Eager reader of history, mystery, biography, YA, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, paranormal, and etc. My reviews are usually positive--there are too many books I adore to finish those I don't.
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries are so heart, gut, and mind ensnaring that the first time through I always have trouble reading them slowly enough to fully appreciate the masterful webs of character, dialog, and scene she deploys to transform simple whodunits into psychologically complex stories. Haunting and atmospheric, these are Irish Noir, not cozies. Each book features a different detective which, I think, is part of what makes them feel compellingly real--no character’s actions, circumstances or personalities go through the distortions that sometimes become necessary if one individual is going to solve multiple, plot-worthy crimes.
Detective Steven Moran hasn’t been working murder cases, he’s been stuck with minor crimes, but he gets his chance to move up when Holly Mackey comes to him with evidence that someone at her exclusive all girl boarding school knows something about a year old unsolved murder that happened on the campus grounds. Moran brings that note to Antoinette Conway, the tough, touchy, rough edged detective still in charge of the case, and the two of them spend a long tension-filled day at St. Kilda’s, interviewing students, fending off the subversion of fellow officers, and chasing down clues--much to the dismay of the headmistress who wants to avoid upset parents and negative publicity. All the action in the book happens in the compressed time period of that one day, with alternate chapters flashing back to events at the school leading inexorably toward the murder.
As the two detectives try to sort out which girl posted the note claiming to know who killed Chris Harper, a formerly popular student from the neighboring boys’ school, the candidates quickly narrow to eight possibilities in two friend sets, groups that are very different except for the adolescent intensity of their intragroup connections. One group has a manipulative queen bee/mean girl leader who constantly tests the devotion of her minions, gullible girls willing to go to great lengths please her.They follow the cool rules that to them are as obvious and immutable as laws of nature--I mean there are some things you just DON’T DO, like wear jeans and no makeup to a fancy dance, and certain people just DO NOT belong together, like duh it’s WRONG and someone should MAKE SURE they break up.
The friends in the other set, which is Holly’s group, are instead rule breakers adept with snarky comebacks. More bonded to each other than they are with their families they revel in not being part of the crowd, celebrate, support, or at the least tolerate their differences, and are fiercely devoted to and protective of each other. Someone from one of the two groups saw something or knows something or maybe even did something about Chris Harper’s murder, but as the girls close ranks within their groups truth remains elusive.
The shaky, nascent but growing partnership of Detectives Moran and Conway adds one more angle to the plot’s potent friendship dynamic. Both detectives grew up on mean streets far from the homes of the wealthy students they are questioning, and though they work well together they don’t completely trust each other. I’ve enjoyed all of the books in the Dublin Murder series, some more than others, and The Secret Place is now among my favorites. All its elements add up to a dense, hard to put down story that had me churning through its chapters. I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions are mine.
When Darcy wrote his post-proposal, world-altering letter telling Elizabeth the truth about charming Mr. Wickham’s duplicity I was as shocked and shaken as she was, but due to the discretion of the characters readers get just a bare outline of what went on between Wickham and Darcy’s sister Georgiana. What exactly did happen and how did it come about? One can’t help being curious--or at least this reader would like details--so when I discovered that Melanie Kerr’s Follies Past centers on that event I eagerly began the book, hoping it would be an Austen-worthy story with wit, appealing characters, and maybe even a wedding.
Follies Past has three heroines and opens with none other than Caroline Bingley. She and her brother are on their way to Pemberley, and while this will be her first time meeting Darcy, Caroline is already determined to marry him, even contriving things so their arrival coincides with the flattering light of early evening. By the end of the visit Caroline is sure she is well on the way to an engagement, but back in London she becomes distracted when she falls hard for another man. He has no title or estate, but he’s disarmingly handsome, they share a wicked wit, and he’s absorbed with her in a way she realizes Darcy never was. The power of their attraction gives her second thoughts about marrying a man she “loves” mainly for his wealth.
