Currently Reading

Ahab's Wife

Suzanne is currently reading:

Craig is currently reading:

Posted in Current | Leave a comment

A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara

A Blaze Of Glory

Blaze of Glory is the first in a series of four (so far) novels about important U.S. Civil War battles by Jeff Shaara.  If you haven’t read any of Shaara’s works, I highly encourage you to do so.  There is no finer writer of historical fiction when it comes to war.

The focus of this novel is the Battle of Shiloh.  Shaara presents the perspective of this battle through various military officers and less important soldiers.  What’s impressive of this novel (and all Shaara’s works), is that the battles are so detailed and descriptive, as if he was there, and yet, you know all those details are accurate, because he obtained them through soldier’s journals and memoirs.

As a reader, I came to care about the characters (who were real people).  I felt the excitement, the despair, the fear, and the anger.  It’s a truly riveting work, and one that was hard to put down.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
435 pages

Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hard Times by Studs Terkel

Hard Times

Years ago, I read a wonderful Terkel book called The Good War.  It was a collection of oral history stories from World War II, and ever since, I’ve wanted to read another of Terkel’s works.

Hard Times is also collection of oral history stories, this time dealing with the Great Depression.  While there is definitely value in this work, I was a bit disappointed.  The majority of the stories were political in nature, with Terkel constantly asking about the communists or the unions.  I was more interested in hearing about the social and everyday life of people who lived during the great depression, and was looking for a non-fiction work more similar to Timothy Egan’s excellent book The Worst Hard Time.

There were a couple of interesting points that I took away from this book.  First, that President Roosevelt saved capitalism in America because if it weren’t for the New Deal, the communists would have risen to power.  Second, that the New Deal was not in itself effective in saving the economy.  Yes, there were testimonies of how those WPA jobs helped some individuals, but by and large, the consensus was that the New Deal stifled growth, and that the war helped boost the economy.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1970
441 pages

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man And The Sea

So many times, classic novels are identified as such because they broke through some literary barrier.  They are lauded and hailed, and yet, when you read them, you say to yourself:  shouldn’t I be enjoying this?  And so I often approach classics with trepidation, because I dread being trapped in a long, boring novel.

Luckily, The Old Man and the Sea was neither long nor boring.  I enjoyed the story of the old fisherman and his relationship with the young boy.  The old man sets out to sea in the hopes of finally catching that one big fish, and ending his 85 day stretch of coming back empty-handed. The majority of the novella takes places on the ocean, while the old man struggles to capture that great marlin.  There is a beauty and fluidity to Hemingway’s writing, which very much captures the feeling of being on a small boat in the middle of the ocean.

I was never bored with this book.  In fact, I found myself wanting to go back to it, getting back to that boat, being pulled along, slowly, by the giant fish.  Excellent novel!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1953
127 pages

Posted in classics, Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

One Summer

Two great things about Bill Bryson are that he presents history with levity and satisfies our natural curiosity, by telling the story and taking it one step further, by telling related stories or postscripts.  In One Summer, he focuses on the year 1927, but enlarges it in scope to include the events leading up to a particular subject, like baseball and aviation, which feature prominently in this book.

What happened in American in the summer of 1927?  Well, Babe Ruth was filling the stands everywhere he played baseball.  He and Lou Gehrig were setting records for home runs.  Charles Lindbergh became a major celebrity when he became the first person to solo and airplane across the Atlantic ocean.  The stock market was on an upward tick and everyone was investing and living large.  I liked these stories, but it was some others that really grabbed my attention.

Not knowing much about boxing, I really enjoyed hearing about the rise of Jack Dempsey and the famed Dempsey/Tunney match.  I was also fascinated with the mass bombings spreading throughout the country, conducted by an immigrant anarchist group.  This group was mostly Italian, and so Italian immigrants were treated with fear and disdain, much like Middle Easterners are regarded today in light of Islamic terrorism.

Bryson does an excellent job, as always.  One Summer is well researched, and presented in a way that captures interest, makes you smile, and leaves you wanting more.

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

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy

There are definitely a few one-word descriptions I could give this book.  Outstanding! Fascinating!  Entertaining!  This book was so good, I was talking about it all week. My kids, my husband and my friends were totally immersed in all things related to Civil War espionage.  I don’t think they minded too much.  The stories were just that interesting.

Karen Abbott’s latest work takes the lives of four women who went beyond speaking up for their national alliances, they fought for them as well.

Belle Boyd, was a young hot-tempered woman, who not only held Confederate sympathies while she lived in Yankee-occupied Virginia, she wasn’t afraid confront Union soldiers with hostility.  Equally amazing, was that she got away with it.  She shot a Union soldier dead in her home, with no repercussions whatsoever.  Eventually she used her talents to travel back and forth across army lines delivering messages and spying for the Confederacy.  Quite the spitfire and quite the story.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was another Confederate sympathizer, this one living in Washington DC, and traveling in high-ranking political circles.  She must have been quite the seductress, since 1) it was known that she was a sympathizer and a possible spy, and 2) US politicians and military officers readily gave her sensitive information.  Her ability to pass information to Southern generals resulted in the rout of the Union army at the Battle of Bull Run.

Emma Edmonds was definitely a favorite of the gutsy women depicted in the book.  Born in Canada, Emma escaped an undesirable marriage by disguising herself as a boy and enlisting in the Union Army.  Her acts of bravery and close calls with discovery kept me on the edge of my seat.

Lastly, Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy spinster living in Richmond.  A known abolitionist and Union sympathizer, this woman created a large network that not only helped gather intelligence and deliver it to northern Generals, but also aided Union prisoners and helped them escape the notorious Libby prison.

From start to finish, this narrative non-fiction was a real page turner.  Many thanks to Harper Collins Publishers for the review copy.  It was a fantastic read!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015
516 pages

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening

When it was first published in 1899, The Awakening was a shocking look at how society treats female infidelity.  The novel was a door-opener, and as is oftentimes the case, it is difficult to read such novels and understand, in today’s context, exactly what the big deal was.  The main character, Edna Pontellier is a 28 year old housewife, well-off and living in Louisiana.  Her husband has no time for her, and her children are cared for by a nanny.  She is bored and wants more out of life.  When she meets and falls in love with a man who is not her husband, Edna’s life is forever changed.

The author does not render judgement, nor does she try to create a morality story.  Kate Chopin also goes to great lengths to keep her characters at a distance.  As a reader, I didn’t have any feelings for them one way or another.  It appears that this was purposeful – Chopin was trying to make aware conditions that exist in then-contemporary society, without politicizing it.

The detachment created by her writing style lessened my enjoyment of the novel, and there was little in it that I did not already know.  I would only recommend it as a study in writings that forge new paths in the literary world.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published 1899
157 pages

Posted in classics, Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment