The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

I’m going to assume that you know the basic story of the Donner Party.  Just in case, here is the Wikipedia article; it’s fantastic. I also had a pretty good grasp of their story before reading Michael Wallis’s recent book about them, The Best Land Under Heaven. So, did I learn anything? Was the book worth reading? Yes, and mostly yes. The full extent of what … Continue reading The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

This review contains spoilers. You’re welcome. A book about the Donner Party ought to be a page-turner.  The Wikipedia article on them is fascinating reading.  Take what is already an inherently compelling story, add in a supernatural element and you should have a very entertaining book.  That’s all I was expecting.  Something unnatural is stalking the Donner Party, an evil they cannot see, killing them … Continue reading The Hunger by Alma Katsu

A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Jonathan Clements book A Brief History of the Vikings is very old school history, very one event after another.  Lots of successions of rulers and records of who won and who lost various battles. It was just the thing to pass the time I spent last week riding the ferry boat back and forth between my home and San Francisco where I was taking a class … Continue reading A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Heathcliff is Miss Havisham. I don’t know how many times I have read Wuthering Heights, but it’s been a few.  More than three at least.  I’m a fanboy. I read it again on Monday as my way of celebrating Emily Brontë’s 200th birthday.  I honestly thought there would be more hoopla; maybe a public read-a-loud somewhere. But if it was going to be just me, then … Continue reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer

Out of ten members two loved it, three hated it and five liked it in an ambivalent sort of way. Most people had serious trouble with at least one of the characters and a few plot elements. I always say that if the group is arguing over something like the finer points of California’s community property laws, then there’s a bigger problem with the book. … Continue reading The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer

Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

I often tell my students that reading is like swimming, the only way to get better at it is to do it.  Which is only partially true.  If you really want to get better at swimming, and at reading, you need to push yourself to perform at a higher rate than you typically do. Sometimes, you need a coach. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself. … Continue reading Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

None of this is true, what we were told in history class if you’re my age,  but the story goes like this… When Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor met Conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1519, he thought the Spaniard was the god Quetzalcoatl returned to fulfill a prophecy ending the empire.  Though he had just  a few soldiers with him, Cortez was able to use superior armor and guns … Continue reading Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

It’s Time to Fight Dirty by David Faris

Begin with this…..The Democrats have been the majority party, by millions of votes, for the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives for most of the last seven election cycles.  By majority I mean they have received more votes total than the Republicans.  Yet they are the minority party in all three. How is this possible? What can be done about it? This is … Continue reading It’s Time to Fight Dirty by David Faris

Tomb Song by Julian Herbert

Contemporary Mexican fiction is the place to be. If we’re still including Roberto Bolano in the category, which I am. Julian Herbert’s new novel Tomb Song, translated by Christina MacSweeney, shares a love for language with much of the contemporary Mexican fiction I have read.  What language can do, the way it can excite, anger, frustrate, is something I’ve found to be a common denominator in … Continue reading Tomb Song by Julian Herbert

Census by Jesse Ball

This book was not what I expected. Even though I had no expectations at all when I started it.  I had no idea what it was going to be about.  I read it because it’s part of The Summer Reading Challenge at The Morning News.  I didn’t even read the inside flap; just started reading. In his introduction Mr. Ball writes about his brother who … Continue reading Census by Jesse Ball