Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Book Roundup

I am going to rate books this year, unsure how much that helps others looking for a good book.  Scale is 1-10.


One Day in September by Reeve: The details of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.  I remember the incident well.  What I didn't know until now was what happened afterwards.  I assumed Germany recognized the mistakes they made by not protecting the athletes in the first place, and then failing to mount an effective rescue once they were taken hostage.  I'm wrong on both assumptions.   It took years of relentless, tireless action by relatives of the deceased, to force Germany into court over this.  It's sad all-round.  The relatives would never get their loved ones back, and they spent their lives forcing Germany to say yes, we made critical mistakes.   (7)

One explanation for Germany hiding under the carpet, is that in 1972, World War 2 had been over barely 25 years, just one generation.  Germany was responsible for unfathomable human misery during and as a result of that war, and in 1972, by staging the Munich Olympics, they could at least make a 'drop in the bucket' atonement for it.  This was the new Germany, not the old Hitler-run fascist state.  And then the Israeli athletes were kidnapped and murdered.  Everyone was a loser that day.

Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly: Even the historian in me can get bogged down in big fat tomes that go on and on about historical events.  O'Reilly's book doesn't do this.  The chapters are short and clear and paint an easy picture of exactly what happened leading up to and on April 15, 1865.  (7)

Guns, Germs and Steel (CD) by Diamond: I listened to this one, and given the heaviness and detail of the subject, the narrator, in his annoying voice, talked too fast.   Over and over I rewound to listen to parts again.  He would talk on while I was still dissecting the sentences already said the previous 30 seconds.  GGS is a thought-provoking book.  The author tries hard to do justice to modern but primitive societies, such as those in parts of Papua New Guinea where he has lived and worked.  He makes the sensible case that societies developed differently, and advanced into the modern world sooner or more thoroughly, because of the ease of their land's geography and ecology, not because those groups are more intelligent than say, societies barely out of the hunter-gatherer mode. In other words, if Australia's aborigines had lived in Eurasia, they would have been the scientists, the colonists of other continents, and so on.  (7)

No Easy Day by Mark Owen:  A detailed account of the mission to get rid of OBL, by one of the Navy Seals involved in the mission.  The book has some photographs along with detailed maps of OBL's compound, and how his last battle unfolded.  Actually, there wasn't much of a battle.  OBL did not even pick up a weapon to fight the invading American troops, even though he had plenty of time to do so.  It makes me wonder what he was thinking when he realized his compound was under attack  Perhaps he was depressed at the waste his life had become, and maybe even welcomed the inevitable "martyrdom."  The book does not speculate on this at all.  The author explains everything else in riveting detail. (8.5)

Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today by Edward Lucas:  I had a devil of a time getting through this book.  It contains a boatload of minute details that are hard to track, such as names and aliases and movements of spies (many of them foreigners), loyalties of various agents to various countries at various times, double agents' allegiances and activities, and so on.  The bottom line is that espionage is alive and well today, and that Russia is still a dangerous place, and that Putin runs the country like you would expect from an ex-KGB; corruption is ubiquitous and because of it, the country is slipping towards third-world chaos and poverty rather than rising to the position of the progressive world leader it could be, especially given Russia's natural assets.   In some ways the author's methods are refreshing.  At times I felt he was talking to the reader in person.  He even asked in print a few times for people to correct him if he was wrong, and in one spot he left a note asking a particular person to please contact him.  He readily admitted when he failed to score an important interview or locate an important ex-spy. (5.5)

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made by Norman Cantor: disjointed and sometimes crazy assertions mess up this sometimes interesting but not very scholarly book on the 14th century black death.  I can believe the possibility of anthrax thriving along side the plague, but not so much that the plague came from outer space or from snakes.  No footnotes.  Period.  Snarky comments abound.  The Great Mortality by John Kelly is far better on the subject.  (3)

The Medieval Fortress by Kaufmann: balanced between text and marvelous sketches and photographs, I just can't stop looking at this book.  Didn't know there was this variety of way to build castles, and local adaptations designed for safety against invasions from the East, or battles between Western fiefdoms.  (10)

