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A Voyage Of Discovery For Us All

Travels with Vamper: A Graybeard's Journey - George Critchlow

Travels With Vamper is a wonderful travelogue of a man, newly retired, who sets off on a cross-country tour of discovery in his RV (Vamper). The author is a retired professor of law at Gonzaga University. Upon reaching retirement, Critchlow was faced with the question "what now to do?" Or as he puts it "I did not want to wake up the day after retirement lamenting the loss of my old life. I needed to put distance between that life and whatever lay in the future. And then it hit me-a road trip!" So he purchased a used RV and set off on a tour, starting in Washington and traveling cross country thru the west, southwest, south, and midwest, ticking off 15 states.
And not just a simple tour whereby one just follows the guidebooks, ticking off the mandatory sights in each state. No, this was more a "tour of discovery", or perhaps a "listening tour". The author made a point of interacting with the locals he met along the way, in an attempt to understand their lives better. And what a great time to undertake the journey, he chose the run-up to our most recent presidential election! He has a way of conversing with people to get them to open up and share their opinions. And share they did!
While Critchlow leaves absolutely no doubt about where he stands, and what he believes, he treated everyone fairly and with respect. Given some of the people's statements, I have to wonder how he did it, as I would have openly scoffed or mocked some of them. Some of the statements are hilarious, and some are down-right head scratchers. But I found them all interesting.
The book is not just about the political opinions of the people he met. No, there is some very good self-discovery along the way. For example, one paragraph that I really liked was "I have now lived long enough to return full circle to what I knew in kindergarten. It's not about your friend's clothes, or his parent's car or house, or the food they serve for lunch; it's about having fun playing marbles on the playground, and making friends with people who make you feel good. And it's about cleaning up your messes and being nice to people-habits that had to be hammered into me with coercive force, but which made a difference in how things went".
Isn't that the truth? And wouldn't we all be better off if we just lived our lives a little more based on that? I think so!
It's not often that I find a book that I want to share as much as I do this one. I wish I had read it a bit earlier, it would have made a great Christmas gift for all my friends and relatives who are currently at each other's throats over the political situation we are currently experiencing.

If Only I Could.....

Eating with Peter: A Gastronomic Journey - Susan Buckley

A quite amazing look at the privileged dining experiences of a high-society lady. The author was married to Peter Buckley, a writer, photographer, and world traveler. The Buckley's socialized with the rarified levels of society (think Ernest Hemingway), and made a habit of dining at the world's finest establishments.
As an example, I offer the following quote from the book: "It was a Monday morning in 1973 and we were at the end of The Wedding Special, Part 2. The Wedding Special was Peter's moniker for a honeymoon, a term he feld was too plebian to be used in polite company. Part 1 had been a month in the Caribbean. Part 2 entailed crossing the Atlantic on the France, a few days in London, then three weeks in France, and now another three in Morocco".
Get the idea? I found this to be a world that I could not relate to. But I did find the descriptions of the meals intriguing, and find myself daydreaming "if only I could..." . If one can dispense with the superior attitude and sense of entitlement expressed, you may enjoy this book.


Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid - Sergey Grechishkin

An amazing story of growing up in the Soviet Union during the 1970-80's. The author very capably describes what it was like to be a child and teenager during this time.
I was surprised to read that his childhood was much like mine (in the U.S.) in some ways. School, friends, crazy hijinks. But different in so many other ways. Shortages of food and other goods, standing in lines, and limited news to mention a few. He describes how the country dealt with the death of Brezhnev, and on through the next several short lived rulers, to the freshness of Gorbachev.
For example, a few lines stood out to me.....
"She got me an awesome present: a piece of chewing gum. Had I been given such a thing several years later, I would have squirreled it away to share with my friends on some meaningful occasion".
"Many foodstuffs Westerners take for granted didn't exist in the Soviet universe even as a concept. There was no such thing as breakfast cereal, peanut butter, or ready-made-and-eat meals of any kind. We had never heard of yogurt, burgers, french fries, marshmallows, tea bags, popcorn, cookies with fillings, or a hundred other delicious items".
I was surprised at the rigors of their schooling. "In fifth grade, we began to study organic and inorganic chemistry, astromony, physics and ever more advanced math. These were mutli-year courses, and none of them were optional".
There was also "basic military training", taught in grade school. It was taught in the classroom, and "taught us simple and useful life skills, such as how to assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov, an AK-47 assault rifle, in less than thirty seconds".
As far as basic rights, the author described it well when he stated, "In the Soviet Union, there is freedom of speech. But it's not written anywhere that one should be free after his speech".
I found this book to be fascinating, enlightening, and easy to read. I really hope that it is a big success, so others can learn about what it was like growing up in the Soviet Union.

Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America - Vegas Tenold

I have to admit, I could not finish this book. It was just too disturbing, and too much for me to handle, the fact that there are still people in the world who think and believe the things the author discovered. The white supremacy groups, who once appeared relegated to the trashbin of history, have found new life in their belief that Donald Trump is their savior. It was just sickening.
The writing is good. Perhaps others will be able to power through the wretchedness of these people, but I just could not.
I'm left fearful for what is happening to us. And wondering how in the world did the author persevere through witnessing this?

