I'm listening to this on Audible. It comes in four parts and I'm in part 4 now; I no longer understand why the Democratic Party keeps celebrating JeffI'm listening to this on Audible. It comes in four parts and I'm in part 4 now; I no longer understand why the Democratic Party keeps celebrating Jefferson-Jackson Day -- especially Jackson. (And although the Whigs are said to be the forerunners of the Republican Party, most of the current Republicans would not feel they had much in common with John Quincy Adams or the young Abe Lincoln.)
This book is part of the Oxford History of the United States series. I decided I should read/listen to it before tackling Battle Cry of Freedom because my grasp on this period of American history was rather weak. Until recently, the only bad thing I could remember about Andrew Jackson was the Trail of Tears; now I fear I've lost all respect for him.
I enjoyed this book also because Howe brought in a lot of information about daily life, religious and social movements, and technological advances of the period. I would recommend it to anyone who feels a gap in his/her knowledge of this important era. The reading was well done, however, if there are illustrations in the book it would be worth taking a look at that format....more
Forget Left Behind -- if you want a really good story about the Apocalypse, Good Omens is your book, or perhaps even better, audiobook, as read by MarForget Left Behind -- if you want a really good story about the Apocalypse, Good Omens is your book, or perhaps even better, audiobook, as read by Martin Jarvis. The writing style is largely Pratchett's, but the darker characters and episodes seem to come from Neil Gaiman. It's a great collaboration. The lighter characters are a bit more Pratchettian,but all are thoroughly engaging.
As demon Crowley (as I listened, I'm not sure of spellings) and angel Azurophel -- who are really the best of friends -- stumble toward Armageddon, they realize that the Antichrist is not the child they thought he was, but another kid entirely, because of a hospital mixup. Witchfinder Private Newt Pulsifer is strangely attracted to witch Anathema Device, whose ancestor Agnes Nutter foretold everything in her book of Nice and Accurate Prophecies -- or did she? War, Famine, Death, and Pollution (he replaced Pestilence in the 1930s) ride motorcycles instead of black horses, but they are just as scary as ever if not more so. And this is just a sample of the lengthy but always entertaining goings on in Good Omens. Highly recommended....more
Hannah Vogel, crime reporter turned anti-Nazi spy, has been living fairly peacefully in Switzerland for most of the time since we last encountered herHannah Vogel, crime reporter turned anti-Nazi spy, has been living fairly peacefully in Switzerland for most of the time since we last encountered her in Night of the Long Knives. That is, when she wasn't couriering film out of Nazi Germany, where her contact is a Gestapo officer. In A Game of Lies, Hannah, in her Swiss identity as Adelheid Zinsli, is in Berlin to report on the fencing in the 1936 Olympics. She's also spending a fortnight with her Gestapo contact, Lars Lang, and their cover story is that she's his fiancee -- a story complicated by Lars's obvious attraction to Hannah and her recent breakup with long-time lover Boris. At the opening ceremonies, Hannah has arranged to meet her old friend and mentor Peter Weill. She has barely said hello and learned that Peter has a "package" he wants her to smuggle out when he drinks from his pocket flask and promptly dies. This tragedy begins a chain of events which will put Hannah once again in great danger and cause her to question many things in her life.
Cantrell's books are always well-researched but never smell of the lamp. The changes in Hannah's old friends,both Jews and "Aryans," as the Nazi regime grows ever more powerful and intrusive, are disturbing both to Hannah and the reader, and seem to give a true flavor of what life was like in 1936.
With the London Olympics coming up soon, there will probably be people wanting to read Olympics-themed mysteries. This would be a good one to add to the list. Recommended....more
Readers looking for a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute story will not find it here. This is a book to get lost in -- lost in another time, another place, another world. It's been clear throughout the series that Miss Birdie is something more than a kindly old country neighbor, and through this book we find just how much more she is.
