Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

November Reading Events Tally

November has too many great reading events! Thankfully, I started a new job this month, so my participation was curtailed by the exhaustion of all day in new surroundings, all day surrounded by people, and all day learning new things. So, my goals were a little too lofty this year!

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Sorry, German Literature, but you were the one that got lost in the crowd this time. No worries–I’d already read one German book in translation this year.

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My Nevile Shute reading put me in good stead this year. I finished my second book by the Australian author at the start of the month. I reviewed What Happened to the Corbetts by Nevil Shute (Also titled The Ordeal) and the newer Jane Harper novel Lost Man.

 

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Nonfiction November is an event I look forward to each year. This year I did “ok,” not great, but “ok.” I finished two audio books–Christmas Far From Home about Christmas in the Korean War and The Women of Rothschild, a biography of the women of that famous family.

 

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I had big hopes for little books this year! But Novellas in November just didn’t go very far this time. A few “double dips”–books that worked for this and some other reading challenge or event. I reviewed A Christmas Escape by Anne Perry which “doubled” with 20 Books of Christmas, and What Happened to the Corbetts which doubled with Aus Reading Month.

 

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20 Books for Christmas is still on going, so I’m not done. I’m trying to just use Christmas themed books–fiction or nonfiction. So, I reviewed Christmas Far From Home (nonfiction), The Christmas Escape,   The Christmas Bookshop, Mistletoe and Magic for the Cornish Midwife, and another book I’m reviewing on Monday.

I also read two other books, too long for NovNov and not Christmas Themed Meredith, Alone and The Blue Castle.

Have you done a November reading round-up type post? Have you read any of these books? Read anything else you think I’d want to know about? Leave me a comment or a link to your post!

Book Reviews

NonFicNov Review: A Christmas Far From Home by Stanley Weintraub

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My Interest

Since moving here to Southern Ohio in 2008 I’ve met two Korean War veterans. One died during the Covid epidemic, the other, my next door neighbor, is still going strong at 90-something. Of course, I have a near life-long interest in U.S. history, too, so that figured into decided to read (well, listen to) this book.

Author Stanley Weintraub has made an industry for himself writing nonfiction stories set at Christmas during the various wars. Finally, I was a child of the 70’s. The movie M*A*S*H was one of the first “grown-up” movies I watched. I also read the book  (and a couple of the sequels) at a tender age. Then there was the t.v. show [see the bottom of this post] that ran about 100 times longer than the war itself. So, in memory of all those people who fought in Korea and were immortalized by the book, movie and tv show characters, I had to read or listen to this book.

The Story

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Mountbatten (left) and MacArthur (right)
photo credit

General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur, was an early believer in public relations–p.r. Much like Lord Mountbatten (“Uncle Dickie” on The Crown), he was a self-promoter who was often regarded as having over-reached. MacArthur had at least some of the traits of a narcissist. He ran away and deserted our troops, fleeing to safety in Australia with his much younger wife, their toddler son (and his nanny) when the Japanese over-ran the Philippines. For this he managed to earn the nation’s highest award for bravery: The Congressional Medal of Honor.

When the Korean “War” began, Arthur hadn’t lived in the USA for many years. He’d commanded the Philippine Army, then been away in Australia during World War II, then oversaw the occupation of Japan. His last big experience in the United States had been leading the Army, with the help of his assistant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, through Washington D.C. and to the camp of the “Bonus Marchers” or “Bonus Army”–the unemployed, homeless, desperate veterans of World War I marching on Washington to try to make Congress pay them their “bonus” for service in WWI several years early. It didn’t work. MacArthur and Ike led the tanks and troops in moving the marchers out of their encampment. (Where many of them were subsequently put on trains and sent to south Florida where they would die in a hurricane). He survived that black mark how? Public relations. He also had a notorious affair with a showgirl called Bubbles who called him, wait for it, “Daddy.” Yeah.

When the U.S. entered Korea Mac Arthur was in charge of the Command area that included Korea. He did not take the whole thing very seriously and insisted, as have so many commanders in so many wars, that our boys would be home for Christmas.

