Book Thoughts

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

Review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

This was a fascinating and deeply emotional novel - one of the best books I have read in quite some time.  It is difficult to review without giving too much away, but this story presents an alternative history to slavery and the Underground Railroad.  It is not too far out there with the "alternative" piece, but I thought the social constructs to be possible and they clearly relate to many of the racial challenges our country still faces today.  Highly recommended with the caveat that there are some disturbing scenes and images about the hardships faced by slaves in early America.

Review of Assegai by Wilbur Smith

Assegai - Wilbur Smith

I love Wilbur Smith books - they are my guilty pleasure. The characters and the plot are not terribly realistic, but I think they are fun and I enjoy the way he writes. The historical pieces to his books also are generally well done.

This book dragged a bit for a Smith book in the sense that the overarching plot never really took off for me. I still enjoyed the read, but I would not recommend this for someone new to Smith - there are many others that are much better.

Review of This is Water by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water - David Foster Wallace

This "book" is simply a printed edition of a graduation speech David Foster Wallace gave at a liberal arts college. I thought a quick read to start the near year by a new author and thinker who many people rave about would be nice. I enjoyed his message of how we are all the center of our own universe and how or what we choose to think about is our lifelong education. The idea that we should have compassion for others came through for me in this speech and while nothing was life-changing here, his thoughts are certainly good to meditate on as we start 2019.

This was also my first reading of anything by Wallace. I will certainly try some longer essay collections by this author.

Review of Homo Deus by Yuval Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow - Yuval Noah Harari

Another thought-provoking book by Yuval Harari.  I did not enjoy this one as much as Sapiens.  The main reason is that Sapiens looked back at the development of humankind and its reasons were grounded in scientific fact and accepted theory.  Homo Deus is Harari's attempt to explain what comes next for humankind and while I think many of his insights are plausible and even logical, I did not agree with all of them.  With that said - the whole point of reading books like this one is to think about life and everything in a different way, and this book has the reader doing that in spades.

Review of The President is Missing by James Patterson

The President is Missing - Bill Clinton, James Patterson

It had been a while since I read a James Patterson novel and this quickly brought me back.  His books are shallow, fun reads that while not great literature, they have me turning pages.  His stories are always self-paced and have enough suspense to keep the reader guessing until the end.  Patterson is fun, escapist reading.

Review of Manitou Canyon by William Kent Kreuger

Manitou Canyon: A Novel (Cork O'Connor Mystery Series) - William Kent Krueger

15 books later I still really enjoy this series.  It is getting to the point of unbelievable that the main characters face such danger and intrigue time after time, but the is a ridiculous criticism because how else would they continue an interesting series?  I enjoy the characters and relationships more than the mysteries at this point, and I look forward to the next in the series.

Review of The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - Malcolm Gladwell

Another though-provoking book from Malcom Gladwell.  I really enjoy his ability to look at ideas from a different perspective than conventional wisdom.  I am not sure I buy all of his conclusions from this one, but his anecdotes and stories are both fun and informative.

Review of The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Quiet American - Graham Greene

This was my first Graham Greene novel. It was interesting. For me, it was a good read that looked at the innocent views of an American working and living in Vietnam during the time of the wars against the French. Not to say he was innocent - maybe the purity of his views is what makes this dark read something that sticks with me.


It was not a page turner or suspenseful, but it was a good look into the psyches of people in Vietnam during that time period.

Review of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is one of my favorite authors.  Her writing is beautiful and her ability to put the reader in the past is second to none.  This story follows a main character - Anna - and her village as they deal with the Plague.  This is not a happy story, and my only criticism would be that it is too dark throughout, but you can certainly feel the despair and misery that these people would have faced during the epidemic.  Highly recommended.

Review of Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism - Scott Hahn, Kimberly Hahn, Peter Kreeft

This is a very difficult book to rate. I appreciated the authors' deep faith and ability to share their religious experiences through this book. I had a hard time with how simple their conversion from being Protestantism to Catholicism seems to be. The authors both had graduate degrees (multiple) in theology but then presented their "awakening" to the true Catholic faith as being as simple as reading a book or looking at a Scriptural passage a new way. It was written in a way that was almost hard to believe that it could be so simple. I understand that this wasn't meant to be a book of theology, but I would have appreciated a more in-depth analysis of how their conversions took place over time rather than the seemingly instant intellectual conversions as they happened.

I realize I am probably being far too critical, but that was how this read struck me. I do have a sincere appreciation for the story told here.

Booklikes Community

Quick question - is the Booklikes community dying?  I just reviewed Michelle Obama's new memoir that has been out for about a month.  It has over 13,000 reviews on Goodreads, but my review was the very fist on Booklikes.  Just wondering if anyone else sees the site fading away.

Review of Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming - Michelle Obama

What a delightful memoir by our former First Lady. She writes in a way that makes you feel like she is sitting in your living room and relating the story. I went into the read expecting to hear quite a bit about politics (I would have been good with that), but she chose not to focus on politics and rather focus on her story and the story of her family. I loved the insights into how she and her family learned to deal with the trappings of the Presidency and how they tried to do their best by their kids in a challenging situation. I particularly enjoyed reading about her childhood and her experiences through college and professional life before politics. Highly recommended read no matter which side of the political aisle you sit on.

Review of Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Hospital Sketches - Louisa May Alcott

This short read describes the experiences of Louisa May Alcott as a nurse in the Civil War. While I found some parts interesting, at least for me, there was nothing new here at all. I actually enjoyed the parts about her background and travels to the battlegrounds more than the parts about her as a nurse. It is probably unfair of me to not rate this higher since I am sure that what she was writing was new at the time, but for me there is nothing new or special here.

Review of A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A Dangerous Place: A Maisie Dobbs Novel - Jacqueline Winspear

This was the book I had been dreading - my wife reached this point in the series long before me and put this book down in disgust and said she was not finishing that book or any other books in the series. Without giving anything away, a long running personal decision for the main character is reached in the opening pages of the book and based on the lower rating for this book compared to most in the series, one can see that it was not resolved in a way that made most readers happy.


Putting that aside, I did enjoy the story and felt that the book found its way halfway into the story. Still one of my favorite series and I look forward to the next.

Review of Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell

I had heard a lot about this book and really enjoyed reading it.  I felt like there were anecdotes and insights on every page that made me think about the world in a different way.  I know that there are places where the interpretations are not quite as simple as Gladwell makes them seem, but I judge a book like this by how much it makes me think and this one was a five star read for me.

Review of The Wine Lover's Daughter by Anne Fadiman

The Wine Lover's Daughter - Anne Fadiman

I love reading anything and everything by Anne Fadiman. For me, she is one of those authors whose writing just makes sense to me. It is intelligent, humorous, uses a strong vocabulary without being pretentious, and simply flows in a way that I get lost in the writing.

This is a memoir of her life with her father and his love of wine. I knew very little about Clifton Fadiman and was surprised to see how famous he was for a time in U.S. History. I enjoyed the insights to life and his love of literature that shined through in this book. I simply wish there was more published work of Anne Fadiman...