Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin

Title: Five Presidents:  My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford
Author: Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
Read by: George Newbern
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 14 hours and 32 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Clint Hill was a secret service agent for five presidents starting with Eisenhower.  Raised in a Lutheran family in North Dakota, Hill married girlfriend Gwen while a junior in college.  After college he served in the army and then looked for a steady history teacher / coach job, but couldn’t find one that would support his family.  He applied for a secret service job and after a few retirements was lucky to be hired on full time with the secret service.

What Clint Hill didn’t realize at that time, was that he was about to become a firsthand witness to many of the iconic events of United States history from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.  He is most remembered as the secret service man that crawled up onto the back of the car after JFK’s assassination and pushed first lady Jackie Kennedy back into the seat for protection.  That would ultimately define Clint Hill to not only the nation, but also to himself as he struggled for years from the post-traumatic stress of the event.

I enjoyed this book immensely and have been telling all of my friends, relatives, and students great tidbits of history from it.  While the raucous 2016 election cycle continues, I enjoyed learning more about past presidents and how different and similar they are to our current political climate.  One of the things I was most disturbed about was that Clint Hill thought the events of 2016 reminded him of the tumultuous year of 1968.  What was the best for me is that Hill was able to tell the story of these presidents from a different side than I had read before.  This was someone who was intimately involved with these great leaders and had no political agenda.

Clint Hill greatly admired Eisenhower and learned a lot from traveling with him and seeing the adoration he inspired from countries all over the world.  He also saw that he was truly lucky to have been born in the United States.  Eisenhower had a great work schedule that I am in awe of.  He would have intense work for half the day and then would golf the other half.  For all that gets said in the media about the golf and vacations of our last two presidents, they have nothing on these presidents of the past.

I enjoyed learning about the Kennedy years where Hill was assigned as the first lady’s secret service.  As Kennedy was the first Catholic President, there was a lot of fear at that time of the unknown.  I enjoyed learning about how personable Kennedy was, learning all of the secret service men’s names and families.  They felt like part of the family.  Hill describes it as being the glowing Camelot years as you’ve always heard about, that’s what makes the assassination of President Kennedy even more devastating.

Lyndon Johnson was a complicated man.  He didn’t trust his detail or make their guard of him very easy, which I found strange as the president right before him had been assassinated.  He was crude, loud mouthed, and vulgar at times, but although he didn’t seem to have empathy for those that were close to him, he had great empathy for the people of the nation.  I was touched by how the Vietnam War affected him so deeply and of his secret prayer meetings with a Catholic priest.  Being raised by parents who always blamed Johnson for Vietnam, it was interesting to read about how much he truly suffered and tried to get the United States out of the conflict.

After being in charge of the President’s detail, Hill was moved to guard Vice President Spiro Agnew.  In a political year where there seems to be no bars, it was interesting to read how taxes brought Agnew down and the entire Watergate Scandal brought down Nixon.  I didn’t know much about Agnew besides his resignation, but he sounds like he was a good man.  Hill moved up the chain at the end of Nixon’s administration, but the pressures of the job took their toll and he retired early, not too far into Ford’s administration.

Hill has written two more books about the Kennedy years and I really would like to read them.  Not only was the living history excellent in this book, but I also enjoyed learning more about the pressures of working for the secret service.  I thought I work a lot, but Hill hardly saw his family or spent the holidays with them with his travels with the Presidents and duties.

George Newbern was an excellent narrator and I thought of him as the voice of Clint Hill.  I listened to this book on my way to and from downstate Michigan and it kept me riveted the entire way and also kept me from falling asleep!

Favorite Quote:

“If there was one thing I had learned . . . it was that politics was a damn dirty business”

Overall, Five Presidents is an excellent book of living history of what it took to be a secret service man and the details of the moments that made our modern United States history.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
Read by: Luke Thompson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 35 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a gripping World War II narrative set in Great Britain that focuses on four unlikely heroes.  Tom and Alistair are flat mates when war is first declared.  Tom is married to his job in education and believes in its importance during times of war.  Alistair helps with hiding England’s priceless paintings and then joins the fight.  While over in France, he quickly discovers that war is hell.  He’s able to keep up a good front, while inside he is shell shocked.

Mary North volunteers for the fight and is assigned a role as a teacher, taking the place of the men that have gone oversees.  She is not sure how she will like it at first, but soon discovers that she has a gift for teaching and that she loves to teach in an unconventional way.   Her first week of school, she meets a young African American student, Zachary.  Zachary is sent to the countryside with all of the children to protect them from air raids, but after a tragedy, is sent back to London.  Mary convinces Tom to allow her to open a school back up again for the few children still in London.

