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Jaylia3

Reflections

Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Currently reading

Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues
Professor Michael Sugrue, The Great Courses, The Great Courses
The Raj Quartet, Volume 2: The Day of the Scorpion
Paul Scott
Plato's Republic
Professor David Roochnik, The Great Courses, The Great Courses
The Republic of Plato
Allan Bloom, Plato
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations
Mary Beard

Favorite books of January, part 3

A Room with a View - Radhika Jones, E.M. Forster The Demon in the House - Angela Thirkell Summer Half: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC) - Angela Thirkell Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart - Claire Harman

When Lucy Honeychurch arrives in Florence she’s feeling  peevish and disappointed. After travelling abroad for the first time Lucy finds their little hotel filled with fellow Britons, and even the woman in charge speaks English with a Cockney accent. What’s the point of leaving England if you’re still surrounded by the same people? Plus, Lucy and her chaperoning cousin were promised rooms with a view of the Arno river, and instead their accommodations look over a courtyard. But when a rough around the edges man and his enigmatic son offer to switch rooms, Lucy’s horrified, uptight, passive-aggressive cousin (played by Maggie Smith in the 1985 movie) is sure that would NOT be proper. Lucy (portrayed in the film by Helena Bonham Carter) wavers, confused. Where is the balance between embracing experience and living within the rules of propriety? If I could give A Room with a View more than 5 stars I would. E. M. Forster writes beautifully, and he tells Lucy’s story with both sympathy and insight.



The Demon in the House and Summer Half are two of the 30(!) books in Angela Thirkell’s witty and wonderful Barsetshire series, set in Britain during the 1930’s and 40’s. Thirkell borrowed her imaginary English countryside setting from Anthony Trollope, and descendants of a few of his characters make appearances in her stories. Highly entertaining.



Moving, hard-to-put-down, sometimes heartbreaking, and utterly fascinating, Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart is less massive than Juliet Barker’s The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors, but it’s a good choice for someone not ready to dive into the delights of Barker’s thorough, 1,000+ page tome. In spite of the title, Charlotte is the main but not only focus this new biography, because it also covers the lives of Emily, Anne, Branwell and their father--they were such a close family it would be impossible to leave any of them out. All four of the siblings were imaginative and obsessive writers so that from a very  young age they were creating their own shared literary worlds. I especially enjoyed the way Harman related the novels the sisters published to their life experiences. Anyone who loves Jane Eyre, or who is interested in life outside of London during the middle of Victoria's reign, will find this biography fascinating. I read an advanced review copy given to me by the publisher; review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/favorite-books-of-january-part-3

Favorite books of January, part 2, three more books I loved

Speak - Louisa Hall Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind - Anne Charnock Between Mountain and Sea: Paradisi Chronicles (Caelestis Series Book 1) - M. Louisa Locke

1) Powerful, poignant, and deep, Speak has an unusual structure, weaving together six narrative voices that together illuminate a link between the creation of artificial intelligence and the fundamental human yearning for connection. When I started the book its nonlinear format put me off, but it took just a few chapters for me to become totally hooked. The narrators include a Pilgrim or Puritan girl leaving her former life behind to journey to America, AI pioneer and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing, and a now illegal, slowly “dying” babybot--a doll of the future so lifelike and compelling that children who had one couldn’t bond with people--as it slowly loses power and memory. 

 

I don't normally pay much attention to epigraphs, but I love Speak's. One is from Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky, while the other comes from what I think is Disney's Snow White: 

“Slave in the magic mirror, come from farthest outer space, through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak!”

 

2) Beautifully written and haunting in the sense that it leaves you with things to think about, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind completely captured me. Blending science fiction, art, and history, its three connected storylines span time--with one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future--but all revolve around the fifteenth century painter Paolo Uccello and his artistically talented daughter Antonia, two real life historical figures. A lot of research went into this novel, and I actually learned something about painting composition, art history and the possibilities of future technology.

