Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic
by Candice Millard

Why did you choose this book? The cover attracted my attention and it fit my ‘Presidents’ goal
When did you read this book? February 2017
Who should read this book? Readers of history interested in learning of the lesser known Presidents
Source: library ebook
My Rating: ✰✰✰✰✰  5 Stars

Here is a synopsis of Destiny of the Republic from Goodreads

James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.

But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.

My Review

I’ve had a goal of reading at least one book about each of our Presidents for a couple of years now, but for some reason never actually started on it. I think maybe it’s because I felt like I should read them in order. Then I saw this book mentioned, and the cover attracted my eye. I really knew next to nothing about President Garfield; I knew he was one of the four presidents who were assassinated, but nothing beyond that, including how short his time in office actually was.

The synopsis was interesting and I was hooked from the first page. I took my time reading because I wanted to absorb what I was reading, but I also couldn’t wait to find out what happened next! James Abram Garfield was a fascinating man who never really planned to become the President of the United States, but when nominated he felt like it was his duty to accept. He never seemed completely comfortable with the nomination.  Sadly, he was shot just a few months into his presidency. Even injured he was a stoic man and concerned at least as much about the future of his family and his country as he was with his own fate.

President Garfield lingered for several months before succumbing to his injury. It was interesting to me to learn that his death was primarily due not to his injury, but to the treatment of the injury by doctors who rejected ‘modern’ germ theory and considered sterile techniques a waste of time! It was also interesting to see how well-loved the President was by his countrymen; a bit of a surprise to me when I realize most Americans today know very little about him. We also learn about the assassin and his motivation for the shooting.

Also interesting were some of the parallels to politics today with the infighting during the party conventions and the backbiting and vicious political ambition. Garfield appears to be an exception; a decent man of honor who first concern was to serve and unite his country. I really have to wonder how our history many have been different had President Garfield lived to serve his full term.

This was a fascinating read to me and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys history or wants to learn more about one of our lesser recognized Presidents!
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: Don't Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice: Adventure and Healing at 100 Miles Per Hour
by Barbara Schoichet

Why did you choose this book? This was a book club selection
When did you read this book? February 2017
Who should read this book? Memoir readers and those who want a fun read
Source: book club set won from TLC Book Tours
My Rating: ✰✰✰½  3½ Stars

Here is a synopsis of Don’t Think Twice from Goodreads

Within six months, Barbara Schoichet lost everything: her job, her girlfriend of six years, and her mother to pancreatic cancer. Her life stripped bare, and armed with nothing but a death wish and a ton of attitude, Barbara pursues an unlikely method of coping. At the age of fifty she earns her motorcycle license, buys a Harley on eBay from two guys named Dave, and drives it alone from New York to Los Angeles on a circuitous trek loosely guided by her H.O.G. tour book and a whole lot of road whimsy.

On the open highway—where she daily takes her speed to a hundred—Barbara battles physical limitations and inner demons on a journey that flows through the majestic Appalachian Mountains, the enchanting Turquoise Trail, and all along America’s iconic Route 66. She is awed by the battlefields in Gettysburg, stunned by the decadence of Graceland, and amused by a Cadillac graveyard in the middle of nowhere. She meets kind strangers, odd strangers, and a guy who pulls a gun on her for cutting him off. She is vulnerable but sassy, broken but determined to heal . . . or die trying.

My Review

I won a book club set of these books from TLC Book Tours so we chose to read it as our February book club selection. I’m glad we did. While most of the members of my book club enjoy memoirs, I very seldom do and I probably would have delayed reading this left on my own.

This was not a typical memoir. Barbara chose to focus on a very short period of her life to share with us. Rather than start with ‘I was born…., and then,…. and then….; leaving us with a series of boring events we could have written ourselves, Barbara covers a period of only a bit more than a year. She tells us about things most of us will never experience. Not many of us our going buy a motorcycle and take off across the country on it, solo! Barbara has a story-telling style that keeps us interested, and she brings humor into her story. Though I didn’t feel I couldn’t put the book down, when I did sit down with it I found it entertaining!

While I think we each enjoyed the book and were glad we read it, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a book club selection. We could not find discussion questions, which made it difficult to stay focused. However, now that book club is over, I DID find a reading guige on the pubisher’s website. I think had we had these questions in front of us, our discussion would have gone much better. Here is a link, in case your book club is doing this one.

