Friday, January 15, 2021

What I'm Reading This Week (1/18/21)

Last week I finished: 

Sky of Stone, Homer Hickam
I love everything Homer Hickam writes. This, the third and final memoir in his Coalwood memoir series, is as good as the previous two. Here, Homer (Sonny) returns to Coalwood the summer after his first year of college at his mother's request. Sonny's father, the coalmine superintendent, is embroiled in a battle for his job, which is the most important thing in his life, to the detriment of his family. Sonny ends up joining the union and working in the mine, both things causing ire between him and his now-separated parents. Hickam's usual intelligence, humor, and grace is present here, and I enjoyed every word. My rating: 5 stars.

Three Sisters, Three Queens, Philippa Gregory
I know nothing about Tudor England, nor have I ever been interested in that time period, but I'd put Philippa Gregory on my TBR some time ago and decided to begin with this book. I listened to this on audio, and it was a good option. I'm unsure just how accurate this historical fiction is, and generally I don't care much for historical fiction biographies, but since the 1500s are so far back, I didn't really mind it in this case. This is the story of two Tudor princesses and their sister-in-law. One sister becomes the queen of Scotland, one the Queen of France, and the sister-in-law the queen of England. My rating: 4 stars

Kitchen Yarns, Ann Hood
I love food memoirs, and this is one of the better ones I've read. Awhile ago, I read Hood's Morningstar as well as her The Obituary Writer. This is by far my favorite of the three books. In it, she shares about her Italian-American childhood in Rhode Island, her difficult marriage and divorce, single motherhood, the death of her young daughter, and how food was a touchstone throughout her life. She also shares recipes. My rating: 5 stars.


This week, I'm reading:

I'm enjoying the writing in this one, even if the plot is a little rough.


I'm also reading:

I am really enjoying this wise memoir.


My audiobook:

I'll post a review of this next week. Suffice it to say, it's not the best Kennedy biography.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

12 Titles That Didn't Make My 2020 Best Of List

There were a number of books that I wish I could have included on my 2020 best of list, but I tried very hard to limit that to 15 titles (ten percent of what I read). So here are another 12 titles that I think are worth the read.

Death on the Nile. Agatha Christie
I wanted to read this before the movie came out, and it is officially one of my favorite Christie books, although I did sort of guess the murderer.  


Messenger of Truth, Jacqueline Winspear
This is the fourth in the Maisie Dobbs series, and it's my favorite so far (or perhaps tied with the first book). I think you get a better, deeper feel for who Maisie is and how her experience in World War I has changed her. I feel I learned more about her here than in even the first book. Plus, the crime involved art, which appealed to me.


American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
I read this early in the year, almost before the anger surrounding it was at a fever pitch. I thought it was a well-written book that was sensitive to the plight of illegal immigrants. I think the criticism involving it and Ms. Cummins was unfair.


Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane
I didn't read a lot of fiction this year, but at a certain point I wanted a novel I could sink my teeth into, and this one really fit the bill. I enjoyed it very much, and I plan to read her other work.


Jackie, Ethel, Joan, J. Randy Taraborrelli
I love a good, thick, somewhat gossipy Kennedy biography, and no one delivers them like Taraborrelli. This one examines the relationships between Jackie Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy (Robert Kennedy's wife/widow), and Joan Kennedy (Teddy Kennedy's first wife). This was my fist in-depth look at Joan, and I liked her very much.




Nine Horses, Billy Collins
A strong collection of poetry. Period.


Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson
I read both of Shirley Jackson's fictionalized memoirs this year, and (spoiler alert) I made myself choose between them for the best of list. This is every bit as good as the first one, but it necessarily lacks the delight I felt having stumbled upon the first. 


Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell is brilliant, is he not? This is up there with his best work, I think. I didn't always agree with his conclusions, but watching his mind work is fascinating.


The Accidental President, A. J. Baime
This was an excellent biography of President Truman's short rise to office and his ending the second World War. 

The Hiltons, J. Randy Taraborrelli
Another Taraborrelli book that was just excellent. You really don't have to be at all interested in the Hilton family (don't worry, there's little to no mention of Paris, but you do learn a lot about Zsa Zsa Gabor...) to enjoy this masterful biography. The audiobook was good.