 

 

3) I loved Between Mountain and Sea, and really didn’t want to leave the characters behind. Fortunately it’s the first of a sci-fi series that’s part of the Paradisi Chronicles, an intriguing multi-author project about 10 extended families who exit our devastated home world to set up colonies in New Eden, an Earth-like planet that already has native hominids. These original people are an interesting human variation, and several of them play important roles in the novel.

 

M. Louisa Locke, author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series that starts with Maids of Misfortune, is here telling the story of the Yu family, who have their roots in China. Mabel Yu was one of the original settlers and traveled from Earth as a young teenager. About 150 years later Mei Lin Yu, Mabel’s descendant, discovers Mabel’s diary, a fascinating document that tells the real history of the colony, not what Mei Lin has been taught at school. These new insights help Mei Lin question the path that’s been laid out for her, one that doesn’t suit her at all. Though Mei Lin is YA age, romance plays almost no role in the action--it’s more a coming of age book. As indicated by the title, the setting is vivid and wild, and while parts of the plot were a little predictable, I was so caught up in the world and the lives of the characters that I didn’t care.

 

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/favorite-books-of-january-part-2-three-more-books-i-loved

Favorite books of January, part 1

Planetfall - Emma Newman

Intense, memorable, and deeply captivating, Planetfall manages to be character-driven and idea-filled without sacrificing action and suspense. The story involves space travel, an off-Earth colony 20-some years after its establishment in the shadows of a (mostly) abandoned alien structure, the biology-linked religious beliefs that inspired the colony’s creation, a first person narrator coping with and trying to hide her anxious obsessions, and life enhanced (or maybe diminished) by advanced technology that includes 3D printers, which create everything the colony needs from homes to cups, and implanted chips, which connect every person to the web and each other--making it difficult for the main character to keep her psychological challenges off the grid and out of sight. Being inside the head of a character struggling with compulsive behaviors was unsettling and fascinating, and felt uncomfortably close to some of my own mental processes. The ending is unlike anything I’ve read, savage, visceral, cosmic and sublime.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/favorite-books-of-january-part-1

Witty novel on 1930's Britain

The Demon in the House - Angela Thirkell

The Demon in the House is the third book of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about a story centered on a force of nature like the cheerfully self-involved, hyper-talkative, 12 or 13 year-old Tony Morland--the “demon” of the title--but for the most part I loved it. Many of the characters from High Risings, the first of Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, are back and it was a pleasure to catch up with old friends.

 

Several sections of the story evoke with breath-taking clarity the mostly unruly but sometimes sublime passions of childhood--especially chapter 5, which is titled Paradise Pool because Tony discovers a particularly lovely view of the lake where a group of grown-ups and children have gathered to picnic and swim. The youngsters are full of high spirits, playing, squabbling loudly, and running off with each other’s toys, but then Tony and his mostly silent friend Donk climb down to muck around in a stream that’s below the level of the main body of water, and from that lower angle the lake looms like a magic pool suspended in midair, a vision that awes and moves them both and temporarily silences the almost pathologically loquacious Tony--it’s a lovely piece of writing.

 

Thirkell apparently didn’t think much of her own books. Like Tony’s mother she wrote because she needed to earn a living and didn’t expect or want her well educated friends to read her novels, but but for “fluff” her stories are witty and socially aware. Because they were written during the time when they're set, in this case the 1930’s, the stories also offer interesting and often unexpected (to me) insights about the daily life and attitudes of the era, including a few eyebrow-raising off-hand comments by characters that are offensive today.


Virago is re-releasing many of Thirkell’s novels, but so far not not this one, which means that most or all of the available copies are the Moyer Bell editions which do have some editing errors.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/witty-novel-on-1930s-britain

I won!

The Warlord and the Nightingale: A steampunk fairy tale (Gunpowder Chronicles) - Jeannie Lin

I won this adorable Japanese steampunk fairy tale book from Yvette's always entertaining blog at Bookworlder

Thank you, Yvette! Now I want to read the rest of The Gunpowder Chronicles series, intriguingly described as "an Opium War steampunk adventure set in the 19th century empires of China and Japan."

