Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A true southern classic, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of a black woman in 1930s Florida who tries to find her way in the world after her mother abandons her and her grandmother dies. Janie Crawford marries a man she didn't care for, to keep peace with her grandmother, but leaves him when he begins to abuse her. She is swept off her feet by a well off man who promises to devote his life to her, but he too abuses her emotionally and physically. She eventually finds the love of her life, a man named Tea Cake. Their life together weathers many storms.

I didn't love this book, but it was worth the read as it is a classic. It is a story about the search for self and racism in the 30s that still resonate today.


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Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Mother's Little Helper

Mother's Little Helper Mother's Little Helper by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third installment of Karen MacInerney's mystery series centered around full-time mom and part-time private investigator Margie Peterson. Margie is a mother of two who is barely keeping it together. Her marriage is ending, her daughter pretends to be a dog, and there's a pig problem for her to deal with. In this book, Margie is hired by the PTA President to find out the source of missing funds and ends up investigating the death of a fitness trainer who is also an up and coming LifeBoost energy drink entrepreneur. The trainer had some mighty private sessions with half the PTA moms so there are a few who could have done him in. There's also a case of an anonymous streaker that bares all but a sock to the local garden club. It is never a dull moment when you're hanging out with Margie.

Karen MacInerney has a great sense of humor and it really comes out in this book. It's full of quirky characters and improbable situations. What will Margie get herself into next?

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is a tough but important story of poverty stricken Americans barely living in the slums of Milwaukee, WI. Pulitzer winner Matthew Desmond follows the lives of eight families renting "homes" in the slums of Milwaukee and the landlords they rent from. These people face rent fees that are often more than their income and their homes are in some of the worse conditions that anyone could imagine. When unable to come up with the needed funds for another month, many find themselves trying to decide between rent, food, or utilities. They are eventually evicted and added to eviction records that follow them to their next destination. Many times, the rent costs are the same or just below what one would find in a middle class area of town. The difference? Finding the landlord that will rent to someone with a past, with an eviction record, and without verifiable income. These landlords rarely keep up repairs and necessary work on their properties unless they know they have a decent tenant that will pay on time and consistently. It is a game that landlords and renters play. Many find themselves in holes that they can never climb out of but a few are able to persevere and beat the odds.

If nothing else, this book will bring to light an area of American life that is often ignored and make the case for affordable housing in the United States. The current programs to help the homeless and near homeless do not work well. Reform is desperately needed. Desmond does offer his idea of expanding the current voucher system that would eradicate the slums and put slum lords out of business. His idea would offer hope for many and give these people a chance to change their circumstances.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: America's First Daughter

America's First Daughter America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fictionalized story of Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph, the oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Drawing on the letters of Thomas Jefferson, authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie paint a wonderful, yet tragic picture of the life of Patsy Jefferson. From an early age, Patsy was Jefferson's constant companion. She was at his side when they had to flee Monticello at the end of the American Revolution, and she accompanied him to France where he was an Ambassador on the eve of the French Revolution. After returning to the United States, Patsy followed Jefferson to Washington City to play hostess and First Lady during his two terms as President. Patsy lived through a lot as Jefferson's daughter and it wasn't all good. Enduring heartache and abuse by her husband and handling Monticello as they struggled through near poverty, Patsy always showed strength and resilience.

I enjoyed this read, as I know little about this time period and about Jefferson's personal life. It is a very engaging, yet heartbreaking story. Patsy had to be quite a woman and hers is a story that should be shared as an important character in our nation's history.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review: Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution

Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carry Me Home is a thorough account of the history of the fight for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama. McWhorter gives detailed background on the politics behind segregationist groups, Dixiecrats, and the Freedom Movement. Also covered are the Freedom Rides, local marches led by Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth, and the various bombings in the area, culminating with the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls during Sunday School. McWhorter wraps up with a follow up on what happened to the major players, and the trials of the two remaining bombers that led to their convictions. Interspersed throughout the book are the author's own recollections of these years and the part her father may or may not have played in any nefarious acts.

