All of Us and Everything: A Novel
Smart, entertaining, and wickedly charming!! All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher was a fun, sexy, provocative read that was widely intriguing as Ms. Asher creates a story that unravels family secrets. Nothing is black and white and in this unique and entertaining read as Ms. Asher weaves a story of sisters discovering the truth about their father.
Augusta Rockwell is an eccentric mother to three daughters — Esme, Liv, and Ru. They didn’t have a normal upbringing, as most children did. Their mother always told them crazy and far-fetched stories that their father was an international spy and was absent because he was away on top-secret missions. So when a storm hits their family home, the Rockwell sisters reunite and soon discovers buried letters that exposes the real truth. After weathering the storm, will this newfound revelation bring the Rockwell women closer?
So if you are ready to get struck with a read that will have you charmed with realistic flawed characters then this book is definitely for you. A light and well-written story that would be a perfect weekend read.
The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich
The Devils Diary starts off with a mystery, chiefly the whereabouts of Alfred Rosenberg’s diaries. Alfred Rosenberg wasn’t your garden variety Nazi. His racial ideas and views on a “Jewish Conspiracy” fed the fire that rose into National Socialism in Germany. Rosenberg’s story is told alongside that of one of his prosecutors, Robert Kempner, who would play a key role in the Nuremberg trials post World War II. Rosenberg would battle Goebbels, Goering, and Himmler for the favor of Adolf Hitler as time went on and the Third Reich would tighten its grip on Germany and eventually Europe. Rosenberg’s diary chronicles much of the rise and eventual fall of the hydra that was Nazi Germany.
The Devils Diary is part biography/part detective story. It is a story of a man whose hatred would fuel the souls of many more, but the book also delves into the life of Robert Kempner, who escaped the mass slaughter of his people and eventually got a small amount of revenge against his family’s killers. The authors show the quick rise and fall of a man who hid behind an ideology, but took no responsibility for the atrocities committed in the name of such ideology. Interesting doesn’t do enough to adequately describe a timeless work such as this. It is nothing short of a treasure.
Jewels of Allah
Is there any subject of which the average Westerner harbors more misconceptions and false assumptions than the role of the Middle Eastern woman? Dr. Nina Ansary tackles these misconceptions directly in her book Jewels of Allah, explaining that the history of women’s rights in Iran isn’t as simple as we assume. In fact, what is surprising is how women have found methods of liberation through their oppression. Two prominent examples are the mandated wearing of the hijab and the institution of single-sex education. Ansary explains that with the institutionalization of both the hijab and single-sex education, many conservative Muslim families felt more comfortable sending their daughters to school. Additionally, girls attending an all-girl school flourished more and were more comfortable voicing their opinions than they had been in the coeducational schools of the Pahlavi monarchy.
The Pahlavi era was one of rapid social progress. Too rapid, perhaps: Centuries of custom and tradition were ousted almost overnight, including the role of women. During the Persian centuries, women played a subordinate role, but with the advent of the Pahlavi era, women were allowed to hold political office, become lawyers, obtain divorces, and dress how they pleased. The hijab, however, was outlawed, and many Iranians believed the Pahlavi were mere puppets of the Western powers. In 1979 the pendulum of progress swung back with a vengeance, as the revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Pahlavi regime and the era’s hard-won social progress. Women were once again forced to play a subordinate role. Yet as Ansary shows, there was and continues to be a thriving women’s rights movement despite the oppressive patriarchal laws and regulations. During the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, for instance, women filled many of the jobs left vacant by men fighting in the war, not unlike women during World War II. Ansary also cites the numerous women’s magazines and periodicals in post-revolutionary Iran as an impetus and outlet for women’s concerns, and devotes an entire chapter to the women’s magazine Zanan and its founder, Shahla Sherkat.
One of the most important revelations of the book is that there is not just one type of Iranian woman. Even within the progressive women’s movement there are differences. There are devout Muslim women who seek to reconcile and reinterpret the Koran more favorably for women, and there are also secular women who believe no such reconciliation is possible and work for a complete break with tradition, yet despite their differences both camps work together for the advancement of women’s rights. Nina Ansary’s book is a must-read for anyone hoping for a fuller understanding of the role of women and the women’s rights movement in Iran. It is a much-needed antidote to Western misconceptions
Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure
Sweetest Day, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Graduations, Weddings, Birthdays all are celebrated with candy. Candy is so ubiquitous that it lurks in our vending machines, ready for purchase any time one needs to satisfy the cravings of a sweet tooth. It is used to celebrate friendship, love, or job well done. It is so much a part of not only our diet, but also our culture that it is difficult to imagine life without the sweet decadent candy.
Part personal memoir and part history of candy, this book traces the origins and development of candy – both chocolate and non-chocolate – primarily in the United States. It starts with the Native American Indians who needed the sugary treats as a means of nourishment and survival to the early twenty first century where it is intertwined with American popular culture (imagine Halloween without candy).
