**spoiler alert** This book is not King's strongest effort. Then again, he has pretty high standards to live up to.
I enjoyed the first part of the bo**spoiler alert** This book is not King's strongest effort. Then again, he has pretty high standards to live up to.
I enjoyed the first part of the book when we meet Jamie Moyer as a young boy and Charles Jacobs, a pastor. Moyer and Jacobs will continue to intersect at various times in their lives. In this book, King is at his best telling the story of the Moyers and how Jacobs fit into their lives. The story reflects small-town Maine life and the characters who inhabit the place.
I found the actions that lead to the conclusion to be a bit unbelievable. In short, Jacobs blackmails Moyer in order to enlist his assistance in Jacobs' grand, final project. I did not buy the premise of the blackmail. King was stretching to find a way to bring Moyer and Jacobs back together.
The final scene did not have much imagination. Perhaps it was because the rest of the book was so grounded in real life. As a result, when King plopped in his usual tropes of fantastical elements, it didn't quite fit. The final vision was meant to be horrific, but I found myself rolling my eyes.
I appreciated the relatively brevity of this book compared to his other works, but this might have been a case where I wanted more explanation and detail throughout the book....more
This book addresses my favorite topics: true crime, Minnesota, and mystery.
Swanson recounts the 1972 kidnapping of Virginia Piper, whom I will not desThis book addresses my favorite topics: true crime, Minnesota, and mystery.
Swanson recounts the 1972 kidnapping of Virginia Piper, whom I will not describe as a "socialite." (Read the book and you'll know why). Piper was a victim because her husband, Bobby Piper, had some money as a partner of the Piper, Jaffray financial firm. She was held for a $1 million ransom. When it was paid a day later, she was released.
Even though two men were convicted of the crime, the convictions were reversed on appeal. To this day, no one is certain who did the kidnapping. The point of Swanson's book is not to solve the crime (though he posits his own theory at the end). Instead, Swanson focuses on the facts of the case and the lengths to which the FBI, police, and Piper's family went to try to solve the mystery.
As such, readers are given a captivating narrative not only of the crime, but also of the journey people have taken to figure out what happened. One of the Piper's sons in particular did a lot of searching for answers, which Swanson describes.
Swanson has written other books that focus on Minnesota crime. His expertise as a narrative nonfiction crime writer is evident. This well-written book should satisfy fans of true crime. ...more
My only complaint about this book is that I wish it were longer. I understand what TED is trying to do with its publishing arm--bring to book form theMy only complaint about this book is that I wish it were longer. I understand what TED is trying to do with its publishing arm--bring to book form the compelling talks that are the hallmark of TED. But some topics deserve more than the novella length, and this is one of them.
Ebrahim has a fascinating story; he grew up as the son of a terrorist. His father was convicted of murdering a renowned rabbi in New York and also helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from his jail cell. Ebrahim was only seven years old when his father went to jail, and his life was filled with frequent moves, bullying, and abuse at the hands of a stepfather.
Because of the short length of the book, Ebrahim only skims the surface of events. Once in a while, he's able to dive down briefly, but then he's back up at surface level. While this was a quick read, I was left in the end wanting more. I guess it's better to wish a book were longer than having to plow through an overly long book. But the people at TED should have recognized this rich story and have allowed Ebrahim to fully develop this as a memoir....more
My great-grandparents moved to far northern North Dakota in the early 20th century. I’ve often wondered what life was like for my great-grandma, battlMy great-grandparents moved to far northern North Dakota in the early 20th century. I’ve often wondered what life was like for my great-grandma, battling wind, humidity, and brutal winters without any of our modern conveniences. She had five children in quick succession. Five little ones on a farm in North Dakota in the early 20th century—this woman must have been a saint.
I’m not the only one to wonder what life was like for farm women on the Plains more than a century ago. In MEADOWLARK, Dawn Wink uses her imagination to bring readers into the life of Grace Robertson.
Grace is a 16-year-old bride who, on her wedding day, discovers the type of man her husband really is. Not only does she have to deal with the harshness of the South Dakota landscape, she has to deal with a brutal home life, too. Her anchors are her son, James; her horse, Mame; and the company of neighbor women who check in on her, including a doctor from out East and a Lakota woman.
Wink describes in stunning detail the scenes that confront Grace: the weather, her husband’s actions, and tragedies that befall neighbors.
