Anthony Bourdain Remembered

43884234Anthony Bourdain Remembered* by CNN

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Edelweiss

Length: 208 pp

Publisher: CNN

Year: 2019

Sometimes when I cook, I have the voice of chef Anne Burrell in my head, telling me I’m using my knife wrong or I need to do something differently. Over the years, though, another voice has been added to hers, overwriting it to tell me that it doesn’t matter if I do it perfectly so long as I’m trying something new, and “screwups are good. Screwups – and bouncing back from screwups – help you conquer fear. … Do not be afraid” (Les Halles). As long as my mise en place is in order (and it had better be or he will yell at me), then everything will be fine. That distinctive voice belongs to Anthony Bourdain.

Probably it’s not normal to have the voices of anyone in your head, but I’ve always been one to have conversations with people I only meet in books, or on TV, or from studying history. I’m not ashamed to admit that some of the best life lessons were ones I’ve received from people I’ve never met in person, some of them fictional. This is far more a tribute to him than is it a book review, so I am going to talk about the late, greatly missed Tony Bourdain. From Tony, watching his shows and reading his books, I’ve learned so many things. Now I know that you should always try a dish twice in case it wasn’t prepared well the first time. Borders don’t matter because we have far more similarities than differences. You’ll never know what you like until you try it. The one truly universal connection between people is food and breaking bread together over a meal, prepared with love and served in a spirit of generosity and openness, is something that transcends religion and politics and language. Traveling to new places and seeing how people in different cultures live is something everyone should do; there is no education in any hallowed institution on earth that can compare with this.

Most of us never got to meet Tony in real life; nevertheless, he had a tremendous impact on our lives all the same. I never met him, but that doesn’t change the fact that I look up to him as a mentor, or that his death left a wound that will always be tender. I know this isn’t how depression works, but I can’t help but wonder if he knew how very many people would be affected by his death, if it would have made a difference. Probably not. I’ll save my rant about the need for better mental health care for a more appropriate place.

As I said, I never got the chance to meet Tony in person. The closest I ever got was a random encounter in London, on opposite sides of a busy street in Soho. That sardonic smile was plainly visible through traffic and crowds and will be a sight I’ll cherish dearly. Nevertheless, I can say that I feel lucky that I was alive and shared the earth at the same time he did. I think the best way to remember him will be to try to approach life like he did – with curiosity and openness and a hunger that can only be satiated by going and seeing and experiencing it for myself.

This book is a collection of memories, left by people who feel as I do. This is not great literature. It isn’t going to move mountains or bring about world peace. It is simply the heartfelt notes of people given in their grief to express a love for a deeply flawed, deeply compassionate, curious, creative, soulful man, someone who touched us all profoundly in some way, and whose loss we feel acutely. People who also learned from Tony that “there is less to fear about the world than we think” or that we should “listen, rather than speak.” We know, because of him, that “it is a privilege to sit at someone’s table” and that we should “go to the place. Eat the thing. Talk to the person.” When we travel, he taught us how to be “less of an observer and more of a participant…”, that we should “offend no one, appreciate the simplest things, and absorb it all”, that “food was a tool through which to understand a place, to broaden your own understanding of the world…”, and that there is “beauty in the sad, and the poignant, and even in the mundane, every day.” He taught us new ways to see, how to be better listeners, and how to find the interesting experiences. I think he’d get a kick out of one comment in particular, written by Amy P, who said, “Tripe. I didn’t enjoy it, but Tony was 100 percent the reason I tried it.” Yes, girl! I have tried things, culinary and otherwise, that I never would have thought to do because of something I learned from Tony. Just try the food. If you don’t like it, then try it again somewhere else, in case the first time wasn’t the best. If you don’t like it after that, well, at least you tried it. But then again, you may discover your new favorite food. You might learn about your new favorite activity. I learned about black pudding in London’s old east end butcher district, and the next time I am there, I’m absolutely going to try some, because that’s what Tony would do. Because the real lesson he left us with is not to be afraid. Go out and try things and see where they take you.

