Last week I finished:
Monday, April 5, 2021
Grace & Steel, J. Randy Taraborrelli
Another smash by the wonderful biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. I've read several books by Taraborrelli, and I've loved them all. They expertly straddle the line of research and gossipy stories, and while they are always long, they read fast and are never boring. This one details the women of the Bush "Dynasty" (oh how the Bush family hates that word): Dorothy Walker Bush, married to Senator Prescott Bush; first lady Barbara Bush, married to President George H. W. Bush; and first lady Laura Bush, married to President George W. Bush. Other female members of the family are also discussed, including Barbara Bush's mother Pauline Pierce, Laura Bush's mother Jenna Welch, and Governor Jeb Bush's wife Columba. While a great deal of the book is information I already have stored away in the Bush vault in my mind, there were lots of stories I'd never heard before (I especially loved the story about Barbara Bush and Laura Bush that started the book), and there was a great deal of information about Dorothy Bush that I'd never read before. She was a remarkable woman, and I grew quite attached to her. Taraborrelli discusses Barbara's difficult relationship with her mother and much easier relationship with her mother-in-law, Laura's quest for approval from Barbara, the tragic accident that changed Laura's life forever, the various campaigns and presidencies, etc. and etc. It's a wonderful book, and I loved every page of it. The copious interviews the author conducts really brings these folks to life. My only disappointment is how much time was spent on President George H. W. Bush's alleged infidelity--which both parties denied. It was treated here as fact, and of course it could be, but I've never seen it put forward as fact before. Was Taraborrelli just being salacious? I don't know, but mention of it would have been sufficient, given the denial of it by both parties. My rating: 5 stars.
Write It When I'm Gone, Thomas M. DeFrank
I listened to this book last year, and I enjoyed it so much, I decided to listen again. This is an account of President Gerald Ford's vice presidency, presidency, and post-presidency by a reporter, DeFrank, tasked with covering his career. President Ford had a good relationship with the press, and over the thirty years they talked, DeFrank grew to have a personal relationship with him. The book covers President Ford's career in politics and his long life after it. Over the years, Ford talked about various presidents, historical events, and political figures, opining on President Reagan, both President Bushes, the Clintons, and President Carter; why he lost election in 1976 (pardoning President Nixon had a lot to do with it); the "co-presidency" talk in the 1980 election; and his political predictions (among others, that Hilary Clinton would be the first female president). He talks about his pride in being the groomer of both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. To date, the modest Michigander has the distinction of being the only president never elected to the presidency or vice presidency. It's a remarkably human look at the president, and there is just enough side commentary by DeFrank, which never really swerves into opinion. The last part of the book, which deals with President Ford's last years, is very poignant. It really is a remarkable book, very approachable, never boring. I love it. My rating: 4 stars.
This week I'll finish:
And then I'll begin:
My nightly reads:
Monday, March 29, 2021
Last week I finished:
The Survivors, Jane Harper
I'm a big fan of Jane Harper's books. They have become auto-buys for me, but I do like some titles more than others. The Dry, and especially The Lost Man, are favorites, and Force of Nature and this one are less so. This book finds the main character, Kieran, returning home after being away for the twelve years since a fatal accident claimed the life of his brother and a friend. On his return, a murder puts new light on that old accident. It took me a long time to get into this book. Once I was finally invested, I was pretty much all in, but I'm not used to waiting that long to care about a cast of characters. Harper's books are often a slow burn, which I enjoy, but this one took too long to take light. Also, I was literally suspecting everyone, and that suspicion kind of ruined things for me. When the murderer could be anyone, it distances me from the story, and I detach. I also think the ending was very abrupt and didn't tie things up well at all. Overall, it wasn't a bad book--much better than most thrillers--but not her best book, either. But, her characters are always well-written, and her superb ability to make setting a character is unparalleled, so don't miss out on her books. Note, this would make a good summer read, as it takes place near the water. My rating: 4 stars.
