It’s a diligent group — an organization and staff with a love of Downtown Washington at heart, a board of directors, who assure that DW Inc.’s mission is fulfilled and goals are met, and four working committees, promoting Washington and maintaining historical preservation through economic development. The fruits of their labor are on display in our beautiful riverside city — take a drive downtown or attend one of the many events promoted by Downtown Washington Inc. and you’ll see their enthusiastic commitment firsthand. Despite being busy 24-7, many connected with Downtown Washington Inc. are avid readers, and turned their focus to Novel Ideas this month to bring Missourian readers some great summer books. Page On, enjoy!

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Grant

By Ron Chernow

Reviewed by Bridgette Kelch

I am reading my way through books about our nation’s Founding Fathers and presidential biographies, in the order in which they served.

I’ve always had a great love of presidential history, had visited Hamilton’s home in New York and heard all the hype for “Hamilton: An American Musical.” I attempted to read “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow and was having great difficulty because of its length and my busy schedule, so I listened to the audio book and loved doing so.

This led me to read Chernow’s “Washington: A Life,” and next I tackled “Benjamin Franklin” by Walter Isaacson.

I followed that with books on Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. For this feature, I dug right into “Grant” by Chernow.

As I began to read, I tried to think about what I knew of Grant: He led the U.S. forces in the Civil War, he had ties to Missouri, he was a drunk and smoked cigars, he became president, and during that office was corrupt. I liked him, but knew he had some serious issues; after reading “Grant” I think what I knew is pretty typical of what most Americans know of our former president.

The vast research Chernow put into this book is clear from the beginning. The esteemed author was able to set the record straight on Grant’s use of alcohol and his two presidential terms.  

Grant was most likely an alcoholic, but it never interfered with his official duties. His enemies used rumor and gossip to hurt his reputation, but Lincoln knew he needed a man of action and that man was Grant.  Lincoln was once warned of Grant’s drinking and responded, “Can you send a barrel of whatever whiskey he drinks to all my other generals?”

In his two presidential terms, President Grant was viewed as corrupt, incompetent, a loser and again as an alcoholic. He was the only president to serve two consecutive terms between Andrew Johnson and Woodrow Wilson — only one out of 12 presidents to do so!  He also gave jobs to “a prodigious number of blacks, Jews, native Americans and women.”

After leaving office, Grant’s bad luck struck again when he discovered he had throat cancer and was bankrupt from a bad business deal. Grant published his memoir, which is brutally honest and striking.

Chernow’s “Grant” has now given me a wholly different opinion of Grant: He was humble, he had bad luck in business, he was a military genius, an adept politician, an advocate for black Americans, and a devoted husband and father.

The biography of his life educated and entertained me from first page to last.

Robin

By Dave Itzkoff

Reviewed by Toni Cavin

The first time I saw Robin Williams on television, I wondered what this hairy little man was on. He talked faster than the speed of light and bounced from subject to subject with no pauses or connections.

But I was in awe with how easily he touched on pieces of my life and analyzed them with such accuracy, while still finding humor in mundane events.

From then on, I would watch him every chance I could. I often tried to suppress my laughter so that I wouldn’t miss the next sentence. Then, I would feel tears welling up as he morphed into the most sensitive, compassionate man I had ever seen exposing his soul. I often wondered from what well he was drawing from to illicit all of these emotions.

While reading “Robin,” by Dave Itzkoff, I was finally able to understand what formed the actor’s fractured and fragile personality. Although, as is often made clear in the book, no one ever really was able to get into Robin’s head and understand all of his demons. He was at once a very shy man and an extremely driven performer.

Along with understanding Robin’s coming of age in the early comedy circuit, the book gives insight into the whole San Francisco and Los Angeles comedy scene. I found it very interesting to learn about his relationships with many of the other now well-known comedians who were crafting their identities at the same time.