“Travel isn’t often pretty. It isn’t often comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind” (No Reservations). Anthony Bourdain left something good behind, and his presence will continue to be missed. Let’s all go out, have an adventure, and make our own mark on the world. 

RIP, Anthony Bourdain. We still miss you.

Bourdain twitter BW
Image retrieved from Anthony Bourdain’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/Bourdain/status/993005310611619840

Bourdain, Anthony. Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Technique of Classic Bistro Cooking. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.

—-. No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.

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Black Death

44597455Black Death (A Tudor mystery featuring Christopher Marlowe)* by MJ Trow

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Netgalley

Length: 224 pp

Publisher: Severn House

Year: 2019

Robert Green and Christopher Marlowe are not friends. But when Green believes someone is trying to kill him, he sends a desperate letter to Marlowe, behind for his help. When Green is found dead, Kit believes it is his duty to discover who murdered Green and so undertakes the investigation. At the same time, stage manager Ned Sledd is wrongly taken to Bedlam in lieu of an escaped inmate just days before the opening of one of Marlowe’s new plays. Marlowe has to find the connection between all these events and help his friend. And also, the Spymaster, Robert Cecil, is taking an inordinate interest in things. And there’s plague. What could go wrong?

This is a short, quick read and like other MJ Trow novels I’ve read, it is a fun and witty tale as well. The plot is full of twists and turns and not all is as it appears. The characters, especially Marlowe, are all multidimensional. I really love the little digs at William Shakespeare (spelled here as Shaxper) throughout and the subtle shade thrown on the authorship of his works. There are many literary gems hidden in these pages that appeal to any Anglophile.

The descriptions of Elizabethan London are also vivid and gritty. So much of that period is romanticized but here, we get the more realistic portrayal of what it might have actually been like – dirty, smelly, and depressing. Oh, and don’t forget the plague!

A fun and fast read, highly recommended for any lovers of Marlowe, Shaxper :-), or Elizabethan English history in general.

All This I Will Give to You

43267676All This I Will Give to You* by Dolores Redondo (trans. Michael Meigs)

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Timothy Andres Pabon

Source: My own collection

Length: 18:10:00

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Year: 2018

Manuel Ortigosa is a writer  living in Madrid. He is hard at work on his next novel, waiting for his husband Alvaro to return from a business trip to Barcelona, when he receives word from police that Alvaro has been killed in a car accident. In Galicia, the opposite side of the country from Barcelona. Manuel travels to the town in Galicia where Alvaro died and learns that his husband was the Marquis of an ancient aristocratic family and Galicia is their ancestral home. Alvaro had hidden all this from Manuel because it seems he felt that his family was toxic and he wanted to shield Manuel from them. Upon his death, however, Manuel learns that Alvaro had saved his family from deep debt, using his own considerable funds to pay back loans and renovate the family homes, which put them in Alvaro’s personal possession, and thus he bequeathed everything to Manuel. Manuel is trying to come to terms with the fact that his husband hid who he was from him for the 15 years of their marriage, deal with the family who is indeed toxic, and find out what truly happened to Alvaro because he hadn’t died in an accident – he was murdered. Manuel meets two allies – a recently retired cop and a childhood friend of Alvaro’s, now a priest and Alvaro’s confessor – who aid him in finding out the truth.

This was a nicely complex book and I enjoyed not only the mystery plot but the travel element as well. I’ve never been to Spain, so the descriptions of the settings were some of my favorite parts, irrespective of the rest of the story.

The characters were generally complex and multifaceted. Manuel, the cop, and the priest were the ones I thought were the most multidimensional and complex people, though many of the other secondary characters, such as the family’s nanny, also seemed to have rich personalities.

There were many points of conflict – between Manuel and his husband’s family, between more progressive ideals and traditional Catholic practices, between the newer social order and the ancient traditions of nobility. There were also rivalries and intrigues between the family members as well, dark secrets and infighting. Alvaro was right – his family is toxic and he did well to keep Manuel from them. It would be exhausting to have to deal with a family like that.