The Search For The Meaning Of Life

— feeling amazing
Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In - Anjali Kumar

The author, a successful business person and mother, came to the decision that she had to find the answer to THE BIG QUESTIONS in order to explain them rationally to her young daughter. The four big questions of life. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? And is there a God? Shouldn't be hard for a rational, driven, very intelligent person to answer, right? One should be able to do it in less that a year. I really like her reasoning on why she had to search. "Religiously and spiritually speaking, nothing I had experienced thus far was a perfect fit. I was walking barefoot, so to speak. Not because I wanted to, but because I had a closet full of uncomfortable shoes."
Kumar gives it her all. She examines SO many different religions and beliefs, traveling all over the world in her search. And it takes longer than she initially thought, years longer.
She tries faith healers, Wiccans, sweat lodges, crazy hallucinogenic drugs, yoga, even the Burning Man festival. And, rather than finding the "right" answer, she finds a little bit of knowledge in each one. To quote her again, "I started thinking about how one of the big product attributes of religion is that it gives us hope. That hope is firmly embedded in the thought that if there is more, then we actually matter." Combining all her findings, she comes to a sense of peace.
In the end, she comes back to one of her original religions, Jainism. Which states that no single person can have ownership or knowledge of absolute truth. You have no choice but to respect differences. And respect for differences leads to greater harmony.
I like that. And until the time we come to the end of our lives and find out what, if anything, is next, that is a good principle to live by.
I received this book from NetGalley, in return for a fair and honest review. This one was easy. Out of a hundred or so books that I have read and reviewed this year, it is absolutely in my top five. And it will be sticking with me for a long, long time!

Strange but True Tales of Car Collecting - Keith Martin, Linda Clark, SportsCarMarket.com

A fun book. Can you imagine, inheriting some property from a relative, opening the garage door and finding an old car worth millions of dollars? This book has that story, plus many, many others that are just plain fun to read.
I would suggest this book for serious car buffs. There is a lot of detail that just plain went over my head.
My only complaint on the book is the lack of good photographs. Perhaps it is because I received it as an ebook from NetGalley, and future hard copies of the actual book will have them?

Will History Repeat Itself So Soon?

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein - John Nixon

The author was one of the people assigned to debrief Saddam Hussein after his capture. The insights he provides give a unique insight into Hussein's mind. Far from the "madman" that the government and media claimed, Hussein was a complex individual. Flawed, but he had reasons for the way he acted. I found myself angered at the level of incompetence the Bush administration displayed regarding the situation. Only wanting to receive intelligence that confirmed or added to their preconceived opinions. And of the CIA, which let themselves be roped into going along with the Bush administration, rather than putting the country's interest ahead of their own careers.
What really worries me is our current situation with North Korea. Once again we seem to have an administration hell bent on having their own glorious war. Cherry picking intelligence information, disregarding attempts at diplomacy ("wasting his time" is the way Trump put it, regarding Secretary Tillerson's efforts). Not letting other countries weigh in or help. And what do we do when the "little rocketman" is removed? Is there a plan for North Korea's future? It all sounds so familiar, the past repeating itself again. I can see another Iraq, with our soldiers being there for years and years.

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World's Rarest Species - Carlos Magdalena

The author is a botanist at the Pew Gardens in London.  This is his life story of his efforts to save plants that are on the verge of extinction.  He has traveled the world to find, collect, and propagate these plants.  The book reads like a fiction novel, it's exciting to hear about his adventures. After finishing reading the book, I came away with a sense of disappointment at how fast the earth is changing, and a thankfulness that there are people like the author working hard to preserve our heritage.  

Required Reading!

Big Guns: A Novel - Steve Israel

Talk about a timely book! One city bans guns, and in reaction, a congressman introduces a bill to require all citizens to own a gun.  Israel covers the absolute insanity of both sides of the gun control debate, the incredible dysfunction of our government, and the people caught in the middle.  All while delivering a highly readable and enjoyable story.  The novel moves along rapidly, sucking you in the whole way. I can't wait for the next installment, but I understand that the issue is still developing, and no one can yet know what strange twists and turns will be taken. This book should be required reading for all American citizens, both pro gun, anti gun, and those who have no opinion.  It probably won't change anyone's core beliefs, but it would sure be helpful to be able to at least realize that there is more than one side to the story.  Highly recommend!

Out of the park home run!

Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel - Taylor Brown

Wow! Just wow!  Brown has penned a masterpiece this time. I enjoyed his last book, "River of Kings", but this one....wow!  His ability to describe a scene; the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even the "aura" is incredible.  You cannot read this and not feel that you are there, in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1950's. The character development is strong and convincing. The moonshiners, the lawmen, the church members, the healers.  The suspense, the violence, the coming of age romances. The mystical, magical character of Granny is especially strong. And the plot is so believable and flows along at such a rapid rate that you cannot put the book aside, but find that you have to take breaks, otherwise you may find yourself actually swept away in the maelstrom!  Super highly recommend this book!

