Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Car Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron

This was another recommendation from Katie - and another great book!

This is the story of a cat who is adopted (or adopts) a library in a small Iowa town. Actually, for the area, Spencer, Iowa is quite the large town. But in comparison to the rest of the US, not a bustling metropolis. Anyway, the author was the library director of the Spencer Public Library who found the kitten in the book return bin on a cold January morning. The kitten was in bad shape, but survived and thrived.

The cat, eventually named Dewey Readmore Books, became a fixture of this struggling town library. This farming community was struggling in the 1980's and Dewey seemed to bring people together. He also helped the author, the library director who found him. Vicki Myron was having her own struggles as a single mother who battled serious health problems. Although the entire library owned Dewey (although no library funds were ever spent for his care - employees and library patrons subsidized his care), she considered herself his "mother" and shared a special relationship with him.

Dewey became known throughout the world. People would come from all over to see this cat. He was a rare breed of cat who was social and able to live in a public place. His death of old age, after living quite the charmed life among the books and shelves, was mourned all over.

I'll admit, this book was a bit hokey. But that is to be expected. It is still a warm hearted story of hope. I recommend it - especially if you're feeling a bit down!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran, Afschineh Latifi

This was a recommendation from my friend Katie - thanks!! This was an excellent book!!

The background of the story is that Afschineh and her family lived in Iran during the reign of the Shah. Her father was a high-ranking official in the military. When the Shah was overturned, many of her father's fellow officers left the country, fearing what was coming. However, her father refused to leave and he was eventually arrested and executed. The family (her mother, sister, and two young brothers) were left to fend for themselves in an increasingly restrictive government. Her mother decided the girls would be better off being educated in Austria. So Afschineh and her sister, Afsaneh, were sent to a convent school in Austria without knowing anyone or much of the language (Afschineh had studied German so she was in a pretty good position on that front). Their mother left them money at a local bank for day-to-day needs, as well as to hide the money from the Iranian government. In the course of one year, the girls spend almost all of the money, about $15,0000!! Obviously two young girls were not the best financial advocates for the family!!

Because the money was gone, their mother could not afford to keep them at the school. They were sent to live with their uncle in Virginia. They stayed there for about 5 years. Unfortunately it was not a pleasant 5 years in that their uncle either ignored them or complained about them. They had few friends and spend most of their time avoiding their uncle. They eventually graduated from high school and moved out of their uncles while going to college. Their mother and brothers were finally able to join them and they were all together again after 6 years. She and one of her brothers became lawyers and her sister and other brother became doctors.

I think it is interesting that the American dream still exists. The girls were obviously spoiled before growing up - it is difficult to spend $15,000 on nothing but junk. They realized this when they saw how upset their mother was when she checked the account. They learned their lesson and through hard work, succeeded. Very much a struggle, but they survived.

This isn't the best written book - but a good story about the American Dream!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of The Little Bighorn by James Philbrick

Okay, so this is my first Custer book. Currently reading another. I'm actually about 2 reviews behind so this one might be kind of short. I figure not many of the 3 of you reading this actually care about a Custer book :)

Anyway, so I don't know much about Custer's Last Stand except that Custer and all his men died - one horse survived, which I actually knew from Paul Harvey! I knew they were fighting American Indians and that is the extent of my knowledge (not my favorite time period to study). So, I did have the basic story correct, but obviously a lot more to the background.

Custer was quite the showoff, although he was a talented Calvary leader. He fought in the Civil War and was eventually given the title of Brevet General (which is an honorary position during wartime - he wasn't actually a General). He got on the wrong side of President Grant while Grant was dealing with some serious scandals in his administration; Custer testified about the scandals. So, basically, we was trying to suck up to Grant by getting some American Indians.

The problem with this was that Custer, being the egomaniac he was, he refused to listen to scouts telling him there was a significant amount of Indians in front of him. He assumed he could beat anyone, no matter how few men he actually had. He had even gone so far as to desecrate some Indian burial platforms and villages. So, when they attacked, they were woefully outnumbered and paid the ultimate price. They were massacred and tortured and mutilated.

I was a little surprised at the atrocities that were attributed to Custer and his men against the Indians. I'm not stupid enough to not think that the whites did nothing - I know we're not nice either. It's just always amazing to me that man can do what he does against other men - or women and children. Just plain cruel!

Ultimately, not a bad book, but I'm not sure it would be interesting to anyone not interested in Custer or the history of the American Plains Indians.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, by Stieg Larrson

Well, I FINALLY finished the third book in the Millennium series. Between illness and having a heck of a time getting into the thing, it seemed to take forever to get this finished. It also didn't help that this book was significantly longer than the other two. I guess having to wrap things up takes a little longer than setting everything up (although I have heard rumors that there was a 4th book that wasn't finished before Larsson died).

I will admit, I did get into the book about 2/3rds of the way through. I don't know if it's because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel or because it actually got interesting. But the end went much faster than the rest of the book. The courtroom scene was very good.

I think what made this book so slow for me was that there was so much detail; so many things and people to keep track of. Very cloak and dagger stuff with government cover-ups, the mob, and the media. Lots of stuff to keep up with. I did like that Lisbeth is finally given some personality and people skills. I know the other books were leading to this, but it was nice to finally see.

