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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

The Real Coco Chanel by Rose Sgueglia

Coco Chanel lived her own life as a romantic heroine.

Fuelled by 19th century literature, she built a life which was partly myth and, partly, factual.

She was the fashion designer everyone admired. The business woman whose fortune was impossible to track. She was also a performer, lover of many high profile intellectuals and, as believed by many, a nazi spy.

Her life was, extraordinarily, affected by history (the nazi movement and World War II), symbolism and literature.

This biography explores her life from her troubled and poor past to the opening of her first hat shop, passions and secrets; the biography also draws parallelisms between myths and facts and how, and if ever, they match at all.

The biography also features chapters on the Chanel Maison and the creation of her iconic trademark as well as her ‘little black dress’ and ‘Chanel No 5’.

Finally, the biography ends with a reflection on how the myth of Coco Chanel is represented today in pop culture.

The Real Coco ChanelThe Real Coco Chanel by Rose Sgueglia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I was so enlightened by this book!

From little black dresses to the world’s first abstract fragrance, Chanel No. 5, there are these known iconic ventures that Coco Chanel was known for. This book provided a great background of her life, which covered her fashion firsts, fashion influences, her childhood, her lovers.

It was unique in how it took a deeper dive into controversies and successes of her career and personal life, including those surrounding her signature fragrance, whether or not she was a spy, her social connections, and it provided an insightful synopsis of societal viewpoints and the context of the time.

I liked the way it was organized, an easy to navigate blend of topical and chronological. I wanted the last portion of the book, the more personal encounters, to be somehow integrated into the book, but I also didn’t mind it being separate though.

I would have liked the photos to be integrated throughout as well, with more photo examples of the subject matter. Though I’ll have to revisit this and see how it plays out in the final publication. But I often go on a Wikipedia spiral with anything historical nonfiction so it was still a treat to look up styles, photographed relationships, and business journeys as I read along.

It connected a lot of dots for me, historically, from war events to socialites to fashion moguls, industry, and design, business undertakings, and how it all unfolded into her own personhood and characteristic style for simplicity, self-assurance, practicality, her hope, her persistence, her dreams.

I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting overview of her life and for gaining deeper insight into dispelling the rumors and confirming the knowns and unknowns out there.

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. Grameen Bank, based on the belief that credit is a basic human right, not the privilege of a fortunate few, now provides over 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of Yunus’s clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent. Around the world, micro-lending programs inspired by Grameen are blossoming, with more than three hundred programs established in the United States alone.

Banker to the Poor is Muhammad Yunus’s memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world’s poor. In it he traces the intellectual and spiritual journey that led him to fundamentally rethink the economic relationship between rich and poor, and the challenges he and his colleagues faced in founding Grameen. He also provides wise, hopeful guidance for anyone who would like to join him in “putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long.” The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business.

Muhammad Yunus was born in Bangladesh and earned his Ph.D. in economics in the United States at Vanderbilt University, where he was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement. He still lives in Bangladesh, and travels widely around the world on behalf of Grameen Bank and the concept of micro-credit.

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World PovertyBanker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Ray Porter which I’d highly recommend to anyone.

Super eye-opening!

This book is all about context and I loved that the author shared his life experiences and perspective with us. The entrepreneurial spirit portrayed in this book was amazing as it expanded on the ideas of seeing a need, having vision, satisfying personal curiosity, navigation of a unique academic/career path, all in the historical context of the country of Bangladesh gaining independence, human progress, and solving issues of poverty.

I really sought out to increase my social conscience with this one. It went into detail on topics that the people of Bangladesh have faced including famine, genocide, people-centered problems, misguided development, exploitation, suppressed creativity, human trust, personal relationships, behavioral change, women borrowers, how women and men differ in the socioeconomic realm, women’s issues related to hunger and poverty, the historic insecure social standing of Bengali women, and even their resiliency in natural disasters as a country.

Issues with foreign aid, the balance of economic and social power, and discussions about the quality of life were probably my most information-gaining aspects brought forth in this book.

I found points made on addressing population issues to curtail birth rates with a fear mongering approach incredibly insightful. I liked the display of supportive statistics showing how population rates doubled yet did not reflect twice as poor, but actually much more self-sufficient trends than in past times. Efforts focusing on improving economic status and quality of life became even more interesting concepts to me given that birthrates naturally fall as women gain equality and he goes into the underlying reasons for this.