Ever wonder if Danny Boyle from Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak novels and Billy Boyle from James R. Benn's World War II series might be cousins? AlthoughEver wonder if Danny Boyle from Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak novels and Billy Boyle from James R. Benn's World War II series might be cousins? Although the two series differ in almost every respect, they have one thing in common -- the character growth of the Boyle boys as their series progress. Each starts as a wide-eyed innocent (despite Billy's police experience in South Boston) and through experience and mentoring learns to deal with moral ambiguity, to find his center, and to judge when to live by the rules and when to break them.
In Rag and Bone, Lt. Billy Boyle's joyous reunion with Diana is cut short when he's ordered to London. A Soviet officer has been murdered execution-style in a London park, and with plans for an invasion beginning to come to fruition, Uncle Ike, newly named commander of SHAEF, wants no friction among the Allied forces. Returning to London to stay with his friend Kaz, a Polish nobleman in exile, Billy learns of the Katyn Forest massacre, which the Soviets are blaming on the Nazis despite evidence to the contrary. Kaz's outrage is such that Billy considers he may be a suspect in the murder. As Billy discovers involvement by the London underworld and the NKVD, the plot grows ever more complicated. The book starts a little slowly, but picks up speed as it goes along, and there is plenty of excitement toward the end. But the most enjoyable part of the book for me was watching Billy's continued character development.
I'm of the generation that, while we didn't live through World War II, grew up with it as recent history, so most of what Benn writes about is familiar to me. However, don't be scared off if you're a younger person who doesn't happen to be a WWII buff. Without being in the least didactic, Benn explains what you need to know to follow Billy's adventures. Highly recommended....more
Sometimes, after reading a long historical novel fraught with disasters or a dark detective tale -- never mind the news of the day -- you just need aSometimes, after reading a long historical novel fraught with disasters or a dark detective tale -- never mind the news of the day -- you just need a light and enjoyable story. In just such a mood I picked up The Shop on Blossom Street, the first of Macomber's series about a Seattle yarn shop. Since my daughters are knitters, my most recent (far too long ago) trip to Seattle included stops in quite a few yarn shops, so I was familiar with this milieu. (I don't knit, but I like to look at all the colors.)
What I enjoy about Macomber's books, of which I've read two or three a year for the past few years, is that she always injects a healthy dose of reality into the romance. In this case, her 30-ish protagonist is a two-time cancer survivor who has recently lost her father. Her life has been on hold for far too much of the time since her first diagnosis at age 16, and she takes a giant leap in opening a yarn shop in a transitional urban neighborhood. To get things going, she offers a knitting class on making a baby blanket. The three women who sign up all have different reasons for wanting to make one. One is a young married woman with fertility problems, desperate for a baby; one is a society matron whose only son's "unsuitable" wife has just announced her pregnancy; and one is a street-smart, prickly video store clerk who will donate the blanket to the Linus Project as part of her court-mandated community service hours. The ways these women interact, the friendship they find, and how they help solve each other's problems in surprising ways make for a quite enjoyable read. Yes, they find romance too, but it seems that the community of women is the main focus of the book. The Seattle setting is evocative without being a travelogue. I'll probably pick up the next in the series the next time I need a break. Recommended for people who like this kind of book....more
Although this is not the first Inspector Gamache novel, it's the first one I've read. In a twist on the locked-room murder, a very disagreeable womanAlthough this is not the first Inspector Gamache novel, it's the first one I've read. In a twist on the locked-room murder, a very disagreeable woman is killed while sitting in a chair on the ice among many other spectators at an outdoor curling match in Three Pines, the artsy Quebec village which Gamache has visited before. There were interesting characters and an ingenious plot, and I enjoyed the setting. Many references to events in the previous book made this a bit confusing at times and reinforced my usual practice of reading series from the beginning. (The first book is the well-regarded Still Life.) Nevertheless, recommended....more
Some months ago I won a copy of Paul Doiron's second novel, Trespasser in a drawing. I put it on the shelf, though, because I like to start a series aSome months ago I won a copy of Paul Doiron's second novel, Trespasser in a drawing. I put it on the shelf, though, because I like to start a series at the beginning. Now I'm looking forward to reading it, since I received Doiron's first novel, The Poacher's Son for Christmas.