Three Days at the Brink, Bret Baier
I loved this book. It's definitely my favorite of the series. Although I've read the story of President Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and World War II a dozen times before, I still enjoyed this version. 

Wilson, A. Scott Berg
This was a superb biography of President Wilson. He really came to life. I enjoyed it on audio.


Monday, January 11, 2021

What I'm Reading This Week (1/11/21)

Okay, I'm going to start this year out right and post my weekly review of books. But I'm aiming for short and sweet. Since I've been away, Blogger has made some changes that I'm having trouble navigating, so if this post goes sideways, I hope it's at least readable.

I still have some best of 2020 posts to get up. They're coming. But for now, here's what I've been reading so far this year.

Last week I finished:
The Last Days of John Lennon, James Patterson
I'm a Beatles fan in the way every human has to be one, but I'm more of a Paul girl than a John girl. I'm never understood the appeal of John, although a world of talented Pauls without a few visionaries like John may not produce a group like the Beatles. I don't know. At any rate, this was a good book, and it would have been better had I more affection for John Lennon. My rating: 3 stars. 

This week I will continue with:
I consider Homer Hickam one of America's great storytellers. This, the third and final in his Coalwood memoir series, is captivating. I'll be sad to finish it.

I'm also reading:

 At night I've been reading Ann Hood's Kitchen Yarns, which is much better than expected. And because I couldn't wait until I was done with Hood's book, I started Kathie Lee Gifford's It's Never Too Late, which I'm enjoying, too.


And I'm listening to:

I've never read anything by Philippa Gregory, but I'm glad I tried this one. I'm finding it a very engaging listen.



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

10 Stinkers of 2020

And I'm back! I don't know that there's much I can say about my months away other than in a year in which anything can and did happen, I needed to check out of social media for awhile to guard my sanity. This year was good to me, full of growth both spiritually and mentally, but only because I shielded myself from certain influences. I've decided, at least for now, to not expound on my feelings of the past year, partly because there's nothing that I could say that hasn't been said better by others, and partly because I don't like adding to the cacophony. I will say, however, that my plan for 2021 is to come back here. I don't know that I'll go back to full reviews for every book I read, because that's just too exhausting at present, I do hope to do weekly posts of some kind. 

For now, though, I will try to catch you up on some of my reading from the last year. Enjoy. Leave a kind comment. 

***

It's time for my yearly "stinkers" list. To reiterate, these are not the worst books I read in 2020, and not necessarily even bad books. What they are is books that disappointed me. Some of my favorite authors are on this list, authors who've written books that have appeared on my "best of" lists in the past. I had a hard time narrowing the list down, because I ran into many books this year that were either "meh" or sloppily written or just not for me, but these ten titles let me down in a profound way.


Me, Elton John
I had really high hopes for Elton John's memoir. I thought it would be fascinating, but while I found it well-written, I was turned off my so many things in it. And the drama queen persona was exhausting.


Triggered, Donald Trump, Jr.
Occasionally, I like to enter the echo chamber of conservative politics and indulge in a book by a high-profile Republican. I don't know why I do this, because I invariably dislike the book. This one, though, I couldn't even finish. It was so mean-spirited, I had to put it down. We can disagree without hating.


Kopp Sisters on the March, Amy Stewart
I love the Kopp Sister series, of which this is number five. But I was disappointed by this installment. There were too many new characters, and the sisters seemed to take a backseat to them.


My Calamity Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
I was so disappointed with this one, I'll think twice before picking up another in this or additional series. I was so put off by the politically correct rhetoric, the heavy-handed "teaching" moments, the odd drops of activism. Blech. The indoctrination of girls was so evident, I was appalled. 


The Lincoln Conspiracy, Brad Meltzer
I love Brad Meltzer, though I think this is the first book I read by him. I've watched him speak on C-SPAN, and he's hilarious and engaging. But this book was rather boring. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the book more than I enjoyed reading the book. Doesn't mean I won't try his other books, though.