My rating is 3 ½ Stars and our book club rating is 4½ Stars. If you are looking for a different memoir and a fun read, check this one out!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing our book club with a set of books!
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Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: The Princes Diarist

The Princess Diarist
by Carrie Fisher

Why did you choose this book? because….Star Wars
When did you read this book? January 2017
Who should read this book? Readers interested in Carrie Fisher
Source: library ebook
My Rating: ✰✰✰  3 Stars

Here is a synopsis of The Princess Diarist from Goodreads

The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie. 

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager. 

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

My Review

I’m not usually a memoirs reader unless it involves a historical person, but when I heard about this diary written by Carrie Fisher during the filming of Episode IV of Star Wars….well, Princess Leia is historical enough! I hadn’t actually made time to read it until the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher in December. Then it seemed much more important to me that I read it, and read it soon.

The book was kind of a mixed bag for me. There were three parts to the book; a narrative written recently by Ms. Fisher telling of the days leading up to her role as Princess Leia and her time spent on the set and off with Harrison Ford, the actual diary, and another narrative analyzing post-Star Wars Carrie Fisher. I enjoyed the first part very much as Carrie told of her audition and her experiences of being in her first lead role in a movie. I also enjoyed the last part where Carrie came to terms and embraced being forever the Princess. What was not so interesting for me was the actual diary. It seemed choppy and rambling with many incomplete sentences. But of course, that is what a diary is; a person’s personal musings on the events of the day. It was not written for publication or judgement by anyone.

The book was also a little  bittersweet. At one point Carrie joked that she would die of embarrassment if anyone ever read her diaries and more than once she spoke of her death or obituary, though always in what seemed that she was referring to the distant future.

I didn’t love this book; it IS a memoir, after all. But as a Star Wars fan I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I read it. If you love all things Star Wars, you will want to read it, too!
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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation - February 2017

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme that was started by Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman. It is currently hosted by Kate on her booksaremyfavouriteandbest blog, and normally runs on the first Saturday of the month. The main idea of this meme is to form a chain of books by linking something they have in common, kind of like forming a word ladder with common letters, and everyone begins their chains with the same book. Other than that, there are no set rules. You get to make your own!

This month, we are starting with Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t read this one yet but it has been on my list for awhile. I first learned about it when it was introduced a an ‘up and coming’ book at a Stay Calm and Read On event hosted by Penguin Random House at our local library a couple of years ago.

Another book I was introduced to at a Stay Calm and Read On event is The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. This is a psychological thriller that I really enjoyed. Psychological thrillers don’t always work for me, so I was pleased that this one did!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a book that has been compared to The Girl On The Train, but I have to say that I did not enjoy it nearly as much. Both books have gone the ‘book to movie’ route.

A book that I’ve not yet read, but that has also gone the ‘book to movie’ route is Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I know you’ve heard of it because it is very big in the theaters right now. I need to read the book so that I can see the movie! This is a book about unappreciated contributions of women who were instrumental to the success of our U.S. space program.

Hidden Figures reminds me very much of a book I have read and that also tells the story of women whose contributions were unrecognized, The Girls Of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. This is the story of the women who supported to war effort during WWII with their secret work on the Manhattan Project. These women took on unconventional roles that in normal times would have been filled by men, often resulting in risk to their safety and health.

This leads me to another book about women risking their safety to join the war effort, this time during the Civil War. The book is Gunpowder Girls by Tanya Anderson In This book we learn of the women and girls who worked in gunpowder factories during the war, and some of the tragedies they suffered.

The last book in my chain is also a book about women who worked in factories and became victims of workplace tragedies. Triangle by David von Drehle is about the the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 people in 1911. I’ve had this one on my list for a long, long time, but just haven’t made time to read it yet. I guess that takes me right back to where I started, with a book on my list that I haven’t’ yet read!

And there’s my chain; from Fates and Furies by to Triangle in six moves! Visit the current Six Degrees post on Kate’s blog to link up your chain and see what others have done with Fates and Furies. Next month we will start with Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I haven’t read it, but after reading the reviews, I think maybe I should! Come back next month to see what I do with it!
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