But I finally finished the trilogy and now I can join with all the other people who have read the books. Overall, I would suggest reading the first and just skimming the Internet to find out what happened in the others and how the whole thing wraps up.

Now on to my Custer book!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

So, it's been a few days. Finally caught up to my previous reading and the family and I had a rough week (car accident, sickness, plumbing issues - fun) so we're finally getting back on track. I finished this book about a week ago, but am just now getting around to posting. Better late than never!

Anyway, this is the second in the Millennium trilogy. Definitely not as good as the first. Although we do get more background information about Lisbeth and why she is the way she is. This book also ends with a definite need for a third book. The first could be a stand alone with a little more information added. This was also longer and much more "wordy" than the first. The whole first sequence with Lisbeth doesn't even seem to be needed. Not sure if that will come back for the third book or not.

This book also gets a little more unbelievable. Hard to follow at certain points and a lot of back story to get through. I don't like having to keep flipping back to figure out who people are and there seems to be a lot of that in this book. Now, I'll admit, some of that might be because the Swedish names are a little hard for me to follow. But still! Also, this book isn't as graphic as the first - lots more cloak and dagger stuff.

Okay, not my best review, but it has been a week and I'm already half-way through the third book (which is by far the worst and very difficult to get through). Plus, it's hard to get excited about a book I didn't enjoy. After the third book in the series, I have a couple that were recommended from my friend Katie and I'm really looking forward to reading them. I also have a couple about Custer's Last Stand that I'm sure most people will find boring, but who knows!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bringing Adam Home, by Les Standiford

This book is about the kidnapping and police investigation of Adam Walsh. If you don't know the story, the background is that Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old from Hollywood, FL was kidnapped from Sears store in 1981. His severed head was found a couple of weeks later, however, nothing else was found. A suspect was tentatively identified as Otis Toole, a serial killer. He confessed to the crime and then recanted numerous times, but evidence definitely pointed to him. However, the Hollywood police department, totally overwhelmed with the seriousness and enormity of the crime, did not conduct a decent investigation. Otis Toole was never charged and he eventually died in prison in 1996.

Adam Walsh's parents, John and Reve Walsh asked a police detective from Miami, Sgt. Joe Matthews, to investigate. He was originally brought on the case in 1981, but the local police decided they didn't need him -plus he was asking tough questions regarding the investigation and the detective in charge, Hoffman, didn't like being questioned. Sgt. Matthews was able to unearth information that was already in police files, and make a case for Otis Toole being the killer. The Hollywood police department agreed, and in 2008, the Adam Walsh case was officially closed with Otis Toole declared the killer.

I have always been interested in the Adam Walsh case - not sure why. I remember watching the made for TV movie in the 80's and being upset. After reading this book, I cannot imagine the frustration the Walsh family has lived with for all these years. You don't want to believe that the police could screw up something so badly, but I don't see how you could believe they did a thorough investigation. It is amazing how police politics can become more important than actually finding a person who murdered a child, especially in the way Adam Walsh was killed. I guess it is similar to how government agencies don't share information now. Egos get in the way.

Although I am sure knowing who the murderer is, is some kind of closure for the Walsh family, it happened way too late. The fact that Sgt. Matthews just used the information that the police already had, is unacceptable. This book should be a lesson for police departments to see how petty differences affect so many people - and the pain it causes.

Great book!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Madness of Mary Lincoln, by James Emerson

So, I don't really have a Lincoln/Civil War theme going on right now. Just they were both in the new book section at the library and they both seemed interesting to me.

Anyway, this book is about the breakdown Mary Lincoln has after the assassination of Abe and continues to her eventual stay in an asylum for a few months in 1875. The author actually wasn't intending to write this book. He was working on a book about Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son, when he came upon some letters pertaining to Mary's insanity trial.

Mary Lincoln had a long history of being very dramatic with periods of intense depression. She has a difficult life, including the loss of two sons, the loss of her husband in front of her eyes, and then the loss of another son. Her behavior became increasing erratic after the loss of her son Tad in 1871. He sole surviving child, Robert Todd, tried very hard to appease his mother, but as things became worse, he consulted with various friends and family members and decided his mother needed professional help. She was committed and did start to improve, but with the help of some friends, she was able to gain her freedom from the asylum after only about 4-5 months. After her release, she continued to deteriorate and refused to have anything to do with Robert. They did reconcile before her death in 1882, but Mary never fully recovered.

James Emerson follows the belief that Mary had bi-polar disorder. Definitely makes a good case, but I'm certainly not a psychology expert. Her suicide attempt after her insanity trial, her manic shopping sprees, her obsession with money, and her low lows and high highs seem to point to bipolar. It is also believed that she died of complications from undiagnosed diabetes, so who knows if that might have contributed to her mental health. And she certainly experienced a lot of trauma that would also affect most people. Who knows?

This book was okay, but I don't think I would really recommend it. It was pretty dry in a lot of places and very technical, especially in regards to her trial. If you are REALLY into Mary Lincoln or psychology, maybe, but that's about all.