Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂


51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!


51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Advertisements

Review: Apollo 8

Apollo-8-Cover-GalleyCat.jpgBook: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: The true story behind the space mission of Apollo 8… How astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first to orbit the moon in 1968.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The subtitle of the book is: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. For a space mission that really had no mishaps and went off pretty much like clockwork, Kluger somehow does indeed make it a “thrilling story”. What a story-telling gift!

2) This book brought NASA in the Gemini and Apollo eras to life like no other book I’ve read. I finally understand who some of the personalities were and what they actually did during in the space program. People like Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton and Gene Kranz, in addition to the astronauts themselves and their wives. And Kluger made all of them into real people.

3) The story of the Apollo 1 disaster was heartbreaking. Very well-written.

4) I really liked how he handled the Christmas message. He was able to use story-telling to create anticipation for an event that I already knew about!

5) I also like how the tragic events of 1968 (such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK) were juxtaposed against this amazingly optimistic achievement. Especially amazing is how the author ties it all together in the final chapter with a telegram received by one of the astronauts.

6) I loved the cover. Very sleek, yet appropriate. Especially cool is how the lettering looks like a Saturn V rocket.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Hmm? Anything? Radio blackout, here. Nothing to report.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I like space books and I enjoyed this one very much! Bonus on the audio book version which has an interview with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, as well as audio soundbites from the mission itself!

Review: Romancing Miss Bronte

51WvuAc7ByL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Romancing Miss Bronte (a Novel)
Author: Juliet Gael
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A novelized version of the biography of Charlotte Bronte. The book covers her days at Haworth leading up to becoming an author, along with her sisters, to her untimely death.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It’s about Charlotte Bronte. Need I say more?

2) Having studied the life of Charlotte Bronte myself years ago, I can say that the author was able to capture her life amazingly. The book reads like a biography, yet also like a novel. Well done!

3) I loved, loved, loved the stories of the events that led up to the publication of Jane Eyre.

4) I thought she did a good job weaving Arthur into the story. The book begins with his arrival at Haworth, and he keeps popping up throughout. [SPOILER] (Of course, he’s very much the focus in the latter part of the book when he reveals his esteem for Miss Bronte and eventually convinces her to marry him.) [END SPOILER]

5) The passages dealing with Branwell were heartbreaking (in a good, but sad way)… how the sisters have to deal with their brother.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [SPOILER] Arthur is no Rochester. I really wanted to root for him and Charlotte as a couple, but I felt something lacking in him as the “hero” of a romance. This may be a casualty of fiction vs. real life? I feel the author tried to somehow morph Arthur into a Rochester-mold towards the end of the book. And yet, I wasn’t fully convinced. Again, it’s hard to put this into words. [END SPOILER]

2) Every so often, the dialogue/narrative would give what I came to realize are nicknames for various people. For example: Emily and Anne call Charlotte “Tally” which threw me a few times before I realized to whom they were speaking. And Elizabeth Gaskell seems to be “Lily Gaskell”? Who’s Lily? Is that Mrs. Gaskell herself or perhaps it’s her daughter??

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed reading this book. Biographies about my favourite authors are usually a safe bet for me. I liked how she was able to weave the biography part in with the novel part.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

magicstringsBook: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Detailing the life of superstar musician, Frankie Presto… his ups and downs… tragedies and triumphs. He travels everywhere with his guitar from his maestro. And then, one day, one of the strings turns blue. That’s when he realizes that his life is affecting those around him.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The narrator is “Music”. I liked how Music is able to give us details of the story that even Frankie himself doesn’t know. I also like the musical lingo and refrains. “Everybody joins a band in this life…”

2) Aurora and Frankie. I won’t give out spoilers here.

3) The rogue’s gallery of real-life musicians and performers. In a way, this book reminded me of Forrest Gump. Now I didn’t care too much for that movie, because I felt the coupling of real events with Forrest’s life was forced. I did not feel the same way with this book. Not every event is Frankie “doin’ Elvis”. There was just enough to make it seem real and legit. Well done, Mr. Albom!

4) Lyle and his friends. I wasn’t sure at first about this little thread, but I loved how that turned out. 🙂

5) The Woodstock story interspersed with other stories. I thought it was well done. A nice twist with Aurora that I was not expecting!

6) **SPOILER ALERT: The daughter. I love the connection made later on with regards to his own adopted father and his rejection of him. And then the realization that you can truly love a child who is not biologically yours. As Frankie loves Kai. END SPOILER**

7) El Maestro.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER ALERT: The final revelation of his death. I felt this was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was expecting something disastrous and awful, and it wasn’t. Part of me is glad, because I didn’t want him murdered spectacularly, but I still have mixed feelings about the ending. END SPOILER**

2) The aunt in Detroit. I felt this scene was almost unnecessary. Almost. What I didn’t like about it is how quick it is. How does Frankie come to even understand everything she tells him? I feel that in real life, Frankie would need a longer time with them to grasp the reality that there is no way his “father” could be his father.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! The real musicians mixed in with the fiction. I thought it was well done.

Review: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life

41G6qx0cmCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
My Rating: 1 Star

I’ve had one of those throw-down-the-book-in-disgust moments. The book in question? How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. I had read a short essay by the author and wanted to try one of her novels. I guess I picked it out for sentimental reasons; I loved Nancy Drew as a kid.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The cover. It’s whimsical. I like it.

2) The main character (a nanny/governess) is named Charlotte Bell. If you are a real Charlotte Bronte fan, you will realize this is a combination of Bronte’s first name and her pseudonym Currer Bell. Now, I didn’t realize the Jane Eyre influence when I first picked up the book, but it’s there. In fact, the story line has more to do with Jane Eyre than it does with Nancy Drew. I love Jane Eyre! So this was a very pleasant discovery that made me happy.

But that’s where the pleasantness ended. (At least for me.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found the book to be borderline blasphemous. An example of this was the repeated use of the term WWNDD (What Would Nancy Drew Do). IMHO, that is just clever… in the **wrong** way!

2) Actually, I found myself skimming a lot. The main character spends far too much time in bed (and she’s not alone in bed either). For a character based on Jane Eyre, it goes against everything Jane stands for. Jane would be horrified.

3) SPOILER HERE: By the end of the book, Charlotte’s pregnant (Hmm. That would NEVER have happened to Jane Eyre!). There seem to be no realistic consequences for Charlotte. It’s like the author is saying, “Good for you, Charlotte. This baby will solve all your loneliness issues!” She never even takes into account that she’s single and will have to provide for this baby… in New York City, no less, which is one expensive place to live! And she doesn’t even have her nanny job anymore! (Although the book hints that she may get back together with the baby’s father, even though he’s not yet divorced from his wife). END SPOILER.

4) I couldn’t really tell you how Nancy Drew Saved Her Life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book had so much potential. I wanted to like it. But I can only give it 1 Star. And that’s mostly for the cover artwork. 😦