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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Year of Dangerous Days Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin

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In the tradition of The Wire, the harrowing story of the cinematic transformation of Miami, one of America’s most bustling cities—rife with a drug epidemic, a burgeoning refugee crisis, and police brutality—from journalist and award-winning author Nicholas Griffin

Miami, Florida, famed for its blue skies and sandy beaches, is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, with nearly twenty-three million tourists visiting annually. But few people have any idea how this unofficial capital of Latin America came to be.

The Year of Dangerous Days is a fascinating chronicle of a pivotal but forgotten year in American history. With a cast that includes iconic characters such as Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, and Janet Reno, this slice of history is brought to life through intertwining personal stories. At the core, there’s Edna Buchanan, a reporter for the Miami Herald who breaks the story on the wrongful murder of a black man and the shocking police cover-up; Captain Marshall Frank, the hardboiled homicide detective tasked with investigating the murder; and Mayor Maurice Ferré, the charismatic politician who watches the case, and the city, fall apart.

On a roller coaster of national politics and international diplomacy, these three figures cross paths as their city explodes in one of the worst race riots in American history as more than 120,000 Cuban refugees land south of Miami, and as drug cartels flood the city with cocaine and infiltrate all levels of law enforcement. In a battle of wills, Buchanan has to keep up with the 150 percent murder rate increase; Captain Frank has to scrub and rebuild his homicide bureau; and Mayor Ferré must find a way to reconstruct his smoldering city. Against all odds, they persevere, and a stronger, more vibrant Miami begins to emerge. But the foundation of this new Miami—partially built on corruption and drug money—will have severe ramifications for the rest of the country.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Interesting, insightful, I learned so much. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Pete Simonelli who was pleasant to listen to. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone.

I came into it having visited Miami just a handful of times, wondering about how much Miami has changed over the years, the cultural exchange and influence, crime data analysis, and wondering what ever happened to that little boy named Elián who come into country floating on a raft, remembering the news reels, the wet feet, dry feet policy and the controversy over that, events leading up to how it all came to be.

The Story
I feel like it presented a fair assessment. Everything from culture of law enforcement, criminal conviction. Drug trade. Crisis and money exchange. Permissive and restrictive regulations. Drug enforcement tactic. Justice system. All coming down to questions about violent minorities representing immigrants, Cubans seeking asylum, language integration and language exclusion, cuisine variation, and how it all came to be, Miami, deemed as an unofficial capital of Latin America.

The Writing
It was easy to get into. I enjoyed the organization, the timeline both chronological, but also a re-examination of events with new information and context as they were seen and now.

A complex and fascinating history.

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Categories
Biography Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him.

In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend.

He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really appreciated this one. I read it for Life’s Library Book Club. It was certainly different than what I expected and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to write in general and for gaining insight into other people’s life experiences. It has useful information and is a book that has essays that each have different tone and approach that would be great considerations for style. For advice, example, perspective. It’s a heavy and vulnerable read, one you’ll want to set aside ample time for or one you’ll want to devote making room in your emotional space for.

It would make a great pick for writing circles and book clubs wanting to explore a very reflective, naive, age-specific/life stage, pondering of how the author viewed and processed the world around him as a teen which shaped him into adulthood as he retells it. Journeying with him and learning how he fit into the world, development of self, cultural identity, social class, sexuality, sexual maturity as a whole, belonging. Fitting in. Not only loss, but rejection.

I honestly didn’t know about this one at first. A battle of my expectations. Times I thought wow this is genius other times I was like what in the world am I reading?

The Story
I won’t speak too much about the content from the autobiographical part for sake of spoiling it. I initially went into it without taking in the blurb which I think gave me a fresh dive into it during the initial chapter. Apart from his victories/tragedies I didn’t feel like I got to know the author, but it came full circle toward the end so if you’re thinking about DNFing the book at any point, hang in there.

The content as far as writing advice was very different. Approach at times was quite frustrating for me, but wasn’t without purpose. It is a unique take on a book titled “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays.” It was a unique book for an autobiography/memoir. It turned into an almost telling a story within a story about a story while writing a story which I quite enjoyed overall.