This was a very good book and worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. It was exhaustive and is very dense but very much worth the read. It definitely takes you to that time and helps the reader to understand the climate and tense atmosphere of Birmingham, Alabama from the early 40s through the 60s and beyond.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short book on handling grief, or as the author calls it "Option B". That's the plan you have to go with when life takes you off course and on a new path. Sheryl Sandberg is an executive at Facebook and was on a vacation in Mexico with her husband Dave, and their friends. Dave died on that trip while working out at the resort gym. It was completely unexpected. This started Sheryl and her two children on their path down Option B. This book covers the uncomfortable situations that she often found herself in after his death, learning to be strong for her kids but vulnerable enough to let them know it's okay to grieve. Sheryl also talks about becoming resilient and eventually moving on and finding happiness in life.

This is a great book for those who are grieving but also for those who are supporting those who have had a major loss. In particular, I was inspired the chapter on dealing with the "elephant in the room." We are often not sure what to say to someone who has just suffered a loss. Sometimes, that person just wants to talk and reflect and that was the case for Sheryl. It relieves the tension and awkwardness. In the future, I'll remember to ask and to allow the griever to talk if they would like.

Many of the topics covered can be applied to other losses as well. Loss of jobs, homes, relationships, etc. There are different types of grief and our ability to deal with loss means we have to face it head on and adapt if we are going to find joy in our lives once again.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a comprehensive guide to understanding the different types of DNA testing and how these tests help genealogists to solve brick wall issues. The author does very well to explain the basics (and not so basics) of DNA, and what each test covers. The book covers tests from the 3 large testing companies: 23andMe, Ancestry, and Family Tree DNA. The book also provides charts and forms that the genealogist can use to get started on a "genetic genealogy" tree.

This is well worth the read, especially if you feel overwhelmed with the different options in DNA testing, or don't know how to interpret your results. I was really impressed at how well the author explained everything without getting too technical.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Cybercrime and Digital Forensics: An Introduction

Cybercrime and Digital Forensics: An Introduction Cybercrime and Digital Forensics: An Introduction by Thomas J. Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I used this book this year for a Cyber Criminology class I teach. It is a good text for an overview / introduction class. The first 8 chapters cover different types of cybercrime such as hacking, cyber terror, digital piracy, and cyber stalking / bullying. Cyber sex crimes are also covered. There is one chapter on old school criminology theories / the scientific method and how they apply today to the cyber world today. The last four chapters cover digital forensics, touching on subjects like spoliation and collecting forensics in the cloud.

This is my first year teaching with this text and I will likely use it again. As with any text, it is going to be quickly outdated, so I hope they do an updated version soon. It is well laid out with a nice progression between subjects, interspersing historical information as well. Real world examples are used, but I would have like more examples that are more in depth. Another plus is that the book uses technical terms, while clearly explaining terms and concepts for beginners to understand.

I also liked the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. These are thought provoking questions that have the students thinking beyond what is discussed in that chapter. They made great essay questions for tests. If you are an instructor, the publisher has a website with extra material that can be used in the classroom, such as Powerpoint presentations and test questions.

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Review: So Big

So Big So Big by Edna Ferber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of Selina Peake DeJong and her son Dirk "SoBig" Dejong. Selina, the daughter of a prosperous Chicago gambler during the turn of the century, is forced to make her own life, when her father passes away. Her journey takes her to rural Illinois, not far from bustling Chicago to teach the children of the local farmers. Her life turns out very different than she expected, but Selina is a strong woman who sees the good in everything and everyone. She is the type of person that turns dreams into realities. These are the values she tries to instill in the children she meets and her own son. The overall theme of the book is about making the most of one's life. You can be rich without having money. It's all about what you do with what you have. "There are only two kinds of people in the world that really count. One kind's wheat and the other kind's emeralds." – Edna Ferber

I enjoyed this book. The writing is superb and draws you in from the beginning. It is obvious why this is a classic book worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. The characters are rich but not without their flaws and the themes are ones that still resonant today. I think this is an often overlooked classic that should be added to reading curriculums.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This classic is such a cute read. The story begins in the 1920s with Mrs. Wilkins reading a newspaper advertisement for the rental of an Italian castle during the month of April. Through happenstance, she collects three other women who join her for the month to get away from it all on a quiet vacation. Each woman has come without spouse or suitor. The journey and the vacation isn't quite what any of them expected, but it does become what each of them needs. This is a fun read that is at times quite humorous.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Bomber Girls

Bomber Girls Bomber Girls by M.J. Foreman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a short quick read about the women of the British Air Transport Auxiliary, a group formed to back up the Royal Air Force. During World War II, women took to the air as transport pilots for British bombers. They had no fire power, just simple orders to move planes from A to B. Many though, found themselves in combat or dealing with mechanical failure. These are remarkable women whose stories should be told.

