Archive for April, 2011

April 25th, 2011

The Moses Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado

by Gwen

The Moses Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado

Watch out Dan Brown, you have some major competition and Juan Gomez-Jurado manages to make his characters more real and likeable than Robert Langdon, even when he is played by Tom Hanks.

A reclusive billionaire is footing the bill for an expedition that might just uncover the long lost and most sought over treasure in the world, the Ark of the Covenant. The expedition includes scientists, archaeologists, security personal and two character’s from Gomez-Jurado’s first book, God’s Spy. Father Fowler, half priest-half CIA agent, and driven reporter, Andrea Otero, stood out in the first book and they don’t disappoint in this one either.

The Ark is something that, throughout history, everyone wants to find, possess, and quite often, use for their own nefarious purposes. Not everyone on the expedition are whom they seem to be and danger is not only possible, but probable.

The Moses Expedition is a great page-turning historical quest, with fully dimensional characters that you can’t help it either sneer or cheer at. You can’t help it wish that you were actually going along with the quest wit Father Fowler and Andrea Otero. Or at least you want to join the adventure until the huge scorpions show up and the shooting starts. However, if Gomez-Jurado is new to you, you might want to start with God’s Spy. It has a stronger and more unique storyline.

The Moses Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Original edition (August 3, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1416590641
  • ASIN: B004J8HWO6

April 22nd, 2011

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

by Gwen


I don’t get all gushy and stalkerish over authors, but if I did, Erik Larson would be first on my list. He nails the idea of narrative non-fiction so well, I find myself so caught up with the story, that I forget that I already know how it ends. He builds that much suspense and his profiles of the people he writes about are so deep that I feel like I know them.

Take Isaac’s Storm, it’s all about the hurricane that slammed into Galveston on September 8, 1900. A simple search let’s us know that it is the deadliest natural disaster to strike the U.S., with an estimated 8,000 souls lost. Larson takes the story to a whole new level by focusing on Isaac Cline, the head of the weather service office in Galveston and many of his neighbors. By doing this, Larson puts a face on the victims. He makes them people you might know, might have had over to dinner, could have served as godparents for their kids. You get to like them or loathe them, but no matter what, you feel their fear, pain, loss…everything.

Two things struck me as I was reading this.

First, the hubris of America in 1900 is dangerously similar to the way we think now. The “experts” on weather then thought that Galveston would never ever be hit by a hurricane. If it did, the water levels would never go up too far, besides, most homes were built on stilts, they had it covered.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to March’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. On March 10, 2011, the “experts” in Japan thought that their seawalls were high enough and that their nuclear power plants could take whatever nature threw at them. Just like the citizens of Galveston found in September of 1900, the Japanese learned something on March 11th. They were wrong. We were wrong. We still don’t know what we don’t know.

The other thing that struck me was that Larson is a master at letting the story build….and build….and build and he writes in such an approachable tone that I can’t put him down. At one point, I was clenching the book so tightly that my knuckles were white. Silly, when you think about it, but that makes it memorable. It also makes me question my sanity at times because I find myself thinking that with the way he writes, it is like Larson traveled back in time to get the real story. It’s like he was there..freaky.

Word of warning, the beginning of Isaac’s Storm lagged a bit for me. It outlines the history of the weather service bureau and past hurricanes and while it is important to the story, it just didn’t grab me. So stick with it and you shall be rewarded.

I’ll leave you with a passage that broke my heart..

“For other fathers in homes nor far from his the afternoon was playing out in rather different fashion. Suddenly the prospect of watching their children die became very real.

Whom do you save? Did you seek to save one child, or try to save all, at the risk of ultimately of saving none? Did you save a daughter or a son? The youngest or your firstborn? Did you save that sun-kissed child who gave you delight every morning, or the benighted adolescent who made your day a torment-save him, because of piece of you screamed to save the sweet one?

And if you saved none, what then?

How did you go on?”

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (August 24, 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 9780609602331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609602331
  • April 20th, 2011

    A Professor, A President, and A Meteor by Cathryn J. Prince

    by Gwen

    With a title like that, I expected a clash of titans. However, the subtitle, The Birth of American Science, is a lot closer to the meat of the book.

    A meteor hit Weston, Connecticut in 1807 and a fledgling American scientific community ran to explain meteors, once and for all. Professor Benjamin Silliman led the charge and did what no man of science in America had yet been able to do. He put America on the map scientifically speaking.

    The history of scientific respectability in the book is interesting and there are insights of Jefferson that I have never come across before. However, there was no clash of titans and more information about meteors than I ever wanted to learn. Now if you like meteors or at least curious about them, this would be a great read.