Ghost Soldiers by Sides: Fascinating look at the rescue of the survivors of the Bataan Death March in 1945.   The March occurred in 1942 so these men had been imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp for 3 years under dreadful conditions.  The Americans were sure that the desperate Japanese would massacre the soldiers before they retreated north as the war was closing, thus the rescue operation.  Sides interviewed elderly men who survived the ordeal, both the rescued and the rescuers.  (9)

Operation Snow by Koster: Author details the spy activity and espionage that he believes caused Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941.  His premise is that Americans working for the Soviets believed that by involving the US in a war against Japan, the Soviets would be relieved of that possible burden.  Part of the tragedy of this "setup" is that the Roosevelt administration knew war with Japan was inevitable, yet even on Dec. 6 1941 it failed to notify key people in the Navy who could have moved our ships and planes out of the harbor, saving many American lives.  (6)

Blood Diamonds by ???: a horrifying expose of the diamond trade, particularly the stones coming out of Sierra Leone.  (7)

Visions of Glory by Pontius: I just couldn't get into this book; perhaps I reached page 50.  A number of people hounded me to read it.  It just seemed to ramble.  I don't disagree with anything I read in it, but the historian in me is bugged by the non-mention of the man's name, and by him revealing such personal experiences (even though it is true that there are appropriate times and ways to do this).  DNF

Endurance by A. Lansing: This has to be among the most gripping non-fiction book ever.  We all know that Ernest Shackleton in 1914 took a group to explore Antarctica, and that his ship Endurance was crushed by ice floes, forcing the men to strike out on boat and foot.  And we all know they were eventually rescued.  But the in-between of what they suffered and endured is so dreadful, so fantastic, that I found myself feeling deep pity and compassion for these long-dead humans I never met.  (10)

The Skies Belong to Us by B. Koerner: The book focuses on a particular hijacking that occurred about 1973, and along the way the author points out many other hijackings that were occurring frequently, sometimes several per week.  He also traces the evolution of hijacking beginning with perps who just wanted a free flight to Cuba, to those who had serious and deadly political agendas.  I had forgotten how absolutely crazy those years were for airline passengers.  Enjoyed the book.  (7)

Shot All to Hell by M. Gardner: I don't know what it is about Jesse James that fascinates me, but I've been hooked on him since I was about 11 years old.  His life of brazen crime is explained as a reaction to injustices his family suffered because of their Confederate sympathies.  The book focuses on the famous Northfield Raid of 1875, a botched bank robbery that brought about the arrest and incarceration of the Younger brothers.  Interestingly, Frank James never paid for his crimes.  Jesse paid for his through his untimely death at the hands of one of his men.  Also, my daughter married into a family that believes a woman in their ancestral line married and had a child by Jesse James, as he passed through the Malad Idaho area in the 1870s.  Nothing I have read indicates Jesse was ever in that vicinity, although he was on the West Coast for a brief time.  (7)

Ireland by P. Johnson: Not a long book, it covers the political history of Ireland.  For those with Irish roots, or anyone wanting to understand the animosity between England and Ireland, it's helpful.  Ireland's sour attitude toward England began in the 13th and 14th centuries when England thought it was doing Ireland a favor by imposing their rule.  And it was all downhill from there.  I have relatives who fought and died for Ireland.  What I personally resent the most is the attitude of the English toward the Irish, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The penal laws were a disaster that Ireland only began to recover from about 20 years ago.  English writers of early times skewered the Irish for being lazy and good for nothing.  But the penal laws forbid education, worship, land ownership, etc., and if an Irishman improved his house the rent went up, which is just one way they were penalized for trying to bring themselves up in the world.  I would have thrown in the towel. (8)

