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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps shows that to be a cohesive nation we have to uphold foundational truths about ourselves, our history, and reality itself—to be unionists instead of disintegrationists. Shapiro offers a vital warning that if we don’t recover these shared truths, our future—our union—as a great country is threatened with destruction.

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I thought this was a really interesting read.

Certain terms, phrases, dates, historical figures, and U.S./world events can get confusing to me, some things I forget over time, some I don’t always feel I can articulate well to other people much less sort them in my mind when engaging in conversation. So I’m always trying to find ways to stimulate my mind, move from vague notions and memorization to practical application and meaning to daily life. This book helped to clarify and connect a lot of concepts for me.

Here’s how I organized this review.

Readership recommendation. Audiobook. The writing style. Tone. Book organization. Personal interest/relevancy. Credibility. Subjects of interest. Questions to ask.

Readership recommendation.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. Whether you’re seeking to understand U.S. history as a citizen, expat, or foreigner, a student, a casual learner looking for an accessible review of history or historical refresher, anyone looking to solidify their thoughts and knowledge of certain subjects, or anyone seeking clarification of how U.S. history, founded on certain principles and culture, plays out in today’s climate.

Audiobook.
I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by the author, which was excellent and I’d highly recommend. There was a lot packed into this 6-hour long book. He talked rather fast, as in running words together, but it was clearest for me at 0.9x speed, so I actually quite enjoyed listening because I did like the fast pacing of concepts as they come to his mind in the way he explained them following up and qualifying instantaneously if that makes sense. Though I did find myself still hitting replay of the previous 15 seconds button several times throughout the book so I could grasp the words and absorb the sentiments better. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I understood exactly when he was stating opposing viewpoints/opinions or not, though some were quite animated by impressions or quotes that were easier to pick out, though some were a bit silly, both hilarious and silly I suppose.

The writing style.
It was a very inviting, conversational approach to writing. Proposing questions, exploring alternative/opposing viewpoints/endings from a philosophical standpoint, rationales. I liked the format.

Tone.
Based on my interpretation of the title and description, I thought there possibly could be an underlying negative tone, is the U.S. doomed to fail, feeling throughout the book, possibly focusing on negative or opposing opinions of today and debating them into an oblivion of despair.

But it was actually quite hopeful and refreshing to explore U.S. philosophy, culture, and history and what the founders wanted to achieve at the time and what can be celebrated today. And to whom, in essence, achieved a certain timelessness to the principles, time they spent putting their ideas and words into a physical document to stand for the foreseeable future as a society moving forward in an era where such concepts were actually quite unique, radical, and well-developed for the time, even compared to other countries today.

Book organization.
I liked how the book was organized. It outlined in both a time-wise fashion and topical discussion simultaneously, depicting key dates and principles and culture that were key to the founding and development as a country we know today. With a recapping of ideas for each chapter conclusion, letting me know I absorbed something.

Personal interest/relevancy.
When it comes to certain key events in history, I like to know what other people around the world were doing. I like to know what my grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were doing. I also like to connect pop culture, certain advancements, novel ideas, and inventions to events of the time and he touched on some of these things I seek out which made the social outlook and political reasoning much more personal and solidified in my mind. I’d like to see more maps and timelines cross-referencing and depicting things like this, I don’t know if there were any in the book because I had the audiobook version, maybe I missed out.

Credibility.
I’m a cross-checker and I love research. The author did a good job providing supporting data, citing them, and then explaining what about U.S. history is true, both in realities and intentions of forethought, and what was actually applied. What some of the myths and misnomers are. I liked the multiple historical and relational examples he gave, which were detailed enough to bridge the concepts, but also weren’t academically dry or belabored to read.

Subject matter.
I gleaned a lot and you may glean a lot from the book if learning about any of these topics appeal to you:

Speech policing/censorship, emotional sensitivity, religious freedom/protection, racism, affirmative action, tribalism, tyranny, secular universalism, monopolies, union power, risk aversion, boycotting, shifting policies pressure, Industrial Revolution, white/black women income gaps, The 1619 Project, 3/5th Compromise, social media mobbing, the human soul, reason, natural law, and eternal ideals.

Questions to ask.
I gained understanding and you may gain understanding in the interpretation of founding documents (especially as it relates to legal interpretation and social implications), by asking questions such as:

-Why did founders seek to build the country in such a way anyway?

-What is meant by Western civilization settling and who determines what that society should look like?

-Does humanity have a need for community and thus a need for communal standards?

-How is freedom and virtue defined?

-Should the government be enforcing virtue?

-What should the expectation be for individual rights VS communal self-control?

-How does bringing forth the freedom and prosperity of the past and today compare to any other country or civilization in history?

-What is the theme of The Declaration of Independence?

-What does it represent at the very core?

-Was it intended to be an allegiance to ideals?

