Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Decision Points by George W. Bush

  • Decision Points

  • By: George W. Bush

  • Pub. Date: November 2010

  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover, 497pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780307590619

  • ISBN: 0307590615

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:
    President George W. Bush describes the critical decisions of his presidency and personal life.

    Decision Points is the extraordinary memoir of America’s 43rd president. Shattering the conventions of political autobiography, George W. Bush offers a strikingly candid journey through the defining decisions of his life.

    In gripping, never-before-heard detail, President Bush brings readers inside the Texas Governor’s Mansion on the night of the hotly contested 2000 election; aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America’s most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq; and behind the Oval Office desk for his historic and controversial decisions on the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues that have shaped the first decade of the 21st century.

    President Bush writes honestly and directly about his flaws and mistakes, as well as his accomplishments reforming education, treating HIV/AIDS in Africa, and safeguarding the country amid chilling warnings of additional terrorist attacks. He also offers intimate new details on his decision to quit drinking, discovery of faith, and relationship with his family.

    A groundbreaking new brand of memoir, Decision Points will captivate supporters, surprise critics, and change perspectives on one of the most consequential eras in American history – and the man at the center of events.

    My Review:

    First, I'd like to acknowledge that this book and my review may offend people. Emotions still run high from the Bush 43 Presidency and I'm going to try to review Decision Points as rationally as I can. With that being said, I would like to disclose that I did not vote for President George W. Bush.... because I was too young. Had I been old enough, I would have voted him. I am a conservative Republican and agree with many of Bush's decisions, not all of course, but some.

    One of the most distinguishing factors in Decision Points is the way the book is formatted. Rather than going through a chronological narration of his presidency, President Bush focuses each chapter around a major event or issue and the decisions he made regarding those events or issues. For example, an early chapter focuses on his decisions on how to staff the personnel in his cabinets and staff, which I found really interesting. I liked reading about these important figures who helped President Bush guide his decisions from a personal aspect. Bush gives his first impressions and backgrounds on many of his staff. A later chapter focuses on the issue of embryonic stem cell research and the decisions that President Bush made for funding this research.

    Each chapter gives a great amount of detail, enough for the reader to have a sense of the scope of President Bush's decision making-process and the background and information he had to work with in order to make those decisions. Particularly fascinating are the chapters surrounding 9/11 and the Middle East engagements. I won't give my views on how I feel about Bush's decisions but I will say that I loved getting his point of view and learning about the context of his decisions. I always like to keep in mind that the President of the United States always has more information than the public whenever it comes to foreign affairs, especially military affairs. I don't want all the information because I know it can jeopardize our safety, but I really appreciated what Bush was able to describe in these situations.

    The one thing that I found most disconcerting was that sometimes his stories seemed to wander and then the next section went back to his original point. I found it a little jarring and left me wondering what the past couple of paragraphs had been about. However, this was mostly just in the first few chapters that dealt more with Bush's personal reminisces rather than his Presidential policies.

    Overall, I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone. I don't think it matters if you hate or love George W. Bush. If you hate him, you may be able to better understand him as a person trying to do an incredibly difficult job or you can gain some more fodder for your wrath against him. If you love him, this book gives you better insight to him as a person and his decisions which will help you understand him more. If you're not political, this book will still give you a better understanding, or at least a different perspective, of many important events and decisions from 2000 to 2008 and it's very easy to read, it is not like trying to read a dense political science book.
    My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Book Review: Elizabeth I by Margaret George

  • Elizabeth I

  • By: Margaret George

  • Pub. Date: April 2011

  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

  • Format: Hardcover, 671pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022533

  • ISBN: 0670022535

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:

    One of today's premier historical novelists, Margaret George dazzles here as she tackles her most difficult subject yet: the legendary Elizabeth Tudor, queen of enigma-the Virgin Queen who had many suitors, the victor of the Armada who hated war; the gorgeously attired, jewel- bedecked woman who pinched pennies. England's greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was she really like?

    In this novel, her flame-haired, lookalike cousin, Lettice Knollys, thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth's rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth's throne, Lettice had been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood. This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family and each vying to convince the reader of her own private vision of the truth about Elizabeth's character. Their gripping drama is acted out at the height of the flowering of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake-all of them swirl through these pages as they swirled through the court and on the high seas.

    This is a magnificent, stay-up-all-night page-turner that is George's finest and most compelling novel and one that is sure to please readers of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Hilary Mantel.