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/i-won
"That's such an incredibly organic bias, the idea that your squishy physical existence is some sort of pinnacle that all programs aspire to. No offence "
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers

Spoken by Lovey, the ships's AI, in a moment of friendly bantering with a tech on the crew who's sweet on her. (The feeling is mutual.)

 

 

 

Source: http://booklikes.com/the-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planet-becky-chambers/book,13511318

Utopias in nineteenth century America

Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism - Chris Jennings

Deeply held convictions about religion, science, and the industrial revolution converged in mid-nineteenth century America and created a flurry of experimental utopian communities whose enthusiastic members hoped they were building model societies that would change the world. This fascinating, hard to put down, sometimes heartbreaking history profiles five of the hard working, ideal rich groups--the Shakers, New Harmony, the Fourierist phalanxes, Icaria and Oneida. While the utopians held many core ideas in common, some of their beliefs varied widely, from multi-partner free love to celibacy, but unity predominated so the groups supported each other, exchanged members, and saw themselves as fellow travelers.

 

Their results were mixed, with a few of the communities being more viable than the others, but none of them prospered in ways that made them catalysts for a global reorganization of civilization. In spite of that, many of the progressive views the utopians all agreed on were eventually embraced by the population at large, including the right of women to be treated equally, the benefits of strong public education for democracy, the advantages of a diverse society, the need for a social safety net, and the dangers of unchecked markets.

 

Though setting up these prototype paradises involved a lot of arduous labor, the morale and happiness of  participants was boosted by their idealistic mission, common purpose and close community, making it heartbreaking for the utopians when their groups fell apart. At a time when most Americans lived much more isolated lives under social strictures that limited contact between men and women and people of different classes, members of the utopias lived, ate, and worked together during the day, and held dances, lectures, singalongs, assemblies, and/or classes in the evenings--high-times that sound like great fun even to this privacy loving introvert.

 

Because of social changes they helped inspire, utopian communities ultimately did have some impact on the way culture has advanced since the nineteenth century, which is why the author suggests that while we are now obsessed with dystopias and picturing how things could go very wrong, there would be value in following the lead of utopians by imagining what we think an ideal world would look like.

 

Paradise Now is full of poignant, lively, and engagingly written insights into the mid-nineteenth century zeitgeist--mainly the time before the Civil War. It’s detailed without being ponderous, and reflective without being opinionated. I found it utterly riveting.


I read an advanced review copy of this book provided by the publisher at minimal cost to me. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/utopias-in-nineteenth-century-america

Interesting setting makes this mystery stand out

His Right Hand (A Linda Wallheim Mystery) - Mette Ivie Harrison

I found this second mystery by Mette Ivie Harrison almost as enthralling as the first, in spite of the fact that I guessed the solution before the end. What sets this series apart is its setting in a modern mainstream Mormon community, a group I don’t know a lot about, and the open, intimate tone of the story. This time the characters are struggling with ripped from the headlines issues of sexual identity and acceptance of difference.

 

Main character Linda Wallheim, the wife of a bishop, is a devout believer but has some troubling questions about her church’s policies and power structure. Her marriage is generally good, but not without challenges, and she’s at loose ends because her youngest son has all but moved out of the house.  When her husband’s rigidly traditional colleague is murdered Linda becomes deeply involved in helping the victim’s distraught, almost unhinged widow and two teenage children. This puts her in a position to notice disturbing patterns which could help solve the crime, drawing Linda further into dangerous circumstances, but church higher-ups insist that some aspects of the situation be kept from the public, hampering the police investigation.

 

The author is a Mormon herself and I greatly enjoyed having a glimpse into that community. It’s a moving, family-focused story and the non-murder themes have some basis in reality--Harrison explains in the afterword that the idea for the book came from an incident she witnessed firsthand.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/interesting-setting-makes-this-mystery-stand-out

Eye-opening and highly readable biogrphy

Benazir Bhutto: Favored Daughter (Icons) - Brooke Allen

This short book packs a lot into its 151 pages of text, and doesn’t pull any punches in its chronicle of the life and family background of Benazir Bhutto, a fascinating and complex woman. It also tells the turbulent history of Pakistan, from its origins up to almost the present day, which is at least as interesting as Bhutto’s personal story.

