The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown, 2013, Viking Penguin Group

This book is meticulously researched, well-written, and the author obviously has a great love for his subject.  It’s about the crew from the University of Washington that won the nine-man rowing Olympic medal in Berlin in 1936.  The story is interlaced with background information on the various members of the crew and, in particular, the life of Joe Ratz prior to his attendance at the University of Washington.  Some of the details are pretty grim, but, nonetheless, they add to the story of how they went about winning the gold medal.

Daniel James Brown also provides an accurate portrayal of what was occurring in Nazi Germany at the time and how Goebbles wanted to show the new Germany to the world through the Olympic events.  Very scary stuff.

This is a really good book, even if the reader doesn’t have a great deal of appreciation for what’s involved in the sport of rowing.  The author even gets caught up in the excitement of a race that took place almost eighty years ago.4 1/2 stars

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes, 2012, Audiobook narrated by Susan Lyons, Anna Bentink, Steven Crossley, Alex Tregear, and Owen Lindsey, Penguin Audio

An interesting story about a young lady who doesn’t have much going for her in her life takes on a caregiver job for a paraplegic who is intent on committing suicide.

The characters in this novel are interesting although sometimes a bit stereotyped. The primary character has qualities that far exceed her background and upbringing, allowing her to do amazing things.  Her sister is much more sophisticated and smarter, but she has made bad choices in her life.  The patient’s mother is unemotional in her dealings with others.  The father is a womanizer.

The story is interesting, the writing is good, the reading is excellent.  Altogether, not a bad experience.

3 1/2 stars

There’s Something about St. Tropez

by Elizabeth Adler, Audiobook narrated by Julie Briskman, 2009, BBC Audio

I downloaded this audiobook to my MP3 player so that I could listen to something while I painted a bathroom.  It had some interesting characters but they were pretty much stereotypes.  The plot was predictable and the location of the story didn’t seem to add much to the narrative.  It was a not unpleasant experience to listen to this audiobook, but I would say that it was pretty brainless.2 stars

An Officer and a Spy

by Robert Harris, 2014, Vintage Reprint Edition

I think this is an excellent book!  It is an historical novel about the Dreyfus affair and one of the officers in the military who was involved in the arrest of Dreyfus.  He later has doubts about Dreyfus’ guilt and launches his own investigation.

The book is written in the first-person, present tense so it feels as if whatever is happening is happening right now, even though the events depicted happened over one hundred years ago.  The book is very well written, the characters are superb, and the plot flows well.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone.4 1/2 stars

The Daughters of Mars: A Novel

by Thomas Keneally, Audible Audio Edition narrated by Jane Nolan,  Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

This book, about two sisters from Australia who were military nurses in WWI, was interesting as they were in a hospital ship that was sunk off the coast of Gallipoli.  We had just visited Gallipoli on our cruise in 2014 so the book tied in very well to our own experience.

The two sisters are then reassigned to France. The later part of the book seems to focus more on their personal relationships than their war experiences which detracts somewhat from the book.  The ending of this book is very unusual.3 1/2 stars

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

by Stephen Kinzer, 2014, St. Martin’s Griffin

This book traces the lives and careers of John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen.  It is interesting in that the author contrasts the personalities of each of them and shows how they reacted to various events during their careers.

In the case of John Foster Dulles, the book illustrated to me how someone who is so certain about his beliefs that he doesn’t seem to be able to synthesize information that runs counter to those beliefs. This level of certitude can lead to significant errors in judgment and, in the case of John Foster Dulles, to complicity in the deaths of 57,000 young American men and many, many more Asians.  After painting the impact of this man, the author does indicate that the environment that John Foster Dulles lived and worked in may have had an impact on his decision making.  I, on the other hand, would tend to find him fully accountable for his actions.

Does this mean that individuals like John Foster Dulles are evil?  I don’t think so.  It’s just a sad commentary on the state of human affairs that someone with his psychological makeup can exert such an influence and create such disastrous results.

