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.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson)

Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a not-so-subtle book that tugs at those of us who have suffered some form of first world crisis. We all know what we're talking about here: career, marriage, money, and whether to go out or just binge on Netflix all weekend. Manson argues that most of these issues can be a drain on our energy and our time. Instead, we should spend time worrying about things that really matter and just let the rest of it the (expletive) go.

If it sounds like your typical self-help talking point, it is. However, the majority of the book provides wit, sarcasm, clever metaphors, and thought which deliver the typical self-help points in a relatively different, outside-the-box, package. It’s not a positive package though and it’s not fluffy, nor is it intended to be. Manson ropes in his personal experiences to shape the narrative that life isn’t always fair, nor is it intended to be, but we ultimately are responsible for our happiness in life regardless of whatever cards we're dealt.

Manson can come across as crass to those who aren’t accustomed to seeing f bombs delivered in regular doses in a book. He can also blend that harsh reality in a bow of typical self helpdom that may cause an eye roll or two. However, the book does teach some valuable concepts in a 21st Century way that will help those of us going through those inevitable malaises of life to realize that more often than not, life really isn’t that bad.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Taste of Empire (Lizzie Collingham)

Lizzie Collingham’s charming The Taste of Empire is a well-researched history of the British Empire and its growing appetite. In this context, it truly was a growing appetite for food -- the author shares the evolution of British diet, the impact that the British had on colonial diets in places it controlled, and how it set about the growth of a global trade network.

Collingham weaves historic recipes and stories of life in Britain’s varies colonies into her book, taking readers on a global journey to nearly every continent as the country's empire grew over the centuries. The author's writing about British diets, first with naval soldiers but expanding to include various levels of society, shows the evolution of British tastes, the impact of legislation and global events on trade and food, and how increasing quantities of food became more readily available to those in England’s middle and lower classes as time progressed. This all had a cost, however, as diets of many indigenous individuals suffered through the introduction of crops from various parts of the world as part of the global trade network. However, the forced and voluntary migration of millions of individuals around the world blended tastes and diets, leading individuals in South America to eat curry and individuals in Britain to drink tea that was cultivated in India and Sri Lanka.

Collingham’s journey through time, tavern, and various dinner tables is an extremely interesting insight into our evolution of culinary tastes. Your appetite for history (and for dinner)
will certainly appreciate this work.


Monday, October 16, 2017

A Flag Worth Dying For (Tim Marshall)

A Flag Worth Dying For by Tim Marshall chronicles the development of flags over time as part of the national, regional, and international identity for countries, organizations, and coalitions. Whether the flag projects an image of fear or racist ideology (the Nazi flag) or simply looks like a country, flags are a part of a nation’s identity and have a story on how they developed.

Marshall provides a well-researched look at flags in nine chapters, starting with America’s own flag history and meandering around the globe before ending with a look at pirate flags, the LGBT banner, and the United Nations flag. Many flags look similar to each other. and Marshall discusses how each nation or cause crafted their identity, similar to their neighbors in many parts of the world, and why the particular color scheme or coat of arms (or their choice of arms in one country’s case) was chosen for each particular flag. In all, Marshall covers over eighty different nations in his book.

If you have an interest in geography, history, politics, or the world at large, this book is for you and will provide the answer to the question of “Why did that country choose THAT for their flag?”


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Jersey Brothers (Sally Mott Freeman)

Sally Mott Freeman's The Jersey Brothers is a historical account of her own father and uncles’ service in World War II. The three Mott brothers were all Navy men, each assigned to different places throughout the War. Each brings a gripping account along with their experiences. World War II dramatically changed the Mott family in several ways, and the author takes great care to shape not only the Mott brothers' experience but also that of those that served with them.

The Jersey Brothers shares a great tale of the Mott and Cross families and how the three Mott brothers grew, each having different experiences in the Naval Academy and thereafter, setting the stage for how those experiences would shape them in the theatre of war. The biopic bounces between each brother: one worked for President Roosevelt for much of the war, the second served on the USS Enterprise, and the third was a prisoner of war in the Philippines. 

Ms. Freeman’s inaugural book incorporates letters to family from people who served with the Mott brothers, along with originally sourced material.  All is sequenced well to ensure the reader remains interested throughout the pages. It’s a riveting book that personalizes World War II and the struggle many families went through as brothers served and were separated in conflict.