Book review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie King

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the 14th in the series of Mary Russell (wife of Sherlock Holmes). This installment is particularly enchanting as it deals with Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’s famous landlady. It turns out that Mrs. Hudson has a backstory and a fascinating one at that.
The book switches between present day events (Mary is missing–has she been murdered?) and Mrs. Hudson’s past, which is somehow intertwined with the question of where Mary is.
In addition to the mystery (or, more accurately, a series of past mysteries wrapped up in the larger current mystery), the book deals with themes of love, revenge, and rehabilitation and what shapes those can take. The mystery(ies) are cleverly plotted, and the writing is sure-handed and deft. And it is both fun and clever to theme this book around Mrs. Hudson.
Four stars and I highly recommend it! (The series is best read in order–if you haven’t read any of the other books, you should anyway!)

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Book review: Ty Cobb by Charles Leerhsen

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ty Cobb has a horrible reputation as a racist, mean, and disreputable human being. The author’s premise in this biography is that much of the mythology surrounding Ty Cobb is erroneous, based on a biography by an author who took a dislike to Cobb and created events out of whole cloth. The result is an interesting, contrarian take on a baseball player of mythological proportions.
While the Ty Cobb in this book isn’t the Southern white racist that he is often portrayed as being, he isn’t a nice person either (or, rather, he was accommodating to those who didn’t exacerbate his insecurities but otherwise unpleasant). But he was a tremendously gifted baseball player and transformed the business of baseball as well. In fact, the book does well in describing the state of baseball in the early 20th century and, in some ways, those are the most interesting sections of the book. The author tends to be a bit defensive in tone and clearly not objective in the sections about Ty Cobb specifically.
For baseball fans, this is an interesting history of the sport. For those who are interested in just how maligned Ty Cobb was and how mythology takes over facts, the book is also worth reading. The author isn’t a particularly strong writer as writers go (but I read this book after reading Rick Atkinson’s Revolutionary War book, so perhaps that was an unfair bar to live up to), but it’s an interesting narrative and history.

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Book review: Self-Portrait in Black and White by Thomas Chatterton Williams

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author is the son of an African-American father and a Caucasian mother who married a (Caucasian) Frenchwoman and has two children. This book consists of his musings on race and identity and family.
It’s a well-written book that flows easily and, yet, at the same time, it’s not an easy book to read. If race is a social construct as many assert, then how does it play (or not play) into identity, society, and belonging?
The author discusses everything from whether it’s unethical for black people to procreate outside of race as opposed to strategically bonding together to Glenn Loury’s concept of racially transcendent humanism.
I suspect many people at the extreme left of the political spectrum would be unhappy with the author’s perspective on many issues relating to race and society. I will only say that this book adds a perspective and a voice that should be listened to with an open mind.

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Book review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ask a normal person what their first impressions are when you say “Genghis Khan,” and chances are you’ll hear words like “savage,” “barbaric,” and “ruthless.” If the person is a bit of a know-it-all and smart aleck, you’ll also hear “And he has a huge number of descendants thanks to his ‘conquests.'”
This book attempts to provide another lens through which to view Genghis Khan–as someone who was charismatic (climbing his way from the bottom strata of Mongolian society to the leader of all Mongol tribes), innovative (he pioneered and adapted many tactics and weapons that are still used today), and tolerant (his views on religion were modern, a true feat in medieval times).
The book is more a narrative of the accomplishments of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire than it is a true biography of the person (whose written record is somewhat sparse). But it turns on its head many preconceptions about the Mongol Empire. If, at times, the author seems to tread lightly about some of Genghis Khan’s more brutal acts of conquest, the book provides a refreshing and different viewpoint through which to view the acts and impact of one of the most impressive conquerors of all time.

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Book review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jim recommended this book to me a while back, and he never recommends fiction. His recommendation was well-merited. This is a simply amazing book. The plot involves a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest at a Moscow hotel. But the book is so much more than that. It chronicles the massive societal change from the Russian monarchy to post-Stalin Soviet Union. It is a commentary on life and the twists it can take. It deals with love and loyalty and sacrifice. It addresses the complexity of friendship. And it is an intricately plotted and lyrically written book. All of these sentences accurately describe the book, and yet none of them do. All I can say is I rarely give five stars to a book, and I didn’t even hesitate after reading this one. If you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing out (and at 500 pages, it’s an excellent quarantine read!).

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Book review: The British Are Coming by Rick Atkinson

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend gave this book to my husband, but I borrowed it (temporarily, of course) because it looked so interesting. There are generally two types of history books–a narrative history or an agenda-driven history. This is a narrative history.
The second thing I will say about this book is that it is dense. (Which should go without saying since it is 800 pages (including index and bibliography) and covers only 3 years of the Revolutionary War.) It is the first in a planned trilogy.
Finally, I will say if this is a period in history that interests you, this book is a must read. The author uses a plethora of primary sources, and he is skilled at describing both battles–in detail including the location of trees and the weather–and the overall strategy. People get short shrift in this tome, but if you want to know more about the major players of either the American or British side, there are plenty of biographies available. But if what you want is a timeline of the events of the Revolutionary War, how they unfolded, and why they unfolded the way they did, this is definitely the book for you.
Now I’m off to read something light and frothy…but I highly recommend this book!

