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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New Year’s Eve 2019

We have marvelous friends (more like family) who, for some unfathomable reason, decided to host a New Year’s Eve dinner and invited us to help cook (the unfathomable part of it was letting us help cook). What that really meant, of course, is that they allowed us into their kitchen to create a gigantic mess. Who does this, other than family?

Anyway, the huge mess we created did actually result in a delicious dinner. The menu was as follows:

NYE 2019 menu

Apple Rutabaga soup (served with 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal)

Royal Petrossian Caviar station

caviar station

Tuna Fire & Ice (served with Mountain Field Treasure Junmai Sake)

fire & ice

Foie Gras on brioche (served with 2017 Bouchard Père & Fils Chassagne-Montrachet)

foie gras on brioche

Uncrab Cakes with Crab (served with 2017 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay)

uncrab cakes with crab

Wagyu and Marrow Bones (served with 1998 Rudd Estate Jericho Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon)

wagyu & marrow bones with potato soufflé

Bûche de Noel (served with 2003 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes)

bûche de noel

New Year’s Eve itself was celebrated with a bottle of 2006 Pol Roger (Winston Churchill’s favorite champagne)

I wish I could say that I didn’t eat after that for a month, but, alas, that is simply not true.

Happy (belated) New Year!

Book review: Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword #2)

Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the second of a trilogy (the first book being “Twelve Days a Faery.” Both books are standalone in the sense of despite the fact that there is an overarching narrative arc for the trilogy, the stories stand on their own (at least so far).
Rafiq is a dragon who is being held in Thrall by Prince Akish. He’s not a fan of this state of affairs but has resigned himself to his fate. They are off to rescue a princess in an enchanted keep and encounter the princess’s servant, Kako, who offers to help with their quest. Despite the suspicions of both men, they accept her offer, and she accompanies them as they go through the Seven Circles (seven quests) to rescue the princess.
The story is fairly straightforward as is the puzzle. But the author’s strengths are building a world of consistent magic, surprising you just when you think you have everything all figured out, and the depth of her characters. She’s not much on romance, but I forgive her this minor flaw because the characters are so interesting and compelling.
The book is more a novella than a full-length book. It is a fast-paced and easy read. I highly recommend it!

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Book review: Call Sign Chaos by Jim Mattis and Bing West

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not typically a fan of military books on leadership as I often find that the traits that make for strong and capable leaders in the military don’t always translate to the private sector. This book is an exception to that assumption. While Jim Mattis (and his skillful co-author Bing West) draw upon Mattis’s experiences with the Marine Corps to convey their ideas of successful leadership, a surprising amount of their wisdom can be applied to the private sector. Specifically, Mattis’s leadership fundamentals of competence, caring, and conviction ring true as necessary for leaders in all organizations. In addition, his emphasis on recruiting for attitude (rather than skill), transparent communication, and tolerance of mistakes (on the theory that if risk-takers are punished, then only the risk-averse remain) are all values that companies would do well to follow.
And his final point that leaders should shelter non-conformists and mavericks who make institutions uncomfortable is almost comical coming out of an institution better known for conformity, and I appreciated the point even more because of that.
The writing is easy to follow, and the book is a quick read. (Never mind that it took me a couple of months–I was busy!) 🙂
There are interesting examples from his own career that are compelling from a historical perspective, but there’s no doubt that the conclusions he draws about successful leadership are principles that can be used anywhere today. I highly recommend!

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Book review: Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword #1)

Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an original take on a traditional fairy tale plot where unfortunate accidents happen to a prince’s girlfriends/fiancees, and the king has offered a reward to whomever breaks the curse. I enjoyed the first person narrative of the king, who is simultaneously shrewd about ruling his kingdom and oblivious about personal relationships. There is the obligatory mystery of who or what is causing the accidents and delightful world building of the faery world. Interesting backstories are hinted at although not fleshed out.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the book is its novella length. There was so much more in the story that could have been elaborated on, but the short length of the book prevented that from happening. While this book is in no way equal to the author’s Two Monarchies series, it is a pleasant, fun, and unusual story. And the author’s writing is, as always, a pleasure to read.
3.5 stars.

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Book review: The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey, #1)

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the first in a historical mystery series. The protagonist is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and has returned to England with no money, no prospects, and PTSD. This is no light-hearted and frothy mystery but, rather, a gritty story that exposes the underside of London life, some of the horrors of the war and the after-effects for the returning soldiers. (Think more in the style of C.S. Harris and less in the style of Georgette Heyer.)
Captain Lacey isn’t a particular likeable character in the first book, although he has some excellent qualities to him. There is a complicated back story for him, which makes him an interesting and somewhat mysterious character. Sometimes the hints thrown off about his back story come across as a bit manipulative, but you do want to learn more about him. Captain Lacey’s unpredictability and depression weave through the story like a train wreck–you know what’s coming but you can’t look away.
I actually would give this book 3.5 stars, but I also tend to give debut novels of a series the benefit of the doubt. I will definitely read the second in this series to see how the character grows and (maybe) flourishes.
Fans of the Sebastian St. Cyr novels should definitely check this series out!

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