My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, Jason B. Rosenthal
I love Amy Krouse Rosenthal. No book is ever going to do her generous spirit justice. I found this book by her husband a little too expected, too commercial, too polished. And when it was all over, I sort of resented this book.


The Plus, Greg Gutfeld
I LOVE Greg Gutfeld. Period. But this book of "self help for people who hate self help" was so pedestrian. He has a first-rate mind, and this was not first-rate material. The book didn't bring up anything I hadn't already considered or adopted in my life, and I don't remember anything about the book these many months later. Still, I LOVE Greg Gutfeld. 


The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
This is the last, and presumably final, book in the Flavia de Luce series, of which I'm a huge fan. My disappointment here is that if it is indeed the end for Flavia, I would have liked some closure. I'm not like my husband who likes it when television series ends with a "normal" last episode. I want the curtain call with all the characters holding hands and bowing. Bradley didn't let Flavia bow. Still, I'm excited to know what Mr. Bradley might give us next.


Daughter of the Heartland, Joni Ernst
Like I said above, sometimes I enter the political echo chamber, and memoirs are usually a safe bet for me, but this one, whew, I did not like. I was too dense to realize this was being released in an election year, for a reason. Why is a combat veteran stopping to playing the victim card? Is her record not enough to re-elect her? Bah!


Welcome to the United States of Anxiety, Jen Lancaster
I love me some Jen Lancaster. I usually eat her books up. And I feel like a jerk adding this to the list, but this one blindsided me. I just did not see it coming. Usually, Lancaster's books are hilarious and irreverent and charming-with-edge. But here Lancaster has gone serious--footnotes and everything. Not a bad book, and good for her for writing what she wants, but not what I pick up Lancaster's books for. If Jen goes serious, who's left for a conservative gal with a sense of humor?




Friday, May 8, 2020

What I read in April 2020

Life continues as normal. Well, the new normal. Well, not necessarily normal, because I'm eating more junk food and actually craving fresh air for about the first time in my life. I'm hearing that I'll be working from home this summer, too--that is, if we're not furloughed. But I don't feel unsettled by the uncertainty. Working from home was always one of my dearest wishes, and it's come true. And I know that God supplies what we need.

Reading has been good this month. I hit the 50 books read mark this month, so I'm on track with my goal of 150 books this year. When I looked over the books I read this month, although ten of the fourteen received four or five stars, there's only one I would add to my favorites list.

A couple of years ago I watched the movie Mrs. Miniver (1942) with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon and absolutely loved it. When the ebook came up on a sale a few months ago, I bought it right away. First, I have to say that the movie and book are nothing at all alike; I think they only share character names and not much else. But they do share a feeling that is hard to describe. But regardless of the dissimilarities, I love them both so much. The book is a rather contemplative character study of Mrs. Miniver, an upper-middle class wife and mother in England at the cusp of World War II. Each chapter is a short look into some part of Mrs. Miniver's daily life. What makes the book so stunning is the insight with which it's written. You'll see a part of yourself in Mrs. Miniver and her predilection for introspection. The tone of the novel, too, was perfect. Her world, as the current world situation, is uncertain and sometimes frightening, but her quiet strength and focus on home and family is what we're all experiencing now. She's also unfailingly optimistic. Give Mrs. Miniver a chance. You will be charmed by her. (And don't miss the movie!) My rating: 5 stars.

After reading the fourth Maisie Dobbs book in February (read my review here), I was eager to read the fifth, An Incomplete Revenge. In this book, Maisie is asked to look into the strange acts of vandalism and small home fires in an English village before her client buys property there. What she finds is a web of secrecy to unwind. Who's been causing the problems in the area--Roma gypsies, the nasty estate owner, the outsiders who flock to the village at this time of year, ghosts? Her investigation coincides with the hops harvest, which is interesting in and of itself. (On a side note, Mrs. Miniver, too, had a hops harvest scene.) While this wasn't one of my favorite Maisie stories, owing to the nature of the "crime" and the gypsy subplot, it was, as always, well written. And in this one Maisie must say a final goodbye to someone dear to her and repair another relationship before it's too late. I always end up loving the Maisie's life bits more than the main plot. My rating: 4 stars.