Despite the darkness and harshness that surrounds Grace, hope appears in the form of a ranch worker—an ex-boyfriend of Grace’s. Will Grace ever be able to extricate herself from a loveless marriage and find the happiness she deserves?
It’s hard for me to read about women who are trapped. My instinct is to scream, “Just leave him!” But I know it’s not that simple even today, and it was far harder in a time when women had few rights. Grace tries to leave and goes to her neighbor, Mae, for help. But Mae tells her the truth: if Grace left her marriage, Grace’s son would end up with her husband. Custody rarely went to the woman when the woman was the one who left. Readers clearly feel Grace’s frustration and hopelessness.
Anyone fan of historical fiction would enjoy this book. Readers familiar with the Great Plains will find extra resonance, as it’s filled with beautiful descriptions of the wide South Dakota prairie.
I especially enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book. It turns out that Grace is the author’s great-grandmother. Wink used her imagination to wonder what Grace’s life might have been like. The connection the author has forged with Grace’s presence is strong. As a memoirist, I find myself wanting to know more about the author and her family. She provides some intriguing hints in the afterword!
Overall, this lovely book with lovely writing brought me right into a time and place that has gone past. I look forward to reading more from this author. ...more
I had heard of this book when it first came out, but didn't get around to reading it until now. The accolades it received when it was first publishedI had heard of this book when it first came out, but didn't get around to reading it until now. The accolades it received when it was first published are well deserved. The story was utterly charming and a fast read that I didn't want to put down. It's a quiet, simple story, but something about it was entirely page-turning. I can't quite explain it, because it lacks high drama or intrigue. Jim is, on the outside, quite ordinary, just a "boy." But maybe with all the turmoil in the real world this book provides a needed escape that I just soaked up.
The book very much reminded me of the "Little House on the Prairie" books. It provided a snapshot of a past time, told in a series of short vignettes. The book is comprised almost entirely of action. At the end of the edition I have, Tony Earley provides a suggested reading list, which included the "Little House" books. So my inkling that he was influenced by Laura Ingalls Wilder was correct. I loved the "Little House" books as a child, so I guess it was no surprised that I was similarly absorbed by "Jim the Boy."
The book was a good reminder of what it means to have child-like wonder. We take so much for granted today, when there was a time not long ago when travel to the next county, or electricity, or a multi-room school, was considered extraordinary. In this book, the ordinary is lifted to the realm of extraordinary in subtle ways....more
When I talked to Susan Orlean at an event a few weeks ago, I asked for her recommendations for great nonfiction reads. She surprised me by saying sheWhen I talked to Susan Orlean at an event a few weeks ago, I asked for her recommendations for great nonfiction reads. She surprised me by saying she doesn't read a lot of nonfiction. In her down time, she prefers to get lost in a novel. But she did come up with this gem by Richard Lloyd Parry.
My interest in true crime accounts goes back to my childhood, so I dove right into this book. Parry tells the story of Lucie Blackman, a young British woman who decides to move to Japan with a friend. The friends get jobs as hostesses, a unique facet of urban Japanese culture. As hostesses, they were simply expected to show up to their club and provide company to men in a strictly platonic way. At least on the surface. Beyond that they also were encouraged to accompany men on dinner dates. It sounds a little like a "sugar daddy" relationship, but without the sex.
On a July day in 2000, Lucie decided to meet one of her customers--he said he would provide her a mobile phone. She ends up going with him to his seaside apartment and she never returned. Her dismembered body was found months later.
Parry, a British journalist working as a Tokyo correspondent, provides thorough detail on Lucie's life, her stay in Japan, and the club culture in which non-Japanese women work. The second half of the book focuses on the trial of the man accused of murdering Lucie.
The book provides illumination on the Japanese court and police system. One can't help but to think the entire process is ineffective, and the fact that Lucie was not a citizen complicated matters.
Parry does a wonderful job describing the Blackman family dynamics. It is a family rife with conflict. At a time when they should have been coming together, they grew further apart. Even though Lucie was a child, she apparently was the glue that held the family together. Without her, they each suffered individually.
The book is long. My only criticism is that I thought it could have been tightened. At times it gets bogged down with detail, especially about the nightclub culture and other aspects of the Japanese underground. The trial lasted eight years, so there's an immense amount of detail surrounding that, too. While it was good to get some information of the accused's family background, getting minute details about his brothers and parents really didn't add to my understanding of the story.
