The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard

The River of Doubt:  Theordore Roosevelts Darkest Journey

After Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, failed his re-election effort he decided to have a great adventure. It had to be unique and something no one else had done. Exploring an uncharted river in South America fit his needs well. 

The River of Doubt is a black river that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. The rain forest was anything but easy to deal with.
He took his son Kermit and they found an experienced guide, Candido Rondon, and crew. 

Candice Millard said in writing about the trip, "When he wasn't too sick to sit up, Roosevelt sought comfort and distraction in the world that he knew best: his library. For his trip to Africa, he had spent months choosing the books that he would take with him, ordering special volumes that had been beautifully bound in pigskin, with type reduced to the smallest legible size, so that the books would be as light as possible."

Vipers, piranhas, poisonous plants, insect swarms were all serious threats as were Indians armed with poison tipped arrows. 

Roosevelt ended his journey sick with fever having lost 1/4 of his body weight. It was indeed Teddy Roosevelt’s darkest journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr

Also see recent review posted just before this one "The Life We Bury"

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The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr, is a book that the Wall Street Journal said should be “required reading for anyone attempting to write a memoir or who lives for literature”. Mary Karr can teach you about memoir but she becomes a little intimidating with her credentials. She is an English professor at Syracuse University, a successful non fiction writer, and you can tell she really knows her stuff.    

Karr is passionate about her belief in the memoir approach and important literary style. She says “There is a lingering snobbery in the literary world that wants to disqualify what is broadly called nonfiction from the category of literature”. 

As expected in a book like this she covers the basics. The importance of truth and the road to exaggeration. Why memoirs fail. Her own attempts at memoir lend a lot to the dialog.

Many offer book reviews and finding something to present here that hasn’t been already well reviewed is very difficult. One thing about this book that stood out for me was chapter 23, 
Michael Herr: Start in Kansas, End in Oz. Even the title of this chapter teaches an important lesson, but the chapter refers to Michael Kerr "Voice" in his on-war memoir “Dispatches” and his narration of “Apocalypse Now”. These are used to demonstrate that where you start and end is so important.  We read this type of author to share the journey. We become a voyeur, eavesdropping while watching out the window. It is suggested that we are ourselves responsible for all we do but as well as all we see.

Apocalypse Now starts out in a memorable way. “There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, I’d lie on my bed and look at it......”  Mary Karr used an approach that she used in her writing classes. She picked apart the writing, one sentence at a time.  She shows how, line by line, the writing builds up to the very substance the book is known for. A favorite chapter.
  
This will be an important book on both reading and writing in the years ahead. 

The Whistler & End of Watch

The Whistler by John Grisham

(Catching up some reviews, two at a time. See the Comment section for some updated thoughts on these reviews.) 

John Grisham continues to use his "formula for writing successful books" and it is still addictive. He has written about 30 legal thrillers.  His books are just plain fun to read. Both Grisham and Stephen King are addictive authors.

"The Whistler" opens, of course, with judicial investigator Lacy Stoltz concerned about a judge on the take.  A lawyer who went to jail and is now out is going to help. (this indeed is the formula but Grisham’s)

It is a story of racketeering that combines the uppity Gulf Coast society, some brilliant legal minds, and the old Catfish Mafia now evolved into the Coast Mafia. (No one weaves legal situations and the life in the Southeast better)

Lacy’s approach is to learn how bad the judge is. The answer is very bad, and the bad guys are getting away with murder. Thank goodness for a whistle-blower and those helping her who also have plans of their own.

I have read and enjoyed all of John Grisham’s books but not often have I reviewed his books. Knowing a little more about him can help. A story about him from January 2016 gives some insight into his career.

Bookends, a popular literary TV show, had John Grisham and Steven King as their main attraction. They have been friends for 25 years and you could feel the respect that they both had for each other both personally and professionally.

In this special they both shared a lot about their career. Grisham shared his experience in writing his first book, "A Time to Kill". He said he bought the first run of 1000 copies and then worked to sell them all himself. That was back in 1989.

John Grisham was a surprise and it was interesting to see how similar his and Stephen King's lives and careers had been. Similiar careers. Both started with a break on their first book. Both talented writers.

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This is the closing a trilogy of 3 books; Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. The same villain and many of the same characters.

Retired detective Bill Hodges and investigative partner Holly Gibney have worked on this case from the very start (all three books) with things pulling from the first volume to the present.
Brady Hartsfield, mass murderer, has now acquired psychic powers and is experimenting and glad to do so, with ways to convince the innocent to kill themselves. The very people that he failed to kill in Mr Mercedes. 

Brady doesn’t like being trapped in a unmovable body but with some technology and other creepy stuff he is more dangerous than ever. The technology used is anything but modern day and it is like using Pac-man but still having it be exciting and effective. 

It is indeed the “End of Watch” for the villain and for the the hero. Each book easily could stand on its own, but they work a long plot that finally comes to a typical Stephen King larger story.