One of the books I brought home from the library before we closed indefinitely was the new children's nonfiction book Everest about the first pair to summit Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. This one is perfect for your little explorers, as it's full of facts and interesting illustrations to bring you along on the adventure. My favorite piece of information? Both Hillary's son and Norgay's son eventually summitted the mountain themselves! My rating: 4 stars.

Tembi Locke's From Scratch has been on my TBR since it came out a year ago. I was able to buy a cheap audio CD copy, so that's how I finally read it. Going in, I only knew that it was about an African American woman (she's a successful actress, though I don't know her work) who marries a Sicilian man. What isn't made terribly clear is that it's a widow's memoir, a woman going over her twenty-year marriage to a man she adored. When they married, his traditional Sicilian family was opposed to the match, and it took many years to reconcile. Along the way, the couple builds a life, raises an adopted daughter, and goes through the ordeal of his cancer diagnosis. When the husband, Saro, dies, Tembi and her daughter return to Sicily several times to feel the connection of his past and their extended family. Had I known so much of the book was about dying and death, I would have forgone reading it. I'm also not really one for sentimental love stories, and while this wasn't terribly syrupy, it was personal in a way that wasn't particularly interesting to me. She refers to their fantastic sex a lot, and I have to say that a couple's sex life is the least interesting part of a couple's marriage to me. Overall, though, if you like romance books, this would be a good real (though sad) romance. The audio is good, and it's narrated by the author (although I do wish she's look up how to pronounce the word "salve"). My rating: 3 stars.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's My Beloved World is a re-read for me. It was every bit as good as my first reading. This time I listened to the audio version, read by Rita Moreno, and it was very good. Instead of writing a full review, I'll refer you to my previous review. My rating: 4 stars.

I was feeling the need for a little poetry lately, so I picked up a copy of Billy Collins's Nine Horses, one of his older books that I haven't read yet. It was old enough that I was familiar with many of the poems in it, which I love in a poetry book. This is one of my favorites of Collins's work, and I highly recommend it. My rating: 5 stars.

Other than eliminating my access to audiobooks, the public library's closure (no curb-side pick-up for us) has meant no access to my nightly reads, usually decorating books, poetry, children's books, and cookbooks, things I often try from the library, and if I like them, I buy for myself. But this is also a blessing, because I have the perfect opportunity to re-read some old favorites. So I picked up Pioneer Woman's first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl (2009). It was such a fun trip back in time. Mostly, I was reconnected with recipes I've wanted to try for several years now: Iny's Prune Cake, Penne alla Betsy, and Chocolate Sheet Cake. This re-read made me want to immediately begin another PW cookbook, especially since Amazon does not think that mailing the latest Joanna Gaines cookbook, which I purchased April 8, should have any kind of priority. (Tell me why liquor stores are considered essential business but online books are not. It's not like they have any Lysol spray to mail out anyway!) Innywho. Suffice it to say, I love this cookbook as much as her others and as much on the second reading as the first. My rating: 5 stars.

I was an Ann Patchett holdout for a long time. I kept hearing how good her books were, but when I tired her nonfiction book on marriage and was so disappointed I'd written her off. But I'm here to say her fiction is better than I found her nonfiction. The Dutch House was fabulous. And State of Wonder was quite good, too. I listened to this on audio, and that was a good way to go for me (especially since I can only find paperback copies of this book, and the print is so tiny). Patchett's gift is in writing fascinating stories with characters that are always a bit aloof from the reader but still knowable. In this book, a pharmaceutical research scientist is sent to the Brazilian rainforest to check on the progress of another scientist, as well as investigate the death of the last person the company sent to check on the scientist's progress. In the process,  many wonderous things are revealed to her. In a less gifted author's hands, this plot would have been woefully bungled, but Patchett was able to weave all the threads into something wonderful. While the plot summary may not interest you, I'd advise against writing it off, as the journey of this one, the unfolding of the plot, is what makes it good. My rating: 4 stars.

