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

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

A novel that is also a haiku. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata takes place on the western coast of northern Japan where geography and climate conspire to create a mountainous landscape that gets more snow than any other place on earth.  The small townships along the railway tracks that cut through the mountains survive on income from the few tourists who visit the local hot springs … Continue reading Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s nice to have a fun read, with strong characters in an interesting location. A slow-burning plot that takes off in unexpected directions doesn’t hurt either. But I have nothing more to say about it.  Nothing profound. I was entertained; I expect most readers intrigued by the premise will be, too. The narrator and main character Apollo is a long-time … Continue reading The Changeling by Victor Lavalle

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

Years ago, many, many years ago, I heard a bit from a Stan Freberg radio show about why radio was better than television.  The bit featured a lot of impossible things, done through the magic of story telling and sound effects, that ended with something like a bunch of helicopters dropping a giant sponge on Lake Michigan sucking up all the water. The point being, … Continue reading Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson