Source: from publisher for review

Divider

Journalistic Nonfiction in Review: Sidecountry

June 15, 2021 Uncategorized 9 ★★★★

Journalistic Nonfiction in Review: SidecountryTitle: Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports
Author: John Branch
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: Other than wanting more, I loved everything about this collection of stories about offbeat sports! It really appealed to the part of me that loves learning about unusual jobs.

With the recent exception of some motorsports, I’ve not ever been much of a sports fan. However, I am as susceptible as anyone to a heart-warming sports story. I also love the quirky and the offbeat. This collection of journalist John Branch’s favorite pieces promised to include plenty of both. Sports and competitions that are covered include everything from dog grooming to figure eight racing, horseshoes to rock climbing. Some of the sports I’d never even heard of. Others, I simply knew very little about. Many of the stories, especially the longer ones, were also really moving stories about people. There are a lot of emotions tied up in sports and the author captured this through detailed characterizations of the people involved. Read more »

Divider

A Trio of Bronte Biographies: Original, Scholarly, and Contemporary

May 24, 2021 Uncategorized 9 ★★★

A Trio of Bronte Biographies: Original, Scholarly, and ContemporaryTitle: The Life of Charlotte Brontë
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell, Angus Easson
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

I’ve found that I enjoy reading several books on the same topic, so when I wanted to clear a Charlotte Bronte bio from my shelves, I decide to pick two other biographies at the same time. The first, by Charlotte Bronte’s acquaintance and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell, was the first Bronte biography to be written. I think this biography is a great place to start learning about the Brontes. It’s the origin of much of the Bronte mythology, so it provides a good foundation. It’s a little bit of work to read, because the language is older. Still, it was also fascinating to see how this contemporary of Charlotte Bronte viewed her and her family. The antiquated social mores could be extremely entertaining. Extensive quotes from letters gave an intimate look at who Charlotte Bronte was. However, I wouldn’t recommend this as your only Charlotte Bronte biography, because my next read revealed that Gaskell sometimes distorted or omitted facts to portray Charlotte in a more positive light. Read more »

Divider

More WWII History: A Bold and Dangerous Family

May 12, 2021 Uncategorized 2 ★★★

More WWII History: A Bold and Dangerous FamilyTitle: A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism
Author: Caroline Moorehead
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: Parts of this were fascinating, but the beginning dragged and the end was abrupt.

After reading The Women in the Castle, about the widows  of German resistance leaders, I was finally motivated to pick up another book about resistance around WWII. This story follows a mother and her three sons as they fight against fascism when Mussolini comes to power in Italy. Like The Women in the Castle, this book gave me yet another new perspective on WWII. I’m always amazed at how many unique books can be written on this time period! Obviously it was an eventful one, but I wonder if other periods would be equally rich if given the same attention. Anyway, I learned a lot from this book. Out of the Axis powers during WWII, I previously only knew anything about Germany. The time period this book covered enabled me to follow the rise of fascism in Italy, which was simultaneously terrifying, fascinating, and informative. Read more »

Divider

Historical Fiction Review: The Women in the Castle

May 10, 2021 Uncategorized 5 ★★★★

Historical Fiction Review: The Women in the CastleTitle: The Women in the Castle
Author: Jessica Shattuck
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: This was an interesting time period to focus on and raised thought-provoking ethical questions, but the story wasn’t emotionally engaging.

This book, like much historical fiction that I enjoy, is about overlooked women from history. The main character is Marianne von Lingenfels, who is the widow of a resistance hero who tried to kill Hitler. She also played a role in the resistance herself and was asked to look after the widows of all the resistance men who died in their efforts. She’s eventually able to rescue 6-year-old Martin from an orphanage and his mother from Red Army soldiers. She also brings another resister’s wife and her two children out of a displaced persons camp. All three must then try to survive together, as food shortages, occupying forces, and other circumstances change the world around them. Read more »

Divider

Women in History Review: Code Name Madeleine

April 26, 2021 Uncategorized 4 ★★★

Women in History Review: Code Name MadeleineTitle: Code Name Madeleine: A Sufi Spy in Nazi-Occupied Paris
Author: Arthur J. Magida
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: More character-focused than plot-driven, this book was fascinating, but not the best fit for me right now.

This is the story of a WWII heroine, Noor Inayat Khan. As a quiet children’s author, given a luxurious childhood by followers of her father’s spiritual teachings, Noor wasn’t an obvious candidate for the French resistance. After an escape from France to Britain, she was persistent about being sent back and then staying to operate a radio as operatives were captured around her. This self-sacrifice was in keeping with the compassionate and applied teachings Noor absorbed from her father at an early age.  I will share with you how her story ends, since that info is revealed in the publisher summary. I’ll also make reference to the spoiler throughout the following review, so if you wish to know less than the blurb reveals, best to skip this review. Alright, on to the summary spoiler… After crucial months operating in France, Noor was captured and eventually killed at Dachau, months before the end of the war. Read more »

Divider

Historical Fiction Review: Vera

April 21, 2021 Uncategorized 6 ★★

Historical Fiction Review: VeraTitle: Vera
Author: Carol Edgarian
Source: from publisher for review
|Goodreads
Rating:two-stars

Summary: The characters were interesting, but the plot and setting were pretty lackluster.

