Blood And Thunder by Hampton Sides

Blood And Thunder

Subtitled An Epic of the American West, Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder is a tour de force, an amazing work of non-fiction, telling the story of Kit Carson and the settling of the West.

From it’s opening pages, I was hooked.  Sides presents so much information, his research for this book was incredible, and he presents it in a way is highly readable and makes every attempt at being unbiased in it’s presentation.  Within these pages lies the story of Manifest Destiny, the subjugation and killing of Native Americans (with particular attention to the Navajo), and the settlers, soldiers and politicians that changed America’s borders. While I was reading this book, I thought it would be fun to watch the Ken Burns series called The West at the same time. My husband and I watched it together, and I found myself pausing the Roku, to expand upon some story being told on the screen because I had read about it in the Sides book. This is why television cannot replace a good history book.  There’s just not enough time to tell the whole story.

I highly recommend Blood and Thunder!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006
575 pages

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The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornsby

The Polysyllabic Spree

Lately I’ve been over critical of my life.  I mean, what normal person spends so much time reading and obsessing over book lists and planning their book purchases?  But then I read Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree.  Within it’s 143 pages, I found all the self-justification I could ever want, because Hornby shares my love of literature.   In a series of essays written for a literary magazine, the author begins by sharing a list of books he’s purchased that month and then goes on to list and discuss the books he actually read that month.

It’s much like sitting down for coffee with a good friend, a kindred book spirit, and listening to him critique the books he’s read, justify the books he hasn’t, and all the while making you laugh out loud, nodding while saying “Yes!  I feel the same way!”

I commiserated with his frustration at not remembering books he’s read, and at falsely remembering books he thought he read but actually hadn’t.  When he talked about his four hundred plus books sitting on his shelves still unread, I envisioned my own packed bookshelves, spilling out onto makeshift bookshelves (okay, I won’t buy another book that I haven’t room for…but ooh, this book is available on the Kindle today for the great price of only $1.99!  Never mind that I prefer physical books…)

But I love books and I love reading.  It’s who I am, and as Nick Hornby said:  “all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal.” I now feel somewhat justified at my book-buying habits, because it’s how I express myself – it’s my art, and thanks to Hornby, I can embrace it.

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

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The Hatred Of Poetry by Ben Lerner

The Hatred of Poetry

The theme of The Hatred of Poetry is: poetry inevitably disappoints by not living up to the writer’s and/or the reader’s expectation of Poetry’s ideal. This rings true with me. More so as a reader. We can’t read the writer’s mind. And without that context how are we (the reader) suppose to pull his deeper meaning out of it. Sure, we can find our own meaning but is that what the writer wants. I’ve written some poems. And maybe I was doing it wrong, but I wanted to share some deeper meanings and emotions using the language of poetry. It’s hard, probably impossible, and that is what Lerner is getting at. But we keep trying and keep getting disappointed as readers and writers. Lerner makes this point over and over again. The book gets dragged down by this. It’s interesting to see it illustrated by famous poets both old and new. If anything the problem is getting worse as poets struggle for a solution(s). Lerner goes all the way back to Plato to discuss Aesthetics. But I don’t see that as the problem. It’s the limitation of language and the limitations of space.. poems aren’t novels.

96 pages

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To Preserve by Mickey Zucker Reichert

To Preserve

To Preserve: Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot: #3 and of the three books this was the weakest. I kept asking myself why I was reading this series. I doubt Isaac Asimov would recognize Susan Calvin, I know I didn’t. In order to continue I told myself I was reading a crime thriller, who’s main character just happened to share the same name. The robot, NC-8 (Nate) is incidental to the plot, he could just as well be a human. There is very little science fiction in these stories, just something grafted on to make it cool?

Reichert had good plots in the first two books, not in this one.
Dr. Susan Calvin has to figure out who killed a co-worker.
All the evidence points to Nate, but he’s a robot.
Did someone somehow manipulated the laws to commit this murder? Was it Lawrence Robertson of U.S. Robotics?
Did Susan Calvin’s father, who designed the robot’s positronic brain, tell her the secret to bypassing the Three Laws of Robotics?
There are forces in play that think so.