Parkland by V. Bugliosi: Kennedy's assassination and the aftermath related in minute detail, moment by moment.  No sections or chapters.  Heavily footnoted.   One of Buglosi's motivations seems to be to refute conspiracy theories and I'm glad for that.  I was only 9 years old in 1963 and though I vividly remember the important events and facts of the assassination, some details given in the book are new to me.  BTW, YouTube is full of videos of the assassination, Oswald's statements, his family's statements, and his shooting too.  Chaotic times.  (10)

River of Doubt by C. Millard: Ex-president Teddy Roosevelt set out to explore an unmapped tributary of the Amazon with his son Kermit in 1913, and almost didn't live to tell the story.  Twas a great and perilous adventure that would never appeal to me, but living it through TR's experience was amazing.  Author delves into the uniqueness of the Amazon jungle.  (9)

Fatal Dive by P. Stevens: The US Submarine Grunion was lost at sea without explanation in 1942.  60 years later one family begins an investigation as to the location of the sub and the cause of the sinking.  It's a marvelous story, and the resolution of the mystery blesses many lives.  The author powerfully conveys the pained, aching hearts of the sailor's families who were left in the dark by the US Navy for many decades.  Inspiring.  Highly recommend.  (10)

Escape From Alcatraz by J.C. Bruce: Alcatraz was already California lore while I was growing up there.  The place made "doing hard-time" a reality.  It was the end of the line for the worst prisoners, and escape-proof for that reason.  But was it really?  No.  A number of prisoners made it out in sensationally creative ways, the most famous being Frank Harris and friends about whom the famous movie by this name was made starring a young Clint Eastwood.  The consensus is that Frank and friends drowned in their attempt, but no bodies ever surfaced.   Also unsurfaced is any information supporting a successful escape.  No crimes can be attributed to the 3 escapees, no deathbed confessions, etc.  (7)

How Green Was My Valley (CD) by Lewellyn: Joys, change, tension and tragedy in a Welsh coal-mining village.  It seems that nothing good ever comes from coal mining.  It's a dirty source of energy, and historically the cost in lives and health to those engaged in the industry is appalling.  The Morgan family should have had an idyllic life, away from bustling cities and modern problems (setting is 1890s to about 1910).  But no, the family was torn apart by tensions between the mine owners and bosses, and the working stiffs.  And those tensions pulled the family members from each other.  The narrator is perfect for this audio book.  (9)

Madame Bovary by Flaubert:  MB is near the top of many must-read lists, and by some is called the most important novel ever.  I didn't think much of it.  (4)

Things Fall Apart by Achebe: This book has been on must-read lists for years but I am just not that interested in African literature.  But, I stole this from Teresa's bookshelf and am glad to have read it.  It uses an African man's experiences to demonstrate the destruction and damage resulting from colonialism.  He becomes powerless as his tribal traditions come to mean nothing to the great white country.  Recommend.  (7)

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian: The first in a long series about life at sea in 19th century England.  Captain Aubrey and physician Stephen Maturin.  So much to remember and keep straight in this first volume.  (7)

The Kingdom and the Crown series by Gerald Lund:
Book 1: Fishers of Men: The first book in a 3-book series.  Lund is not the most skillful of writers.  This book is written at about the 8th grade level, ok, but what I don't like is the extensive dull inane conversation that goes on.  That said, I warmed up to the story, in which the unknown Jesus begins his ministry, gathering converts from among the Jews.  The main characters in the story are not the Apostles and other well-known disciples, but these folks know them, and live lives parallel to theirs.  I learned a fair amount I did not know about Jesus's early ministry.
Book 2: Come Follow Me: Painful conversions against great animosity.  Again, the conversations are inane, but the author uses them as a tool to pass context to the reader.  If the speech wasn't so modern it would be easier to take.
Book 3: Behold the Man: The nitty gritty of Jesus's ministry, suffering, death resurrection.  One cannot be unmoved by the anguish experienced by Jesus's faithful disciples.
(5 for the series because it's not as skillfully written as I wish)

