Thursday, March 24, 2022

Book Review: Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand book cover and review
After reading Unbroken several years ago, I realized I had Seabiscuit, also by Hillenbrand, and decided I should read it. I'm glad I finally did.

I'm not even a horse racing fan, but I really enjoy the way Hillenbrand tells a story. She has a way of building the tension and excitement that is unique.

We are introduced to the original owners of Seabiscuit and then told how he ended up with the Howards, who eventually were successful. We are introduced to the trainer (Smith), and the jockey (Pollard). And then we follow them through the training, and race by race, through the ups and downs of Seabiscuit's inconceivable career. 

We are also introduced to the atmosphere of early horse racing, where jockeys took their lives in their hands every time they went out. Not to mention the starvation in order to make weight. Pollard suffered several life-threatening injuries, which each time used up all of his savings and then some. During some of this time, Seabiscuit had a different jockey, Woolf, who was also famous. It was a brutal, dangerous life.

Seabiscuit's rise to fame took place during the Depression when the public needed some distraction. And boy was he a distraction. People would come from all over to watch him race and the race tracks were overflowing. If you weren't watching him, you were listening to the races on the radio.

Some sections were perhaps a bit too detailed for me, but most of the time, I couldn't put Seabiscuit down. Like I said, it's the way she tells the story. So if you are a fan of Hillenbrand, even if you aren't a horse fan, you should consider this book. Even without the horses, it's a fascinating look at a unique aspect of the Depression.

Published by Random House, 2001 
Copy obtained from my library (not sure where I got it)
347 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Audiobook Review: The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave book cover and review
The Last Thing He Told Me was a good audiobook choice for my husband and me to listen to on a recent road trip. We both enjoyed it.

Hannah's husband, Owen, has suddenly disappeared from his software programming job, and the CEO of the company has been arrested. Hannah knows that there is more to the story. She can't believe her husband was involved in anything illegal. Owen's only contact is a note smuggled to Hannah reading "Protect her."

"Her" is Owen's daughter, Bailey, who wants nothing to do with Hannah. But after a visit from a federal marshall and the FBI, Hannah decides to take matters into her own hands and takes Bailey to find out the real story about her father. And what they find out is stunning.

I found the story a bit slow at the beginning, but once they are off on their investigation, it really takes off. The twists and turns are startling. And the ending, well, happy? Maybe. But not perfect.

The Last Thing He Told Me was entertainment. And it seemed pretty short for an audiobook. The narrator, Rebecca Lowman, did a great job. Most of the voices were distinct, but not over the top.

If you are in the mood for a twisty thriller that will surely hold some surprises, you should consider The Last Thing He Told Me.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2021
Audiobook obtained from the library
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Audiobook Review: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn book cover and review
I haven't been much up for World War II books, and The Librarian of Auschwitz about did me in, but I loved The Rose Code.

The Rose Code tells the story of three women who worked to help decode Enigma Machine messages at Bletchley Park in England. Osla, the debutante who is dating Prince Philip, can speak German. Mab came from a life of poverty and put herself through secretarial school. These two are recruited in 1940  because of their skills. They are billeted at a local home where Beth, who is the daughter of a domineering mother, is great at solving puzzles. So the girls recruit her, and she becomes one of the best cryptographers at Bletchley Park. These three become unlikely friends.

The other perspective is from 1947, and we are days from the Royal Wedding where Princess Elizabeth is to marry Prince Philip. And it soon becomes apparent that our three main characters are no longer friends, and actually hate each other. One of them is in an asylum, wrongfully, and sends a message to the other two for help.

As the two time periods converge, we realize the huge betrayals that caused their rift. And will the two come and help the third one get out of the asylum? As the story is told we also learn a lot about the operation at Bletchley Park and what was involved in the code-breaking -- some of it was quite complex and I didn't get it all, but it didn't matter. There is drama, romance, heartbreak, and of course a lot of secrets.

The epilogue and author's notes really brought it all together. The characters are all based on real people. Bletchley Park is now on my bucket list of places I want to visit. I found it all very fascinating, but also entertaining. I loved the characters and rooted for them. The tension builds nicely to the satisfying ending.

The audio version, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, was excellent. I highly recommend The Rose Code, even if you aren't really into war books right now.

Published by William Morrow, 2021, HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
656 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Book Review: Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Violeta, by Isabel Allende book cover and review
Violeta is the story of the life of a woman of that name. It is an amazing story, told by an amazing writer.

Violeta is born in 1920 in an unnamed country in South America. The war is not long over, and the Spanish flu is just taking hold. The story is written as a letter to a loved one, but the identity of the person is not revealed until much later in the story.

She lives in the city and her family is well off, so Violeta is fairly happy as a child. They hire a young woman from Ireland to be her nanny/governess. When the depression hits, her family loses everything and must escape to live with some relatives in the country. Through it all, Violeta adapts and mostly thrives. 

She lives for over 100 years and dies during the current pandemic. So she sees another world war, as well as political upheaval in her country. Along the way she falls in love, and out of love, maybe a couple of times. She remains close to her family and always helps them when she can.

It is a beautiful story and was so easy to read. Allende just has a way of writing that makes you fly through the pages. I should probably give some credit to the translator, as Violeta was originally written in another language. Spanish? I'm not sure. But it reads so incredibly easily. I will read anything Allende writes.

If you've never read anything by Allende, Violeta is a good place to start, although I also really loved Daughter of Fortune. In any case, I highly recommend this author.

Published by Ballentine, January 25, 2022
eARC obtained from NetGalley
336 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Book Review: Kingdom of Bones by James Rollins

Kingdom of Bones by James Rollins book cover and review
At times a bit far-fetched, Kingdom of Bones is an edge-of-your-seat thriller!

The book takes place in the Congo, which is mostly a thick jungle full of bugs and snakes and many other deadly things I don't like to think about. And Rollins makes the setting come alive. Then there are the genetically altered beasts which turn the usually annoying ants into deadly virus-carrying little animals. And there are many other animals that have changed, which makes this whole story even more creepy.

I kept wanting to say, "No! Turn back! You can't keep going under these conditions!" But of course, they do keep going. After all, the fate of the world is in their hands. And not only the virus and the jungle, but there is also a bad guy who is using everything he has to stop them. And he has a lot to use.

Kingdom of Bones is the 22nd book in the Sigma Force series, and I think I may have read one other. It didn't matter for the story, even though I'm sure there are a lot of backstories I don't know. 

So, yeah, this one is about a deadly virus. Rollins discusses his concerns about publishing this book in the introduction. It does cause you to stop and think about what we as humans may be doing to cause these pandemics. But it is also a very entertaining romp, with characters that at least some people are familiar with.  And I loved the technology and weaponry that is used. And the dog, of course. If you can handle the subject matter, Kindom of Bones is worth it.

Published by William Morrow, April 19, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
464 pages

Rating: 4/5

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