By the end of the book, I just wanted to embrace Robin and reassure him that he could find some security in relationships that would last longer than a week or month or year. But I realized that I would have had no better chance of saving him from himself than the many people who had tried to love him but were never granted access to his soul.

I hope he finally found peace.

The Darkling Bride

By Laura Andersen, Reviewed by Carolyn Witt

“The Darkling Bride” is a true Gothic with all the characteristics found therein. A dark tortured hero, an intelligent sharp heroine who is threatened by hostile family and/or resident ghosts all in a historic looming castle in County Wicklow, Ireland.

I knew I was in for a wild ride when the author referenced Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart, authors I read from my teens who were masters of the Gothic tale.

Our heroine is half Chinese, with the interesting name of Carragh Ryan. She was a native of Boston and adopted into the Ryan household. Her past also holds secrets that she tries to ignore as she takes a job working in the 700-year-old library at Deeprath Castle.

Her job is to catalog the collection before the estate is turned over to the Irish National Trust. Nirvana for a bibliophile!

Throw into the mix a strained family of Gallaghers who have resided in the castle from the time it was a Norman keep. Our hero and his sister were children when their father was murdered and their mother fell from the Bride’s Tower; they were 10 and 15 years old respectively. These violent deaths haunted their lives for 23 years and the castle has only been reopened to facilitate the transfer to the Trust and to catalog the library.

Aiden Gallagher, his sister Kyla and her two daughters, along with a somewhat estranged husband, join their Great Aunt Nessa at Deeprath just as  Inspector McKenna of Serious Crimes Review (we would call it cold cases) of the Garda reopens an investigation of the unsolved murders. (Murder? Suicide?)

A parallel story unfolds at the beginning of each chapter focusing on Jenny Gallagher who married a writer in 1879, bore a son, descended into madness and jumped from the Bride Tower three years after her marriage. Our heroine hopes to find a lost manuscript written during his marriage, lost and never published.

This technique is found in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. The two stories combine and make for a significant plot detail. Throw in the more ancient tale of the Darkling Bride and there is enough Gothic atmosphere for the most fervent fan. The story of Jenny and Evan Chase, her husband, is a key element in solving the 20th century crime of murder.

With a little help from resident ghosts, the story comes to a satisfying end with villain caught, romance blooming and most questions answered. I could have used a bit more closure on the Darkling Bride part of the story. The Irish setting was well-described and added greatly to the atmosphere. The characters were clearly drawn and easy to get attached to as the story moved forward. If you fondly remember those Gothic tales with a lovely maiden on the cover, in great distress fleeing from a dark, looming castle/mansion, or if you are new to this style and need a bit of an escapist read, I highly recommend “The Darkling Bride” by Laura Andersen.

Full Battle Rattle

By Changiz Lahidji and Ralph Pezzullo, Reviewed by Chris Eckelkamp

“In Full Battle Rattle,” by Changiz Lahidji and Ralph Pezzullo, retired Master Sgt. Lahidji writes about his time serving the United States of America as a Green Beret; he spent over 24 years in the Beret’s Special Forces.

Master Sgt. Lahidji was born and raised in Iran, prior to coming to America in the 1970s to seek freedom and opportunity. By 1979, Lahidji was the first Muslim member of the Green Berets, where he would spend more than two decades traveling to dozens of territories defending the U.S.

Each chapter of this thrilling book details a different conflict where Special Forces were needed, and Changiz risked his life each time. From the Middle East to Africa to the Caribbean, Changiz was involved in well over 100 combat missions.

I found “Full Battle Rattle” an easy read, with each chapter grabbing your attention as it educated the reader on the impact our Special Forces and military has across the globe.

Changiz came to our country because of the freedoms he believed in, and spent years of his life defending those freedoms. His courage and work ethic are truly inspiring. I enjoyed reading about the successes and failures of the longest serving Special Forces A-Team soldier in U.S. history.

