Barbara Tuchman – Guns of August (1962)

51FgcC7xc8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Lauded as one of the most important works dealing with the First World War, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August takes an in depth look at at the earliest stages of WWI from the decisions made to the moment when the Franco-British offensive stopped the German advance.

Tuchman beings at the funeral of Edward VII of the UK which drew the presence of Kings from around the country including Kaiser Wilhelm the II of Germany. Through this, Tuchman introduces the key players and personalities in the lead up to the First World War before moving on to a discussion of military planning and finally the outbreak. The bulk of the book, (12 chapters) is a detailed account of specific military campaigns and battles.

I love reading military history, but found that Tuchman focused way more on strategies and military campaigns in her book than I was expecting. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, it’s just not really my cup of tea. I’m must more interested in big picture and the international events that occurred during the lead up to the war, which Tuchman does touch upon in her narrative. Overall however her book was just a bit too nitty gritty with military details for me. Fans of military history and strategy will love this, while other may find it hard not to get lost in the details.

 

Recommended Listening:
If you’re a fan of the intricacies of military history, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast (Specifically the Blueprint for Armageddon series) would be a good listen. Be warned these episodes are LONG! 

Recommended Reading:
For anyone needing a refresher on WWI this timeline provides key events and easy to digest content about the lead up to war.

I loved this news article from a couple of years back because it showed how the outbreak of war was announced in the papers. 

Alternate Reading:
Those interested in a more socio-political look at the outbreak of war might appreciate Margaret Macmillan’s The War That Ended Peace

Kate Bolick – Spinster (2015)

Spinster“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.

In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.

Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.

I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.

Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.

Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day. 

Lev Grossman – The Magician King (2011)

9780670022311_MagicianKing_CVF.inddIn contrast to the tested theory that the second installment in a trilogy will never be as good as the first, The Magician King was in my opinion, better than The Magicians, especially because it follows two storylines as opposed to one.

The character of Julia, the girl Quinten originally had a crush on before coming to Brakebills and meeting Alice, reappears in this story and we learn what happened to her while Quinten was obtaining a formal magical education and becoming a King of Fillory. Essentially Julia was in the admissions exam for Brakebills and did not pass. While students who are not admitted to the school normally have no recollection of the event, Julia knew something was wrong and she let that fact consume her. We learn that Julia, obsessed with becoming a magician, found an underground world of hedge magicians to train with.

While we learn Julia’s backstory, specifically how powerful she became eventually becoming a Queen of Fillory, follow Julia and Quinten as they find themselves accidentally kicked out of Fillory and struggle to find a way back.

While Grossman introduces some interesting moments in the Julia and Quinten storyline, like having to travel to Italy to speak with a Dragon and the nature of those dragons, Julia’s backstory is far more interesting and compelling to read. The book ends with Quintin once again in exile from Fillory and I’m sure the third book is all about his attempts to return. I really hope Grossman does more with the story however as I got tired of Quinten not in Fillory.

Patrick Rothfuss – Wise Man’s Fear (2011)

The_Wise_Man's_Fear_coverAs mentioned, I loved Patrick Rothfuss’ first instalment in the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of The Wind, and while I devoured this one just as fast, it was far more tedious. For starters, and I guess this is somewhat of a spoiler alert, by the end of this book you still don’t know why Kvothe is expelled from the University!

This review is going to be short because it is just more of the same. Kvothe has no money, he makes money as a talented musician and trough luck, he finds Denna, she runs away, he finds her, she runs away, etc. Kvothe does take a break from the University (He is arrested for pranks played on Ambrose but rather than being expelled is given a tuition he cannot pay), and takes up service with the Maer of a neighbouring town helping him procure a wife. Rothfuss does introduce the reader to new lands and therefore new characters, cultures, religions, and even mythical characters. You learn a bit more about the Fae, the culture that Bast belongs too.

If you love fantasy, you’ll like this book. As with most other second books in a trilogy however, it felt like this novel was being written simply as a lead up to whatever is going to happen in the last installment. I will give Rothfuss this, I have no idea how he plans on ending this; there are so many directions he could take. Unfortunately there is still not publication date set, so the Kingkiller Chronicles becomes just another fantasy series to play the wait game with.

Michael Gibney – Sous Chef (2014)

18142414Continuing with my love of food writing I picked up Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and liked it almost immediately. Gibney blends his journalistic style of writing into the Anthony Bourdain-world of being a chef that Gibney inhabits. This is by no means the first account of what it’s like to work in a kitchen of a restaurant, nor do I think it will be the last, but Gibney presents his story in a creative way telling the story in the form of “24-hours on the line.”

Gibney takes the reader through every stage of his day from ordering food to kitchen prep to staff tastings and finally closing and after work activities, giving a glimpse into the effect that the job can, and does have, on his personal life. Working such insane and unpredictable hours make it difficult to maintain friendships with people who don’t work in the industry. As Gibney writes however, he enjoys the people he does work with and the strong sense of camaraderie comes through in his writing.

The only complaint I have is the overuse of jargon. I can forgive this though, Gibney is a chef and writing with the terms he uses on a daily basis makes this an authentic experience. There’s also a glossary of terms at the back which was helpful. While this book isn’t a huge game changer it’s a quick paced and enjoyable look at the life of a sous chef.

Aziz Ansari – Modern Romance (2015)

modern romanceThis was a big year for Aziz Ansari. In addition to this book, Ansari had two major Netflix hits, his stand up special Live at Madison Square Garden and his series, the critically acclaimed Master of None. While there is some overlap with all of his material, it’s not so much the same that it becomes redundant. Ansari is funny, there is no denying that, but he’s also incredibly perceptive and smart. Part of the reason I think he’s so funny is because his humour is so relatable; he speaks about situations that are totally commonplace for our generation, especially when it comes to dating.

To be completely honest I bought this book not really knowing much about it, expecting another comedian biography similar to Bossypants or Yes Please. I was surprised and then blown away at how much I enjoyed this hilarious and scholarly work. Ansari has teamed up with a social psychologist to conduct studies and then present findings about how technology has affected modern romance, and everything Ansari presents is very real and very true (the hilarity arises from Aziz’s quips and comments throughout the book – I read the whole thing in his voice). He looks at the rise of new dating apps and travels around the world examining the dating culture as it exists in other countries, something I almost wish he spent more time on.

The book is interesting, funny, and incredibly relevant. Ansari’s comedic sensibilities and level headedness has truly established him as one of the voices of this generation.

Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests (2014)

PayingGuestsWith her novel The Paying Guests, Waters looks at postwar 1920s London, but through a very unique lense. We are first introduced to the Wray family, spinser Frances and her mother who live together alone in a townhouse. Due to the deaths of the men in the family, Frances and her mother are forced to rent out a room in their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber. While initially Frances is suspicious of the the couple, she then strikes up a friendship with Lillian which develops into something much more.

Without giving too much away the story is essentially about the blossoming friendship and eventual affair that occurs between Lillian and Frances set against the backdrop of 1920’s London, a time in which class and gender structures were very much in flux. While I very much enjoyed the story as well as Waters’ writing style, so much of this book seemed so very long. There were parts that dragged on forever without ever really coming to a conclusion. Waters’ writing is great, but the editor really should have cut this book down about 100-200 pages. The unnecessary dialogue and inner thoughts detracted from the rest of the book.

As a feminist scholar specializing in female sexuality in Victorian England, Waters certainly knows her subject and sets the scene beautifully. She is not unfamiliar with creating a dramatic story and does so quite well. Even though the book runs a bit long in places, it is still a worthy read and a great piece of historical fiction.