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Book review: The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

The Attenbury Emeralds (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, #3)

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries written by Dorothy Sayers. Jill Paton Walsh has continued the series ably although without as much of the quirky spark as the original series. This particular book is fascinating in that it starts with a case that Lord Peter solved many years ago that is connected to a case brought to Lord Peter and Harriet over thirty years later. The original story was an interesting mystery whose clues are worth paying attention to if you want to solve the current mystery.
And while these books do not have quite the same originality or flavor of the originals, they are a more than adequate substitute, and I have enjoyed them very much. One more in the series to go!

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Book review: Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant

Deadly Engagement (Alec Halsey Mystery, #1)

Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this current period of “social distancing,” it’s best to have large amounts of reading material on hand. (Not that my to-be-read pile has done anything but grow over the years.) Enter a Georgian historical mystery series!
This is the first in a series featuring Alec Halsey, the younger son of an Earl and a career diplomat. I really liked Alec as a character and the secondary characters around him were well-portrayed and interesting. The plot also dealt with some issues you don’t typically read about in historical mysteries (no spoilers!) and dealt with them well, in historical context and with nuance. My only complaint is that the climax and ending of the book felt a little rushed. But that is a minor detail in a book that was well-researched with historical detail smoothly incorporated into the writing, an interesting plot, and lovely characters.
I have already bought the second book in the series. 🙂

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Disney Princess 10K & The Rise of the Resistance

What’s the best way to get rid of the winter doldrums? The answer is to travel to the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld), run a 10K during princess half-marathon weekend, and then luck into being able to ride the newest ride at Disneyworld, The Rise of the Resistance.

This is the second year that Jim and I have run the Princess 10K. It’s the perfect distance for us. First, it’s not a real race distance, so there are fewer hard-core runners in the race. Second, it is the perfect psychological distance because you are done once you hit double digits. And, third, I don’t have to train for it because Jim sets the pace during the race. 😊

The unexpected obstacle we hit this year was the unusual cold in Orlando. At 5:00 am the morning of the race (which started at 5:30 am), the temperature was 47 degrees and windy. This is perfectly good running weather. This is horrible wait-for-the-race-to-start weather. I don’t think I thawed out until the next day (when it was 72 degrees and sunny). But the race was good, and Jim did much better this year than last year. This year, no one asked him on five separate occasion whether he was okay in the 100 yards between the finish line and the bus. Progress.

Disney Princess 10K

The Rise of the Resistance is the newest and most popular ride at Disneyworld. Conventional wisdom says that you need to be at Hollywood Studios by 6:30 am, be in the park at 7:00 when it opens in order to obtain a boarding pass to the ride. There is no shortcut (well, I am sure there is a shortcut, but not one we could find, and we looked). The three of us decided it wasn’t worth getting up that early to try to get on the ride since we knew we’d be back soon, and we were leaving that day. However, we were at Hollywood Studios by 8:00 am and decided to try and get a boarding pass just for fun. While we did manage to get a boarding pass, it was a waitlist boarding pass. Disney only kinda sorta guarantees groups 1-63 (and not even that), and we were boarding group 132. So we thought not only was it unlikely we would get to board, but it was even more unlikely we would get to board before we had to leave to catch our plane.

Hollywood Studios

We were in EPCOT when it became clear that our boarding group was likely to be called around 5:00 pm (we had to leave at 6:00 to catch our plane). We rushed out of EPCOT, drove to Hollywood Studios, arrived at 5:00 at which point our boarding group had already been called. We power walked through Hollywood Studios, arrived at The Rise of the Resistance at 5:09, and were through the ride by 5:50 pm.

In case anyone is interested, the ride (really, an experience/ride) was beyond description!! It was a totally immersive experience, the special effects were incredible, and we walked out of the ride thinking it was one of the most amazing theme park experiences we’ve ever had.

We can’t wait to do it again! 😊

Book review: How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a wake-up call for all parents who are prone to worry, stress, and over-protect their children, which is to say, the majority of us. The author is a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and draws on her considerable experience dealing with young adults as well as referencing many studies and conversations with other experts to tell us all (with data to prove her points) that we are creating a generation of adults who aren’t able to perform basic life tasks, let alone think for themselves.
The appeal of this book is that the author is optimistic about the future of young adults and provides examples and concrete tips (and lots of reassurances) about how to better parent children to produce independent, productive, and responsible members of society.
While the book is most helpful to parents of younger children, even parents of college students and young adults can benefit.
For those of you who have read my review of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” this book calls out similar themes but provides more practical child-rearing tips.
I highly recommend it!

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