The thought immediately struck me as I began reading that the title paralleled that of Margaret Maron's first Judge Knott novel, The Bootlegger's Daughter, in which a North Carolina bootlegger's daughter becomes a judge. Mike Bowditch, "The Poacher's Son," has chosen to be a game warden but the parallels end there. Doiron's book is much darker and the only similarities between his book and Maron's are the strong feel for place, the excellent writing, and the Edgar nominations (she won, he didn't.)
Doiron introduces us to Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch and a couple of higher-ups, along with a retired warden and pilot, Charley Stevens. We meet Bowditch at a time when he has no close relationships; his girlfriend of several years has left him, he hasn't spoken with his father in two years and rarely sees his mother and stepfather. He's hoping to persuade himself that this lonely life is what he really wanted all along. Then he becomes embroiled in a double homicide where the main suspect is his father. Doiron takes the reader through many twists and turns of plot before the emotional and surprising conclusion. Along the way, readers will see a different Maine than the lighthouse and lobster coastal stereotype -- and it will be presented warts and all. As Doiron edits Down East: The Magazine of Maine (where everything is lovely), I have to admire even more the honesty with which he portrays the Maine woods and its people.
The character of Mike Bowditch is still being formed -- he's only 24 in this first book, and it's easy to forget how very young a 24-year-old man can be. There was one episode where I at first thought, "This guy is too stupid to live," but as I considered it further, I realized it was just the sort of thing this character would do. I look forward to watching Bowditch's character and career develop over many more books to come. Highly recommended....more
This book was a little different from the usual problem novel in that it was set in the past -- in fact the narrator would be almost exactly my age ifThis book was a little different from the usual problem novel in that it was set in the past -- in fact the narrator would be almost exactly my age if she were a real person, as she was 12 in 1960 (or did she turn 13? I've forgotten). Hattie lives in a small town in (I think) Pennsylvania where her artist father and her mother run a boardinghouse, a fact that her maternal grandparents, part of the town's high society, have yet to be reconciled to. The summer is shaping up to be just as usual when Hattie's parents tell her that her uncle Adam is coming home for the summer. Hattie didn't know this uncle existed -- he has been in a "special school" since she was a toddler. The 1960 setting makes this believable; it's not clear whether Adam is autistic, schizophrenic or some combination of the two.
Hattie forms a bond with Adam almost immediately and has trouble understanding why the adults in the family seem to be so hard on him. When a traveling carnival comes to town, she also makes friends with the owners' daughter. (Hattie's a bit of a loner and her one good friend summers in Maine every year.) Adam and Hattie have some good times, but eventually it all ends in disaster precipitated by Adam's crush on one of the boarders, the aptly named Angel Valentine.
During the course of the novel, Hattie learns a lot about herself and also learns some new things about her family. The writing was good and the audiobook reader did a great job with the different voices, which helped bring the character of Adam to life. Maybe it was the foreshadowing of disaster (the book begins several months after most of the events in the book have taken place)but it took me a while to make my way through this story, which is why I only gave it three stars....more
If this book hadn't come with Ann Patchett's name on it, I might not have read it at all, let alone been so eager to get hold of it. The plot synopsisIf this book hadn't come with Ann Patchett's name on it, I might not have read it at all, let alone been so eager to get hold of it. The plot synopsis (a scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company goes to the Amazon to check on the progress of the hunt for a new fertility drug; his death is reported and a colleague goes there also to find out what happened) didn't sound promising. But I've read all but one of Patchett's earlier novels and enjoyed them all, and that was enough of a recommendation.
In State of Wonder, Patchett reminds me of no one so much as Charles Dickens. It's all there -- the coincidences, the social consciousness, the fascinating, larger-than-life characters; even the conclusion. (And what is virtually the only reading material for the little band of scientists in the remote Amazon research facility? A carefully-guarded set of Dickens lent out by the formidable doctor in charge.)