I enjoyed Parry's first-person perspective on the case. He was living in Tokyo at the time and covered the trial. He got to know the family. His intimate relationship with the story as it was happening provides a deeper level of understanding. He serves as an informed, educated guide to a reader who may not know anything about Japanese culture. ...more
Unless we're intimately involved in a scandal or other newsworthy event, we don't realize the ramifications that ripple out from the center. How manyUnless we're intimately involved in a scandal or other newsworthy event, we don't realize the ramifications that ripple out from the center. How many lives are affected? How many lives are forever changed? Not just those intimately involved, but even those lives on the periphery.
Anita Shreve explores what happens to a community in the wake of a prep school sex scandal. She tells this story through the voices of those involved, under the guise that most of them are speaking to an unseen and unheard university professor researching the impact of alcohol on adolescent male behavior.
I enjoyed the multiple perspectives. Shreve did a good job differentiating the voices. I could clearly hear the voice of a high school girl, a high school boy, a parent, a headmaster, etc.
Most of the chapters are quite short, and the perspectives alternate and come back around. Some people we hear from quite a bit, others get only a chapter or two. The ones who get only a couple of chapters are more on the periphery of the scandal, while the ones we hear from the most are at the core of the story.
The stories are a mix of first person, second person, and third person. Some are as told to the researcher, but others are not. The shifting perspectives and figuring out who is telling their story to the researcher was a little confusing. I also got a little lost in time. Some are recounting the fallout as it happened, while others are months removed and looking back on it.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, information revealed becomes more tense and new facts are revealed. I hurried through the last part of the book, completely captivated by this time.
This book nicely explores human behavior and the concept of blame. It's a difficult book, because the girl at the center of the scandal is not likable. She's manipulative and quite smart. Readers may feel some sympathy for the boys involved, which is completely at odds with how we tend to view these situations. But life is complicated; why can't situations like this be complicated, too? I liked the bigger theoretical and ethical questions this book revealed....more
One of my rare forays into fiction. I've had this book on my shelf since it came out and I finally had a weekend in which I could devote to reading aOne of my rare forays into fiction. I've had this book on my shelf since it came out and I finally had a weekend in which I could devote to reading a novel.
This book kept my attention and made me want to keep turning the pages. I was finding ways to put off other obligations so I could continue to read, which is the hallmark of a good book. When I had a good guess to the "whodunit?" question, I was really inspired to keep reading to see if I was right.
But this is more than a crime novel. It also has the depth we come to expect from literary fiction, where characters ponder "big questions." It was a book that makes you as the reader think about death and grief and loss, and how to come out from under it.
I enjoyed the main character and his brother, but I thought the parents (and I guess all the adults) were a little one-dimensional. You have the good-hearted preacher who never wavers in his faith, a wife that rebels a little against her husband and God, the rich couple who are nasty, aloof, snobby, and mean, and the psychically wounded ex-soldier.
The main character, a 13-year-old kid, is privy to the adult world and adult conversations in one way only: by eavesdropping. He listens through open windows, by hiding in shadows, through furnace ducts and heat vents. After a little while I almost started laughing because I could not believe that again he got access to information by eavesdropping.
I also thought the book could have used a bit of editing; I lost track of the descriptions of the sky--blue, orange, red, blazing, black, storming, etc. The sky was always something to note, it seemed.
All in all, though, a good story and a fast read....more
I've read this book a few times already, but needed to refresh my memory for a current writing project. This book is valuable in understanding the radI've read this book a few times already, but needed to refresh my memory for a current writing project. This book is valuable in understanding the radical movement of the late 1960s because it was published so quickly after Diana Oughton's death (she died in 1970, and the book was published in 1971). There's something about the immediacy that makes it a good source as a historical document. Analysis and hindsight also are useful, but it's good to have books that were published during that time period fraught with conflict.
I could have used more information about Diana herself. I could tell that the author had to "pad" the book, and even so, it's still just around 200 pages. The information about Diana's early life is very good, but clearly the trail grows cold after she joins SDS and gets caught up in ever more radical circles. It's at this point that Powers gives readers a very detailed look at SDS and the power plays that helped form Weatherman. At this point, since I wasn't particularly interested in a detailed history of SDS, I glossed over those chapters.
What makes someone a terrorist? That's an impossible question to answer with any certainty, especially if the person in question is dead. But Powers paints a good portrait that shows Diana's steady movement toward more and more radical beliefs.
