Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book review: "Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War" by Ben Macintyre

Oh man, this book. It's got heroics, Nazis assholes, British stiff upper lips, daring escapes, terrible deaths and literally everything you would need to make an awesome movie. (But no Hollywood, by all means give us another Fast and the Furious). Even when the subject matter is this macho and rough the writing in this book was always just lovely and elegant and there were a lot of sentences that I just wanted to savor.

Examples: "A warrior monk, he craved action and the company of soldiers, but when the fighting was over, he embraced solitude". "Recruiting Mayne was like adopting a wolf: exciting, certain to instill fear, but not necessarily sensible".

(I didn't realize it until about 30 pages left in the book but I've actually read another book by this author. It's about Kim Philby and it's also elegantly written and ALSO has people you want to punch in the face. So there's that).

So, the SAS were a group of men that specifically were designed to go behind enemy lines, sabotage, wreck all kinds of havoc and then get out. This was not generally how things were done, and it took a certain type of person to be able to do it (especially where they first started, fighting in the Libyan dessert, jumping out of planes at night, which they were the first to do - probably because it's dangerous as hell and you shouldn't do it). So these men who had to be tough, committed, wiling to follow orders but not be "yes men", and be willing to work as a part of a team-being devoted to each other (but also to leave someone who broke their back in the middle of the desert because they couldn't carry him and endanger the mission - this happened a fair amount. Jumping out of planes in the desert, remember?) came from surprisingly diverse backgrounds. You had upper crust rich guys, guys who came from tomato farms,a Belgian merchant with a name no one can pronounce so they gave him a new one, american cowboys who turned into pilots who crashed in Europe and then got recruited, someone from Wisconsin - woohoo!, a parachuting priest and at least 2 totally homicidal Scots (bless their homicidal hearts, they were nuts). AND THAT'S NOT EVEN THE GUY WHO SCALED A TOWER WHERE A SNIPER WAS SHOOTING FROM AND STRANGLED HIM WITH HIS BARE HANDS.

The book covers how the group began, their first theater of battle (Libyan dessert - sounds terrible) and then on to Europe. It is kind of hard because you get attached to a few of them and then they die when a bomb explodes their truck or get lined up and shot outside of a train car in the forest (god damned Nazis). It's a lot of names, but these men are memorable. But they aren't just caricatures of action heroes, there's a particular scene around a campfire that was bittersweet.

So you may be able to tell from my rambling, but I really enjoyed this book. It's in my top 3 of the year. I will actively seek out more of Mr Macintyre's books!

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: "Last Christmas in Paris" by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (HFVBT)

I'm always a little leery of a romance, but with this books unique format and interesting setting I gave it a go, and I'm glad that I did! It's about Evie Elliot, who is "left behind" as her brother Will and his best friend Thomas leave their upper class lives in England for dirty, awful, hellish trench warfare on the continent. (The story is told mostly through letters back and forth between a few key people, but occasionally there is a chapter that is just a normal chapter.) They (like a lot of people) assume that this war will just be a small skirmish and that it will be wrapped up by Christmas where they will meet in Paris and celebrate. It is not wrapped up by Christmas. They do not celebrate. Evie is spunky and bright and refuses to let the fact that she was left behind mean that she isn't doing "her part" for the war back at home. She even rides a bicycle for a job she gets. Scandal upon scandal!

The letters back and forth between these three showcase the worry and uncertainty of the people who are waiting at home, the terror and the boredom of trench warfare, love lost, love gained, grief, how life goes on at home while people are away at war and on and on. It's all very human and realistic feeling. 

A small thing that kind of poked at me was how fast the mail supposedly worked. And maybe the author did the research and found out that if the different battalions were ensconced somewhere for awhile that mail delivery was pretty regular. (The letters are dated, which is why I noticed). But considering it was 1915-ish and it had to cross the English Channel AND government services were stretched pretty thing AND it's a war it seemed like those letters were zipping fast and furious like Amazon prime orders! Probably not a soul other then me would give that a second thought. I might just be insane.

A great romantic read, especially in fall or winter!