I listened to this on audio book, so I have no idea how to spell some of the names, like the name of the cop friend, or the name of Alvaro’s family home. In any case, I think I would have preferred to eyeball read this one. I had picked up the audio book because it was a daily deal on Audible, but I didn’t care for the narrator. He did all right but I didn’t think he did a great job differentiating between characters. I had a hard time telling when it was supposed to be Manuel speaking and the cop, for example. His reading of women’s voices was pretty awful, though at least he didn’t make them sound like vapid cows like some male narrators do.

I loved the last line of the book SO MUCH. It is one of my favorite last lines ever now.

Age of Saints

43925261Age of Saints: Druid’s Brooch Series: 7* by Author

I read it as a: galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 240 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2019

Connall had promised his father that he would take care of Lainn, his little sister. Then his father went away and Connall, despite his best efforts, failed spectacularly in every way to uphold his promise. He and Lainn endure an abusive stepfather; a neglectful mother; starvation, terror, imprisonment, and torture in the land of Faerie; and literal insanity in both human and fey realms. Connall tries to draw on the power of a magic brooch, passed down through his family for generations, to help him and Lainn survive, but in doing so, is he saving them or only delaying the inevitable?

This is the seventh book in Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, and as with the others, it can be read as a standalone. I have read most of the others in the series and with each installation, I appreciate anew how well Nicholas crafts her characters. Each one has depth and vision to them, even minor characters who are only on the page a moment.

Equally appreciated is Nicholas’s deep understanding of Irish legend and lore. Her books are rich with these, and they bring the culture and people within the pages to brilliant life. This novel features the early days when the old ways of the Druids and the new ways of the Christians were still able to live together peaceably, though by the end of the book, the two religions were showing the strain. The Age of Saints refers to the 5th and 6th centuries when the Church was working especially hard to convert the Celtic countries, often using converted Celts to do so, such as St Patrick or Columba, who is referenced in this novel. It was interesting to see the interplay between the two cultures in this way.

I also loved the theme of protection that wove throughout the book. Connall cares for and protects Lainn as best he can, even when he fails utterly. He tries to keep his father’s words in mind as a way to protect himself as well, because at the end of the day, Connall is still a very young man, still in need of protection himself in a variety of ways. He learns how to protect himself, but also how to accept it from others when needed. The raven companion provides protection of a sort as well, and teaches a hard lesson. Connall protects his mother even when he doesn’t really want to. Even though most of the hardships in the book were because of a bad decision he made, Connall was still a sympathetic figure. He honestly did what he thought was best, or at least tried to. He never did anything out of maliciousness, just out of simple naivety or lack of experience, and he never whined about it, unlike some characters in other books. He Had his issues and his flaws, and he had an epic meltdown at one point, which I think was entirely understandable, but he was not an unsympathetic figure at all. He just needed someone to protect him but he had no one to do that, and so he did the best he could.

I also liked the exploration of his sexuality here, and how he was concerned about how Christians would think of him as sinful or unnatural to want to lie with another man, but the Druids had such members within their ranks and thought nothing of it. The conflict in him didn’t feel forced, like Nicholas was just trying to do something new or make a point. It was nicely done and flowed well within the narrative of the story.

One of the things I really love about this series is that it works in reverse time – the books begin in a more recent time and are gradually working back toward a time when the magic is newer and closer to the surface. I hope that, in the final installment of the series, readers will finally understand the genesis of the story, the event that caused the brooch to be given to the humans from the fey, and to see the full circle of all the novels in the series thus far. It has been a finely crafted series to date and I look forward to reading more. Highly recommended.

*Amazon affiliate link. 

Acre’s Orphans

43457902Acre’s Orphans: Historical fiction from the Crusades (The Lucca Le Pou Stories Book 2)* by Wayne Turmel

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 222 pp

Publisher: Achis Press

Year: 2019

This is the second novel featuring protagonist Lucca le Pou (Lucca the Louse), but it can easily function as a standalone novel. It opens very shortly after the Battle of Hattin in which Salah-adin’s forces defeated the Crusaders and forced them to surrender vast portions including Jerusalem, and executing many Knights Hospitallers. Lucca, one of the titular orphans of Acre, has lived his entire life in Acre and has little desire to leave the city when Salah-adin takes control. However, his nominal guardians at the leper house where he lives convince him to go to Tyre, taking along Sister Marie-Pilar, a leprous nun, and Niheda, another orphan girl who attached herself to Lucca. Lucca is determined to go to Tyre to find Count Raymond, whose name is being slandered in Acre and accused of being a traitor, setting him up to be murdered. Lucca is to find the Count and deliver a message to him from his allies still in Acre, avoid being captured by Salah-adin’s forces, keep Sister and Nahida safe, and somehow return home again in one piece.

