Books I Couldn’t Finish: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

masters-of-the-air-coverBook: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

Published October 2006 by Simon & Schuster|671 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/World War 2/Military History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Masters of the Air is the deeply personal story of the American bomber boys in World War II who brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep. With the narrative power of fiction, Donald Miller takes readers on a harrowing ride through the fire-filled skies over Berlin, Hanover, and Dresden and describes the terrible cost of bombing for the German people.

Fighting at 25,000 feet in thin, freezing air that no warriors had ever encountered before, bomber crews battled new kinds of assaults on body and mind. Air combat was deadly but intermittent: periods of inactivity and anxiety were followed by short bursts of fire and fear. Unlike infantrymen, bomber boys slept on clean sheets, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of Glenn Miller’s Air Force band, which toured U.S. air bases in England. But they had a much greater chance of dying than ground soldiers. In 1943, an American bomber crewman stood only a one-in-five chance of surviving his tour of duty, twenty-five missions. The Eighth Air Force lost more men in the war than the U.S. Marine Corps.

The bomber crews were an elite group of warriors who were a microcosm of America — white America, anyway. (African-Americans could not serve in the Eighth Air Force except in a support capacity.) The actor Jimmy Stewart was a bomber boy, and so was the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable. And the air war was filmed by Oscar-winning director William Wyler and covered by reporters like Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite, all of whom flew combat missions with the men. The Anglo-American bombing campaign against Nazi Germany was the longest military campaign of World War II, a war within a war. Until Allied soldiers crossed into Germany in the final months of the war, it was the only battle fought inside the German homeland.

Strategic bombing did not win the war, but the war could not have been won without it. American airpower destroyed the rail facilities and oil refineries that supplied the German war machine. The bombing campaign was a shared enterprise: the British flew under the cover of night while American bombers attacked by day, a technique that British commanders thought was suicidal.

Masters of the Air is a story, as well, of life in wartime England and in the German prison camps, where tens of thousands of airmen spent part of the war. It ends with a vivid description of the grisly hunger marches captured airmen were forced to make near the end of the war through the country their bombs destroyed.

Drawn from recent interviews, oral histories, and American, British, German, and other archives, Masters of the Air is an authoritative, deeply moving account of the world’s first and only bomber war.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really love history, and thought Masters Of The Air looked really interesting.  It’s a book I’ve been reading off and on for a while, but I had a hard time getting through it.

I only got about 100 pages in before deciding that this book isn’t for me.  It’s not that it’s uninteresting, because I did think it was a pretty informative book.  Before I picked this book up, I never thought about the Air Force not being its own entity.  For me, it’s always been separate branch of the U.S. military.  But it seems like there were different incarnations under the Army- at least from what I could tell.  There’s this guy, William Mitchell, and he fought hard for an independent Air Force.

Another interesting thing was that a lot of the pilots experienced some form of oxygen deprivation- very few died from it, but something 50 to 60% experienced it.  A lot of it was because of poor planning- there was such a focus on getting the planes (and men) into the air that they didn’t think about little things.  There was a bigger focus on bombing strategy and not a lot on preparing the crews to survive in the conditions necessary to actually executing that strategy.

So why didn’t I finish it?  I had a really hard time getting through it.  It’s very detailed, and just from the 100 pages or so I read, it was clear to me that Miller put a lot of research and time into this book.  Even randomly picking up the book and reading a chapter didn’t help- I felt like I was struggling to get through it.  Since it also focuses more on military history, it’s more technical than what I’m used to reading, and that was a contributing factor in my inability to get through it.   It’s not for lack of trying, and as much as I wanted to get through it, I knew it was time to put it down and walk away.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

DNF.  I don’t feel like it’s fair to give a star rating for something I didn’t get very far into before deciding to not finish it.

Book Review: The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

the-indifferent-stars-above-coverBook: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga Of A Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

Published April 2009 by William Morrow|352 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/U.S. History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

From the #1 bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat comes an unforgettable epic of family, tragedy, and survival on the American frontier.