-What was the intention of the U. S. Constitution? Was it mean to be the protector of rights or the source of them?

-Where/how are rights sourced?

-What is the difference between the scope and capacity of rights?

-What does it mean to have a democracy with limited government involvement?

-What is the role of government in our lives?

-How can society achieve a balance of power between people and the government?

-What internal checks are in place to prevent imbalance of power?

-What about competing values?

-What is the difference between a backdrop of an event or figure compared to the motivating idea put forth?

-Was U.S. wealth dependent on slavery?

-What was the first country to abolish slavery? The last? First existence and what forms of slavery exist today?

-Why exactly did the South lose the Civil War?

-Why did it occur/what were the contributing factors to the Civil War in the first place?

-Why was slavery not a written abolishment in The Declaration of Independence?

-Is the U.S. embracing diversity more than ever?

-What is the difference between disparity and discrimination?

-What is the difference between restorative discrimination and equal protection of the law?

-What are the liberties and requirements of mankind?

-What is the measurement of success in obtaining freedoms as written in the constitution and is it a moving target?

I’ll leave it at that and say I learned a lot. I think other readers will glean a lot from this book and find it to be stimulating no matter what origin, background, worldview, or position held on any of the subject matter.



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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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Adventure Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

On July 8, 1879, Captain George Washington De Long and his team of thirty-two men set sail from San Francisco on the USS Jeanette. Heading deep into uncharted Arctic waters, they carried the aspirations of a young country burning to be the first nation to reach the North Pole. 

Two years into the voyage, the Jeannette’s hull was breached by an impassable stretch of pack ice, forcing the crew to abandon ship amid torrents of rushing of water. Hours later, the ship had sunk below the surface, marooning the men a thousand miles north of Siberia, where they faced a terrifying march with minimal supplies across the endless ice pack.

Enduring everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and labyrinths of ice, the crew battled madness and starvation as they struggled desperately to survive. With thrilling twists and turns, In The Kingdom of Ice is a tale of heroism and determination in the most brutal place on Earth.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Super comprehensive and I loved every bit of it.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Arthur Morey, which was excellent.

Loved the questions of wonder. What animals would be present around the Arctic. Mammoths, ancient civilizations, passageways that would lead to the bowels of the earth, so much undiscovered and I loved the telling of it all.



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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 Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Mystery Nonfiction Thriller

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

Beneath the gloss of star chefs and crystal-laden tables, the truffle supply chain is touched by theft, secrecy, sabotage, and fraud. Farmers patrol their fields with rifles and fear losing trade secrets to spies. Hunters plant poisoned meatballs to eliminate rival truffle-hunting dogs. Naive buyers and even knowledgeable experts are duped by liars and counterfeits. 

This exposé documents the dark, sometimes deadly crimes at each level of the truffle’s path from ground to plate, making sense of an industry that traffics in scarcity, seduction, and cash.

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An absolutely fascinating account about everything the truffle has to offer. The story went into great detail about this delectable treat.

Satisfying the curiosity behind understanding and better appreciating the experience and taste, status and glamour, told as it relates to a symbol of class, wealth, and refinement, taking a journalistic approach into the cultivation, the industry, the demand, food culture, food fraud, organized crime, and the sense of identity, pride, and accomplishment around this highly-prized fungus that is unlike any other thing you could ever eat, much less grow to highly proper standards accordingly.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Ari Fliakos, who spoke so clear, direct, well-paced. His delivery of the story, so well-suited for true crime in the most classic way, really made the story, I’d highly recommend the audiobook version.

The story. It covered it all, from the science behind the fungus to truffle hunting dogs. And I’m not at all ashamed to say I spent some time looking up photos of these little Ewok faces, breeders near me, how to train them properly. “Butterscotch” and “Macchiato” are the names I have picked out.

With that, the writing was excellent. It revealed like a thriller. Informative at times, a slow-burn then punchy when it needed to be. It took the approach to include the author’s realtime journalistic experience which made it all that much more personal and intriguing. It added to the depth as each product and the lore behind each truffle story was told without reservation with the goals outlining the fulfillment of culinary promises, insight into the mysterious inner-workings, and the network of people behind them.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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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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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship – the fastest then in service – could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small – hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. 

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent account of the Lusitania. I listened to this via audiobook narrated by Scott Brink, who had a soothing, deep voice, also excellent.

The Lusitania, described as a luxurious transatlantic passenger ocean liner with a hull of a battleship, sank on May 7, 1915. It only took 18 minutes to sink. Over 1,000 innocent people drowned. A maritime disaster, changing the course of WWI.

This book described the surrounding events in great detail, from the design of u-boats, the U-20 in particular, from the making and outfitting of the torpedo that hit the ship, characteristics of a zig-zag course in question as the Lusitania made its way through the Celtic Sea. The book also covers events of the time including parties, the oppression of war, German naval policy, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision-making process, and a dynamic love story.