Only, they weren’t. And, many did not even have winter uniforms. [This mix-up of seasons and uniforms is a specialty of the U.S. Army. In the Spanish American War, a tropical war, they had heavy woolen uniforms]. This book tells what the men went trough from Thanksgiving until what we remember today as the Chosin Reservoir aka “The Frozen Chosin” was over. Thankfully, President Harry S. Truman, got tired of MacArthur’s grandiose insubordination and fired him. Who knows how long the war would have lasted with “Doug Out Doug” in charge (the name comes from hiding in a dugout).

My Thoughts

My next door neighbor was a young and bitterly cold U.S. Marine during this battle. It must not have affected him–he used to mow the equivalent of 3 acres with a push mower every week and raise 7 kids on a city cop’s salary. All but 1 went to and graduated from college. He’s still tough. It’s pretty obvious from this story that he wasn’t the only one.

Harry Truman was a remarkable president for standing up to an icon and winning. MacArthur should have been revealed of command when the Philippines fell. Instead he let another general take the surrender while he went on living his life with his family in Australia. His Congressional Medal of Honor should have gone to all of those who survived captivity under the Japanese. He is remembered well, however, for changing Japan to a more democratic form of government. Nonetheless, Truman kept a potential despot from running for president by firing him over Korea. We should be grateful.

My Verdict

3.5

A Christmas Far From Home: An Epic Tale of Courage and Survival During the Korean War by Stanley Weintraub

 

My Review of Another Book by This Author

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Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November: Nonfiction–Fiction Pairings

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I couldn’t decide if these pairs had to have at least one book read this year or not! I’ve done a lot of this sort of post so I’m always eyeing potential pairings. This week’s host for Nonfiction November is Doing Dewey. Won’t you be nice and click and go see their post?

My Pairings

The nonfiction runs right along with the fictional story. A match made, not in heaven, but in the Wilderness of Southeastern Ohio.

The Pioneers  by David McCullough In addition to my linked review, you can get another take on this book from Girls in White Dresses.

The Awakening Land Trilogy by Conrad Richter. Here are my reviews:

The Trees and, here too is the review from my friend at Girls in White Dresses.

I reviewed the final two books, The Fields and The Town together. Girls in White Dresses hasn’t read those two yet!

Chanel books have recently become an industry (like Kennedy or Royal books)–especially novels. There are many more. The nonfiction book is Channel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy (a must-read author for me). The novel of Chanel I read is Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner.

A somewhat awkward pairing since the fictional Passing occurs a few decades before the nonfiction Life on the Color Line and Passing is about a woman while Color Line is about a young boy living in my hometown a decade or two earlier than when I grew up-a boy who had always lived as white. Edna Ferber’s novel, Showboat, also discusses what it means to be “black” in America at that time (and still today, I suppose).

During both World Wars the British government took over (requisitioned) many of the great houses of the land for government use. They were staging areas, training grounds, hospitals, office space, and who-knows-what-else. The owners had littler or no say in the matter. Two fairly recent nonfiction books look at this practice. One, Requisitioned,  looks at damage done to the amazing houses was–often it was horrendous. The other, Our Uninvited Guests looks at the people who invaded. The two novels I’ve paired them with are Brideshead Revisited, which begins with Charles Ryder, now an Army officer, landing at Brideshead, which has been recquisitioned. He and his men are camped in the grounds. The other novel is a new one, The Last Garden in England, which includes the war years and what occured at that house as well.  Except for the last book, I own them but have not reviewed them. (I have read Brideshead but it was back in the 1970s in high school. I swooned over the Great, first, version PBS aired with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. My love of Jeremy dates to that show).

 

I did not read either of these this year. Both deal with the “idyl” before World War I. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson (my review was lost on my old blog) and The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (scroll down in the post to read the review).

The Warmth of Other Suns has been on my TBR too long–I must make time for it. It is the story of the great migration of Black Americans from the South to the industrial centers of the north. The Salt Fields, an excellent novella, is about one man’s journey north during the migration.

 

Maiden Voyages is the nonfiction account of the women who worked on the great liners. I enjoyed this new book very much, though it has flaws. The Ocean Liner is the novel I chose not only takes us aboard a great liner, but gives us a fictitious story of the “forgotten” Kennedy daughter, Rosemary, who was given a labotomy and then hidden from view.

