Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: Intersectionality

Intersectionality Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Collins and Bilge present the topic of Intersectionality, which is the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender as it applies to individuals and groups. It is a person's holistic multi-faceted identity. The term is attributed to Kimberle Crenshaw who first coined the term in 1989; however, it was not a new concept at that time. Collins and Bilge utilize several examples of using intersectionality as a tool to explore and understand social inequality through inquiry and praxis. The authors also give voice to those that contest the concept. To put the concept into practicable terms, consider an African-American lesbian woman. Through the lens of intersectionality, they would identify as the collective person rather than as just an African-American, or just as a lesbian, or just as a woman.

The authors also explore feminist movements, such as the Combahee River Collective through the lens of intersectionality and its effects on modern movements like Hip Hop and our digital world.

This is a good, comprehensive book that can be dry and dense at times and engaging at other moments. Worth reading and discussing.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review: Reshaping Women's History: Voices of Nontraditional Women Historians

Reshaping Women's History: Voices of Nontraditional Women Historians Reshaping Women's History: Voices of Nontraditional Women Historians by Julie A. Gallagher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not everyone has the chance to have a traditional college experience or forge a traditional path in their professional career. In today’s society more and more young adults finish high school and matriculate to a college campus to begin a four-year Bachelor’s program. A portion of those students who complete their undergraduate studies goes on to obtain a Master’s degree in their chosen field. Far fewer complete their educational journey by receiving their Doctorate. The percentage of women who complete the entire curriculum is likely low compared to men, as personal challenges present themselves throughout their adulthood. The low percentage includes women pursuing a Doctoral degree in History. Women who take a non-traditional route to higher education and professional careers are the subject of Julie A. Gallagher’s Reshaping Women’s History: Voices of Nontraditional Women Historians. Gallagher’s work is a compilation of 18 autobiographical essays by women who have persevered through incredible odds to obtain a post-baccalaureate degree in History. They are women who have received the Catherine Prelinger Award

The Catherine Prelinger award is given yearly to a woman who has shown evidence of a non-traditional professional career and has worked on a project to develop women’s role in history. Many of the recipients have interrupted their studies to devote time to family and personal matters. Finances are usually an issue as these women struggle to maintain a home with daunting bills and lack of income. Some have started on a different trajectory in their studies, never expecting to find themselves in the field of history, but by chance have found a passion uncovering the stories of past generations. The Prelinger award is given out by the Coordinating Council for Women in History (CCWH), and the monies received by the recipients have no specific earmark for usage. Some women utilize the money to help pay bills that will relieve them of a financial burden. These financial burdens hinder them from time-consuming research needed to complete a project of turning their dissertation into a published book. Some utilize the money to purchase equipment for recording oral histories, and some spend their money on travel to foreign countries to complete on-site research. However the monies are used these women are relieved of a financial strain so that they may achieve a goal that they believe they could not make. It has allowed them to join the ranks of fellow female historians contributing to an expanding body of scholarly women’s historiography.

Gallagher’s request of the eighteen women who form the body of Reshaping Women’s History is to write their story. They are autobiographical and each woman brings her voice and style to their essay. Some write in a scholarly voice, likely reminiscent of their academic voices, while others write more in a creative stream of consciousness form. These stories evoke passion and heartache for their projects and the hurdles they faced. They are at times raw and open as they lay out the details of their lives and journey toward completing scholarly works supporting women in history. The culminating result is a body of work that encourages other women to persevere through what may seem like insurmountable odds to complete their academic and professional goals. They are a group of women who have stories that need to be told and who can tell the story of other women overlooked in history.

Reshaping Women’s History should be required reading for all women pursuing a degree in history or comparable studies. Some of these women did not start out looking toward a profession in history, but their paths led them there. Reshaping Women’s History is a book that highlights the lack of scholarly work in women’s history and the voices that are still unheard waiting to be uncovered to be written and read by those that follow in their footsteps.

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Review: The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement

The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement by Winifred Breines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of essays by Winifred Breines and the role of women in the feminist movement of the 1960s through the 1980s. Breines follows a chronological history of feminists beginning with white women and African-American women's roles in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and how these two groups of women forged their own campaign for equal rights. Breines also details the role of African-American women in the Black Power movement, specifically detailing specific leaders with the Black Panthers. Two other groups are noted, the Bread and Roses group and Combahee River Collective. These groups were socialist feminist group, the former a white oriented group and the latter an African-American group. The Bread and Roses organization was anti-capitalist and anti-racial, hoping to be inclusive of all women of race. The divide between the two races continued into these organizations that began in the days of SNCC. The author then wraps up her discussion as she details the issues in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s when many African-American women were being killed. Women of all colors began to come together to fight capitalism, racism, and sexism.

Well written, scholarly work discussing the oppression of women during the anti-war and New Left movement era. The overriding theme is that solidarity is power and should cross race and class lines.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Review: Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights

Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights by Gabriela Gonzalez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent look at the lives and work of transborder activists from 1900 to 1950. While the United States and Mexico modernized in areas like industrialization, urbanization, and technology, Euro-Americans prospered as racial and ethnic groups were marginalized. Mexican-Americans suffered abuse and discrimination across racial, gender, and class lines. Many activists in the borderlands of Texas and Mexico fought for equal rights through many avenues such as print media, non-profit organizations, and community services. Gonzalez spotlights many Mexican-American activists and organizations in detail including the Idar family, the Magonista movement, Emily Tenayuca, Latin American PTA organizations, and LULAC. Drawing on oral histories, diaries, letters, and newspapers of the time, Gonzalez paints a picture of the rebuilding of La Raza and gente decente, the people of the Mexican-American community and the oppressed middle-class of south Texas.

