Monday, January 15, 2018

The Hunger (Alma Katsu)

The doomed Donner Party mixed with elements from The Walking Dead -- what could go wrong? Be sure you don't have a fresh manicure as you're reading Alma Katsu's The Hunger because you're sure not to have any nails left by the end.

Most readers will already know the horrible story of the ill-fated Donner Party, so I won't rehash it here. Katsu's characters include those people that are historically accurate, as well as a few fictional characters to flesh her story out. The Donners' dreams of going West are dashed as they must survive brutal weather and diminishing rations. Before long, things begin to happen that are unexplained, and their party has an uneasy feeling that they are being stalked. But by whom? And how will this contribute to what is known as one of the most horrific episodes in American history?

Katsu builds almost unbearable suspense, and it is almost made worse by the fact that as readers, we know at least part of what is going to happen. The middle of The Hunger was a little slow for me, but once things started to happen, I raced through each page to get to the ending, which included one terrible event after another. A truly original read!


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bunk (Kevin Young)

In Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Phonies, Plagiarists, Post-Facts, and Fake News, author Kevin Young dives headfirst into the rich tradition of American fascination with everything fake. Covering 200 years of history, from Barnum to Trump, Dolezal to The Bearded Lady, forged works to forged “reality”,  Young’s thoughtful, candid research into the history of carnival-barking phonies and fraudsters is a fascinating read.

Not getting into too much detail, Bunk provides a candid timeline of the weaving of race, class, gender, and occasional criminality of several case examples.  Given our current environment in politics, news, and entertainment, Young delivers a reminder that America’s “been here, done that” many times before when it comes to putting show before substance, hype above honesty, and chicanery in front of correctness.

Young’s perspective and African American roots are woven effectively for context at key moments throughout the book and provide additional sources of perspective for students of history and of current events. I found myself captivated, yet shaking my head at the number of examples throughout history where we the people have truly been duped by sensationalism and outright fraudsters. My only wish is for Young to have crafted some sort of argument for us to get out of our sucker mentality; however, there’s enough history there for us to be able to realize that it may ultimately be on all of us to be more effective filters of “bunk” in the future.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (Daniel H. Pink)

Daniel H. Pink's latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, captures the circle of life, our decision-making, and our daily routines as a course of habit. Our days, our jobs, and our lives all have ebb and flow to them, and the author argues that these forces are not necessarily of our own doing.

In his discussion of timing as a science, Pink pulls research from biology, economics, and psychology to illustrate how humans work and go about their day to day. He also talks about the perfect time TO make an important decision, whether it be leaving a job, getting married or divorced, or when to schedule an appointment to get elective surgery performed.

Given life is a series of decisions, some much more important than others, Pink makes a convincing case that timing those decisions wisely makes all the difference between whether the decision is successful or doesn't pay off. When is a short, breezy read that will not necessarily
challenge you to think…but may challenge you to wait a bit before making the next critical resolution in your life.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Fingersmith (Sarah Waters)

It's been a long time since I read anything by Sarah Waters -- 2009 in fact when I reviewed The Little Stranger. I've been meaning to pick up her other novels, but there is always something new that comes up.  I was reading a magazine a few months ago, and a celebrity whose name escapes me now mentioned that the twist in Fingersmith left her gasping for air. I realized right then and there that I needed to take a break from my other selections and finally devour another Sarah Waters book.

It is absolutely impossible to do justice to Fingersmith's synopsis by trying to put it into words. It is often compared to Dickens's Oliver Twist, but with twist after twist (no pun intended) thrown in. Each of the separate parts is narrated by one of the two leads: Susan is the daughter of a hanged murderess living in a house filled with thieves (fingersmiths). She is talked into becoming the maid for Maud Lilly, a naive heiress who really has no idea how to be one. Susan is tasked by one of the thieves to take part in his trickery of Maud, but do not believe anything because nothing is as it seems.

This is the best I can do with a synopsis. Just read it -- no, devour it. Waters has a gift of making her readers hang on to her every word, then when the rug is eventually pulled out from under us, we have only ourselves to blame. This is a rare 5 rating for 1776books.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Death's Acre (Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson)

What, normal people don't talk about maggots while they're eating Mexican food? From still mourning the fact that Six Feet Under is not on TV anymore to being glued to Dr. G Medical Examiner, I've always been a little on the morbid side. Therefore, I was excited to get my hands on Dr. Bill Bass's and Jon Jefferson's Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales.

People who have donated their bodies to science after they pass on might end up at the legendary Body Farm in Tennessee. The Body Farm was started by Dr. Bill Bass, one of the authors of Death's Acre, to study decomposition in a controlled environment. This is fascinating in and of itself, but there is much more to the book besides the farm. As a renowned forensic anthropologist, Bass has had to make sense of thousands of corpses and skeletons. His stories are fascinating, insightful, and at times sad -- Bass always sees his job as working for the victim, finding out what really happened to him or her to get justice if needed.

Bass and Jefferson go into extreme detail, so Death's Acre is definitely not for everyone. But for those of us who love this sort of detective work, it's an absolutely fascinating read.


Monday, November 13, 2017

So High A Blood (Morgan Ring)

So High A Blood is the story of Margaret Douglas. If you haven’t heard of her before today, that’s ok…I had not either prior to reading Morgan Ring’s book about her life. She played an important political role in 16th Century England. As part of the Tudor royal family, niece of Henry VIII and daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen of the Scots, Douglas tried in vain through much of her life to unite the Scottish and English crowns. While the unification ultimately happened after the passing of Elizabeth I in 1603, Douglas was one of the key players in English royal and political life.

Being in the royal family in the 16th Century ran the risk of being imprisoned or even executed if you fell out of favor with the monarch. Douglas was sent to the Tower of London three times, twice by Henry VIII and once by Elizabeth. Two of those banishments were for seeking marriage without royal approval and it was this second marriage, of her son to Mary, Queen of the Scots, that paved the way for England and Scotland to ultimately get unified under a common crown. The story of Douglas’s
life also portrayed the struggle of England’s religious sects as the country shifted from Catholic to Protestant to Catholic to Protestant throughout the century, based on the whim of the monarchy. Douglas, a Catholic, did not politicize her religious views.

Ring’s work is solid, scholarly, but not captivating unless you are a fan of family drama that so often has plagued English royal life, especially in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Ring provides a well-researched look at one of the key political players in royal life during this time and how Douglas ultimately set about the path towards England and Scotland being united.


Monday, November 6, 2017

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger wrote an article about those books that you feel that you SHOULD HAVE liked but it didn't turn out that way. Anthony Doerr's immensely popular, Pulitzer Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See is unfortunately one of those novels for me.

It certainly started off strong, with alternating timelines and short chapters introducing us to the memorable characters. Marie Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her father. He wants to teach her to be self sufficient, and so builds a model of her neighborhood so she can get to know every feature. When the Germans arrive for occupation during World War II, Marie Laure and her father escape to Saint-Malo but not before taking something very valuable with them. In Germany, Werner lives in an orphanage with his sister. His propensity for fixing radios makes him attractive to the Hitler Youth, and it's obvious to the reader that eventually his path will cross with Marie Laure's.

Doerr's writing is lyrical and beautiful, and I wish I could say that the book kept my interest after the beginning. We know that the characters will meet towards the end, but I found it a tedious journey to get to that point. I simply couldn't get through more than one or two chapters every few days. While the ending was interesting and illuminating, I couldn't help but feel a sense of relief that it was over. But reading other reviews, my opinion is definitely in the minority.