Flashback Friday

Here’s a review I published earlier that I hope you will enjoy.

Themes: weather, adversity, family, faith, science
Setting: January 1888, Dakota territory, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska

January on the prairie is never exactly balmy. The weather had been very cold all month. Then it warmed up for a while – not a lot, but enough that people seized the chance to get outside and tend to a few neglected chores, repairing the roof, feeding the livestock, bringing in more fuel for the fire, and sending the kids to school. All of which put them into danger.

Weathermen today love to talk about the “warm before the storm,” and this was a classic example. The storm hit with incredible power, bringing punishing winds and very fine, stinging snow that covered everything outside in minutes. Those folks caught away from home were in big trouble. And many of them were the school children.

Laskin seems to have done his research on this one. The stories of the children were amazing and often heartbreaking. That part was very good. But what I didn’t enjoy as much was the story of the Signal Corps and the effort to place blame for the number of deaths caused by the storm. It was a blizzard. The blizzard was to blame.

Seriously, it’s hard to see how things could have ended any differently. It was 1888. There were no satellite weather imaging thingies. There wasn’t even reliable radio. The weather stations themselves weren’t even equipped with telegraph lines linking them up to each other. And if there were, how were they supposed to broadcast their weather forecasts? Forecasting then was even more a matter of absolute luck and guesswork. But there was no way to make them public anyway. They had some sort of flags and alerts they issued, I wasn’t quite clear on that, but no one in the little prairie towns could have known about them. It wasn’t like they put the forecasts in the newspaper or on the radio.

I felt that this technical part took too much focus away from the part that I really found good, which was about the storm itself and how people managed to survive or didn’t. This other bit about the science of it all was just a distraction. I wound up skipping most of that. Still, it was a good book and I would recommend it. It’s just that compared to The Worst Hard Time, I knew that it could have been much better. 3.25 stars

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Mini Reviews!

I’ve been reading a lot lately but I haven’t been able to keep up the reviews on here. I thought I would do some short reviews and bundle a bunch of them together so you can see what I’ve been up to.

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Murder among friends

The Accident by Linwood Barclay centers around a man whose wife dies in a drunk driving accident. He can’t believe that she would have gotten behind the wheel in that state, but her death starts him asking questions that trigger a rash of violence all around him. I really like this writer – what a page turner!

Short stories

I found The Man Who Would Be King at the thrift store for a dollar. I love Rudyard Kipling, so this little collection of 5 of his best stories was just what I needed. If you can find such a collection (and I think some of them are free on Kindle) this is a great place to start. I loved Kim and Jungle Stories too.

Nonfiction Audio

After finishing my book for book club, I was looking for another good book to listen to from my library. I decided on Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. It’s the first book I’ve read by her and I enjoyed it. This one is about the history of Hawaii, a state with such a rich and interesting heritage that I feel she barely scratched the surface. She has a rather annoying voice though, so I think I’d read it instead of listen.

Other News

We did have to say goodbye to Tina and it was just as heartbreaking as we thought it would be. She was feisty right up to the last, but went right off to sleep in the end. It sort of broke my heart today to come home to all the signs she left around the house, to be cooking dinner and not have her under foot demanding her fair share. We still have Rosie, but to go from 3 cats to one in just eight months is such a shock. We had Tina for 15 years and Spooky for 12. It’s not easy to say goodbye.

 

Top Non-Fiction of 2017

Hey bookies! It’s time to share my favorite reads of the year. This will books that I read this year, not books that were first published in 2017. There were a few that were rereads, but I pulled them out, so this is books that I read for the first time this year. They are in no particular order, just  as I found them in my list.

Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell. This one took me a bit to read because I only had one copy of it, but it was so funny and entertaining. It’s a memoir of Durrell’s time collecting specimens for zoos and museums. Great because I could pick it up and jump right in to a different world.

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March by John Lewis, et al. In this graphic novel, Congressman John Lewis writes about his experiences with the Freedom Riders during 1962-1963. Powerful and especially timely. This one refers to the 2nd in the 3 book series.

Both of those are 5 star reads. These are 4 star reads. Still extremely good.

