The Color Of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

The Color Of Lightning

In 1863, a freed black man settles with his wife and three children on the plains of North Texas, only to have their dream turn into a nightmare. While Britt Johnson was away getting supplies, a violent Indian attack leaves Johnson’s oldest son dead and wife and remaining children enslaved by their attackers.  Johnson vows to get them back and to avenge their tragedy.

What makes this work of historical fiction so wonderful is that Britt Johnson was not a fictional character.  Author Paulette Jiles came across Johnson’s story while researching an earlier novel and decided he deserved to have his story told.  And what a story it was. Paulette Jiles is a gifted writer, portraying the drama that was the true struggle between the American settlers and the Native Americans who lived in the Southwest. I highly recommend this fantastic book!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2009
349 pages

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Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Journey Into The Whirlwind

Hailed an important work upon it’s publication in 1967, Journey into the Whirlwind is Ginzburg’s personal account her years in a Soviet prison during the reign of Josef Stalin.

As a teenager I read Solhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and was stunned at the brutality and inhumane treatment of political prisoners during the Stalin era.  Ginzburg’s work brought back all those memories and more.  It’s a detailed narrative of how easily a public can be manipulated to turn on their friends and neighbors, through fear, and also through propaganda.  This alone makes it a valuable piece of literature – the fact that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

But Ginzburg also reveals a few equally important messages.  First, that hope springs eternal.  Even in the darkest moments, the prisoners held onto the belief that something good was going to happen, and to appreciate even the smallest of blessings.  And second, human kindness doesn’t cease to exist – even in the hell of a Soviet prison.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1967
418 pages

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The Mechanic’s Tale by Steve Matchett

The Mechanic's Tale

The Mechanic’s Tale: Life In The Pit-Lanes Of Formula One

The memoir by Steve Matchett tells his story from getting a mechanic’s job at a Ferrari Dealership, then moving to a BMW Dealership and leveraging what he learned there into getting hired by the Benetton Formula One racing team in 1990. Matchett is promoted out of the factory and tours with the cars and drives, but for the mechanics it’s a 24/7 grind. Things go right, things go wrong, drivers come and drivers go. Then Benetton hires a young German driver by the name of Michael Schumacher and Benetton wins the 1994 Championship.

Schumacher doesn’t stay long at Benetton but neither does Matchett. Schumachers goes on to win seven world drivers championships; Matchett writes a book and now finds himself with David Hobbs commentating for NBC-Sport during the races.

The books are full of interesting stories about the racing teams, their drivers (Schumacher, Brawn, and Mansell), their mechanics, and the races courses that span the globe. Matchett gives the reader his insights into this exciting sport: what they do to prepare, race, and unwind.

I look forward to reading his other two books: “The Chariot Makers” and “Life In The Fast Lane”.

226 pages
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Bat Boy by Matthew McGough

Bat Boy

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming Of Age With The New York Yankees

McGough wrote a letter to the Yankees, and after some persistence became a Bat Boy for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. He was only 16, which you would expect for a bat boy, but considering the work load and hours, I’m amazed his parents let him continue. Yes, the job was a lot of work, but McGough met some interesting characters; not just the players either. He had access to a life few of us have seen.

The writing is crisp and amusing. McGough fulfilled his childhood dream and along the way learned: how much hard work is required to succeed, to avoid pyramid schemes, and stay away from scammers.

404 pages

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The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

The Kitchen Boy

The novel establishes itself as a memoir being told by a servant of the Romanov family. He says he was their kitchen boy during those fateful last days in Siberia, up until the Tsar and his family were brutally murdered.

I admit, the first half of the book was a little slow for me, but it did pick up as the family attempted to send and receive messages from the outside in an attempt at rescue. Knowing what would happen to those children, made my heart ache as the Romanovs were roused from their beds during the night and taken to the cellar.  Then it hit me. The date.  It was July 17, 1918.  And I was sitting there on July 17, 2017 reading this.  Exactly 99 years to the day.  It gave me goosebumps.  How tragic.  How ugly people can get in the name of politics.  Every other monarchy in Europe had a relatively peaceful transition to democratic rule (except France).  Why not this one?

Alexander presented the story not as a political narrative, but a human one.  It was about people and violence and humanity.  I loved the ending, too!

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

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The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master And Margarita

I admit I broke one of my rules when I chose to read this book:  “Never read any book that is described as Magical Realism.”  But, this book is hailed as a classic – a window into World War II Soviet Union.  And I thought I could handle it.  Well, I couldn’t.

The entire story is nonsensical.  I couldn’t even appreciate the humor because I was too busy cringing as I read about a beheading, a man who claims to have been present at Christ’s crucifixion, a talking cat, and a woman who turns into a witch after applying a magic cream.

The book was completed in 1940.  Bulgakov couched his views of the oppressive Russian regime within the lines of this novel.  That is the reason this book is deemed “clever.”  It ultimately wasn’t able to be published until 1966 – I suppose that was a feat in itself.  But today, we can read about the Soviet Union without the gobbledy gook nonsense.  I definitely prefer it that way.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1966
372 pages

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Jungle Of Stone by William Carlsen

Jungle Of Stone

In 1839, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood decided to chase rumors of ancient ruins in Central America.  Their difficult trek across jungle, facing hostile soldiers and deadly Malaria is chronicled in William Carlsen’s Jungle of Stone.

If Carlsen had attempted a narrative non-fiction of this journey, I think I would have enjoyed the book more.  The stone temples of the Maya were truly magnificent, and Catherwood’s illustrations were a wonderful window into what they stumbled across and how it appeared to them nearly two centuries ago.  The biggest problem I had with this book was all the background information on every actor included in the narrative.  It was just too much information about the other parts of their lives – it dwarfed the adventures of finding the ruins.

I also would have liked more information about the Mayans themselves.  I know very little about this civilization and obviously the reason this discovery was important was that it revealed so much about these ancient peoples.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
544 pages

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