REVIEW: Fire on the Track by Roseanne Montillo

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Growing up as a child under Title IX the ability to play on a sports team was a given for me. That’s why I’ve found the handful of books I’ve read this year about the early years of women’s athletics so fascinating. Fire on the Track, the story of the first three Olympics in which women were allowed to participate is no exception.

The book follows a handful of women athletes in the 20’s and 30’s, but the most prominent was Betty Robinson, the first woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal. The conditions early women athletes faced were incredible – uncomfortable running shoes, sub-par lodging and food once they got to the Olympics, and invasive exams to prove they were, indeed, women. If you ever needed a book to make you feel grateful for the women who came before us this is it.

If you read and liked Dust Bowl Girls this book is a worthwhile pairing. Likewise if you like this book I highly recommend Dust Bowl Girls!

Note: Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

I am a complete Christmas cookie freak every year pretty much from Halloween until December 25th. Any spare second that I have I am either baking or looking up new recipes. Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden is the new source of cookie recipes that I have been waiting for.

The recipes are both fancy and approachable - the book is full of lovely cookies and packaging ideas that I know I will be using this year. I like that the cookie recipes are mostly familiar presented in a prettier than usual way. (People appreciate familiar at the holidays I think.)

NOTE: A free copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for a honest review.

[REVIEW]: Footsteps

Over the past month or so I've been savoring The New York Times' Footsteps. It's an awesome collection of pieces on literary pilgrimages that have been printed in the Times over the years. The short stories are perfect for dipping in and out of in between phone call or while on a train. My only complaint about this book is that it's adding to my already too long to-be-read list.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

And The Armchair Audie Goes To...

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is my pick for the 2017 Audie Award in the History/Biography category.

This was a hard decision, but in the end this was the book that stuck with me the longest.

Audie Awards are announced on June 1. Follow @ArmchairAudies on Twitter to see if my pick matches up with the real thing.

UPDATE: The official results are in, and In Harm's Way won the Audie! Congrats to Doug Stanton!

All Audie Award Reviews:

In Harm's Way

Paul McCartney: The Life

A Time to Die

Valiant Ambition

The Year of Lear

[REVIEW]: The Underground Culinary Tour By Damian Mogavero and Joseph D’Agnese

The Underground Culinary Tour by Damian Mogavero and Joseph D’Agnese appealed to me because it combines two of my favorite things: food and data. I love the idea that restaurants can collect data on their business, and use it to come up with insights that will improve their operations.

The business of data collection takes place on the backdrop of The Underground Culinary tour, a marathon of eating that allows CEOs of chain restaurants to taste what's new and edgy in New York City. The only catch is they have to pace themselves because all of the eating takes place in about 48 hours.

I enjoyed this book, but don't have a culinary background. I'll admit I skimmed large parts that seemed geared to restaurant professionals. However the basic background of the software that the author invented, and the tales of the Underground Culinary Tour made this book worthwhile for me.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

[REVIEW]: Valient Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick is my 4th review for the Armchair Audies. I'll admit before I even get started that even though I minored in history at a fine liberal arts school, anything to do with war battles goes right through my head. So, there were large parts of this book where my only thought of substance was "Ugh, why is Washington trying so hard to take Trenton?" (I spent a large part of last week on the New Jersey turnpike, and that may have clouded my thoughts a bit.)

HOWEVER, I know a lot of people, like my husband, really enjoy that type of thing. Those parts of this book were very well written, but just not for me. I will seek out more of Nathaniel Philbrick's writing after this one, but won't seek out anything else by any author that includes battles for a long time. I almost DNF this one, but I kept on, and I'm glad I did.

Along the coast of Lake Champlain, an Arnold hang out.

Along the coast of Lake Champlain, an Arnold hang out.

On to the part I liked. This last quarter or so of this book was about Benedict Arnold in comparison to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. My previous knowledge of the two was skin deep. Cherry trees, house tours, wigs, traitors, and that episode of the Brady Bunch where Peter was in a play. That kind of thing. Philbrick goes deeper though to show how two men who were subject to similar circumstances reacted in different ways. If you're into personality studies you will love the last section of this book. Also, I feel like if you are a CEO you should read this book. There's a powerful example here of why you should pay attention to your people.