True to her P&P characterization, Georgiana is painfully shy and the idea of mingling with London society overwhelms her, so Darcy allows Georgiana’s dearest, slightly older school chum to accompany her on a visit to the city. Clare, the story’s third heroine, is principled, sweet, genteelly determined, and sometimes conflicted. She loves reading novels but believing they are bad for the soul she throws all hers away before the trip, planning to set a good example for Georgiana. Georgiana looks up to Clare and they adore each other, but their situations are very different. While Clare has a highborn grandfather, she is also the daughter of a military man and without much fortune. Unlike Georgiana she has limited marriage prospects and as the book goes on her story becomes prominent.
When the trip to London reunites Georgiana and Wickham, who Georgiana adored as a child, it is Clare who is alarmed by Georgiana’s growing and, Clare thinks, inappropriate attachment. Darcy would set things right but he’s out of town inspecting properties with Bingley. Georgiana becomes distant and secretive so Clare decides she must do something, but what? There is no one around she can trust to help or advise her. Going to London is a wonderful opportunity for Clare, but being strictly brought up she feels distinctly uncomfortable around much of that city’s society, especially Darcy’s black sheep London cousin, the now ailing Lord Ashwell. Darcy has assured Georgiana that the vile rumors circulating about their cousin are just gossip, but might Darcy be blinded by family loyalty? Desperation to protect Georgiana forces prudent Clare to put herself in company she would avoid under any other circumstance.
I found so much to enjoy in Follies Past, including the sympathetic portrayal of Caroline Bingley. She’s the same character we met in P&P, but with more insight into her heart I felt moved by her story. Passages describing Caroline falling in love are the most convincing in the book, without being lewd they practically sizzle.
Playing small but important roles in the story is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s taciturn daughter Anne, and what a treat to get to know her--she’s a closet naturalist! Get Anne going about insects and she has lots to say. Anne also retains her P&P persona, but now that author Kerr has her talking we learn she has plans for her life, and isn’t the pawn of her mother everyone, including Lady Catherine, thinks she is.
Even Wickham gets a touch of tenderness from Kerr. We see him thwarted in love (yes, Wickham in love!) and with his hopes to lead a settled life dashed when Darcy (justifiably) denies him the living. It’s possible to (briefly) feel a little sorry for him.
I felt the foiling of Wickham’s elopement plan happened abruptly, once everyone was in place it resolved in a few paragraphs and Georgiana let it go very easily, but by then Clare has become the heart of the story. The steps Clare took to help rescue Georgiana, and how those actions affect her future bring about a very Austen-worthy happy ending. Follies Past delighted me so much I actually cheered out loud a few times while reading.
First posted on the wonderful AustenProse website
Does the structure of the language we speak affect the way we think and how we perceive the world? If you are intrigued by that idea and don’t mind re-examining any cherished Sapir-Whorf beliefs you may have this short but spirited and well argued book will be of interest. When we think of the fascinatingly structured Navajo language there is some appeal to the idea that its speakers have a special, maybe advanced way of understanding reality, but with his usual well informed wit McWhorter makes the case that if you accept that and take the idea that language patterns and limits our perceptions to all its logical conclusions you’ll end up with some very unpalatable and fortunately wrong judgements about various other peoples of the world--from the Chinese who speak a language which marks hypotheticals less explicitly than English (though surely Chinese speakers around the globe understand the difference between “She would have called him” and “She will have called him” anyway) to the people in New Guinea who speak languages with only one word for eat, drink, and smoke, (but who couldn’t possibly be thus doomed by this lack to be unable to distinguish between those three activities.)
Most people tend to take their own language’s idiosyncrasies (and idioms) in stride, accepting them as what’s normal, but language variations are the actual norm. McWhorter makes a convincing case that most of the often marvelous differences between languages are random, like spontaneous DNA mutations, and almost meaningless when we are looking at cognitive skills. Yes, Amazonian people with languages that have no way to indicate amounts higher than 2 or 3 will likely not be good at math, but McWhorter believes that is driven by circumstance and culture since hunter-gathers around the world and throughout time have not had much use for a number like 8,527.
McWhorter is always entertaining, and I especially love all the fascinating language facts he deploys, like that the Tuyuca people, who also live in the Amazon, have a language so rich and complex there are multiple suffixes for every verb to indicate where the speaker learned whatever he or she is saying--there’s one suffix affixed to the verb to let listeners know that speakers heard someone else say what they are now saying, another suffix for when the speakers instead saw what they are telling you, yet another for when the speakers think what they are saying is true but aren’t sure, etc. The Language Hoax is replete with wonderful, mind-expanding language anecdotes.
