Book Thoughts

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

Review of George Washington and the New Nation by James Flexner

George Washington and the New Nation, 1783-1793 - James Thomas Flexner

Another outstanding entry in the four volume biography of Washington by James Flexner. This volume covers his years from the end of the War though the end of his first term as President. I feel like I have read a great deal about Washington but not much of it has focused on his quiet years or his Presidency so I learned a lot reading this book. I look forward to the final volume even though I know that the shine has worn off Washington by his second term and he will struggle to his retirement.

Review of The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month - Louise Penny

The third book in the Gamache series - a series I am starting to really love. The story once again takes place in Three Pines and the many characters from the town are all present. The characters and their personal stories are the best parts and the murder investigations are usually secondary (at least in terms of my enjoyment). This book had a second backstory going about Gamache and the trouble he had in the past with the police force in Canada. The backstory was alluded to in the first two books but was fully explained in this installment. I look forward to the next book.

Review of Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

By Joseph Boyden Through Black Spruce: A Novel (1ST) - Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden is one of my favorite authors that most people haven't heard of. I love his books. I loved this book too - with the exception of the ending that left me a bit underwhelmed. I really enjoy Boyden's characters and his ability to make them grow in a realistic way throughout a story. This one technically ends a three book series that has a loosely connected family throughout generations, but other than a few references, each book can easily stand alone as a story.

Review of Sulfur Springs by William Kent Krueger

Sulfur Springs: A Novel (Cork O'Connor Mystery Series) - William Kent Krueger

To be honest, this might have been my least favorite entry in this Cork O'Connor series. I love this series and gave this four stars rather than the three it deserved out of respect for the author and enjoyment I have had reading his books. This book didn't involve many of the usual family characters that I have come to love, and it felt like the action, the killings, and the multiple near-death experiences stretched credulity a bit too much. At this point there is only one more book in the series and I will certainly read it but I hope he keeps the setting in Minnesota.


Forgive me if this has been addressed and I missed it - is anyone else having a problem with the "date read" function for their books?  Since the start of 2020, for any books that I enter as read with a date, the date is not saved.  I have tried it multiple time from multiple pages within the site, but I cannot get the date read to save.  Any thoughts?

Review of The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America - Timothy Egan

This was, surprisingly, a very good book.  I didn't think I would have much interest in an isolated event such as the great fire of 1910 in the West, but Timothy Egan really knows how to tell a story.  The title names Teddy Roosevelt, but to be clear, he is not a main feature of the book by any stretch.  Gifford Pinchot is a much more central figure, and then there are dozens of others who play a key role in the story.  Learning of the creation and early years of the Forrest Service was fascinating and makes me want to read more about environmental history and our government's role.  High recommended as a great story for anyone.

Review of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

This is a very difficult book to rate for me. I loved the characters and the banter between them. I loved setting and the writing. I did not love the story in this second book of the Gentleman Bastard series. I feel like the story just kind of kept on rolling along and the payoff was not nearly as exciting as the climax and finish of the first book. I feel like the author just couldn't quite figure out how to create the big twist. I will certainly read the third book - and I believe more are coming - but I hope the next books live up to the the first that was truly a great read.

Review of Mr. Adams's Last Crusade

Mr. Adams's Last Crusade: The Extraordinary Post-presidential Life of John Quincy Adams - Joseph Wheelan

John Quincy Adams is what of my favorite people to read about in history. While he might not have had the most successful presidency, his personal honor and adherence to his principles makes him a person to admire and respect. This book looks mainly at his post presidency and work fighting slavery as a member of the House of Representatives. I really enjoyed the read and while I would have liked a bit more on his family experiences during this time period, I learned a lot.

Review of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

Profiles in Courage - John F. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy

One of my goals this year is to read important works of non-fiction that I have not yet read and I thought this book was a good place to start.  I really enjoyed this look at eight Senators from history who exemplified courage by going against their parties and constituencies and voting based on their principles and conscience.  It was a solid work of history and I thought the choices were interesting.   Recommended as a fairly quick read for anyone that enjoys political history.

Review of Herbert Hoover: A Life

Herbert Hoover: A Life - Glen Jeansonne

This was the first book I have read about Herbert Hoover, an often overlooked President who is simply blamed for not being able to pull America out of the Great Depression.  I thought the parts on his early life were fascinating as Hoover rose from being an orphan to becoming a leader in business (mining) and essentially saving millions of people in Europe from starvation during World War I.  The parts on his Presidency were not nearly as interesting and I felt like the author spent far too much time defending Hoover rather than letting his actions speak for themselves.  An additional criticism is that there wasn't enough of Hoover himself in the book - for example, a speech was referenced as being very important and reactions to the speech were referenced but not a single quote or line from the actual speech was in the book.  Seeing more of Hoover's words from speeches, letters, or recalled conversations would have made this a much better read.

Review of Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin - Timothy Snyder

This was one of the best and most depressing books I have ever read. This history covers the lands and actions between Hitler and Stalin throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The killing and lack of empathy for life was relentless during those year and in many ways this is a story that still has not been fully understood and known by most people. Beyond the Holocaust, millions upon millions of people were systemically murdered or starved to death. An important book for everyone to read but I must be clear - the sadness and horror of the stories are difficult to think about.

Review of The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

The Sun is a Compass - Caroline Van Hemert

A nice read about a biologist and her husband who go on a personal 4,000 mile trek all the way across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. There is no sad back story here, but there are many personal insights that were both heartfelt and interesting to read. There are many observations about wildlife and the environment that did not get bogged down in scientific details so if you like that sort of writing, this is a good book for you. An enjoyable read.

Review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

This was a science fiction read that was an allegory of the Vietnam War. If you didn't get that it was an allegory, the last chapter certainly hammers home the point. I thought there were some interesting concepts about potential future societies and it did not take itself too seriously so I enjoyed the read.

Review of George Washington: In the American Revolution by James Flexner

George Washington in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 - James Thomas Flexner

This was a really special book. I know it is a classic but I am late to reading this second volume in a four volume series that covers the life of George Washington. This volume covers the entirety of the Revolutionary War - always focused on Washington. Fascinating read of both the War and Washington's experiences throughout the War. Over the many years of the War there was actually not very much fighting - Washington's truly won the War by keeping the Army together against staggering odds. Looking forward to the next in the series.

Review of Tom Sawyer Abroad by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer Abroad (Illustrated) - Mark Twain

Kind of a slog to get through - thankfully it was very short. The story basically has Tom, Huck, and Jim take a hot air balloon across America, across the Ocean, all the way to Egypt and the Holy Land. They spend most of the book just talking but there is no real buildup or excitement in the story. There were a few parts that made me chuckle, but not nearly enough of those to make this a recommended read.

Review of The Bastard by John Jakes

The Bastard - John Jakes

This was an entertaining read!  This is the first book in a series that traces the Kent Family through American History.  The story is a bit over the top with the main character starring as the Forest Gump of the novel who just happens to meet every famous historical person and be a part of every famous historical event at the start of the Revolution.  As a reader, you aren't looking for realism in a story like this and I thought the action, romance, and characters were entertaining enough to keep me turning pages.  I would not call it great literature, but not all novels need to be great literature.