At first, I thought this was a YA or even a children’s book because of the young age of the protagonist. However, the more I read, the more obvious it became that this is not a children’s book. It is a nicely written adult novel, replete with rich historical detail, which just happens to have a 10-year-old protagonist. The themes the book covers are not ones most children would want to read, and the violence, disease, and general human misery on display would make it unsuitable for many younger readers.

Despite the somber topics the book covers – the Crusades, leprosy, children surviving horrors on their own – Turmel does a really excellent job of keeping it appropriately light. The bits of humor that shine through in Lucca’s personality lift what could otherwise be a very grim read and instead bring in genuine laughter and a sense of adventure rather than doom.

The cast of characters is pleasingly diverse. I appreciated that the bad guys were not automatically the Muslim characters. There is enough Othering that occurs in both literature and real life as it is, so to see a book that includes a wide range of people as main characters and which doesn’t automatically pigeonhole those characters into revolting stereotypical roles is a really nice change of pace. This seems particularly true of novels set during the Crusades; one website that has the biggest list of historical novels I’ve ever encountered still only has about 15 books on the Crusades as told from the Muslim point of view, and not all of those are even written by Muslim authors. This book still doesn’t tick all the boxes for me in that regard, but I’m hard to please, and it is nevertheless a delightfully well-rounded story.

Lucca is a boy I wouldn’t mind knowing in real life. I would want to bring him home and feed him up and throw him in the tub because he needs a mother to look after him. Nahida is a girl I want to hold and protect from the world, same as with my own daughter, and keep them all safe. The giant Knight Hospitaller Gerhardt reminds me of a dear friend of mine and Sister Marie-Pilar is the fierce and protective auntie or grandmother everyone should have. These characters breath life from every page and made me care about what happened to them.

Highly recommended.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

15814396The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen* by Susan Bordo

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 345 pp

Publisher: Mariner

Year: 2013

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a study on the woman, in all her various incarnations, who was wife to a king, a catalyst to the English Reformation, and mother to Elizabeth I. The book covers a wide range of areas ranging from actual history to literature, film, TV, and pop culture interpretations of Anne Boleyn.

There were some enjoyable things about this book. Bordo takes a feminist approach to her writing and interpretation of Anne, which of course is something I appreciate. She is a women’s studies professor, so approaching the topic of Anne Boleyn from the perspective of gender studies rather than a pure historian’s point of view is a nice change of pace from some of the recent things I have read on the subject. I also think that, because the writing tone is engaging and entertaining, it might entice other readers who are new to the topic of Tudor studies to be inspired to learn more about the subject on their own as a result.

There were many issues throughout the book as well, though. As many others before her, I think Bordo leans too heavily on Eustace Chapuys’s letters about Anne. It is true that he did not like her and had many reasons to hope for her downfall. However, although Bordo frequently states in one way or another that Chapuys shouldn’t be trusted in regard to his opinion on Anne, not once did she mention that he only had a couple interactions with Anne directly. Most of his information about Anne came second- and third-hand from others, which she did mention in passing, but I think it is important to remember that his whole job was to report to his boss, Charles V, what was said at court. Chapuys was Charles’s ambassador, so he was likely repeating many of the things he had heard; he was doing his job when he said that “a gentleman known to me” called Anne a whore or said that she had adulterous relations or whatever else. We cannot possibly know that he was “gleeful” when Anne’s downfall came, because unless one is a time traveling mindreader, there’s simply no way to know what he was thinking. I think we really have to take much, if not most, of what Chapuys says in his letters about Anne with a grain of salt. No, he probably didn’t like her at all, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that every single word he wrote about her were his own true thoughts, either.

