Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Garden Plot by J. S. Borthwick

Noted in case I want to read another of her books later, and can't remember the name.
Mystery.  Most are set in Maine.  Protagonist is an English prof.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Nice Cold Read for the Heat of Summer

True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole
by Bruce Henderson


If you are of a certain age, you probably learned in school that Admiral Peary was the first to reach the North Pole. If you are of another age, you probably learned that his African-American assistant, Matthew Henson, was really first. However, for quite a few years now, scholars have known that this may not have been the case. Henderson presents the stories of both Peary and the lesser-known Dr. Cook in a compelling way. Both men were remarkable in different ways. A polar expedition is about the last thing on earth that I would want to do myself, but it sure is fascinating to read about. These men, along with their Eskimo guides, tested the limits of human endurance.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Between Two Worlds by Zainab Salbi & Laurie Becklund

Escape from Tyranny: Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam

This a fascinating account of Salbi's childhood and teen years in Iraq. Her family was an unwilling part of Saddam Hussein's inner social circle, which naturally had an enormous influence on them. She tells a gripping tale of Saddam controlled and manipulated all around him. It was no news to me that he was a murdering dictator, but somehow reading a first-hand account really brought it home. We've heard much about his son Uday, the "rapist of Baghdad", but it appears that father was just as evil as son in that regard. This book also describes Iraq (particularly the Iraq of the rich and educated) in detail. It is definitely worth reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

How one man nearly lost his sanity, spent a fortune, and endured an existential crisis in the quest for the perfect garden.

If you have ever tried to make a plant grow, you'll love Alexander's hilarious tales of gardening. City folks might not believe the chapter with the groundhog who learned how time his jumps between zaps of the electric fence, but as a former country girl, it really is possible. I particularly enjoyed reading about his determination to garden organically, but how he slowly caved in to the lure of chemicals in the end. Organic gardening just is not as easy as it sounds! Some bugs are just too formidable.

One thing did alarm me, however. Alexander and his wife have two children. His book takes us from their early childhood into their teen years. These two kids do almost NO work in the garden, during all those years. Period. Alexander expresses some disappointment that they are not interested, but doesn't want to make them do it unwillingly. Yikes! For me, that is a scary type of parenting. Is seeing their father work amazingly hard going to give those kids a work ethic of their own? My own father sure made us kids work hard in our garden, and of course, I hated it at the time. But I learned a lot, particularly how to work hard. I'm sure I'll never know how those two turn out, but it does make me wonder.

However, parenting is not at all the point of the book. If you have any interest in gardening, go for it!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fork It Over by Alan Richman

The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater

This is a fun read. Richman is apparently a well-known food critic (I don't usually read the mags that he writes for). He covers everything from the best barbeque sandwiches to the best five star French cuisine, in chapters arranged by food category. Some of these chapters appear to have been previously published as magazine reviews. The thing that I found most interesting was hearing how frequently the "best", most expensive restaurants often get poor ratings on various dishes.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova


Now this is a great book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all 642 pages while ignoring my housework. Kostova does an admirable job of making the life of a historian seem adventurous, filled with exotic travels, exciting, and even dangerous! Heck, if I had read this in college, maybe I would have wanted to go on to graduate work in History, and actually become a historian. Ahh, what might have been . . . . No, really, I have no regrets.

The Historian is a tale of a man, his daughter, and his mentor, who all get mixed up in researching the life of Vlad the Impaler. He is the source of the Count Dracula legend. Or is it really a legend? Kostova blends fact and fantasy so well, that the reader will have a hard time distinguishing the truth.

One thing that interests me: the main characters all modern, atheist, and start out refusing to believe in garlic and crosses as a means of repelling vampires. As they each progress further into danger, they end up using these "medieval" charms as they become convinced of the existence of the evil they are fighting. In my opinion, the author never really resolves this issue. If you know there is evil, and a Christian cross wards it off, doesn't that mean that an opposite force to that evil (ie. God) does exist? I was disappointed that the characters, for all of their meticulous historical research, ignored the possibility of Christ. I think that Kostova could have handled it without relegating her novel to be published by the Christain press.

Overall it's extremely well-written, and quite a page-turner. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey

Joan of Arc, The Princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and more

Okay, as a former history major, I’m a little embarrassed to have read this book: It doesn’t have any footnotes! Horrors! It is definitely not a book to be found on a college course reading list. However (or should I say “as a result”?), Great Tales is an interesting book to read, and is part of a series. Lacey takes the reader through some of the significant events and people from about 1387 to 1687, mainly focusing on royalty. In my humble opinion, having studied a lot of this period in college and on my own, Lacey fills in some historical gaps a little too easily, without informing the reader that there is an alternate explanation. But, this book is not written for historians; it is for the typical uninformed, historically ignorant person. Such people will find it easy to read, informative, and fun (and so did I). I can’t complain about something like that! Goodness knows, I did not enjoy a lot of my college reading.