We don't have a lot of books out there that lend insight into the mind of a terrorist, so this is a valuable addition to the canon....more
I went into this book thinking it would be like a "Tuesdays with Morrie" (which I haven't read, but get the impression it's a moral tale--a heavy-handI went into this book thinking it would be like a "Tuesdays with Morrie" (which I haven't read, but get the impression it's a moral tale--a heavy-handed "what we should be learning from our elders"). To my pleasant surprise, "Visiting Tom" was nothing like that. I should have known to expect better from Michael Perry. He's not one to rest on cliches or easy writing.
Perry simply visits Tom, his neighbor. You get the sense he wants to glean platitudes and wisdom from Tom, but like all salt-of-the-earth people, Tom isn't one to dispense with circular talk. This book actually isn't about Tom; it's more about Perry. Tom causes Perry to reflect on his own life as a husband and father, and as a member of a rural community. It's a book about changing landscapes, both physical and personal.
As a Midwesterner, I identified with Perry's descriptions of the land and of Tom. Tom is like every old neighbor I've ever known. I can easily hear his dialect and see the way he walks. Tom is a specific stand-in for many.
This book continues to exhibit Perry's gift for writing essay. He's the type of author that makes me wish I could write like that. I don't know anyone else who can draw out a conflict with a highway commissioner in such interesting detail and lift it to the realm of page-turning cliffhanger. If you think the small details in life don't matter, read Perry immediately. He elevates what could be the mundane to high art....more
You can read this book two ways: as a Paul Stanley fan who wants insight into his life as the star of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, or aYou can read this book two ways: as a Paul Stanley fan who wants insight into his life as the star of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, or as a fan of the memoir genre. This book was hard for me to rate. From the view of the first audience I listed, it probably would be a four- or five-star book. But as a memoir, compared to great memoirs I've read, it falls short.
A friend of mine said this book should have been subtitled "The Ear." Paul Stanley was born without an ear, which caused him great strife in life, at least until he could grow his hair long enough to cover it. Growing up with this disfigurement was traumatic for young Stanley. He comes back to the ear throughout the book; I got the impression that the ear was the basis for every decision he's made in his life. After the umpteenth mention of the ear, it got a little tiresome. He likes to compare himself to other people who also suffer from obvious deformities, but I didn't really get the comparison because at least he could hide what set him apart; other people do not have that option.
There's little reflection in this book, and it's reflection that makes a memoir good. His early life is interesting and has the potential to become much more--parents who are distant, a sister ill with psychological issues, and his own despondency over his ear. But Paul Stanley takes the path of so many other rock stars and makes this an autobiography instead of a true memoir. The truly interesting parts of his life are glanced over and given the same attention as mundane details.
His relationship with Ace and Peter was not good through the years. But like with the ear, this is an issue he doesn't want to let readers forget. OK, I get the idea that Peter is not a good musician; after the 10th time you mention it, I still get it.
I listened to the audio version, read by the author. For a decent actor and showman, I thought the audio would be a little more dynamic, but toward the end it sounded like a recitation of facts and the sentences had the same speech pattern. The end of the book is how wonderful his kids are and how wonderful his wife is and isn't everything just so wonderful and isn't he doing just everything right when it comes to raising kids.
I really can't expect rock autobiographies to adhere to the same principles as memoir, but it would be nice to see a little more reflection and a little more willingness to expose weaknesses.
If you're a KISS fan, by all means read this book--I'm sure you'll enjoy it. But if you're looking for an insightful memoir by a rock n' roll star, you'd probably be best off reading something else, like Patti Smith's "Just Kids."...more
You can't go wrong in writing about Hermann Goring and the psychiatrist who treated him while he was awaiting trial at Nuremberg, Douglas M. Kelley. WYou can't go wrong in writing about Hermann Goring and the psychiatrist who treated him while he was awaiting trial at Nuremberg, Douglas M. Kelley. While most of the world has heard of Goring, few know about Kelley and what a fascinating character he is.
This book's strengths are the beginning and the end. I enjoyed learning about Kelley and his colorful family background. I also enjoyed getting to know him as he began his work at the Nuremberg jail. The end of the book lets us see how Kelley adjusted (or really, didn't adjust) to life after the war. We're left with a big cliffhanger at the beginning that is not resolved until the very end, but frankly, it kept me reading.