    It was more of a gradual story of the the growing independence of the United States, how meteors were looked at through the years, the rise of the scientific community’s view of American science, a new view of Jefferson, a fairly brief history of the politics at the time, and a biography of Professor Silliman. That is a lot of information to pack into 254 pages. Somehow it works for Prince; it just didn’t work for me as a reader.

    Maybe this dislike is my fault, I shouldn’t have led myself to expect a shootout of O.K. Corral proportions. Jefferson never came out publically to question Professor Silliman’s findings. There was no struggle between the two really. Jefferson simply sent another man that he personally trusted to check it out. He did what most of us would do when confronted with a whole new scientific theory; he sought the opinion of people that he knew.

    I also should add that while I am a fan of science in my reads, I am not really a fan of anything space related like meteors. I have always felt that there is enough stuff going on down here, on the ground, to study, explain, and in the case of medical science, cure or at least ease suffering.

    This book would have been a lot better for me if I hadn’t had such expectations from the title. The highlight for me was the glimpse of Jefferson as more human, less mythic man of science and American history. If you love meteors, I would highly recommend it. If not, you might want to take a pass.

    A Professor, A President, and A Meteor by Cathryn J. Prince

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (December 7, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 9781616142247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616142247
  • I did find a couple of other reviews and commentaries of the book in case you are interested.

    April 18th, 2011

    The Great Plague by A. Lloyd Moote

    by Gwen

    The Great Plague

    The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy C. Moote

    It started slow on April 12, 1665 in the one of the poorer parishes that make up the city of London. An estimated 100,000 lives were lost before the epidemic of the plague tapered off with the Great Fire that decimated London in September of 1666. 100,000 people, that is about 20% of the city’s population at the time. It was so bad that they ran out of room to bury people, even when using pits.

    Medical science was still fixated with Galenic Medicine & humors, meaning that they had no clue how to fight it. The apothecaries of the time had their own ideas on what the plague was and how it was spread, but they were also hampered by their own versions of Snake Oil salesmen. The clergy busied itself with prayer. The rich, including King Charles II, fled to the country. There were few learned people left in town. And, oh yeah, England was at war with the Dutch. Can’t forget that.

    Those that were left behind struggled, worried, fretted, died and just tried to keep the city from falling apart at the seams and bringing the rest of England down with it. I like to think of them as heroes.

    The Moote’s look at the plague is different because it tells the story, from outbreak to the fire, using letters, diaries and other printed sources of the time. It focuses on nine individuals, letting them tell their story, and that makes it a bit more interesting than a run of the mill book on the plague. It puts a more human aspect on the epidemic and you find yourself wondering if you could have been as strong as some of these women and men that made the choice not to flee.

    So many non-fiction books get their hands so dirty in history and the facts that they allow you to lose sight of the people that the actual event is happening to. Not so with this one and they even made one step further. They occasionally drew parallels between the plague and the AIDS/HIV crisis. Just as we had no idea what HIV was or how to stop the spread in the 1980’s, these people had no idea how to fight the plague.

    Completely readable book because of the narrative style. If you want to learn more about the plague, London in the 1660’s, or a snippet of medical history, go for it.

    The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy Moote

  • Paperback: 357 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; (August 7, 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0801884934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801884931
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    April 13th, 2011

    Flesh & Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin

    by Gwen

    Flesh & Blood

    Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

    March 25th marked the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 lives were lost. Marrin has managed to make the story and importance come alive to younger readers in a way that no other writer about the fire has ever been able to do, whether geared toward young or adult readers.

    Leaving the more gory details to others, the book focuses on the important facts. What immigrants came here, why they came here, why they worked the jobs that put them in such danger, what was it like to be an immigrant in the early 1900’s, and most importantly, what changes the fire brought about that effect us to this day.

    The writing is approachable and easy to understand without being condescending to young minds. 34 new pieces of legislation were passed to protect workers in reaction to the fire spurred on, not only by the deaths, but by the women, who didn’t even have the right to vote at the time, that decided that it shouldn’t happen again. One women in particular, Frances Perkins, went on to become the Secretary of Labor under FDR. The first woman to serve on the cabinet.

    The Triangle Fire was important and Flesh & Blood So Cheap is a vital resource in teaching just where we were then and how far we have come since. So many issues come up when talking about those 146 lives lost; immigration, women’s suffrage, worker’s rights & unions, safety and more.

    I can’t stress enough how impressed I was with Marrin’s skill at not talking down or making light of things to coddle the younger set. The flow of the narrative and the glossy pictures made the story jump off of the page. The other book I have read about the fire, Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle, was good but nowhere near as easy to chew & digest.

    Can’t wait to get this in the hands of a certain 12 year-old that I know.

    Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin.

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375868895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375868894