The personality of Allen Dulles, on the other hand, seems to be just about the complete opposite of John Foster as he was a much more social person.  Kinzer describes in detail how Allen’s personality and predispositions affected his decisions as head of the CIA.

The net result of reading this book was to make me angry that these individuals, through there mistaken assumptions, caused so many deaths and so much destruction.  Their intentions were mostly honorable so they can’t be classified as evil individuals, but it is a testament to the power of ideology and certitude that can produce so much havoc in our world. 4 stars

Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 1996, Touchstone Books, New York

This book had great potential as it was set in a remote town in Nova Scotia at the beginning of the twentieth century.  This is an area about which I have no knowledge.

The story is about a young man who elopes with a very young girl and then fathers two girls.  The two girls couldn’t be any more different in personality and talent.  What transpires after that I will leave to other readers.

The author’s writing style is extremely good, but she quickly wanders into “Oprah Land” as the family members become weirder and weirder.  The plot line never quite comes together.  After I put the book down, I thought to myself that the characters never really had an impact on me.  For this reason I have a much lower opinion of the book than I would otherwise. 2 1/2 stars

A Traveller’s History of Turkey

by Richard Stoneman, Fifth Edition, 2009, Interlink Books, Northampton, MA

We bought this book before we took our trip to Greece and Turkey last year, thinking that I would read the book prior to going to Turkey.  I never had the time to read it before, but I thought I would catch up and read it afterwards.

The book did provide what I was looking for, primarily a connection between the ancient sites we visited and present-day Turkey.  What I didn’t anticipate was the high level and number of civilizations that have come and gone in this region.  I was also overwhelmed by the amount and level of atrocities and violence that have occurred over time.  I came away from reading this wondering if Turkey can ever be considered “civilized” given its very checkered and criminal past.  The book was written in 2009 so the last five years of Turkish politics and events are not included, but it gave a sense of where the country might be headed.  It would appear to me that the political situation in Turkey remains a powder keg that can explode at any time either in the near or distant future.

The book itself isn’t very well written.  It was basically a chore to wade through it.  The author seemed to have a very good grasp of the history of the region, but he failed to provide interesting embellishments to his very dry narrative.  There were numerous references to historical names and places with very little context or reference points.  I am happy that I got through it, but it wasn’t an enjoyable read at all.

Finally, my spell check caught an error in the spelling of the book’s title, seeming to prefer “Traveler’s over “Traveller’s.”  2 stars

One Summer: America, 1927

by Bill Bryson, 2014, Anchor Paperbacks

This book is a collection of things that happened in 1927.  It starts with a murder trial in the early part of the year, then describes some of the incidents leading up to Lindberg’s flight over the Atlantic, and includes a great deal of information on Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s home run quest.

While the book’s content was somewhat interesting, it wasn’t a page turner for me.  I found that I could easily put the book down and then pick it up again later without any urgency to read on.  The book lacked the edgy humor that Bryson applied to some of his former books (A Walk in the Woods, for example), but it may also be less objectionable to some readers than his other books.  It seems that, by toning his biting humor down somewhat, he has produced a book that is much more bland but less controversial.

As I read the book I was looking for some insight into American history and culture that would give me some clues as to how the present came to be.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find much.

I guess I would best sum up this book as “The whole is less than the sum of its parts.” 2.5 stars

The Castaways: A Novel

by Elin Hilderbrand, Audiobook 2009, Read by Katie Hale, Hatchett Audio

We got this book from the Narragansett Library and listened to it on the way down from Rhode Island to Florida this year.  We ordinarily drive two cars but this year we drove only the one so both of us listened to it.

I picked this selection as it looked interesting with the plot surrounding a death on a boat near Nantucket Island.  I was expecting a good murder mystery.  Instead we got a bunch of stuff about three couples and their relationships over the years.  There were multiple flashback passages that revisited the past history of the relationships such as how they came to be friends, etc.

All of the three couples were somewhat dysfunctional and, at times, not very likable.

The book is probably best summed up as something that should have been avoided as it was not only boring, but, at times, very annoying.  All in all, very painful. 1 1/2 stars