I thought the middle was not as strong. El-Hai spends quite a bit of time recounting the Nuremberg Trials. At this point, Kelley had gone home, his work with the defendants completed. I just feel that I can read about the Nuremberg Trials anywhere; I would have preferred to read more about Kelley. He's such a rich character; I think more could have been done to plumb those depths. For example, we get one paragraph on a major rift between Kelley and a psychologist he worked with at Nuremberg. It seemed like a major conflict that could have had more attention.
This book is many things: a biography of Kelley, a history of the Nuremberg trials, a small biography of Goring, and an analysis into the "Nazi mind" and what Kelley's tests may have revealed. In a way, it feels a little too stratified to me.
That being said, this is a well-written book about a fascinating topic. It won the 2014 Minnesota Book Award for general nonfiction, and deservedly so. ...more
I enjoyed Calvin Trillin's quest to find out what ever became of his Yale classmate, Denny. Trillin was shocked to learn Denny had committed suicide oI enjoyed Calvin Trillin's quest to find out what ever became of his Yale classmate, Denny. Trillin was shocked to learn Denny had committed suicide over the New Year holiday in 1990-91. Trillin attended the memorial service and talked to several fellow classmates and others who had known Denny. This sparked a continuing journey to find answers.
Denny was a young man who had held such promise: he was the quintessential "all American hero" of the mid-1950s. Was that mantle too much to bear?
I enjoyed the questions that Trillin posed and the fact that he doesn't arrive at any answers, only possibilities. I'm working on a writing project with similar themes--trying to uncover the life of someone who has died, a life that in many ways was mysterious and leaves many questions. Trillin's book serves as a good model.
Trillin is best known as a journalist and political commentator. At times, this book gets a little too political and dry for my taste. Denny had worked teaching international relations, and sometimes the details of this Washington insider's life went over my head. It's a slim volume, just over 200 pages, but it took me nearly a month to finish because it wasn't one of those books that I just "had to" read every day. Still, it's a good example of a writer trying to get some answers to a real-life mystery.
This book contributed tremendously to my knowledge of the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and Jonestown. My knowledge was pretty limited before I read theThis book contributed tremendously to my knowledge of the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and Jonestown. My knowledge was pretty limited before I read the book. I knew of the mass deaths in Jonestown, I knew that a U.S. congressman was killed there, and of course I knew of the expression "drank the Kool-Aid" and where that came from.
This book consists of oral histories of people affiliated with Jonestown. Some are family members of those who died there, some were actually there on November 18, 1978, and some were back in the U.S. The book stems from histories collected by Leigh Fondakowski and her team while they attempted to create a play about Peoples Temple. The play was a resounding success, and the book exists as an offshoot of that process. The book, therefore, is able to reach a larger audience beyond those who would see the play.
Fondakowski's goal was to humanize those involved; the book does just that. How easily at first glance we can dismiss those involved as "crazy cultists," giving them one giant stereotype. More than 900 people died at Jonestown, and they each had a unique story and unique reasons for being there.
I read this book hoping to get some clues for a project of my own. I'm also trying to tackle a subject that has unanswerable questions as I seek to uncover someone's motive for joining a group that ended up being so dangerous. In that regard, this book was helpful. The people affiliated with Jonestown explain why they got involved, and all of their intentions were good.
Fondakowski does a good job of letting people speak for themselves, though she provides her own context. I wouldn't have minded hearing a bit more of her thought process. I'm sure she wanted to let the people speak for themselves, but I also would have liked to see a little more of her reaction. She does this at times, but it's not consistent. I also sometimes had a hard time remember who was who, because people at the beginning of the book show up again later because they're all so closely connected. A guide at the beginning or end of the book with short descriptions of everyone would have been helpful. If I had read the book more quickly, I perhaps would not have had this problem.
Overall, this book provides so much fresh insight on a topic that rarely is treated with any depth. Some new takeaways that change my thinking about Jonestown:
* It wasn't a "mass suicide." Some people chose death, yes, but not every single person. There's no way to know definitively what happened, but since so many children were involved they clearly could not make the choice to die. The poison was administered to them, making them victims of murder. * It wasn't Kool-Aid. It was Flavor-Aid. Someone in the book actually still had some of the packets, which is a little morbid and creepy.
I highlighted several parts of the book and will be going back to those to ponder the ideas....more