Twelve Angry Men by ??? (audio play): Is this how jury trials are decided?  Yikes.  Immediately as deliberation begins, 11 vote guilty because they want to get home for dinner / have tickets to a ball game that night / think the supposed perp must be guilty because of his ethnicity and neighborhood he lives in / etc.  One holdout makes all the others take a second look.  He may indeed be guilty, but beyond a reasonable doubt?   Therein lies the question.  I like to think that deep, careful consideration and open-mindness are part of every jury deliberation.  (8)

All the Little Live Things by Stegner: Retired man Joe Allston, with a painful past, retreats with his wife to the peaceful mountains of California where 2 people change his life: Marian Catlin, a young mother with an enthusiasm for the simple beauties of life, and Jim Peck, the brash annoying hippie druggie who takes advantage of Joe at every angle.  Joe finds he can't escape real life after all.  Typical Stegner: within a few pages I was hooked and knew the 3-dimensional characters intimately.  Unforgettable, like every other Stegner novel.  (9)

My Antonia by Cather (second reading): A Bohemian teenager, Antonia arrives on the plains of Nebraska with her family, to live in a cozy sod hot.  Not really, they are practically living in a hole in the ground.  A "neighbor" boy, Jim Burton, befriends her and they grow up together.  Antonia's life seems to be a metaphor for the country she lived in.  There are disasters, tragedies, successes, maturing, etc. in her life, and the country changes with her.  I first read this in either junior high or high school and have fond memories of Cather's books with their real people experiencing real challenges.  (6)

The Night Circus (CD) by Morgenstern: A mysterious magic circus open only at night draws in performers and followers.  2 magicians trained from childhood are told they will complete with each other for superiority, but not much else is told them about the competition; they must figure that out themselves.   The narrator, Jim Dale, provides a deep and rich feeling as he performs the multitude of voices; without that I would not have enjoyed this book.  Even so, it was a little hard to get into with the multitude of shady characters, some without names, and others without an apparent connection to the rest of the story (until later on).  There is richness in the story, but the ending was too ambiguous for me.  (5)

The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig: 4 Swedish indentured men decide to escape from Russian New Archangel (Sitka) Alaska by canoe and head to Astoria Oregon.  In 1853.  Doig does a marvelous job of "getting inside the heads" of his characters, and this complicates his writing style.  After slogging through the first chapter I couldn't put it down.  The ocean becomes a character on its own.   To not spoil the story I'll just say that one of them men becomes the conscience of the group, and another takes on the role of the heart.  I highly recommend the book.  Beware of some language.  Did folks really talk that way in 1853??  (9)

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: another Flavia de Luce.  A very good one.  (7)

Death Comes to Pemberly by PD James:  Despite mediocre reviews, I liked it well enough, probably because I listened to the rich audio production.  The English accent and expressions lifted the story to the next level.  The characters are the same as in Pride and Prejudice and PD James brings them into deeper action with one another, revolving the story around a crime committed on Pemberly Estate.  (5)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome is one of the sadder characters in literature.  Desperate to escape his depressing circumstances, mainly his wife who has convinced herself she's an invalid, he takes steps that not only don't free him, but further bind him.  (6)

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller: Can't believe I didn't read this until 2013, although like everyone else, I know what catch-22 means and have even used the expression.  The story is long and detailed, revolving around an American pilot named Yusarian, who is depressed and discouraged that every time he is within reach of fulfilling the required number of bombing missions, the number is raised again.  (7)

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial by Herman Wouk:  This is a short dramatization of the part of The Caine Mutiny that takes place in a courtroom.  (7)

Sorry Wrong Number by L. Fletcher: Another short dramatization of what became a famous Hitchcock movie.  (5--The movie is more effective)

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull:  Fablehaven's plot is intriguing, and this could have been a gripping magical book, but the author has reduced it to dull inane conversation, and missed opportunities to create breath-taking drama.   He inserted "I'll be fine" and "we'll be fine" about 200 times too many, right when the characters were walking into death's door.  I wanted to fling the book at the wall or into the garbage, or something.  He lost nearly every chance to make me sit on the edge of my seat.  The plot involves 2 pre-teens who go to visit their grandparents for a couple of weeks, and find out they are not your ordinary grandparents.  They run a preserve for magical creatures.  To be fair, his audience is your average 8-year-old.  (4)