While it’s definitely both fun and worth reading, this isn’t my favorite of McWhorter’s books. Because it focuses somewhat narrowly on the debate about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and its neo-Whorfian revival, The Language Hoax didn’t glue me to its pages with the same level of intensity that some of McWhorter’s other titles have, including Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, which gives different insights into the history English than I have read elsewhere, The Power of Babel, which covers the worldwide history of language and its development, and What Language Is, which presents an almost fecund biological picture of how languages multiply, evolve, and disperse.
Good news for those of us who buy ebooks! We can now pass them onto our children, as long as we live in the state of Delaware. And maybe other states (and countries?) will follow. From the Digital Reader:
Do you know that clause in the TOS for the Kindle Store and many other digital content stores which says that the content is licensed to you and is nontransferable?
The state of Delaware just negated that clause (in part) . . .
To read the rest of Digital Reader's post follow this Link.
Uhm . . . so I took a Miedievalists.net quiz "How British are you?" and I got this:
Through the years there have been a lot of covers for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, including the above. In case you missed it, here's the new on from Penguin UK:
A bit strange, yes? Yesterday at my book-loving family's get together to celebrate my mother's 85th birthday opinion ranged from "What!?" to "Probably chosen to sell more copies of the book." The whole brouhaha was discussed in a Saturday Washington Post article, "What divisive 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' covers says about books and readers." Link below:
I've read only three of these books--Ring of Endless Light, Hanging Out with Cici (now renamed My Mother was Never a Kid, and Have Space Suit Will Travel, but I love each of them enough that I still have my original copies on my bookshelf. Many of the rest of the ten sound great too. From the io9 website article:
Fans have been waiting over 20 years for a movie version of Lois Lowry's The Giver, and we're finally getting one this weekend. But this isn't the only classic novel that's overdue for a movie adaptation. Here are 10 beloved YA novels that would make for incredible movies... and why they probably won't get adapted.
A note: All of these books will be spoiled.
The varied elements of this novel combine to make this both a compelling personal story and a suspenseful mystery. These include a homicide in an insular religious community that to some extent operates under its own laws and a complexly drawn main character with a troubled family history and a job that has her running all over the city inserting herself in other people’s lives. Invisible City by Julia Dahl had me from its premise and did not disappoint as I read. I was so drawn to it I found myself picking it up even when I only had a few minutes to spare.
After graduating with a journalism degree, Rebekah Roberts moved from Florida to New York City to look for a job in her field and possibly be near her mother, who she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Rebekah suspects her mother may be living in the Brooklyn Hasidic community where her mother grew up, but she doesn’t actually know. As a young woman Rebekah’s mother had a stormy period of questioning, during which she fled the Hasidic community and married, but she left her Christian husband and their baby not long after Rebekah was born and neither husband nor daughter has heard from her since. Unsurprisingly, Rebekah has abandonment issues that surface as acute anxiety.
Rebekah did find work with a newspaper, but so far she’s scarcely written a word of copy. Instead she’s on call, chasing after newsworthy events to gather information and quotes that other writers turn into articles, and that’s how she’s on the scene when the body of a murdered Hasidic woman is found in a junkyard. At the request of the woman’s husband, a powerful man in the Hasidic community, police have scaled down the investigation and the woman's body is buried without an autopsy, raising all kinds of questions in Rebekah’s mind that, because of her mother’s background, feel personal to her as well as professional. Following the threads of the story takes Rebekah into the heart of the Hasidic community, where she is both an outsider and to some degree an insider, and may lead to a career advancing breakthrough article or bring her closer, in understanding if not in person, to her as yet undiscovered mother.
Coincidence might be a little overused in the plot, but the story had me in its grips enough that I hardly cared. I don’t know a lot about Hasidic life so I can’t say how accurate the portrayal in this book is, but the community is presented in an intimate but sympathetic light, with people of various levels of belief treated by the author with respect. This is the first of a series and I will certainly seek out the next book, though it’s hard to imagine a more powerful story for Rebekah than this one. I look forward with some confidence to seeing what Julia Dahl comes up with to match it.
