Friday, May 02, 2014

Book Reviews–May 2, 2014

I don’t do reviews very often, so I’m going to do a lot today. Hold on tight!

The Cornbread Mafia by James Higdon – The story of marijuana growers in Kentucky in the 1980s and the law enforcement activities that finally made a significant dent in the “industry”. A

Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend by Paul Schneider – (audio) Fascinating story about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and their crime spree across the southeastern US in the 1930s. I decided to listen to this after we watched the History Channel miniseries. Not surprisingly, the facts as written in the book were rather different than what was portrayed in the miniseries. Interesting book. A

Lethal Guardian by M. William Phelps – (audio) Another true crime book. This is the story of a highly dysfunctional family in which a child’s aunt plans and pays for the murders of the child’s step-father because the aunt is convinced that the step-father is engaged in child abuse despite the lack of evidence. The woman that planned and paid for the murder was a lawyer at the time. An intriguing story and well-written. A

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan – A story about mothers and daughters in the US and China in the early twentieth century, about abandonment and love, and about being reunited. A beautiful story and well worth reading. Definitely for adults since the setting is courtesan houses in China. A+

Sense and Sensibility by Joanne Trollope – This is a retelling of the Jane Austen classic of the same name, but set in modern day England. I enjoyed it, but can’t say it was particularly outstanding. B

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies – This novel set in late 19th century New York and San Francisco tells the story of a woman who went from a strictly conservatively religious childhood to owning several brothels in San Francisco. It’s an enjoyable read, but not earth-shattering. A-

Murder In the Heartland by M. William Phelps – (audio) This true crime book tells the story of heinous crime: the murder of a young woman in late pregnancy with the delivery of her baby by crude C-section. The perpetrator then proceeded to pass the baby off as her own. The book tells the story of the investigation that found the baby quickly and got her appropriate medical care and back to her family. Fascinating. A

Hellhound On HIs Trail by Hampton Sides – (audio) This is the story of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., although we don’t hear his true name until close to the end of the book since he used so many aliases. While most of the book focuses on Ray, there is a good bit about Dr. King and his movements in the months before his death. This is a well-written and quite interesting book with lots of information that was completely new to me. A+

Vanity Fair by Thackeray – (audio) This must be the fifth or sixth time I’ve listened to this audiobook. I read it in 9th grade and the whole thing went over my head. After I watched the movie with Reese Witherspoon in it, I decided to read it again, and I loved it. But, I get why my fourteen year old self couldn’t understand it. I highly recommend it, but it may take more than one exposure before you learn to love it. A+

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston – My mom recommended I read this non-fiction book. This is the story specifically about an outbreak of a viral disease in a monkey facility in Reston, Virginia that was determined to be Ebola virus (it was actually a new strain and was named Ebola Reston) and the purging of the facility and euthanizing of the monkeys. But, more generally, it is also the history of what we know about Ebola virus in general. The author’s tone about how vulnerable we are to Ebola and how we are always on the brink of human annihilation is a little wearing at times. Ebola hasn’t spread because of it’s high case-fatality rate. It kills so many of it’s victims that it can’t get established in the human population. That being said, recent outbreaks of Ebola in areas that are emerging out of the African jungle are worrisome. Still, the near-constant tone of doom and gloom is kind of hard to read. Otherwise, a very good book. A-

The Burglary by Betty Medsger – This wasn’t an easy read, but I’m glad I finished it. the book is the story of the burglary by anti-war activists of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania in 1971. The perpetrators were never identified, but most of them allowed themselves to be identified in this book. The author of the book was one of the journalists to whom the burglars sent copies of the files that they had stolen from the FBI office. I also learned much about the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and the shocking amount of spying on ordinary Americans that has gone on in the past and may even be continuing. A fascinating book. A+

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson (audio) – I totally adore Joshilyn Jackson’s books. There hasn’t been one yet that I haven’t just devoured. Until this one. I am so sad to say this, but this wasn’t my absolute favorite book of the year. I loved the narration – she reads her own books. I just had a hard time getting into the book. But, I was kept interested enough to finish it, and I’m glad I did. The plot went somewhere completely unexpected and that made the whole thing worth it. So, it was a good book, but not her best. A-

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination by Philip Shenon (audio) – This long book tells the behind the scenes story of the Warren Commission. Not only the author write about the commissioners, but he writes in more detail about the junior and senior lawyers for each team. I was surprised by how truly petty so many of the commission members (i.e. elected officials) could be and by how much a role politics played in who worked on the report. The “secret history” that the author learned was what the junior and senior lawyers never got the chance to put in the report and the leads that they never got to track down, particularly leads in Mexico City. Definitely worth reading. A

Daughters-In-Law: A Novel by Joanne Trollope (audio) – A family with three sons marries off their last son and has to come to grips with the fact that their sons’ lives no longer revolve around the parents. Daughter-in-law have to learn to live with a mother-in-law who has to learn that she’s not the only woman in her sons’ lives. A good read (listen). A

So, what have you been reading? Any recommendations??

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