I liked the organization of the book, integrating backstory with current events of the time. I really enjoyed the additional tidbits of sailors’ superstitions such as unlucky days to sail and the thought-provoking presentation to better understanding of English supremacy of the seas.

Cleverly done were the inclusions of multiple inquiries of the time as well as today such as how such a sinking of sorts could have happened to such a large, sturdy ship, with so many lives lost, its course of action, course of sailing, and the major questioning of the additional contents on board: weaponry and its role in the 2nd explosion that happened on board after the torpedo hit. It offered explanations and alternative theories about the curious circumstances.

What I really appreciated about this book were the tributes to individual victims. The book also discussed the emotion felt between loved ones attempting to find closure in the absence of a victim’s body and being caught between hope and grief, as well as the overall aftermath of the disaster and how their lives went on.

I highly recommend this one to anyone, especially those who may be less clear as to how the sinking of this ship played a major part in leading the United States into WWI.

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Audiobooks Featured Humor Nonfiction

Wanderlust, USA by Flula Borg

Flula Borg’s life is the stuff of myth. A frequent guest of Conan O’Brien, the German-born actor (think Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat crossed with Billy Eichner) regales audiences with stories from his outlandish travel exploits, and his fascination with America and its “peoples” have warmed hearts nationwide. Flula fell in love with the United States on his first visit as a young boy, and calls this vast country full of exciting, creative, weird, and compassionate people superoberaffengeil – “incredibly top monkey sassy” or, simply, “cool.”

In this zany, eye-opening and delightful six-part audio series, Flula travels the breadth of the United States in search of its coveted and weirdest pastimes to learn more about the country, and better understand what drives people to these cultural events. His adventures include:

Experiencing the famed Iditarod dog-sledding race in Alaska
Partying Up during the World Cup of Surfing in Hawaii
Donning Elvis duds for Elvis Week in Memphis
Portraying a Minuteman at Lexington’s famous Revolutionary War reenactment

In each episode, Flula can be found “shooting the poops” as he calls it with the people he meets, including event organizers, participants, founders, and spectators. His goal is to understand what these quintessentially American event means to the communities involved, how each came to exist, and why they have all persisted – and of course, how he can take part! In addition, each segment is filled with fictional advertisements and mini episodes that explore a region or city’s local haunt, as well as techno tracks created entirely from the sounds he recorded at each event.

Infused with Flula’s infectious enthusiasm, Wanderlust, USA is an immersive and uproarious experience that reveals the heart of America in a unique way. Boom!

Wanderlust, USAWanderlust, USA by Flula Borg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh goodness this was hilarious!

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Libro.fm for providing me with a free copy.

I enjoyed this one as an audiobook, narrated by the author himself which was awesome.

This book was such a great mood setter for me, light-hearted and making me laugh the entire time. And it came at the perfect time. Some parts were silly and a little over the top but unremarkably amusing at any rate.

It featured first-hand experiences of a German-born foreigner learning about American pastimes and command of the English language, and I loved it. I liked the production of telephone interviews and music, super clever.

From surf culture and Keanu Reeves to pen pals and germs, the Kentucky Derby post prime unicorns, I felt that every topic mentioned was described with such entertaining enthusiasm and fresh perspective.

The author, well-communicated and with innocence, almost naive wordplay, brought incredible awareness of American culture and historic events from a non native point of view, and it just spoke to the comedic brilliance that the author has in any story he wants to tell.

There were point of references of mainstream societal expectations, out-of-the-box social norms, modern and nostalgic pop culture, and American history that really depicted the uniqueness of both the content of his stories and the talent of the author himself to make such connections and inferences while portraying them as funny in a book type format.

And I’m still laughing as I write this!

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Adventure Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin

With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas.

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s―when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them.

Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them towering Blackbeard, ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey.

Also brilliantly detailed are the pirates’ manifold enemies, including colonial governor John Winthrop, evangelist Cotton Mather, and young Benjamin Franklin. Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides this wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious PiratesBlack Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book! I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by Paul Brion who was excellent. He was easy to listen to, being well-paced and unstrained, which was perfect for this book. I did miss the illustrations in the physical copy unfortunately, but I felt like the audio version was way to go for informationally dense, topically focused subject matter.

It followed pirate chronicles, mostly those sailing around the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th century, covering a vast amount of interesting material from their goals and accomplishments, the pursuits, intention, tactic and missions, flag identification, penalties, colonization, the weaponry, and even clothing, busting the myths and telling the truths of widely known events and biographical detail.

I liked how it was organized that being both chronological and topical as to not double back over certain points and being easy to follow, keeping the story going in a direction where there was focused story building and climax unique to most nonfiction books.