I love reading about the exploits of interesting people traversing parts of the world I’ve never seen, and this exuberant biography of a Manhattan dress designer turned international explorer held me rapt with one caveat that I’ll explain at the end.
Ruth Harkness did not come from a wealthy, sophisticated family, but with determination, a flair for design, and a savvy intelligence that allowed her to read people Harkness managed to create a cosmopolitan New York City life for herself, even in the midst of the 1930’s Great Depression. She fell in love with then married a rich boy adventurer who hoped to be the first to bring a live panda out of China and into the US. When he died in the process, Harkness surprised all her high fashion, socialite friends by deciding she would be the one to take on his mission.
Harkness ended up loving China, especially the wild, rugged, mountainous, densely forested, far western areas where the giant panda makes its home, and it’s thrilling to read about her rough and tumble travels, the variety of local people she spent time with, and the off-the-map exotic places she visited. But Harkness didn’t avoid China’s urban areas entirely. There was plenty of Euro-American drinking and partying when she stopped in international cities like Shanghai to gather the team, funds, and provisions needed for her venture, but unlike many contemporary Westerners she respected the Chinese culture and treated her Chinese expedition guide like a partner, even briefly having a love affair with him.
When Harkness successfully brought a baby panda out of China much was made of the fact that though she was “just a woman” she succeeded where many men had failed--so far the men had been shooting pandas and bringing back their pelts. Harkness treated “her” panda with great care, trying to understand its needs and sacrificing her own comforts, but the caveat I mentioned in the first sentence is that it makes me uncomfortable and sad to read about a baby animal being taken from its mother and native habitat to be put in a zoo. Harkness agonized about this too, even releasing back into the wild another panda she captured.
Other than that, I totally fell under the spell of this lively, enthusiastically written book. The author had access to a trove of personal letters written by Harkness, and retraced some of Harkness’s journey herself, so while reading it was easy to imagine I was right there, experiencing it all myself.
When I first read this irreverent, eye-opening memoir in 2009 it had a different and I think slightly better title, The Worst Date Ever: War Crimes, Hollywood Heart-Throbs and Other Abominations, but after reading a review of it in the Sunday Times Literary Supplement I had to order my copy from Amazon.UK because it wasn’t out in the US. Now with this revised title it’s available stateside, and after scan reading through an advanced review copy of the new version it looks like it’s largely the same lively fantastic book. The changes I saw are all minor: a few chapter names are different, there is an updated timeline at the end, and a glossary has been included to explain Brit-speak to us Yanks.
Author Jane Bussmann is a comedian and it shows in her very witty writing, but there is some grim material in here and Bussmann manages the quite amazing trick of being both tremendously funny and deadly serious at almost the same time.
As she tells it, Bussmann got tired of hanging around Hollywood during 2003-2006, which she calls the Golden Age of Stupid, interviewing mostly useless (as she calls them) celebrities. Fed up she decides to radically change her life by following a peace negotiator (who’s really cute and certainly very useful) to Uganda so she can write an article about him, but after scraping together the money for a plane ticket he doesn't show up. Not for a month or two anyway--he's back in Hollywood. Bussmann is left to kill time in a cheap Ugandan hostel, so she decides to try doing some investigative fieldwork while she waits for the chance to interview and hopefully date her negotiator. She teaches scriptwriting at an AIDs orphanage, meets numbed victims of the warlord Joseph Kony, and talks to anyone--even very scary people--who might be able to help her figure out why for 25 years the Ugandan army has been unable to prevent Kony from kidnapping children as young as four and forcing them to fight in his militia.
Being a celebrity journalist isn't completely wasted preparation for these adventures. Both smug Hollywood stars and menacing army colonels become friendly and helpful after she asks them her two work-saving Magic Questions--"You're in amazing shape, what's your secret?" and "We all know what you're famous for, but how does it make you feel when you're not appreciated for your inner talents?"
The peace negotiator eventually shows up, but the interview/date she hoped for doesn't work out the way she planned. The resulting book, however, is a great success. The humor, verve, and passion in this mind-blowing account of traipsing around Africa kept me reading into the wee hours of the night, and I’m very glad this memoir is now being released on my side of the Atlantic.
