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A Case Of Curiosities by Allen Kurzwell

A Case Of Curiosities

This is a book about a French inventor, Claude Page, who spends his youth with a former priest, a bookseller who sells pornography, engages in an affair with a married woman of Parisian society and is befriended by a carriage driver.

While Page has an unusual and somewhat interesting life, there was nothing that really made me enjoy this book.  I just couldn’t figure out where it was going.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001
360 pages

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The Heart Of Everything That Is by Bob Drury and Tom Cavin

The Heart Of Everything That Is

An excellent account of the life of Red Cloud, the Sioux warrior who took on the American Army in battle and win.  This impressive work is an excellent and in my opinion, unbiased account, of the life of northern Native Americans during the age of American manifest destiny.

There are so many modern accounts that downplay the Indian violence, that make it seem as if American settlers senselessly murdered peaceful native tribes in the name of self-righteousness.  This book is different.  It shows Red Cloud as a mighty and impressive warrior, highly intelligent, and culturally the polar opposite of the enemy he was dealing with.  It was highly unlikely that the Native Americans and westward expanding Americans would ever live peaceably, side by side, respecting each others cultures.  It simply wasn’t possible.  Something would have to give.

Red Cloud hoped the settlers would bypass their hunting lands and leave large swaths of the the middle United States alone for Native Americans following the herds.  The President understood that settlers would continue to come by the thousands and saw the writing on the wall.  The Native American way of life would come to an end, because the settlers were going to keep coming.  Early on it was suggested that Native Americans be taught to farm and given land.  Of course, the Native Americans were having none of that – it wasn’t their culture, that was European culture.

What made Red Cloud so amazing was his ability to earn respect among the various tribes and unite them against the United States Army.  This was virtually unheard of in Native American culture.  And he had many successes.  But only one side was going to win, and technologically and by sheer numbers, the Americans had the Natives beat.  The Heart of Everything That Is is a wonderful telling of fierceness and cunning of Red Cloud and how he bravely took on the American military machine.  Excellent reading!

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
432 pages

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The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka

The Rice Mother

This is one of those novels that envelops the reader from the opening pages.  Manicka weaves a narrative of a young girl from Ceylon, Lakshmi, who travels to Malaysia just prior to World War II, for an arranged marriage.  Her story, how she was misled into marriage, her children, and her fight to make a better life for them, is a marvelous tapestry of the exotic and female resilience and determination.

Manicka presents the story through the various characters – Lakshmi, her best friend, her husband and her children – each narrating different chapters.  It flows well and the author did a wonderful job developing the characters and giving the reader a sense of time and place.  I loved this novel and am grateful to all my Goodreads friends for recommending it!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
432 pages


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Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter

I picked up this novel because I love ballet and the plot had something to do with the subject.  However, it’s more of a backdrop, and the main character, Nina Revskaya, is an aged, former ballerina, so the ballet portion of the story is minimal.

In Daphne Kalotay’s book, Revskaya decides to auction her collection of jewels, including some rare amber pieces, for the benefit of the Boston Ballet.  The agent handling the auction, delves into Revskaya’s past in efforts to authenticate the pieces.  Meanwhile, a college professor, Grigori, has an amber necklace that is the matching piece to Revskaya’s set.  Adopted, Grigori is convinced there is a connection to the famous ballerina, but she has refused to speak with him.

As the mystery unravels, Kalotay transports her readers to Stalinist era Russia, to the Bolshoi Ballet, and introduces Revskaya’s husband and friends, who, along with their story, slowly begin to tell the story of the jewels and themselves.

In the end I did enjoy this story, but it took awhile.  I was nearly 75% through the book when it grabbed hold of me and I began to be invested in the characters.  Even so, I guessed at the ending ahead of time, so all her jumping back and forth in time to keep readers unaware was for naught.  It was a good book, just not a great one.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010
459 pages

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Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters by Jason Stearns

Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters

This work of non-fiction is an attempt to dissect the wars and chaos that became the Congo post 1996.  There are no simple answers.  Multiple variables from wars spilling over from neighboring countries to political corruption play a part.  And yet the history of violence in this part of world has origins that go back much farther than the 20th century.

Stearns does an admirable job of trying to analyze and provide explanation to the violence in the Congo, including interviews and personal stories.  I felt a bit out of my depth here, because I know very little of African history.  I know a bit more, thanks to Stearns, but I don’t think I fully grasped the wealth of information here.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011
400 pages

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Yes, You Can Still Retire Comfortably by Ben Stein and Phil DeMuth

Yes, You can Still Retire Comfortably

I have recently read and loved Phil DeMuth’s latest book about investing, The Overtaxed Investor, so I thought I would read another of his books relating to retirement planning.

Published in 2006, there have been many developments that have adversely affected the stock market/economy, but historically these things are nothing new.  They are merely new when looking at the past 30 years.

Still, Stein and DeMuth offer sound advice for investors looking to retirement.  Invest in a balanced portfolio of index funds and bonds, watch your expenses, and live frugally now so that you won’t be in dire straights later.

The book even offers a plan for each stage of your life (I truly wish, like many people, that I had saved more in my younger years).  But never mind, because Stein and DeMuth offer practical advice (sprinkled with humor) of how to achieve a comfortable retirement even if you are a bit of a late starter with retirement investing.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006
222 pages

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