Book Review: ‘Emerald Mile’ a jewel full of adventure, river history

At times I felt like I was on the raft, wanting to hold on, to jump to the high side to balance it. It had been a long time since I was so engrossed by a book.

Author Kevin Fedarko easily transported me to the Grand Canyon River. And while many years ago I took a multi-day rafting on this majestic river, this story wasn’t about an ordinary paddle. “The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon” (Scribner, 2013) at times had my adrenaline rushing in the confines of my home.

Fedarko does more than merely write about an event that occurred in 1983 after an epic winter runoff. That alone would have been interesting and worth of my time—especially since I knew nothing about the Grand Canyon speed record.

“The Emerald Mile” has a ton of depth to it. It’s about the history of the river, about how dams started plugging her up, and the people who were involved in all of this. This book is part adventure-outdoor thriller and part history-political retrospect.

The buildup is necessary to understand the significance of the Glen Canyon Dam nearly coming apart because of the torrent of water rushing from the melting snow in Colorado. Fedarko creates a reverence for the river itself.

Just when I thought Fedarko was going off on some irrelevant tangent he wove it all together in a suspenseful, interesting manner. His adeptness to paint a picture with words  brought the story to life in colorful detail.

This book came recommended to me from Cliff Taylor, who I met when I had an extended stay at his place in Mulegé in Baja California Sur last November. He told me he had a bit part in it, then laughed. His bit part is funny; well, the description of him is.

This book was the perfect escape from life’s stressors.

Book Review: ‘My Own Words’ a look at RBG’s legal work

So much has been written about and by Ruth Bader Ginsburg that I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed to read more. I’m glad I did.

“My Own Words” (Simon & Schuster, 2016) was published when the Supreme Court justice was still alive. It was written with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams.

It’s a comprehensive collection of her speeches, decisions and dissents up until that time. They are woven together in a way that builds upon each other.

The narrative by Hartnett and Williams brings context and therefore clarity to the words.

It’s far from being a quick read because it’s all about the law. While some of the cases were well known to me, others not so much, and some not at all. The speeches were interesting because those went beyond the law into the thinking behind her interpretation of the decision’s outcome.

What would likely make this book interesting to anyone is the history and law. One does need to agree with RBG’s decisions to appreciate this book.

It would be hard to argue she was not a great legal scholar. That alone is reason to give her words your time.

Book Review: ‘Nature Fix’ proves importance of getting outside

Reading (actually listening to) “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017) could not have come at a better time.

I have long been a strong advocate for getting outside. I just didn’t know all of the science behind why or how truly beneficial it is to one’s entire well-being.

Having recently moved to suburbia has me a bit on edge. There’s just so much dang concrete here in Chico. This is after years spent in Tahoe as well as the last three winters in Baja with its expansive beaches along the Pacific Ocean as well as mountains. I had daily views of the outdoors, I could walk in nature from my front door. I don’t have that anymore. Now, mostly, I need to drive; though, fortunately not far to be immersed in Ma Nature.

What author Florence Williams taught me is how people thrive when nature is part of their lives. Even photos of nature can help. There are physical, mental and emotional benefits to nature.

Williams shares various studies that have been conducted by researchers throughout the world about the effects nature has on people. It’s more than just becoming unplugged from devices and not being cooped up indoors. There is proof that Mother Nature is like a positive drug without negative side effects.

It made me realize that perhaps some of the difficulty I was having adjusting to Chico was really a lack of nature. It’s amazing now when I take AJ to Bidwell Park that I literally feel a calmness come over me. I’ve been transformed from the concrete of my neighborhood within just minutes. Even better, my neighborhood has walking trails that are not concrete that go by man made lakes. It’s not Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ocean, but it’s something–something good.

While the book has plenty of facts and figures to back up the message, it’s written in an easy to understand manner. It is definitely not a scientific journal.

If you ever doubted the power of the outdoors, this will have you convinced doctors should be writing “get outside” on prescription pads instead of take some drug.

Book Review: ‘Book Thief’ starts slow, finishes strong

Having heard such wonderful things about “The Book Thief” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) led me to keep going even though I was close to moving on to the next book. It’s one of those books that didn’t grab me at the get-go. I’m so glad I persevered.

This historical fiction is based during World War II in Germany. One of the premises is that it proves how books and reading in general can be such a salvation. They certainly were for Liesel Meminger, the main character.

Meminger—is a young girl coming of age in Nazi Germany. While you may think you’ve read enough books about this time period, don’t let this back drop keep you from picking up “The Book Thief.”

There was a depth to this book that I didn’t expect. The characters are believable. The humanity of the book was gripping.

I had not read any reviews of the book; I had only heard from friends/family about it. All positive. What no one told me is the book’s narrator is death. Yes, really. While that may sound odd, abstract or even creepy, it totally works. Trust me.

The book has been made into a movie. I haven’t seen it.

Book Review: ‘New Jim Crow’ dissects U.S. criminal justice system

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (10th anniversary edition)” (The New Press, 2020) is not easy to get through. But I’m glad I did.

Michelle Alexander’s book was first published in 2010. It was considered revolutionary and groundbreaking then. Unfortunately, it seems like the United States has evolved so little since then.

Alexander in the anniversary edition of the book writes a new preface, bringing a decade of relevance to the forefront without writing a new book.

She didn’t need to write another book because the first one was so definitive. She thoroughly explains how the criminal justice system ensnares black people, mostly men and never allows them to be truly free even once released.

For anyone still not sure why there are more black people in prison than white, this is a must read. For anyone who believes in social justice, this is a must read.

