Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon
by
David Grann

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:

Killers of the Flower Moon is a true-crime account of a shameful period of American history in which members of the Osage tribe were murdered for the headrights to oil-rich land on their reservation in Oklahoma. David Grann tells this shocking story, including the investigation of the murders led by J. Edgar Hoover’s newly-formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After the U.S. Civil War, Native Americans from the Osage tribe were forced off their land in Kansas and relocated to Indian Territory. The land was rocky, there were no buffalo, but they were a smart nation, led by Chief James Bigheart, and two things seemed to be in their favor. One, they were one of only a few Native American nations to buy their own reservation and this gave them more rights. The second advantage was that, when the United States insisted the land be divided into parcels, to parallel the system of land ownership in the rest of the country, the Osage said okay, but with a stipulation. If any land was sold or leased to a non-native, whatever was underground belonged to the Osage.

The Osage became rich in the 1920s when oil was discovered on their land and, for a period of time, they enjoyed lavish lives. But the American government deemed the Osage unfit to manage their own money and appointed white guardians to control their royalties. Many of these guardians stole from their wards, and worse.

The coveted ownership of communal headrights, which could only be inherited, led to a shocking series of murders, headed by a prominent local American businessmen and carried out by a network of seemingly upstanding white citizens and career criminals. Dozens of Osage were murdered and many of them were from the same family. In Gray Horse, Oklahoma, Mollie Burkhart watched as her family was killed, one at a time, leaving her as the only one left. As she fell ill, she wondered, would she be next?

In desperation, the Osage hired FBI to stop the killings. The investigation was filled with bogus leads, false confessions, disappearing witnesses and unreliable informants. Grann provides details of the investigation and resulting trials, including updates on the key players from both sides and an interesting follow-up of the Osage today.

The events in Killers of the Flower Moon depict a deep-seated racism against the Osage, in which the white business leaders and citizens of the Gray Horse pretended to befriend and help the Osage, only to kill them for their money. Killers of the Flower Moon is a thorough historical account of the Osage murders, but this is one story you won’t see in school history books.

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Audiobook: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Narrated by Christina Delaine


Audiobook
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything
by
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Narrated by Christina Delaine

Rating:

Here’s a detailed book about one of the most successful television sitcoms in American history, Seinfeld. TV fans will enjoy learning more about the show’s creators, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, their writers and everything behind the scenes. Loyal Seinfeld fans will love reliving the funniest and most memorable episodes and of course, hearing more about the cast, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

Many of the early episodes were based on Larry David’s own experiences and were written for both George and Jerry. Later, new writers were expected to draw on their own pasts for show ideas. I enjoyed learning about the writing staff and how competitive it was. Writers worked independently and had to pitch their ideas to David or Seinfeld. Getting approval to develop one show did not guarantee future success either. In fact, to keep the show fresh, writers were cleared every year.

Seinfeld’s success meant more than a nine-season run. The show was a huge money-maker for NBC during a super competitive time period. Shows airing before and after the Seinfeld time slot also benefitted. Thursday night “Must See TV” on NBC was a winner. I found this part of the book very interesting.

The author discusses many of the funniest and most memorable episodes and how the ideas came about. Who doesn’t laugh at the mention of the marble rye, Junior Mint, or the master of your domain episodes? Even the final episode, which was considered a dud, brought back memories and learning the backstories was fun.

Final chapters cover the cast after Seinfeld. David left before the eighth season and created Curb Your Enthusiasm. Seinfeld returned to stand-up and has been involved in several successful projects, including Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been very successful, with The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep. Whether it was the Seinfeld “curse” or what Jason Alexander simply calls “curse of success,” not everyone had an easy time. Alexander had a failed show and so did Michael Richards. And Richards very likely killed his career in 2006 when he went on a racist rant at the Laugh Factory.

Seinfeld episodes continue to air, twenty years later. It is the most successful show ever in syndication, which has kept its fandom alive. Seinfeldia’s angle is the show’s loyal and still-active fan base, a group that prides itself on knowing everything about the show, the cast, the details and dialogue, and strives to perpetuate everything Seinfeld.

Listeners will either like or dislike the audiobook’s narrator, who takes on the characters’ personas as she reads. Being new to audiobooks, I’m still getting used to this technique. Hearing someone impersonate Jerry Seinfeld and the gang is a little strange, but she does a pretty good job with the voices and in the end, I think it enhances the listening experience.

The Seinfeldia audiobook is a very enjoyable ten-hour listen. I may not have read it in print form, so I’m glad I took the chance on the audio version. I recommend it to anyone who likes behind the scenes stories.