I purchased my own UK copy of this book in 2009, and I read a free advanced review copy of of its updated version provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
Typically the time travel novels I am most drawn to send a contemporary character back (or less often forward) in time to some interesting historical era where that character has to cope with differences in culture and lifestyle while trying to accomplish some kind of quest--even if it’s just to get back home--allowing me to effortlessly glean fascinating insights about a time gone by. The Time Traveler’s Wife, of course, is nothing like this and yet it is maybe my favorite book in the genre. Henry, a punk music loving librarian, and Clare, an artist who creates large sculptures of paper, are people I would love to read about in any story, and I enjoy almost as much the rich cast of well-drawn supporting characters, many of whom could probably star in their own books.
It’s Henry who is jolted around in time, and it’s just as brutal as it sounds because he is abruptly jerked from wherever he is and dropped naked somewhere else in time, usually some time in his own past, though occasionally in his future. To survive these circumstances Henry has had to become good at running, picking locks, fighting, lying, and stealing. The plot examines the “what if” of being involuntarily shoved back and forth in time away from your present--including the paradoxes of meeting past and future versions of yourself--and combines that with the affecting story of two lovers who meet each other out of sequence, the normal chronology of a relationship upended. When Henry first sees Clare in his mid-twenties Clare has already known Henry since she was six because older Henrys have been inadvertently time traveling into the field behind her parent’s home and visiting with her almost all her life.
Ever since I first read The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 it has been on my mental list of all-time best reads, a book I judge other novels by, and it has maintained a prominent place on my bookshelf. For this “reread” I listened to the audio version and was just as entranced by the story as I was in my initial encounter. Because it’s narrated by two talented readers, a Henry and a Clare who both really capture their characters, I was able to especially savor the language and writing style. Being audio also meant no skimming over details when there is some sadness at the end, adding a little not unwelcome poignancy to my pleasure.
A sequel featuring Alba, Henry and Clare’s time traveling daughter, is set to come out sometime soon. Can’t wait--here’s hoping it’s just as wonderful.
This vast stellar award-winning science fiction novel blew my mind way open, shattering some personal paradigms and forcing me to realize that I am far more brainwashed by gender and cultural stereotypes than I had hoped. Ancillary Justice is like no other novel I’ve ever read and it kept me completely enthralled in the few days it took to race through its almost 400 pages. I’m still thinking about it days later.
Yes I’m shallow because normally I need a main character who is somewhat personable to interest me in spending time with a story, but Breq isn’t even actually a person. Instead she’s AI in a human body with no aspiration to be anything else. When another character suggests Breq could maybe get down to some latent inner human core Breq is uninterested, stating flatly that the person previously inhabiting her body is dead, but Breq isn’t without preferences or passions. She enjoys singing, has favorites among the people she’s worked with, and as the book opens she is planning revenge against a powerful many-bodied tyrant for crimes committed in part by herself as that tyrant’s not supposed to be able to resist orders agent.
For over a millennium, up until 20 years ago, Breq was, like the tyrant, a multipart (or rather a multi-whole) being. In her case she’d been a massive spaceship with lots of repurposed human bodies as ancillaries all able to intra-communicate fluidly--all one unitary AI identity--but Breq lost all but the one body she’s now left with in the incident that drives this novel. For the first part of the book chapters alternate between events surrounding that past event and the present day. Since Breq was multi-whole 20 years ago the chapters on those earlier times have a fascinating and unique narrative voice--a one made out of many or sort of a semi-omniscient first person--and that is one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel. What would it be like to coexist with many manifestations of yourself only to be cut off from all those other yous?
The word use in this novel is also noteworthy. Breq’s main language, spoken by the culturally-intriguing empire-expanding humans who created her, doesn’t distinguish between sexes with its pronouns, using “she” as the default for everyone, and Breq--maybe because no one bothered to program her any other way--has a very hard time telling male from female. This causes her no end of problems when needing to pass for human while speaking languages that do have pronoun or other language markers to recognize gender. Breq’s inability to tell if someone is a man or woman is dangerous because it’s a dead giveaway that she’s an ancillary and shouldn’t be roaming around as a free agent.
