Soldiers of a Different Cloth by John Wukovits

Military chaplains—if the person does their job correctly, they are some of the most underappreciated people in the military. John Wukovits brings his superb World War II knowledge to chronicle some of the University of Notre Dame’s clergy who served as chaplains in the U.S. military during World War II in Soldiers of a Different Cloth: Notre Dame Chaplains in World War II.

Wukovits highlights a few of the 35 clergy members from Notre Dame who served during the war. He pays particular attention to Rev. Joseph D. Barry, Rev. John E. Duffy, Rev. Henry Heintskill, and six missionaries caught in the Philippines at the beginning of the war (Sisters Mary Olivette and Mary Caecilius and Brothers Theodore Kapes and Rex Hennel, and Fathers Jerome Lawyer and Robert McKee).

Wukovits’ strength of highlighting the individual is in full display in the book.

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Book Review: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

I have some strong libertarian leanings, mostly on economics and size/scope of government stuff, and am a big fan of localism so I Was intrigued when I saw A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling on NetGalley.

I mean, it sounds like a pretty interesting story, right?

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road.

When they descended on Grafton, public funding for pretty much everything shrank: the fire department, the library, the schoolhouse. State and federal laws became meek suggestions, scarcely heard in the town’s thick wilderness.

The anything-goes atmosphere soon caught the attention of Grafton’s neighbors: the bears. Freedom-loving citizens ignored hunting laws and regulations on food disposal. They built a tent city in an effort to get off the grid. The bears smelled food and opportunity.

It turned out to be another book I would give 3.5 stars. The kind of book that makes you pause of a moment when you are reviewing it on Goodreads. You know, did you “enjoy it” or “really enjoy it?” I was somewhere in between I guess.

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is a somewhat rambling portrait of small town New Hampshire through the lens of a group of libertarians seeking very limited government/interference and the habits of bears. In the style of narrative nonfiction, the author seeks to give the reader the feel of the people and communities while offering insight through history, science and even literature. It doesn’t take sides per se and offers a rather balanced perspective; letting the people and events speak for themselves for the most part. Although, he clearly prefers the bears…

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Book Review: Mythopedia: An Encyclopedia of Mythical Beasts and Their Magical Tales

I am not sure how I stumbled on Mythopedia: An Encyclopedia of Mythical Beasts and Their Magical Tales at NetGalley but I am glad I did.  I was able to get a digital review copy of the hardback book that will be published on Tuesday.

What is Mythopedia?

From the West African fable of Anansi the Spider, to Michabo, the magical hare who rebuilt the world and Tanuki, the sweet but troublesome raccoon-dog of Japanese folklore, Mythopedia is an encyclopedia of mythical creatures that covers legends, tales and myths from around the world.

Lovingly created by the illustration duo behind popular flipbook Myth Match, Good Wives and Warriors, this book contains pages upon pages of cultural folklore from around the world.

Organized by geography (The Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia & Oceania), it offers a basic overview of mythological creatures from all over the globe. Plus, colorful and imaginative illustrations.

Some of the creatures will be familiar (most likely those from The Americas and Europe but some from Asia and Africa as well) while others are strange and exotic (Grootslang: and elephant-snake hybrid; Aun Pana: a creepy monster fish from the Amazon jungle; or Encantado: a bizarre shapeshifting dolphin).

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Book Review: North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

For those of you not following along, I’m reading the Wingfeather Saga to mark the release of new collectable hardcover editions being released this year.  Specifically, books three and four being released on October 6.

Alas, rather than hardback I am reading them on Kindle so I am not getting the full effect of the new covers, maps, and illustrations by Joe Sutphin.  Kindle reading does make it easier to read in bed at night without disturbing my wife so it has that going for it.  And it does give me a sense of the added material even if not quite as grand as the hardbacks.

I am pleased to report that the books seems to be getting better as we go. I enjoyed On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and found the second half of the book more engaging than the first.

And that pattern continued with North! or Be Eaten

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them.

In order to survive, the Igibys must flee to the safety of the Ice Prairies, where the lizardlike Fangs of Dang cannot follow. First, however, they have to escape the monsters of Glipwood Forest, the thieving Stranders of the East Ben, and the dreaded Fork Factory.

But even more dangerous are the jealousies and bitterness that threaten to tear them apart. Janner and his siblings must learn the hard way that the love of a family is more important than anything else.