The Writing
Really enjoyed his writing style overall when he was writing. Some essays in and of themselves were a bit disjointed but I think that may have been deliberate to show different takes on writing style? Overall I loved the style which was to the point, not overly descriptive, yet drew clever detail/simile out of the scene. Simplicity by choosing just a few, accurate and profound concepts. He is super talented.

POV/Tense
Interesting.

Tone
At times sort of less optimistic and my thoughts about certain essays reflect that in some ways. I didn’t know the last chapter would take a turn like it did at the beginning, a bit jarring mention of religion and politics, and the last paragraphs left me a bit longing, but perhaps that was the point?

A lot of writing gems both subtle and overt. A lot memory retrieval for me from a writing aspect.

Side note, my favorite Stephen King novel is also Firestarter.

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Deckled Edges, always a nice touch.
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Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

George Bickham’s Penmanship Made Easy (Young Clerks Assistant) by George Bickham

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George Bickham was an enterprising eighteenth-century engraver and calligrapher who promoted the practice of proper penmanship. This volume, an unabridged reprint of his now extremely rare calligraphy manual, The Young Clerks Assistant,provided “young practitioners” with much valuable information on how to write not only legibly but also with beauty and grace. 

The book begins with “Directions for Learners,” a series of helpful hints on forming letters, holding the pen, arm and wrist positions, proper posture, and so on, followed by a wealth of calligraphic specimens: alphabets, maxims, didactic verses, and other words of advice for elevating the moral standards of the young.

For modern calligraphers, Bickham’s guide offers an abundance of models for imitation and provides a delightful look back at the instruction manuals and teaching methods of the mid-1700s. Enhanced with many charming engravings, this hard-to-find antique teaching tool can be read as easily for pleasure as for inspiration. It will appeal to calligraphers, graphic artists, and any devotee of fine penmanship. 

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

George Bickham’s Penmanship Made Easy by George Bickham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Practicing cursive has been so much fun and very relaxing during lockdown. I’d highly recommend this book one to anyone who is interested in learning or perfecting.

I got my copy from Townsends. Which is printed on textured paper and bound together with stitching. A very nice touch.

I’ve wanted to continue to practice for many years and have finally picked it up again, I’m especially finding it helpful for adding a bit of elegance to my crafts/card-making activities.

Originally published in 1787, this booklet is for those who want to learn the art of penmanship.

It has fancy scripts ranging from Italian to Roman style, Round-hand, German, Square Text, Old English- which is a more heavy-handed gothic serif of sorts calligraphy, to more whimsical, infinity loops/scroll, all very beautiful.

I loved the comparisons of alphabet letters, the instructions that were presented with verses, as well as story poetry lines.

Really loved that the letter “x” is not xylophone, instead the example spells Xerxes. That’s how kids learned the letter back then.

I particulary found it helpful to develop my style of: P, A, D, X, L, Q, G, C, R, S, J, f, d.

I’m looking forward to practicing some more.

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Sketch Book | Erica Robbin
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“The Young Clerks Assistant or Penmanship Made Easy” was originally published in 1787. This booklet contains directions for young practitioners who wish to learn the art of penmanship. 

Begins with basic directions on the formation of letters and then contains many examples of different hands to copy.

Calligraphy Practice | Erica Robbin
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Calligraphy Alphabet Letters | Erica Robbin
1798 Classroom Rules | Erica Robbin
This photo (above) is a copy of some 1798 school rules.

Calligraphy Letter Practice | Erica Robbin

Rule 4. Do not scribble in your own or one another’s spelling, reading, writing, or ciphering books.

In particular, I’ve tried to find my style of the following letters:

P, A, D, X, L, Q, G, C, R, S, J, f, d

Do you enjoy building on your style of penmanship/cursive?What type of pens do you use? Let me know in the comments below!

One style I want to try next is Persian calligraphy.

Categories
ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured Nonfiction

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen, Elisa Ung

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A powerful memoir of resilience, friendship, family, and food from the acclaimed chefs behind the award-winning Hy Vong Vietnamese restaurant in Miami.

Through powerful narrative, archival imagery, and 20 Vietnamese recipes that mirror their story, Mango & Peppercorns is a unique contribution to culinary literature.