The narration of this book was very good, and kept things moving even during the battle scenes.

I recommend this audio book to history lovers, CEOs, and anyone who loves to take a deep dive into what makes people tick.

This is my fourth review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back for more reviews, and to see who I think should be the winner.

NOTE: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

Vacation Book Review

This year was my first in memory that I tried to match my vacation reading to my location. Usually when I travel I pick something that's easy to read. I've been known to devour a whole trilogy in a week. I also have a thing for reading scary books by the beach.

Last week when I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina with my family I switched things up a bit, and matched my books with my vacation destination.

I've been meaning to read A Clearing in the Distance for years. It worked out well though that I got to read it in the same week I was visiting the Biltmore Estate.  Olmsted laid out Biltmore as an older man, and I got so much insight into the process by reading this book. I even got to read some of it while sitting on a bench in the gardens of the estate.

My husband downloaded all ten million hours of Fortune's Children for us to listen to in the car. This book was actually very funny, and gave a good background into exactly why someone would want to build a really huge house.

My husband bought me a signed copy of Appalachian Odyssey for Christmas, and I put it aside until our trip. I turn 40 this year, and appreciate stories about people who continue to hike past the age of 30.

How do you pick your vacation books? I liked this approach, but did kind of feel myself wishing for a novel at the end of some days!

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

REVIEW: A Time To Die by Robert Moore

2017 was a good year for nautical disaster themed audio books. A Time to Die by Robert Moore continued the trend that In Harm's Way started. The blurb tells you the book is about the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk. You might think you're not interested in Russian submarines, but really, give it a try.

This book blew my mind in a number of unrelated ways. It pushed all of my history, science, conspiracy theory, and human nature loving buttons. I can't even write a coherent review because there were so many divergent paths of awesome. Here are a few bullet points:

  • When you have a submarine designed to avoid detection while at sea it's really hard to locate the sub when/if it sinks.
  • Russia had certain strategies for dealing with the media in 2000 that may sound familiar to you in the year 2017.
  • Russian pronunciations make for a fun audiobook. Great work by the reader.
  • The secrecy of the Russian military during rescue operations is enough to make you want to punch someone.

I would have never listened to this book if it wasn't in my Arm Chair Audies category, but I'm so glad I did. Really, give it a try.

This is my third review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back for more reviews, and to see who I think should be the winner.

REVIEW: In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton (Audiobook)

I didn't think I had heard of the story of the USS Indianapolis, and it's sinking during World War II. Then someone reminded me of the scene in Jaws.

Oh, yikes. That ship.

The audiobook doesn't start with Jaws. It starts with Captain McVay, the ship's commander, and his suicide. In a story that sounds like it belongs on the Podcast Serial we're told Captain McVay was in charge of the USS Indianapolis when it sank, and was court-martialed under some dubious circumstances.

This is one of those books that is non-fiction but reads like fiction. It's a horrific yet inspiring story of men stuck in treacherous water for five days without water, most with just a life vest on to keep them afloat. I mean, imagine being in the water so long that you have time to name the shark that wants to eat you.

By the time you get to the court-martialing, it's almost unbelievable that any body would dare bring to trial a man who went through all of that. They even had the Japanese commander of the submarine that sunk the boat as a witness against Captain McVay. I'll admit to tears of rage over the kitchen sink as I listened.

This is a great book. A powerful book made all the better by a steady narrator. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of other non-fiction World War II narratives such as Unbroken and Boys in the Boat.

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This is my first review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back for more reviews, and to see who I think should be the winner.

Armchair Audies

I'm super excited to be a judge in the History/Biography category of this year's Armchair Audies. (Although since these are audiobooks maybe I should call them laundry time/driving to baseball practice/tedious work time Audies.)

Here are the books I will be listening to:

  • In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton, narrated by Mark Boyett
  • Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble
  • A Time to Die by Robert Moore, narrated by Pete Cross
  • Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick
  • The Year of Lear by James Shapiro, narrated by Robert Faas

These books are all brand new to me, and I'm excited to dig in.