As with so many books that I’ve read in the last year, I keep learning. Not everything I learn do I like. But I hope it makes me a better person simply because now I am more educated, and that will lead me to ask better questions of those in society who are our “leaders” and making the decisions that affect us all.

It could be easy to dismiss these injustices as a black issue, but that is wrong. If one segment of society is being mistreated, it impacts everyone. We all need to care.

This book will help people better understand how the war on drugs was a just another way to keep the black man down.

If you aren’t angry reading this book, well, I’m going to guess you are part of the problem.

Book Review: ‘Alice Network’ a story of spies, love and friendship

Intrigue, drama, love, war, espionage and a bit of reality are woven into Kate Quinn’s historical novel The Alice Network (HarperCollins 2017).

Before a friend recommended this book to me I had never heard of The Alice Network. It was run by Louise de Bettignies during World War I. Her code name was Alice.

The book mostly focuses on one of the women involved in this female spy network in 1915, along with a U.S. college student who in 1947 is dealing with a slew of personal issues. It’s not long before their paths cross.

Quinn weaves the story lines in rotating chapters until they blend into the same time period.

The book is captivating. The suspense had me wanting to keep listening along my long drive.

It made me want to know more about this all-female spy operation. There must be a non-fiction book about them.

In the meantime, The Alice Network is sure to entertain readers.

Book Review: Riveting biography of Kirk Kerkorian

Even though I lived in Las Vegas while Kirk Kerkorian was still a presence in Las Vegas, I never knew much about him other than what I read in the newspapers. It was through the book The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018) by William C. Rempel that I learned about him as a person, an entrepreneur, a risk taker, and the ultimate businessman.

Kerkorian (1917-2015) helped transform Las Vegas into what it is today. He is credited with developing the concept of the mega-resort. Three times he built the world’s largest hotel in the Southern Nevada desert.

The fascination with gaming started as a player and evolved into owner/developer. He was the ultimate gambler as a businessman.

But before Kerkorian began his gaming empire his first loves were boxing and then aviation. His heroics at the controls of various airplanes is well depicted in the book. It was through his flying pursuits that he was him to Las Vegas.

Kerkorian’s life is the quintessential rags to riches American dream. Rempel deftly tells the story through extensive research. His subject was private and seldom gave interviews. Part of Kerkorian’s life is public through court documents—business and personal.

This story is sure to be one to captivate most readers.

Book Review: Greens Chef/Author Writes Delightful Memoir

I don’t remember how old I was when I first went to Greens, but I do know it was my first vegetarian restaurant and continues to be my favorite.

But it wasn’t until this year that I knew Deborah Madison’s story. She was the chef at the San Francisco restaurant, her first cookbook was the recipes from there, and she has authored several other books. Her latest book is An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).

No recipes will be found in her latest book other than how to live an interesting life. Making it even more entertaining was listening to the book because Madison narrates it.

This memoir will take readers on a journey that is as much about Madison’s life with vegetables as it is the evolution of food in the United States. She didn’t grow up in a household where food was a central theme. It wasn’t until she was a young adult that she learned to cook and then it was under unique circumstances.

While many would associate Madison with the vegetarian movement, so to speak, the word vegetarian is one she detests. Vegetables—though, she loves, even though she now eats meat.

Madison doesn’t hold back on revealing embarrassing moments, triumphs and opinions. One definitely does not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy this book.



Book Review: A griping look into the paid prison system in the U.S.

The older I get the less it is that I seem to know. Thank goodness for books. I wrongly thought private for-profit prisons were a rather new phenomenon. Wrong. Very wrong.

Shane Bauer in American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (Penguin Press, 2018) takes readers (or listeners as was the case for me) through the gritty details of prisons in the United States. If you don’t believe the system needs reforming, this book is bound to change your mind.

Bauer was a reporter for Mother Jones magazine when he went undercover in 2014 at a private state prison in Louisiana as a guard. What makes that undertaking even more profound is that Bauer had been a prisoner prior to that experience. He was jailed for more than two years in Iran on made up charges of espionage. He and two friends had been hiking when they were taken into custody.

In the book Bauer explains his approach to the story, how he collected information, and shares the personal changes he undergoes while working in the prison. But it’s much more than an indictment on the prison system and the company he worked for. Bauer delves into the history of prisons in the United States. It’s those details that were even more alarming to me.

The racism, barbarianism, the inhumanity of it all was overwhelming at times. I was repulsed, I got angry, and was sad.

Still, I wanted to know more. As I kept listening, I kept learning. This book is bound to open most people’s eyes to a topic many of us have little or no experience with. Yes, it’s about prisons. But it’s so much more. It’s about our history and how we continue to treat people behind bars.

It’s about how we are letting others make a profit off treating fellow human beings as subhuman. It’s not right. Bauer’s writing is excellent and will keep you turning the pages.

Book Review: Novel unearths atrocities at Tennessee orphanage

Thousands of lives were stolen or ruined in the first part of the 20th century all because one woman wanted to profit from stealing and selling children.

While Before We Were Yours (Ballantine Books, 2017) is historical fiction, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by Georgia Tann was very real. Between 1924 and 1950 this woman stole more than 5,000 children, and was responsible for the deaths of more than 500. Many were abused beyond being ripped from their parents.

Author Lisa Wingate weaves a captivating tale, focusing primarily on one family’s plight. In parallel story lines the book is set while the orphanage was operating and then in present day.

Like with many of the real families, the truth was hidden and stayed that way until generations later. Such was the case with the fictional family in the book. Wingate used composites of children from the center to form the characters in her novel.

While at times the book is gut-wrenching, it’s one of those sad chapters in the history of the United States that needs light shed on it. It is well written and definitely captivating.

Pin It on Pinterest