Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Late January and February of this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. This was a time when the North Vietnamese marked their Lunar New Year, or Tet, with invasions and occupations of cities in South Vietnam. The most bloody, destructive, and longest of these took place in a city called Hue (pronounced Hway).
Mark Bowden covers this invasion and battle from all sides of the story: North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States. He looks at the combatants from the individual soldiers all the way up the chain of command to generals and US President Johnson. He chronicles the action from the first day to the last, covering every inch-by-bloody-inch taken and retaken.
At over 500 pages of reading, Hue 1968 is certainly no tome. It is action-packed and covers the violence and confusion of combat in great detail. Bowden also explains the strategy and politics that went into the siege and retaking of Hue. There are plenty of photographs and maps to help the reader visualize the city and the soldiers.
This battle not only resulted in a great number of casualties on both sides, including civilians, it also shifted the way both the American military and the American people looked at our mission in Vietnam. Bowden does a great job in explaining it from all angles, making Hue 1968 a great read that will help you understand what happened to our country 50 years ago.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Add this to your trivia list: Who’s the only author that makes James Patterson appear second on a co-authored novel?  Answer: former President of the United States Bill Clinton.  Released to much fanfare, Bill Clinton and James Patterson have, in fact, co-authored a novel together, claiming to add Patterson’s sense of timing and suspense together with “information that only a former Commander-In-Chief could know.”  Be aware that, for the most part, this follows the Patterson format with shorter chapters.  But it does seem noticeably stronger on the little details than many Patterson works, which use more generic adjectives and let the reader fill in the blanks about what’s happening.  I am still in the process of reading this book, but it has me convinced that this is more than simply a Patterson ghostwrite.  It appears as though Bill Clinton did in fact write some of the chapters and advise on others—the pacing is different, although it is still taught suspense.  Some people like Patterson, some don’t.  But give it a try—you might like Clinton more.  Verdict: Read it if you like Patterson, and read if you don’t, just to say you did.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol Hotel, across from the Kremlin.  When he stayed there previously, he used an elegant suite.  Now he's in a 100 square foot room in the attic.  Nevertheless, he think, "if a man doesn't master his circumstances, he is bound to be mastered by them".

Throughout the next 40-ish years of his house arrest, Rostov befriends many people -- from a 9 year old girl to a famous actress to a high-ranking member of the Communist Party to workers at the Metropol.  From his confines, he is witness to an ever changing Russia.  He makes many smart and deep observations on how he thinks a life should be lived.

This is a lovely story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Towles is a new author for me, and I will be looking forward to reading more by him.

Mozart's Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Haupt “rescued” a baby starling from a city park in Seattle and named her Carmen.  She chronicles how the nestling becomes a part of her family while weaving the life of Mozart and his pet starling, Star into this memoir.  The book is filled with history, research and anecdotes.  Though starlings are often considered pests, they exhibit endearing qualities.  Music and bird lovers will enjoy this informative read.  I learned that those “mesmerizing orbs” with hundreds of black birds in the sky when we are driving down the highways are starling “murmurations.”

Friday, June 1, 2018

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert


         A poverty-stricken school district in Missouri loses its accreditation, and a nearby affluent community’s schools must take in some of its students.  Over the course of a year, we follow the lives of three different women impacted by this unique situation.  Camille, PTA extraordinaire and wife of an executive, sees her perfect world come apart.  Adoptive mother Jen struggles with motherhood in ways she didn’t expect.  Anaya is a brand new teacher who is unprepared for the challenges of this changing environment.
        Each person brings her own past experiences into the current drama.  People’s expectations and reactions cause tension to mount.  Perception is key to this emotional drama, and the author shows through all of the story’s characters how bias impacts everyone. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Fire Road by Kim Phuc Phan Thi

A famous picture showing the terror of war of children trying to escape a napalm bombing during the Vietnam War in 1972 shows a young girl running with clothes burned off her body.  This book is the story of this survivor who almost died and was actually found in a morgue by her family. The extremely painful treatment for her burns was very difficult and she still experiences pain after all these years. The Communist government used her for political propaganda and controlled her life. Expecting to never find love because of her scars she eventually did marry and have children. There is strong emphasis in this book on her conversion to Christianity and forgiveness of those who had harmed her. This author now is committed to global peace and supports child victims of war. Her life has been very hard but she has overcome a lot of traumatic events and writes an inspiring story.

We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio


This is a beautiful picture book version of the much loved chapter book and motion picture, ‘Wonder’.   It is targeted for younger readers, but all ages can appreciate the message of choosing kindness.  Palacio also illustrates the book with vibrant colors sure to capture the readers attention.  A great read-aloud that provides a perfect opportunity to discuss empathy, kindness and acceptance with children.