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Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean
Brett Archibald

Rating:  3.5 stars

In April 2013, Brett Archibald, a 50-year-old South African businessman, was on a surf charter boat off the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. It was the middle of the night and the seas were storming. Archibald had food poisoning and went on deck to be sick. He lost his footing, fell off the boat and no one saw. He spent nearly 29 hours in the Indian Ocean before a miracle happened. That miracle was Tony “Doris” Eltherington, captain of an Australian charter, and a seafaring legend, who acted on a hunch and found Archibald bobbing in the vast expanse.

How Archibald survived, how his friends and Eltherington’s boat and crew persisted, and how his wife and family never gave up believing he would survive is chronicled in Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean. Already weak from dehydration, Archibald fought off raging seas, a shark attack, dive-bombing seagulls, stinging jellyfish and man of wars. He kept his wits about him by counting strokes, naming books in his library and singing songs from his iPod playlists. Despite these efforts, he was often overwhelmed by hopelessness. In addition, he was fooled by hallucinations. When he looked to the sky and saw a wooden cross, he was sure it was another trick of the mind. That cross was the mast of Eltherington’s boat, coming to get him.

The book is written from three points of view:  Archibald, his friends and other rescue boats, and his wife and family. While there were some who thought it was unlikely Archibald could survive, those who knew him believed he would. An intense personality and competitor, always pushing himself, Archibald was better off than most, despite the odds against him. From the moment he was rescued he was coherent and surprisingly strong. I was skeptical of this part of the story until I watched several live videos of his rescue. To see what I mean, check out the links at the bottom of the post. The euphoria after his rescue is contagious, Archibald is ridiculously upbeat, making you believe he had all the right stuff to get him through what would have been certain death for most.

Survival stories are hard to resist and this is an incredible one. I enjoyed learning the details of his hour-by-hour story. While lost in the ocean, Archibald reflected on his life mistakes and failed relationships and faced the grim possibility that he would never see his wife and young children again. It’s no surprise that he came out of the ordeal a changed man and the phrase “life is short” doesn’t seem nearly as trite.

My one disappointment is in how the book is presented. The cover and title and Archibald’s first person account made me think he had written the book, but the account is in fact written by an unnamed author. This fact is buried in the “Three Years Later” chapter at the end of the book.

In addition, readers are well-advised to give up trying to remember the hundreds of names provided, which tends to bog down the flow of the story.

All in all, however, an engrossing read that results in a happy, feel-good moment.

Check out these video links and see for yourself:

Today Show video about Brett Archibald’s rescue

60 Minutes “Miracle at Sea”

I fell off a white water raft once and got lodged underneath. But my friends pulled me back in within a minute. Doesn’t compare, but I was pretty scared! Have you ever had a close call at sea?

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Book Talk – Prairie Fires – The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

I was lucky enough to get this book from our family grab bag on Christmas. Thanks to my sister for having me in mind when she bought it!

Prairie Fires is a new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Published in November 2017, it’s written by Caroline Fraser, who is the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series.  Here’s a brief description from the book jacket:

“Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls – the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial record, Caroline Fraser masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder’s tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.”

I always wondered about Rose Wilder and what her real story was so I’m looking forward to the hard facts about this relationship. The book includes some terrific photographs, early days and later, with details that will no doubt remind readers of stories about the Ingalls family.

I’m a big fan of stories about pioneer times and the Little House book series, having read the books to our son when he was little. I’m hoping for a long winter so I can get into this book soon!

Click here for more information about the Little House series.

Are you a fan of the Little House book series? Did you grow up watching the show on TV?

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I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

I Work at a Public Library
by
Gina Sheridan

Rating:

Here’s a great collection of library stories straight “from the stacks.” Gina Sheridan, a public librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, has seen it all at her job.  From unusual requests and confused questions to lonesome souls looking for conversation, she uses more than her library degree to guide her patrons. At my library job, I field a lot of questions, particularly about how to use the public computers, so I can definitely relate to this one:

A man using the public computer asked me for help.

MAN:  Yeah, what’s the difference between Microsoft Word, Google Chrome and a website?

ME:  Well Word is a program you use to type something up, like a letter or a resume. Chrome is an Internet browser you’d use to look at website. And a website is a space on the Internet to exchange information.

MAN:  Which one do you like best?

The book is cleverly formatted – using the Dewey Decimal System to organize Sheridan’s material into many sections including Computers, Reference Work, Communication, and Rare Birds. And her deadpan responses to baffling questions and strange disclosures make me feel closer to library workers all over the world.

But library stories are more than commentary on the oddities of human behavior. Sheridan balances these with heartwarming expressions from patrons of all ages. In one story, a little girl declares she wants to grow up to be a “sparkle librarian” just like the librarian who reads her stories because “she’s always smiling and wears nice jewelry.” In another, a down-on-his-luck man returns with a catered lunch to thank the staff for helping him find a job, telling them he will never forget them. I may not work at Sheridan’s library, but we have plenty of stories just like these.

