Call Me Madame Alice

by K. W. Garlick, 2016, Stillwater River Publications, Chepachet, RI

I was given this book to read by a friend and it looked interesting as some of the story was set in Jamestown and Prudence Islands in Rhode Island.

Alas, the book, did not meet my expectations.  Even though the book was self published, it clamed to have an editor and co-editor at the end.  The book is rife with sentences that were missing verbs, the wrong tense, and poor punctuation.  Also, while the idea behind the book was interesting (linking a conspiracy associated with the loss of the Titanic to the aftermath of the 1938 hurricane in Rhode Island), the book failed in many other aspects.  The dialogue was extremely stilted and every character spoke exactly like all the other characters.  It was impossible to differentiate between the high-ranking naval officer who was head of the family and the housemaid/caregiver who grew up in Haiti.  The story seemed to drag in places as the characters repeated information over and over that was previously disclosed.

I generally don’t like to disparage writing efforts that are self-published as they probably shouldn’t be held to the same standard as books published by publishing houses, but I have read some fairly good books that are self-published and some pretty bad books published normally.  Even though this one is self-published and was lent to me by a friend, it is just too bad to give it a pass.1.5 stars

Saving Sophie

by Ronald H. Balson, 2015, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York

This is a very interesting novel about a girl being abducted by her grandfather and the attempts to get her back from the West Bank in Israel.  The book is a fast read and is interesting.  The author weaves historical facts about Israel and the Palestinians into a suspenseful novel.

The ending is a bit of a letdown, but otherwise it is a decent novel.3 1/2 stars

Honor’s Voice, The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln

by Douglas L. Wilson, 1998, Alfred A. Knopf, New York

I had always eyed this book as it surely targeted a subject that I was interested in: the transformation of Abrahams Lincoln from a backwoods youth to the person who had possibly the greatest command of the English language ever.  While the book did answer some questions for me, unfortunately it bored me to death.

I think the major problem with the book is the author’s approach to the subject.  He took a forensic approach to each of the events in the period from 1831 to 1842 and tried to logically make a case for the most accurate accounting of each. The first chapter is about Lincoln’s fight with Jack Armstrong shortly after he arrived in New Salem.  The author goes through several different accounts of this event and tries to determine which is the most likely.  The chapter went on and on to the point where I had to skip about twenty-five pages because it was so redundant.  Also, it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference which accounting was the most accurate as the point was that a fight occurred where Lincoln was involved and, as a result, he earned some new found respect that he previously didn’t have.  ‘Nuff said!

After skipping much of that chapter, I went on to read the rest of the book.  It followed the same path but I eventually made it through to the end.

At the end of the day, I discovered that Lincoln in his early years was prone to making personal attacks on his opponents via anonymous articles submitted to the local newspapers (Twitter wasn’t invented at that time).  This behavior was fairly despicable, even for those times.  It eventually caused Lincoln to be challenged to a duel.  I also learned that he had a penchant for reading Shakespeare and Byron’s poetry.  I think this might have been a key to his mastery of the English language in his later years.

I think the book could have been a lot more enjoyable to read if the author had dispensed with a lot of the detail and focused more on his conclusions.  This would have made the book a lot shorter, but he also could have expanded the time period he examined beyond 1842 as I don’t believe the entire “transformation” had been completed by that time.  There were a lot more events that influenced Lincoln after 1842 including his term in Congress, his family life, etc., that made him the man who was elected in 1860.  2 stars

Look Again

by Lisa Scottoline, 2009, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York

This is a story about a woman who adopts a young child and then finds out that the mother who gave up the child wasn’t the real biological mother, but that the child was kidnapped.

The book is easy to read and moves along  The plot is pretty well constructed, although it is a bit thin toward the end.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.3 stars

In the Unlikely Event

by Judy Blume, audiobook narrated by Kathleen McInerney, 2015, Random House Audio

This is a novel based on three plane crashes that occurred in the city of Elizabeth, NJ, in the early 1950’s within the time span of a few weeks.  All three resulted in the fatalities of all the passengers and crew and the last two also resulted in casualties on the ground.  The third crash resulted in the closure of the Newark airport for a period of time and the rerouting of the approaches and departures away from the residential areas in Elizabeth.  Judy Blume grew up in Elizabeth during that time and, therefore, recalls the crashes from her childhood and the effects they had on her.

The author weaves a story about the some of the families that were affected by these crashes and the emotional toll that it extracted on those who witnessed the events.  The book, however, is more of a fictional chronical of the characters than an actual historical novel.

It was a good story to listen to as we travelled from Florida to Rhode Island but it seemed somewhat slow at times.  The characters were portrayed well and it kept us engaged.3 stars

Alexander Hamilton

by Ron Chernow, 2005, Penguin Books

This is a fantastic book that is chock-full of information about Alexander Hamilton, but, more importantly, his imprint on the structure of our federal government.  It also provides a lot of insight regarding the divisions that we currently have in how individuals view our federal government.