    My Review:

    I have read several of Margaret George's works before- The Memoirs of Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, and Mary Called Magdalene. I enjoyed her previous works immensely and looked forward to this new book. George's research and attention to detail, along with her narrative skill, bring great historic figures to life for the reader.

    George begins her story about Elizabeth I later in Elizabeth's life, rather than during her childhood or ascension to the throne. Elizabeth was quite a queen and it was interesting to learn more about English history, such as the Spanish Armadas, and read about the probable thoughts and decisions of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth I switches between Queen Elizabeth's point of view and her cousin's view, Lettice Knollys.

    Elizabeth and Lettice are rivals, although Elizabeth is of course queen while Lettice has been banned from court... banned by Elizabeth. At first the switching between the two women seemed disjointed and interrupted the flow of the story and development of the characters, however, as the book progressed I appreciated Lettice's views more and more to gain access to the other side of Elizabeth's story.

    In addition to finding the beginning a little disjointed, I also had troubles connecting with either Elizabeth or Lettice. Once I thought the narrative switching got to be clearer, I also appreciated the characters more and liked Elizabeth more. I especially liked the reflective quality in her nature, as she looked back over her long reign.

    There was also a broad cast of characters that were part of Elizabeth's reign, including Will Shakespeare. Many of the characters showed the political aspect of any government. Lord Essex was the main secondary character in Elizabeth I, he was quite interesting and also a complete nuisance in Elizabeth's reign.

    Overall, Margaret George's telling of Elizabeth I's reign is a fresh story with a slow beginning but engaging end.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Book Review: Bloody Mary by J.A. Konrath

  • Bloody Mary

  • By: J.A. Konrath

  • Pub. Date: July 2005

  • Publisher: Hyperion

  • Format: Hardcover , 320pp

  • Series: Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Series #2

  • ISBN-13: 9781401300890

  • ISBN: 1401300898

  • Source: Library

  • Synopsis:

    Start with a tough but vulnerable Chicago cop. Stir in a psychopath with a unique mental condition that programs him to kill. Add a hyperactive cat, an ailing mother, a jealous boyfriend, a high-maintenance ex-husband, and a partner in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Mix with equal parts humor and suspense, and enjoy Bloody Mary.
    When Jack receives a report of an excess of body parts appearing at the Cook County Morgue, she hopes it’s only a miscount. It’s not. Even worse, these extra limbs seem to be accessorized with Jack’s handcuffs.
    Someone has plans for Jack. Very bad plans. Plans that involve everything and everyone that she cares about.
    Jack must put her train wreck of a personal life on hold to catch an elusive, brilliant maniac - a maniac for whom getting caught is only the beginning…

    My Review:

    I had a hard time finishing this book... although I did finish it in a day.

    I love the Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series because it's a little mystery with a lot of humor and great characters. While I realized right from the first book in the Jack Daniels series that this series was a lot darker than the Plum series, I still thought that I would enjoy it because of the potential in the secondary characters. However, even though I still like the secondary characters, like Herb, Jack's partner, Harry McGlade, Jack's former partner, and Jack's mom, I can't handle the villians.

    Konrath's villians are much more twisted and gruesome than Evanovich's. In Bloody Mary, a serial killer is out hacking up women; he's also a cop that is close to Jack. I'm not sure how much of a mystery the suspect was suppose to be but I knew immediately who the killer was. The more interesting part was the second half of the book, after Jack had caught the guy and he was on trial. The murderer is a seriously horrible and twisted individual. He puts on a good show at the trial and is actually set free.

    I liked the overall plot of Bloody Mary and the funny characters (listed above) but I can't handle the books if they're all about a serial killer who tortures women. I read the prologue to the third in the series, Rusty Nail, and it's clear that the next villain is also a serial killer, although I don't know who his target is... but I'd have to guess that it's women. I don't think I will be continuing this series. I recommend this series for someone who wants something darker than the Plum series. In my opinion, the first book started out the series well but I don't think the mystery was as good in the second book and the villains all seem to be the exact same type- sociopaths who displayed symptoms of it in childhood but never got caught until they showed up in Chicago and became involved with Jack Daniels.