I Work at a Public Library is great look into what it’s like to, you guessed it, work at a public library. But you don’t have to be a library worker to appreciate the humor or understand the good feelings the author gets from helping people. This one can be enjoyed by readers on both sides of the reference desk!

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…and thanks to my son for this special Christmas present!

Book Talk – Alone by Brett Archibald

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Today’s book is Alone by Brett Archibald. Published in November 2017, it’s the author’s account of his incredible survival at sea. In 2013, Archibald, age 50, was on a surf charter boat in Indonesia when he became ill and fell overboard unnoticed, without a life jacket and 60 miles from shore. Eight hours later, when his friends discovered he was missing, they began a desperate search, hoping for a miracle. His wife and children in South Africa feared the worst. And for 28 hours, Archibald, battled raging seas, aggressive sharks, biting fish, stinging jellyfish and seagulls poking at his eyes. Through resolve and strength, Archibald defied the odds. He was rescued by an Australian surfing boat and, other than being exhausted, dehydrated and sunburned, he was otherwise okay.

It’s no surprise to me that after this experience, Archibald became a motivational speaker, sharing his story and teaching perseverance!

I’m not sure when I’m going to fit this in, but I checked it out at the library just to have a look! You can too. Click here to view on Amazon and here for Goodreads reviews.

Have you experienced a life-changing event? What is your story?

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Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend by Meryl Gordon

Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend
by
Meryl Gordon

Rating:

Rachel Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon was born into an affluent family (think Listerine and Gillette), married into an even richer family and lived a life of unimaginable wealth. Known to most as Bunny Mellon, she was friends with Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and, because of her expertise in horticulture, was specially chosen by President Kennedy to redesign the White House’s Rose Garden. Bunny Mellon’s circle comprised the ultra-rich and well-connected. She and her second husband, Paul Mellon, son of Andrew Mellon, spent their married life acquiring artwork, purchasing, building and decorating homes in Virginia, New York, Cape Cod, Antigua and Paris. And while Paul indulged his love for horses, Bunny immersed herself in designing the perfect gardens to complement their impeccably decorated homes. They made sizeable artwork donations to the National Gallery of Art and Paul’s philanthropy extended to many other worthy causes.

In 2003, Bunny, at age 93, became fascinated with North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Edwards reminded her of President Kennedy and she was sure he was going to be the Democrats’ next rising star. She contributed millions of dollars to his campaign and to supporting organizations, and in 2007, sent secret money to Edwards’s personal account. He used that money to support his pregnant girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, while his wife battled Stage 4 breast cancer.

Throughout her life, Bunny had intense friendships with such notables as jewelry designer Johnny Schlumberger and fashion designers Cirstóbal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy. Over many decades, Bunny cultivated and discarded many other friendships. Despite her wealth, Bunny endured much sorrow and heartache. The Lambert and Mellon families were loaded with sibling rivalries, feuds, affairs, divorce, estrangements and multiple plane crashes.

In this detailed biography, Meryl Gordon tells Bunny Mellon’s hundred plus year story. She begins with Bunny’s privileged childhood, elite education, and first marriage to Stacy Lloyd, Jr. and introduces Paul Mellon in a parallel build-up. Much of the book covers their married years, socializing with celebrities, dignitaries and royalty and, of course, buying things. Gordon also includes a great deal of the Kennedy story and American politics.

I enjoyed reading this biography, but I felt the book was too long and heavy with tedious details. I also tired of reading about Bunny’s talent for horticulture and love of nature and long descriptions of flowers and how they were arranged.

In addition to the length, I was frustrated by the author’s interpretation of thoughts and suggestions as to how Bunny, Paul and their friends may have felt in different situations. There were also times when the author’s opinions seemed to be mixed into the facts. Gordon’s thorough research and reporting would have been enough for most readers.

Nevertheless, Gordon does a great job depicting an extraordinary life. Bunny used her money to live extravagantly and foster friendships and she found beauty in nature, a theme that helped fill one of her many needs. Bunny died in 2014 at age 103.

I received a copy of Bunny Mellon from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What’s That Book? Seized by the Sun by James W. Ure

whats-that-book

TitleSeized by the Sun

Author:  James W. Ure

Genre: YA Nonfiction

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  The life story of Gertrude Thompkins, a World War II pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. In 1944, Thompkins was flying a P-51D fighter plane when she disappeared during a short flight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Her plane has never been recovered and she is one of thirty-eight female pilots either confirmed or presumed dead.

Gertrude was raised in New Jersey and was the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her childhood was often unhappy and marked by a debilitating stutter. These years were consumed by her father’s endless efforts to cure her of the same affliction that plagued him and her mother’s depression. After high school, she earned a college degree in horticulture and traveled the world before she discovered a love for flying. It was her confidence in the air that finally cured her stuttering.