If you'd like to be a judge too there's still plenty of time. Sign up here.

REVIEW: Life of the Party by Bob Kealing

Every so often you stumble across a book about something obscure, and it's so interesting that you spend the next month telling all your friends what you know about said obscure topic. If you're willing to talk to your friends about Tupperware you should read Life of the Party by Bob Kealing right away.

Life of the Party starts from the beginning of the company when plastics genius Earl Tupper came up with the secret formula using materials previously cast off by other processes. At his side was glamorous but smart and hard working Brownie Wise, the woman who really made the home sales party the phenomenon it was in the 1950's. 

The writing in this book was repetitive in some areas, and lacking depth in others. At one point much was made of a law suit, but it was never resolved in the book. However the fascinating hidden story behind the Tupperware empire was more than enough to make up for any problems in the text.

If you like fascinating but obscure stories like the ones you might hear on This American Life be sure to pick this book up.

Note: this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for a honest review.

Non-fiction books about walking: summer reading round up

Leaves are falling on my lawn, so I have to admit summer is over. (Even if it still is 90 degrees outside.) To that end I've been going through my summer reading. A big take away is that I like books about long distance walks. I read 4 of them this summer alone!

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden will be one of my favorite books of the year. First of all it features two walking companions who actually like each other. The book doesn't end with them divorced, owing each other money, or barely speaking. Instead they cheered each other on, and grew as a couple. Second of all the author didn't bog it down with scientific descriptions of the trees or geology. He simply tells the story of a walk. He reads and he thinks as he goes, and this book is a simple yet satisfying unpacking of his thoughts. He wasn't trying to write a book as he set off, and the reader gets a much better story for it.

I read Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery a few weeks before my ill-fated trip to Maine. I was really inspired by Grandma Gatewood. Read my full review here.

It took me two tries to get through Step by Step by Lawrence Block. When I started again this summer I really got into the story of this mystery writer who also happens to be a competitive walker. I've never read any of his mystery books; I heard of him when listening to The Moment. (Look for it on iTunes.)

As I wrote in Quick Lit Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford isn't the best written book. It was a pretty good adventure story about a long walk though (like 3 years.) This was a great book to read in the car while my husband drove us around the Great Lakes.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

Books about the Olympics

Last night I started reading Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu. It's not the greatest book ever written, but since it involves the 1996 Olympics I'm all about it. I caught serious Olympic fever the summer Kim Zmeskal went to Barcelona. It intensified the summer the Magnificent Seven won gold (YOU CAN DO IT!!!), and has never gone away since then. Because of this it's really surprising that the only other two books I've read about the Olympics have been Unbroken and The Boys In The Boat.

Can anyone recommend some awesome Olympics books to me?

Two books I'm thinking of checking out:

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

REVIEW: Grandma Gatewood's Walk

I'll be forty years old soon, and I've kind of been feeling it in my knees and lower back. Plus my metabolism isn't what it used to be, and some medication I've been taking has been making it hard to catch my breath. I was beginning to worry my hiking days were ending. Then I read Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery. Um yeah, if she did it, I need to stop being a wimp and keep on hiking.

Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail in her late 60's. Part of the time she couldn't see due to broken glasses, and she kept going any way. I don't even go to the bathroom in the middle of the night if I can't find my glasses. Plus her equipment was lacking. She hiked from Georgia to Maine with little more than some food, a shower curtain, an umbrella, and a pair of Keds on her feet. Her amazing athletic accomplishments don't even account for the serious abuse she had to overcome before she hit the trail.

If you're looking for some great summer reading, something inspiring, or a down right amazing adventure story Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery won't disappoint. This is going to be one of my most memorable reads all year!

REVIEW: Braving It by James Campbell

I tossed this book into my work bag at the last minute, then almost missed my metro stop because I was so engrossed.

Braving It by James Campell bills itself as "a powerful and affirming story of a father's journey with his teenage daughter to the far reaches of Alaska.". I really appreciated that Campell focused more on the journeys that make up the story than the father/daughter stuff. By making the story about the adventure, and by not trying too hard to make this a memoir about father daughter relationships the relationship stuff shone through naturally. He didn't force it down your throat. He told a really thrilling story made all the better because it was shared by a father and a daughter.

