Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Caroline: Little House, Revisited

Caroline: Little House, Revisited Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the wonderful reimagining of the book "Little House on the Prairie" from Laura Ingalls' mother's point of view. This is an adult version of the classic children's story. Caroline, the matriarch of the Ingalls clan holds together her family as they move from Wisconsin to the "Indian Territory" of Kansas in 1870. During that trip, Caroline is pregnant with baby Carrie, her soon to be namesake. New land is opening up to settlers and Caroline's husband Charles wants to be one of the early arrivals to get his pick of prime land. His dream is to own a large farm that would one day thrive, making a wonderful home for his family. The trip is rough, especially for a pregnant woman and is not without it's complications. More issues arise once the family stakes their claim, including visits from Indians, prairie fires, and malaria. It is a tough first year, but together with his wife Caroline, Charles and the family make the best of every situation they encounter.

I think that Caroline should be read along with or just after reading the original story. It really adds to the whole experience of this read. This book is definitely Caroline's story and it's definitely an adult retelling of the story. The classic book by Laura shows Caroline as a strong woman who is this perfect pillar of the family. This account shows the more human side of "Ma" as she deals with frustrations, fears, and concerns for her family. To her girls, and even to Charles, she still comes off as the strong, wise woman we meet in the original book, but Miller's account lets us see behind that proverbial curtain, giving the reader an understanding of how tough it was to hold together a family out on the prairie in Kansas. It was a trip she dreaded taking, but once they left Wisconsin, she was all in and resigned to making the best of this new life and adventure that "Pa" was taking them on.

This book has minor deviations here and there from the original story to be more historically accurate. The Little House collection that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote is mostly a work of fiction. It is Laura's retelling of some of the stories of her life growing up in the late 19th century, but as with many adults, childish memories can be a bit muddled. Sarah Miller did her homework to verify the timeline and locations of the Ingalls family between 1870 and 1873-ish. So there are a few deviations and additions but I do not think it takes away from the story at all. If anything, it strengthens the story. Most of the quotes and conversations in this book are straight from the original, which made it very fun to see these "recollections" told from both Laura and Caroline's point of view, if you read the original with this book. I was a fan of the classic books growing up and I am a fan of Miller's revisited story.

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Review: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The classic tale of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the move her family made from Wisconsin to "Indian Territory" in Kansas. Laura's father Charles dreamed of moving to the newly opened land to settlers to build a large farm. They weather good and bad throughout the move and the first year of settlement. This is a children's story told from Laura's point of view.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic and eerie work of dystopian fiction. In a future society, the Republic of Gilead, Offred is a handmaid whose purpose in life is to procreate. The tale follows her life as a handmaid while she recalls her former life before the coup that led to the establishment of the new society. In the Republic of Gilead men and women have assigned roles. Many are left barren due to chemical warfare during the governmental overthrow. Women who can procreate are deemed handmaids and are assigned to men and their wives for the purpose of building a family. Rebels and those who do not follow their assigned tasks are executed and left for all to view. Offred tries to be the dutiful handmaid, but is constantly concerned about the friends and family she has been separated from since the establishment of the new government. It is a haunting look at what could happen when an overzealous religious and political power take control of federal government. Not so far fetched these days.

I'm not usually a fan of dystopian fiction, but this book certainly is worth reading during the crazy political climate that the US faces today. It is as relevant today, maybe more so, than at the time of the original writing in 1985.

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classic story about a teacher, Miss Jean Brodie, who is in her prime. Brodie is not your typical teacher at a very conventional school and she mentors a specific set of girls known at the Brodie set.
Miss Jean Brodie is always introduced as being in her "prime" which loosely translates to being a young woman in love and is loose and free. Brodie just happens to be in love with someone she can't have, so she uses another man instead. The girls of the Brodie set are curious about sex and are constantly prying into Miss Brodie's personal life. In turn, she uses them to get information about the man she pines for.