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell: Wow, all the stereotypes that go around about the backwoods of the deep south are all here in this novel, only it must be based on something real, somewhere.  The Lester family is down and out, seriously, they have not a thing to eat and no cash to buy seed for a crop of any sort.  Jeeter (the father) steals food when he can, and eats it all himself.   If there are scraps of food left, he shares.  Grandma gets nothing cause she's gonna die sometime anyhow.  And their barely 12 year old daughter was married off to a neighbor, and she won't talk to her husband or sleep with him or even stay in the same room with him.  So he's frustrated.   Their 18-year-old daughter is afflicted with a cleft palate that Jeeter keeps meaning to get fixed, but in the past when he had the money to do it he decided he'd rather buy snuff or liquor.  Then 16-year old Dude Lester is dragged to the courthouse for a wedding with a 40-year-old woman who took a liking to him--she bought a car for him to drive so I guess she's entitled.  Sheesh.  (8)

Mountain Time by I. Doig: This isn't my favorite Doig novel as far as plot goes, but like his other stories, he can paint a visual that makes you feel like you're looking at a book full of pictures.  This one concerns a middle-age couple shacking up--and growing up by reliving their painful pasts.  (5)

Nora Ryan's Song by P Giff: Young adult novel.  Nora, a teenage girl in famine Ireland, figures out how to keep her family alive.  Simple and short.  I think it's the first in a series.  (6)

The Black Arrow by R.L. Stevenson:  Intrigue, deception, betrayal, romance, and history set among bawdy taverns,  ruined castles, misty fens, mysterious moors during the War of the Roses and the rise of Richard III (crookback).  Knights and ladies, friars and fake friars, peasants and peons.  What a dreamy story!  (9)

The Prince and the Pauper by M. Twain: A well-known and oft duplicated story of a wretched waif who is mistaken for Prince Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.  The prince becomes the vagabond and learns what life for most Englishmen was like.  It's a good story.  (8)

Carry On, Jeeves by Wodehouse: Amusing adventures of Mr. Worcester and his "man" Jeeves.  Jeeves is smart, sharp and daring.  I do get weary of stories about aristocratic British who absolutely must wear the right tie or use the correct spoon or they become social pariahs.  And they don't go to work!  They wring their hands every time a relative cuts off their allowance.  No wonder we had to break away from England. (6)

Orphan Train by C. Klein: A fascinating story of an elderly woman whose past as an orphan sent her west on one of the Orphan Trains (a real program) that rescued waifs from squalid neglected city orphanages, and transferred them into supposedly loving arms of midwest childless farmers.  It worked out sometimes, but not always.  I like that the fictional story plays the old woman's past off the orphan of the present.  (8)

Huckleberry Finn by M. Twain: An occasional old delightful favorite is always welcome.  For those who object simply because its full of racial slurs, see how far we have come.  (9)

Borrower of the Night by E. Peters: 2 college professors pursue clues to the location of a long-missing medieval relic.  Great idea, but I am annoyed by mysteries in which the suspense is spoiled by characters who solve clue after clue after clue in just a few hours time.   For instance, they go into a library, locate an ancient manuscript, read it as easily as a newspaper and instantly know exactly what it's talking about.  I do appreciate the author's restraint in not cheaply sexing up the book--that would have been a total deal-breaker.  (5)

Natural Disasters
Mega-Disasters by Diacu: This book was as boring as all get-out.  The author examined how to better predict catastrophes of every kind, and what governments could do to help people.  The truth is, that natural disasters just happen.  Yes, you can prepare to an extent (have emergency supplies on hand, know how to best react when whatever strikes), but in the end, people are going to be injured and die.  I felt he was trying to give simple answers when sometimes there aren't any answers.  (3)