This book was slow and predictable. The Asimov estate should have never licensed “I, Robot” to Reichert and won’t make the same mistake for a fourth title.

358 pages

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Raising The Barre by Lauren Kessler

Raising The Barre

I am very select about the books I choose to read these days.  I don’t add a book to my to-be-read list until I’ve researched it very carefully.  Still, when I picked up this work of non-fiction, I thought to myself “what was I thinking?”  Why would I want to read about a middle-aged woman who sets a goal of dancing in the Nutcracker?  Well, the research paid off, and I’m very glad I took the time to read this book.

Kessler reminds me a bit of George Plimpton.  One of George Plimpton’s many accomplishments, was how he (a non-professional athlete) managed to play for the Detroit Lions Football team, and write about his experiences in his book, Paper Lion. Well, Kessler did the same thing, only with ballet.  She convinced the Artistic Director of the Eugene Ballet Company to let her dance in their annual touring production of the Nutcracker.  She was a 45 year old woman with some extra weight who hadn’t taken ballet lessons in 33 years.  Immediately I identified with Ms. Kessler.  Except I don’t have nearly the courage or dedication that she does.  In the beginning I thought she’d be given a role that didn’t require any real dancing.  Much to my surprise, she was given the role of Aunt Rose and had two dances in the first Act.  I was impressed with her commitment to this project, and I was impressed with the kindness and cooperation of the ballet company.

Ms. Kessler wrote of her experiences with warmth and humor, and her introspection and lessons learned I found to be valuable, not just for the author, but for anyone who seeks to improve themselves or reach a higher goal.  I also enjoyed learning about the life of dancer from someone who isn’t actually a dancer.  Because Lauren Kessler is a lot like me, seeing it through her eyes gave a unique and fitting perspective to better understand the profession.  This was a wonderful book.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015
272 pages

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The Black Flower by Howard Bahr

The Black Flower

Set during and after the Battle of Franklin in the U.S. Civil War, The Black Flower is a powerful telling of the destruction of war on the human psyche as well as the body.   There are two main characters in the story.  The first is Bushrod Carter, a 26 year old soldier from Cumberland, Mississippi.

He suffers a concussion during this battle, which causes him to lose a finger and most of the friends in his unit. When he wakes, he finds himself at a nearby plantation that has been converted into a field hospital.  Anna Hereford, the second main character in Bahr’s novel, is the cousin of the plantation owner.  She works tirelessly to nurse the wounded, but manages to keep an emotional distance until she meets Bushrod Carter.  Upon giving him her name, she forges a bond that impresses upon her all the hurt and pain of the war within this single relationship.   It is heartbreaking.

Howard Bahr’s novel is beautifully written, intersecting the dreamlike stupor of the insensibility of war with it’s harsh, coarse reality.  I highly recommend it.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2000
272 pages

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The Tilted World by Tom Franklin

The Tilted World

In 1927, the lower Mississippi River Valley experienced a behemoth flood – spreading water up to 30 feet deep across 27,000 miles, killing hundreds in it’s path and making thousands of people homeless.  In The Tilted World, Tom Franklin uses this flood as a backdrop to a wonderful story which brings together a bootlegger, a Revenue Agent and a baby.

For any lover of historical fiction, this is a must read.  There’s so much fascinating information about this flood, and Tom Franklin does an excellent job of setting up the right characters to tell it.  I had no idea, for instance, that the government sent men to patrol the levees, not just for leaks or breaks, but for sabotage.  Communities downriver were extremely frightened of the possibility of losing their own homes and businesses, and would rather their northern neighbors suffer than themselves.  He also delves into the world and politics of prohibition and bootlegging.  To top it off, there’s adventure, thrills, danger and a love story all within the pages of this excellent novel.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
303 pages

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