Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Something Like An Autobiography

Something Like An Autobiography Something Like An Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was introduced to Japanese film and drama in college by a wonderful, eccentric professor. He was passionate about the work of Akira Kurosawa and it certainly resonated with his student. Through this class I became fascinated with Kurosawa's movies. How could I not read his autobiography? Kurosawa is humorous, spirited, and sensitive. These are characteristic that obviously helped make him the wonderful filmmaker that he was. A very enjoyable look at his life and inspiration to re-watch his movies.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A short but powerful story of a Japanese-American family torn apart during World War II. The father of a nameless family in California is arrested the evening of the Pearl Harbor attack. His family is eventually sent to an internment camp. Julie Otsuka shows the harsh realities that these innocent people had to endure before, during, and after their confinement.

Otsuka uses an interesting technique in keeping the family nameless. The reader never feels like they get to know the family well, which is likely the intent. They were one of thousands of families that suffered, they could be any Japanese-American family. The reader understands the distance put between them and their neighbors and friends, understands the shun and loneliness forced upon them. Although the message came through loud and clear, I thought the story could have been developed more. It was a short "novel" that dragged a little in the middle. It is worth the read, especially if you don't know much about the Japanese internment camps, but there are many other books out there that give a more detailed account.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig

Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig by Mark Essig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Pig. Considered the most intelligent of the farm animals. Over its long history, the pig has had a bad rap. Throughout the past they've been considered unclean, disease ridden, and unholy. Mark Essig provides a detailed account of the history of the pig from its first known existence 120,000 years ago in Hallan Cemi (in Turkey) to today's fascination with bacon. Essig also touches on today's concern over farm welfare and the trend toward snout-to-tail dining.

You would expect this to be a dry discourse about this lesser beast, but it is written in an enjoyable and sometimes humorous manner. The chapters roll through each era in history and provides a look at the pig's role in each. I most enjoyed the discussion on today's direction toward re-pasturing in the farming industry vs. caging and automation. Now pass me some bacon.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: How to Be an American Housewife

How to Be an American Housewife How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very poignant story of a Japanese woman, Shoko, who comes of age during WWII. Her family expect her to marry well, even an American, if necessary, much to her brother's chagrin. But she loved an Eta, an untouchable. Decisions are made, the family is torn apart, and a secret follows her to America. Told threw the eyes of Shoko and her daughter Sue, How to Be an American Housewife is about family and forgiveness.

This story is very loosely based on author Margaret Dilloway's mother. I enjoyed the writing and was sucked into the story quickly and throughout. It is thought-provoking, yet cheerful, leaving the reader on a hopeful note at the end.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: The Story of a Photograph: Walker Evans, Ellie Mae Burroughs, and the Great Depression

The Story of a Photograph: Walker Evans, Ellie Mae Burroughs, and the Great Depression The Story of a Photograph: Walker Evans, Ellie Mae Burroughs, and the Great Depression by Jerry L. Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this little book on The Story of a Photograph, then as I read it I became a little disappointed, but by the end, I'm glad to have read it. The full title (The Story of a Photograph: Walker Evans, Ellie Mae Burroughs, and the Great Depression) and the synopsis provided on Amazon and Goodreads leads one to believe that there will be some discussion of the effects of the Depression on tenant farmers of the south as seen through the eyes of photographer Walker Evans. Evans was hired as a WPA employee during the age of the New Deal, to photograph the poor in the south to use as election propaganda. His photo of Ellie Mae Burroughs, the wife of a tenant farmer in Alabama has been one of Evans most famous photos and has become, as some have called it, the symbol of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the story digresses and at times became more of a look at photography in the 1930s with diatribes on features like aperture and flash.

By the end, Thompson does a fair job of bringing it full circle to discuss documentary vs. documentary style through the lens. A photo is, after all, worth a thousand words and as the author states, "art is long, but life is short". All too soon, our memories may fade, but life captured in photos, can forever hold a moment in time.

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Review: Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hurricane of 1900 that devastated Galveston, Texas is recounted in clear detail in Isaac's Storm. As usual, Erik Larson brings history to life as he introduces the reader to Isaac Cline, an up and coming scientist who is employed by the national Weather Bureau to head up the Galveston office, a place where no one expects any type of extreme weather. However, in the fall of 1900, one of the deadliest hurricanes to come on US soil strikes the town, nearly leveling the place and killing thousands of residents and vacationers.

Larson's writing is superb and well researched. Drawing on primary resources, including telegraphs, photographs, newspaper articles, and letters, Larson details Cline's life, the early days of the Weather Bureau, important events leading up to that fateful day, and Cline's part in it. Another great read from Erik Larson.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Saint Mazie

Saint Mazie Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saint Mazie is inspired by the real life Mazie Philips-Gordon known as the Queen of the Bowery. Mazie was a staple of life in the Bowery section of New York int he 1920s and 1930s. Little seems to be known about her real life, so Jami Attenberg imagines the details and brings the character to life in her latest novel. Her story is told through diary entries and interviews from the people that knew her. Mazie spent her life helping others less fortunate and more broken (maybe) than herself. The owner/manager of the Venice movie theater in New York, Mazie met and interacted with the patrons of her theater who subsequently became her extended family. She was a tough woman with a loud mouth but a caring and loving heart.

I enjoyed the book and loved the layout of the diary entries along with the interviews that seemed to help fill in the holes. Keep in mind that the book is a work of fiction but is inspired by a real person. I've tried to do some research on Mazie to see where the line between fact and fiction is drawn, but it is hard to tell, which makes the story that much more interesting.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Cleopatra

Cleopatra Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stacy Schiff expertly recounts the reign of Cleopatra and her tumultuous relationship with Mark Antony. Drawing on the few known primary resources available, Schiff is able to give the reader an unvarnished view of Cleopatra, Antony, and Octavian. It is easy to get lost in the clear descriptions of times.

I do like how the author puts everything in perspective for the reader. For instance, I had not thought about how the Valley of the Kings had already been raided by Cleopatra's time and Troy would have been "ancient history" to her as well. I really enjoyed digging in deep into her life and be able to understand the times from her eyes.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: A Place Called Hope

A Place Called Hope A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a few years of absence from his Home to Harmony series, Philip Gulley has returned with a new saga in Quaker minister Sam Gardner's life. Filling in for an ailing Unitarian minister, Sam unintentionally married Chris and Kelly, a gay couple. News soon gets out around the town of Harmony about Sam's heathen tendencies, sending Dale Hinshaw and the other elders of the Harmony Friends Meeting into a tizzy, threatening Sam's pastor-ship and livelihood. To top it off, his wife has decided it's time to go back to work, his oldest son is mid-way through his first year of college and his youngest is about to graduate and join the army, much to his chagrin. He hasn't had a raise in years and the bills are piling up. It's more than Sam can bear and he's feeling a bit worn out. He may have lost Harmony, but there is always Hope.

I missed this series and am so glad Gulley has renewed it. It is as funny as it is poignant. The characters and their antics will have you laughing out loud. The message is simple: tolerance. Accept people for who they are and know there are friends in the world who will not fail you.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: Terry Jones' Medieval Lives

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives Terry Jones' Medieval Lives by Terry Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was not at all what I thought it would be. Well, maybe it was half of what I expected. I came across this book and saw Terry Jones' name attached to it. I'm a history nut and a Monty Python fan. My expectation is that Terry Jones' Medieval Lives would blend some factual details of the way people lived during the medieval era with the lively humor of Monty Python. I was wrong, so very wrong. I indeed got a diatribe of medieval life, which may or may not be 100% factual. It does seem well researched, but I suspect that some liberties in conclusions were made. There was no humor, whatsoever. Very disappointing on that account. If I had wanted to read dry and boring, I would have picked up my 7th grade history book (written about 40 years ago).

If you're okay with straight information, compacting four centuries in 200 pages, then this is the book for you. For me, it was disappointment. I learned a little along the way, but mostly I feel asleep every 20 pages or so.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Wicked Springfield, Missouri: The Seamy Side of the Queen City

Wicked Springfield, Missouri: The Seamy Side of the Queen City Wicked Springfield, Missouri: The Seamy Side of the Queen City by Larry Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wicked Springfield, Missouri is a quick run down of the illicit behavior of the residents of the Queen City of the Ozarks from the 1830s through the beginning of prohibition in 1919. Wood details fights, murders, gambling addiction, bootlegging and houses of ill-repute during the early days of the city. Included is the details of Wild Bill Hickock's time in Springfield and the notorious fight he had over a gambling debt that ended in the other guy's death.

The information is interesting, but reads a little dry at times. The author obviously did his research well and he included pictures, newspaper articles and advertisements. I grew up in Springfield, so I was interested to read about some of the city's history and given the subject, was glad that none of my ancestors were listed in the book.

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Review: Killer Jam

Killer Jam Killer Jam by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Killer Jam is the first in a new series by award winning author Karen MacInerney. Known for her Grey Whale Inn mystery series and Tales of an Urban Werewolf series, MacInerney begins a new tale centered around former newspaper reporter, Lucy Resnick. Lucy decided to leave her busy work life at the Houston Chronicle to purchase her grandparent's farm in Buttercup, Texas. Lucy expected a quiet farm life of milking Blossom the cow (aka Harriet Houdini) and makin' dewberry jam, but instead finds herself the prime suspect in the murder of cantankerous town matriarch Nettie Kocurek. While on the trail to clear her own name, Lucy also begins to unravel an old family mystery that could explain a long time rivalry.

I generally don't read many mysteries but I thoroughly enjoy Karen MacInerney's cozy mystery series. I especially enjoyed Killer Jam for the Texas references and setting. I am looking forward to further adventures in Buttercup, Texas.

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