I thought this was a fascinating look at the history of Hispanic and Chicano/a people of the Texas borderlands.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism by Devon Abbott Mihesuah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Devon Abbott Mihesuah passionately discusses the role of Indigenous American Women in tribal and American life. Three themes are covered in her book: Research and Writing, Colonization and Native Women, and Activists and Feminism. In Research and Writing, Mihesuah explains that writings on Native women and tribal culture should be expertly researched and include the voices of Native women. Broad generalizations should be avoided. Each tribe has their own culture and caution should be used to generalize culture across all tribes. Specific examples are used. In Colonization and Native Women, Mishesuah discusses how Native women have lost their gendered roles after colonization. Where women were once revered within their tribes, many have suffered from abuse and relegated to subservient roles. Boarding houses and seminary life is examined showing how colonization has contributed to abuse and violence toward women and how they have been taught to be "civilized" at the expense of losing a part of their culture. Finally, Mihesuah covered today's activist and feminists who work hard to raise awareness of the female gender role in Native American life.

This is an excellent book. I do think that overall, Mihesuah discusses tribal life in general and does not always discuss just the female role. A lot of time is devoted to the American Indian Movement and the long-unsolved mystery around the death of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a Mikmaq indigenes woman who went to the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s to help with their grassroots civil rights movement.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Review: Woman's Consciousness, Man's World

Woman's Consciousness, Man's World Woman's Consciousness, Man's World by Sheila Rowbotham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a short discussion by Sheila Rowbotham on the state of socialist feminism in the mid-1970s. Rowbotham is a British social feminist who offers the argument that sexist attitudes pre-date a capitalist society. Although more women leave the home to work a job in a capitalist society, they are still expected to manage the home which is a job in and of itself. Women do not receive equal pay or equal treatment and are relegated to female-oriented jobs, such as secretarial positions. Life at home resembles a feudal institution as women are provided a home and needful things in exchange for managing the home. Rowbotham believes that the feminist movement needs to make societal changes to eradicate the patriarchal life that women are bound to.

Although this was written in the mid-1970s, many of the concerns highlighted by Rowbotham continue today. This is a good foundational discussion on the modern feminist movement.

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthony Bourdain is a no holds barred kinda guy. He is extremely candid and unapologetic in life and that attitude comes across loudly in Kitchen Confidential. The man could be an ass and he admits it. He has been around the block a few times, been chewed up, and spit out. That is what you call experience and when it comes to the culinary world, he has that in spades. This book is Bourdain laid out raw from his youth traveling to France with his family and discovering what food should really taste and look like to being a well known culinary personality known worldwide. The art of eating is about using all the senses and Bourdain gained this understanding at an early age. As a young man, he went on to be a mediocre sous chef before going on to school at the Culinary Institute of America. He worked his way up to be an Executive Chef at Les Halles in New York and finally as a journalist and television host of shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown. This man knows food, how to cook it, how to eat it, how to savor it.

I have seen Bourdain's shows off and on over the years. I was never very fond of him because of the way he would bash other chefs in the media, but then I saw him on The Taste, a short-lived cooking competition that seemed to try to copy cat The Voice. I had more respect for him after watching him on there. He was less "loud" and more compassionate and I could see the respect he had for culinary arts. I was saddened to hear of his passing in 2018. The man was extreme and likely dealt with a lot that did not come out to the public. I had planned to read this book for some time. It's sad to see how full of life he was when he wrote this book. He was a person that never considered giving up but would cut his losses at one job to go on to something that would be better and build on his skills. Something got lost somewhere along the way, I suspect. He definitely had a heart and was compassionate of people, at least those he was close with, outside of work. All of these aspects of his personality come out in this book.

I will say that after reading this book if I ever had an inclination to go into the restaurant business, this has killed that desire. I appreciate restauranteurs and others that work in the business more than ever. It's a hard job and takes a lot of work and planning. I much prefer to enjoy the end result, something that Bourdain often did himself. It's what made him an icon in the culinary world.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On November 15, 1959, in a quiet town in western Kansas, a family of four were sound asleep resting up for another day on the prairie. It would be their last night alive. During the night two men, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith broke into the home of Herbert Clutter with the expectation to rob the family of the tens of thousands of dollars apparently sitting in a home office safe. There was no safe and there was only $40 total in the house. The men planned to leave no witnesses, executing the four members of the Clutter family still living at home. The murderers and would-be thieves left quietly in the night and thought they were scot-free.

Truman Capote follows the movement of the Clutters and Hickock and Perry through the days leading up to the murders, the night of the murder, and the aftermath including the eventual arrest and trial of the criminals. The reader also learns their eventual fate. Capote's work is based on facts and interviews of the case but reads like a novel. Written in 1965, this book is an early example of true crime stories and is still a best selling book.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Review: Scone Cold Dead

Scone Cold Dead Scone Cold Dead by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Karen MacInerney's 9th edition to the Gray Whale Inn mystery series, Natalie Barnes, owner of the Gray Whale Inn Bed and Breakfast on the little Maine community of Cranberry Island, is hosting a number of guest in town teaching and attending classes at the new art guild. As it turns out, a couple of the guests seem to know each other from a prior time in their lives and the reunion is less than amicable. Meanwhile, the men of the local lobster coalition are up in arms over a strange incident of boats being cut loose during the night. There are rumors of illegal fishing and selling of lobsters, causing in-fighting within the group. To add to the island's hullabaloo, one of Natalie's B&B guests turns up dead and the killer could be any one of a number of locals and guests.