I think I enjoyed this second book in the Wingfeather Series more than the first because there was more action and much more of the larger picture was revealed.

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Audiobook Review: Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace

After I heard Chris Wallace on special Dispatch Live event with Jonah Goldberg, I put Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World by Chris Wallace, with Mitch Weiss on my TBR pile.

Not that I am particularly interested in WWI (military history is Jeff’s bailiwick) or the dropping of the atomic bomb, but because I was interested in seeing how Wallace made the subject interesting given we all know what happened and the issues involved have been debated too death.  I was curious to see what an old school, straight shooter journalist made of the history.

It turned out the easiest way to get a copy from the library was to listen to the audiobook narrated by Wallace himself. So when it became available, I grabbed it and started listening.

Not surprisingly, Wallace is a great narrator and the style and focus of the book work well in audio format.  Unlike some more dense and technical history, I found this enjoyable to listen to and easy to pay attention

As to content, I found it to be a compelling and informative look at the events leading up the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in August of 1945. It gives you the perspective not only of President Truman and other larger than life figures but also of a host of minor characters from scientists and military leaders to those who worked at Oak Ridge and Japanese citizens who experienced the destruction of Hiroshima.

The Washington Post:

Like John Hersey in his book “Hiroshima,” Wallace and Weiss humanize events too often reduced to technical or diplomatic arcana by telling their story through the lives of individuals. Truman is, of course, a major player, but so is Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that bombed Hiroshima, and his crew. Also profiled are the scientists at Los Alamos, like Robert Oppenheimer and Don Hornig, who built the weapons dropped on Japan. Ruth Sisson, one of the “Calutron Girls” at Oak Ridge, Tenn., ran a machine enriching the uranium used in Little Boy, the Hiroshima bomb. A Navy demolitions expert, Draper Kauffman, would have been among the first to land on the beaches of Kyushu had an invasion of Japan’s home islands been deemed necessary. One of the book’s most affecting stories is that of Hideko Tamura, a 10-year-old girl who was in Hiroshima on the day the bomb fell. Hideko survived the attack; her mother, Kimiko, did not.

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Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Despite listening to the audio book in 2016 I never went ahead and read the whole Wingfeather Saga series. With new editions coming out in 2020 I decided to go back and start from book 1: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson spins a quirky and riveting tale of the Igibys’ extraordinary journey from Glipwood’s Dragon Day Festival and a secret hidden in the Books and Crannies Bookstore, past the terrifying Black Carriage, clutches of the horned hounds and loathsome toothy cows surrounding Anklejelly Manor, through the Glipwood Forest to mysterious treehouse of Peet the Sock Man (known for a little softshoe and wearing tattered socks on his hands and arms).

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to discuss for its layers of meaning about life’s true treasure and tangle of the beautiful and horrible, temporal and eternal, and good and bad.

It held up well. While it is obviously a series for children, it is still an imaginative and engaging series with interesting characters and quality world building.  Plus, there is just enough whimsy and humor to make it fun but not hokey.

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Book Review: Doesn’t Hurt to Ask by Trey Gowdy

I work in the field of communications and politics has been an interest of mine since high school.  So when I was offered a chance to review Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade by Trey Gowdy I quickly grabbed if for my Kindle from NetGalley.

It was a frustrating read.  I enjoyed it in many ways but in others ways it was hard to get a handle on. As it does so often, it comes down to expectations and how much you enjoy a blending of genres and topics.  There is a lot of good advice about how to argue and communicate, and Gowdy has a light, humorous and engaging style, but the blending of memoir and self-help with a heavy helping of legal and political context undercut the clarity for me.

The publisher’s description was what I had in mind when I started reading:

You do not need to be in a courtroom to advocate for others. You do not need to be in Congress to champion a cause. From the boardroom to the kitchen table, opportunities to make your case abound, and Doesn’t Hurt to Ask shows you how to seize them. By blending gripping case studies from nearly two decades in a courtroom and four terms in national politics with personal stories and practical advice, Trey Gowdy walks you through the tools and the mindset needed to effectively communicate your message.

From this description, and the title and subtitle, it sounds like a book on communication and persuasion. And that is what I was most interested in learning about: “Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade.”

