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Everything Is Wonderful

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    • The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters by Gregory Zuckerman
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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is Philippa Gregory’s account of the life of Elizabeth Woodville, the British Queen married to King Edward IV.  Numerous objections to their marriage (as well as the Lancaster claim to the English throne), made Edward’s reign tenuous.  While Gregory admits there isn’t as much historical information available for these royals as for the later Tudor dynasty, the intrigue we know about made it a worthwhile subject.  To this day, no one really knows what happened to Woodville’s two young princes who mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London under their Uncle’s (King Richard III) protection.  It is widely believed they were murdered.

Philippa Gregory enjoys widespread popularity as her books are entertaining and engaging.  She freely admits that her works are fiction and she often receives criticism from Historical Fiction purists.  For what it is, however, The White Queen is a good novel.  It’s fun and interesting – even if it borders on chick-lit.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2009
408 pages

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Cradle of Gold by Christopher Heaney

From Goodreads: “In 1911, a young Peruvian boy led an American explorer and Yale historian named Hiram Bingham into the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Hidden amidst the breathtaking heights of the Andes, this settlement of temples, tombs and palaces was the Incas’ greatest achievement.”

Although Machu Picchu had been visited by outsiders before, it was Hiram Bingham, sponsored by Yale University, that made it famous.  His discoveries, notes and excavated Inca relics were treasures to the scientific world.  The question that eventually became pre-eminent was “who owns these treasures?”  For almost 100 years, Yale University claimed the rights to Peruvian national heritage.

Cradle of Gold was a terrific narrative of an exciting time in exploration and discovery, and also a interesting commentary on the purview of property rights.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010
304 pages

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Everything is Wonderful by Sigrid Rausing

In the early 1990’s, Sigrid Rausing did her anthropological fieldwork in Estonia, studying the Estonians attempts to reconcile post-colonialist privatization with their Soviet, collective farming past.  Everything is Wonderful is a memoir of the time Rausing spent in Estonia.

There was much to like about this book, given the author’s interest in the people and their past.  Estonia is a land that isn’t mentioned much in the books I read, so this memoir was a welcome look into a country previously closed off to Westerners.

I found much of her writing depressing, though.  The Soviet history left little for these people to build upon.  Everything seemed to be cold, outdated and dirty.  They had little access to goods from the modern world – mostly because it required money they didn’t have.  Even with the attempts of former Swedish/Estonians to resettle, the future looked bleak.  Still, I’m glad to have gotten a glimpse into this world.

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

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The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch is mourning the death of his mother,  Rachela.  No ordinary mother, Rachela is a genius, a world famous mathematician, in fact, who survived the holocaust by emigrated to the United States with her family from Poland.  A string of noted mathematicians make their way to Wisconsin to pay their respects, but also to solve a mystery.  Rachela is rumored to have secretly solved the greatest mathematical puzzle of all – the Navier Stokes problem.

With so many glowing reviews, I was expecting great things from this novel, but I was disappointed. Nothing grabbed me deeply enough.  Not Rachela’s history, not the humor, and not the mathematical mystery.  It was just a so-so book for me.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
370 pages

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Under A Flaming Sky by Daniel James Brown

Under A Flaming Sky

It seems like every spring and summer, the stories of massive forest fires dominate the  news.  We hear how quickly they spread and how threatening they can be to communities that lay in it’s path.  But you never think that a community wouldn’t be without warning, or that the people might not have time to get away.

In 1894, a great fire engulfed an area of eastern Minnesota, spreading so quickly, burning in great swathes of flames 200 feet high.  The people of Hinkley and Sandstone barely had time to look out their windows before they realized that hell was bearing down upon them.

Written like a nail-biting thriller, Under a Flaming Sky is a magnificent work of narrative non-fiction.  If you like history or enjoyed The Perfect Storm, this is a must read!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2007
304 pages

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Inca Kola by Matthew Parris

Inca Cola

After reading some “ho hum” travelogues through South America, it was a nice change of pace to find one I really enjoyed.  Inca Kola has Parris and three of his travel buddies making their way through Peru during the late 1980’s.  The traveling is rustic, Parris’ anecdotes are hilarious, and there’s a real sense of place, along with the fascination of being introduced to different cultural experiences.  An excellent travel memoir!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1993
225 pages

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