Okay, I just have to say it. I'm always skeptical when the famous (and the children of the famous) decide to start giving the country reading recommendations. Oprah has been doing it for years, and she kind of has a knack for it (though I don't always enjoy her selections). Reese Witherspoon is doing it, and although I think Reese is adorable, she's rather hit or miss with recommendation, in my opinion (my favorites are Daisy Jones and the Six, The Library Book, The Giver of Stars, and Little Fires Everywhere), but so many others left me cold or uninterested). But Jenna Bush Hager consistently surprises me by selecting things that aren't necessarily mainstream fiction and nonfiction. I'm intrigued by so many of her titles that her book club pics are close to becoming an automatic buy; they are at least an "automatic consider." The Dearly Beloved has some of my favorite elements, a slow plot, well-fleshed characters, and a deep, introspective quality. Anne Bogel says this is not a book about faith, but it most certainly is. The trouble is, I'm not sure the author knows that it is. It almost felt like the book wanted to explore faith in a deeper and more complete way, but the author kept wanting to make it about social advocacy. This is the story of two couples in the 1950s-1960s. The husbands are both clergymen asked to co-pastor at the same church. One is more traditional and experiences a crisis of faith. The other isn't sure if he believes or not, but he uses the pulpit to address social injustice. There isn't a lot more plot than that, but that doesn't matter because it's enough. The trouble is, as deep as the book goes, it could have gone so much deeper. If you like contemplative historical fiction and themes of faith and tradition vs. progressivism, this is a good one for you. My rating: 4 stars.

When Charles Krauthammer passed in the summer of 2018, conservatism in America lost a guiding light. While I wasn't smart enough to understand more than a quarter of what he said, and while I sometimes disagreed with him (he didn't seem to appreciate President Trump's foreign policy, for instance), he was a lion among men. I read his first book, Things That Matter, when it came out (read my review here), and when his second, The Point of It All, came out posthumously, I kind of assumed I would not even try it. I prefer nonfiction with a little more personal connection and seldom settle in for a book about straight politics (or theology or science). I enjoy intellectually rigorous books, but I do like it packaged in a certain way, and his first book wasn't quite that. But something, and I can't remember what, made me re-think that recently and buy a copy of the second book. I got the feeling that it was more personal than his previous book, and since it was edited by his son, Daniel, I knew it would still be true to Charles's vision of his work and life. I did find this book a little more palatable, though, true to form, my favorite parts were the personal essays and the wonderful and touching introduction and eulogy by Daniel, who is very much his father's (beloved) son. There were a number of essays on medical ethics (stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia), liberty, and domestic and foreign policy. The essays, generally just a few pages long, are previously published newspaper columns, ranging from about 1985 to 2018. The man's intellect was astonishing, and yet his thoughts were always exceedingly clear and articulate, and even when I wasn't interested in the topic of a particular essay, I was always fascinated to see the argument coming together, to see what he included and what he didn't and how the two made the scales even. It's a remarkable thing to know you're in the hands of a genius, and these books put you there. My rating: 4 stars.

I had heard such wonderful things about Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. It has fantastic ratings on Amazon, and Anne Bogel is always extoling the virtues of it. I had enjoyed her Once upon a River (read my review here) so much that I just knew I'd love her earlier book. But I really, really didn't. I have a low tolerance for fantasy in books, and this one was just too fantastical for me. I also didn't care for the main character, and I hated the "crusty older woman telling her story at last to a young journalist" structure. So many folks love this one, so I won't go on about why I didn't. And to tell you the truth, my desire to will myself to forget it is so successful, I've almost forgotten what it's about. I will give it this: it's a story well told. So if you like fantasy and dark elements, and you don't need lovable characters (or find the non-loveable loveable), you'll probably love this one. It's not bad, it's just not for me. My rating: 3 stars.

I listened to the ninth book in Jan Karon's Mitford series, Light from Heaven, and it was wonderful. The books, even upon completion, all blend together, so I'm having trouble even remembering what happened in this one, but it doesn't matter. Best read in order, they just flow into each other, and I wish I'd never get to the end of them. My rating: 4 stars.