This was an interesting read but a bit dry at times. There were some engaging stories but a lot of "just the facts" bits, which likely was needed being a short Kindle Single selection. This book could easily be expanded and developed much like Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly. Worth the read if you are interested in learning more about the women of ATA.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: The Aviator's Wife

The Aviator's Wife The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good look at the lives of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Anne's point of view. The daughter of the Ambassador to Mexico in the late 20s / early 30s, Anne Morrow was a middle child who felt like she was often overlooked, with an uneventful future ahead of her. Longing to make a mark on the world, Anne meets and later marries American hero Charles Lindbergh, not long after his epic journey from the US to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis. At the time, she was smitten and ready for adventure. Adventure is what she got, in spades. What Anne did not anticipate was the rigid, often cold relationship with her new husband. There were good, loving times when the two would fly together, lost in the air away from the harsh realities that came with stardom. More often than not, though, life as the aviator's wife was a struggle where her fear of being overlooked was realized.

I want to think that Anne was a strong woman with gumption. Benjamin did a great job of presenting Anne as a young, naive woman who is often beaten down emotionally by a man who was overbearing. Throughout the book we see Anne transformed into her own woman with her own voice. It is a well researched book, sticking close to historical events, taking licenses on Anne's personality and character. I read this right after reading A. Scott Berg's biography on Lindbergh. It was a nice follow up to see their lives from Anne's vantage point. She had to be a remarkable person for putting up with the larger than life character that was her husband.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Lindbergh

Lindbergh Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very well written, detailed account of the life of Charles A. Lindbergh from birth to death. Everything is covered from the famous first flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis to the Trial of the Century covering the kidnapping and murder of Charles' and Anne's first son to his political and aeronautical endeavors and eventual fight with lymphoma. The book not only covers his life from Lindbergh's own point of view, but from his wife Anne's as well. According to the end notes, Anne offered thousands of records and diary entries to the author as long as the story was about both Charles and Anne. The author lived up to the promise. The relationship was loving and strong at times, while distance and estranged at others.

I thought this was a wonderful biography without being so exhaustive and dry. Lindbergh was quite a character and that certainly comes through. There was a lot I did not know about Charles, from his time stationed in San Antonio in the Army (my home) to his time working with PanAm. Well worth the read if you are in any way interested in aeronautics or just curious about the man who made that first important flight across the Atlantic.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story behind the movie. Hidden Figures is the true story of the black women who worked in the West Computing area of NACA / NASA's Langley Research Center starting in the 1940s. These women persevered during an age when women in the workforce were only essential due to the war effort and black women in mathematics and engineering roles were unheard of. This book is not just about these women human computers who help John Glenn reach the moon, but about Civil Rights in the Jim Crow south in the 40s-60s.

Well written and well researched, Shetterly captures the spirit of these women and the bond they developed charting unknown territory. It is a short book that I think could have been expanded, but is a nice overview of these inspirational women.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: No ordinary time : Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II

No ordinary time : Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II No ordinary time : Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent, very well researched and written account of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the years leading up to WWII and follows through to their deaths. Goodwin concentrates on life in the US during these years, touching on subjects like civil rights, Japanese internment, worker's rights, and women in the workplace. While the book was dense, it was very readable. It was exhaustive and entertaining. It is also a very raw and personal look into the personal lives of the Roosevelts. Franklin was a proud and concerned President who spent over 3 terms in office working toward winning the war through to his dying day. Eleanor was a hardworking advocate of the people working toward human rights at home and throughout the world. Although they had much love for each other, they were separate, individual people whose work seemed to compliment each other. Yet they were not without their flaws and Goodwin captured warts and all.

Although it was a heavy read, it was very engaging. I feel like I have had a very personal peek into the lives of Franklin and Eleanor.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: The Pearl

The Pearl The Pearl by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short story of Steinbeck explores the topics of good vs. evil and greed. Kino and his wife Juana live at the cost of Mexico. They are among the poor of their town, struggling to make ends meet and make a life for their new born son, Coyotito. But they are happy because they are together. One day Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. Desperate to find the funds to help care for and save Coyotito, Kino hunts for oysters in the ocean, finding a very rare pearl. As with many that come into fortune, Kino must make decisions that could alter their life for good or bad, while dealing with people that look to cheat him.