A False Report

By T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong; Reviewed by Leanna Epperson

“A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America,” by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, is a true story that brings one woman’s nightmarish story of being victimized to light, relating how an investigation went devastatingly wrong at the onset.

It wasn’t until two female detectives, one from Colorado and one from Washington, started investigating like claims in their respective states and sharing evidence that it was discovered they had a serial rapist on their hands.

There are several victims in this book, but the main focus is on one woman, an 18-year-old named Marie, from Seattle, who was raped by her attacker, then continuously victimized by the male detectives working the case, and even by her family and friends, none of whom believed her story. She was ultimately righted but not before her life was turned upside down.

Marie was a troubled teenager and spent time in different foster homes throughout childhood. By her late teenage years, she was splitting time between two homes — one with Peggy, a structured disciplinarian, the other was with Shannon, who was freer and fun loving.

When Marie turned 18, she moved into an apartment, but still spent time with the two foster moms, the biggest influence on her life. When Marie was raped, they believed her troubled past caused her to make false claims as a cry for attention.

Marie was brave enough to report her rape even though her attacker took pictures and threatened to publish them online. When she related her story to detectives and friends, and it wasn’t the same every time, she faced skepticism. Eventually she recanted the story and faced criminal charges for filing a false report. Sadly, it took two harrowing years for Marie to be vindicated.

“A False Report” showcases how the rape culture in America has perpetuated the continued cycle of fear and the heinous way victims are treated when they do report an attack. The book also includes information about advances made since the ’70s when rape kits were created and distributed to better help with investigations.

Even still, in the 21st century, victims are made to feel as though they have done something wrong.  This book was a fascinating, eye-opening read and each page kept you wanting more.

Love and Death in the Sunshine State

By Cutter Wood

Reviewed by Danielle Grotewiel

“Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime” is the first book published by Cutter Wood. As a fan of true crime novels I was anticipating the story of a gritty investigative author getting into the details of a crime.

This book is less true crime than a seeming autobiography of Wood. His effort resembled a graduate student writing about his forlorn love life and then saying “Oh, by the way . . . ”

I was expecting the book to delve into the impact the crime had on Wood’s life, but instead received an unfocused, sometimes rambling, account of his graduate and postgraduate life. Wood didn’t paint a clear picture of that life either.

It was difficult to empathize with Wood as a character in his own book. He may have been more relatable if he had actually explored his feelings for Erin and their relationship rather than recounting the bickering that happens in most relationships as though it was unique to their life.

The chapters that specifically focused on the crime were well written. While not completely fact-based, the account of the night of the crime from the perspective of Sabine, the victim, and the killer were engaging and captured my interest.

While I did enjoy the crime-based chapters, they only comprise six chapters in this 16-chapter book. If you are a true crime fan, I would not recommend “Love and Death in the Sunshine State.” I must add, however, that while this book wasn’t for me, it is receiving a number of positive reviews.

Resilient

By Rick Hanson

Reviewed by Angela Williams

In “Resilient,” Dr. Hanson, the clinical psychologist describes his book as a summary of what he has learned about helping people heal from the past, cope with the present and build a better future.

The book is broken down into four main parts, with three chapters in each section. One thing I greatly appreciated about the book is that Hanson stated toward the beginning that the book did not need to be read in order to be beneficial to the reader.

For example, Chapter 8 focuses on motivation. If that topic is something that would benefit you, it’s possible to skip ahead without interrupting the flow of the book.

Another thing that stood out to me regarding this book is the key point summary section at the end of each chapter. This is a basic recap of the important ideas in the chapter.

For me, this was very helpful as the psychological descriptions and terms were a little confusing at times. The key points summary drove home the intended messages.

I appreciated how Hanson included some personal life experiences he had.  Those made his points relatable and helped me reflect.   

I took away many thoughts and ideas after reading this book. They will help me in my role as a wife, mother and professional.  

The great thing about this book is I was able to highlight a lot of parts that I can go back to as I face new life challenges. I appreciated the opportunity to read and review this book!