The book describes the rigorous WASP training and explains how the female pilots flew fighter planes to bases to be loaded with arsenals before enlisted male pilots flew into battle. The author includes many interesting details about the times and women during World War II. I enjoyed learning that the reason pilots wore silk scarves around their necks was to keep their necks from chafing as they constantly turned their heads to check their course.

How did you hear about it?  I saw it on our library’s online listing of new Young Adult books. I was attracted to the cover and immediately clicked on the book description.

Closing comments:  I knew a little bit about the WASP program, but didn’t completely understand what the female pilots did in the war effort. I had never heard about Gertrude Thompkins and was impressed with her fearless ambition.

Seized by the Sun is an excellent story for readers of all ages. The book includes many photographs and interesting sidebars and offers a great way to learn about history. It is part of the Women in Action Series of biographies.

Contributor:  Ginette


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Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? by Claire McKinney

Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?
A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns
by
Claire McKinney

Rating:

Writing a book is a big job and getting it published is an even bigger one. But even then, there is more work ahead. Did you know that there were over 700,000 books published in 2015? If you are a self-published author, promoting your book is the only way to get people to read it. Many self-published authors are unsure about how to do that. Their craft is writing, not publicity and marketing is a daunting task.

That’s where Claire McKinney’s guide to creating a book publicity campaign comes in. Even if you have a publisher, you need to understand how campaigns work. McKinney knows that having a plan takes the anxiety out of the job. Her book outlines how to pitch a book, develop contacts, write press materials and create a timeline.

In traditional publishing houses, the plan is in place months before the release. For self-publishers, it should be no different. McKinney’s guide is a great place to start. She explains how book publicity works and what you can do to get in there. Specifically, she offers advice on how to prepare a press kit and a bio, how to pitch your “story” and where to pitch it. She details how to set up and manage a media contact list, how to ask for and get reviews and when to pay for them.

Social media plays a big role in book publicity and McKinney offers advice on reaching readers through Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. You can download her free social media guide here. In addition, she explains advanced media strategies including how to work bookstore events, library programs and conferences. One strategy I think is the most interesting is how to insert your book and into a news story, thereby adding reader interest.

The book’s format is simple and readable and presented in a non-intimidating style. I highly recommend this guide and I will be sure to keep it handy as I help promote my father’s new book of short fiction.

I read Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a do-it-yourself book.

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What’s That Book? Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman

whats-that-book

Title:  Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre

Author: Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Biography

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  This is a great, thorough biography on Brett Favre, the NFL great who played almost 20 seasons in the league, mostly for the Green Bay Packers. While the author doesn’t ever directly interview Favre for the book, you quickly forget that, as it’s clear that dozens of people were interviewed for this story. Play-by-play action is almost always boring in game stories, yet Pearlman has a way of making a game more than a decade old sound as exciting as if you were watching it on TV.

He paints Favre’s character without holding back — this is by no means a book chronicling only the best moments of his football career. It goes through the personal struggles that Favre endured such as drug addiction and rampant infidelity, but just when you think he’s a terrible human being, you realize he has another side. Another side that proves humans are more intricate and complicated than they appear in a news article or a TV segment. Pearlman finds a way to force the reader to put their own values and morals to the test. Are some of the things Favre did unforgiveable? Is he just a fun-loving guy who gets carried away sometimes? Did the constant spotlight make some of his actions inevitable? Everyone will have their own opinion, but the argument is by no means one-sided. In an age where fans are forced to grapple with whether to cheer for a player who’s committed a crime or moral wrongdoing but still plays for their favorite team, this story shows this isn’t a new problem.

The author captured the unconditional love that the city of Green Bay had for Favre, which then turned on him temporarily when he signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings. There’s a reason he’s arguably the first name that comes to mind when you mention Packers’ greats. Not many players were truly idolized like Favre was by Packers’ fans.

It is hard to find fault in this book. The vocabulary is impressive without sounding like he’s trying to brag. The story is a good length without feeling like it lasted as long as Favre waffled over retirement. It is, above all things, fair. Obviously, it would’ve been great to hear directly from Favre, but there are enough interviews with other people to make up for that.

How did you hear about it?  I followed the author on Twitter and he had been talking about the book a lot when it was released in 2016, so I decided to give it a try.

Closing comments:  I am not usually much of a biography guy, but this might change my mind. It’s one of those stories where you don’t have to be a Packers fan to enjoy it. You don’t even have to be a football fan. You’re certain to go back and forth on whether you like the legend that is Brett Favre, and that’s what makes him such a fascinating character.

Contributor:   The author of this review is Austin Vitelli. He currently works as an assistant editor for Matrix Medical Communications, a medical publishing company. He is a recent journalism graduate from Lehigh University. He is a huge NFL fan, specifically the Philadelphia Eagles. You can view his website here or follow him on Twitter here.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
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