I thoroughly enjoy Karen MacInerney's cozy mystery series. The characters in this series have become so well developed over time that reading the stories feel like you're reading about great friends and family. There are bonus recipes at the end of the book of all of the food mentioned in the story. As always, I look forward to new books in all of Karen's series.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the culmination of a career's worth of work and research by David W. Blight on Frederick Douglass' life. From Douglass' first memories as a slave on the Auld plantation through his death, Blight tells the story of the African-American abolitionist that worked tirelessly to help free people of bondage, advocate for the end of slavery, and work toward civil rights and franchisement of African-Americans.

Douglass could not remember much about his mother or his family, he never knew his father or his true birth date. He was tortured as a slave and eventually became a fugitive on the loose. He met and married Anna and began his own family as he began to advocate for emancipation through lectures and writings. To avoid recapture, Douglass left his family behind to run the lecture circuit in Europe until his freedom could be bought. He sparked a professional friendship with President Abraham Lincoln, to influence his understanding of slavery and civil rights for African-Americans. He watched his sons go off to war in the fight against slavery and continued on the lecture circuit during Reconstruction to argue for the right to vote for all men regardless of color.

Throughout his married life, Douglass became the patriarch of a large family who would forever burden him financially, causing Douglass to never retire. His life seemed to have constant ups and downs riddled with death and monetary woes. As much as he was admired for his work in the abolition movement, he was also hated by his enemies who fought against civil rights. His words and works live on and still resonant today as racial issues are still at the forefront of our nation's mind.

This book is very well researched and Douglass' life is meticulously chronicled by Blight. It is easy to understand why this book earned the Pulitzer Prize.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review: A Dance with Dragons

A Dance with Dragons A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This last book (so far) has been the toughest to read. As long as it took me to read the first four books, is about the length of time it has taken me to read this last one alone. A Dance with Dragons is the "other half" of book four of the Song of Ice and Fire (aka A Game of Thrones) series. Book four, A Feast for Crows, tells the continuing story of the fight for the Iron Thrones of Westeros, concentrating on major characters such as Cersei, Jaime, Tommen, Arya, and Sansa, while book five concentrates on major characters Bran, Jon, and Tyrion, along with many secondary characters like Theon and Asha Greyjoy. The timeline for these two books are in parallel. Martin states that the overall story at this point was simply too big for one book, so he simply divided the story into the two books.

In both of these books, there is little to no action. The story at this point is mostly background for what we hope will be major action in the forthcoming novel(s). If you've ever been told to read a book and to not give up after the first hundred pages because "they are background that's needed for the rest of the book", consider books four and five that hundred pages of background tied up in roughly two thousand pages total.

I don't dislike this book or any of the Game of Thrones books, but book five felt like a long slog through a lot of needless information. Many chapters were highlights of what seem to be minor characters and many of those character's stories are just left hanging. This book is full of loose ends. I would certainly suggest that anyone invested in the series to read this one, but with a warning that it drags out and is far from riveting. Take your time with this one, it's not like you need to be in a hurry to finish since book six doesn't seem to be on the near horizon.

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1788 a group of pioneers left the New England area set to explore the Northwest Territory. This was an area of land ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris, land that was larger than the whole of the United States. McCullough chronicles the exploration and establishment of the Northwest Territory by a Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler, along with his son Ephraim, and Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam and two other men. The story centers on Marietta, a settlement established on the banks of the Ohio River. They had to clear timber by hand, build homes, forts, and businesses. They braved the elements and wild animals while fighting a war with Native Peoples whose land they overtook. They survived disease and hunger when food supplies diminished. They persevered to fulfill the three goals that were named in the Northwest Ordinance, the agreement by which they began their journey. They agreed to build a place that was free from slavery, supported the freedom of religion, and offered education through the establishment of Ohio University and Marietta College, both institutions that are around today.

David McCullough is quite a historian who wove this story together through letters, diaries, and manuscripts of the men who settled the area. McCullough was inspired to research the area after delivering a commencement address at Ohio University in 2004. He already knew a bit about Ohio from his research for The Wright Brothers. McCullough is quite a storyteller who brings the story of these men to life. This is an area of the U.S. that I was not familiar with but am glad I was able to read about these early settlers and the pioneering spirit that our country was founded on.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review: A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is really the first book of a two-parter. Martin explains this at the end of this book. When writing the fourth installment of the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) series, Martin realized that the book had grown so large that he needed to break it into two parts. His options were to just break it in half or to tell the story from the viewpoint of one series of characters in the first book and from the viewpoint of another series of characters in the second book. That gives us books four and five.

In A Feast of Crows, the story follows the characters of Kings Landing, mostly Cersei and Jaime. We also follow Brienne on her quest to find Sansa Stark. We check in with Samwell Tarly who is on his own quest at the bidding of Jon Snow and we also check in with both of the Stark girls. There are also a few chapters that follow what's happening with the Greyjoys. Those who are not included in this book are Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Bran, and Rickon. You'll have to read book five to get their stories.

