Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis

As we head into November, cold weather is upon us and the holidays are near which means eating with family. A book to consider as it certainly ties-in is The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis. In his book,Wallis looks at the Donner Party, cold weather and the eating of family members - pretty close if you ask me.
Tales of the Donner Party have filled our history. It is one of pioneers heading west, getting lost and turning to cannibalism to stay alive. With his book, Wallis looks in detail at the make-up of the party and just what went wrong that led to its disastrous end.
What I like about Wallis' book is his exploration of the personalities of the Donner Party - who got along and who didn't. He takes that a step further in looking at what roll this played in the decisions made by the group. He also explores negative outside influences and bad advice that plagues the group and eventually led to deaths of several of its members.
And of course there is the cannibalism. Wallis looks at who died and who was actually eaten. There is even a chart at the end of the story that goes family-by-family and looks at who died so that others might live. He further explores the after-effects of the party's members who were labeled as man-eaters for the rest of their lives.
Wallis' The Best Land Under Heaven may make you a bit queasy, but it is a fresh look at one of the dark chapters of our country's pioneer history.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Frog Trouble by Sandra Boynton

I checked out this book with music to listen to with my granddaughter. I was first attracted to it because I saw that the performing artists were all country singers. Among them were Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, two names I recognized. We both thoroughly enjoyed all the songs, but my favorite was Beautiful Baby because I thought it described my granddaughter to a T. The author, Sandra Boynton, wrote the lyrics, and she, with the help of Michael Ford wrote the music. The songs were then recorded in Nashville with the renowned artists. The book was delightful too, with illustrations in the front with the musical melodies printed out for you, and pictures and blurbs of each musical artist in the back. Loved it! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Elements: A Visual Guide of Every Known Atom in the Universe

Good books don’t just have to be novels.  Sometimes a book is excellent for the information it contains, and  how that information is presented.  Sometimes a book is excellent just because it is interesting to look at.  The Elements is such a book.  It presents a photographic journey through the entire Periodic table, starting with Hydrogen, and working up through element 118, ununoctium, which at the time of writing had not yet been synthesized (it is now formally named Oganesson).  Each page has a large photograph of the raw state of the element, followed by pictures and information about the various uses of the element in everyday life.  In the margin is more technical data and graphs which represent things such as the crystal structure of the element.  I have to confess that I wish someone had presented the periodic table to me this way in high school chemistry class.  It would have been decidedly more memorable.  I encourage everyone, students of science or not, to take a look.  It’s like a National Geographic magazine for the elements.  Verdict:  Wow! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Fans of historical fiction -- here's a book for you!  Ken Follett's 3rd installment in the "Pillars of the Earth" series takes place in the years 1550 - 1610, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Religious intolerance reigns throughout Europe, and the various royal families and their courts have endless plots against one another.

The book follows the descendants of the original Kingsbridge families (from "Pillars"), and Follett inserts them into key moments from the period.  We encounter the tensions between the followers of Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, witness royal assassination attempts, the smuggling of Catholic priests into England, the smuggling of French language Bibles into France from Switzerland, sea battles, and a bit of the Spanish Inquisition. 

What a turbulent time in history!  It really comes down to those who advocate religious tolerance against those who would impose a state religion upon their citizens, and Follett portrays it all in a compelling, readable book.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

200 Best Panini Recipes

I just picked up this book and thought, "Hey, I have a little panini appliance!
So I began browsing and wow, what a lot of recipes you can make if you have the time and the imagination. You can make breakfast... I saw a wonderful French Toast Panini. There are sections on beef, pork, chicken, and seafood, not to mention Vegetarian Paninis. There are also Leftovers Paninis and Paninis for Kids. Don't forget dessert! Yep, there are those too. Time to try it!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Just to clear it up before you even ask the question—yes, it’s that Tom Hanks.  He’s decided to try his hand at writing short stories and this book is his first collection of those.  All of the short stories are independent works but tied together by the fact that they all, in some manner, feature a typewriter or typewriting as a plot point.  Released to rave critical reviews, this book is a new step into fiction writing for a person who could be considered the “everyman” actor of our time.   It’s a short story collection and, since the stories are short, what have you got to lose?   Definitely worth a look, especially if you are a fan of Tom Hanks.  If it’s anything like his acting, his voice will come through loud and clear, no matter the scenario.  Verdict: It’s worth a shot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dodge City by Tom Clavin

Tom Clavin's Dodge City fills in many-a-gap in the transient lifestyles of Wyatt Earp, the Earp family, and Bat Masterson. If there is any one thing you pick up from reading this book is that nobody stayed in one spot for very long in these families; and, that seemed to be a trend for people in the American West of the 1870s and 1880s.
Clavin does due diligence in keeping tabs on all branches of the Earp family tree. He does a nice job of highlighting their stay in Pella and relating some anecdotes that I wasn't that familiar with concerning the Earps and their marriage to Pella-area girls - very interesting.
You will also find Wyatt Earp's personal life a bit challenging too - was he married, wasn't he, and to whom, when? Not a part of the Earp history many know about. Clavin is also very fair with Earp, making a point that he was not the blood-thirsty killer that many seem to see him as.
Masterson is even more of a character than Earp. Both feared and respected, he held as many jobs in as many locations as Earp, but he would eventually get out of The West and spend time in the newspaper business in New York City.
Clavin does an excellent job in covering these men, there relationship with each other, and with many of the "characters" of Dodge City and the western United States.  Dodge City is not just about the town itself, it covers a lot of ground with the people who passed through there as well.