The story starts out as a tale of relationships and a plucky girl trying to start a school, but slowly devolves into a much deeper story about life and loss. This mimics the world at the time thinking that it will be a quick war and worried more about getting a date and then slowly dissolving into the horror and realty of the coldness and terror of war. The descriptive writing for many of these scenes was fantastic.  Listening to the audiobook on my way to and from work, I could truly picture the various scenes and that helped to strike the wonder and horror that I believe the author was looking for.  The description of the Blitz of London was terrifying.  I can’t imagine how people survived and got up and went to work each day with death waiting imminently.

I loved the dialogue in this book. The witty repartee between characters and in the letters between characters cracked me up.  It had the particular humor that British are so well known for and that I immensely enjoy.

I liked the sound effects used in this audiobook from the jarring air raid sirens that started the book to the great phone call special effects that sounded just like someone talking on an old fashioned phone, they really enhanced the experience of the audiobook listener/reader.  Luke Thompson was a good narrator.

This novel had a slow start, but the slow start led up to epic scenes throughout the novel. It also allowed for great character development.  The characters that ended the story were not the same as when the story started.  The descriptions of the epic scenes were cinematic.  I could totally visualize the scenes from listening to the descriptions and could imagine this book being a great movie.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven also tackled very weighty issues such alcoholism, drug abuse, posttraumatic stress syndrome, and racism.  The issues are not solved, but they are looked into with a clear eye and with much more depth than I am used to seeing in a historical fiction novel.

I was interested to learn that Chris Cleave was inspired to write this novel after reading love letters that his grandparents had written each other during WWII.  I wish the audiobook would have included an afterword with more detail on this.  Luckily I did find an NPR story about it at this link:  http://www.npr.org/2016/05/07/477141265/chris-cleve-s-wwii-novel-draws-from-family-s-bravery

My favorite quotes:
“To be in love was to understand how alone one had been before.  It was to know that if one were ever alone again, there would be exemption from the agony of it.  It wasn’t the happiest of feeling.”

“This helpful war.  It makes us better people and then it tries to kill us.”

“The young see the world they wish for.  The old see the world as it is.”

“But what good is it to teach a child to count, if you don’t show him that he counts for something?”

Overall, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a novel I won’t soon forget and is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I highly recommend it!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Outlander Season 1

I have longed for Outlander to be filmed since I first read the novel over twenty years ago.  As the years progressed and rumors of a movie version popped up here and there, I hoped they were wrong.  I wanted such an epic book to get a mini-series treatment.  When Starz picked it up as a series, I was overjoyed.  Especially with Ron Moore as the director.  His other series, Battlestar Galactica, is one of my favorite series of all time.  It had great characters, complex storytelling, a compelling narrative, and a fantastic world.  These are elements of the Outlander story that I felt assured he could bring to the screen, especially with his wife as a super fan.  

I wasn’t a fan of how Season 1 was broken up into two parts.  My husband and I watched the first part when it first aired on Starz, but got rid of cable before Part 2 was available.  I purchased it when it became available digitally on Amazon.com.  We just finished it.  We do better keeping on track when we watch it live.  I’ll also admit that since I knew what was coming at the end of the first season I put off of watching it.  I may have spent most of the last episode with my head under a cover.  I didn’t want to watch the brutality and the rape. I also skim that part of the book.

The following are my brief thoughts on the elements of the series.

Story:  you can’t go wrong with working with Diana Gabaldon and having her in an episode herself was every fan’s dream.

Setting:  Scotland is beautiful and is a star of the series itself.  It’s been amazing seeing all of the pictures on Facebook of various blogging/Outlander fans making the Trek to Scotland.  I would love to do that one day myself.

Characters:  Everyone has their own version of how they think Jamie and Claire should look.  I’ll admit that I always considered Jamie to be more of a strapping man than Diana Gabaldon has stated he should be.  Actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have done an outstanding job bringing these characters to life.  I’m still a bit sad that Claire isn’t shorter with a nice “round arse” (which I took to be that Claire wasn’t so skinny), but actress Caitriona Balfe is outstanding in her performance.

Favorite Episode:  The first episode was my favorite as I loved seeing my dream of Outlander finally on screen.   My other favorite episode was the wedding episode.  It was passionate, Claire’s dress was beautiful and it was beautifully filmed.

Music:  I am a fan of Bear McCreary and actually own the Season 1 soundtrack of his work on Battlestar Galactica.  I know happily also own the Season 1 soundtrack of Outlander.  I love the song in the intro to the series, the adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Sing me a Song of a Lad that is Gone.  It really sets the mood to the series.

Ben’s thoughts:  “Whatever makes you happy” My husband Ben was forced to watch it, but he had read the book and found it enjoyable.  Ben liked that it made me feel romantic and was also intrigued by the Scottish clan system.

Ben and I are going to get Starz now to watch Season 2.  Trying to find time to watch it without kids with busy work schedules is hard, but we want to be caught up before Season 3 starts.  Overall, this is a series not to be missed.  Even if you aren’t a book fan, it’s an epic story with great acting, costumes, music, and setting that is not to be missed.

Have you watched Season 1?  What was your favorite episode?  Who was your favorite character?