Overall I thought this book was beyond slow compared to earlier books, especially book three. After all of the action in the previous book, Martin puts the brakes on this one and it tended to drag out. He makes amends at the end but showing some interesting connections, intertwining, and some definite cliff-hangers that I have a feeling won't be picked up in the next book. So until Martin releases book 6, we'll have to ponder the fate of characters like Brienna, Sansa, and Arya.

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Friday, May 24, 2019

Review: The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures by Library of Congress
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting little book that discusses how libraries came to be and specifically about the establishment of the Library of Congress and the cataloging of books. Full of pictures, this book covers the earliest known cataloging of scrolls and books dating back to ancient times and finishes up with the modern computerized catalog system. There is a final section on what has become of the old fashioned index cards that most of us remember using in our public libraries.

Also included are some great pictures of books, authors, and old paper catalog cards.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the third installment of the Ice and Fire series by Martin, the battle for the Iron Throne continues. Five major contenders have been vying for the crown and they're dropping like flies. Everyone is turning on each other and no one is safe. There are those you love to hate and those you hate to love. Some villains turn out to be halfway decent people if they're not lobbing off someone's head or literally stabbing someone in the back, and the heroes end up feeling to safe to realize their demise is around the corner. There are three weddings in this book and lots of people are "dying" to attend.
There's high body count in this one with some unexpected twists and turns. I think this is my favorite of the series so far.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Review: A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Clash of Kings is Martin's second in the Ice and Fire series. Now that King Robert Baratheon is dead and his Hand Lord Eddard Stark has been beheaded, five family heads have come forward claiming themselves as kings (or queen) over Westeros or part thereof. King Joffrey, is Baratheon's oldest son and seems to be the rightful king, but his paternity is in question within the realm. If that is indeed the case, Baratheon's brother Stannis should be the next in line for the throne, yet his younger brother Renly believes he is better suited to reign supreme. Daenerys Targaryen, known as the Mother of Dragons, is the eldest child of the original line of kings who ruled the land until they were thwarted by Robert Baratheon. Finally, there is Robb Stark, son of Lord Eddard Stark and heir to the northern lands of Winterfell. He is dubbed as King of Winterfell by his supporters. These four men and one woman declare that they are the rightful rulers and each build armies and alliances to depose each other. It is a clash of kings. Expected lots of bloodshed, and manipulation among all of the families.

Besides the storylines of each family, we follow the paths of Jon Snow, Lord Stark's bastard son who has taken his oath as a defender of the north wall, as well as his legitimate daughters Sansa and Arya. Sansa is betrothed to King Joffrey, the evil young boy who currently claims the Iron Throne. He's an ass and you love to hate him. Arya has escaped the King's court and is hiding as a young servant boy on the road to the northern wall to take the oath of the brotherhood. She hopes to make it back to Winterfell and her family before Joffrey and his hateful mother find out. Heads will literally roll if she is ever found.

This is a great fantasy novel, intricately woven with a high body count and evil scheming.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since the final season of the HBO Game of Thrones series is being aired, I decided it was time to get on the bandwagon and read the books and watch the series. A Game of Thrones takes place in medieval times and centers around the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. It centers around several warring families including the Starks, Baratheons, Lannisters, and the Targaryens. Each family either has designs to rule the lands of these continents or have a hand in helping someone out, ergo, it is a "game of thrones" between these families to see who will take the throne as King. The Starks are generally the good guys who butt heads with the Lannisters who are trying to gain the throne through their marriage into the Baratheon family.

As the series begins, Robert Baratheon is King of the realm and his wife (evil) Cersis Lannister is Queen. King Robert's "right hand" man Lord Jon Arryn suddenly dies, and the good King selects Lord Eddard Stark as his new right hand. Although he doesn't want the job, he takes it to hopefully keep peace in the land and to keep the evil Lannisters from taking over the kingdom. Lord Ed and his wife Lady Catelyn suspect the Lannisters of killing King Robert's hand Lord Jon. Taking the job is King Roberts new hand, Lord Ed can hopefully find out if their suspicions are correct. Then there are the Targaryens who have their own little plot to take over. Well, this leads to all kinds of scheming, colluding, and downright evilness. Many are killed and many end up in bad places.

I have enjoyed this first book in the series and will continue on. It is very well crafted with a little humor sprinkled among the dark and incestuous scenes throughout the book.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Review: Dyeing Season

Dyeing Season Dyeing Season by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spring 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. The town is in the throes of Easter season when a spring thunderstorm produces a tornado in the quiet Texas community. Lucy and her friend Quinn rush next door to check on her neighbor, Dottie, who is an elderly housebound senior. The group weathers the storm but missing from the area is Dottie's home health worker Eva and Lucy's new baby goat, Cinnamon. As Lucy ventures out to survey the damage and search for Cinnamon, she discovers a body whose demise was far from weather-related, but points to murder.

Lucy, who is a former investigative reporter, goes in search of the killer and motive behind the murder and uncovers a fraudulent scam aimed at the local senior citizens of the community. Can Lucy put the pieces of the scam together before she meets her own demise?

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 furthering adventures of Lucy in Buttercup, Texas.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: Grand Slam Murders

Grand Slam Murders Grand Slam Murders by R.J. Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The "Gin Girls" of the Rosalie Bridge Club meet for an afternoon of card playing and strategy planning before their next tournament and turn up dead before the first hand is dealt. Known for their wild and crazy antics in their youth, these four widowed women are the social elite of the area harboring secrets about their past. They are still the pride of Rosalie but their deaths cast quite a bit of suspicion and fingerpointing to the housekeeper and groundskeeper of the club's host Miz Liddie.

Wendy Winchester, local newspaper columnist and daughter of Officer Bax Winchester is assigned to cover the life story of the wealthy widows. As their stories start to unravel, Wendy begins putting the pieces of the mystery together as to who would off the entire group of Gin Girls. Along with her dad and her policeman boyfriend Ross, Wendy rushes to solve the mystery behind the last hand played and keep herself from being the next victim.

This is a great start to a new series by R. J. Lee. It is full of southern charm and great characters. Looking forward to the next in the series.

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Review: Civil War Springfield

Civil War Springfield Civil War Springfield by Larry Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short but thorough look at the battles and occupation of Springfield, Missouri during the Civil War. Soon after Fort Sumter, Union forces moved into Springfield with Confederate troops arriving soon after. The constant back and forth between the two sides lead to the battle of Wilson's Creek and two "skirmishes" in Springfield that kept the city in the Ozarks a pivotal area during the war in Missouri. Larry Wood covers all aspects of the area from the time the first troops arrived until they left in 1865. Beyond the military movement, Wood details life in the Ozarks for the 2000 inhabitants, medical concerns after a very bloody battle, and the political pulse of the citizens of southwest Missouri.

This is a great little book full of information and perfect for the person who is looking for details of Springfield during the Civil War.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was to be the defining moment for African Americans held in bondage. Slaves became freed people no longer forced into servitude. The Reconstruction era after the Civil War should have been a time for freed people to rebuild their lives on their terms. What many faced, however, were the vagaries of life, unknown challenges that would be life-altering and life-threatening. Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs explores the medical issues that freed people faced during and after the Civil War. For people formerly held in bondage, life after the war led to sickness, disease, and death.

Downs explores the lives of freedpeople during and after the war years through the eyes of those that endured sickness, disease, and the death of loved ones. Downs also utilizes the experiences of medical caretakers and staff of the Freedmen’s Bureau, formally known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, the agency employed to freed slaves and indigent whites in the aftermath of the Civil War. Down’s thesis suggests that the Civil War was the largest biological crisis of the nineteenth century. In their quest for freedom, former slaves endured diseases such as smallpox, cholera, dysentery, and yellow fever and received little help from doctors and staff of the Medical Division of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Children, women, and men often died before they could get the help they needed. These are the cases that Downs details along with data and statistics gleaned from physicians and hospitals that were underfunded and understaffed.
Downs supports his thesis by describing six areas that contributed to the devastating losses of freed people due to disease and sickness. Downs begins by looking at the political and social status of free people that led to unhealthy living environments. Downs posits that these conditions led to disease and outbreaks of illness and widespread epidemics. The second area that Downs details ask why disease broke out among unemployed freed people and why the bureau was unable to support a free labor system in the post-war south. In response to the labor crisis, The Freedmen’s Bureau establishes a Medical Division to handle the healthcare of freedpeople. Downs then transitions to a discussion on Freedmen Hospitals and the challenges faced within the structure and hierarchy of the Medical division of the Bureau. Downs feels that the hospital systems were unstructured and unable to handle the massive load of illness among freed people. Downs uses hospital records, and the lack thereof to support this discussion.

Downs then turns his attention to the smallpox epidemic of the late nineteenth century that left many dead in its wake. This discussion transitions into the fifth area that covers the outbreak of other diseases and sicknesses. Downs utilizes specific case studies of freed people and the challenges they faced in obtaining medical care.

Downs wraps up his thesis by highlighting the eventual downfall of the Medical Division of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Drawing on the autobiography of O. O. Howard, commissioner of the Medical division of the Bureau, Downs shows how the needs of the medical care of freed people transitions to state and local governments.

In the epilogue, Downs discusses the illnesses that affected Native Americans. Many of the same issues and concerns that freed people faced during Reconstruction, native Americans endured during the forced removal toward the west. Beginning with the Trail of Tears forced migration in the early 19th century through the Reconstruction, native people endured disease, illness, and death. Downs compares and contrasts the political, social, and medical issues that native Americans and freed people faced drawing parallels between the two groups.

Jim Down’s extensive research brought to life portraits of freed people who endured disease, sickness, and death in the aftermath of the Civil War and the staff and caretakers of the Medical Division of the Freedmen’s Bureau who were tasked to support free people during the Reconstruction era. Downs also reviews similar issues with poor white Americans and Native Americans and draws parallels to the issues faced by freedpeople. These case studies bring to light an area of the Reconstruction narrative often overlooked in Civil War scholarship. To truly understand how the war affected freedpeople during and after the war more attention and consideration needs more attention on all aspects of their lives, including sickness and death.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Review: A Short History of Reconstruction

A Short History of Reconstruction A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is the abridged version of Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877. This version is a concise review of the Reconstruction period from roughly 1863 through 1877. Foner looks at the political and social aspects of the period, covering the presidencies of Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and the beginning of the Hayes administration. Foner specifically reviews Reconstruction in five areas: the Black experience, the remodeling of Southern society as a whole, racial attitudes and relations, the expanded authority of the nation-state and national citizenship, and a look at how the North's economy and class structure affected Reconstruction. Although this is a shorter book than his unabridged version by about half the pages it still comes across as a thorough discussion of the era.