 

For More of My Fiction/NonFiction Pairings see these posts:

Fiction and Nonfiction About Classical Musicians

2020’s Nonfiction November Book Pairings post

2019’s Nonfiction November Book Pairings post

I enjoy pairing up books in this manner! Do you? Leave me a comment or a link to your own pairing(s) post(s).

Book Reviews

Review: The Three Graces of Val-Kill by Emily Herring Wilson & Arthurdale by Nancy Hoffman for Nonfiction November

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My Interest

While I’m not as liberal as Eleanor, I do admire her above almost all American women. I have read most everything on her and by her. The most interesting parts of her, to me, are her celebrated political partnership with the husband who both nearly destroyed her with his unfaithfulness and then set her free to live her own life. Her selflessness in nursing him through the early days of his polio is another example. She survived her #meetoo moments in her own home where her grandmother was forced to have multiple locks installed on Eleanor’s bedroom door to keep out the drunken out-of-control young uncles. She may have been groomed and used by her charismatic female headmistress–whom she adored all her life. That she carried her own suitcase, wrote the letters to G.I.’s mothers that she promised at their hospital bedsides, and that she grew as a person to leave behind the racism and antisemitism of her time and class make her worthy of my admiration. That she was a pretty awful mother (she bought one of those baby cages to hang outside a window for the baby to nap in) is evident in the 19 marriages between her four children. But, even in that she worked to improve and did improve. And, she became a truly beloved Grandmother. All while earning the title of great StatesWOMEN of our nation and the world.

The Story

This book purports to tell of one of the three great experiments in living Eleanor either helped to create or was a participant in (for the second see the second review; the third was her end-of-life living arrangement). In the late 1920s, while FDR was either on his houseboat in Florida or at Warm Springs, Eleanor and two friends (who were life partners or today would have married) set up housekeeping together in a cottage they had built, with FDR’s full approval, on his “Hyde Park” [really Springwood] Estate. They all slept in a dormitory-style bedroom, had their linens monogrammed with their joint initials, and fell happily into a sort of community home life that they enjoyed.

Nan Cook and Marion Dickerman became part of the Roosevelt family in many ways. Nan built the famous Vall-Kill furniture at a small woodshop near the cottage. Marion and Eleanor would buy and jointly run the Todhunter School for Girls in New York. The ladies accompanied Eleanor and her two youngest sons, Franklin, Jr. [the second son to bear that name–the first one having died in infancy] and John on camping trips, up to Campobello, and on a trip to Europe which FDR’s mother ruined by insisting that Eleanor and the boys have a chauffeur since Eleanor was First Lady of New York state.

But Eleanor kept evolving. She kept moving. She was still Franklin’s official wife, even if his secretary became his emotional wife. She was also still mother to five children who, for much of this time, were basically abandoned by FDR. She was a leading spokeswoman for Democratic Women in New York state. Nan and Marion were also involved in politics, but so too were Caroline O’Day and her partner and Elinor Morgantheau whose husband would serve FDR as Treasury Secretary.

In the White House, Eleanor had little time for the friends back in the little cottage. She famously took up with Lorena Hickok, “Hick,” whose career as one of the nation’s top female reporters was destroyed by Hick’s becoming too emotionally attached to Eleanor to keep the objectivity needed in those days to be a reporter.

The end had to come and it did. In a bad way. Eleanor could be like that. No spoilers.

My Thoughts

At times the writing of this book was very odd. Here are just a few examples.

Eleanor had never made a plan for what she wanted as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, and her life had been unexpectedly difficult” (p. 16). Did women do this at the turn of the 20th century?

…the unthinkable death of an infant” (p. 19)  An infant dying in 1909 was a regular occurrence, regardless of class!

She joined the newly formed Junior League for rich women but did volunteer work in settlement houses” (p. 20) what an awkward sentence. And, she was a rich woman!

The author also falls into two traps that I do not like in modern history writing. First, she “supposes” what Eleanor, Nan, and Marion “might” have done in the evening or in the course of their day. That is not helpful. It’s like the fictionalized scenes in t.v.’s The Crown–it is wrong to invent scenes in a real life. Second, she nearly lets FDR’s story take over in a few places–not nearly as often as in similar books, but it is there. In any biography of Eleanor, FDR will naturally play a large role. But this book was about a slice of her life. Finding insufficiently detailed information on her topic, I feel she padded the book to get it to a respectable page count. Had she instead have dealt more with Todhunter School or with Vall-Kil Industries and the furniture, the book would have been a more authentic account of this interesting relationship and experiment. Instead, while interesting, it fell short.  While Arthurdale (see second review below) did have a tie-in to the relationship, other chapters truly did not.

The Three Graces of Va-Kill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook and in the Place They Made Their Own by Emily Herring Wilson

Eleanor’s Other Experiment in Living

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Eleanor also championed progressive causes like resettling coal miners into new, purpose-built communities like West Virginia’s Arthurdale–which became a pet cause of hers. In addition to brand new homes, settlers had subsistence farm plots for “homesteading” and were to have employment in factories or industries brought in to serve the area. The children were given Nursery School and progressive education through high school in a new, modern school building. They received hot, nutritious lunches and had an inspiring curriculum. Sadly, the necessary industry never developed, and settlers, while in much nicer homes, were saved mostly by World War II.

This book, written for upper-level elementary school students does an excellent job of presenting the purpose and reality of Arthurdale.  Another WPA Homestead Community (there were several), Dyes Colony in Arkansas, “gave birth” to a little boy named J.R. who grew up to be singer Johnny Cash.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment by Nancy Hoffman

Note: In the interest of fairness, I read this book in February but wanted to save the review to go with The Three Graces (above).

Both of these books were appropriate for both of these November reading challenges.

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November: Newest Nonfiction Additions to My TBR

 

Nonfiction can tell a story as rich and satisifying as the best novel. During Nonfiction November, we all fall in love with a few of our titles. Here are some that I’ve recently added to my TBR and hope to read in December or in 2021.

Nature

Nature’s Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton-Porter by Barbara Olenyik Morrow

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

The Comstock’s of Cornell edited by Karen Penders St. Clair

History

In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by Julia P. Gelardi.

The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War by David Nasaw

Empress Alexandra: The Special Relationship Between Russia’s Last Tsarina and Queen Victoria by Melanie Clegg

Red Famine: Stalin’s War On Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression by Lorena Hickok

Windsor Diaries, 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard. Link is to Amazon UK,

Food

Women in the Kitchen by Anne Willan

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training… by Bill Buford

In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life by Yemisi Aribisala, Laura Freeman, Rebecca May Johnson, and Ella Risbridger . I am in LOVE with the cover!

Travel and Home

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain

Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us by Joel Kotkin

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Social Justice

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White American by Michael Eric Dyson

Soul Full of Coal Dust by Chris Hamby

The Address Book by Deirdre Mask

And This One

The Diaries of Alan Rickman!! Read more here

Any new nonfiction on your TBR? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November Review: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

My Interest

I’m a woman.

The Story

If you are a woman you will read this book. Now, here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Doctors, aside from their gynecology and labor/delivery training, are trained on an “average” male body even though women’s heart attacks are very different.
  2. Drugs, with a few exceptions, have traditionally been tested on mostly male volunteers. Which explains why some do not do what they should for women
  3. City planners design spaces that all must live in, but that forget the needs of women and children for things like grocery stores and playgrounds.
  4. Transportation systems engineers design systems for men’s commute to work–not for women’s round-about trips to first check on Grandma, then drop the two stroller-bound toddlers at daycare and THEN go to work and then at the end of the day adding a stop to buy groceries before going to the daycare and the other Grandma’s house.
  5. Cars and airbags are designed for men. Pregnant women, who are naturally closer to the steering wheel? Never considered.
  6. Disaster relief teams, refugee camps, and similar forget that women menstruate, endure cultural shunning for being with men to whom they are not related, and often must give birth. Condoms, yes. Sanitary pads–no. Or worse, only tampons in spite of taboos restricting them to only married women.

The book shows all the ways that leaving women out of surveying, quantifying, and otherwise amassing information to inform decisions is costing us time, money, productivity, advancement, lives, and more. Just read it.

