Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark
(Ecco Press, 2014, 384 pages)
Astoria by Peter Stark is the true story of John Jacob Astor’s plan to form an American empire on the yet unsettled West Coast. In Jefferson’s final term as President, John Jacob Astor consulted with him about building an empire in the West. Lewis and Clark had already made their historic journey. Jefferson was interested in having an American presence in the West. Astor wanted to build a fur trading empire out there. Astor took it upon himself to plan and finance the making of a West Coast empire with a trading post to be established at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Astoria covers the years 1810-1813. Astor sent 140 men (and 1 Indian woman with 2 small children) to create this empire. Some were sent by sea. The rest were sent by land. Both routes presented hardships and danger including starvation, Indian attacks, and stormy seas. Of the 140 men, nearly half died. Ships were lost. For a short time, a trading post was established on the Columbia River and the surrounding territory was called Astoria after John Jacob Astor. But the War of 1812 and other circumstances intervened and the Astor enterprise was lost.
Astoria is an interesting tale of adventure, hardship, and determination. It is well written. I would recommend this book to those interested in U.S. history or anyone who likes to read about adventure.
Trouble by Kate Christensen
(Doubleday, 2009, 320 pages)
So I’m definitely a fan of Kate Christensen. There’s something about her writing style and character development that just draws me in. Trouble‘s protagonist is Josie, a therapist living in New York City. After attending a party at the home of one of her best friends Josie suddenly comes to the realization that her marriage is over. It hits her just like that… and then she proceeds to go home with a younger man. When Josie reveals to her husband that she’s leaving he doesn’t put up much of a fight. It’s not that she no longer loves her husband, it’s that she can no longer continue in a passionless marriage.
Josie heads to Mexico City shortly after Christmas to meet up with her best friend, Raquel. Raquel is a famous musician who has fled L.A. after being rocked by scandal. She was caught with a man half her age who also happened to have a pregnant fiance. While in Mexico City the two friends try to recharge and gain peace in the midst of the various changes affecting their lives. The women acquire their personal forms of “peace” in very different ways.
This was a quick read that concluded in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I definitely enjoyed the book and plan on picking up another Christensen novel soon.
Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky
by John Moe
(HarperCollins, 2006, 320 pages)
I knew this was going to be a fun read when I laughed out loud reading the first page. John Moe was asked by his barber how he normally parts his hair. “To the left” he replied. It was mere days before Moe was to begin his non-scientific experiment. He then asked the barber to part his hair from left to right since he’s trying to make his politics move from left to right.
In Conservatize Me author John Moe, a self-proclaimed leftist, sets out to immerse himself in conservative culture for 30 days. He talks to well-known conservatives, participates in the College Republicans convention, watches conservative news stations, listens to country music, visits the most conservative districts… you know, going the whole nine yards. Some of Moe’s attempts to understand conservatives are stereotypical. But Moe pokes fun at both conservatives and liberals. This book will make you look at politics in a new way. It doesn’t matter which side you are on, you’ll find the book funny, entertaining, and insightful. How did the experiment turn out? You’ll just have to find out for yourself!
Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand
(Reagan Arthur Books, 2013, 544 pages)
The Carmichaels haven’t been the same since their mother, Beth, passed away. Before Beth died, she wrote a notebook to her youngest daughter Jenna helping to plan her future wedding that Beth knew she would never get to see. Years later, the Carmichaels have arrived at Nantucket to celebrate Jenna and Stewart’s wedding where almost every detail (minus the rehearsal dinner dress) was followed according to Beth’s plan. But what happens over the weekend is nothing that Beth could have planned for and all the Carmichaels must survive without her.
I listened to this read and thought it was pretty good. Although there was not a character that I particularly rooted for, the situations they each got themselves into over the wedding weekend were entertaining. The characters were all flawed but I think that was a reflection of them all still being a bit lost from Beth’s death. I really liked how Hilderbrand gave each character their own unique personality and quirk that made them easy to remember as there were a lot between the bride and groom’s family.