This is a great read and very engaging. I'll read the bigger book at some point, but this one packs a punch for what it is.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Finding Dorothy

Finding Dorothy Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderfully woven tale of the life of Maud Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum. This historical fiction story closely follows the real life of Baum from her youth through the time of the premiere of the movie The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Elizabeth Letts takes the reader on a journey showing the magic that inspired the book and the movie. As a young coed, Maud meets her roommate's cousin L. Frank Baum and is enamored with his love of theatre. They soon married and spent many up and down years through plenty of good times and bad. Despite living from one financial hardship to another, L. Frank never lost his love of wonderment and eventually wrote the story that brought financial comfort, love, and magic to his family. His wife Maud was there by his side and beyond, as she made sure that his legacy, Dorothy, was taken care of after his death and in the filming of the movie. Finding Dorothy is about finding not just the character that brought to life the book and film but finding the magic in everyday life despite hurdles and hardships.

I grew up loving the Wizard of Oz books, almost to an obsession. I thoroughly loved this book and became engrossed in the story behind the story. It's a great read for anyone that loved the book series and movie.

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Review: Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front

Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front by Judith Giesberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a look at the effects of the Civil War on women in the North. Giesberg details six specific areas of Northern life that were indelibly changed by the war on the homefront. Areas discussed include the life of rural women who were forced to manage farms alone without husbands and sons, women and their families that were displaced when they were no longer able to make house payments and rents, women in the workplace including those young ladies who lost their lives in the Alleghany Arsenal explosion, freedwomen who began the early civil rights movement, middle-class and working women whose loyalties were divided due to oppressive working conditions and marginality, and women who were left to find and bury the men they lost on the battlefields. In the Conclusion, there is a discussion of how little women were memorialized after the war, unlike their southern counterparts. The author surmises that for the women of the north, the line was blurred between the war on the battlefields and the war raging back at home for the women left to carry on without help or hope.

I thought this was a very good read and quite eye-opening. It seems that when women of the Civil War are discussed, many people think of southern women, the "Scarlett O'Hara" romanticized ideal women depicted in so many Civil War movies and novels. This book gives an accurate portrait of the trials and tribulations of the women left to manage life on the homefront. These women were the army at home.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

Review: Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War

Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War by Catherine Clinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of essays on different aspects of gender studies in relation to the Civil War. The topics range from abolitionist manhood, Civil War nuns, prostitution, women and children left destitute by the war, and memorialization in the South.

Dr. Catherine Clinton and Dr. Nina Silber include their own essays, as well as those by noted Civil War historians such as Jim Downs and John Stauffer. This book provides a good cursory review of issues faced by women of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review: Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World

Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World by Eric Foner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our Lincoln is a collection of eleven essays on various aspects of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Each work highlights new insights into the man known as The Great Emancipator. Topics include Lincoln's rhetoric and literary style, his thoughts on religion, how his family helped shape him, and his role as Commander in Chief of the Union army. The book covers four specific aspects of Lincoln's life: The President, The Emancipator, The Man, and Politics and Memory. Each essay is written by well known Civil War historians including Eric Foner, James McPherson, David Blight, Catherine Clinton, and Mark E. Neely, Jr.

This is a well-written collection that is very interesting and thought-provoking.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review: Educated

Educated Educated by Tara Westover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Educated is the memoir of Dr. Tara Westover, the daughter of fundamentalist survivalist Mormon parents from Clifton, Idaho. Westover grew up as a bit of a tomboy, in a house full of brothers and a sister. Her father ran his own scrapyard business and did some construction work on the side. The Westover children were homeschooled but spent most of their time helping their father in the scrapyard. According to the author, "homeschooled" is a very loose term, which meant that the family had a few textbooks and little to no formal instruction. What they did learn came from their father's survivalist preaching, learning to prepare for the end days or a time that may come when the government would invade their property Ruby Ridge style. Guns and gas were buried throughout their property and canned goods lined shelves for a future moment when the world will be pitched into chaos. Westover would also learn about life skills from her mother who trained to be a midwife and healer, specializing in essential oils, tinctures, and salves. This was the path that the author was destined for, according to her parents and family. But Tara Westover was drawn to another world. She longed to learn and spread her wings. She was constantly pulled back by her family, afraid of disappointing them or succumbing to the depths of hell that another life would lead her to.

A couple of Westover's brothers broke the cycle attending college at BYU. One, in particular, encouraged the author to study for the ACT test and apply to the university as well, despite having no formal education and knowing very little. This would alter her destiny, as well had her familial relationships in ways she could not conceive of. She was thrown into a constant cycle of psychological and physical abuse that led to physiological and sociological effects on her life. This book is not just about how the author learned how to formally educate herself, but about expanding her worldview and educating herself about the cycle of abuse in a world that is closed off from mainstream society. Her actions did not come without its own consequences, a lesson she constantly struggled with. Ultimately, for Westover, the rewards of an education outweighed the consequences to her family life. Tara Westover obtained a formal education and at the same time, found her own identity through a personal education in life.

There are some horrific experiences that Westover details in this book. She admits, in notes scattered throughout the book and in references to communications with her siblings that her memory may not be 100% accurate. Who really remembers the details of their life? She draws on her own diaries and correspondence with family to build a picture of dysfunction within her family. For most people, perception is reality and leads to differences in memories of events for multiple people. So the question begs to be asked, how accurate is Westover's account in Educated? This is Westover's recollection and therefore her reality. This book is the story of the author's trauma and the process of healing from it in the best way she knew how.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: The Atomic City Girls

The Atomic City Girls The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fictional account of a few residents of the Clinton Engineer Works production installation in Oak Ridge, TN during World War II. The story follows the lives of several very different people whose lives intertwine during the production of uranium in the secret bomb-making city. June and Cici are two young girls who are placed together in a dorm and become fast friends. Cici is out to find her an Army husband and June is looking for an escape from her droll life and the sad news that her fiance has died in battle. Joe and Ralph are long-time friends thrilled to be making more money than they would have a chance to back in Georgia. The job comes with downsides, as they are separated from family and find that life for black residents in Oak Ridge is no better than on the outside. Sam is a physicist who is asked to come to Oak Ridge to work on the bomb. He is one of a few people that know what is being produced at the CEW and sadly, he understands the possible outcome of the final product and the effects it can have on mankind.

Each person has their history to deal with. All have some kind of struggle to overcome and Oak Ridge brings more chaos amidst some happy moments. Their stories are interesting and engaging and it is easy to fall into their world. They have triumphs and heartbreaking stories. Although the story and characters are fictionalized, they are based on real stories that the author mined from detailed research. I enjoyed this book and loved that the author added an epilogue to let the reader know what happened to these characters after the end of the war. Although it's fictionalized, it's easy to picture what the real people behind the stories must have dealt with in this super secret city.

My only frustration is that the title indicates that the book is about the women at CEW, but the stories are as much about the men as the women. It is about families and individuals, white and black, men and women. There is another book by Denise Kiernan titled The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. Kiernan's book is the non-fiction, true story of several women who worked at the CEW. I had previously read Kiernan's book and had to check at one point to make sure I wasn't reading the same book. This is different but each could easily be a companion to the other. I was glad I had read Kiernan's book first. I think it added to my enjoyment of Beard's book. I do wish Beard had a completely different title that would not be easily confused with Kiernan's book and one that would give equal billing to the men as well as the women. I still recommend this to anyone interested in the CEW and the making of the atomic bomb during World War II.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review: The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat

The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat by Gary W. Gallagher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a short book that looks at the Civil War through the eyes of the Confederate States. Gary W. Gallagher discusses the Confederate side of the war in four specific areas: popular will, nationalism, military strategy, and their ultimate defeat. His basic thesis is to understand why the people of the Confederate States continued to fight after losing so many men on the battlefield and why they ended in defeat after winning so many battles in the beginning years of the war.

Gallagher had several thoughts on why the Confederacy ultimately lost. It seemed that he felt that, at least from a military perspective, the army was not properly organized and should have spent more effort on guerrilla warfare. Where I'm not sure I completely agree, Gallagher certainly brings up many thought-provoking points and give the reader a look at life during the Civil War from the Confederate viewpoint.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: Battle Cry of Freedom

Battle Cry of Freedom Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very well-written, readable, comprehensive single-volume compendium on the Civil War. McPherson begins in the mid-19th century detailing the events leading up to the war including Lincoln's rise in politics, the Dred Scott decision, and Harper's Ferry. He covers the causes, the political and social climate, and the economic outlook of the times. Interspersed between the various battles of the war, McPherson covers specific side information such as conscription, medical needs, POW prisons, and data on retention and desertion of troops.

This is a great go-to book on all things related to the Civil War that I'm sure I'll reference many times.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review: A Map of Days

A Map of Days A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy this strange series by Ransom Riggs. This is the fourth installment of his Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series. I thought the last book was the final one but he has continued on and has certainly left the story open for more installments. I also thought the last book was my favorite but this one outdoes it.

In this story, Jacob, Emma and a few of the other peculiars settle in America for a short time. While visiting Jacob's home preparing to blend in with the normals a few of the gang visit Jacob's grandfather's home and stumble across a secret den that reveals the work that Abe was doing in order to help peculiars around the world. This leads Jacob, Emma, Bronwyn, Millard, and Enoch on a secret mission that reveals itself along the way. All they know is that there is someone that they need to save. They encounter many peculiar people along the way that help them figure out their mission, as well as some people who are intent on keeping them from their intended task.

I love this series. I love the idea of the author taking some bizarre photos he has found in places like rummage sales and antique shops, and building a whole series of books around these pictures. How creative! It's a little bit history, a lot of fantasy, and a bit of horror wrapped up into a very...peculiar...story.

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Review: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sarah Smarsh grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in rural Kansas, just outside of Witchita. Her family life was pretty typical of poor rural midwestern families who lived day to day, surviving off of what work they could find and hope that each year's crops would get them through another year. She also came from a long line of women who became mothers at an early age and shacked up with the next guy that seemed like they could pull them out of their sad circumstances. The men usually ended up being abusive and uncaring, leading many to multiple divorces and broken hearts. Sarah vowed to end the cycle and pull herself out of poverty, forgoing a family for a college degree. This story is not just Sarah's. In fact, it is more the story of 3 generations of women before her and the economic causes that kept them in rural poverty.

Smarsh's memoir examines the causes behind generations of mid-western rural women who seem to find themselves locked into a cycle of teenage motherhood and broken marriages. It's hard for many to believe that this cycle continues for many in our era of technology. Having grown up not far from where Smarsh lived, I understand the circumstances she reflects on and remember many women who had big dreams of independent success but ultimately ended up following in their mother's footsteps, having children young and a string of men in and out of their lives.

