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Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation by Brad Ricca

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation by Brad RiccaMrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 3, 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 432
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
two-stars

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes tells the true story of Grace Humiston, the detective and lawyer who turned her back on New York society life to become one of the nation’s greatest crimefighters during an era when women weren’t involved with murder investigations. After agreeing to take the sensational Cruger case, Grace and her partner, the hard-boiled detective Julius J. Kron, navigated a dangerous web of secret boyfriends, two-faced cops, underground tunnels, rumors of white slavery, and a mysterious pale man — in a desperate race against time.

Grace's motto "Justice for those of limited means" led her to strange cases all over the world. From defending an innocent giant on death row to investigating an island in Arkansas with a terrible secret; from the warring halls of Congress to a crumbling medieval tower in Italy, Grace solved crimes in-between shopping at Bergdorf Goodman and being marked for death by the sinister Black Hand. Grace was appointed as the first woman U.S. district attorney in history and the first female consulting detective to the NYPD. Despite her many successes in social justice, at the height of her powers Grace began to see chilling connections in the cases she solved, leading to a final showdown with her most fearsome adversary of all.

This is the first-ever narrative biography of this singular woman the press nicknamed after fiction's greatest detective. This poignant story reveals important corollaries between missing girls, the role of the media, and the real truth of crime stories. The great mystery of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes —and its haunting twist ending—is how one woman could become so famous only to disappear completely.

Ugh. This book was so boring. Considering the subject matter, you would think that Ricca would have an easy home run on his hands.

Considering everyone’s current love of all things Sherlock Holmes and all of the YA books out there trying to show a different version of Sherlock Holmes, you would think a non-fiction book showcasing Mrs. Sherlock Holmes (Mrs. Grace Humiston) would have all kinds of intrigue in it. Instead you have flip flopping time lines, cases upon cases where you don’t know what you are supposed to think, multiple people thrown in this book, and then a cause to question Grace herself for some of the things that she started to accuse the NYPD in not looking into with regards to missing girls cases.

I really think if Ricca had just straight up wrote a biography on Grace Humiston and making the case she got well known for (Ruth Cruger) another case she worked among many cases this book could have worked better.

Instead Ricca focuses on the Cruger case, and throws in some other ones, gets into Grace accusing the NYPD and others of covering up missing girls being sold into white slavery and then goes back and forth from the U.S. to Italy and I think backs away from showing that maybe Grace was led astray by many people claiming that some of this missing girls were sold into slavery. That is where the book lost me at this point. There is no real evidence based on what Ricca shows or what Grace says in this book that shows there was some mass cover-up going on with white girls being sold. It seems though that the police were definitely derelict on doing their due diligence in ensuring that missing girls cases were worked appropriately.

When Ricca focuses on the Cruger case the book shines better. You get to see that due to detectives questioning Ruth’s morals and that she probably just eloped that they gave her killer (no spoilers people, this took place in 1917) time to get away and I felt sad that justice was not found for Ruth or her poor family who never believed she run away. I think that Ms. Humiston did a very good service in getting involved with the case and showing how preconceptions ruined the search for Ruth. But when Ms. Humiston gets into the whole hundreds of girls and other are being kidnapped and forced into sex trade I had a hard time with. There are no real facts there that I thought held water.

The writing was so-so in this book. I felt like Ricca needed to look up some better adjectives here and there when describing things. The book read as blah after a while. He seemed focused on what people were wearing at all times and what people’s faces looked like. The sentence structure was confusing too a lot of times.

Also I would say that for those who think that this is just focusing on the Ruth Cruger case it is not. It jumps around a lot looking at most of Grace’s cases and then circles back here and there to the Ruth Cruger case.

The ending of the book does a tidy up on what happened to everyone in the book that felt like there were a lot of details missing.

This book also made me think of the recent D.C. Missing Girls issue that came up a few weeks ago.