I have a touch of wanderlust in me, and Campbell's vivid descriptions of Alaska turned an itch to visit into something I must scratch soon. The descriptions of the rivers, animals, and mountains were glorious. I also enjoyed that he often used quotes from literature to help tell his story.

I highly recommend this one if you love a good armchair hiking story. It would also be great if you're looking to get your own dear Dad a gift for Father's Day.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

REVIEW: The Road Not Taken by David Orr

I first read about The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong in a review last year, and loved the sound of it. I added it to my TBR, and then added it to my 2016 non-fiction reading list. then I took it out from the library twice, and returned it unread. I was a bit intimidated. Finally on my third check out, on my third renewal I had a deadline to either read the book, or return it unread again. Well, third time's a charm. I picked this up earlier this week, and blew through it in two days.

I wouldn't consider myself a poetry fan, but do like to read Frost's poems, especially before I go on a trip to New England. Other than that I didn't really know much about him. Then I read this: "...one should bear in mind that Frost was the kind of man who, first, courts the woman he loves by printing up a volume of his own writing and, second upon feeling himself rejected by that woman, travels over five hundred miles in order to walk into a swamp." Oh Mr. Frost, you are interesting, aren't you?

After a brief biography Orr goes on to consider the poem line by line, the legend of Robert Frost, common misinterpretations, and their connection with the American psyche. This is one of those books where you learn a ton without feeling like you're doing it. Even if you don't like poetry, I think you should read this book. If nothing else it makes for good conversation when you're stuck in an awkward conversation with your boss.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

REVIEW: The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

Have you ever set out to meet a challenging and clear goal that has a specific end point? I know I have. Turns out I may be on a quest, which sounds a lot more exciting than "crazy hobby".

In his book The Happiness of Pursuit Chris Guillebeau not only defines modern day quests (no tilting at windmills here), he provides tips for completing them, and illustrates his points with interesting vignettes from his own travels, and from interviews with other hopeful questers.

I'm in the middle of my quest to visit the highest natural point in each of the 50 states plus DC right now, and this book provided me with some motivation to keep going. (It also gave me plenty of ideas on what to pursue when I'm done!)

Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

REVIEW: Left For Dead by Beck Weathers

I have a high threshold for scary stuff in books. I can read Stephen King books by the dozen and sleep well at night. So when the first section of Left For Dead by Beck Weathers had my heart pounding, I couldn't wait to read the rest. But sadly, it was just, meh.

I can't think of anything scarier than being alone near the summit of Mt. Everest. Weathers' vivid descriptions of what it was like to wake up and realize he was alone, and most likely going to die were like nothing I've read before. The premise of the rest of the book (how depression led him to take such crazy risks, and how his mountain climbing left a scar on his family life) sounded just as interesting. The book didn't deliver though, and I just barely finished. Sadly, I can't recommend this one, but if you find yourself with a copy the first section is worth a look.

If you too have a fondness for books about disasters on high mountains may I suggest:

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

REVIEW: The Bee-Friendly Garden by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn

I'm in full on garden planning mode this month, and finding ways to attract more pollinators to my yard has been a big part of that process. The Bee-Friendly Garden by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn is a great resource.

This book is a small one, but it's packed with information and beautiful pictures. There's something for everyone here. I'll admit I skimmed the section of the different types of bees, while my son poured over it. I, on the other hand, read the section about pollinators in the edible landscape twice.

While this book is a great resource for my personal garden it would also make a good gift. If your mom likes to garden, the glossy photos in this book would make it an excellent Mother's Day gift. It's never too early to plan!

Spring is coming!

Spring is coming!


Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

If you liked The Rosie Project

If you're a fan of The Rosie Project (and who isn't?), you should check out the lesser known non-fiction book The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch. It is funny, and poignant, and true, so there's no off the wall story lines. If you're looking for a real love story, read this one.

Other books I love that never made the best seller list:

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