Smarsh used an interesting technique of addressing her story to an unborn child. It is a technique similar to Ta-Nehisi Coates' letter to his son in his book Between the World and Me. However, I don't think Smarsh's use was as successful. Her idea was to write to the child that might have been, had she continued the cycle of her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. It kind of bothered me until the end when she makes a point of saying goodbye to this child that would have been born in poverty. This child will never be because she broke the cycle and has become a successful woman. I think if she had teased that information at the beginning and then reference back to it at the end it would have been better.

Overall, it was an interesting read that made me reflect back on my own mid-western childhood and the circumstances of many rural people I knew growing up. I don't think this book is for everyone. There are no major insights or revelations that come out of it, but the ending does provide a bit of understanding of why poverty exists in small-town America.

I received this book gratis through Goodreads Giveaways.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: Hi Bob!

Hi Bob! Hi Bob! by Bob Newhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an Audible book that I enjoyed listening to on a recent trip. Bob Newhart interviews several standup comedians that he is friends with. The notables include Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Conan O'Brien, and Sarah Silverman. They all tell stories of how they have met, how they got into the business, and they wax nostalgic on some of the projects they've worked on together. There's a great chapter on Don Rickles, who was Newhart's best friend.

It's a very entertaining book to listen to and nice to hear these people as themselves and not as the characters they portray or in "entertainment" mode. I also liked that they played clips of shows that they were talking about. These are shows like The Tonight Show that Newhart guest hosted many times, as well as his own show, The Bob Newhart Show, that Lisa Kudrow was a guest on. Great book to pass the time on while driving.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review: Woodstock: The Oral History

Woodstock: The Oral History Woodstock: The Oral History by Joel Makower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the definitive resource on the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in 1969. Utilizing oral history from many of the people who helped produce the concert, as well as the performers, concert-goers, and residents of the White Lake, NY area where the concert was eventually held, this book gives a behind the scenes look at the 3 days of peace and music that has become an iconic symbol of the 1960s counterculture. Some of the stories are nearly unbelievable, but today we have a documentary that was filmed over those 3 days to support the wild testimony of those who were there and recorded in this book.

Author Joel Makower follows the festival from the early beginnings of planning through the aftermath, including follow up on the production team, how funds were paid out and a "where are they now" on those that participated in the oral history project. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the weekend festival, with a revival slated for the same weekend in August. This is a great read for music lovers and those interested in the counterculture of the 60s. It will be interesting to compare the original festival to the upcoming revival later this year.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, 3rd Edition

America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, 3rd Edition America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, 3rd Edition by Maurice Isserman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America Divided is a very thorough review of the political, social, and cultural history of the 1960s. This decade is known for being a tumultuous time of change in our nation's history. The 60s begin with a new era of democratic politics, moving away from the conservative leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The young Catholic John F. Kennedy wins the presidency taking on a new age of liberalism. Civil Rights come to the forefront spearheaded by Martin Luther King, the SCLC, and SNCC. Cuba and Vietnam are at the top of the list of JFK's foreign relations concerns. After JFK's assassination, Vice President Lyndon Johnson becomes the nation's leader and the "New Left" rises in the wake of student protests and rising tensions with Vietnam taking us into an unwinnable war. A conservative revival and the war brings another change leading to the election of Richard Nixon in the latter part of the decade. This was the decade that marginal groups yearned to be heard and to gain equal rights for women, Blacks, Chicanos, and LGBT. This book covers it all and covers it well.

Although this book is intended as a scholarly read, for use as a text for history students, it is very readable and a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about this era. The book actually starts in the mid-50s, laying the ground with the mindset of the nation in the post-war era. It continues chronologically through the mid-70s and the resignation of Nixon after the Watergate debacle, but the meatiest part of the text centers on the 60s. It is a somewhat short book yet very thorough. The perfect resource for the 60s.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Review: Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many know the story of the feisty red-headed young Anne Shirley in Lucy Maud Montgomery's series Anne of Green Gables. In Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy imagines the young life of Anne Shirley's adopted mother, Marilla Cuthbert. In Montgomery's Green Gables series, Marilla is the spinster woman who takes in Anne, along with her spinster brother, Matthew. Neither sibling ever married and in their senior years, they are struggling to keep their family farm going without some young hands to help with the work. They decide to adopt an orphan child. They expected a young boy but end up with Anne Shirley. Montgomery's series focuses primarily on Anne but we get to know and understand a bit about Marilla and Matthew. Marilla is set in her ways and expects Anne to act like a young, proper lady at all times, something Anne usually finds difficult at best.

Why is Marilla so stern? Why did she and Matthew never find mates and marry? McCoy weaves a wonderful backstory of the lives of Marilla and Matthew and gives the reader an idea of what Marilla's childhood might have been like. The story centers on Marilla but also explores Matthew's life. It answers the questions as to why neither marries and also delves into the relationships each sibling has with their neighbors and friends, particularly with John Blythe and Rachel Lynde, both characters that appear in the Green Gables series.

McCoy does a very good job of matching the vernacular and rhythm of the Montgomery series, making this book a prequel that seamlessly melds into the original storyline. I'd like to think that Montgomery would have enjoyed McCoy's book and imagined a similar story for Marilla and Matthew. Although the original series is geared for young readers, Marilla of Green Gables is more adult oriented but would be a good book for tweens and older that were fans of the original series.

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