Roar of the Heavens by Bechtel: A blow-by-blow (haha) account of the 1969 disaster, Hurricane Camille, one of only 3 category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the 20th century.  And, the only hurricane in recorded history to hit land with winds as strong as 190 mph.  The exact wind speed will never be known because Camille demolished every wind-measuring device.  I remember Camille.  The most coverage at the time was directed to the damage in the Pass Christian, Mississippi area, but the worst was actually centered in Nelson County, Virginia, where the topography of steep mountains and narrow creeks funneled barrels of rain--no, oceans of rain--down through the hollows.  It happened so fast (5 inches of rain in a half hour in one area) that people truly didn't have time make high ground, and 1% of Nelson County's population died; many of those were from the mud slides, caused by the rain (28 inches in 12 hours in some areas) dissolving the hillsides.  (8)

The famous Richelieu apartment building, where a foolish group decided to ride out the storm, took a direct hit--the eye passed over it and wiped the ground clean, leaving one survivor.  That site was later used for a shopping center which--get this--was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.  Mmmm, are there any lessons learned here?  How bout dedicating that piece of land as open space?  I always wonder why some folks think they know better than all the experts, and  think they can beat Mother Nature. (8)

Shattered Air by B. Madgic: Second reading.  The book's premise is one particular lightening event on the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite in the 1980s.  A party of hikers disregarded a warning sign cautioning them not to ascend the dome if a storm is brewing.  The cavalier among them encouraged others to go on.  Several were killed in the ensuing lightening storm, including one who was hurtled right off Half Dome's edge several thousand feet down to its base.  I learned plenty about lightening and will never  again look at it thinking "this couldn't happen to me," because it can.  (9)


The Demon Under the Microscope by Hager: Am I ever glad I live now!  The author traces the development of antibiotics which weren't part of everyday life until the late 1930s.  My mother's younger brother died of appendicitis just a few years before antibiotics would have been available to save his life.  The author goes into detail about the horrors of WW1, and previous wars, where many, if not most, of the deaths were due to infection rather than wounds themselves.  One of the soldiers who had been assigned to help with medical treatment came home to become one of the main players in the quest for something, anything, that could save lives.  (10)

The Unthinkable (CD) by Ripley: a must-read, for everyone.  Ripley uses various disasters, localized and major, to explain how the human brain and body respond at times of disaster.   And then she explains how important it is for us to  be alert to our surroundings, and to practice reactions to possible scenarios.  For example, the company Morgan Stanley was housed in several of the WTC buildings, including #1.  Because their security chief insisted the company hold regular (and highly unpopular) evacuation drills, when 9/11 occurred only about a dozen of their employees were killed, because they knew what to do, how to get out.  Other companies lost many more because their employees didn't even know where the stairwells were located.  (10)

The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton: Hamilton, a retired pro-cyclist, reveals the doping and politics side of an otherwise great sport.  It's extremely disappointing to find out that most of the fantastic achievements in pro-cycling, particularly in the Tour de France (which is the only race I really pay attention to), were faked.  Faked meaning that the riders did not do great things due to their intense training and top physical condition, but due to the crap in their systems.  Hamilton indicts himself right along with Lance and all the other guilty parties.  Shameful.  However, I can see why someone like Hamilton partook: because pretty much all riders were doing it, without those illegal substances and blood-bagging he might as well have ridden a tricycle in the competitions.  (8)

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor: This very short book is written by a survivor of Jozef Mengele's concentration camp twins experiments.  He was fascinated by twins in a twisted way.  He performed horrid experiments on the helpless children.  For instance, he would inject one twin with a germs causing a fatal disease.  As soon as that twin died he would have the other twin killed, so that he could do side-by-side autopsies, using the well twin as the control in his experiment.  Eva's stubborn strength carried her and her twin through--they both survived, though her sister died in her 50s from the effects of Mengele's practices.  The best part about the book is the forgiveness Eva was able to extend.  I know she is sincere because she mentions her burdens disappearing, and she states that forgiveness is more for the victim.  She knows.  (9)

Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith: I highly recommend this book about every aspect of flight you can think of.  Smith delves into the workings of an airplane to explain how we can hurtle through the air at 35,000 feet, and then goes on to discuss the life of a pilot, the mystery behind pilot communications to the passengers, and even how the 3-letter airport codes came about.  He disses our airport security system and I don't entirely agree with what he says on that.  We have had only minor terrorist incidents since airport security was tightened.  (9)

Outliers by M. Gladwell: Author studies data, then shows why and how people are more a product of their time and place than you might think.  Much of what he says makes sense.  (8)

Call the Midwife by Worth: True story of a woman's experiences as a midwife in London's East End during the 1950s.  It's a quick read, and is the story the PBS series comes from.  I am very impressed by the women who took on the horrid tasks of caring for the sometimes-derilict people who inhabited the area.  Call me an uncaring weakling, but I would keep my distance.  (8)

Catherine the Great by Massie: A very complete biography of a far-sighted ruler of Russia.  Catherine, a German princess brought to Russia by Empress Elizabeth, expanded and strengthened the empire.  Though her legitimacy of position was always in question, she loved Russia and gave her all to modernize and make it a world player.   It was a brutal time to be alive.  Catherine made efforts to abolish the system of serfdom, but that revolutionary idea's time was not yet to be.  She mistakenly thought that absolute monarchy was the best and most logical system of government, this at the time of American independence and the French Revolution.   The author has made this heavy subject very readable.  (8.5)

One Light Still Shines by Monville: Marie Monville was the wife of the Amish school shooter.  Her book takes the reader through the devastation of her husband's actions, and the deep faith in God that got her through that day, and the days and years which followed.   Her details about the concern and forgiveness shown her by the Amish, and her own prayers for the Amish victims, are very moving.  This is a must-read book.  (10)

Catch Me if You Can by F. Abagnale: I really hate this guy.  He writes his own story here.  He has complete disdain and disrespect for everyone except himself, and presents himself as every woman's fantasy.  He figures out ways to beat the system, justifies his crimes, and laughs at everyone else's stupidity.  Eventually the law caught up with him and  he did time, which he whines about.  In my book he deserved every bit of poor treatment handed to him.  He felt he deserved the Ritz, because he was so much brighter, smarter, and gifted than everyone else.  No, it's that everyone else is prudent, honest and humble.  (7)

The Captivity of the Oatman Sisters by Olive Oatman: In 1852 near the Arizona-California border, an Illinois family was massacred by Apaches, except the brother Lorenzo, who was left for dead but wasn't dead.  Two of the girls were taken by the Indians, then sold to the Mojave tribe.  Lorenzo spent the next 5 years looking for the girls.  Olive details her suffering and despair.  The negative of this book is the archaic language in the introduction and a few other parts.  Sentences go on and on, and at the end of them I have no idea what was just said.  Most of the narrative is comprehendible.  (6)

My Story by Elizabeth Smart: What a sweet, perceptive, faithful person she is.  Her story details the horrors of her 9 month captivity.   After her rescue she was criticized for not trying to escape.  In the book she explains why, and no one can criticize her for the decisions she made under unbearable circumstances and threats.  She explains how she has been able to move on to a successful and happy life, and has hit the nail on the head by emphasizing her faith.  A must-read.  (10)

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard: Author's patrician Pittsburgh childhood chronicled which was the opposite of my father's Pittsburgh-area growing up.  I almost put the book down when she wrote that her mother found it hard to raise 3 children even though she had a cook and housekeeper.  Sheesh.  But I stuck with it and liked it okay.  She's 9 years older than me but I could still relate to her childhood experiences.  What I didn't like was that she interspersed interesting paragraphs and chapters about something, with sections about boring nothing.   At least one other reviewer commented on dull, rambling poetic imagery.  At the end of each of those parts I had no idea what she was talking about.  The book is classed as non-fiction but surely all those detailed conversations were made up. (7)