To discuss the plot or even the characters would become tedious as I could not unfold them as well as Patchett does. The settings (Minnesota and Brazil) are very well done -- having lived in Minnesota, I felt the place and people rang true. I must confess to never having had much desire to visit the Amazon (and still haven't), but Patchett's description of the flora and fauna to be found there showed me why others brave hardships, snakes, and heat to go there.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an engrossing story that also gives the reader many things to think about....more
Similar to his books Sarum and London, this is a sprawling historical novel of a particular area of Great Britain, in this case the New Forest. The foSimilar to his books Sarum and London, this is a sprawling historical novel of a particular area of Great Britain, in this case the New Forest. The fortunes of various families rise and fall and the families connect through nearly a thousand years of English history, and the reader painlessly learns quite a bit. I had always known of the existence of something called the New Forest, but didn't really have a clear idea of its geography until I read this book. Rutherfurd has James Michener listed as an influence, and if you liked Michener's books such as Hawaii, you'll like The Forest. Highly recommended, for people who like this sort of book....more
This is an excellent book that, were I a different person, a saint and not a sinner, might have changed my life. I think it probably will change it soThis is an excellent book that, were I a different person, a saint and not a sinner, might have changed my life. I think it probably will change it somewhat; I will continue with the baby steps of eating and buying food more mindfully, as I've already begun to do, but I'm not becoming vegan any time soon. The Way We Eat gives the reader many points to ponder about the philosophical questions that arise about eating animals, the treatment of animals who provide food for us, the tension between eating locally and supporting farmers in developing countries, and many more.
But this is not merely a work of philosophy. The authors begin by examining the food shopping and preparation practices of three families. One family eats the typical American diet with lots of meat, convenience foods and fast food, shopping mainly at Walmart or another supermarket. The next, with a vegetarian husband and a carefully omnivorous wife and child, prefers organic and local food and shops at a variety of places including farmers' markets. The third family eats a completely vegan diet and grows much of its own food. Although it's easy to tell that Family #3 is the one the authors admire, each of the families is treated respectfully and the reasons for their choices are respected. The authors provide a lot of information about where each family's food comes from and what happens before it gets to the table. I appreciated the thoughtful and non-sensationalist way that all this information was presented. Whenever possible (since some of the farmers and businesspeople on the more "industrial" end of the spectrum refused interviews), Singer and his co-authors interviewed people on both sides of a question or at least read and quoted extensively from their work. When they disagreed with someone and dissected his arguments, they did so fairly.
The conclusion: it would be best for the welfare of the world (humans, animals, plant life, water, soil and atmosphere) if everyone began to eat a vegan diet as soon as possible. But, realizing that this is unlikely, the authors give a short list of steps that can bring all of our diets closer to sustainability and a higher morality.
I would recommend this book without reservation; I think it was the best non-fiction book I've read all year....more
Susan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the firsSusan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the first (The Various Haunts of Men) and the fourth (this one), and some reviews, I think they are actually domestic fiction about a family, one of whose members happens to be a policeman.
I enjoyed both books, and will probably seek out the middle two and any sequels. But I enjoyed them as domestic fiction more than for the mystery. I learned from some of the other Goodreads reviews that each of the four books has Simon dealing with a serial killer, which stretches credulity given that the series is set in a relatively small cathedral town. I read a lot of police procedurals, and serial killers seem to crop up a lot, partly because in most real-life homicides the police know more or less "whodunnit." The need for proof can make tales of homicides which are domestic, gang-related, or committed during the commission of another felony interesting; but it's still a little more difficult to come up with plausible scenarios for detective work under those circumstances. So, nearly every writer of police procedurals has to have an occasional serial killer to deal with. But I'm just tired of them.