The Deceivers - Alex Berenson

A book that could be ripped out of today's headlines!  What if the Russians, in an attempt to control the American Presidential election, committed some terrorist acts here, and made it look like it was done by Islamic (and other) terrorists?  Super fast moving.  Lots of action.  Good character development, with believable characters.  As believable as most of this genre.  The ending was rather rushed, I would have preferred a bit more closure.  But, it sets up the next book well.  Give it a try!

The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery - Bill Fulton, Jeanne Devon

Fulton has delivered an outstanding book on his experiences in helping to shut down a group planning to start a war against the government. Working undercover, Fulton may have saved several lives. Google "Shaeffer Cox" and you will find lots of information. But....read the book and you will be enthralled with the behind the scenes action. I won't go into the entire story, it would ruin the book. Instead, I offer a very brief synopsis, and then some parts of the book that really impressed me. An Army veteran, Fulton left the military after being injured. He opened an army surplus store in Alaska. He employed a lot of other down-on-their-luck veterans. He discovered that he was good at helping people. Fulton was approached by a very far-right group to supply weapons to kill Federal Judges and law enforcement. To reveal anymore would spoil the book. Fulton reveals several great insights throughout the book. I applaud his reasoning, here discussing one of his employees, "being depended on again made him dependable. And it didn't happen from a therapy session or a new med-it was being part of something again, being of use. And being around a group of guys who didn't judge. Guys sitting around a fire has been some pretty legit therapy since there were guys and since there were fires". Brilliant! On the reasoning of the far-right..."We were on a steady march to a police state, and it was only a matter of time before they came for everyone's guns...I'd heard this a million times. Fear is a motivator, and people...use the fear of gun confiscation, the fear of government threat, to increase membership in militia groups". Man, does this speak to a large group of people I know! "And it reminded me that in a war, both sides believe equally that they are right". "Some dentally challenged lunatic who was mad he had to live by rules and pay some taxes and not get to do whatever the (...) he wanted. Some (....) "patriot"". "I could tell there would be no turning her. She was one of those "I've made up my mind, so don't confuse me with the facts" people. There were too goddamn many of those people." Don't we all know those people, on both sides of the aisle! And finally....."the political right wing has built a mythology: in order to be a patriot and a good American, you must embrace the military-industrial complex that has become our government and the (......) of foreign policy it has created....if you don't support everything we do militarily, then you aren't a true patriot.....patriotism is more than a bumper sticker on your car, or drinking a Budweiser and waving a flag....true patriotism means serving-actually doing something for you country and the people in it because it's the right thing to do." I will probably be flamed by trolls for this review. Before you do, do not write Fulton off as a left-wing ideologue. He is probably more conservative, and has done more to serve his country, than 90 percent of the rest. And before you claim that I am a liberal, know that I served my country honorably for 28 years, and my conservatism is rock solid. "The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it"...Norman Schwarzkopf.

Under a Croatian Sun - Anthony Stancomb

Under a Croatian Sun is a wonderful memoir of a British man who, along with his Croatian wife, give up the rat race in England and relocate/retire to Croatia. The author has an excellent ability to describe the numerous characters he meets in his new home, many times causing me to snort out loud in laughter. He also has the ability to poke fun at himself. Especially in his descriptions of trying to fit in and be accepted by the locals.
And, without even realizing it, the reader comes away with a bit of understanding about the troubles the area experienced in the war.
All in all, having read many ex-pat memoirs, I find this one to be of a higher standard. Funny, witty, engaging, and even educational. A sure win!

101 Things I Learned® in Advertising School - Matthew Frederick, Tracy Arrington

101 tips for advertising people.  Written in a simplistic manner, will most likely appeal to those who are either interested in, or beginning a career in advertising. 

Excellent Resource!

The Less Is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard - Susan Morrison

An excellent resource to gardeners like me, with smaller yards. While other books concentrate on grandiose plans for large, expansive yards, Morrison explains how "less is more" for the more common, urban sized yard.  She offers practical advice to design the smaller areas, without "busting the budget".  I will be using this book extensively for a long time! Wonderful photographs and ideas!

David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient - David Tanis

A wonderful cookbook, chock-full of easy to prepare dishes. Loaded with beautiful photographs.
Personally, having just recently returned from Italy, I was thrilled with the "Pasta Cacio e Pepe" (pasta, cheese and pepper), and the "Pizza Bianca". Upon making them both, my wife and I felt like we were back in Lombardy! A big fan of Asian food, I was happy with the simplicity and deliciousness of the "Spicy Peanut Noodles". And, being confronted with a barrage of fresh tomatoes from our garden, the tomato recipes will be very fun to experiment with.
This is a fun, unpretentious cookbook. Perfect for anyone who just wants to prepare simple, fresh, and delicious food!