The DC police started tweeting out pictures of missing girls and many claimed that the law enforcement were not devoting their time in finding these girls and many claimed that these girls were being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. It took a while to come out, but the media finally found that for except a couple of cases, most of the missing girls returned home, and or had run away before and returned home after a period of time.

Is it good that so many in law enforcement and elsewhere did not seem concerned about these girls that they labeled a certain way? Absolutely not. But I also don’t like people jumping into huge conspiracies with no basis in fact about what was going on with these girls as well.

Do the DC police need to do a better job broadcasting missing girls and making sure that they use as many resources as possible to find out where these girls are and make sure they ask the right questions such as why are these girls running from home? Absolutely.

Was I disappointed that so many people I follow on social media just retweeted out insane theories with no facts? Yep.

two-stars

Hidden Figures : The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures : The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee ShetterlyHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Published by William Morrow on September 6, 2016
Genres: African American, Nonfiction
Pages: 368
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
five-stars

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.

Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.

Wow. Just wow. I saw this movie two weeks ago and was blown away by it.  Reading the book just gave me even more details about the African American women who came out as human computers (I had no idea that was where the word computers came from, they computed so were seen as computers) and helped shaped the United States space program.

Shetterly has historian disease (yeah I use to suffer from this as well, historians unite!) so the flow was off a few times. And there are details sprinkled in sometimes that I honestly didn’t think were adding anything to what central point I think she was trying to get across. That said, I was blown away by the time I got to the end of this book. I am embarrassed that I had no clue about any of these women (Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan) that Shetterly follows in “Hidden Figures”.

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Shetterly does a great job in her prologue in setting up the town of Hampton, Virginia, where she grew up as a kid. Can you imagine a town full of African American scientists, teachers, doctors, mathematicians? I honestly was astonished reading about how Shetterly grew up. It sounds like paradise to me. This introduction is a great set-up to what caused Shetterly to find out more about Katherine Johnson, one of the central figures in “Hidden Figures.” From there Shetterly goes back to the U.S. during World War II where many agencies were looking for anyone that had any mathematician skills to apply.  The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) needed people and due to a lot of legislation that was being passed at the time, it was a good time for many African Americans to apply since they could be assured more money than what they would receive teaching.

Shetterly then moves between the years of NACA eventually becoming NASA, the space race with the Russians, and the African American women who were there for it all.

This book primarily focuses on Dorothy Vaughan and jumps back and forth between her being the central figure and adding in details about Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson. I honestly would have loved to read one book for each of these women. Shetterly does a great job of showing the growing Civil Rights issues that were going on that seemed to not affect NASA personnel much. If you could do your job that is all anyone cared about. There were still little things like colored tables to eat at in the cafeteria, separate bathrooms, etc. but I loved how most of the women Shetterly mentions ignored it or just blatantly took down signs. There were also issues with some of these women having to take a step down in order to go further once they were all at the end of their promotion opportunities they could have at certain jobs. Do not get me started talking about the GS-schedule. I can be here all day.

The writing at times had me sitting up and saying amen.

“As a child, however, I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.

“But before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female.”

“Through its inability to solve its racial problems, the United States handed the Soviet Union one of the most effective propaganda weapons in their arsenal.
Newly independent countries around the world, eager for alliances that would support their emerging identities and set them on their path to long-term prosperity, were confronted with a version of the same question black Americans had asked during World War II. Why would a black or brown nation stake its future on America’s model of democracy when within its own borders the United States enforced discrimination and savagery against people who looked just like them?”

“She trained the girls in her Girl Scout troop to believe that they could be anything, and she went to lengths to prevent negative stereotypes of their race from shaping their internal views of themselves and other Negroes. It was difficult enough to rise above the silent reminders of Colored signs on the bathroom doors and cafeteria tables. But to be confronted with the prejudice so blatantly, there in that temple to intellectual excellence and rational thought, by something so mundane, so ridiculous, so universal as having to go to the bathroom…In the moment when the white women laughed at her, Mary had been demoted from professional mathematician to a second-class human being, reminded that she was a black girl whose piss wasn’t good enough for the white pot.”

