Book Thoughts

A place for me to give my thoughts on books, history, and their influence on my life.

Review of The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

The Burning Land - Bernard Cornwell

I had not read a book in this series in a few years, and I now regret waiting so long.  I was sucked right back into the world and actions of Uthred and enjoyed this story very much.  Cornwall's ability to mix history with fun adventure and exciting (if not unrealistic) characters is outstanding.  Looking forward to the next one.

Review of American Lion by Jon Meacham

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - Jon Meacham

I came away disappointed with this book.  I had read two other books by Meacham (biographies on Jefferson and H.W. Bush) and really enjoyed both.  This book seem disjointed to me and spent far too much time focusing on the family and social drama around Jackson during his Presidency.  I understand that much of that was important, but it seemed like just as things were picking up with important political or foreign aspects of Jackson's administration, there would be a side bar about who was and who was not accepted in Washington society.  I have never been a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and this book did nothing to change my opinion.

How Much has America Changed?

I started reading a new book last night, and there was a passage in the prologue that really struck me. This description of America in the 1820s -1830s could describe the America of today or the last 20 years really...


"The America of Andrew Jackson was a country that professed a love of democracy but was willing to live with inequality, that aimed for social justice but was prone to racism and intolerance, that believed itself one nation but was narrowly divided and fought close elections, and that occasionally acted arrogantly toward other countries while craving respect from them at the same time."


From American Lion by John Meacham

Review of A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear

Anther great entry in the Maisie Dobbs series.  This book has Maisie branching out and working for the secret service in addition to her own private investigation practice.  This book also moves forward the history of the series and there is now a great deal of talk about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and beyond.  I loved the background stories and the actual murder mystery of this episode.  Highly recommended series.

Review of Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich

Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 - Volker Ullrich

This is a difficult book to rate. It is obviously an incredibly detailed look at the life of Hitler and his rise to power up to the German takeover of Czechoslovakia. The problem for me was the details. They were overwhelming. There were hundreds, if not thousands of names in this that I did not recognize and had a hard time following. At some points it felt as if this book was dealing with issues one day or one week at a time. It also focused almost exclusively on Hitler. Many history books would take a few pages as an aside to introduce important side figures. That was not the case here.


With all of that said, the story is fascinating. The knowledge of the author is simply incredible. I learned a great deal and feel like I have a deep understanding of the Hitler of the 1920s and 1930s. In terms of the history presented, this rating should be 5 stars. I gave it 4 stars because I just had a hard time slugging through many parts of it.

Review of Rubicon by Tom Holland

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic - Tom Holland

A great book that tells the story of the end of the Republic in Rome.  In many ways this book reads as a novel, and it covers all of the major players.  Ancient history is one of my weaker areas, and this book filled in many gaps for me in a way that was exciting to read.  I imagine that there is probably not a lot new here for someone really into Roman history, but for someone with only a basic knowledge, this is a great place to start.  Recommended and I look forward to his "sequel" that deals with the Emperors of Rome.

Review of Hero of the Empire by Candace Millard

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill - Candice Millard

Another exciting book by Candice Millard.  This book tells the story of Winston Churchill and the Boer War.  Millard always does a nice job of intertwining the story of late 19th century British history and their involvement in the Boer War, South African history, and the story of Churchill and his actions during the War.  Millard is a master at finding relevant yet obscure historical facts to help her narrative move along (the origins of the terms "sniper" and "trench coat" to name two).  A nice quick read that helped improve my knowledge of a war and country I knew little about.

Review of The Professor's House by Willa Cather

The Professor's House - Willa Cather

A pleasant surprise that I really enjoyed reading this short novel.  I had never read a Willa Cather novel before, but she was recommended by David McCullough so I thought I would give it a shot.  I loved the writing style, and found myself quickly turning pages and thinking of the book when I had to take a break from reading.  The story follows characters from the a family with new found wealth, and also flashes back to life in New Mexico - both during the years after World War I.  It was nice being transported to that part of America in the early 20th century and reading about people you could label "regular".  I will definitely be reading more of Willa Cather.

Review of Lincoln Reconsidered by David Hebert Donald

Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era - David Herbert Donald

I enjoyed this collection of essays taking a "revisionist" view of Abraham Lincoln. Most of these essays were published many decades ago, but that does not make them any less relevant to anyone studying Lincoln. I enjoyed the detailed examination of many different aspects of Lincoln (his views on the Constitution, his political savvy, his relationship with his wife, etc...) Highly recommended for Lincoln fans.

