What a book!

October 31, 2010

Review: The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in IraqThe Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick recommendation: I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that the current armed forces are the most literate soldiery in world history and the volume of war memoirs in the past few years are proof of this.

I heard this author interviewed on NPR and he was very funny, which made me read the book.

The book, of course, wasn’t always funny because it is about war after all. It is funny, sad, heartbreaking, and sometimes inspiring. There are a number of excellent war memoirs, so many you certainly can’t read them all. Be sure to make time for this one.

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October 14, 2010

Review: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

Filed under: Audiobooks,Food,Non-fiction — mike @ 5:49 pm
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Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild FoodFour Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Greenberg does a terrific job of summing up a complicated subject in this book. With farmed animals, genetically modified animals, environmental and habitat destruction for animals much on everyone’s mind, this book offers a balanced and well-reasoned look at the four main fish mankind has fished for food (although Greenberg does sneak a few more in here and there).

That it’s written in such an easily engaging manner without dumbing the subject matter down is a plus. And he does not really beat the drum for any one cause (nor does he get preachy). Of course the book offers no quick and easy solutions, but one book can’t really do that, I am afraid.

Some may find the state of the wild fish stocks detailed in this book depressing. And it is. But don’t let that stop you from reading the whole book. The epilogue/lament at the end sums up his point of view (hint, the section is labeled “Conclusion”) and, while the depressing aspects of the book are revisited (Greenberg is a fisherman himself, and he can only be saddened by the decline of wild fish stocks), he still holds out hope that man can fix things, and not just through technology.

You will like this book: If you liked “Cod” by Mark Kurlansky (which is referenced in this book), you will enjoy and be interested in this one. As a side note, I am going to read “Trying Leviathan” now as a result of its inclusion in this book. Apparently, a whale was considered a fish for a lot longer than necessary because a reactionary response by a jury in New York in an oil labeling dispute.

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September 27, 2010

Bill Bryson: “At Home”

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 4:02 pm
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Intrepid explorer and magnificent wordsmith, Bill Bryson takes us on a journey through his home this time.

That’s a little bit misleading really… I should say he takes us through the history of home life using his own pile of bricks as a sort of jumping off place.

Now, I am a Bryson devotee. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love and cherish. But even for me, the subject matter sounded, well, a little bit dull. And this is no small tome either. I wondered how he would go on and on about the rooms of a house for hundreds of pages and keep my interest. To me, it seemed like a bit of a risk for Bryson.

I should never have doubted him. Bryson weaves history, astonishing facts (Thomas Jefferson invented the french fry. Who knew?!), current information, and authoritative references brilliantly and with his usual gentle humour.

Bryson’s old rectory in Norfolk, England forms the basis of the book as we explore his hall, kitchen, parlours, servants’ stairs, bedrooms, and even the fuse box. What fascinates me is that the chapter about the fuse box is filled with the sorts of things you just never think about or take for granted. Things like how dangerous it was to wander about after dark before electricity became widespread. How taking a midnight stroll meant you took your life in your hands and subjected yourself to thieves and murderers because the streets were so dark. Or how Britain was forced into total blackness in 1939 by order of the government for fear of the Luftwaffe. One could be fined for lighting so much as a cigarette on a street corner.

You see? It’s more than just, “And now we enter the hallway which contains some end tables and a lovely rug.” It’s more like, “The hallway of a home used to be THE place for congregating  and indeed the inclusion of separate rooms in medieval times was considered an odd notion.”

It’s rich, exciting, fascinating glimpse into the past that I guarantee will make you look at your own home a bit differently when you’re through.

June 18, 2010

A suspenseful tale even though you know the ending

I remember reading ‘Day of the Jackal’ one summer during college and, despite some of the dense writing in parts, not being able to put it down. That’s how it felt to read ‘Hellhound On His Trail: The Stalking Of Martin Luther King Jr. And The International Hunt For His Assassin’ by Hampton Sides, except I knew the outcome and there was no dense writing.

Despite knowing the outcome, it was hard to put this book down for the night. The chapters are written like the most engaging of page turners, short and punchy, but the wealth of information is amazing. I am too young to have even been alive when King was shot, so, of course there would be things in here that would be new. But this book took the dry, two-dimensional people we read about in history class and really fleshed them out, made them whole people, all against, a backdrop of events that were rocking America.

Much like the agents and officers working the case, Sides finds some of the smallest of details and puts them in without bogging the story down at all. I also especially liked his reconstruction of quotes and conversations from primary sources instead of reimagining them as they might have occurred.

This is a great and very accessible read of a pivotal moment in U.S. history. Highly recommended, even for summer beach reading.

May 16, 2010

So much coming!

Filed under: Authors,Michael Palmer,Non-fiction,Uncategorized — jacksheard @ 10:52 am
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Lee Child has a Jack Reacher book coming out Tuesday. Steve Martini has a Paul Mandrini book June 1. John Sandford has a Lucas Davenport book coming out, also on Tuesday.

I’m still catching up with Michael Palmer.

Oh my. Oh my. Oh. My.

We’ll talk soon.

March 22, 2010

“Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 9:07 pm
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When I lived in England in 1998, I lived and worked in a posh little pub tucked away in the hills of the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire. There was a country gent who lived down the lane from my pub who would ask me to give his hair a trim now and then. He was a bit eccentric to let a damn Yank have a whack at his hair but I must have done an okay job because before I left to come back to the states, he gave me a book. “Notes from a Small Island” became a cherished book in my house and introduced me to the wonderfulness of Bill Bryson.

‘Notes’ chronicles an Iowan’s last, fond walkabout around the little island he had called home for almost twenty years, before he packed his family up to come back to the states.

Full of amusing anecdotes and belly-laugh inducing comparisons between the British and Americans (the first few pages are devoted to the fact that the British really have no concept of distance), Bryson makes his way by train and often by foot around England, Scotland and Wales. He revisits many little towns and hamlets he had been to on his first arrival in the UK as well as all the places he had been to since, taking us with him on a grand tour of this enchanting place.

I often find travel books hard to get through. I find them a bit dry and pretty much just good for telling me what time of the year is best for visiting certain places. But Bryson gives us such an intimate and thorough glimpse into the UK in this book (indeed in many of his travel-type books, he does the same thing) that you don’t feel like you’re reading a travel book at all. He has a Dave Barry-esque style to his humour and and writing that I often find myself laughing out loud when reading his books. And then I look around to make sure I’m alone because that just looks odd.

I’ll write about some of his other works in the future, but I wanted to start off with ‘Notes’ because it’s very special to me. I re-read this often and still laugh every time.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You love anything British and have a quirky sense of humour. Bryson’s digression on place names in England alone will have you rolling. I mean, ‘Farleigh Wallop’. Seriously.

Bill Bryson’s official site

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