As I said earlier, the flow was not that great. I think that Shetterly had a tough time deciding what to include and what to take out. I can see how she tried to make some of the pieces fit so you can see how each of these women were important to the space race and how they worked together. Also Shetterly includes details about how African American men in the military at the time were still treated horribly by white Americans who saw them in uniform. Reading this right before Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend definitely made me appreciate all of these men and women who went first in order to make it easier for those in my generation. We are not there yet, not by a long shot, but when I read about what went on back in the 1940s-1970s I don’t know if I could have been that brave or strong to deal with it.

The setting of Hampton, Virginia during this time sounds great. It really does sound like the nerdiest place alive and I loved it.

The Virginia Air and Space Center, the official visitors center for both Langley Air Force Base and NASA Langley Research Center.

For me, this book was deeply personal. I honestly didn’t even think I could be anything more than a wife and mother. I was raised to believe that was the best job out there. College was something that the white kids I went to school with aspired to. Just because I was one of the smartest kids in school did not figure in at all to it. My parents flat out did not have the money to send me to college. My older brother luckily got an athletic scholarship to go to college, and even he did not graduate on time due to him not watching to make sure he met all of his requirements to graduate. However, lucky for me, my parents via financial aid and scholarships that my church told my mother about made sure I got into school. And luckily for me when I was about to graduate from college, I was given the opportunity to interview for graduate school. Due to my GRE schools and undergraduate grades and other activities I managed to go to graduate school for free. Even now at the age of 36 I realize that even though I loved to read, was seen as one of the smartest kids in school, my life could have so easily went another way if I didn’t have someone stepping up along the way to make sure that I got the same opportunity that many people take for granted.

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Thank you to all three of these women and other women that the book mentions for doing the impossible.

This is definitely going to become one of my permanent books on my bookshelf at home.

five-stars

A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film by Jean Shepherd

A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film by Jean ShepherdA Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
Published by Broadway Books on January 1st 1983
Genres: Humor, Holiday, Nonfiction, Short Stories
Pages: 156
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The holiday film A Christmas Story, first released in 1983, has become a bona fide Christmas perennial, gaining in stature and fame with each succeeding year. Its affectionate, wacky, and wryly realistic portrayal of an American family’s typical Christmas joys and travails in small-town Depression-era Indiana has entered our imagination and our hearts with a force equal to It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film. Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”?

The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.

Who hasn’t seen “A Christmas Story?” I have been watching this movie since I was 6 years old and it’s been a holiday tradition in my family that every year we watch this. Heck, I am not going home this year, but my brothers, sister, and I are still going to watch it and group chat. My favorite scene hands down is always watching how proud the Old Man was watching Ralphie playing with his BB gun that he wanted for Christmas.

Reading the book that inspired the film I can say that I was a bit disappointed with the structure. Since I am so familiar with the movie and can quote that thing off the top of my head, the book only really focuses on Christmas for one part of the book. The other parts occur at different times of the year, and I thought the last part focusing on the Bumpus’s family was off-putting and pretty gross in parts.

The book starts off introducing the book and tying it into the movie that many readers may know about. From there it goes into the quest for the Red Ryder BB Gun. There are course are many of the same scenes in the movie so we have the whole “you’ll shoot your eye out.” and even the same admonishments from his teacher and Santa Claus, however, he still gets his gift, the day before Christmas. Apparently in this household, Christmas Eve was when all of the presents were opened by this family, with Christmas Day all of the other relatives showing up to provide gifts. We also do get that scene were he almost did shoot his eye out, but lied to his mother about what happened and got away from it. I found parts of this story sweet and found myself smiling throughout.

We are provided other details about the terrible Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, The Old Man and his special award, his fight with a bully named Grover Dill, and how much the family hated it when a clan of hillbillies (the books words) called Bumpus moved in next door. I am really surprised with how well the movie/screenplay was since the movie intertwines everything quite beautifully. The book jumped around a lot and maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I did not have the movie playing in my head as background while reading.