I also liked the outlook the author brought into the history, taking speculation and known facts into context for the time, even when it came to brutality and forms of entertainment as understood by the people living it whether observer or participant.

I’d highly recommend this well-researched book for anyone interested in a general overview of pirate life as a whole or for anyone wanting to gain insight into a specific pirate, time, or place and build from there.

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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 Book Reviews Books Featured Humor Nonfiction Poetry

On Cats by Charles Bukowski

A raw and tenderly funny look at the human-cat relationship, from one of our most treasured and transgressive writers.

“The cat is the beautiful devil.”

Felines touched a vulnerable spot in Charles Bukowski’s crusty soul. For the writer, there was something majestic and elemental about these inscrutable creatures he admired, sentient beings whose searing gaze could penetrate deep into our being. Bukowski considered cats to be unique forces of nature, elusive emissaries of beauty and love.

On Cats offers Bukowski’s musings on these beloved animals and their toughness and resiliency. He honors them as fighters, hunters, survivors who command awe and respect as they grip tightly onto the world around them: “A cat is only ITSELF, representative of the strong forces of life that won’t let go.”

Funny, moving, tough, and caring, On Cats brings together the acclaimed writer’s reflections on these animals he so admired. Bukowski’s cats are fierce and demanding—he captures them stalking their prey; crawling across his typewritten pages; waking him up with claws across the face. But they are also affectionate and giving, sources of inspiration and gentle, insistent care.

Poignant yet free of treacle, On Cats is an illuminating portrait of this one-of-a-kind artist and his unique view of the world, witnessed through his relationship with the animals he considered his most profound teachers.

On CatsOn Cats by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Libro.fm for providing me with a free copy.

A totally unexpected like. I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Roger Wayne, which I’d highly recommend. He brought out a certain sentiment about the characterization of cat traits as well as the human perception and experiences with them using a calm, thoughtful, introspective quality to his voice.

This book was hilarious. It’s not a book I would typically pick out for myself, that being poetry and one about cats. First, poetry is not a genre I choose so often because typically it is so specific to one’s own experience and not usually relatable or entertaining enough for me in most cases. Second, I’m more of a dog lover myself. Specifically chocolate labs. But like any teenage girl, I had several cats growing up, a calendar of furry friends in a basket pinned to the wall, and wore purple sweatshirts with the most adorable kitty cats posing on the front. You can clearly see my love for cats as a little girl in the featured photo. It depicts a painting I made in grade school. Best friends with a cat forever. I also understand the love and dislike for specific behaviors and personalities that cats embody.

So this book was actually a little treasure, a quick, just over an hour long mix of poems and short stories about cats in the most reflective and accurate way. Some parts were a little crude for my taste however, the reality and idealistic silly and weird things that cats do and our human response to them were portrayed with such candor that I found myself being completely amused and intrigued by the allegory and sensibility found in a cat’s life, whether neighborhood annoyance or companion.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

“This book about rivers is as fascinating as it’s beautifully written.”—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Upheaval


A “fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring” natural history of rivers and their complex and ancient relationship with human civilization (Elizabeth Kolbert).

Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of human civilization. They have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and can capriciously destroy everything in their path. Even today, rivers remain a powerful global force — one that is more critical than ever to our future.

In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith explores the timeless yet vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important in many practical ways (water supply, transportation, sanitation). But the full breadth of their profound influence on the way we live is less obvious. Rivers define and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Huge volumes of river water are used to produce energy, raw commodities, and food. Wars, politics, and demography are transformed by their devastating floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to each other, and the migrations and histories of their peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.

Beautifully told and expansive in scope, Rivers of Power reveals how and why rivers have so profoundly influenced our civilization, and examines the importance this vast, arterial power holds for our present, past, and future.

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our WorldRivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Loved the opening. This book was super insightful and covered a wide variety of influences and the impact that rivers have on the world. There was so much I learned from this book and I liked the amount on detail overall.

This book was very well-researched which I really appreciated.

There were times I thought the organization was not as strong as it could have been. But I could see the challenge in deciding how chapters/concepts would be organized. Choosing from chronological, geographical region, topical, etc… There was much overlap to work through, also my feelings about the order may be in part because of the ARC I received.

Sometimes the writing took on a journalistic approach, sometimes a personal opinion piece, other times some facts and connections read sort of like an 8th grade book report. The facts and personal experiences themselves were certainly compelling, but the writing kind of droned on sometimes. Like the writing got away. Away on some bunny trails. Facts were interesting but a tad misplaced on occasion as it went into the depths of history/current events that were somewhat related but contained unnecessary supporting information/random associations that I was less inclined to care about for what I really wanted to read about in this book as far as the continuation of the topics go.

However I most definitely discovered some fascinating information about rivers and I think anyone would enjoy learning about these rivers of power and how they have shaped and continue to shape our lives.

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