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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

This book really made the history come to life.

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

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

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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Audiobooks 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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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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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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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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Categories
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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