In a sense, though, the serial killer is not really the focus of The Vows of Silence. In fact, more people die in the book from accident, suicide and natural causes than by the hand of the killer. Although some chapters put us inside the killer's head, the victims are given equal time and their deaths are described more empathetically than is sometimes the case. Serailler seems to take a long time to come to a solution, but he has a lot of personal concerns to deal with, and in the end, those are the portions of the book I will remember. Recommended, but not as a mystery....more
I had read and enjoyed several of Catherine Aird's books in the 70s and 80s, and for some reason thought she had stopped writing. Acquiring the book AI had read and enjoyed several of Catherine Aird's books in the 70s and 80s, and for some reason thought she had stopped writing. Acquiring the book A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery by Susan Oleksiw reminded me of Aird and, looking for one I hadn't read, I discovered this relatively recent (2000) book in her series about Inspector C. D. Sloan of the Calleshire Constabulary. (Calleshire appears to be somewhere on the south coast of England.)
I recall Aird's earlier books as having a rather quirky sensibility for an English police procedural, and that trait is still present here. Touches of humor appear throughout and the plot is sufficiently convoluted for anyone. But for some reason, which I can't quite put my finger on, I didn't think this book was as good as the earlier ones. It was short, though; I finished it in one evening even though several hours of that evening were spent in the car and attending a play. If you are interested in trying Catherine Aird, I'd recommend going to one of her early books like The Religious Body. In Little Knell (and I never did figure out what the relevance of the title to the book might be), Aird seemed to be phoning it in....more
As you'll see from my recent reading lists, I've been reading several books on food and sustainability. By the time I got around to The End of Food, mAs you'll see from my recent reading lists, I've been reading several books on food and sustainability. By the time I got around to The End of Food, much of the information in it seemed very familiar, given that I've also spent some of my reading time during each of the past several years on the subject. In fact, I more or less skimmed the book, since it needed to go back to the library. But I would recommend it to someone who is just getting started on this subject. Perhaps you saw the documentaries Food, Inc. and King Corn and would like to know more context and history. This would be a good reference.
Roberts has done a lot of research and puts it together clearly. Although he doesn't make much effort to be entertaining, his work is quite readable. Beginning with our ancestor Australopithecus, not even a hunter-gatherer but simply a gatherer (and scavenger of carcasses left by larger hunting animals), Roberts traces the history of how humans have fed themselves up to the present. I learned that for hundreds of years in Europe, the daily condition of the vast majority of people was hunger, and famines were not unusual. This only really ended with the widespread importation of food from North America, South America, and Australia. Most of the food-growing and stockraising practices we are beginning to question were not thought up by Satanic profiteers, but arose from the laudable effort to feed more of the world's people. This doesn't mean that change is not necessary, and Roberts explains why.
If you want to read one book which will give you the information to think intelligently on the subject of food production and distribution and its effect on the world today, and then make up your own mind about how you want to change your own habits, I would recommend this book. If you'd like a little more guidance and philosophy, I'd recommend The Way We Eat, which I'll also review here....more
Freelance writer who wants a book deal? Think of some activity or non-activity and spend a year doing it while keeping a diary of your experience. ThiFreelance writer who wants a book deal? Think of some activity or non-activity and spend a year doing it while keeping a diary of your experience. This has been a popular subgenre of memoir in the past several years and in fact many of these books are quite good, for instance The Year of Living Biblically and Helping Me Help Myself. I seem to be attracted to these books and I like some more than others. This was one of the others.
Levine has an interesting life which appears to have a lot of freedom built in (as well as the typical freelancer's insecurity, the other side of the coin.) She and her partner Paul spend about half the year in a Brooklyn apartment she owns, living the fast-paced life of the New York intelligentsia. The other part of the year is spent in Vermont's hardscrabble Northeast Kingdom, in Paul's modest house outside a small town where he is on the Zoning Board. As you might guess, it's a little easier for the couple to stick to their "buy only essentials" plan in Vermont than in New York.