I was really looking forward to reading Anne Glenconner's memoir about her days as lady in waiting to Princess Margaret (the Queen's sister), called, appropriately, Lady in Waiting. I was expecting a story of dignity, punctuated with by little bit of Princess Margaret's naughtiness, as well as a good dose of royal drama, pomp, and pompousness. But that isn't what this is at all. This is less about the royals and more about Lady Glenconner's tumultuous life. Married to a philandering weirdo (sorry, there's no other word for the oddness of this man's behavior), with children who elevated family drama to a new tier, this was very much a story of the degradation of the English aristocracy. It kind of turned my stomach. It you're looking for stories about the royal family, you won't find much (other than a wonderful description of the Queen's coronation--Lady Glenconner was an attendant in the procession). This is more a story of family drama, and if you like stories of family dysfunction, this one's for you. My rating: 3 stars.

I was so looking forward to Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World, ever since I read about it in 1,000 Books to Read.... This is the first-hand account of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Because the book is 600 pages long, I bought the audio version of this to listen to. I was sorely disappointed. I think this would have been a better experience for me had I read the book--but only marginally. I had a very hard time following the action, and I constantly wondered do I have these CDs out of order? The book doesn't seem to be told chronologically, and I had a really hard time following it at all. At one point a man's death was described and then a few hours later he was alive again participating in the story. I was so confused by the telling. I can't give you one concrete fact about his adventure nor the people involved. It was never disclosed in the beginning of the book why they had even set out on the journey! I feel really stupid writing this review, because I can't believe all things that seemed to be wrong with the book really were wrong--at least part of it must be me, but I was absolutely flummoxed by the whole experience. Still, it was something to listen to, and the book was written in such an overwhelmingly positive way though the journey was tragic. That was remarkable. My rating: 3 stars (because it must be my fault...).

 
 

Monday, April 13, 2020

What I read in March 2020

Forgive the long silence, folks. I can't explain it. Although the last few weeks have been exceptional, I don't think that's really why I haven't posted. I think I'm feeling blog burnout and review fatigue. But I have read some wonderful books this month that I wanted to share.

But first, a few words about what life looks like these days. Wisconsin is under a "safer at home" order (basically, shelter in place), and my household is taking it seriously. We leave the house once every two weeks to stock up on groceries for us and for our son's family, but otherwise, we don't leave the house. We're both blessed with jobs that we can do from home, and not a day goes by we don't thank God for that. But frankly, other than working from home and not eating out at all, our lives haven't changed much. We never go too far from home and we are careful budgeters of our time. And to tell the truth, we're not very social people; we're happiest at home, together. So while the whole world is going crazy over the woes of social distancing, I'm having a wonderful Introvert's Holiday. Not only do I not want to go out, I'm not allowed to. It's wonderful. Anyone else out there who feels the same?

My main issue with all the closures has been the lack of audiobooks. I stopped by the public library on March 17 to pick up my audio holds, as I had a hunch they'd be closing indefinitely (they announced the decision after they'd closed, presumably to limit contact), so I stocked up. Or at least I thought I did. I finished my last audiobook on April 1. I have not been able to get Overdrive to work, and their website is sort of useless for troubleshooting, and Audible isn't a feasible option for someone who listens to as many audiobooks each month as I do, so I resorted to buying audiobooks on CD (my preferred method of listening) from Amazon. I figured we're saving a lot of money these days, why not stroke the economy a bit with an online purchase. What can I say, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Inywho...

So, just like the last couple of months, I'll write full reviews for my favorite books read this month and shorter reviews for the others.


I'm a big fan of Rick Bragg. One of the biggest books of the 1990s was his All Over But the Shoutin', a beautiful, tough memoir about growing up poor in the South with an alcoholic father who frequently abandoned his family leaving his wife to take care of their three boys by picking cotton. Bragg is a natural storyteller and beautiful writer, and he's frequently funny as heck. His newest book, The Best Cook in the World, continues the wonderful stories he told about his mother and family in his first book. Although poor, this family, going back several generations, were serious about cooking. Their food was southern and simple, and his mother insists that it be done right. She has opinions and rules for all things culinary, and if you disagree or do it differently, you're a philistines. Or worse. This book, clocking in at just under 500 pages, is part memoir, part biography of his mother, and part cookbook, and it was all my favorite things. Bragg tells his family history with stories and recipes (recipes are stories, he posits), and the instructional portion of the recipes are peppered with his mother's explanations, or, in most cases, lack of explanations. When asked how long to bake something, she might say, "Until it's done!" Bragg will prod a bit, "Yes, but can you give an approximate time?" "Well how would I know how their oven works?! Bake it til it's done!" This is a wonderful, wonderful book, and I enjoyed every minute of reading it. What struck me most about the recipes were the short, simple ingredient lists. All told, the recipes in the book used only the following ingredients: pork, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, bologna, bacon fat, mayo, flour, salt, pepper, and the occasional brick of government cheese. It's amazing the things you can whip up with only those ingredients. If you enjoy food memoirs, you'll want to read this one. It's wonderful. My rating: 5 stars.