Share Your Stuff. I'll Go First., Laura Tremaine
What a charming, honest, fresh book. The depth of emotion here is a breath of fresh air. I was unfamiliar with Tremaine's podcasts until this book made me check them out. It's a little hard to describe this book. It's part memoir (she tells great stories), part self-help (the book is an urging to connect more deeply with people), and part, just, other. I enjoyed every minute of it. The author is known for her 10-item lists, and this is a book of 10 questions to ask people about their lives in order to get them to open up. The thing is, though, you have to go first with your ten things. It makes a person think about her stories, what she's comfortable sharing, how she shares, what she does and doesn't know about herself. I think this is a book I'll return to over and over again. My only quibble is that the final chapter "What Do You Believe?" felt like a rushed "not going there" tacked on at the end, when it was the most important chapter of the book, in my opinion. This is where I expected Tremaine to talk about where her faith lies now, after talking about her childhood faith a lot, and alluding to her adult faith journey throughout the book. Instead, she offered readers a rather limp list of belief leftovers. I bought this book from a Christian bookstore, but I'm not sure why it was being sold there, really. For its cringing tone toward the fervent faith of youth? I don't care that her faith changed or deepened, in fact, I'd be concerned to find out that it hadn't, but I did think she'd share it in those last pages. Maybe she has another book planned? At any rate, I still give this one a high rating, in spite of my dissatisfaction with the last chapter. My rating: 5 stars.
I'm currently reading:
I read this over my four-day "Readcation," and it was the perfect choice. It's a long book, but it reads so quickly. Taraborrelli has done it again!
And at night, I'm reading:
I'm not very far into this one, but I'm enjoying it more than I thought I might.
My next audiobook:
Friday, March 26, 2021
Last week I finished:
End of Days, James Swanson
Someday I'll have to do a count of how many Kennedy books, and specifically, assassination books, I've read. Dozens, I'm sure. This one has a lot of overlap with others, but what it does that few others do is to give us a good glimpse into Lee Harvey Oswald, his actions, and his days in custody. It was worth it for that information. My rating: 4 stars.
White Dresses, Mary Pflum Peterson
This one has been on my TBR for years, but two things kept me from reading it: a prejudice against books that only come out in paperback (doesn't it show a publisher's lack of faith?), and the cover (while it's attractive, it makes the book seem rather fluffy). But this one sort of blew me away. I vacillated between 4 and 5 stars, I was so impressed. This is the memoir of a daughter and mother as the daughter gains independence, and as the mother spirals into depression and hoarding, making her home unsafe. I don't know Pflum Peterson, but she has a career in television journalism. It was a thoughtfully told, honest memoir, told with insight and love. I really enjoyed this one. I listened to the audio, narrated by the author, and it was very good. But now I have to buy the book for re-reading. My rating: 4 stars.
I'm currently reading:
It took me awhile to get into this one, but now I feel invested in what's happening, and I have no clue whodunnit.
My evening reads:
I've just barely begun this one.
I didn't get nearly as far with this as I'd hoped, but I'm not ready for it to be done anyway.
I'm unsure what my next audiobook will be.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Last week I finished:
The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
Okay, if you're still on the fence about reading this one, I'm not sure I'll be a whole lot of help. I think it's safe to say that Kristin Hannah is not really my kind of writer. While I don't find her a bad writer, I do find her writing...problematic. This is the second book I've read, and after not loving The Great Alone (read my review here), I thought I'd give her one more try. In short, The Four Winds is the story of a family during the Great Depression, and what they do to survive during the Dust Bowl. I know I'm in the vast minority here, but I just don't see what all the fuss is over Hannah's books. I think her writing is fine overall, but she isn't very good at writing characters. And sometimes things just aren't logical, little things, things that a lot of folks won't notice, but after a bunch of these, I just don't trust the author anymore. She also seems to prefer shock value over story continuity. Her plot seemed to ratchet up the tension for 350 to 400 pages, everything explodes, and then it fizzled out. There wasn't enough resolution here for me. It took 450 pages to get to the end, but there should have been another 100 pages at least to give the reader resolution, to tie up the plot points left dangling chapters and chapters back. It was so unsatisfying. Still, I was so ready for this book to be over that by the time the plot started to go off the rails at the end, I didn't even care. I don't mind depressing books, but I demand fully-realized characters and a well-paced plot. This one had neither. By the time the Communist character appeared that the reader was clearly meant to love, I was so done with this one. Also, if you've read Timothy Egan's National Book Award Winner, The Worst Hard Time, you'll see just about every word, fact, and thought of it in this book. I think it was Hannah's only research on the topic of the Dust Bowl. I give the plot and satisfaction level two stars, but the writing a three, so I'll give it a 3 overall. Grudgingly.
Seriously...I'm Kidding, Ellen DeGeneres
This is a re-read (re-listen) for me, and I love it. My previous review of this seems a little cranky. It didn't annoy me at all this time, and I laughed in all the same parts. I still love her chapter early on about being a Cover Girl and what beauty means. This is a fun, fast listen by a funny, smart woman. My rating: 4 stars.