I don't know how I would react to a similar experiment, but the whiny tone of much of the book was annoying. While in New York, Levine mentions often the pain of not getting to see the latest film or play or read the latest book immediately. I guess it's a New York thing. But then, I am someone who finally saw The Graduate, one of the Important Films of my generation, only about a year ago.
One of my problems with this type of memoir is that it's easy for the author to go off on a tangent which has little or nothing to do with the stated subject of the book. In this case, since the book takes place in 2004, it's the Presidential election. Since Levine and her partner had agreed that Internet access was a necessity for their work, it seems to me she could easily participate in the democratic process without buying anything, yet she spent at least a chapter on the campaign and election. I'd say there was a little too much about the controversy in their Vermont town about a proposed cell-phone tower (in which Paul was involved because it was a zoning matter), but at least there Levine had something to say about consumption as it relates to technology. Nevertheless I kept thinking "It's all very well for you to say the people in Vermont don't need cell phones, you're going back to New York!"
Levine did learn a few things from her experiment and derived some benefits. She learned to appreciate the public library and other free entertainment available in New York. She paid off her credit card and didn't run it up again. It's even possible she may have lost a little weight or at least lowered her cholesterol by foregoing street food and lattes for a year. It was interesting that the two occasions on which she seriously backslid involved the purchase of new clothing.
I wouldn't NOT recommend this book to someone interested in the question: who are we if we are not consumers? (I liked her point that taking up even the simplest outdoor activity seems to trigger a "need" to buy a bunch of equipment!) But I thought the book could have been better. I believe there are books or at least blogs by people who either tried to buy only American-made goods or to buy only used or recycled items, and I'd like to find those for comparison....more
I've read a few of George Pelecanos's more recent novels and liked them very much, so I decided to go back to the beginning. This was his first book,I've read a few of George Pelecanos's more recent novels and liked them very much, so I decided to go back to the beginning. This was his first book, published in 1992, and while one can see the seeds of greatness in it, one can also see how much he has learned in the intervening years. The protagonist, Nick Stefanos, is Greek-American like so many of Pelecanos's main characters. He works in a discount electronics chain (as Pelecanos himself did, according to the dust jacket). He's thirty years old but hasn't really grown up yet, and that was the main problem I had with the book. In the last Pelecanos I read, his most recent,(The Cut) the protagonist has some similarities to Nick Stefanos but is a much more likable and admirable character. I was never much interested in the details of drunken binges even when I was younger, and still less now; and there's way too much of that in A Firing Offense. The plot is fairly complicated and at least I didn't figure it all out before the end. Pelecanos loves his details. He wants the reader to know exactly what music the character has on the car's cassette player and what streets of D.C. and environs he's driving on; he also uses a lot of retail sales and restaurant jargon, though it's not difficult to pick up on. In this book, that got a bit tedious, unlike the more recent ones in which this style is still noticeable but doesn't detract from the story. I'm glad someone saw something in this story and published it so that Pelecanos could keep writing and become the fine writer he is today....more
I checked this book out because it was on a list that appeared, I think, in the Food and Drink issue of the New York Times Magazine. (You'll see manyI checked this book out because it was on a list that appeared, I think, in the Food and Drink issue of the New York Times Magazine. (You'll see many others in my current or recent reading list.) I saw the television documentary on which it was based several years ago, and I have to say that this is one case where the film made its point much better than the book did. This is quite often the case with PBS-type documentaries, but usually the books based on such films at least have a number of nice photographs that the reader can gaze on at leisure. Affluenza is illustrated largely with cartoons, and not very good ones at that.
To be fair, since the film was made and the book published, the same ground has been gone over and over in countless articles and books, so that it's all rather old hat even though the problems described persist. The fact that the boom times during which the book was written have ended brings some 20-20 hindsight, but I must confess that I skimmed the last several chapters extremely quickly. Perhaps one good thing to come out of the recession will be that books like this will become curiosities of a bygone age, describing a condition that no longer exists. In the meantime, most people can skip this book....more