The historical narrative is chronological, easy to read and filled with factoids that would delight readers interested in historical trivia. The historical narrative sometimes digresses to vignettes of incidents from the author’s life. While how connected these incidents are to the overall narrative is questionable, these events do relate (at least peripherally) to candy. The text is adorned, rather than enhanced, by greyscale pictures. These pictures would benefit from a description, photo editing (some are low resolution, and others need to be rotated), and color. In one instance, the same low-res image is duplicated. Some of the websites in the reference are now dead links. This review is based on an advanced reading copy, not the released publication. The centerpiece of this book – the historical narrative – makes the book, despite its flaws, a worthwhile read.
The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, A Brief History
When it comes to reading textbooks or primers on particular subjects, the key really is that the writing keep the reader’s interest, otherwise their mind is likely to wander and/or become bored with the subject matter they are reading about. Thankfully, Jack L. Schwartzwald’s brief history on the ancient Near East, Greece and Rome has an interesting and engaging voice that grabs the reader’s attention right from the beginning and keeps them going for the whole book.
This “brief history” is still a good 190-odd pages of informational text, along with an extensive bibliography and thorough index, giving the reader quick references at their fingertips. For those readers looking to read it cover to cover, the book is divided into three chapters: “The Cradle of Civilization: The Ancient Near East,’ “The Cradle of Western Civilization: Ancient Greece,” and “The Cradle of the Nation-State: Ancient Rome.” While it seems like heavy reading to digest the entire book with just three chapter breaks, especially on this none-too-easy subject, each chapter is subdivided into sections with titles to allow for breaks and digestion of the material. The shortest chapter is the first one at 30 pages, which is sad, because it is such an import period in history that lead to the foundation and creation of so much that came after, nevertheless it is clear that while Schwartzwald knows plenty about the ancient Near East, it is ancient Greece and Rome where he dedicates his true knowledge.
The history telling is straightforward, with lots of names and dates throughout the text, as the author lays out the history and events and happenings in succinct paragraphs. There is not a lot of discussion or synthesis here, as this is a “brief history” after all and nothing more. Schwartzwald is giving you the quick history of these times and places so that you can speedily digest and understand it. If you are looking for further, deeper material, that is what the bibliography is for. But in this way the book also serves as an excellent reference tool, along with the index, so that if the reader is tackling something in depth, but wants a quick refresher on a specific period in the ancient Near East, Greece or Rome, this book does the job well.
What is perhaps surprising about the book is that it is all text, with not a single picture, table, graphic, or depiction of a graphic source. While, again, it is a “brief history” and meant for a quick and thorough reading of the time period, one would expect maybe a photo or two, a Roman statue or Greek piece of architecture, or even Hammurabi’s code of laws; something to break up the text and help make it all the more real for the reader. Nevertheless, the book does its job of providing a “brief history” of the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, where the reader will not become lost and overwhelmed by too much, but able to digest everything in titled sections. It is an ideal book for someone taking an ancient history class and looking to get a feel for the history they are about to learn about or for the average reader wanting to learn more about the period, but not having to absorb a heavy and overwhelming tome. The people, dates, and events in the book are all laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to take it all in swiftly and comprehensively.
Forlorn Wars, Hot Rod Cars and Ancient Stars
Today the consensus is that the Vietnam war was useless and unjust, but that in no way lessens the sacrifice made by the soldiers who were drafted to spend their blood there. Here in Forlorn Wars, the author has written an intense biographic essay about his friend, one of those young soldiers, ripped from his carefree teenage existence and thrown into the hellish nightmare of the Asian jungle.
The author became friends with Bob Malinowski through a shared interest in hot rod cars. Over time, as their friendship developed, Bob began opening up about his experiences as a grunt in Vietnam. Author Norman Weisberg is a great writer, and captures his friend’s stories in detail. Bob left as an optimistic eighteen-year-old, but quickly learned the lie. Weisberg takes the reader through a history of the politics of the WWII-through-Vietnam era, and exposes the false premises and hubris that led to the continuation of a futile conflict. He writes about the military tactics of the Vietnamese fighters, as well as those of the American soldiers, sent into conflict with inferior weaponry and lacking the necessary support. Alternating between the broad view of the political situation and history, and Bob’s view from the ground is a powerful device, masterfully used, with perfect pacing to amplify and realize the horrors these young men faced. The casualty rates were astounding, and the soldiers had no grand cause for which their lives were being thrown away – they were all too aware of the farce the war had become. Their only concern had to become survival.
The book is gripping, well-written, with an eye for the important detail as well as the broad stroke. This is not a history text; no footnotes or bibliography; the statistics and events are well-known. The genius of the book is showing the human, personal side of the war through Bob’s stories. The distant, antiseptic policy decisions are seamlessly connected to Bob’s experiences. If there is an overarching theme to the book, it is to be aware of impact of war. We may say that we know, but unless we have been there, we can’t really. But books like this get us a close as we can get, so hopefully we won’t forget, so we realize the true costs and avoid repeating them.
This is just the first book in a planned trilogy; the next two, projected for 2015 and 2016, address Bob’s reintegration into home life and how he overcame PSTD caused by his military experiences. I have every expectation that they will be as gripping and emotionally authentic as Forlorn Wars. An excellent book.