Praise for Last Christmas in Paris

“Beautifully told…the authors fully capture the characters’ voices as each person is dramatically shaped by the war to end all wars.”—Booklist
“For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society comes another terrific epistolary historical novel that is simply unputdownable […] this remarkable novel will undoubtedly go on my keeper shelf.” —Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of The Night the Lights Went Out
“Humor, love, tragedy, and hope make for a moving, uplifting read. A winner!” —Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network
“An extraordinary epistolary novel that explores the history and aftermath of the Great War in a sensitive, memorable and profoundly moving fashion. A book to savor, to share and discuss with friends, and above all to cherish.” —Jennifer Robson, international bestselling author of Goodnight from London
“There is a special talent to writing the epistolary novel and Gaynor and Webb have mastered it. Letter by letter, the complex lives of Evie and Thomas unfold as WWI wages on, bringing with it the heartbreaking news of physical and emotional casualties. And yet, in the midst of such sacrifices, an ever-deepening love surfaces, finding a unique way to live on in this devastatingly beautiful work of historical fiction.”—Renee Rosen, author of Windy City Blues

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Chapters | IndieBound | Kobo

About the Authors

HEATHER WEBB is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, and the anthology Fall of Poppies, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and more, as well as received national starred reviews. RODIN’S LOVER was a Goodreads Top Pick in 2015. Up and coming, Last Christmas in Paris, an epistolary love story set during WWI will release October 3, 2017, and The Phantom’s Apprentice, a re-imagining of the Gothic classic Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daae’s point of view releases February 6, 2018. To date, her novels have sold in ten countries. Heather is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.

HAZEL GAYNOR is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris will be published in 2017.
Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Author Event with Mary Roach

Ya'll it's been a shit week out in the world. Let's make it a little bit better by talking about a fun author event that I went to last week.

I love me some Mary Roach, so much so that I picked GRUNT, her latest, as my book club pick for the workplace book club that I am in. Low and behold, only a few short months after we read the book and everyone enjoys it, she comes to Milwaukee for a talk. Hooray! So a group of 4 of us went to check her out.

Also, some of you may have seen mine and Mary's chitter chat on the twitter the day before: (on the tweet I sent I had that GIF of Loki from Avengers hanging out of a car window going YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!)

We weren't allowed to film or take pictures during the event but, being the book blogger that I am, I had brought a notepad with me to take notes! So, the format was a conversation between Mary and a local, public radio personality and then they took some questions.

(I'm obviously paraphrasing these questions and answers because I didn't have a tape recorder and I was trying to drink my Heineken and take notes and listen. So none of these quotes are the "" type of quotes). 

Radio guy: Do you think science writing is a service to scientists?
Mary: Acts as translator and a massive filtration system between the scientists/science and the general public. Spending hours in the basement of a library or a dusty archives to find something that really grabs her attention and then finding a way to make it so that is more approachable for the average reader.

Radio guy: Why are you a science writer and not a scientist?
Mary: No advanced math! She also said she had a great physics teacher but a terrible biology teacher who made everything dull and boring, so she thought that maybe if she had had better science experiences in school she would have stuck more with science. Though, she said she has an admittedly short attention span, so journalism and writing is good for that.

Radio guy: Some question about how she captures a scene/what kind of notes she takes/ how she takes notes. Something like that.

Mary: She has a tape recorder on for her interviews, especially because she wants to get the science words right. Shes takes notes by hand on the people that she is actually interviewing, the situation around them. She always carries two tape recorders just in case one breaks, and she hates pens with caps! In her heart she always wanted o be a travel writer, so she doesn't mind going to the far flung places to chase a lead! GRUNT started when she went to India to chase down a story about really hot peppers and it ended in a government lab who was trying to make leech repellant.

Radio guy: Was it hard to get people to talk to you because of government agencies and secrecy and war and whatever?

Mary: No! People were very open about what they were doing and are prouod of what they are doing so they want to share. Mary herself was shocked she didn't run into more roadblocks that way.

Then she told a couple of stories from GRUNT, which we all kind of already know because we read the book so I didn't take any notes.

People got to ask questions and I got to ask what she is reading right now and she said THIS

So it lasted about an hour and then there was the signing. So, I got a copy of GRUNT as an ARC, so I didn't have a physical copy to sign so she signed my Kindle. She was like, oh my gosh are you sure? And I was like hell yeah! So she did. (Mary was in entirety, funny and happy and sweary and just all around exactly like you would want her to be).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" by Jill Lepore

If you are looking for a quick, bite sized book that will tell you all about Wonder Woman in big, broad strokes not the book for you. Are you looking for an incredibly detailed, well researched, and interesting book that gives you the real long game about the creator of Wonder Woman, the huge influences on him who made Wonder Woman who she is and more? DING DING. Here is the book you are looking for!

