcher meets an unexpected ally and friend in his next door neighbor, Mary Treat, a middle aged woman with an interest in botany and small animals and insects.

Kingsolver weaves the two stories together, in her characteristic style of switching back and forth between the families and time periods.  It is effortless and interesting, with her complex character development.  You find yourself invested in their lives, cheering and cursing their decisions, and feeling their pain. 

The historic context of this novel was the real win.  Because Mary Treat is real, and the town of Vineland, New Jersey and its founder, Charles Landis, are real.  Kingsolver makes these real life characters come to life on the page, and tells a part their stories for a new generation of readers. 

5 stars.

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This book was nominated to be our book club selection for this month; it didn’t win the vote, but I had read the book that was selected already, so I decided to read this one instead.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

How interesting!

The story follows Nikki, a young Punjabi woman who lives in London.  She is struggling to find her identity, after dropping out of law school and experiencing the death of her father.  There is tension with her mother, as she works as a bartender and lives in the flat above the pub.  Her mother fears she’s going down the wrong path; throwing her life away.

Nikki reluctantly agrees to post a profile for her sister on the “marriage board” at the largest Sikh temple in Southall.  While there, she finds a posting for an English and creative writing teacher, facilitating a project for women to tell their stories.  She has no experience teaching at all, much less English or creative writing, but she gets the job because no one else applies.

She is in for a wild ride.  A half dozen widows sign up for the course, with varying degrees of interest in learning English, but almost all of them have stories that they want to tell…  And their stories are erotic!  These women are reliving their experiences with their husbands, or dreaming of the experiences that they would have liked to have had.  What becomes apparent is that these women, who are not supposed to have these feelings or desires, have rich imaginations and stories that pour out of them onto the page.  Nevermind that most of them don’t even know how to write…  They will find a way.

Along the way, Nikki finds herself drawn into the culture of her birth, one she has long held at arm’s length.  She learns that these women aren’t backwards or archaic; instead they honor their rich cultural heritage.

I think this novel could have stood on its own, but the author throws in the excitement of a murder mystery too.  I think I would have enjoyed this book either way, but I’m still not sure whether the side story adds to or detracts from the main plot line.

I listened to the book on audio, and found the reader, Meera Syal, to be engaging from start to finish.

4 stars.

Book Review: The German Girl

The German Girl is the debut novel of Armando Lucas Correa, a Cuban author.  It was published in 2016 in both Spanish and English.

The German Girl

The story is that of two girls, brought together over time.  Hannah Rosenthal, a German Jewish refugee fleeing to Cuba via ocean liner in 1939.  And Anna, a 14 year old girl living in New York City.

The perspective shifts back and forth between the two of them as the story unfolds, piece by piece.  Hannah’s flight from Germany, trying to escape the reach of the Nazis.  Anna’s trying to learn why her father left her, and understand why her mother just doesn’t have the energy to get out of bed.  I don’t want to reveal much, as the suspense and hold of the story would be diminished if you knew what was waiting around the next corner.

This novel was incredible.  Sweet, and heartbreaking, it pulls you in page after page, not wanting to put it down.  What will happen to these girls as their lives unfold?

5 stars.