“An ideal pairing of talent and material.… Engrossing.… A deft and ambitious storyteller.” – Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah’s journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

This book was an interesting read. I think a lot of people know the story, and I have to admit that that’s why I picked up the book.

It did focus on one particular woman, Sarah Graves, and her journey with the Donner Party. It did seem like it was hard to find information about her specifically, and that the author had to piece things together from what other people in the party wrote. It was also more about the events going on around her than her specifically. It was also about the time period and what life was like back then, particularly in terms of birth control and trying not to get pregnant on such a journey.

It didn’t take away from her story, and the horrors that she must have experienced. He really painted a picture of what things were like for her traveling out to California and the hope that she must have had when she started out on that journey. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to lose family and friends, and to be the one in charge of her siblings once they managed to get off of the mountain.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars. I did the book was going to be different- I thought it was going to more focused on Sarah, and I was a little disappointed that it was more about the entire group and why they acted the way they did on that fateful journey. Still, it’s a pretty interesting read, and it seemed like it was a pretty realistic look at what happened, instead going for something more sensational, and that I really appreciated.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books Every History Nerd Should Read

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke And The Bookish.  Every week, bloggers share their own bookish top ten lists based on the topic of the week.  You can check out Ten Tuesdays here.

Blog Graphic- Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books Every History Nerd Should Read

I love history and non-fiction, and I had a lot of fun putting together a list of books for history nerds!  It’s definitely a random assortment of books- things you’d learn in history class, books about a specific time in history, books about the history of a particular thing, and even some historical fiction.  I definitely kept thinking of all of these books I wanted to talk about, which is why it’s so random but hopefully, there’s something that catches your interest!

Non-Fiction:

  1. And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts.  This book is about the first few years of AIDS, and as someone born after this book takes place, it was really fascinating to see AIDS in the early days of the disease.  It’s not history in the traditional history class sense, but
  2. Queen Of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution by Caroline Weber.  It’s a biography of Marie Antoinette in the context of fashion, and I learned a lot!
  3. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  I LOVE this book about the history of HeLa cells. If you haven’t read it, you should, because it’s completely and totally amazing.
  4. Stiff by Mary Roach.  It’s the history of how cadavers are used, and it sounds weird (because it is, just a little) but it’s definitely worth reading!
  5. Candy Freak by Steve Almond.  You get a little bit of history in terms of candy in America (personally, it wasn’t as much as I thought), and it’s definitely skews more towards food writing than history, but still interesting.
  6. The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser.  I feel like this one doesn’t necessarily get the attention that the ones by Alison Weir or David Starkey get, but I think it’s the one that I’d recommend to people, because it’s the most balanced and gives the best overview of his wives.

Historical Fiction:

  1. A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury.  I didn’t even know that the partition of India and Pakistan was something that actually happened until I read this book, and I think it’s a great book that history buffs will probably really like!
  2. A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier.  It’s set during the Spanish Flu, and somehow, the fact that the book is set during a flu epidemic seems to always be timely.
  3. Crow by Barbara Wright.  It’s set during riots in Wilmington in the late 1800’s, and it was something I didn’t know actually happened until I read this book.  It made me want to learn more about it!
  4. Witch Child by Celia Rees.  It’s about a witch, who escapes to America to avoid accusations of being a witch…only to be accused of being a witch.  I love the diary format, and it’s nice to see something about witches that’s not about the Salem Witch Trials.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten History Books I Want To Read

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke And The Bookish.  Every week, bloggers from all over share their own top ten list based on the topic of the week.  You can find all Top Ten Tuesdays here.

Top Ten History Books I Still Need To Read

This week we get to talk all about books we need to catch up on!  I really like history, but I don’t read a lot of it, so I have a ton of books that I’ve been wanting to read but never seem to get around to actually reading them.  Here are 10 books about history I really need to read, especially since all of the books I picked this week are ones I own.