    My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Book Review: Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath


  • Whiskey Sour

  • By: J.A. Konrath

  • Pub. Date: June 2004

  • Publisher: Hyperion

  • Format: Hardcover , 284pp  

  • Series: Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Series #1   

  • ISBN-13: 9781401300876

  • ISBN: 1401300871

  • Source: library

  • Synopsis:

    Lieutenant Jacqueline 'Jack' Daniels is having a bad week. Her live-in boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, chronic insomnia has caused her to max out her credit cards with late-night home shopping purchases, and a frightening killer who calls himself 'The Gingerbread Man' is dumping mutilated bodies in her district. Between avoiding the FBI and its moronic profiling computer, joining a dating service, mixing it up with street thugs, and parrying the advances of an uncouth PI, Jack and her binge-eating partner, Herb, must catch the maniac before he kills again...and Jack is next on his murder list. Whiskey Sour is full of laugh-out-loud humor and edge-of-your-seat suspense, and it introduces a fun, fully drawn heroine in the grand tradition of Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, and Kay Scarpetta.

    My Review:

    One day I was talking to a friend about Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and my friend recommended the Jack Daniels series by Konrath. Because I want to talk to my friends about books, I rushed online and requested a copy from my library right away to give the series a try. While not as light and humorous as the Plum series, I really enjoyed this first book in the Jack Daniels series.

    Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels is a cop who has dedicated her life to her work, to the ruin of her personal life. She wants justice to be served and the world to be right. Her life gets even more difficult when a serial killer shows up and with a plan to go after Jack.

    The point of view switches between Jack and the Gingerbread Man (the murderer). The characters that Jack surrounds herself by are interesting and funny. My two favorite were Herb, her partner, and Phineas Troutt, an ex-convict who she meets in a bar to play pool.  While not as laugh-out-loud funny as the Stephanie Plum series, I was often amused by these secondary characters. While in the Gingerbread Man's head, though, nothing was funny. He was a very creepy and disturbing character. He reminded me a lot of Dr. H.H. Holmes from The Devil in the White City, which I had just finished reading before starting this book. They are both sociopaths, although Holmes was a real man whereas the Gingerbread Man is, thankfully, a work of fiction.

    My favorite quote: "No one likes an asshole, Jack, until you have to move your bowels" page 101

    I've requested the next several books in this series from the library and I look forward to learning more about Jack and her friends.

    My Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  • The Devil in the White City

  • Author: Erik Larson

  • Pub. Date: February 2004

  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

  • Format: Paperback , 464pp  

  • Series: Vintage Series

  • ISBN-13: 9780375725609

  • ISBN: 0375725601

  • Synopsis:

    Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that 'The Devil in the White City' is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

    Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.

    The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

    Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing.

    My Review:

    As the above synopsis describes for many readers, I too checked once or twice during my reading of The Devil in the White City, whether this book was fiction or non-fiction. Larson is able to weave this non-fiction tale into a story. It is not a dry history textbook, but the events surrounding the planning, erection, and aftermath of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago come to life for the reader.

    With two parallel plots, Larson gives the reader a glimpse into the incredible rush of building the 1893 World's Fair to make a idyllic dreamland and the seamier underside of Chicago. Daniel Burnham is in charge of planning and implementing the plans to building the World's Fair in two years. His tale shows extraordinary strength and will power. I think many people would have cracked early on from the pressure that Burnham withstood. His story is one of empowerment and detmination through many pitfalls and disappointments.

    One the other side of the spectrum is Dr. H.H. Holmes who is a sociopath. He travels from city to city looking for his victims. His tactics show how horrible a human can become, he is inhuman. During the World's Fair, he sets up shop in Chicago because of it's easy access to single women alone in a large city. His hotel is really a torture palace for his sick mind.

    I liked Larson's combination of the two men and I disliked it. It definitely showed two very different stories set in the same place and time, but that's all that connected the two men- the location and time period. Even their endings were very different, it's not like they met at some point or anything. However, both men had very interesting lives and I was fascinated the whole way through. Holmes' was a sick man and his plot always left me disgusted, but then Burnham's story showed what perseverance can accomplish.

    Larson did a great job making their stories come to life and highly recommend The Devil in the White City if you like narrative non-fiction.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Readalong: Vanity Fair by William Thackeray Post 2

    I am participating in the readalong of Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey. This is the second post of two for Vanity Fair.

    Vanity Fair was an interesting read. I loved the first half, which I posted about here. But I began to get bored through parts of the second half. There were a lot of lists and descriptions of the aristocracy, which I just don't care about as much as the main characters stories.