In 1975, after narrowly escaping the fall of Saigon, pregnant refugee and gifted cook Tung Nguyen ended up in the Miami home of Kathy Manning, a graduate student and waitress who was taking in displaced Vietnamese refugees. This serendipitous meeting evolved into a decades-long partnership, one that eventually turned strangers into family and a tiny, no-frills eatery into one of the most lauded restaurants in the country.

Tung’s fierce practicality often clashed with Kathy’s free-spirited nature, but over time, they found a harmony in their contrasts—a harmony embodied in the restaurant’s signature mango and peppercorns sauce.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness I loved this so much! I would like to thank Chronicle Books for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to everyone. One that I think everyone would love to have in their cookbook library and it would be a great book club pick.

It’s really a special book, unique with the merging of memoir and cookbook, done excellently.

When reading it I felt like a special friend was sharing a piece of their heart with me, something deep, almost sacred, along recipes that most restaurants hold tightly, and to share them at this point in time made me feel all that more fortunate to have them.

The Story
Depicting life journeys, business journeys, so honest in every which way. From fleeing Saigon as a refugee as the Vietnam War came to an end in 1975 to interpersonal relationships, struggles and celebrations.

It’s very personal as it depicts themes of cultural assimilation, customs, social class, restauranteurship, personal relationships, child-rearing, and everything along the way.

It evoked this strong sense of community, belonging, all while detailing what it also feels like to be an imposter, foreigner, lonely, lost, undeserving, all while having hope and living the best way you know how.

I loved the bluntness, newness, and vulnerability, bringing me in perspective not only as it was and but also how it was perceived.

The Writing
Incredibly well-written and well-organized. I loved how the stories were told in parallel, multiple POVs done really well.

I loved the photos.

The Recipes
I’m excited to try them all. So far I’ve tried two, absolutely delicious so far! Keep an eye on my website as I work my way through them.

A book that made me laugh, made me cry, I felt it to be very touching and I’m looking forward to getting a final copy for myself and for my sister.

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Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong's Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong’s Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Nonfiction

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

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The Book of Five Rings is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but for anyone who wants to apply the timeless principles of this text to their life, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that underlies every level of human interaction. 

The Book of Five Rings was composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Thomas Cleary’s translation is immediately accessible, with an introduction that presents the spiritual background of the warrior tradition. Along with Musashi’s text, Cleary translates here another important Japanese classic on leadership and strategy, The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori, which highlights the ethical and spiritual insights of Taoism and Zen as they apply to the way of the warrior.

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was quite interesting. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Brian Morris, which was great. His voice was deep and resonating, and at 1.5 speed, it was less than 2 hours worth which was the perfect amount of time for me to practice my stylistic handwriting for cards that I was making.

It definitely delivered what it promised, that being teaching the principles of swordsmanship, martial arts of sorts. Something I know nothing about but the application to life in general was insightful.

Practice, anticipation, strategy, situational-awareness, embracing intuitive judgement, more practice.

It was pleasant to listen to as far as content goes, that being about martial arts culture I’m less familiar with. Some parts were a bit redundant and more technical than what I was interested in.

However the observations about human nature and response was incredibly self-revealing, especially for a book that is almost 400 years old. The principles about discipline stand true to today and I got a lot out of it.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out by Michelle Balz

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In No-Waste Composting, you’ll discover the hows and whys of composting and find over a dozen practical step-by-step plans for building both indoor and outdoor composting systems that require a minimal amount of space. 

“I don’t have enough space to compost.” 
“I don’t know what’s safe to compost and what isn’t.” 
“I live in the city, so I don’t think I can compost.” 
“Indoor composting systems are smelly.” 
“I don’t have a garden, so I don’t need to compost.”

You can actually overcome all these doubts and obstacles with the advice found in this book!

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No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out. Plus, 10 projects to repurpose household items into compost-making machines by Michelle Balz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

To answer to the book’s first question, I would say I’m definitely obsessed with composting. Whenever I throw a banana peel away without having access to throwing it into a compost, my heart turns a little, thinking of what could be in the little garden of mine.

This is an excellent book. Content, organization, visual appeal and composition, it’s just perfect. I learned a lot. I’m a hobbiest gardener, it’s one thing I’m super passionate about, and one thing I could do all day, every day, gardening is so incredibly rewarding!

I’d recommend this to any gardener, whether a novice gardener starting out, nervous and a notorious killer of your gifted house plants to an expert who can grow passion fruit and lemon trees indoors like my sister, I think anyone will find a treasure of gardening value in this book.

First, the sans serif stylistic heading and body fonts made the reading experience fun and allowed for an ease of reading that drew me in, which is what I’ve really felt I needed this year.

As far as content, it makes a great case for composting and the enthusiasm is inspiring. I liked the troubleshooting, many methodologies, and the boldness to present how domestic animal manuring could be done.

The writing style is very conversation like, inviting, not overly academic yet packed with useful scientific information and rationale.

Structurally this book is very solid. Introductions to a concept, followed by real-life examples, then how to, step-by-step instructions in creating your own project with very affordable options. You can go fancy or budget.

It has a great amount and mix of photos with graphic images along with excerpt tidbits of supportive, detailed side notes that expanded on a lot of good topics.

I will say there were just a few small parts that were repetitive in nature like the urine being higher in nitrogen, benefits of coffee grounds, layering with leaves, burying the fruit and vegetables to avoid pests, but they were minor and I suppose it was good to be reminded of those principles.

I am so excited for next gardening season! If you are too, I’d highly recommend this one!

Looking forward to trying Bokashi method and I’m curious to try spraying the Bokashi tea on leaves, the terra-cotta method, and the Hügelkultur method. Be sure to tag me with your gardening adventures, I’d love to see what you’ve been up to and what methods you use to amend your soil.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

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In this dazzling collection, Annie Dillard explores the world over, from the Arctic to the Ecuadorian jungle, from the Galapagos to her beloved Tinker Creek. With her entrancing gaze she captures the wonders of natural facts and human meanings: watching a sublime lunar eclipse, locking eyes with a wild weasel, or beholding mirages appearing over Puget Sound through summer.

Annie Dillard is one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary nonfiction and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Teaching a Stone to Talk illuminates the world around us and showcases Dillard in all her enigmatic genius.

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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was alright.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about myself. Well more confirmation about my taste in books actually.

I’m just not much for books that are super contemplative.

Contemplating your naval type stuff. I like action. Like John Wick action. Take me somewhere I didn’t see coming. An underlying life lesson is fine. Some distinct pull from reality or unique observation. Or a cutesy little story about a relationship gone awry and a character who ruins, then saves the day. Or educational, I love educational.

So I have to be honest in that I don’t have the patience for books like this.

I read this one for Life’s Library. I must say it’s introducing me to books I wouldn’t normally read and I do find some value in that.

I read alternating print and audiobook. The audiobook was narrated by Randye Kaye. The audiobook was great at some points, but mostly sounded too much like a computer with mixes of voice inflection that were either jarring or mismatched. Words were typically ran together which was less to my liking. Funny enough though, when sped up, the running of words actually became more isolated, distinct, and more thus more clear.

A variety of POVs. First person present, ugh. Deep contemplation with inferences I didn’t feel attached to most of the way.

A lot of similes which sometimes I appreciated, but so many made it feel like a college entrance exam.

Too abstract for my taste and mood right now. It was overly descriptive for my liking.

There were a lot of general mere observations which I found rather boring to read about. I just didn’t connect to all of the stories. Not real memorable for me.

So what did I like?

I found the mundane activities described about attending the Catholic church, a childlike outlook, deciding which parts were performative and which were meaningful, was confirming to experience.

My favorite part was the telling of the girls of the village wanting to braid and re-braid hair. I think that’s always something so strong among every culture, with integration and an expression of acceptance, endearment, exploration of the world and self, building connection, a bit of joy, skill, and bonding, is girls, mothers, sisters, friends, doing each other’s hair.

I liked the mention of solar eclipse. Having witnessed a few totals and partials in my lifetime, I could appreciate that chapter. The excitement, yet eeriness of birds going silent, darkening, and wondering what people back in the day thought about the world ending.

I also liked the little booklet we got in our subscription package. Has some good writing prompts in there that I might try answering on my website/blog. 32 questions in all. Might be an interesting personal exercise.