  1. The Feud: The Hatfields And McCoy’s by Dean King.  I know they didn’t get along, and that it was a 3-episode special on the History Channel, but that’s about it.  I really want to learn more about them and what happened.
  2. The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton.  This seems like an interesting book, and there is something really interesting about a lot of the stuff that the Nazi’s did.  I don’t know anything about the medical side of things, and this book makes it seem really fascinating.
  3. Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession by Elizabeth Norton.  Of his 6 wives, Anne is really interesting, especially with what Henry had to do in order to marry her.
  4. Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn.  I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but after hearing the episode that The History Chicks did on her, I was even more interested in reading about her. (Side Note: I’ve actually found a lot of interesting sounding book because of them)
  5. Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen Of France by Leonie Frieda.  I know the de Medici name, but I know nothing about the family.  And I love Reign, which makes me want to learn more about her!
  6. Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick.  I randomly picked this up at Barnes & Noble one day, because I remember nothing about Bunker Hill.
  7. The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel.  After seeing the movie, and learning that it was based on events that I never knew about, I knew I had to read this.  I think it’s so cool that there were people tasked with the job of saving art from the Nazi’s.
  8. The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings And Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones.  I’m really into Tudor history, and this name comes up a lot.  I also don’t know a lot about them, and this book seems like a good place to start.
  9. The Life And Death Of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives.  Like I said with the Elizabeth Norton book, Anne Boleyn is really interesting, and I think it’s even more interesting when you can see how different people write about one person.
  10. The Heart Of Everything That Is: The Untold Story Of Red Cloud by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.  I don’t know a lot about Native American history, and basically, anything I learned in school didn’t stick.  This one sounds really good!

Book Review: The Princes In The Tower

The Princes In The Tower CoverBook: The Princes In The Tower by Alison Weir

Published March 1997 by Pimlico|287 pages

Where I Got It: borrowed

Series: None

Genre: Adult Nonfiction/British History

You can find The Princes In The Tower on goodreads & Alison Weir on her website

Goodreads Summary: 

The story of the death, in sinister circumstances, of the boy-king Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, is one of the most fascinating murder mysteries in English history. It is a tale with profound moral and social consequences, rich in drama, intrigue, treason, scandal and violence. In this gripping book Alison Weir re-examines all the evidence – including that against the Princes’ uncle, Richard III. She brilliantly reconstructs the whole chain of events leading to their murder and reveals how, why and by whose order they died.

What I Thought:

I’ve been meaning to read The Princes Of The Tower for quite a while, so it’s about time I actually read it!  I liked it but not as much as I thought I would.

As much as I love Weir, it’s a book you need to go into with some knowledge of the time period and the people.  I’ve read several books about the Tudors, but I know very little of the events that led to the Tudors taking the throne, so for a few chapters, I felt really confused by all of the names and events.

It definitely felt like Weir set out to prove that Richard III was the one behind the mysterious murders of the two Princes, and it did feel like Weir didn’t go into this as objectively as one would think.  She does make some good points, and Richard III does seem like the likeliest suspect, but I don’t know that he’s as evil as Weir would make him out to be.

Still, it’s a really good overview of the time, and the events that led to the reign of Henry VII.  There is quite a bit of information, and I like that Weir mentions sources from that time period.  I did get the sense that there’s not a lot we know, and that some of the sources may be sketchy.  Still, with some of the things that have come out over the last few years, with the discovery of Richard III’s grave, I’d be curious to see a more updated book.

Let’s Rate It:

The Princes In The Tower was an interesting read, and it’s a good overview of the time.  It did seem slightly biased against Richard III and it’s not the best for people who aren’t super familiar with the time period.  It still has some interesting things to think about.  The Princes In The Tower get 3 stars.

Book Review: Between Shades Of Gray

Between Shades Of Gray CoverBook: Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Published March 2011 by Penguin|368 pages

Where I Got It: Nook Store

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

You can find Between Shades Of Gray on goodreads & Ruta Sepetys on Twitter, Facebook and her website

Goodreads Summary: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.  Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I finally got around to reading Between Shades Of Gray, and I am totally kicking myself for not reading it earlier!  I just loved Between Shades Of Gray, and it’s a book I recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it!