My Thoughts

There are so many more I won’t go on. Now, about the author. Yes, she is a strident left-wing feminist and yes the HRC person is mentioned more than one time. Ignore both and read the book. This book has been needed for so long! The distortions of data have cost women lives, dignity, safety, and opportunities–and that is being said by someone far to the right of the author. This book should be used in every course on quantitative research or similar. It is not a boring textbook. The author tells the story very well and illustrates it almost too well. This is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in years. I do not agree with every single thing she says, but it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Just read it. Have I mentioned you should read it?

 

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Invisible  Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November Review: Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

My Interest

Any family and its group of friends that includes not one, but three private secretaries to the Queen, plus other notables grabs my attention every time. Through in a fabulous portrait by John Singer Sargent, stir in a descendant owning the fabled Island of Mustique and well, I just had to read it! I’m still wondering how I missed it when it came out.

The Story

Back in the “other” ’90s–the 1890s, the so-called Gilded Age and into the Edwardian era at the start of the 20th Century there was a group known in society as “The Souls.” Their children became “The Coterie,”  and after the First World War they morphed into “The Bright Young Things,” This is their story. The three Wyndham sisters, the men they married, the men they flirted with, the men they committed indiscretions with, the children the begot and the good works that they did are all here. But that makes it sound boring and it was anything but! Even I, who has a pretty fair grasp of the families involved, needed a family tree and photographic chart to keep them all strait while listening to the audio version.

The sitters of Sargent’s famous Wyndham sisters, Mary, Lady Elcho (later Countess of Wemyss), Madeline, Mrs. Charles Adeane, and Pamela, Mrs. Edward Tennant (later the Baroness Glenconner) were the three sisters at the heart of the”The Souls.” They sacrificed sons on the altar of the King and Empire in World War I. They had the ear of politicians of the day. Their descendants entertained or advised royalty.

The women themselves lived life under their own rules. One was tried and true to her husband, happy with him from day one. One adored being with her children. One was a writer. All managed to do what they wanted while managing the migrations of family from one house to the other, while having to constantly manage and recruit servants, and put up with husband’s whims and occasional disparagement.

My Thoughts

I have such a book hangover that I cannot do justice to this book in a review. The families are fascinating–some times in ways they shouldn’t be, but mostly in good ways. This was one of the most interesting collective biographies I’ve ever read. I am purchasing a copy so that I can keep it and possibly do a better job of sorting out the families! It is enough to say that from these women descended some fascinating men–sons and grandsons who made their own mark. Two rather notoriously, and one quietly, behind the scenes. I leave it to you to decide if they are enough proof of how fascinating these sisters were. I am only sorry that I let it languish on my TBR for so many years.

From Mary, Lady Elcho/Lady Wemyss came:

Queen Elizabeth II with her Private Secretary, Martin Charteris (later Baron Charteris of Amisfield), grandson of Mary Wyndham.

From Pamela came

the “Brightest” of The Bright Young Things, her son, Stephen Tennant (left) and his brother, David, who started a notorious debauched club in London. Her grandson, Colin, Lord Glenconner, owned Mustique island and was a close friend of Princess Margaret. You can read more about him in my post here.

Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November Re-run: Expert Recommendation of Royal Books Updated

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I can’t top last year’s Nonfiction November “be an expert” post on royal books, so I’m updating it and linking to it!

First the updates:

The One Worth Reading

Meghan and Harry: The Real Story by Lady Colin Campbell. I go hot and cold on “Lady C” as she’s popularly known. She’s written some total crap, but also has gotten the story dead right before. So pick and chose as you read. She’s now and Youtube Royal sensation from this book–she does weekly videos on the royals (see the video at the end of this post).  This book rings very true. She does have excellent contacts and she can tell a story. If you’re going to read one Markle book let it be this one. It just irritates me that having been married for only about a year over 40 years ago she STILL uses her ex-husband’s courtesy title (he is styled Lord Colin because he is the son of a Duke). She was, therefore, “Lady” instead of Mrs. Like Markle should be just plain Princess Henry and not Duchess of anything).

The New Memoir

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The Windsor Diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard. UK readers can buy this–it won’t be out in the USA until May. I’m anxious to get my hands on it. This is the diary of a childhood/teenage years friend of the Queen. NOTE: The link is for UK Amazon.