Review of Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green - David Mitchell

Three books later, I am not completely sold on David Mitchell.  I enjoy his writing style, but his stories have something about them that I have a hard time really appreciating.  This particular book is well written, but there is no real climax to the story.  Each chapter acts more or less as a short story in the life of a 13 year old boy in England in the early 1980s.  I appreciated the historical references, but the misery and bullying the kid goes through made it difficult for me to read.  Maybe my problem is more personal and it brought me back to that awkward age in my own life, but this is not a book I will return to in the future.

Review of the Eloquent President by Ronald White

The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words - Ronald C. White Jr.

A fascinating read that looks at the growth of Abraham Lincoln through his speeches.  Each chapter deals with one specific speech, and they are done chronologically to demonstrate how he changed from the way he wrote and delivered speeches from a President-Elect to a second term President.  I loved the many anecdotes and White wrote in a way that took complex ideas in many of these 19th century speeches and explained them in an academic yet accessible way.  Highly recommended for fans of Lincoln.

Review of Kanan: The Last Padawan by Greg Weisman

Star Wars: Kanan: The Last Padawan Vol. 1 - Marvel Comics

This is officially the first graphic novel I have ever read. It is basically a collection of the first six comic books that tell the Star Wars story of the character Kanan from Star Wars Rebels. It was really quick to read, and I enjoyed finding out a bit of the back story of Kanan. The artwork was impressive and I had to keep reminding myself to slow down and enjoy it while reading. I also like that it will be something I can share with my kids.

Reading Habits

Doing this after reading SusannaG's blog post.  Great to see her back posting on this site!


1. Do you have a certain place in your home for reading?


I read all over the place, but usually in the recliner in my living room.


2. Bookmark or a random piece of paper? 


I have been given many bookmarks made by my 8 year old.  The one I use the most - my personal favorite - was a valentine's day card/bookmark she gave me three years ago.


3. Can you just stop reading, or do you have to stop after a chapter or a certain number of pages?


I try to stop at the end of chapters, but that is difficult - especially when I am reading big history books.  When I can't stop at a chapter break, I just make sure to stop at the top of the lefthand page.


4. Do you eat or drink while reading? 


I don't read when I eat, but I always have a drink with me.  Usually I just have some water, but on a relaxing afternoon when all of the kids' sports are finished and I don't have to go out at night, a glass of wine and a thick book bring me to my happy place.


5. Do you multitask while reading?


I can't do this.  I actually just bought noise reducing headphones to keep out the background noise of a busy house when I really need to focus on my reading.


6. One book at a time, or several?


I try very hard to only be reading one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time.  I never read more than one novel at a time nowadays, but find myself reading several history books at once when something catches my interest.


7.  Where do you read, at home or everywhere?


I read mostly at home, but also sneak in some reading at lunch time at work, while waiting around for kids' sports games to start, or anywhere I am bored.


8.  Do you read out loud, or silently in your head?


I always read silently in my head.  When I read out loud, I find I am focusing on pronunciation and articulation and not understanding of what I am reading.


9. Do you read ahead or skip pages?


I never skip pages or read ahead.  That is against the law in my world!


10. Do you break the spine?


Again - I treat books almost as if they are sacred.  My goal is to have a book look like it is brand new by the time I have finished reading it. 


11. Do you write in your books?


Read my answer for #10.  However, I do often jot own page numbers to come back to and type up notes or passages to save for later use.

Review of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Mission to Paris - Alan Furst

I really enjoy Alan Furst's novels. He has a unique take on historical fiction where he creates a character that is in Europe during the World War II era and takes us through their story. This book looks at an American movie star who was born in Vienna and travels to Paris (and beyond) to film a movie in the years leading up to the start of the War. He actions involve him a bit with both sides of the spy world, and I liked those experiences in this book.


The reason for three stars is that this particular story never really took off. I kept waiting for some real action or for one of the characters to fully commit to one side of the pending conflict or the other, but nothing like that ever really happened.


To close, not a bad read, but not as good as his previous books (that I have read).

Review of You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life - Eleanor Roosevelt

What an absolute gem of a book. Eleanor Roosevelt giving tips on how to best live life, using many examples from her own life and experiences. I loved all parts of it and certainly recommend this as an historical piece, but also as a book with legitimate tips and thoughts on how to live a good life that apply both in the past and today.

Review of The Moral Basis of Democracy by Eleanor Roosevelt

The Moral Basis of Democracy - Eleanor Roosevelt, Allida M. Black, Carol Howard Merritt

A nice, quick read by one of the historical figures I most respect. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this short book in 1940 as a response to the rise of Fascism and Communism in Europe and Asia. She admits early on that this is not a deep philosophical or academic study, but a simply look at where democracy came from in America, and how democracy can best work in our country and in our world. I really enjoyed trying to put myself in 1940 to understand the importance of this work, and I think many of its messages still apply today.