A short classic worth reading with many themes worth pondering.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of General Alex Dumas, the father of famed author Alexandre Dumas, père. General Dumas was the son of a black slave woman and a French nobleman who grew up during the slave days of 18th century France. He later proved himself in the military during the French Revolution, but was ultimately betrayed by Napoleon Bonaparte due to his heritage. Dumas was certainly an inspiration for his son's acclaimed novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

This is an exceptionally written account by Tom Reiss, who spent 10 years researching the General's life. It is engaging and entertaining. Reiss' admiration of Dumas certainly shines through.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: Whale of a Crime

Whale of a Crime Whale of a Crime by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whale of a Crime is Karen MacInerney's 7th installment in the Gray Whale Inn mystery series. I have enjoyed this light and fun mystery series that takes place on the little Maine community of Cranberry Island. Natalie Barnes, owner of the Gray Whale Inn Bed and Breakfast, is having a wonderful summer until the inn plays host to a nature tour. Captain Bainbridge of Northern Spirit Tours shows up dead off the anchor of his ship the Summer Breeze and Natalie launches her own investigation to help clear her friend who is fingered as the killer. As if that is not enough, Natalie's headstrong sister shows up on the island and someone seems to be sabotaging the inn.

I generally don't read many mysteries but I thoroughly enjoy Karen MacInerney's cozy mystery series. There are bonus recipes at the end of the book of all the food mentioned in the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book details the White House lives of modern First Ladies from Jackie Kennedy through Michelle Obama. Each woman is profiled from the time their husbands became involved in politics and continues through their time as a "Former First Lady". The book shows the good, the bad, and the ugliness of the job and on the attitudes of each lady. Some of the women became quite close, while others seem to simply tolerate their peers. Each woman brings their own attitude and charm to the White House and each has her own triumphs and hurdles. Ultimately, they all belong to a special "sisterhood" that no one else could completely understand. This book gives the rest of us a glimpse into what it really means to be the First Lady of the White House.

Brower gives the reader a no-holds bar look at these ladies. None of them are without fault. Indeed, all of them have some not so great moments. It is at time scandalous and at times you are humored with some of their antics. My perception of all of them has changed, mostly not for the better. However, for some, I have a better appreciation of them. I'm not sure how much the author's own political ideals were coming through. There were some women she seemed harder on than others, but none of them were shown as flawless and often quite the opposite. Being the wife of a President cannot be an easy job and after all, these women are human. Most did not ask or want to be a First Lady, but they have all handled the job with their heads held high. It will be interesting to see what the future holds and to see if there some day might be a First Husbands edition of this book. The book could also have been a little more cohesive. It did bounce around some and was not always chronological as you would expect it to be. I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Review: The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet

The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet by Alona Pulde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a companion to the documentary Forks Over Knives which discusses a plant-based diet and its effects on a person's health. The authors posit that a diet rich in whole grains and whole plant based foods can reverse what ails you, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Studies are cited that back the claims and first person testimonials are also included. The bulk of the book lays out a four week plan to transition to this new way of life with 100 recipes to get you started.

I have to be honest and say that I have not yet watched the documentary. I've done enough research on my own to know that a diet in whole foods is a much healthier option to a high processed lifestyle. It should come as no surprise to anyone, these days, that processed foods have tons of chemicals that just are not healthy for anyone. I don't necessarily agree with the authors that a completely plant-based diet is the right diet for everyone. There are people who cannot handle soy based products or who need added animal protein. I've done a bit of homework to read the "other side" to find that some of the claims and studies cited are not the whole story. It is always best to do your own homework and consult your own physician before starting any diet. I was also not charmed with the way the authors start out saying "this is not a diet but a lifestyle", yet continuously refer to this way of life as a diet. The authors also say that all oil, including olive oil, avocado oil, etc. are bad for you; however, use maple syrup when you need a sweetener, and oh, if you need some sugar for your sweets, that's alright from time to time. It just seems like they are very strict on a couple of points, but lax on others.

This book has not convinced me to move to a vegan diet. I honestly have tried some recipes that turned out to taste like dirty socks. There are some that work very well, though. The book did reinforce / remind me how it is best to keep moving away from processed foods and cook healthy whole foods at home whenever possible.

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