The book also had a tendency to attack authors with whom Bordo disagreed, which I don’t think is the most professional approach. She makes a lot of valid points about many popular authors who seem to think their historical fiction books are the same as gospel truth and are well researched, when in fact neither is true. I won’t say which authors Bordo takes such exception to, only that I completely agree. They, at least, tell a good story even if it’s totally inaccurate. Bordo, however, champions some authors who also have problems as well, if not to the same degree as the others. The difference seems to be that the ones she champions are ones who paint Anne in a very positive light rather than as the traditional Jezebel or even as a flawed and imperfect woman. Her own bias comes through the most strongly here. Also, Bordo herself does the same things she accuses others of doing, which is to make declarations of historical fact without supporting evidence, or making claims that are contrary to evidence in hand. At one point, she calls Henry a pussy-whipped husband, which is really unlikely to be true, don’t you think? There is evidence that he was ruthless and even brutal when he needed or wanted to be long before he met Anne. Similarly, her treatment of Katherine of Aragon and Mary is really bad. You don’t have to be Team Katherine to be able to acknowledge that Henry treated his first wife and daughter abominably. Fighting to keep a marriage and position to which she was born does not make Katherine stubborn or self-righteous, as Bordo suggests. It makes for good historical fiction, perhaps, but not really for nonfiction. Additionally, I really don’t think quoting people from one’s own Facebook page is adequate for a “scholarly” book. I was really annoyed by that and disappointed that this book was passed off as scholarly. It’s kind of the equivalent of “My mom thinks my story is cool,” and it doesn’t pass muster. For someone who is a doctorally prepared professor, she should do better than resorting to ad hominem attacks on authors or scholars whose positions she disagrees with, and use better supporting evidence.

At the end of the day, this is far more a pop culture commentary than a biography. It is useful in its way for a starting point into further, more academic studies by actual Tudor scholars. It was interesting as a feminist cultural study, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a source for any theses.

Big Damn Hero

38464992Firefly – Big Damn Hero* by James Lovegrove

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 334 pp

Publisher: Titan Books

Year: 2018

Big Damn Hero is the first of a new series of novels based on the awesome and tragically short-lived sci-fi show Firefly. This first book focused primarily on Captain Tightpants himself, Malcolm Reynolds. As always, Mal and the crew of Serenity are hustling for work and they take a job from Badger, their sometime ally and mostly opportunistic small-time crime boss on Persephone. They are to ship some very hinky and hazardous cargo for him. Mal also gets word of a possible side job they could take that is on the way to the drop off point for Badger’s cargo. Being something of an opportunist himself, he goes to meet the contact for this job, only to find it was a set-up and he gets abducted by a band of fringe lunatic former Browncoats. The rest of the crew have to figure out where he is before the Browncoats string Mal up as a traitor to their cause, deliver Badger’s cargo, and evade an Alliance patrol which is suddenly very interested in who might be traveling with Serenity.

This was a very fun book, like being in an episode of Firefly. It had all the shiny slang and random bits of Mandarin thrown in, the same action we have come to expect from the show, and the author clearly is a fan because he nailed all the characters’ voices just about perfectly.

I loved getting some of Mal’s backstory from his growing up years on Shadow. He always said he grew up on a cattle ranch on Shadow but not much more about it than that. I’m a sucker for a good backstory, and while this novel was not that, it still provided a nice glimpse into some aspects of his life that we never really got from the show, with just a couple exceptions. Adding more to the overall mythology of Firefly is always a good thing.

I think the only thing I didn’t care for was how neatly the ending was tied up, but many of the episodes were as well, and I will be a good fan and take Firefly in whatever way I can get it, so the ending didn’t bother me too much. I do think the Browncoats were a little too zealous in their bloodlust and might have given more pause to some things, but then there wouldn’t have been much of a story. I hope so gorram much that there will be books for each of the Serenity crew. It looks like there are books coming up focusing mainly on Jayne (Firefly – The Magnificent Nine) and River (Firefly: Generations), so one can only hope that we get books for Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Book, Simon, and Inara as well. Especially Zoe because besides River, Zoe is fucking awesome.

There were several lines I loved, but my favorite was in the beginning: Is it a good life or a bad one? The answer doesn’t matter. It’s the only life we have.” Ain’t it just?

*Amazon affiliate link. Help a gal out, eh? 🙂

Headlong Flight

30753771Headlong Flight (Star Trek: The Next Generation)* by Dayton Ward

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 333 pp

Publisher: Pocket Books

Year: 2017

**There be spoilers below!**

Back to their mission of exploring uncharted space, the Enterprise-E is checking out a nebula in the “Odyssean Pass” when they encounter what appears to be a rogue planet. This planet seems to be shifting between dimensions – and scans show it has life signs on it. A message from the planet warns the crew to stay away for their own safety, but Captain Picard wants to help them, so he sends Worf and an away team to the surface to investigate. Of course, because it’s Star Trek and the Enterprise crew is incapable of having a normal day (and there would be no story otherwise), the planet chooses that moment to disappear with Worf and friends on the surface. Whoops. Now Picard and the rest of the crew have to figure out where the planet went (hint: not only is there inter-dimensional traveling, but time traveling as well!), but the planet has attracted the attention of the Romulans, too, who think this would make some shiny technology to bring back home. Only, which time/dimension does this lot call home? I don’t know, it’s a mystery!

This was just a good old fun Star Trek story. It was not a tie in to anything else. It wasn’t part of a grand, multi-novel story arc that you had to read a hundred books before to understand the plot. It didn’t have any bullshit social or feminist issues that make me want to scream like some of the newer Voyager novels. There was a mystery, some technobabble, an away mission gone wrong, and Romulans oh noes! I loved it. I wish all the Trek novels would go back to being just standalone, fun novels, like they used to be waaaaayyyyyyy back when they were still numbered books. I could pick one up and read it and it was like its own episode.

This had everything a good Star Trek book (or episode) should have. Action, a little mystery, and sciencey technobabble. There were parts that made me laugh, and one or two parts that made me nostalgic and a little teary, not gonna lie. Those were wonderful, heady days on the Enterprise-D.

It was interesting to see the differences the Other Enterprise-D took in its timeline. Tasha Yar didn’t die, but instead, Picard himself was lost to the Borg at Wolf-359. Riker was the Enterprise-D’s captain, but his experiences turned him from the confident and happy XO we knew to a somber, self-critical man who constantly second-guesses himself and his worth as captain. It was nice to see how he went from that back to a man more familiar by the end of the book. Similarly, it was also nice to see how Yar might have turned out, still vivacious and brave but more seasoned, if she had lived. It made her death hurt all over again because we got a glimpse of what might have been.

It was also good to see how the two Enterprise crews not only worked together but also with the Sidrac to fix the trans-dimensional shifting and time traveling. In true Starfleet tradition, they even managed to play nice with the Romulans, who initially really did not have any interest in playing nice at all.

Overall, just a fun book, very enjoyable. I wish more of the Trek relaunch novels were like this, just a standalone book.

*Amazon affiliate link. Help a gal out, eh? 🙂 

Never Waste Tears*

24354498Never Waste Tears by Glorida Zachgo

Cathy read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 406 pp

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Year: 2014

Set in the late 1860s, Never Waste Tears is the story of Nathaniel Jacob Carter, a young man whose desire it is to find peace after the war, a life with a woman he loves, and the companionship of the friends he meets along the way. Dated April 12, 1861, the story starts with the journal entry of a young ten-year-old Rebecca who expresses wonder as to why her home town is so suddenly somber. Thirteen-year-old Nathan’s journal entry follows with the description of how, on his birthday, his family changes forever when his father and brothers leave to join the War Between the States. Through the personal journal entries of these two characters, Zachgo builds their relationship, and the relationships with their families. The conflicts Rebecca faces and the reasons which compel Nathan to leave his home behind soon become apparent, making the story of the young couple’s journey deeply personal.   

Soon after their marriage, Nathan and Becca begin their adventures. They join a wagon train west with hopes of homesteading land in the New Frontier. Initially, the young newlyweds set Nebraska as their final destination, but after making a bonding friendship with another young couple, Carl and Hannah, Nathan decides to head for the Kansas territory instead. What awaits the young settlers turns Nathan’s life inside out. Zachgo’s use of historical facts and descriptions of the everyday joys and hardships faced by the pioneers adds to the realism of the time period and of the settling of the United States, west of the Mississippi River.

Zachgo moves the story forward through the use of journal entries of five different characters. Doing so provides a deeper understanding of the personal lives of pioneers, and the emotional bonds they form in order to survive.  While the use of personal narrative through the journal entries is an interesting method of moving a story forward, the technique was initially confusing. The confusion was short-lived since it turned the story into a page turner that prevented me from setting the book down for even a moment.

Never Waste Tears is an interesting story about the post-Civil War settlers who traveled west in search of a new life. Zachgo does an excellent job developing characters that are true to the time period and the settling of the post-Civil War American West.

*This is a guest post by Cathy Smith. 

Total Money Makeover

17591758The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 237 pp

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2013

My mom occasionally listens to one of the more conservative radio stations in my hometown. That would be horrifying except they have plenty of *opinions* about 45 which are quite in alignment with my own, which is a delightful surprise given that I am…super not conservative. Anyway, this station plays Dave Ramsey every day for 2 hours and I’ve often heard his show. I have always enjoyed listening to him when I catch his show because so much of his financial advice is so common-sensical and down to earth. I like his tough love approach and how he tells people what they need to hear rather than what the want to hear. Since I have a little bit of debt – thankfully not very much at all – I decided to take a look at his book. I am glad I did because I learned a lot of things that are relevant even for people without a crushing amount of debt!

I found the book to be broken down in a clear and easy to understand format. You would think that should be a given, but nope. I’ve read other finance books and it was like, “WTF does that even mean?” I have literature degrees for a reason, folks. Anyway, Ramsey’s premise for becoming debt-free is to follow his Baby Steps. These steps are:

  1. Save $1000 for an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all debt (except mortgage) using the debt snowball
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund
  4. Invest 15% of your income in retirement
  5. Save for your children’s college funds
  6. Pay off your home early
  7. Build wealth and give

The first two steps are supposed to take the longest, especially if you have a ton of debt. Since I don’t have a lot of debt and only recently discovered Dave Ramsey, I already have well over $1000 for an emergency fund. I’m sure he would think it is an excuse, but I will never use all my money to pay off the one debt I have because I have a house and the mortgage is more than $1000 a month. But I did recently manage to make a giant payment to the one loan that I have, and am making a budget, which I’ve never done before. I will be able to get that thing paid off within this calendar year if I plan right, and then I will be able to start saving for a new car, finally, which I’ll pay cash for. I will be able to save money for my daughter’s college fund, and invest for retirement the way I want to. I want to follow a mix of Dave Ramsey/ Mr Money Mustache/ The Minimalists approach to life, because that seems the type that is the likeliest to bring the most joy and value to my life.

Is this book for everyone? Nope. If you have the attitude that the world owes you something or that certain things are just *necessary* for life when they really aren’t, or you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for a while to get out of debt, then you probably won’t respond well to this book. Ramsey is also religious and he sometimes throws in quotes from the Bible to support his financial practices. I’m as atheist as they come, but I didn’t find these to be irritating or anything; they were the common sense kind of quotes, like “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4). The source here is irrelevant. The message is the same – getting out of debt and gaining financial freedom is hard work and you can’t be lazy about it. But I suppose it might be annoying to some people who aren’t able to separate their secularism from everything else.

I also learned some things that I should have learned long before now, in my early 40s, but I suppose better late than never. Like about the protections on debit cards, for example. Never knew how those worked before now. Made me feel dumb, but now I am glad to know how it works because I can use my debit card with no concerns now. It will make things easier to budget, that’s for sure!

Even though I don’t have a ton of debt, I am still really glad I read this book and will be using the steps to pay off what debt I do have, and to help me manage my money better in the future. Definitely recommended for people who are in debt and are motivated to get out, who want to manage their finances better, and who want to understand how their money works better.