The New Romanov Book

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Empress Alexandra by Melanie Clegg. My copy will be here later this week. Alexandra was, of course, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria–first cousin to King George V, great-aunt to Prince Philip, and aunt of Lord Mountbatten and Queen Louise of Sweden.

New Royal Books That Aren’t Terrible

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Prince Andrew, Epstein, Maxwell and The Palace by Nigel Cawthorne. I have not read it but it is seemingly well-researched. To date, Andrew has not been charged with anything other than being sleazy. At least at the time of the alleged encounter in the UK it was legal to take a 17- year-old to bed. Even slime mold deserves due process.

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Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward. I just got this, but I’ll wager money the only thing revealed is that Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine is wanting a manuscript ready for the day Philip dies. It is also a lot easier to prepare this and slip in commentary on the Harry and Markle travesty than to write a book on them. If only Harry had listened to Philip. One less narcissist would have a role on the celebrity stage.

New Royal Books to Skip at All Costs

So bad I can’t even dignify them with a cover shot.

Finding Freedom by Meghan Markle, I MEAN by Obit Scooby-Doo-Doo-Doo and someone who wants to disassociate herself for this miscarriage of nonfiction. This books is part of the evidence in a court case that Markle will likely loose. It is soooooooooooo bad! If you are not a diabetic you will still want to acquire some insulin before you try to wade thru the sugary b.s. of the book.  Possibly the most self-adoring book ever published. There is very little truth in it. Even some of her most ardent fans saw through it. I absolutely refuse to provide a link to this horror.

Battle of the Brothers: William and Harry: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult. by Robert Lacey: This once EXCELLENT royal author has sold his soul to Netflix for his spot as adviser on The Crown. Spoiler alert! Netflix is paying Harry and Markle to spill their secrets. This book is not worthy of him. It is a farce of Markle promotion that should never have been published. This is another one I refuse to link to. And, why? Why do people assume that brothers must love and adore each other just because their mother died? Silly. Even in believable books they sound like two very different personalities with some common pastimes like huntin’ shootin’ fishin’, polo, and video games, but beyond that they are very different men.

Read My Expert Recommendation of Royal Books here….

[click the text above to go to the list]

Book Reviews

German Literature Month Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst

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My Interest

I enjoy a few nature books most years. This one caught my eye because my son works for a tree service and devoured our Audubon Field Guide to Trees of North America not long after he started work. I saw this book and decided to read it to see if it was worth giving his as an extra Christmas gift. It is among 2 or 3 contenders for that honor so there could be more tree book reviews later. My verdict is–I think he would read it. He isn’t a big reader but when it really interests him he will read. This is a nonfiction book and that would normally be ok with him only if it was about a rapper or maybe an artist.

My other interest was, by chance, seeing the word “fungi” in a quick look-through of the book. I am fascinated by mushrooms and forests teem with them. This part of the story, I thought, might be really interesting.

Thanks to blogger Lizzy’s Literary Life for bringing this gem to my attention. Why not be nice and click and read her review, too? Bloggers love visitors!

The Story

Forester Wohlleben loves trees. His life’s work is in a forest in Germany. He is a scientist so he pays very close attention to the details the trees in his forest. Happily, he is also a very good writer (and Billinghurst is a very good translator) so reading about such details is a joy and not a struggle. He makes the forest come as alive to the reader as it is to him. So, the fungi I was looking forward to were just icing on a very nice cake of a nature book.

What Wohleben describes is the lifespan of trees. Not as in 6th grade science class and ring-counting and all that, but about communities of trees, families of trees, the socio-economic strata of trees, the gentrification of forests, the urban decay of forests, the street kids, street gangs, and, cooperative development agencies of the forests–none of which are people. Wohleben’s study of trees has let him understand the language of trees–their interpersonal communication. He explains how the different players in the forest community fulfill their roles, putting it all into such expressive and readable prose that I read over 60 pages in one sitting.

Here are a few very short, illustrative glimpses into what Wohleben has discovered:

“Spruce store essential oils in their needles and, and bark, which act like antifreeze.”

“Then there are the weevils. They look a bit like tiny elephants that have lost their enormous ears.”