But it might more accurately be titled: “How to argue like a prosecutor.” Most of Gowdy’s approach to communication comes from that perspective; and the book is full of stories of cases he handled and of his experience as a Congressman acting as a prosecutor of sorts.

The connection between persuasion and these cases, however, isn’t always crystal clear or at least wasn’t to me. In other words, translating persuasion from the courtroom and the committee room to the kitchen table isn’t always obvious and intuitive. Perhaps, this is my anti-lawyer bias coming through…Continue reading →

Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley

The bad news is I am back from vacation in Michigan and no longer have access to a lake simply by stepping out of my tent and choosing the form of my water transportation (pontoon boat, row boat, or kayak). The good news is I read another political satire and am here to report back.

First, the basics:

Make Russia Great Again Book Cover
Make Russia Great Again Fiction Simon & Schuster Kindle 288 NetGalley

The award-winning and bestselling author of Thank You for Smoking delivers a hilarious and whipsmart fake memoir by Herb Nutterman—Donald Trump’s seventh chief of staff—who has written the ultimate tell-all about Trump and Russia. Herb Nutterman never intended to become Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff. Herb served the Trump Organization for twenty-seven years, holding jobs in everything from a food and beverage manager at the Trump Magnifica to being the first general manager of the Trump Bloody Run Golf Course. And when his old boss asks “his favorite Jew” to take on the daunting role of chief of staff, Herb, spurred on by loyalty, agrees. But being the chief of staff is a lot different from being a former hospitality expert. Soon, Herb finds himself deeply involved in Russian intrigue, deflecting rumors about Mike Pence’s high school involvement in a Satanic cult, and leading President Trump’s reelection campaign. What Nutterman experiences is outrageous, outlandish, and otherwise unbelievable—therefore making it a deadly accurate account of being the chief of staff during the Trump administration. With hilarious jabs at the biggest world leaders and Washington politics overall, Make Russia Great Again is a timely political satire from “one of the funniest writers in the English language” (Tom Wolfe).

Of the recent political satire books I have read Make Russia Great Again was by far the best.

Christopher Buckley makes the White House activity all too believable and doesn’t go so far over the top as to spoil the humor. The dry humor works with just enough absurdity to add spice. Sure, it is at times sophomoric and crude, but given the subject matter what do you expect?

Why the three stars? I guess there is a fine line between humor that is funny and that which is depressing. So even as I smiled wryly at the humor, I was shaking my head at the reality that makes satire of the Trump era so difficult.

And this is where judging this book becomes difficult. If you WANT to laugh at/with Trump World, Buckley provides the opportunity. But in some ways it seems to normalize the absurdities involved. Ironically, the humor works in important ways because Buckley gets at the absurdity that lies close to any form of politics and celebrity culture and plays it straight. And he highlights how Trump turns this all up to 11. There isn’t a seething anger or a bitterness either.

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The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

I’m not sure how I stumbled on The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu. I saw it on Goodreads but it also came up on an email list serve, I believe. Somehow multiple mentions pinged my brain and I decided to pick it up to see what all the fuss was about. I was able to get a copy from the library and set out to read what I hoped was the first in a promising series.

The Three-Body Problem Book Cover
The Three-Body Problem Remembrance of Earth’s Past Science Fiction Tor Books Hardback 400 pages Library

A secret military group sends signals into space in hopes of establishing contact with aliens―and succeeds.

Picking up their signal is an alien civilization on the brink of destruction who now readies to invade Earth.

News of the coming invasion divides humanity like never before. Some want to help the superior beings take over a world they see as corrupt. Others prepare to fight the invasion at all cost.

The Three Body Problem begins a ground-breaking saga of enormous scope and vision.

Quick Verdict: Alas, I was not as wowed by this as others. Perhaps because I don’t read a lot of science fiction or find complex science hurts my head.

I was mostly interested in the connection to the Cultural Revolution in China and it was this part that kept me going for most of the book. It starts right off with the brutal reality of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s. I wanted to see how the characters impacted by these events were involved in the story forty years later. And I enjoyed this thread.

I liked the characters, despite some awkwardness from translation and cultural differences, and the set-up of the game as connection to an alien species, but it moved a little slow in parts. Whenever it delved into the physics and science aspects, I started to tune out. I’m not what you would call a math and science guy… :-) But I did enjoy trying to figure out how it all connected to some degree.

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