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War

News of the World: a novel, by Paulette Jiles

News of the World: a novel, by Paulette Jiles

News of the World has been a really popular book, and after reading it, I can see why.  Paulette Jiles did meticulous research in order to take us on a post-Civil War journey from northern to southern Texas.  Captain Kidd, an elderly veteran and widower, has reluctantly agreed to take a young girl (Johanna) to near San Antonio to be reunited with her aunt and uncle.  She was taken captive by the Kiowa Indians, and her parents killed, four years previously.  The Captain has made a life from traveling around the towns of Texas, getting paid to read newspapers from faraway places to people who have little other communication with the rest of the world.  It appears he's made a mistake in agreeing to make the journey with Johanna--she only speaks Kiowa, has completely abandoned the ways of white people, and having been once again wrenched away from the only life she knows, is by turns difficult, sullen, and terrified.  Also, Texas at this time is largely lawless, not every stranger along the way proves to be a friend, and the elements themselves, such as flooded rivers, all combine to make for a perilous journey indeed.

I was struck by Jiles' skill in showing the clash between cultures, the difficulties of communicating for the two main characters, and yet what's possible with Johanna's young mind being able to make new connections as well as reach back into the past, and with the Captain's experience and patience. Along the way, the Captain and Johanna find solace in each other's company, fight together to survive, and show that the concept of "family" is not dicated by one's blood.

Number of Pages: 
213

Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is better known for memoirs and cookbooks, but this is her first novel.  Of course, food plays an important role here!  Main character Billie Breslin has just moved to New York and landed a job at food magazine Delicious!  She's a talented cook herself, but an experience from her past makes Billie extremely reluctant to let anyone see this side of her or get to know the details of her life.  However, she forges several new friendships at the magazine, and at Fontanari's, a famous Italian food shop where she helps out on the weekends.

The magazine is housed in a historic mansion, and staff are dismayed when the owner decides to shut down the operation and sell the place.  Billie alone is kept on temporarily to reply to correspondence from readers.  One day while exploring the mansion's library that has been locked for years, she stumbles on a secret room, full of old letters and files.  She finds a cache of letters from a young girl, Lulu Swan, who wrote regularly to James Beard during the second world war.  Something about this touching and revealing correspondence inspires Billie to start a new quest, to find out what happened to Lulu, and to start writing new chapters for her own life.  

Number of Pages: 
380

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

"As incandescent as was her personality, Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a coolheaded, clear-eyed pragmatist, though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation."

This quote gives you a little perspective on this updated biography of Cleopatra. Cleopatra stands as one of the most powerful women in history. She was the last Ptolemaic pharoah; an intellectual; a keen strategist; and proved a successful and just ruler for much of her reign. Yet, as a strong woman, she challenged the patriarchal structure of the budding Roman Empire, and as such, history has stripped her of most of her agency and achievements--we are left with the popular image of her witchy social graces and how her lust took down both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Stacy Schiff looks at Cleopatra's life and career as a whole, not just her sexual conquests. It is a biased biography, to be sure (as is most non-fiction I've read), but when one of the most powerful women in history has been reduced to the destruction caused by her lust, it's easy to see how biased other historians have been as well. Whether or not you reach the end of this riveting biography with a greater and more well-rounded appreciation for Cleopatra, you'll for sure begin to question the motives behind those in charge of relating history--past, present, and future. Anyone with an interest in the Hellenistic Era and Roman Empire will enjoy the drama set forth here as well.

I was hooked by this book, and the audio is excellent if you want to take a listen.

Number of Pages: 
368

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

In late 2010, cartoonist Sarah Glidden went along with two of her friends--co-founders of The Seattle Globalist--and a former Marine as they researched the impact of the Iraq War on the region and the refugee crisis. Glidden's focus to document the overall process of journalism and how it was conducted for this specific purpose, but it also comes to encompass the Marine's own experiences and reactions along the journey. Rolling Blackouts, constructed largely from transcribed audiovisual material collected on the trip, offers a glimpse into the horrors of war, complicated history, and voices of both the well-known and unheard victims of the region's violence.

I really enjoyed Glidden's graphic memoir, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a few years back and found this book to be as enlightening and thoughtful. There is so much food for thought here--the less-documented tragedies of refugees' displacement, ruminations on ethics in jounalism, U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, what it means to be progressive, and so much more. I found it really interesting, too, in the window of time it occurred--just after heavy U.S. military presence from the Iraq War and just before the uprisings from the Arab Spring. For a graphic novel, this is slightly more text-heavy, and Glidden's use of soft-toned watercolors lend to the reflective nature of the book. There are no clear answers, but there are plenty of viewpoints; reading this will likely spark plenty of contemplation and conversation. This is definitely one of my favorite reads this year.