I consider(ed) myself fairly open-minded about gender roles and differences, but after Breq had been referring to someone as “she” for a while and then a human character used “he” for that same person it created a mental earthquake in my brain and rearranged all my thoughts and reactions to the character I now knew was actually male. This is a very skillfully written book, with information revealed piece by piece in a way that kept my attention locked even when I didn’t completely understand what was going on. Being a little lost is not normally something I like when reading, but in Ancillary Justice it’s a result of the richness and alien quality of its world and perspective, and isn’t something I would give up. I’m sure I will be rereading this book, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy.
I read a copy of this book provided to me by Hachette, the publisher, through LibraryThing. The review opinions are mine.
With its picturesque setting, lively historical time period, and personality-filled cast of characters this cozy mystery is just as fun as it sounds. A Lack of Temperance is the first book in a series featuring botany-loving Hattie Davis who works as traveling secretary--which is a superb occupation to give a character for at least three reasons. Going from place to place to earn her own living means Hattie is forced to be more independent and resourceful than many of her 1892 peers, it’s a job that seems to straddle class lines, much like a governess in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, creating lots of plot-worthy frisson, and her peripatetic lifestyle allows every book in the series to be set in a different charming and fascinating locale, though fortunately many of the wonderful characters from this first entry manage to stick around in later volumes.
As A Lack of Temperance opens Hattie has been traveling by train and is just arriving in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a mountainous resort town with lush vegetation, numerous health-promoting natural springs, and steep winding streets and walkways all so temptingly described that I am now determined to visit. Hattie hasn’t had a chance to meet her employer Mrs. Trevelyan yet and is just settling into her hotel when a cry of “Fire!” draws her out into the street. But it’s not the hotel that’s ablaze. A group of hatchet wielding women in town for a temperance meeting are smashing whiskey barrels pulled from a saloon that’s now burning and “Mother Trevelyan”, Hattie’s new boss, is front and center leading the destruction.
When Mrs.Trevelyan is found dead the next morning Hattie pulls out her typewriter and uses her personal secretary skills of organization, summation, and careful attention to detail in an attempt to solve the murder, which takes her all over town and involves her with a wide variety of locals and visitors, including a handsome doctor. To mull things over and attempt to relax in her downtime Hattie roams the surrounding verdant hills adding specimens to her plant collection, a hobby that helps her discover more clues but also puts her danger.
Characters have complex sometimes unexpected backstories, only gradually discovered by Hattie and the reader, that give the story a nice heft. As far as the mystery goes, I didn’t guess the killer so I didn’t find it predictable. Hattie’s own story hasn’t been completely revealed by the end of the book, there’s more to learn about both her history and Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, a man who stays off stage in this episode but who acts as a sort of sponsor helping Hattie secure employment. A Lack of Temperance was a vacation-like treat to read and I’m looking forward to starting the next book in the series.
Two Nerdy History Girls found this surprisingly lovely red silk corset in New York City’s Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Described as “healthy” because it’s made using coraline, a plant-based material more flexible than whalebone or steel, it was created by "regularly educated physicians" at the Warner Brothers Company of Bridgeport, CT. Here’s their almost charming sales pitch:
"Coraline...is more pliable and yielding to the movements of the body. The object of stiffness in a corset is not to convert the form into a rigid statue, to paralyze the action of the heart and lungs, to destroy a woman's comfort and to ruin her health...All the benefit a corset can give is to afford just that degree of rigidity to the waist and chest which shall give graceful curves to the contour of the body, and enable the dress to fit smoothly...[with] the ease, comfort, elasticity and grace of action which come from wearing a Coraline Corset...[in place of] her former instrument of torture."
I never read the book Up the Down Staircase, but the movie made a big impression on me when it came out in 1967. I was living in the "ticky-tacky" suburbs and attending junior high, the old name for middle school, so the depiction of an inner city high school deeply fascinated me. I'm not sure how the story would hold up today.
From the NY Times obit:
Amid the laughter, Ms. Kaufman’s book explored deeply serious issues, from classrooms with chronically broken windows and too few chairs to teenage pregnancy, trouble with the law and a student’s attempted suicide. The world of the novel, she often said, was based closely on her own experience as a teacher in New York City high schools.