Not my favorite story but it is a classic and a theme that has been re-done in many times.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A haunted house and a strange cast of characters. Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague insert themselves in to Hill House to study the haunted phenomena that lurk there. Who will stay and who will go? A perfect, classic read for the Halloween season.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century

The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century The Great Famine: The History of the Irish Potato Famine during the Mid-19th Century by Charles River Editors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quick read details Ireland's potato famine in the mid-19th century. The book follows chronologically, discussing the political climate prior to the famine, through the years of mass starvation 1845-1849, and post-famine consequences. There is a good discussion on blight, the cause of the potato crop failure, as well as the mass emigration that happened because of the famine. Many tried to leave for Canada and America but were just too sick to finish the journey.

This is not an overly in-depth review, but it is a good overview to give the reader an understanding of the devastation to Ireland, including short-term and long-term effects.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the very strange story of a young 21-year-old Sophia, living in London just after World War II. Life was hard in Europe at the time, it is the middle of a depression and many people were struggling to get by. Sophia meets Charles, who she falls in love with. Against the wishes of his family, Charles marries Sophia in a quiet ceremony. The two lived a very bohemian lifestyle as artists grasping for their next opportunity to paint or model. But times were hard and the two often found themselves without money, food, or electricity and it didn't go up from there.

What was so strange about the book is that the story is told from Sophia's eyes and she has quite a dry sense of humor. The story was mostly sad, at times extremely sad, yet there were some almost laugh out loud parts. You feel so bad for poor Sophia and the situations she would find herself in but you had to laugh at her descriptions of her surroundings and her inner thoughts. If you're not laughing, you're crying. You want to hate her and her husband at times for the stupid decisions they make. At other times you want to cheer Sophia on when things are getting better. Then things will go so horribly you just can't imagine that she'll survive. I suspect that the poverty described is quite possibly true to life in post-war London and for that reason and for the ending, it is worth the read.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: To Be Where You Are

To Be Where You Are To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be where you are. Isn't that what most people want with their spouse or significant other? Or even a close friend or pet? Many people make sacrifices to be with their loved ones and to offer help when it is needed. The newest title in the Mitford series continues the story of Father Tim and his family. We met Father Tim, then a bachelor Episcopal priest, in At Home in Mitford. He had an eye for his new neighbor Cynthia, an issue with his dog, Barnabas, who only behaved when scripture was spoken, and the problem of a young orphan boy whose best behavior included cussin' and spittin'. Dooley was ornery, rough, and begging to be loved. Throughout the series, we have watched these characters grow, and in To Be Where You Are, Dooley and his wife Lace are planning a ceremony to make an official family declaration with their newly adopted son. Sacrifices have to be made to make life work, but that is what family is all about. Dooley continues to build his veterinary practice, and handle life on a farm, with a new family secret to tell.

I love coming home to Mitford. I don't know if this is going to be the last in the series. I hope not. I think there are still more stories to tell. We've seen Dooley grow up to be a wonderful man and husband. Father Tim has built a family and we have watched beloved characters come and go. Now it is time to see what stories can be told about the family of Doc Kavanagh.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fahrenheit 451, the temperature that book paper burns. It is post-apocalyptic times when firemen now start the fires, not put them out. They burn all books, the homes they are found in and even the owners. It is a world where people spend their time watching TV and believe what the government tells them. This is not so far from today's society, which makes this book worth reading and contemplating. Guy Montag is the central character, he is a fireman who is sent out to burn books. He happens to meet Clarisse while out on an evening walk. Their discussion makes Montag question what he does and his life in general, making him spiral out of control. Or is he spiraling in control of his destiny?

This book is a classic but still resonates today. The idea that books and our right to free speech could be taken is not so far-fetched, but hopefully not anywhere on the spectrum of possibility. This book is about independence versus control and about the courage to stand up for what is right, despite the odds.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sad story of a deaf-mute set in a 1930s mill town. John Singer's best friend, another deaf-mute is taken away to an institution and he finds himself surrounded by a group of misfits at his boarding house. Mick is a young girl that dreams of being a musician. Portia is the housekeeper and cook, her father is a local doctor. Jake is a wild drunken guy who works at the local carnival. Each person and their family faces adversity that they simply can't overcome.

This book is indicative of life in depression-era mill towns in the south. Everyone is always struggling to get by and just never seem to get ahead. Everyone has a dream that never seems to be realized. Life was hard and family and friends are often what got you through each day. This is a sad book, but it gives the reader an idea of what life was like during the depression.

