Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

This book is subtitled "A Novel of the Last Tsar" and it tells the story of the last few weeks of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children--from the kitchen boy's point of view.

I've read a few things about this family, most notably a big compilation of Nicholas' and Alexandra's letters to each other and Nicholas' diary entries. Very interesting and equally heartbreaking. I thought this was just another point of view on the same tragic story... and it was, but it was also surprisingly different.

The kitchen boy is telling this story as he is an old man. He's recording his version of this story for his beloved granddaughter. He has a legacy for her and a mission for her.

And the end of this book is great. I was totally surprised. I really enjoyed it.

Warning: there is a bit of graphic violence in here--the royal family is horribly murdered, after all--and there is one very foul word (the soldiers are awful).

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

This is another of Malcom Gladwell's very interesting books. It is subtitled "The Story of Success" and it's all about the elements that line up in the lives of people who have found great success in many different areas.

As usual for me with one of Gladwell's books, I found it both engaging and very interesting. I think I like it even more because it convinces me that success is just as much about timing and location and just the right circumstances as it is about hard work and talent. Sort of makes a girl feel like that the only reason that extraordinary success hasn't found her yet really has nothing to do with her (lack of) talent and hard work. Don't you have to laugh at yourself a little when one of the reasons you like a book is that it fits your idea of the world or feeds your vanity? What's not to like about that?

Anyway, it was a fascinating read that introduced me to some new ideas. Do I think they're true? Hm. Maybe. In any case, it's cool to understand the possibilities. I'll be watching for the background stories of some of these wildly successful people from now on. And I've already blamed my temper on my Scottish heritage. A useful book in many ways. :) I really liked it. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manhunt by James L. Swanson

I've had the YA version of this book for many months, waiting on my shelf to be read (along with dozens of other books--yay!). The books are the same story, of course, but the YA book is somewhat condensed. And (I think) it has better pictures.

This is the well-researched story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the 12-day hunt for John Wilkes Booth and all of his accomplices. It was very interesting. In some places it was gory. In some places the writing felt overly dramatic. The whole book, though, was engaging and educational. It was not at all dry. James L. Swanson used, in many cases, the actual words of those who had been witnesses or even participants.

I found it interesting that, while the reader naturally condemns Booth for his criminal killing of the president of the United States (and cheers his hunters), Mr. Swanson portrayed Booth in such a way that the reader also feels a measure of sympathy for him. Those 12 days after the assassination were miserable ones for Booth.

I particularly liked the end of the book where Mr. Swanson wrote about what happened to each of the main characters AFTER all the excitement was over. That was cool and sad in a way too. It was a great book. It definitely has a place on my history shelf.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

This is the first of a series of mysteries featuring our title character, Maisie Dobbs. She is a highly intelligent, very well-trained, not too young lady who has a unique type of detective skill.

In this, her first case, her personal story is shared with the reader. We read about Maisie's childhood, her adolescence and the time she spent nursing in the war. Then we fast forward to her first case as an investigator on her own. And this particular case forces her to sort out her feelings about what happened in her life during the war.

I really liked this story. It wasn't lighthearted--not to be considered a "cozy" (which type of mystery I usually really like)--but it's not as gritty as PD James, perhaps. I found all of Ms.Winspear's characters likeable and I lost myself in Maisie's story. I look forward to reading the books that follow this one.