So, the man who created Wonder Woman was....uh...a renaissance man of sorts. Yeah, that's it. He invented the detector! He got fired from almost all of his jobs! He was not classically handsome but must have had a pretty magnetic personality or something because the women in his life put up with A LOT. And yeah, that plural is indicative of lovers and wives...which he usually had one of each for many many years in a polyamorous scenario.

Have you heard the rumors about the reason that there are so many chains and cuffs and ropes and Wonder Woman being tied up is because her creator had some BDSM tendencies? That is not a complete untruth. Though lots of times it serves as a metaphor for women being shackled to traditional gender roles. (And by that I mean, it was 1932 if you were female you went to high school, you got married, you had kids, that's it. Any deviation from that path and you were getting eyebrows raised and people tittering about you. I would never have guessed that: birth control, the women's suffragette movement, and so many other things would have contributed to a comic book!

A thing that this book mentioned in passing that got me weirdly angry is that there were so many women who did work on comic books of the time that were given no credit for their work because they were women. And that's just all kinds of bullshit. Where's a book about the unsung women of the comic book world?!


Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: "American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land" by Monica Hesse

This was picked for my work book club. I had heard a lot of buzz about it but couuuuuldn't actually have told you what it was about. True crime is not generally what I find myself reaching for as far as nonfiction is concerned, but it turned out to be a really interesting read.

The author went out of her way to tell you about the community where the story takes place. This is one of those books where the setting itself is a character, and if you didn't get a feel for the place the rest of the book wouldn't make as much sense. 

There's a main couple in this story and I feel like everyone who has gone to a bar, or lives in a state that has a strong drinking culture - for better or for worse- (#DrinkWisconsinbly!) has seem a version of the main couple in the story. I think that was one thing that kinda of made me chuckle at this book. All of the people in this book were interesting, well thought out/fleshed out people. (I mean, it's nonfiction, these people are real but I feel like you got a whole person, not just a weird snapshot, 2D version)

Also, learned so so so so so much about how volunteer fire departments worked! I've never lived in a place that didn't have a city/municipal fire department so that was interesting to me as well.

This very well researched and through book read really fast and kept me hooked until the end, which is quite a feet considering you know who committed the crimes from about the first 10 pages onward!


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Poetry confusion.

So, I struggle with poetry. I want to like more of it. There's some that I really like. I like the Romantic poets, like Blake and Coleridge. I like some Tennyson. I can be down for some Shakespeare sonnets. (Though if I am reading Shakespeare it's Hamlet or Macbeth, let's be honest.) 

I keep saying I'm trying to get more into TS Eliot because I like the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and The Wasteland. 

But when I try to get into more of his poetry or, you know, literally any other poetry I feel like I don't know where to start. I know I probably can just jump in anywhere and that's fine (like there's no wrong way to read, we all know that) but I always feel like I'm starting at the wrong place. Apparently I need chapters and chronologicalness to make me confident in what I am doing bookwise.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Poets? Poems? Poetry for Dummies?

I will say, poetry that rhymes or is more lyrical in nature is the most appealing to me. I feel like that's my only parameters.

And because the internet is full of whatever you need at your fingertips I found one of my favorite pieces of poetry. I thought it was a Longfellow, and it kind of is, but it's actually "his" because he translated it into English.

Image result for soul from thy casement look

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: "Blink- The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell

Several of the very smart scientist ladies that I work with have been talking about Malcolm Gladwell's books lately and I thought I would jump in and try one for myself. This is not my most favorite nonfiction read (that's a pretty crowded category to be fair) but I still learned a lot. 

One of the things I learned kind of made me sad. I always assume that everyone in them as a little psychic ability in them. Just your gut instinct on why you do or don't do something. This book tells me it's just because my brain is moving a lot faster than I thought that it was. Which FINE OKAY SCIENCE but that's just a little bit less fun.

The two parts of the book that I found the most interesting were:

The Pepsi Challenge. A thing when Pepsi did a study giving people one sip of Coke and Pepsi, with the sippers not knowing which was which, to see what they prefered. That section goes into what was weird about that study (who ever drinks just one sip of something?), what factors made it turn out the way that it did and finally an answer on why New Coke was a thing. 

The other part was the very very end about people auditioning for orchestras that play their instrument behind a screen. It is supposed to help take out people's bias and holy cow it sounds like there's a lot of bias floating around in that world! Basically, women can't play brass instruments. Stick to the flute and the violin and the clarinet women of the world or else be ready to face some unfair and unbiased scrutiny! #smashthepatriarchy

I gave this book a solid 3 out of 5. Some of it was interesting but then some of it seemed to go on for far too long on any certain topic.