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock
(Gallery Books, 2012, 416 pages)
Lucy and Mickey are a married couple that have stayed together despite the many present obstacles in their lives. Lucy has a family history of breast cancer that she already beat once some years ago and Mickey is bi-polar and fights to remain stable. After Lucy beat cancer, they decided it was too much of a possibility to pass on their risky genes to a child and added a no children clause to their marriage contract. After a routine checkup though, Lucy is surprised to find out that she is pregnant against all odds. As Lucy and Mickey prepare to add another member to their family, they have to face another decision that will change everything.
I thought this book was fine. I liked the idea behind the story as the many different problems Lucy and Mickey had to face definitely added a different sense of drama. The book is written from Lucy’s point of view with Mickey’s journal entries adding his perspective throughout the read. The dialogue was a bit too cheesy for me but I admit, I usually am too hard to please when it comes to the dialogue. But my biggest problem was the ending. It was a nice way to end a pretty tragic story but I can’t imagine that being realistic with how much the reader saw Mickey struggle.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
(Little, Brown and Company, 2006, 193 pages)
Winter’s Bone is both a beautifully written novel about poor inhabitants of Missouri’s Ozark hills and a gripping story of a young women’s search for her missing father. Jessup Dolly has disappeared, and his daughter, Ree, is determined to discover what has happened to him. Jessup cooks meth and has had numerous run-ins with the law. He has recently been released from jail, having put up the family’s house and land for his bond. In order to save the house for herself, her two brothers, and their ailing mother, Ree must either find Jessup to convince him to show up for his court date or produce evidence that he is dead. However, to do this, Ree has to go around asking questions of some of the other residents of the Rathlin Valley. This puts her in the path of a backwoods crime syndicate, and the more questions she asks the more danger she finds herself in.
Daniel Woodrell has commented in an interview that, as a writer, “I always think what I’m trying to do is take characters you normally wouldn’t care about and make you care about them.” The tiny inbred community of meth producers and criminals living in the Ozarks, of which Woodrell writes, would be easy enough not to care about. However, he immerses the reader so effectively in the lives and troubles of a particular family in this community, that one can’t help but develop a deep sense of the worth of people who it would otherwise be tempting to dismiss as ignorant hicks. Similarly, Woodrell made me care deeply about the landscape of the Ozark hills. His atmospheric descriptions of hills, creeks, weather, and rocks were not simply ornamental, but rather, they become an essential backdrop for understanding who the characters are and how they inhabit the world. These people, their grudges, their ways of life, and their landscape are given a kind of mythological significance that saturates the world of the novel.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, 310 pages)
Our narrator, Rosemary Cooke, starts her story in the middle when she’s a Junior (or Senior?) in college at U.C. Davis during the mid-90s. Rosemary spent the first half of her life defined by her sister, Fern. Then Fern left Rosemary’s life, and shortly after that so did her older brother Lowell. The reason Rosemary’s life was defined by Fern was because Fern was a chimpanzee being raised as a human in the Cooke family. Rosemary and Fern were essentially twins. The Cooke family patriarch was a psychology professor and he is the reason the family was able to procure Fern. So while she was being raised as a human she and Rosemary were also constantly being observed and analyzed.
Fern’s disappearance from 6 year-old Rosemary’s life was incredibly traumatic for both of them. Starting the story in the middle we see how Rosemary learns the truth about Fern and tries to reconcile what she thought she knew with what the reality of the situation is. Her brother, Lowell, is wanted by the FBI for incidents related to the Animal Liberation Front. Her parents haven’t been the same since Fern and Lowell left the house… This is a touching story about family, loss,and love. Parts of it were hard to listen to and it certainly makes you think about the ethics of animal treatment/experimentation.
I enjoyed this book and the narrator did a great job bringing Fowler’s words to life. The title was named a “Best of 2013″ book in a number of publications including: The New York Times Book Review, The Christian Science Monitor, and Library Journal.