Here is a typical prose passage to give you a feel for the joy of reading this book:

“And what if an oak gets a deep wound or a wide crack in its trunk as a result of a lightening strike? That doesn’t matter to the oak, because its wood is permeated with substances that discourage fungi and severely slow down fungal decomposition…Even severely damaged trees with major branches broken off can grow replacement crows and live for a few hundred years longer” (p. 97, Kindle Edition).

Unexpectedly, I have a new possible favorite nonfiction book of the year. It was simply that good.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst.

Added bonus: This book also works for Nonfiction November and Novellas in November (they include nonfiction novellas).  Though it is maybe a tad long for a true novella, it reads as quickly as one.

Book Reviews

Novellas in November: Nonfiction Novella: Review–The Runaway Amish: The Great Escape Girl by Emma Gingerich

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My Interest

I have long been fascinated by oppressive or cultist religion. For many years, on an old blog, I wrote about TV’s Duggar family and the cultish group to which they belong–The Institute of Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute (IBLP/ATI). After Josh Duggar’s molestation of his sisters was finally admitted, I quit. Mission accomplished. The Amish, who surround me here in Southern Ohio, are an odd group. They have a unique status in American–they speak German, they do not assimilate in any way into the community, they have unique health problems–many of which can be traced to inbreeding, and they are exempt from Selective Service (registering for the draft) and from mandatory schooling until age 18. I haven’t looked this one up, but I do think child labor laws apply, or if they do then they are conveniently overlooked. They do not vote. They do, when necessary, take Medicaid and other assistance for disabled children. If they have a business, they pay taxes so I see nothing wrong with that.

Many idolize Amish culture as “a simple life.” It is–and it isn’t. The contradictions are endless. Different communities of Amish have different rules. Around here some wear Crocks or running shoes. Others have push-bikes (like a bike with a scooter platform). Some can have propane-powered appliances, propane generators to run computers and charge the cell phones they need for business. They can hire a driver. It is not unusual to see a horse and buggy at the local Walmart or Dollar General, either.

We also have a large Mennonite Church near here. If you live here it is soon obvious who is Amish, who is Mennonite even without cell phones, shoes or cars.

The Story

Emma grew up in a large Amish family. She was born here in Ohio in a hospital. Yes, Amish do use hospitals when “prudent”–they may even use “English” doctors if necessary. There are clinics across the border in Mexico that do a land-office business in Amish hysterectomies for cash, too. Anyway, Emma had questions almost from the start. The dangerous kind of questions for a child–especially a girl–in an extreme patriarchy. Those questions being with “Why do we ….” Like the Catholic priests used to say the answer was basically, “it’s a matter of faith.” Like most Amish children, she could not understand most of what was said in the hours-long Church services because it was spoken in an old dialect of German–not the German they used in everyday conversation.

When Emma turned 16 and a half she was expected to go to “signings” after church–aka the Amish marriage market. Amish dates go like this: Guy tells another guy he wants a date with a certain girl. The “matchmaker” [boy’s buddy] tells the girl. She agrees. She can’t really refuse. He drives her home in his buggy, sees to the horse, then climbs into bed with her. Nothing but kissing is supposed to happen.

About the time dating like this started Emma developed headaches. She was taken only to a chiropractor and herbalist and then to two different quack doctors. She knew she was not made for Amish life. Imagine being 12 or 13 and expected to take over for the mother of a large family for one or two weeks–all on your own! That’s what Emma had to do. This taught her she was not made for that kind of life. Eventually, as the title suggests, she found a way out. By this time her family lived in Missouri and earned money weaving baskets. She was a good enough daughter that she worried the business would die without her hard work. She also protected her siblings from possible abuse by not sharing all of her plans.

My Thoughts

What Emma did takes a lot of courage. She left EVERYTHING to find the life that let her breathe free and be happy. She did not take the step lightly, nor did she do it to hurt anyone. She knew it was not the life for her. That she continued to care and connect with her family no matter what shows her true feelings for them. Like most who have been too sheltered, she went through true times of trial, but she stood up to those trials. I applaud her.

Other Amish books I’ve reviewed:

Why I Left the Amish by Saoma Miller Furlong

Reading Amish and More… a post on Amish books and other items.

Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simple, More Sustainable Life

I’ve read countless others since 1983 when I read the first book.