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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger

From the authors of the  New York Times  bestseller  George Washington’s Secret Six , the little-known story of Thomas Jefferson’s battle to defend America against Islamic pirates. 

Only weeks after President Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, he decided to confront the Tripoli pirates who had been kidnapping American ships and sailors, among other outrageous acts. Though inclined toward diplomacy, Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli and protect American shipping, and then escalated to all-out war against the Barbary states. 
 
The tiny American flotilla—with three frigates representing half of the U.S. Navy’s top-of-the-line ships—had some success in blockading the Barbary coast. But that success came to an end when the USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. Kilmeade and Yaeger recount the dramatic story of a young American sailor, Stephen Decatur, who snuck into the harbor, boarded the Philadelphia, and set her on fire before escaping amid a torrent of enemy gunfire.
 
Another amazing story is that of William Eaton’s daring attack on the port city of Derna. He led a detachment of Marines on a 500-mile trek across the desert to surprise the port. His strategy worked, and an American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil for the first time.  
 
Few remember Decatur and Eaton today, but their legacy inspired the opening of the Marine Corps Hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea.”

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates tells a dramatic story of bravery, diplomacy, and battle on the high seas, and honors some of America’s forgotten heroes.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning anything about pirates, the history of the U.S. Navy, as well as the life of Thomas Jefferson and other key players during the domination of the Ottoman Regencies.

I listened via audiobook by Brian Kilmeade which was great, read like an interesting news story.

It really opened my eyes to many of the things taken for granted through transatlantic commerce as well as oversight of the seas without a navy, the effect on insurance, and trade diplomacy. As well as Barbary Wars situation with its significance to end piracy within the North African coastal regions. I really liked hearing about the USS Washington.

I absolutely loved the description of the floating zoo, carrying not only the ambassador but captives and gift of 4 horses, 25 cattle, 150 sheep, 4 lions, 4 tigers, 12 parrots, 4 antelopes, on top of pointing the ship East in observance of Mecca 5 times daily sailing in storms and all.

This book really made the history come to life.

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a deep, honest, and insightful book about schizophrenia and the impact on a specific family and society as a whole.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Sean Pratt, who paced the story well, spoke clearly and all-around easy to listen to.

It took a comprehensive look into the history, perceptions of the condition from family members, the community, and fragmentation of the diagnosis, treatment, impact on family, and social aspects of the time and moving forward. It told the story from the mindset of how it things were in reality and were perceived at the time.

I thought it as great in how it integrated personal story with the more clinical aspects. It didn’t shy away from the painful, difficult, and emotional hardships and paid tribute to those involved with great sensitivity given their experiences.

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was really interesting.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Louis Brealy whose voice, tone, accent, pronunciation, and pacing fit the story well, I’d highly recommend.

The focus of untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper was different than what I thought it was going to be. It actually told in parallel, each woman’s life with the societal norms of the time and gave tribute to their personal lives which I thought was typically unique for true crime books.

It took on a different angle, distinguishing formal versus informal acts of prostitution, views on homelessness, poverty, marriage, sexuality, social expectations and achievements, and told compelling stories of murder victims and ideas that I was less familiar with.

Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was bogged down with speculation, phrases like “this would imply… which would have been… likely this or that…” but I actually found myself appreciating this stance the more I read on. Perhaps it was because I think that it was somewhat of a risky, bold choice and took a unique skill, often a difficult one for nonfiction authors to convey when trying to tell a story in which we really don’t know all the facts, but know enough facts to support certain theories and show a likelihood of certain premises to make for a readable story that can be turned into a book.

Then tell a compelling yet information heavy piece without being overly speculative or watered down, overly bias, conveying agenda driven tones, or presenting overly academic narratives, in which I wondered thoughts one might have when deciding whether to change a powerful nonfiction story depicting true injustices toward women into historical fiction that may or may not be just as powerful.

But this book stuck to it, presenting true stories and interjections of theory that I felt was incredibly interesting and engaging, though not completely seamless because the phrases had to be there, but they all made sense and helped me gain an entire perspective of society of the time, what the thought process was, and evoke a relatability factor to today’s issues of importance, which was actually quite timeless.

The press time was given to the victims instead of the killer and the main argument was whether or not they were sex workers and whether that made them a target in exploring other vulnerabilities to crimes against them and whether empathy on either front made the crimes less tragic and the women less worthy.

And I think this took great skill not only from a research level but the writing took it to the level of daily living, from what they ate and drank, a pint and potatoes, infusing details, depictions of humanity, finding common ground in struggles, community living, to make the stories of these women strong and explore the inaccuracies in which these women are often mislabeled.

Which almost in a statistical sense could be seen as dismissive and contradictory to what the author was presenting, yet proposed the question of ideal and deserving victims, dark figure of crime, coercion, isolation, stigmas, reparations, and then what has become of moral, social, and political response and how outlooks may or may not have changed over time.



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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing.

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.

King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Practical and creative, somewhat of an autobiographical approach to the writing process. It is a book I’ve kept coming back to time and time again, a gem of a book from a sage of a writer.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Stephen King himself, and I’d highly recommend it.

I loved how the author, one of my favorite authors at that, wrote about conventional and unconventional methods to writing, examining the reader-author bond of understanding, providing examples, and incorporating his personal story to provide context for the writing lifestyle, methodology, and great entertainment.