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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

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Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear–fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was an ok book. I didn’t really get as much from this book as I was expecting to. It didn’t make a great book for me mainly as far as content was concerned. But those who are seeking out a personal connection and wanting to find comfort in a community of self discovery about this specific topic may really enjoy it.

I guess all in all I found it less relatable in the way it presented material with the expectation that data would immediately jump to a positive outcome without understanding the process or context or respective community that specializes in such subjects. It didn’t dive into the nitty gritty of risk calculation in the way I wanted it to, rather than just seeking out a conversation on social health determinants from one person’s response as they weigh their fears and hopes against pros and cons, and if that’s the case, this book might be for you.

My takeaways were that I found it important to remember there were no comparisons or alternatives at the time and much of the process ranging from diagnostic and treatment protocols, to standards and ethics were still being explored and written. Some things about human behavior are not quantifiable to science. We have more time, more money, more accessibility to information, yet human irrationality is still an issue to battle.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

Organized by storyline, writing style, tone, organization, editing.

It’s a long critique so grab a coffee!

The storyline.

It was more of a personal, exploratory anecdote of a woman’s discovery of life and all that comes with it, that people get sick, personal revelations from a from a sort of curious, yet almost naive perspective, teetering on paranoia. It sort of read more like some conversations you’d see on Facebook. Sharing how she felt agony the first time her son drank water, had some delusional experiences about seeing vampires. Some readers may relate to and glean from those types of experiences rather than expecting to read this book as an authoritative source on immunity as far as the physiological process goes.

Sort of vacillated between two ultimate decisions, rather than a compromise of the two. Some ideas seamed to be headed toward personal support for full anarchy with others representing full governmental control, all stemming from a point of reference of someone who didn’t seem to truly know how to make up her mind. I think some decisions and placement of facts supported a fair amount of healthy skepticism; however, it was more of an internal conversation of the narrator with herself, made into a book, where I wasn’t sure where intention of the premise was headed and the pacing wasn’t tight enough to direct me there.

It was more of a cynical take, depicting failures of immunity from every aspect rather than excitement about science and discovery. Which was fine, I just didn’t realize that going into it, and therefore, felt it to be quite a bit of a drag. This book could have been labeled, All the Times Capitalism and Modern Medicine has Failed Us as far as content was concerned.

This book portrays the narrator’s uneasiness, her skepticism, her wanting what is best for her personal health and loved ones. There wasn’t much mentioned in the way of safety and efficacy data or risk versus benefit. There wasn’t a deeper dive into the original research. Seemingly it read like more like a call for unity in personal reassurance with an attempt to substantiate feelings with what seems like more time researching rumors than hard science. This book was basically the product of that.

Almost read like the narrator was focused on finding these gotcha moments, gaps in the literature, and ultimately filled the holes with anecdotal evidence and quotes, supportive opinion pieces that rival with the preceding statement, but without remedy or display of personal satisfaction with the proposed solutions or reality at hand once they’ve been fulfilled or corrected.

I didn’t know what would ever satisfy the narrator to give her peace in her own mind and that was at times frustrating to keep reading through.

The biggest example was stated at the end “I still believe there are reasons to vaccinate that transcend medicine” but the narrator did not give a lot of support in helping the reader believe that throughout the entire book, that she would ever come to such a conclusion.

I think more statistical data would have given the arguments and counter arguments more strength instead of vague phrases like “relatively small” and “nearly everyone” and “most other people,” and “a number of people.”

There seemed to be this underlying expectation beyond moral hazard and dilemmas that were actually not known to the medical community at the time. Almost an expectation of harmony when life turned out otherwise and this sense of taking it personally. Maybe there was an unrecognized lack of trust and yearning to take back control with a lot of fear to conquer, yet I didn’t see a lot of “aha” moments or actions to show me as a reader how this narrator coped and became satisfied with her findings, or with life in general. The last quote about the garden from Voltaire’s book was more of the saving grace, but not much led up to that point aside from this notion of blood type connecting races, ultimately recognizing that all humans are human.

Writing style.

It was written in first-person, very fitting, and definitely seemed to come from a place of good intention to share a personal experience. Yet it spoke more toward the experiential side of how one’s personal life has been affected by the surrounding world by also interchangeably using the word “we” which often popped up to describe the narrator’s own worldview, parading the views of similar group think as universal collectivism.