Number of Pages: 
298

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Daniel Ellsberg entered adult life as a hawk, eager to enlist as a Marine and serve his country. He was a bright young man who became a Pentagon insider and saw action in Vietnam, but as the war progressed, Ellsberg began to form doubts of his own. When he finally got his hands on the top-secret Pentagon Papers--a 7,000-page tome documenting every aspect of the United States' involvement in Vietnam since 1945--he was appalled by how the government handled the U.S. involvement and that American citizens were dying by the tens of thousands for political hubris, blunders, and laissez-faire approach. Ellsberg took it into his hands to leak the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, setting into motion a new era of the American public and popular opinion clashing mightily against its government, and consequently earned himself the title of "the most dangerous man in America."

Steve Sheinkin is a brilliant author of histories for young adults; even as an adult, I found the clip of the book and level of detail to be incredibly fascinating. I learned so much about the politics motivating the Vietnam War and how the media of the time influenced Americans. Sheinkin is so adept at building suspense, you quickly lose yourself in the story as if it is all unfolding this very day. I absolutely loved his award- and honor-winning book, Bomb, and am so happy to find that Most Dangerous carries the same heft and talent.

Number of Pages: 
370

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

At the start of World War Two, Stalin made (yet another) political blunder in thinking that he could get on Hitler's good side, but instead his support wound up opening the floodgates to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Among the atrocities visited upon the country was the siege of Leningrad, one of the most horrific and destructive sieges in history. Amid this turmoil, composer Dmitri Shostakovich was called upon to share his seventh symphony to rally support against Nazi totalitarianism, but his life and work as an artist within the Soviet Union's Communist regime was not always so vaunted...

Symphony for the City of the Dead examines the intersection between artistic expression, politics, and history during the extraordinarily tulmutuous era of Russia's Communist Revolution to its participation in World War Two. I found it fascinating to learn in more depth how the Revolution impacted certain aspects of cultural life in Russia as well as to read more about the Russian point-of-view during WW2, both from the figures holding office to life on the streets in Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg). I listened to it on audio, which enhanced the experience as the production includes excerpts of Shostakovich's music (I got a copy through the fabulous and free-to-all summer audiobook program Sync). While this is billed as Young Adult non-fiction, it is an engaging read for teens and adults alike.

Number of Pages: 
456

The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

The Vanishing Throne is the sequel to Elizabeth May's Falconer. It picks up just where the last book left off -- the great battle is over and Scotland lies in ruins, our heroine, the fae-hunter Aileana, has been captured and lies hurt in another realm. Aileana is filled with guilt, believing that everything that has happened must have been her own fault, and not knowing if there is anything left of her homeland and her friends. The Fae Prince Lonnrach tortures her, searching for something in her memories. Aileana must find a way out, but is there anything left that she can do for her home and people?

Number of Pages: 
458

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Karou and Akiva have each found themselves leading a group of rebels who would like to see an end to the constant war in Eretz. This fragile alliance between angels and beasts is tested when they are forced to work together to retrieve the evil angel Jael who has traveled to Earth with an army of angels in search of weapons. What he doesn't know is that a city of angels on the other side of Eretz has harnessed magic more powerful than any Earthly weapons. The scope of this book is stunning and the story that Taylor tells is beautifully woven. The introduction of a new character, Eliza, brings some fascinating history of this magical world into play and adds another frightening dimension to the threats facing Eretz that may make their own war seem trivial. And among all these big storylines, Karou and Akiva begin to find their way back to each other. There are some more romances that add to the story as well and some seriously fun and funny sequences once again. The ending left me both satisfied and tempted to go back and read the whole trilogy again.

Number of Pages: 
613

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

As the second book of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy begins, Karou has rejoined the Chimaera. After the shock of Akiva's betrayal, she buries herself in the work of avenging her family and building better monsters to fight the angels. She is literally building monsters, resurrecting the souls of fallen Chimaera in bigger, stronger bodies that are able to fly to reach the only remaining portal they know of between our universe and Eretz. Akiva, meanwhile, has returned to his brother and sister and although he initially believes Karou to be dead, he still begins to stir up rebellion against the Dominion army of angels and his own father. There was a lot of emotion to deal with in this book but I felt like it still kept up a lively pace and was often funny. Zuzana and Mick offer a wonderful bit of levity as humans who arrive at the Chimaera camp in search of Karou and are surprisingly comfortable among the beasts. In the end, this book was bleak and emotional but also beautiful.

Number of Pages: 
517

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

Lorelai is the true queen of Ravenspire, but her magic-wielding stepmother has taken over the kingdom and forced the people into submission. Lorelai has been in hiding for nine years with her little brother and a guardsman who has raised and trained them. Now they are doing their best to steal food the queen has kept as taxes and give it back to their starving people, but it's a losing battle. Lorelai must continue to strengthen her own magic in hopes of someday being able to win a fight against the queen.

Kol is a younger prince, troublemaker and never destined to take the throne. But when his parents and older brother are killed in the wars plaguing their land, Kol is suddenly in charge and must find a way to save his own people. Kol needs the queen's magic to be able to keep his half-dragon people safe, but she asks a lot in return. 

The Shadow Queen is the first book in the Ravenspire series. It's a dark retelling of Snow White, but Redwine does a beautiful job of keeping that from making the storyline predictable.

Number of Pages: 
387