I thought the writing hit the right level of nostalgia for childhood things like snow storms, being warm in the house, and love of Christmas and Santa Claus. After that though, we get Shephard’s comments on marriage (his parents) and how they work. I thought looking at the major award section and how his father and mother quietly dueled over the lamp that my mother would have outlawed in our home too was pretty funny. However, unlike with the movie, this causes a three day freeze between his mother and father, before his father finally breaks the silence and everyone goes to the movies afterwards.

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The flow didn’t really work though in this one I have to say. I think it’s because we have Shepard using a present incident (like the woman who was screeching about the terrible toy industry to him as an adult) to recall his childhood affection for his Red Ryder BB Gun. We get another off segue when Shepard does his best to hit on some woman (sounds like this took place during the 1960s) and is thwarted by her female lover which leads to him talking about his parents struggle over a lamp.

The setting of the book takes place in Indiana during The Great Depression. I didn’t really get a sense that the family was struggling, which is weird, cause my grandmother before she passed away still was all about never throwing out food and keeping everything she had ever been given because she always had a fear about running out of food or needing clothes and blankets. She also passed this along to my mother who was a pack rat and this is why if any of you ever visit my home you will see how minimalist I am. I do a yearly purge because I still dream of rooms filled with old blankets that scratch and smelled, but we had to put on our beds every winter because they were still good.

Shepherd does a great job though with describing his neighborhood and the times of the day and how everyone was crazy for prizes in newspapers along with listening to the radio every night.

The ending was a bit of a letdown though. The book abruptly ends and I thought it needed an epilogue or something included since you feel like another story is just waiting to be told.

three-half-stars

How to Build a Museum Was Wonderfully Done and Very Good to Read in the Current Environment

How to Build a Museum Was Wonderfully Done and Very Good to Read in the Current EnvironmentHow to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture by Tonya Bolden
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on September 6th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, African American
Pages: 64
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
five-stars

The first national museum whose mission is to illuminate for all people, the rich, diverse, complicated, and important experiences and contributions of African Americans in America is opening.
And the history of NMAAHC--the last museum to be built on the National Mall--is the history of America.

The campaign to set up a museum honoring black citizens is nearly 100 years old; building the museum itelf and assembling its incredibly far-reaching collections is a modern story that involves all kinds of people, from educators and activists, to politicians, architects, curators, construction workers, and ordinary Americans who donated cherished belongings to be included in NMAAHC's thematically-organized exhibits.

Award-winning author Tonya Bolden has written a fascinating chronicle of how all of these ideas, ambitions, and actual objects came together in one incredible museum. Includes behind-the-scenes photos of literally "how to build a museum" that holds everything from an entire segregated railroad car to a tiny West African amulet worn to ward off slave traders.

History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something

to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the

past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the

fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it

in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It

could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our

frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.

-James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt,” 1965

A great introduction to how the newest Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture was built.

This coffee table book was great and I am so happy that I took time out to deal with the crowd of people at the National Book Festival and get a copy of this. Since you cannot even get into this museum until March sometime (the timed passes sell out in seconds, yes getting in here is more prized than Hamilton tickets) this gives you a great peek at the history behind the museum.  The book also has a lot of photographs and other memorabilia tucked within its pages.

On December 16, 2003, President Bush signed the bill that authorized the creation of a national museum of African American History and Culture. After that the book follows the man who would  be tasked with bringing the museum into being, Lonnie G. Bunch III. From there it goes into the museum looking for objects to display and to find someone to design it. The museum showcases thinks important to the African American culture that takes a look at slavery, emancipation, serving in the military, fighting for equal rights, and impact to sports, music, and other forms of art.

Here are some of the pictures from the book:

I was able to stand outside and listen to President Obama as he gave a speech and opened the museum this year. I felt connected and seen in this world in a way I had not before. It was wonderful to have so many people of all different races and background there to witness this museum opening. I will never forget it.

 

five-stars

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