Sometimes you find books at just the right time. Chalk The Great Halifax Explosion up as one of those. This was one of the audio books I picked up before the public library closed, and I enjoyed it immeasurably. The telling of the true World War I-era tragedy of the explosion of a ship carrying 3,000 tons of explosive material exploding in the Halifax harbor, vaporizing the ship in less than a second and killing 11,000. It was the largest explosion the world had ever seen, surpassed only by the atom bombs of World War II. This is a fascinating story well-told. I enjoyed it more than Erik Larson's Dead Wake, which is similar in subject matter. The audio was very good, too. What struck me about this book, especially at this point in human history, was how everyone came together after this terrible tragedy. It's what we're seeing play out this month all around the world, people coming together to lend aid and uplift spirits. If you're looking for a true story of tragedy with a lot of heart, I don't think you'll be disappointed. My rating: 4 stars.

I was lucky to have my audio hold on The Splendid and the Vile come up just before the library closed down. Like The Great Halifax Explosion, it was a great book to be reading while the world seems to be reeling. This is the story of Winston Churchill and Londoners' weathering of the aerial bombing by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. It too, felt familiar, as waves of bombs fell on London in the book, waves of panic and infection fell over the world in real time. A couple of things struck me about this book. First, and this strikes me about every book about the Homefront, whether American or English, during World War II, was how naturally and seamlessly people came together. There are a few times in recent human history where folks have united like this: the World Wars, 9/11 in America, and, I think, this pandemic belief we are currently in the grips of. Second, I was struck by how much "wooing" Churchill did of President Roosevelt. England needed America to turn the tide of the war or the world might very well be lost to the ideals of Nazism. It was a desperate time, but Americans weren't terribly interested in entering another world war. They very much wanted to sit this one out. In general, I enjoy Erik Larson's books, though I do enjoy some more than others (he-hem), but this one is near the top of the list. It told about one small slice of English history, and it did it well. I recommend it highly. My rating: 4 stars.



I was a little surprised, and dare I say, disappointed, in the latest (fifth) installment in the Kopp Sisters series. In Kopp Sisters on the March, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette, are off to a National Service School, a military-style training school for women in the days leading up World War I. The school was meant to train young women for nursing, seamstress work, typing, and other female-oriented tasks associated with war. My disappointment with the book lies in the fact that the Kopp sisters were secondary to a new character, Beulah Binford, a young woman (based on the real Beulah Binford) trying to work her way out of a disgraced life. I could have done with less Beulah and more Constance. Still, I enjoyed the book, and I look forward to the sixth book, coming out this fall. My rating: 4 stars.

 
I finally read the seventh and last book in the Clementine series, Completely Clementine. It was a wonderful as the others, but it sure was sad to see the series end. In this one, Clementine has to say good-bye to third grade, but she has trouble saying good-bye. Also, she's giving her father the silent treatment because he ate meat, and the two must navigate issues of convictions and free will. And lastly, Clementine's mother is ready to (finally) give birth to Clementine's little brother or sister. Will if be a dud? A good ending to a great series. Now, to begin again. My rating: 4 stars.  

 
I found A Bookshop in Berlin almost entirely forgettable. It's the true story of a Jewish Polish woman who owns a bookshop in Berlin and must escape the Nazis. The story just didn't seem unique, and perhaps it was too humbly written to be very interesting to me. I feel crass saying so, but it just didn't grab me. My rating: 3 stars. 