This is the story of “Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.” (source) This description is a little on the grim side for my taste, but I was intrigued by the historical setting around the 1905 San Francisco earthquake and picked this up for that reason.

Read more »

Divider

Nonfiction Review: North By Shakespeare

April 8, 2021 Uncategorized 6 ★★★

Nonfiction Review: North By ShakespeareTitle: North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work
Author: Michael Blanding
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: I really enjoyed the historical parts of this story, but the Shakespeare theory was too speculative for me.

Author Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief was some of the earliest narrative nonfiction I read and, like Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La, it stands out as one of the books that made me love the genre. When I had an opportunity to review his latest book, on a researcher named Dennis McCarthy with a new theory about Shakespeare, I couldn’t pass it up. I was a little nervous about the topic though. The last book I read on a Shakespeare theory was pretty bad, presenting theories that felt laughably thin. This book didn’t have that problem. It was purely speculative, but some of the coincidences were persuasive. However, I still enjoyed the historical bits better than the Shakespeare theory. As someone who really appreciates solid evidence and wants to know what I’m reading in nonfiction is true, I’m not sure Shakespeare theory books are the best fit for me. Read more »

Divider

More Time Travel in Review: The River of No Return

February 22, 2021 Uncategorized 6 ★★★

More Time Travel in Review: The River of No ReturnTitle: The River of No Return
Author: Bee Ridgway
Source: from publisher for review
|Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: This was a great adventure story with a fun romance, but the time travel rules were silly and the ending was lackluster.

This is the second time travel novel I’ve read recently – unusual for me, because I know they’re unlikely to have internally consistent time travel rules that satisfy me. This book lived down to expectations in that regard. The time travel mechanics were a mix of totally nonsensical and non-existent. Fortunately, they’re largely irrelevant for most of the book except to allow the set-up for the plot. On a global scale, we have intrigue and mystery because different people want to use time travel in different ways. At the personal level, we have Nick who’s time travelled from from the early 1800s to 2013. In 2013, he’s been helped to settled in by the Guild, provided with tons of money and given several rules for time travel. He’s living very comfortably until the Guild wants to send him back in time to try to revisit his old life. This leaves Nick struggling to decide what he wants now that he has knowledge of the future, more present-day values, a second chance with a woman he was infatuated with, and the ability to return to the future if he likes. Read more »

Divider

Nonfiction Review: Homo Deus

February 15, 2021 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

Nonfiction Review: Homo DeusTitle: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Source: from publisher for review
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: This book went off on some tangents and made some unconvincing claims, but it was engaging and made me think about the world in new ways.

There was a lot to like about this book and also some aspects that bothered me quite a bit. For one, it’s supposed to be about what humanity’s next challenges will be. Now that we (mostly) know how to prevent famine, plague, and war, the author begins by asking what subsequent challenges humanity will focus on. He does acknowledge that knowing how to solve problems is different from having solved them. He also presciently notes that a runaway plague could happen if management of the situation was poor. So what bothered me here wasn’t the premise, although I was initially skeptical. What bothered me was that the bulk of the book felt tangential to answering that question. As an example, a large section of the book focused on how human beings view animals. Do we think they have self-awareness? What does science have to say on that topic? Supposedly this section was going to be important for a later section discussing how upgraded humans or AI might treat ‘normal’ humans in the future. We never really returned to these ideas later though. Read more »

Divider

Medical Memoir Review: The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness

January 18, 2021 Uncategorized 7 ★★★★

Medical Memoir Review: The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious IllnessTitle: The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness
Author: Sarah Ramey
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: This was a mix of beautiful/entertaining prose and clear explanations, as enjoyable as it was informative.

This memoir of author Sarah Ramey’s experience with a ‘mysterious illness’ describes her many infuriating and unhelpful encounters with both doctors and alternative medicine practitioners. The callous response she receives from doctors, who regularly disregard clear physical evidence she’s sick and suggest a psychological explanation, was horrifying. Unfortunately, it isn’t a rare experience. Especially among women, complex diseases of the immune system are on the rise. Many of the women who experience these ‘mysterious illnesses’ encounter the same disbelief from medical practitioners and friends. In this memoir, Ramey’s personal experience therefore provides the reader with insight into a common but rarely discussed experience. She also suggests some helpful approaches to dealing with these illnesses and for contextualizing them that will likely be of use to other people, or those related to other people, experiencing similar health issues. Read more »

Divider