It was more like an opinion piece, an editorial journal article, or blog post written to depict a sort of maladjusted or misinformed individual seeking out truth and this was her journey. Again, perhaps some readers can relate. The narrator was a bit unnerved about many things, almost speaking for one, speaking for all type of manner. It didn’t clearly delineate clinical duty and perspective from regulatory perspective, nor public confidence from individual confidence and how they all play out with each other and how that has changed over time.

Tone.

It was written with a doubtful tone, much frustration, and examples were worst case scenario. Stating a fact, then following it with “if all is well.” It seemed to view situations through an idealistic lens, rather than the reality as it lies. It basically put modern day expectations on old-fashioned practices.

There was a negative connotation to almost every statement. Even when it came to word choice, in the most exaggerated sense. Not just an exploration of facts but human response in the worst light. Often dividing the world and each individual response and decision as black or white, death or life, good or bad, etc… On rare occasion it contained some balance of perspective, defining terms and root meaning along the way, but went right back to gloom and doom. In realizing that this book was more about sharing personal experience, I just would have liked to have seen the narrator connect with herself more and just come out expressing some true, deep emotion, saying “Oh I was incredibly angry… oh I was upset… oh I was sad…oh I was full of joy…”

Organization.

The organization of chapters was not so great. Timelines as far as historical discoveries, her son’s development, and disease categories, stages of immunity, were not neatly in their chapters.

Instead it jumped from concept to concept.

Interjections of DDT, the state of belonging, Dracula, and then her son’s birth. Followed again by smallpox then childbirth, then back to smallpox, back to swine flu, then remarks on capitalism, back to drawing out symbolism with vampirism, then prenatal experiences, then vaccines causing autism discussion, conscience, to Coca-Cola’s “nerve tonic” history. Even goes into 3/5 Compromise with a totally out of context metaphor, then to Corexit, and back again to smallpox.

Editing.

Could have used some additional editing as some sentences were a repeat of each other, other sentences were really out if place without connection to subject matter or proper transition.

There were quotes with the named author early on, yet only introducing readers to their status/role way late in the book.

I think readers looking for a more relatable experience rather than a deep dive into scientific insight or a literary piece of work would probably appreciate it more than I did. Perhaps this is more geared toward someone who just wants to find a similar mother-child relationship, someone who they can sympathize with qualms about vaccination and medicine in general, as well as find confirmation and comfort in that shared experience.

I appreciated it for what it was, but this just wasn’t the book for me.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

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This is how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. 

Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a riveting story in his own words: how, at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such an excellent book. I’d recommend this to anyone, anyone looking for gaining an outlook of life from another whether similar circumstances or different from your own, those seeking out humanitarian endeavors, anyone who is looking for a bit of history into the country of Sierra Leone from personal experience, curiosity of historical events during the 1990s, or anyone looking for insightful inspiration or meaning for their lives.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by the author, which I’d highly recommend.

This book was unique in that it was a beautiful story, beautifully written, and listening to the author narrate it really put a complete idea and significance in my head. Not many memoirs in my experience can do all 3 from the same person and I think this book deserves a bit of celebration for that.

Everything from survival to the most rudimentary way of living to joy in abundance and renewed zest for life. In its simplest form it tells an immigration story and I really liked the way he told his story, humbling and honest, but it was even deeper than that because it encompassed a turning point in human history, one of triumph beginning on a personal level, while also recognizing loss, separation, longing, and coming to terms with the past and how hardship in the most crude way tells an even more powerful story because he lived to tell about it in a story all his own without sugar coating or watering down the distress he experienced and paths he followed.

It’s a heavy read with much tragedy and trauma, but I cherished hearing all about his experiences because it depicted an uncomfortable reality, savagery, suffering, and all the peaks in between.

I especially enjoyed references to popular rap music at the time, Naughty by Nature, OPP, LL Cool J. The writing was seamless in the story, giving personal insight, yet plenty of context for anyone who may not relate or understand the situations, written from a place of genuine experience and life observations, all with an outlook toward hope, positivity, and meaning.

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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

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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

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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 Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

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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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