I do like McCullers writing. You tend to get attached to some of the characters, so their fates cause a bit of a sinking feeling toward the end of the book. I was hopeful throughout the book, but ultimately I was left heartbroken for a couple of the characters.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope

A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope A View from the Fog: A Story of Grief and Loss, and Faith and Hope by Jada D L Hodgson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short book on one woman's journey through the fog of grief after losing both of her parents in a car accident. Jada Hodgson is a lawyer and Methodist Lay Minister. She is a very family oriented person and a bit of an introvert. To suddenly lose both parents caused her to go on an emotional rollercoaster. She never wavered in her faith, but she certainly had some questions for God. Her message is simple and two-fold, lean on your faith to shine a light through your fog and allow yourself to grieve. Cry, laugh, get angry. Grief will run you through all of the emotions. It's okay. It gets better. It gets harder. It's okay. Lean on friends and family when you need. They may not know how to help unless you tell them what you need.

A dear friend loaned this book to me when my father passed away. It was one of those things that I knew would happen at any time, but when it did it seemed so sudden. This book was a great reminder that it takes time to get through the fog. Many of the emotions that Hodgson went through, I am dealing with myself. It is comforting to know that the emotional rollercoaster is a normal part of the grieving process.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir

All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir by Ashley Judd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ashley Judd is not only an award-winning actress, she is an advocate for human rights and an ambassador for Population Services International (PSI). In her memoir, Judd details her involvement with PSI, traveling to Asia and Africa touring the brothels and slums while teaching the residents how to protect themselves against AIDS / HIV. Many women she encountered were trafficked into sex slavery or simply had no other choice to make money. While embarking on this humanitarian cause, Judd wrestles with her own demons. Born into a very dysfunctional and abusive home, the actress often found herself on her own, abandoned by her family while they pursued a career in music. In between tours overseas, Judd checks into rehab to help herself, so she can help others.

I have always liked Judd as an actress. I counted her as one of my favorites to watch; except for Bug, oh Lord, what was she thinking about that one? I had the opportunity to see her speak in person, about her work with PSI and a bit of her own family history. I came away from the talk conflicted and find myself feeling the same after reading this book. No doubt she is a wonderful humanitarian. You can tell that she immerses herself in the cause to help people, especially women and children in the slums of places like Rwanda and the Congo. At the same time, she has had a lot to deal with in her own personal life. At times, she comes across as angry at average people that she has come across who don't know what she's been through or that know nothing about her work. One passage in the book that took me aback was in chapter 9, "Back at the hotel, a perky tourist from Texas recognized me in the business center and asked me if I was on safari. I let her blithe obliviousness and her expensive khakis irk me, and I blurted out bitterly, "No. In fact, I am on a HIV / AIDS prevention trip and have just been to three brothels." I hoped I had ruined her evening." I would think that would be a great opportunity to educate others on the conditions of the area she was touring and her work with PSI. I know she has been in the news for being rude like this to people, so this passage reinforced the idea that she may be a bit unapproachable to fans and others she comes across in everyday life.

There was just something in her tone throughout the book that didn't settle with me. She wasn't "bragging" but yet, she had an air of "see what I've done, I'm making a difference" then would follow that up with how broken she was during this time. I don't want to diminish what she went through, obviously, her childhood was traumatic and was unfairly treated. She is also a great humanitarian, but I get the sense that she is not so humbled by it and that she still deals with some duality to her personality.

If the book does nothing else, it does bring awareness to the global issues of sex trafficking and HIV / AIDS in other countries. She is certainly passionate about helping others and has formed bonds with many of the people she has met during her tours. These issues are the sad reality that many face every day and it is not just in "third world" countries, but happens in the US as well.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber Bridegroom The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Robber Bridegroom is a southern inspired retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Set along the Natchez trace, three shady men, Jamie Lockhart, Clement Musgrove, and Mink Fink meet along their respective trails. Enter Musgrove's beautiful daughter Rosamund and her ugly stepmother Salome. One tells lies and the other plots the daughter's demise.

