Book Thoughts

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

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  I appreciated the historical references, but the misery and bullying the kid goes through made it difficult for me to read.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.

Review of The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

The Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang

This was a very difficult book to read. The misery and atrocities committed in this book are difficult to comprehend. How any people, anywhere, could do such things on such a massive scale defies belief. This is a very important book to read, especially since it is about a part of the world that most Americans likely know very little about. I knew the basic story, but the scale of misery and the fact that to this day there is still little acknowledgement of what happened in Japan were eye-opening.

Review of Lite Men by Louisa May Alcott

Little Men - Louisa May Alcott

I did not enjoy this book as much as I did Little Women. This book followed a group of orphan boys that were looked after by Jo from Little Women and her husband the Professor. The novel almost acts as a book of short stories as each chapter acts as a separate short lesson through an experience of some of the boys. These lessons were great yet simple in nature, and while I enjoyed reading about them, there was nothing in the book that had me wanting to keep turning pages.

Review of Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Nakamoto

Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds - Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

I would give this 4.5 stars. A great read that follows a Japanese/American family as they deal with World War II both in America and in Japan. It is a fascinating look at how brothers were split on both sides, but were never truly split from each other. I loved the social history of both Japan and America during the War, and I feel that the treatment of the Japanese in America is still a history that is too often overlooked. My only criticism is that I felt that the book was too rushed in parts. I would have loved to read more detail in many places.

Review of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott This is one of those books I should have read many years ago. I enjoyed this story and all of its simplicity. It was a nice look into the family dynamics of 19th century America (or at least the idealized version) and the characters were certainly memorable. While I enjoyed each chapter and learning about what happens to each of the characters in the novel, I find it a flaw that there was no real buildup in the story and no true climax. Other than that, it was well worth my time and I will certainly read the two novels that continue the story.

Review of Brave Companions by David McCullough

Brave Companions: Portraits In History - David McCullough

I love David McCullough. I always want to read more history, biography, and novels after reading his words and seeing his passion for America and the World. I want to see art, listen to music, and just become better educated about areas of life that I am deficient in knowledge.

This book is a collection of essays and speeches that McCullough wrote and gave over the course of many years. There are chapters on people I knew literally nothing about, and others about time periods and figures I am familiar with but learned more about. If you enjoy history and learning about figures that might not be mainstream, this is a great read.

Review of Washington's Immortal by Patrick O'Donnell

Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution - Patrick K. O'Donnell

While I did enjoy what was essentially a survey of the military conflicts of the Revolutionary War, I was not as impressed by this book as most reviewers. I never felt a real connection to the group of "Immortals" from Maryland that the book followed throughout the War. Most of the book was simply about the battles, and I have read about those in many other places. If someone is just starting to read about the military side of the War, I think this book would be a great place to start. But I felt there was not a lot new here for people versed in the history.

Review of Trickster's Point by William Kent Krueger

Trickster's Point - William Kent Krueger

This entry in the Cork O'Connor series tells the story of a murder of Cork's childhood best friend.  It does so through a series of flashbacks and we learn a great deal about the youth of Cork that we did not know before.  The mystery and the imagery were well done as always by Krueger, and this continues to be one of my favorite series.