    However, when the story focused on the main characters, I loved the book! I wanted to know more about Becky Sharp and Amelia's lives. I was very interested in Becky's characters. I found her scheming amusing, although I would not want her for a friend in real life. I thought Becky did have at least some personal insight to her own character when she said:
    'I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year. I could dawdle about in the nursery, and count the apricots on the wall' ... And who knows but Rebecca was right in her speculations-and that it was only a question of money and fortune which made the difference between her and an honest woman? If you take temptations in account, who is to say that he is better than his neighbour? A comfortable career of prosperity, if it does not make people honest, at least keeps them so. (page 414)
    There are many quotes in Vanity Fair that I like, especially the ones about Becky. This is one of my favorites:

    He [Lord Steyne] saw at a glance what had happened in his absence: and was grateful to his wife for once. He went and spoke to her, and called her by her Christian name, so as again to bring blushes to her pale face-'My wife say have been singing like an angel,' he said to Becky. Now there are angels of two kinds, and both sorts, it is said, are charming in their way. (page 482)
    I love that Thackeray just can't resist throwing in another jibe at Becky's character! She may sing like an angel, but there are two sorts of angels, so guess which one she is!

    Finally, one of my other favorite characters is William Dobbin. At first I didn't like him much because he was always sacrificing himself for others instead of trying to make himself happy, but at the end of the book, that changed and I believe that he became of the hero in the 'Novel without a Hero.' Finally, on page 662, Dobbin leaves Amelia! I love it! He finally takes control of his life and decides to leaves Amelia since she isn't able to love him back:

    I know what your heart is capable of: it can cling faithfully to a recollection, and cherish a fancy; but it can't feel such an attachment as mine deserves to mate with, and such as I would have won from a woman more generous than you. No, you are not worthy of the love which I have devoted to you. I knew all along that the prize I had set my life on was not worth the winning; that I was a fool, with fond fancies, too, bartering away my all of truth and ardour against your little feeble remanany of love. I will bargain no more: I withdraw. I find no fault with you. Youa re very good-natured, and have done your best; but you couldn't-you couldn't reach up to the height of the attachment which I bore you, and which a loftier soul than yours might have been proud to share. Good-bye, Amelia! I have watched your struggle. Let it end. We are both weary of it.

    I know I've included quite a few quotes, but I love how they are written. These words show the personalities of the characters. While Vanity Fair  is not an easy book to get through, I do think that it is worth it. The characters are interesting and well-described and the ending for them is justified. Some of the passages are incredibly humorous, mostly sarcastic or sardonic and witty.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Book Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

    • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
    • By: Allison Hoover Barlett
    • Pub. Date: September 2009
    • Publisher: Riverhead Books
    • Format: Hardcover , 288pp
    • ISBN-13: 9781594488917
    • ISBN: 1594488916


    Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.

    Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love

    My Review:

    I loved this book. And why not? It's a book about the love of books! Right from the beginning I felt like the author was describing many of my own feelings about books, for example, here is a quote about the importance of books in one's life:

    I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur’s world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte’s death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put of the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn’t make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one-and you can remember. Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte’s Web (on my son’s shelf, then my daughter’s), I have recalled how it came to me. It’s a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she’d dropped it into a creek, but couldn’t bear to leave it behind, even after she’d finished it. This book’s body inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water-and of the fourteen year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of that fact. (page 20-1)
    I still remember when I got some of my early books. I convinced my mom in fifth grade to buy the first Harry Potter book for me at the book fair when she went in for the parent-teacher conference. Then, in sixth grade, I used my own money to buy The Lord of the Rings at the book fair in school. I still remember the exact room and how I stood there debating what book I wanted to get. I still have that copy, it's cover is completely taped on and it looks like it could disintegrate at any moment (I carried it for a long time- it takes a sixth grader a long time to finish LOTR!) but I can't get rid of it. I had to buy a new copy last year for a class that I took but I still couldn't get rid of my first copy. It's special. It's part of my childhood and introduction to a life-long passion for books. I still get a rush of excitement when I get a new book in the mail. I'm sure I have a big release of dopamine and probably some serotonin and norepinephrine- which is probably why I keep buying them. It's addicting! And fun.

    The whole book isn't just about the love of books though. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much focuses on rare books and those who collect, sell, and steal them. Sprinkled with many little anecdotes of book thievery in the past, it mostly chronicles John Gilkey's passion and theft of many, many rare books. The author interviews John many times trying to understand his psychology behind his theft. He doesn't sell the books so it's not financially related, rather, Gilkey seeks to show a certain character and intelligence and pride through owning rare and amazing books. Bartlett also interviews many collectors and sellers of antique and rare books. This book gives a glimpse into the psychology of many book connoisseurs, which is fascinating.

    The only part that I did not like was when the author's part in the Gilkey's story became a little ethically questionable and so the author questioned her role but then the book ended. I thought that it was fine that she brought her own role into the book, but then it ended before she had a resolution for her questioning.

    My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars