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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns

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

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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The Overtaxed Investor by Phil DeMuth

As my husband and I have crossed that threshhold of 50 years of age, retirement seems to loom ever closer – too close for our meager savings to be of comfort.

I read an article by DeMuth’s sometimes collaborator, Ben Stein, recommending this book, so I took a chance and ordered it.

Let me preface my opinion by saying that I hold a B.S. in Finance and everything relating to investing and the stock market fascinates me.  So it was no surprise that I loved this book.  Yes, DeMuth included the sage advice of diversifying your portfolio and making sure you are saving enough for retirement because, of course, we all know the odds of receiving that social security check are slim to none.

But this book emphasizes another important concept to keep in mind when investing for retirement.  You can’t control your returns, but you can control your expenses.  And the biggest expense of them all is taxes.

As a Finance major, you’d think that would have been a no-brainer for me, but it was like a huge light bulb.  Why on earth do I have a portfolio of stocks before maxing out on the 401K and IRA contributions?  Depending on your marginal tax rate, that could add over 10% to your real returns.  Needless to say, it made me rethink my our investing strategy, and I am grateful to Phil DeMuth to setting me straight.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
306 pages

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The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Good first novel by Iraq War Veteran Kevin Powers.  From the beginning, his eloquence charms and jars you simultaneously.

“The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low slung hills beyond the cities and towns.

The plot centers around 21 year old Private Bartle who is ordered to look after 18 year old Private Murphy in battle-ridden Al-Tafar, Iraq.  Bartle resents having to look after this younger soldier and doesn’t want to even get to know him, because he is convinced Murphy is too inexperienced to survive.  But he does eventually become closer to Murphy, and as the war takes it’s toll on the 18 year old, Bartle must deal with a war within as well as the war raging in the desert.

The premise for the novel is a good one, and Powers is a gifted writer.  However, I found the characters lacking the depth required for the reader to be truly sympathetic.  As a result, the book was just okay for me.

3 stars (0ut of 5)
Published in 2012
226 pages

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Misha by Barbara Aria

Misha

For such a superstar of the dance world, there are surprisingly few biographies available about Mikhail Baryshnikov.  For me, however, Misha turned out to be the perfect book about the famed dancer.  I was looking for a broad sweep of his life, who he was and what drove him to defect to the United States.  I wanted to know how he adapted from his world of classical Russian ballet to all the varied modern forms of dance that he ventured into.  I knew that he eventually became the Artistic Director of ABT (American Ballet Theater), and I was curious about his effectiveness there.  This book is not an in-depth study of Baryshnikov’s personality – he seems to be a private person, and that was fine with me.  So for me, this book checked all the boxes, and Aria proved to be a capable and talented writer, which definitely helps to make this book interesting.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1989
214 pages

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go Bernadette

I’m happy to jump on the praise bandwagon with this one!  This is one of those books where reading about story line won’t necessarily draw you in, but I promise that once you begin the first chapter of this book, you’ll be hooked!

Bee is a bright teenager who attends an elite middle school in Seattle.  Her father is a bigwig at Microsoft and her mother, Bernadette, is a famous architect now living a reclusive life as a stay-at-home mom.  They live in a crumbling mansion that was once a former dormitory, and battle a crazy neighbor and school parents, whom Bernadette refers to as “gnats.”  The chaos begins when the family plans a trip to Antarctica (a reward for Bee’s perfect academic record).

This is a fun, hugely entertaining novel, and not to be missed!  So glad I picked it up!

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

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