 

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester. Lots of stuff packed in here, from Winchester’s own travel experiences to natural history and geology to commerce and all kinds of other fascinating stuff.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Great story of determination and daring. Loved this look at early aviation.

American Colonies: The Settling of North America by Alan Taylor. Comprehensive look at the early United States before it became a country. Most complete of any book on the subject I’ve read and very readable.

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson. A sobering look at the realities of World War II. At times depressing, but worth reading all the same.

 

 

Review: Undeniable

MV5BMTgyNTU3MzIzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA2MDY2NDE@._V1_UY317_CR3,0,214,317_AL_Title: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation

Author: Bill Nye

Themes: science, religion, space, technology

Engineer and science educator agreed to debate creationist Ken Ham in a well-publicized event in 2016. You can see a Youtube video of the debate here. I have to admit that I’ve never watched the entire video. But I have watched clips. I am myself religious. I’m a LDS and a Christian, and I do believe in a form of Creation. However, my church doesn’t teach that it took X amount of time or anything like that. I don’t have any trouble reconciling my belief in a God who created the world (using whatever scientific rules necessary) and in scientific evolution at the same time.

I listened to this book, so I can’t go back and quote things, but my favorite parts of it was about space. That’s always my favorite part, really, but he had some fascinating stuff about what it would take to colonize Mars or explore Europa and so on.

There was a lot of humor in this book, but he talks about sex like A LOT. That makes sense, because it’s a book about evolution, and a species can’t evolve without sexual reproduction. But because of that, I wouldn’t recommend the book for kids who might enjoy Bill’s show. There are other Bill Nye books that are written especially for younger readers. This one is for adults.

I can’t say I loved it though. He is pretty relentless is making fun of religion and Creationists. I think he could have easily taken it down a notch. Just because he can’t comprehend how a god could operate within such limitations as Bill sets out doesn’t mean that 1/God isn’t more powerful that Bill imagines and 2/Those limitations aren’t just plain wrong.

Anyhow, I would recommend it and I want to read his next book, Unstoppable, on climate change. But I think maybe I’ll go with print format.

Can’t Get Enough Hamilton

Who doesn’t love this guy? Besides Aaron Burr. Which brings me to this book I read: Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins.

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The subtitle here is: The true story of how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr teamed up to take on American’s first sensational murder mystery. It was pretty sensational, and I loved the look at how the court system has changed, but I was really reading it for the interplay between Hamilton and Burr.

Elma Sands and Levi Weeks lived at the same boarding house in Manhattan. They had a close friendship, so close that when she went missing, all eyes turned to him. Then her body turned up in a well nearby. He was arrested for her murder, just before the mob closed in and lynched him themselves. But was he really guilty?

The description of the early court system was really interesting. Hamilton and Burr both worked for the defense. NYC being as small as it was, everyone involved on the case knew each other and had worked together – the defense, the jury, the prosecution, the witnesses – they all had ties. Burr’s company even owned the well where the body was found. But there wasn’t a lot of room to choose anyone else.

This wasn’t the best book ever, but it was good. The author and I have very different takes on Hamilton and Burr. He would describe Burr as a war hero. Um, no. Not buying it. Burr was an opportunistic show-off. Hamilton was the true hero. And his description of the duel left out a few key parts. But the emphasis was on the trial, and he did a good job there. Recommended for those interested in New York, in law, or in the Founding Fathers.

I received this free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review: The Radium Girls

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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Setting: New Jersey and Illinois, early 20th century

A horrifying look at at why we have work place regulations.

In the early 20th century, a girl couldn’t get a much better job than working at a watch factory. The girls got paid by watch and their take home pay was better than anything else in town. The only drawback – and it was a big one – was that the job was killing them. Literally. Sometimes it killed them quickly, with virulent oozing sores and crumbling bones, sometimes slowly, but it always, always killed.

This book was by turns fascinating, horrifying, and disgusting. I was a little overwhelmed by all the names, but it made sense in the end. Thanks for the chance to read this one.

I received this one in exchange for an honest review from Net Galley.