It was the type of book that puts your own thoughts into words, ones I’ve pondered while serving in the developing world. Just the phrasing made about management and not lack of resources spoke volumes to me. Even if as a reader you don’t agree with some of the political perspectives, the common point problems remain, and he points out how the consequences of poverty are the same whether the poor of Chicago or the poor of Bangladesh.

Of course with the cheering on for the Grameen Bank and concept of micro-lending that it offers, it lacked a deep critical analysis of micro-lending. The personal anecdotes and struggles against opposition were there but I would have liked to have seen an expanded chapter on opposing viewpoints from a more objective point of view. Like a discussion of limitations or integration of a counter discussion just for the sake of it. This would have helped me avoid the sales pitchy vibe I got at times, especially toward the end. There also was a tendency to be narrowly-focused on the structures of society as the reason for poverty, neglecting to mention the role of personal responsibility and accountability, which I thought would have been a great subject to bring up for completion purposes.

And all-in-all, I don’t know if some of the ideas are as black-and-white or polarizing as they seem to be either. As a result it tended to be a tad over-idealistic.

I would have also liked to have had a different approach to the organization of the book. Example, what constitutes as poor criteria was not fully defined until the end. Other parts jumped around a bit, another example, phone/internet communication issues.

This would make an excellent discussion/book club book.

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

No Traveller Returns by Louis L’Amour, Beau L’Amour

Louis L’Amour’s long-lost first novel, faithfully completed by his son, takes readers on a voyage into danger and violence on the high seas.
 
Fate is a ship.
 
As the shadows of World War II gather, the SS Lichenfield is westbound across the Pacific carrying eighty thousand barrels of highly explosive naphtha. The cargo alone makes the journey perilous, with the entire crew aware that one careless moment could lead to disaster.
 
But yet another sort of peril haunts the Lichenfield. Even beyond their day-to-day existence, the lives of the crew are mysteriously intertwined. Though each has his own history, dreams and jealousies, longing and rage, all are connected by a deadly web of chance and circumstance.
 
Some are desperately fleeing the past; others chase an unknown destiny. A few are driven by the desire for adventure, while their shipmates cling to the Lichenfield as their only true home. In their hearts, these men, as well as the women and children they have left behind, carry the seeds of salvation or destruction. And all of them—kind or cruel, strong or broken—are bound to the fate of the vessel that carries them toward an ever-darkening horizon.
 
Inspired by Louis L’Amour’s own experiences as a merchant seaman, No Traveller Returns is a revelatory work by a world-renowned author—and a brilliant illustration of a writer discovering his literary voice.

No Traveller ReturnsNo Traveller Returns by Louis L’Amour

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow am I developing such a deep appreciation for stories written by Louis L’Amour!

Maritime is my most favorite subgenre, so this was completely satiating for me. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick, which I’d highly recommend.

This story was Louis L’Amour’s first novel length work which tells about the backstory of a missing ship. His work, starting circa 1938, incorporates a self-projected protagonist in a high crimes situation. His personal life was quite interesting as well, with travels and occupations that enhanced his writing, but were not solely sought out for purposes of writing the experiences which I think is distinctive. The work was carefully pieced together by his son, Beau, who was able to publish the story as a finished copy.

The prologue and epilogue were quite fascinating in themselves, particularly noting that the writing embodies a time brought to life using the referenced jargon of sailors, railway men, cowboys, soldiers, and miners, a version of English not taught in any classroom.

As far as content was concerned, it incorporated observations about the successes of civilization with an almost prophetic, philosophic, Orwellian tone. There was talk about machines and powerful statements about the projection of human behavior. The love interest and daily life of struggles and victories depicted in the story were strengthened by this.

And coming to the point where I no longer feel the need to fact check an author’s claims in a story but looking up things just to increase my knowledge is where I glean the most comfort and joy in reading a book. And I have certainly found that to be so in his writing. I had no idea that the Indy 500 existed during this time.

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“But most of all our mistakes lay in trying to live what at best was no more than a dream. We were two fortunate people. We had an idyllic moment and then proved ourselves all to human by trying to make a lifetime of it.”

“What was it Hamlet said? That undiscovered country, from who’s born no traveler returns. He was speaking of death. But is not every goodbye, every leave taking a little death? Can a man ever return quite the same as he left? We say goodbye. We leave familiar, well-loved people in places, and the days, weeks, and months pass, perhaps years, when we take the road back and finally stand where we stood before, all is strange. Our very bodies have changed, the dust of many roads, the brine of ancient seas, the air we have breathed, the food we have eaten, the wounds we have received. All these things change us. We have come back, groping in the past for something that is no longer there. A gap that nothing can fill. Old places are better left behind. Old loves better keep as memories. And as the ship steams onward into the days and nights, all that I have known and all that I have loved, I am leaving behind me…”

“She was lying there in a faded neglige reading a magazine. A box of crackers stood open on the table close by. And there were two cups, still mottled with the grounds of coffee. She sat up. A large woman with rust-colored and a heavy, sullen face. Collin looked at her a moment, looked at the stuffy, untidy room of which she was the living expression.”

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Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

Lab GirlLab Girl by Hope Jahren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness did I enjoy this book!

It was filled with fascinating facts about nature told in parallel with the author’s life story which included both personal and professional achievements.

It was told in a casual, conversation-like manner, touching on topics that a science nerd like myself can be easily entertained by all while alluding to deeper connections to life. The chapter organization was according to plant anatomy which I thought was unique take on a book about life circumstances and personal growth.

The philosophical and literary references gave way to giving a type of relatable persona to plants and trees which lingered in my mind. And the quirky stories about best friends and lab partners, so funny. They definitely added a lot of context and personality to the book and made me think of life’s most treasured moments.

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Biography Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

This powerful and inspiring book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the WorldMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this for Life’s Library Book Club and really enjoyed it. It features an incredibly detailed biographical account of Dr. Paul Farmer, both his professional and personal life as a physician serving in the global health arena. It also included a mix of interesting tidbits of day to day life including the many rewards and challenges he faced and also bits of dialogue with an intriguing approach to include some Hatian history for context.

I’d highly recommend it to anyone!

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Adventure Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

“With its huge, scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white-water wake more than forty feet across, the whale approached the ship at twice its original speed – at least six knots. With a tremendous cracking and splintering of oak, it struck the ship just beneath the anchor secured at the cat-head on the port bow…”

In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex – an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book! I’d recommend it to anyone. I listened to the audiobook version which I’d also highly recommend.

The narrative, with historical fact building and adventure, everything about life in the open seas, island life, whaling and its tragedy, ethics, survival, the human condition, all centered around the whaleship Essex and all of it told with such wonderfully creative and engrossing prose.

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Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Whether she is contemplating the history of walking as a cultural and political experience over the past two hundred years (Wanderlust), or using the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge as a lens to discuss the transformations of space and time in late nineteenth-century America (River of Shadows), Rebecca Solnit has emerged as an inventive and original writer whose mind is daring in the connections it makes. A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit’s own life to explore the issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. The result is a distinctive, stimulating, and poignant voyage of discovery.

A Field Guide to Getting LostA Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I don’t know. I really wanted to like this one but I had a really hard time getting into it. I read it for Life’s Library Book Club. I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading it or at least giving it a try, but it wasn’t the book for me.

In the book, there are definitely great stories to be told but I couldn’t get into the author’s thoughts. I needed more that I could relate to I suppose and this one centered on the author’s very personal form of contemplation. It presented a lot of overthinking and navel-gazing type content, being more about perception and a lot of personal reflection. Other people may enjoy that. For me, I just didn’t enjoy it as much.

I would like to try reading another book by Rebecca Solnit.

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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Mystery Nonfiction Thriller

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper LeeFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

This book was absolutely fascinating! I would recommend it to anyone. If you have fond memories of reading Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird as a child or are looking to read classics this year, be sure to put this one on your TBR. It’s also a type of story within a story about a story whose final works (those being Harper Lee’s) were never published in which readers of true crime/thrillers will appreciate.

Furious Hours made full circle as it encompassed the published/unpublished works and the personal and literary life of author Harper Lee. As the first chapters unfolded into a compelling story of the accused Reverend Maxwell, I gained incredible insight into the norms of Southern living as well as the cultural and political climate of the times. From the perceptive value of the aesthetic and functional features of the Alabama courthouses to the practice of law itself, the intriguing writing style kept my full attention.