The Duggars: 20 and Counting!, Kim Bob & Michelle Duggar
This is another re-read. Since it was published, the Duggars have had two more children and miscarried another. Eight more of their 19 have married (the oldest was married at the time of the book's release), and they have 20 grandchildren. So this is a blast from the past. How does a family with 19 children live debt-free? How do they homeschool that many? How do they keep up with all the laundry? What is their house like? It's all here. Agree with their conservative choices and lifestyle or not, it's still quite a story. My rating: 4 stars.
This week I'm reading:
It just felt like the right time to begin this one, the memoir of James Herriot by his son.
In the evening, I'll be reading:
And I cannot wait to begin this one. I love me some Dana Perino.
My current audiobook:
Because I cannot leave a JFK assassination retelling unread. Apparently.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Last week I finished:
David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
I'm a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and this is Gladwell at his best. This book explores the relationship between people and groups with power vs. people and groups with little power, and the tipping point (though he never recycles the term from his previous book) at which what seems logical becomes the flaw that turns a Goliath into an underdog. I highly recommend this one. The audio, narrated by the author, is very good, too. My rating: 4 stars.
Whale Day, Billy Collins
Another stellar poetry collection from Billy Collins. My favorite poem was "Architecture at 3:30 A.M." Accessible, charming, and witty, this one is definitely worth the price of admission. My rating: 4 stars.
One from the Hart, Stefanie Powers
My husband and I have recently rediscovered the 1980s television show Hart to Hart staring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. I can think of very few shows (or movies) where the leads have the chemistry they do in this show. This led to an obsession for all things Stefanie Powers, which led me to her 2010 memoir. In it, she talks about her film career, her love affair with William Holden, and setting up the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Africa after his death. This one was a disappointment for me. It is not an intimate book. I don't need my celebrity memoirs to be filled with dirt and have all the names named, but this was just too guarded. I get the feeling she wrote it for the money but decided she was only going to tell the stories she wanted to. There was very little in the book about Hart to Hart--even though the title plays on the show's title. All in all, kind of a boring, dry memoir. My rating: 3 stars.
A Doctor in the House, Candy Carson
This is another re-read that I took in on audio this time around. It's the memoir of Dr. Ben Carson's wife, Candy, and it came out when he was running for president in 2016. Dr. Carson was my choice for president that year, until his bid was no longer viable. I can't think of a more humble, gentle, thoughtful, intelligent person, one of the very few people who I would call a personal hero. And listening to his wife narrate this audiobook, it's obvious that they're two peas in a pod. Her voice is so gentle and soft, she almost fades away while reading. Here is my previous review. My rating: 4 stars.
Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
Dear Fahrenheit 451, Annie Spence
This is another re-read, and frankly, I think I found it more entertaining the first time I read it. Read my initial review here. A word to those who don't like swearing: give this one a wide berth. My rating: 4 stars.
I'm currently reading:
I'll finish this sometime this week, and my review will be up next week.
My evening read (until others show up in the mail):
I'm loving this book!
Another re-read. This was written two kids, nine marriages, and 20 grandkids ago!
Monday, March 1, 2021
Last week I finished:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
This re-read did not disappoint. I can see why it's a favorite among Christie fans. It had a wonderful twist, and even though I remembered the twist (in fact, guessed at its coming the first time I read it), the story still stood up to re-reading. I read it this time to see how the story was put together. I think this book should be taught in creative writing classes. It's wonderful. The thing I'm in awe of about Christie's work is that she doesn't waste a word, and nothing is superfluous. My rating: 4 stars.
Living Out Loud, Anna Quindlen
As I was listening to this wonderful set of essays this week, it occurred to me that I may have already read the book, but since that would have been in about 1998, I don't remember one way or the other. Still, certain parts felt familiar, which says something for its staying power. This is a book of Quindlen's New York Times columns, and if you try it and love it, the good news is that there are several others! I read my first the summer I began my first job post-college graduation. I remember reading it up until I had to leave for work in the afternoon. That began my long relationship with Quindlen's writing (I prefer her nonfiction). If you're unfamiliar with her writing, there are many folks I could liken it to, but they'd all fall a little flat. The essays are about her life as a career woman, mother of young children, and wife, and they are so well written. There aren't many writers writing like this anymore, and I wish there were more. Her voice is strong, whereas so many women writers nowadays write from a victim standpoint, but her work is also tender and full of wonder. In an interesting twist, these columns were penned before the third of her children, her only daughter Maria, was born. In this audio version, mother and daughter co-narrated. You can't tell their voices apart, much deeper and NYC than I'd expected. Highly recommended. My rating: 4 stars.
Going Rogue, Sarah Palin
Oh how I miss Sarah Palin. I was in elementary school when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run for the vice presidency. Now, all these years later, a woman has finally won the vice presidency. But the woman I voted for in her bid for the vice presidency was Sarah Palin. Mainstream media went after her, made terrible fun of her, but they did not stop her from being Sarah. In my sadness at where the White House is directing the nation, I felt an urgent need to go back to Sarah. Narrated by the author, this book was balm for my weary Republican heart. It's hard to be a Republican woman in today's world. It takes a strong woman to even attempt it. I often have to borrow that strength from other Republicans like Palin, Dana Perino, and others, but we need more female role models in the party, women of integrity who refuse to play the gender victim card, who believe in plainspoken truth, strong national defense, less government spending, and a strong stance on life. I can't really name one of those right now. It's interesting, listening to this book, how much has changed on the political landscape. The 2008 election vs. the 2020 election? Mindbogglingly different. Here, Palin talks about her life in Alaska, her rise to governorship and the VP candidacy, her RNC acceptance speech (which was a game changer for me), her son Trig who was born with Down Syndrome, the mismanagement of the McCain/Palin campaign, the campaign's constant overhandling of Palin which stifled her and limited their reach, and her appearance on SNL with Tina Fey (I'd forgotten since I first read the book that Palin used to dress up as Fey for Halloween!). Going back to this book was a touchstone for me. The political nanoring on (as these books often do) was easy to ignore. I liked my re-read, only realizing when it was over that my audio copy was abridged! My rating: 3 stars.
Last week I abandoned:
I felt that this book/author tried too hard and was too self-important. I had to bail.
This week I'll be reading:
I cannot wait to begin!
This week I'll finish:
Monday, February 22, 2021
Last week I finished
The Lazy Genius Way, Kendra Adachi
I was seeing this book all over on book vlogs and Bookstagram, and when I looked into it, it seemed right up my alley. In it, Adachi talks about the 13 ways to be "lazy about the things that don't matter and genius about the things that do." It's an empowering book, and I found it encouraging and helpful. It's a good one for all women because you get out of it what you bring to it. You decide what matters to you, and Adachi tells you how you can more easily make time and space for it in your life. I will say, though, that the principles here are already things I do in my life. Perhaps that's due to unique insight, perhaps due to my need to organize and efficient-ize my existence, or perhaps it's what I flippantly told my husband when describing the book, "it's called being in your 40s." I think a lot of this stuff you just figure out as you go through life stages, but maybe not. At any rate, the fact that I already do these things (or the ones that make sense for my current lifestyle) takes nothing away from the book. It's a very friendly, generous, warm hug of a book, whether the principles are new to you or not. (Note: Adachi has a podcast, too, which I have not really checked out, but you might want to.) My rating: 5 stars.
Love & War, Mary Matalin and James Carville
Wow, what a ride. This politically mismatched couple is something else. Matalin worked for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and she worked on President George H. W. Bush's reelection campaign the same year that Carville was working to get President Clinton elected. I'd always thought James Carville was the crazy wildcard in this marriage, but now I wonder if he isn't the saner one--though I still disagree with most of his politics. This is a very frank look at how the couple gets along--and how it doesn't. They spent the first two years of President George W. Bush's administration not talking to each other. Carville could not let the election go, to this day saying it was stolen from Gore. Meanwhile, Matalin was working for the Bush White House! Her account of 9/11 inside the White House was riveting. But the book is not all politics. They also talk about their beloved daughters, their move from Washington to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Carville is from Louisiana), as well as Matalin's love for creatures and Carville's loathing of the same. I enjoyed the book, but the years when they weren't speaking sent chills down my spine. If hubby and I even have a spat, I get panicky. I would never have the presence to not be talked to for months or years and live an otherwise normal life. Whew. I recommend this one. I like this quirky couple. My rating: 4 stars.
Jackie, Janet, & Lee, J. Randy Taraborrelli
This is a re-read for me, but this time I listened to it on audio. I have to say that the audio version is not my favorite. The narrator pronounced every letter of every word, and it came off as haughty and pretentious, which isn't the tone at all with any of Taraborrelli books in print. This was still a good story, though, as it details the lives and relationships of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, her sister Lee Radziwell, and their mother Janet Auschincloss. These three would be great characters in any novel, but the stuff here is real. I recommend this one (and really anything by Taraborrelli) to anyone who wants a good well-researched story with some dirt thrown in. My rating: 4 stars. (Read my original, much more eloquent, review here.)
This week I'll finish:
At night, I'm reading:
My audiobooks for this week: