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Short Book Reviews for the Avid Reader

By Ann Boland November 07, 2022 Lifestyle

Have you had those days when you just can’t stop reading? It seems I’m in just such a period! Spurred by a client who writes humorous short essays, I keep finding wonderful, funny women to share. And there are lots of other women from Queen Elizabeth II to Josephine Baker, a queen in her own right; so much to learn, so little time.

Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure by Rinker Buck

As we watch the mighty Mississippi getting shallower and shallower in the fall of 2022 due to drought, I’m glad I read this book. I now understand that above Cairo, IL, where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, both rivers are bucolic, with more or less natural banks and local docks. Below that, the Corps of Engineers has groomed the Mississippi into a shipping channel.

Muddy banks are now unnatural and unwalkable rip-rap of huge concrete blocks. There is no pleasure-boating. Amateurs are a danger to themselves and the huge barge conglomerations that are precisely powered up and down the river by professional pilots in huge tug boats. Rinker Buck is an affable tour guide, and I enjoyed joining his foolhardy trip in a flatboat.

Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy by Damien Lewis

What a woman! And I knew little about her except photos of the topless banana dance from her early Paris career. Tracing Baker’s life from birth in St. Louis, Lewis emphasizes her amazing work from 1940 through 1944 as a spy for the British and the Gaullists.

Beloved entrainer in Europe and North Africa, her ability to travel and perform served as the cover for information gathering and communication at the highest secret levels. This is an informative read, but I did not love the writing. Lewis seems compelled to repeat endlessly the dangers faced by Baker and her entourage.

Once you get the hang of the repetition, you can skim at will. Unfortunately, many of the sources used by Lewis are long out of print, and never translated from French. It would be interesting to read these original accounts written by Josephine’s fellow spies.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

In my last set of short reviews, I covered Lisa Taddeo’s new book of short stories, Ghost Lover. It was not a favorite, but I wanted to read her previous best seller non-fiction book, Three Women. It’s about a portion of three women’s sex lives. It is billed as non-fiction, but from the beginning it read as fiction.

The three women: Maggie from Fargo ND who is sexually involved with her high-school teacher while in high school, Lisa from Indiana whose husband won’t touch her, and Sloane from Newport RI, who enjoys threesomes with her husband either watching or participating.

It’s a quick read, the subject matter is interesting. My takeaway is that women still come out on the short end of the sexual revolution, feeling guilty about their pleasure and protecting their exploiters. Granted, no men were able to present their points of view in this book.

The Palace Papers by Tina Brown

The Queen died one week to the day after I finished reading The Palace Papers. I was prepared for the funeral. Brown covers the last 20 years of the Royal Family, picking up where her first Royal Family book, The Diana Chronicles, ends.

Brown’s writing is engaging; she’s a journalist by trade. She’s British, she’s connected, and she loves a good story. If you are “Royal curious”, as I was, you will enjoy this book. As for Diana, except that she seems to have been a better mother than most royals, this book turned me off to her entirely.

The End by Salvatore Scibona

Aghhhh, this book was so dense. When it was published, it was shortlisted for the National Book Award and winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award. I picked it up because I read his second book, The Volunteer. In ’08, the literary folks went wild for Scibona’s style, a combination, they said, of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. Now that should have told me not to read this book.

The End is about Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century through the mid-50s. Mostly set around Cleveland, the locus is as dim as the city where the sun shines only 166 days a year. The plot, if there is one, is told in flashbacks from the August 15th Feast of the Assumption.

But I only figured this out after I completed the book and was compelled to reread the first several chapters, trying to understand the sequence of events. Don’t waste your time unless you are forced to write a term paper on novels that needed better editing.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

And so, this is my list of books. What are you reading now? Have you recently discovered an author you were curious about? Who was it? What books grabbed your attention?

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The Author

Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater, opera, and arts. Involved as a theatre-goer since the early 80s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of Chicago's theater scene, its exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. To support her good and bad habits, Ann handles public relations for authors and the arts.

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