 
National Parks of the U.S.A. is a very pretty children's guide to the National Parks. There are 58 National Parks in America, in all regions of the country, and containing all manner of wildlife, fauna, and geographical features. The book does a good job showcasing as much of this diversity as it can. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it would show only 21 of the parks in detail, and I was kind of hoping for the whole ball of wax. The parks chosen for inclusion weren't necessarily the ones I was most interested in learning about. Still, a lovely, informative book that your little traveler or scientist would enjoy. My rating: 4 stars.
 
 
Years ago I read Myron Uhlberg's Hands of My Father, Uhlberg's memoir of growing up hearing with two deaf parents. It was wonderful. The Sound of Silence is the children's version of that book. It, too, was wonderful. He talks about the difficulties of being the young interpreter for his father between the hearing and deaf worlds. My rating: 4 stars.
 
 
I've never watched Mike Rowe's Dirty Jobs, but I know him from his appearances on news programs. I've always enjoyed his outlook on life and his voice (remember the Ford commercials?)--plus I think he's kind of cute. So I decided to try his new book The Way I Heard It on audio, since he narrates it. If you are familiar with Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story from radio, you'll have a good idea of what these stories are like. I enjoyed this book a great deal. Between the stories (which are available in podcast form on his website), he gives short personal stories which I enjoyed even more. This was very good on audio. My rating: 4 stars.


I love books about food and I love books about the United States, and The United Tastes of America combines the two beautifully. This is a children's cookbook that gives relevant food facts for each of the 50 states and U.S. territories plus one representative recipe and a full-page photo of the finished dish. The recipes were not terribly simple--no easier than what I might make for supper (no peanut butter smeared on celery in this book), and there were a number of things that I would like to try. Nothing was terribly weird nor absurdly easy, and turning the page to discover which recipe was chosen for each state was fun. It was often something unexpected. I learned a lot with this one, and I enjoyed every page. This was one of the best children's books I've read this year. My rating: 4 stars.
 
 
I've been wanting to read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind for quite awhile now, and since my library has the audio edition of the young reader's version, I decided to give that a try. I was sort of disappointed with the book, and I'm not sure why. I can't remember now what it was that bothered me. It's a great story, and he talks frankly about the everyday poverty of his Malawian village, Kamkwamba's substandard education (since the family often could not afford it), and the near-starvation the area suffered due to drought. Through it all, Kamkwamba taught himself advanced scientific principles so that he could build a windmill to produce water and create electricity for his village. It seems such a basic thing--something most countries moved beyond decades ago--could we not get this information to countries like Malawi instead of waiting for one 12-year-old boy to teach himself how to do it from a discarded textbook? It seems appalling, doesn't it? My rating: 4 stars.

 
The Mitford Scandal, the third in the Mitford Murders series, was much like the two that came before it. This one, though, covers more years (it seemed like too many, perhaps the author is trying to fast-forward a little to get to World War II quicker?) I don't find these books great literature, and I could stop reading the series at any time, but they are kind of fun. The Mitford sisters were quite the set, and I think we're getting to where their more outrageous antics will become more prominent in the books. A fun jaunt, but nothing great. My rating: 3 stars.

 
The Miracle at Speedy Motors, the ninth in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, was as satisfying as all the others. It's hard to write reviews of books that are far into a series, so I'm not going to give a plot summary. They always sound a little uninteresting anyway. If you read these, you'll want to read them in order, and the plots are sort of secondary to the overall feel of the series anyway. But as long as Alexander McCall Smith keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. My rating: 4 stars.
 



I made a decision to stop reading Donald Trump Jr.'s Triggered when I was quite far in. One of my goals this year was to "turn off the news when it devolved into something other than news," and this book did. I was disappointed in how snarky and button-pushing it was. I don't have a problem with political books that pander a bit to their base, but this was just a little too much pandering. And, as a part of Don Jr.'s base who isn't fond of the snark, I was turned off. I started it to blow off some political steam, but my steam was blown off by the second chapter. I prefer a fairer approach.

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Well, it only took me a month and a half to finish these reviews! And I'm already reading some wonderful books in April. Hopefully I can get a post up about them soon