The author, Casey Cep, did an amazing job articulating and organizing the depth and reach of Harper Lee in a way that was captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about influential circumstances and notable people who crossed paths with Harper Lee, including Truman Capote. All these details added so much biographical context to how Harper Lee lived her life, the choices she made, and how it shaped her writing as an author. This is one book you won’t want to put down!

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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna

A rich and illuminating biography of America’s forgotten Founding Father, the patriot physician and major general who fomented rebellion and died heroically at the battle of Bunker Hill on the brink of revolution

Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution's Lost HeroFounding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an uncorrected proof via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

I enjoyed this book! I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading biographies and non-fiction wartime, as well those interested in learning what life was like during the 18th century. More specifically, those who would like to know about events surrounding the American Revolutionary War/American War of Independence and the life of Dr. Joseph Warren.

The author, Christian Di Spigna, did a wonderful job presenting the story of Dr. Joseph Warren who held multiple titles and roles as a well-respected physician and key political activist during the early days of the American Revolution. It’s presented in a well-constructed, well-organized, semi-chronological timeline that preserves several historical dates of interest. This was balanced with excerpts from Dr. Warren’s personal life, excellent scene descriptions, and insight into the fascinating social norms of the time, which made for a pleasurable read that wasn’t overwritten or boring. As someone who is familiar with Dr. Joseph Warren, I appreciated the level of detail that was contained in this historical account. The beginning chapter did contain a few long-winded bits, but the sentences made for case in point and weren’t overly distracting.

The author was able to cleverly depict interesting differences in the knowledge and culture of the time to a more common worldview of today without interjecting loads of personal bias/opinions or unnecessary embellishment to the storyline. I enjoyed the careful placement of 18th century prose by use of direct quotes along with the occasional summarization. I also really liked the inclusion of words that were used for certain items at the time instead of substituting them with overly descriptive imagery and explanations. Though I had to reach for my dictionary a couple times, I found it refreshing to learn the names of objects that are not common in today’s daily life and language.

As far as the storyline is concerned, people familiar and unfamiliar with it will find it intriguing and the writing compelling. It would make a great addition to anyone’s historical or medical biography literary collection.

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Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Three Angels Over Rancho Grande by Viola M. Payne

Pat Martinez looked up into Jim’s cold eyes. “You arrested me once,” Jim said as he fingered the rope in his hands. “But this time, I’ve come after you. I’ll drag you behind my horse until I tear you to pieces!”

Alone against Jim and his men, Pat’s mind raced. Instinctively, he dismissed saints and priest and church, and prayed silently to the Being who created the universe. “Lord, please help me! Remember that I have a big family. There’s only one man to take care of that family, and that’s Pat!”

Three Angels Over Rancho Grande is the dramatic story of Patrocinio Martinez, a part-Apache pioneer settler in the old Southwest. As sheriff in Socorro County, New Mexico, he apprehended many criminals but never killed a man. A faithful member of the Catholic Church, he and his large family would never be the same after Brother Vargas came to town with his message of the Bible’s three angels.

In this story of the old West and the settling of the New Mexico territory , God guides the life of Pat Martinez and his children, including Max Martinez, who went on to be a missionary, church leader, and patriarch of the church in the Texico Conference. Three Angels Over Rancho Grande traces the origins of a family whose contributions to the work of God are now so far-reaching that they can never fully be known until eternity begins.

Three Angels Over Rancho GrandeThree Angels Over Rancho Grande by Viola M. Payne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading about the life and impact of the Patrocinio Martinez family as they settled in the Southwestern United States. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a casual read, enjoys pioneership, and stories about the old West.

I love reading about New Mexican culture and heritage. Viola Payne brings to light many of the victories and hardships within a historical timeline of activities that surrounded Native persons and recorded interactions with settlers. The second half of the book was more focused on Seventh Day Adventist indoctrination. I wasn’t as excited to read about it in such depth when compared to the lively, attention-capturing events that were told in previous chapters.

She puts amazing perspective to character development and cultural adaptation in a relaxed, informal, yet well-though-out writing style. Patrocinio Martinez was a sheriff in the most classical sense and his adventures reflect just that. This book includes everything from brawls, horsemanship, childrearing, farming, hospitality, legacy, friendship, family, and self-reflection- which all strongly support the title and importance of faith in this book.

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