This was a cute, quick story and the first time I have read Welty. I'll likely check out some of her longer novels.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Rebecca

Rebecca Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great classic. Rebecca is a gothic story about a woman who falls in love with an older gentleman Maxim De Winter, the owner of Manderley estate in England. De Winter is a new widower who meets the "new Mrs. De Winter" while on holiday as a way to grieve for his departed wife. After a honeymoon in Italy, Maxim and his new wife return to Manderley where she has to learn to fit in. Once at the estate, the true origins of her predecessor's demise begins to come to light and life at Manderley is far what she had ever imagined.

This story has some twists, that were somewhat predictable, but it was a great story nonetheless. It seems a little "Hitchcock" like to me, but I enjoy that. I thought it was a page turner from the start.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Deadly Brew

Deadly Brew Deadly Brew by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fall has arrived in the little town of Buttercup, Texas and once again a killer is loose. Buttercup is the home of novice farm girl Lucy Resnick who is struggling to maintain her grandmother's farm, now facing a water shortage. While attending the local Witches Ball at the home of Serafine Alexandre, one of the local residents turns up dead after having an argument with the evening's host. It seems as though Bug Wharton, co-owner of a new exotic game ranch had an enemy or two and Lucy is determined to figure out the mystery and keep her friend Serafine out of jail.

I generally don't read many mysteries but I thoroughly enjoy all of Karen MacInerney's cozy mystery series. I especially enjoy her Dewberry Farm Mysteries for the Texas references and setting. I am looking forward to further adventures in Buttercup, Texas.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is the story of Margaret Fuller who was a pioneer in the Women's Rights movement. Margaret grew up in the early 1800s in the New England area. She was the daughter of a stern man who was her source of early education. Fuller was a good friend of the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and was heavily involved in the Transcendentalist movement. She went on to be a teacher and a journalist. She was the first woman international correspondent reporting from Italy during a tumultuous time of revolution and the establishment of a Roman Republic. It was in Italy that she met and married Giovanni Ossoli who she secretly married, a very different outcome than what even she expected of her life.

This was a well written and researched book. I thought that it began to drone on a bit in the middle but found her life in Italy to be interesting. Her life ended in a very sad way and I was hopeful for her til the end. I would have like to have seen what she might have become upon coming home to America.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Citizens of London follows three men in London during WWII: Edward R. Murrow, the American Journalist and head of CBS News in Europe reporting on the war, Averell Harriman the man FDR appointed to run the Lend-Lease program, and Gil Winant, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain. These men lived the war. They were in London from the beginning and saw the destruction and the struggle that the locals faced every day. They all formed bonds with Churchill and played a part in some of the decisions made by him and by FDR. These men may have been "foreigners" living in the heart of the European fight but they were Londoners in their own right.

This book was very well researched and got to the heart of each man. Olson was able to get very personal with each man, showing flaws and all. We also see a bit of a different side of the relationship between FDR and Churchill than is often discussed. These men were often seen as close friends who worked together as allies, but the relationship had its strains. This is well worth the read for anyone that is interested in WWII, particularly from the British point of view.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitizer Prize winning story The Sympathizer is a haunting tale of espionage at the end of the Vietnam War. The unnamed narrator of the story is a communist double agent and refugee of the war, sent to America with the General he was sent to spy on. As the story unfolds we realize the narrator is a captured man, giving his confession and detailing his time in America and the Philippines. The story touches on many themes but centers around the narrator's duality. He is half Vietnamese, half French, working as a Viet Cong spy undercover as a south Vietnamese spy. He has become a Vietnamese American not fully feeling that he belongs in American or Vietnamese society. He is a conflicted man of two minds struggling to understand his own political beliefs and his place in two worlds.

This was at times a tough read for me. I have a very good friend who is the son of a former south Vietnamese Navy Commander that was one of the last evacuated from the war. The scenes of the narrator's evacuation are very similar to what my friend has shared with me of his own experience. I can only imagine what it must feel like to come to a country as a refugee and not feeling as if you fit in any where. I have to admit that at times the spying scenes and political rhetoric were not as exciting for me, but it is a very good look at an often overlooked perspective of the impact of the Vietnam War.

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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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