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone and I’m always so grateful for those who can share their personal undertakings in such a way.



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Don’t you just love the cover of my latest writing journal? It’s a design from my sister’s watercolor collection Sleeping in Lily Pond!

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

N —– by Dick Gregory, Robert Lipsyte

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night…”

Nigger by Dick Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Such an impactful story. This was a reread for me, having read it in high school, a suggested reading from my history teacher who always said “Know history and know it well.” I would highly recommend this to anyone.

You might question the title, it’s controversial, you might be put off to reading this book by it, you may be curious. I can tell you that the author addresses this in the first part of the book and explains that he was not careless in his choice. As an autobiography, it’s a deep look into the author’s personal life, growing up, navigating life, his observations, all of it, profoundly relevant to today’s climate.

It’s a book I’ve had on my TBR for a while now, one that I’ve been wanting to reread as an adult, comparing the social context and my initial thoughts of when I first read it to a future time in my life, much like rereading Orwell’s 1984. So when I saw it was published as an audiobook this year, I moved it up on my list, and with the current events, it became even more pressing on my mind. It put a lot of the pressing issues into greater and deeper context revisiting it.

The audiobook is narrated by Prentice Ongyemi and Christian Gregory, which I’d highly recommend.

The story.

The book is based off of the author’s individual experience, but expands on an experience that was not all his own. It was powerful and impactful, his story told with honesty, humility, and optimism. He wrote about his childhood and journey through adulthood, which included historic events such as the March on Washington and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, both of which took place in 1963.

I enjoyed the introductory piece, by his son, Dr. Christian Gregory. It set the pacing for the story.

The writing.

All I can say is that the writing is touching, moving, and beautiful. There was a lot of detail, but it also remained to the point, much like a conversation, drawing in such a personal way that I felt intertwined with his life achievements, joys, disappointments, and struggles.

The tone was rich in sentiment, that words mean things and that context matters. And even more so he brought such a great understanding to what it meant and how it felt to be called a word so hurtful, so crushing. At the same time disregarded, semantic overload, often unaddressed, sometimes replaced by a euphemism because of the implied racism when used in and of itself, connotation of anger, bitterness, all going back to the ability to destroy someone with a single word.

The story and writing took shape as he elaborated on finding, understanding, and owning his identity in the way he advocated for himself and humanity. While observing and experiencing racial injustices along the way of self discovery, world view, and how he fit in it, he became an activist for respect, dignity, and freedom, and this book, his life journey through it.

FAVORITE LINES:

“Every door of racial prejudice I can kick down, is one less door that my children have to kick down.”

“When you shoot right and truth and justice down, the more right and truth and justice will rise up.”



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ARCs Art Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Graphic Historical Nonfiction

Tolkien’s Worlds: The Places That Inspired the Writer’s Imagination by John Garth

A lavishly illustrated look at the locales familiar to J. R. R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth.

This book takes you to the places that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to create his fictional locations in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other classic works. Written by renowned Tolkien expert John Garth and prepared with the full cooperation of the Tolkien estate, Tolkien’s Worlds features a wealth of breathtaking illustrations, including Tolkien’s own drawings, contributions from other artists, rare archival images, and spectacular color photos of contemporary locations across Britain and beyond, from the battlefields of World War I to Africa.

Garth identifies the locales that served as the basis for Hobbiton, the elven valley of Rivendell, the Glittering Caves of Helm’s Deep, and many other settings in Middle-earth, from mountains and forests to rivers, lakes, and shorelands. He reveals the rich interplay between Tolkien’s personal travels, his wide reading, and his deep scholarship as an Oxford don. Garth draws on his own profound knowledge of Tolkien’s life and work to shed light on the extraordinary processes of invention behind Tolkien’s works of fantasy. He also debunks popular misconceptions about the inspirations for Middle-earth and puts forward strong new claims of his own.

An illustrated journey into the life and imagination of one of the world’s best-loved authors, Tolkien’s Worlds provides a unique exploration of the relationship between the real and the fantastical and is an essential companion for anyone who wants to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps.

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer's imaginationThe Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer’s imagination by John Garth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was awesome.

From gorgeous illustrations to the impressive amount of research, it’s a must have book for any Tolkien collector out there. It will make a beautiful coffee table book in my home and one I’d also recommend as a companion piece to anyone reading one of his pieces or for those just being introduced to the world of Tolkien.

I loved the organization, the range and amount of photos and illustrations, and the amount of detailed discussion of the origin and inspiration that Tolkien depicted in his writing style and world-building mega feat of what I think is the epitome of writing genius.

This book packed so much punch, I admired every bit of information covering the incredibly detailed influences of his work such as geographical processes, ancient architecture, even his recurring nightmares of a wave engulfing the land, bereavements to shipwrecks, and the Elvish language creation which ranged from onomatopoeic words and his studies of Latin.

His imagination was incredible. Some of which also being rooted in a multi-cultural, Gothic atmosphere incorporating unusual caricature from backgrounds of Celtic, Welsh, English, South Africa, and Icelandic tradition, folklore, and wartime events. This book covered it all.

I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since first picking up my first read, The Hobbit, in the 5th grade, and this gave me an even greater appreciation for the creativity that went into his writing.

It was also compelling in the way it made me want to visit all the glorious places, exhilarating locations as some of the foundations for settings in his books, a Tolkien tour.

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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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