What I really loved about Between Shades Of Gray is that it follows Lina, who was sent to a work camp in Siberia.  I don’t know why, but it’s different than what I was expecting for a novel that has WWII as a back-drop.  There was a lot going on in World War II, and it was nice reading about a part of it that I vaguely knew about.  Because it seems like a lot of the focus on WWII is on the Nazi’s and the Holocaust, and maybe D-Day and Pearl Harbor, which is understandable, but it’s also…other things happened to, and yet, they don’t seem to be talked about, so I was really intrigued with Between Shades Of Gray.  At any rate, what was going on in Siberia and Russia seems so horrible, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like.

I also like that Sepetys didn’t sugar-coat anything.  It’s grim, and I was surprised that she didn’t hold back on some of the horrors that happened.  Things aren’t horribly graphic or anything, but there are just enough details to show how horrible things really were.  There is hope that things will get better, and you see flashbacks of what life was like for Lina before being sent to Siberia.  I thought the flashbacks were interesting, and I liked seeing what Lina’s life was like before, but for some reason, I felt like Sepetys could have transitioned to them better.  They really added to the book, though.

And the characters were so special!  There is an assortment of characters, and they were all so different, but they also made the story really come to life.  I mean, they all had to endure something so completely horrible, and yet you saw a will to survive and get through it.

Between Shades Of Gray is such a special book, and I’m really feeling like I cannot do it justice!  It’s a great look at a side of WWII that I’m not familiar with at all.

To Sum Up…

I still can’t believe it took me so long to read this book!  What Lina and her family went through was so horrible, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like,  and it’s definitely an eye-opener for me.  Between Shades Of Gray gets 5 stars.  

 

ARC Book Review: Elizabeth Of York

Elizabeth Of York CoverBook: Elizabeth Of York by Alison Weir

Expected Publication Is December 3, 2013 by Ballantine Books|Expected Number Of Pages: 536

Where I Got It: netgalley.com, which hasn’t influenced my review in any way.  Promise!

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction- History- Tudor England

You can find Elizabeth Of York on goodreads|You can find Alison Weir at her website

Goodreads Summary: Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII. 

Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.

I’m super-fascinated by the Tudors, and I’m also a huge fan of Alison Weir, so I knew I had to read Elizabeth Of York.  I don’t know much about her, or the Wars Of The Roses, since I tend to read about Henry VIII and his wives and children.  It was great reading about Elizabeth, since I didn’t know a lot about her.

The first few chapters…they were a little hard to go through, mostly because I found it hard to keep up with all of the people and events Weir writes about.  It’s fairly easy to understand, but it’s a lot to take in, and I think I need to read the book a few more times with pen and paper to have a better grasp of everything.  It’s very readable, but my head swam with names and such.

One thing I thought was interesting was how Henry VII kind of needed her to make his role as king legitimate.  It’s not surprising, given there was a war over who should be king, but it’s still interesting that marrying someone like Elizabeth neutralized some claims to the throne.  Not completely, of course, and some of them must have taken their toll on her.

Another interesting thing was the possibility that Henry VIII named his daughter Elizabeth after his mother.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, but it does make sense.  I also thought that Henry would want to have a relationship like the one his parents had to be interesting.  It seems like Elizabeth and Henry VII had a really good relationship and marriage, so Henry had a relationship to look up to.  I don’t know why that surprises me, but it does.  Of course, trying to find someone like his mother wasn’t conclusive or anything, since having heirs was really important.

While I found the first chapters confusing, they were also really interesting.  I liked reading about her childhood, and you could easily focus in on that part of her life.  Having to live somewhere really secure because of living in uncertainty, and losing her 2 brothers and not knowing if they were dead or alive, and holding out hope…I do have a lot of sympathy for her.

A lot of the book, especially those early years, focus on what was going on around Elizabeth, since there isn’t a lot we know of that time in her life.  So I don’t mind that part of the book is more about the people around her, because it shows how she became the person she did, and why things went the way they did.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Elizabeth Of York was very readable, and I liked learning more about her.  It was hard to keep track of what was going on at the beginning, but in the end, I learned a lot!  Elizabeth Of York gets 4 stars.