Book Thoughts

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

Review of The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power

The Education of an Idealist - Samantha Power

This was a very powerful book. Samantha Power was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations during President Obama's second term and she wrote this book as a memoir of her life up to and during that period. This was not a typical political memoir - Power writes in a personal style, focused much of the book on her life story and relationships both personal and political, and describes her experiences exposing genocide and working to help people all over the world with the talent of a novelist. One cannot help but want to become more involved in helping out those less fortunate after reading this book. I wish I had paid better attention to her leadership during her years in government service.

Review of Return of the Jedi by James Kahn

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, James Kahn

For basically just making a movie into a novel - this was an average read. It is tough to keep turning pages when you know literally every thing that is going to happen. If I hadn't watched the movie I am not sure all of the action scenes in this novel would have been exciting, but being able to perfectly envision the movie scenes made it work for me. Glad I got through these novelizations.

Review of Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Mistress of Rome - Kate Quinn

This was the first novel I have read by Kate Quinn and I enjoyed it a great deal. I always l love a good historical fiction book and this was set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian. It focused on a handful of main characters ranging from the Emperor himself, to a senator, to a gladiator, and to a slave of Jewish origins. The story was character driven, there were many twists and turns, and there was just enough history thrown in to make it interesting on all counts. Some of the action and outcomes might have been a bit over the top, but I enjoyed the ride.

Review of Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton

Bunner Sisters - Edith Wharton

Another great read from Edith Wharton. This novella follows the Bunner sisters who are struggling to run a poor business in a low class neighborhood in New York City in the late 19th century. There is a love story, but it quickly turns dark and the ending is not a happy one this time. This story really shows you the challenges of the poor working classes of the time and it is not easy to read in that sense. Well written and I am now officially a fan of Wharton.

Review of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction - Edith Wharton, Mary Gordon

I enjoyed Age of Innocence so much that I jumped into Ethan Frome as soon as I finished.  Frome is a shorter novel that again looks at a married man who is desperately in love with a woman other than his wife.  This story has the main character in a loveless marriage with the family living as poor farmers rather than living in the glitz of upper class New York City.  I again enjoyed this story even if some of the expressions of love are a bit over the top.  Wharton is a writer I am glad I have discovered.

Review of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton, Maureen Howard

Based on the description, this would not have been a book I normally would enjoy but I was more than pleasantly surprised! This is basically a love story - or love unrealized - that follows a man character through late 19th century upper class New York City. It was a fascinating read for the historical time period, but I found myself experiencing many different emotions as I read the story. The idea of not being faithful to a spouse, or being faithful but longing for another, was really well done. I know this is a classic for a reason but I am glad I have now read a novel by Edith Wharton. I certainly plan on reading more.

Review of Churchill and Orwell by Thomas Ricks

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom - Thomas E. Ricks

This was a dual-biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. I learned nothing new of Churchill in this book, but I learned quite a bit about Orwell as I had never read any biographical works on him. I found his life to be interesting but felt that there was not enough of him in this book. The two men had no connections other than being British at the same time during the World War II era, so the connection between them was loose at best. Worth the read as it was short, but not the engrossing read I was hoping for.

Review of Pacific Vortex by Clive Cussler

Pacific Vortex! - Clive Cussler

I had not read a Clive Cussler novel in at least a few years.  I saw this as I was in the library on Monday and since it was the first in the series and short, I decided to give it a read.  I really enjoy the Dirk Pitt novels.  They are terrible in their portrayal of women and the dialogue is over the top, but they are escapist novels of the highest order.  It is fun to get lost in these stories and I will probably try to read the rest in the series.

The Empires Strikes Back by Donald Glut

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - Donald F. Glut

The new Star Wars trailer for the 9th and final movie came out and I am excited for that so I decided to take a quick read of an old Star Wars book.  This was entertaining but not great literature (not that anyone would expect it to be).  I imagine this would not be good at all without knowing the movie behind it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The only part that really stuck out to me was the fact that Yoda was supposed to be blue!

The March by E.L. Doctorow

The March - E.L. Doctorow

One of the best books I have read this year. This is the second Doctorow book I have read (Ragtime) and I have very much enjoyed both of them. Doctorow has a very different style than most traditional historical fiction writers, and it is difficult to describe. There are many characters in this story, but rather than use the story to develop characters, he uses the characters to develop the story. That makes sense in my head but I am not sure if it makes sense reading it!


This story basically follows Sherman's army through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina during his famous March in the final months of the Civil War. Every different type of person you can imagine that was impacted is represented in this book and I felt that it created an atmosphere that helps put the reader in those places at that time.

Review of House of Spies by Daniel Silva

House of Spies: A Novel - Daniel Silva

I always enjoy the Gabriel Allon books and at this point love returning to the many characters that repeat in the series. I didn't feel like this particular entry in the series was as good as previous ones mainly because I felt that it dragged for much of the middle section of the book. Even the big climax at the end did not have the pay off I usually see when reading these novels. With that said, this is still one of my favorite series and I look forward to the next installment.

Review of The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda - Joseph Boyden

I put off reading this book for quite some time for no particular reason and I regret that decision. This was one of the best novels I have read in quite some time. It follows three characters in 1600s Canada - a French Jesuit priest, a Huron adult man, and an Iroquois female child. The chapters alternate from the perspective of each and I was truly fascinated from start to finish. The story can be brutal with graphic descriptions of torture, but I felt that it was true to the time period. It also was written in a way that made the reader fully appreciate the perspectives of the different cultures - there were no true bad guys or good guys. Boyden is one of my favorite authors and I need to read more of his work.

Review of Endurance by Scott Kelly

Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly

I enjoyed this book a great deal more than I expected I would. I always enjoy reading about space and astronauts mainly because I appreciate the stories of the work ethic of these men and women both before and during their time in space. This book alternates chapters between Kelly's time in the Space Station and his earlier years growing up and finding himself. Unusual for many astronauts is his complete lack of success in school early on - it was inspiring to me that he was able to figure it out. Recommended read.

Review of Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter

Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis - Jimmy Carter

I imagine this would have been a better read at the time it was published.  This book is essentially a list of criticisms of Republican actions taken during the Presidency of George W. Bush.  If you are a liberal you would agree with all of it, and if you are a conservative you would not.  It was not an exciting read other than the fact it was interesting hearing from former President Carter.

Review of Educated by Tara Westover

Educated - Tara Westover

This book was not what I expected.  What a powerful story that at times was challenging to read.  Without giving anything away, I thought this would be a memoir about a tough childhood that the author overcame but it was so much more than that typical story.  It is a deep psychological self-examination by the author and I could not help turning pages.  It is amazing how she was able to find such great success in life with the family dynamics she had to deal with.  This really could have been a novel but the fact that it is a real life story makes it so much more interesting.

Review of The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

The Partly Cloudy Patriot - Katherine Streeter, Sarah Vowell

I really enjoy the wit and stories of Sarah Vowell.  This book is a series of essays that she wrote that mostly deal with her thoughts on various parts of American culture and history.  I laughed out loud more than once, and I appreciate her perspective on life.