The book delves into the particular talents of Hamilton and how he used them to structure the government in his role as Secretary of Treasurer during Washington’s presidency.  His influence went well beyond his own cabinet post as many of the other agencies had a very limited bureaucracy.  Hamilton had the unwavering support of Washington for most of his endeavors.  Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, on the other hand, was viewed by Washington with a high level of distrust.

Chernow’s depiction of our founding fathers is unvarnished.  He not only extolls the many talents of Hamilton, but also fully describes his shortcomings.  His depictions of some of the other founding fathers, such as Jefferson and John Adams, is highly critical.  For example, I never knew that Jefferson was such a snake when he held his post as Secretary of State.  His actions would probably be grounds for charges of treason in today’s political environment.  Likewise, Adams is portrayed as someone with personal flaws that sometimes made him appear as a raving lunatic.  He probably had a thinner skin than even our current president!

.One other insight that I gained from this book was that, although the United States was formed as a federal republic under the Constitution, the “United” part of our country’s name was and continues to be somewhat tenuous.  The federal government is supposedly the glue that holds our country together, but it is now often viewed as the oppressive institution that keeps us from doing whatever we would like to be doing.  One wonders if the Civil War, which supposedly was able to preserve the Union, did, in fact, settle it for all time as we seem to be at least as divided now as we were during the first few years of our new nation.

While the book is a wealth of information about that period in the history of our country, it was sometimes pretty tedious to read and, in some places, seemed repetitive.  It’s over seven hundred pages of fairly small print and it took me almost three months to wade through it. (It sometimes put me to sleep after only a paragraph or two perhaps due to my chronic lack of sleep rather than the subject matter).  Despite my efforts to slog through it, I would highly recommend that anyone who has an interest in how the federal government was formed read this book4 stars

Anatomy of a Soldier

by Harry Parker, 2016, Alfred A. Knopf, New York

This is a novel about a soldier fighting in an unknown country who steps on an IED.  He almost dies as a result, but somehow survives and loses both of his legs.

There are multiple story lines in the book: the story of the soldier himself, the insurgents they were fighting, a family in the country that sided with the government and the foreign soldiers who came to fight the insurgents, and the children who were on each side.  The circumstances surrounding each of these groups is very interesting.

The book is unusual for a couple of reasons.  First is the use of inanimate objects, such as bullets, a helmet, a bicycle, a cot, etc., to tell the story.  Usually a story is told in either the first or third person.  In this case, it’s told from the standpoint of multiple third objects.  This took a bit of getting used to on my part and I think it actually detracted a bit from the book.  Since each chapter was told by a different “thing”, it took a bit to determine what the “thing” actually was.  I think the story could have been told just as well, or better, by either the person involved or a third person.  In the end, however, the story came together and it wasn’t as much of a detraction as it was when I first started reading.

The second reason this book was a bit different was that it wasn’t told chronologically.  The story started actually with the soldier being blown up and then backtracked and went forward from there.  This could be somewhat disconcerting, but I found that it actually made the story more interesting as the author could describe the same event from several different viewpoints.

I didn’t like the book at all in the beginning as it seemed to have too much detail and jargon about the patrols that the soldiers were involved in and it was hard to follow because of the inanimate object storytelling.  After finishing the book, however, I felt it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be.  The story about a soldier injured in this way and everything that lead up to it and the impact of the injury is compelling.  When most of us are going about our daily lives we don’t have to think about what is going on in a war zone and how it impacts those who are grievously injured.  This book vividly brings it all to mind.2 1/2 stars

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel

by Nancy Horan, audiobook CD, read by Kristin Potter, 2014, Random House Audio

This book is a novel based on the life of Robert Lewis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.

The primary attraction of the book is it’s subject matter as Stevenson and his wife were very interesting characters.  The author does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of each of them and the reader can take away a lot of information about Stevenson and how he became the writer that he was.

The book, however, seemed to be way too long and the back and forth between Stevenson and Fanny became somewhat boring.  The author’s attempt to portray these individuals in the form of a novel didn’t seem entirely appropriate.  I have read many biographies that seemed to convey their subjects’ character and personality as well without having to create the fictitious dialogue that this format requires.

The writing in this novel is fairly good, although the story line seemed drawn out at times.  I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I might have had the story been a bit more brief.3 stars

The Summer Before The War

by Helen Simonson, 2016, Random House, New York

This novel centers on the experiences of a young woman who is trying to make her way in life just before WWI breaks out.

The story has some interesting moments but the characters are pretty standard fare; the good guy, the heroine, the jackass lord, the young schoolboy who is interested in his school subjects but is afraid to show it because of fear of being ridiculed by his classmates, etc.  The story also didn’t move along very well in places so it became a bit tedious.  In spite of all of the above, the writing is fairly good and it’s not a really bad read; just not great. 2 1/2 stars

The Nix: a novel

by Nathan Hill, 2016, a Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York

This book is pretty fascinating.  It interweaves topics such as computer game addiction with the anti-war protests that occurred during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, along with Nordic myths.  The author did a fair amount of research on all of these topics and managed to pull them together into a compelling novel.

As with many novels, however, the author relied heavily on some improbable circumstances which sometimes strained my belief.  I would cut him some slack in this regard as the story he spins is pretty fascinating.4 stars