 

Exceptionally charismatic, Bhutto has a mixed legacy that continues to inspire some, including Malala, the Pakistani  Nobel Peace Prize winning teenager who’s an activist for female education, but Bhutto was not free from the taint of corruption and wasn’t completely what I naively expected. Her family is still active in Pakistani politics, making this book especially relevant.

 

The author, Brooke Allen, was able to obtain personal insights from people who had been close to Bhutto, but she also uses what she terms the “foundational research”  of other writers and the book is heavily footnoted citing her sources. Eye-opening and highly readable.

 

I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher. Review opinions are mine.

The determined hunt for a planet that doesn't exist

The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe - Thomas Levenson

This short but fascinating book works as both an illustration of how scientific ideas advance and an engaging focused history that stretches from Newton, whose work crowned the scientific revolution and helped inspire Europe’s Age of Enlightenment, to Einstein, who spent the WWI years absorbed in his nascent theories of relativity which changed the way we look at the world and made possible most further developments in science and technology. Framing the book’s story is the hunt for a missing planet, known as Vulcan (not Mr. Spock’s planet, unfortunately).

 

In 1846 Urbain Le Verrier, a French scientist, used the mathematics of Newton's theories of gravity to predict the existence and location of Neptune, which was still undiscovered, based on slight anomalies in the orbit of Uranus. With almost perfect accuracy, Le Verrier was able to tell skywatchers where to point their telescopes and several found the planet immediately, a highly exciting moment in physics and astronomy that was downright inspiring to read about.

 

So when Le Verrier used Newton’s formulas to postulate the existence of a planet between the Sun and Mercury based on anomalies in Mercury’s orbit, everyone assumed he was correct--both Newton and Le Verrier had proven themselves almost god-like in their insights after all. Scientists spent 50 years looking for the planet they called Vulcan--some actually thought they had found it and no one was willing to jettison Newton’s universal law of gravitation--until 1915 when Einstein used the theories of relativity and the bending of spacetime by gravity to prove that Vulcan doesn’t, and couldn't, exist.

 

With biographical sketches, some history of the era, and accessible explanations of the involved science, The Hunt for Vulcan is informative and highly entertaining.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-determined-hunt-for-a-planet-that-doesnt-exist

Free time travel right now on Audible

The Very First Damned Thing: An Author-Read Audio Exclusive - Audible Ltd., Jodi Taylor, Jodi Taylor

This prequel short story for Jodi Taylor's The Chronicles of St. Mary's time travel series is free now on Audible, even though the Kindle version hasn't been released yet and will be $.99 in the US when it is. 

 

It's also read by Jodi Taylor herself, and she's a great narrator. There are about 4 other short stories connected to the series, and all of them are currently being offered for no cost on Audible.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/free-time-travel-right-now-on-audible
Three day quote challenge--day 3. This is kind of a cheat because it's a reblog of a quote I posted in the summer, but war and Peace is one of my all time favorite books and this snippet captures some of what I love. Thank you again, Brokentune.

About the challenge:

I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:

Rules:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.

3. Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.
Reblogged from Reflections:
"They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject--money; and because their youth was gone ... But for both of them they were pleasant tears ..."
War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear, Leo Tolstoy

Impoverished widow Anna Mikhailovna accepts 700 roubles from her dear friend Countess Rostov so she can purchase her son's military uniform. 

 

War and Peace, Part One, Chapter XIV 

Three day quote challenge--day 2

Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde

Thanks for the nomination Brokentune!

 

Here's Hamlet with a moment of self-reflection in Jasper Fforde's  Something Rotten, book 4 in his Thursday Next series:

 

“Sorry," [Hamlet] said, rubbing his temples. "I don't know what came over me. All of a sudden I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”

 

 

And here's a better cover

 

I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:

 

Rules:

1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you. 

 

2.  Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.

 

3.  Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Three day quote challenge--day 1

Thanks for the nomination Brokentune!

 

I've had song lyrics stuck inside my head most of my life, including but not limited to every song the Beatles ever sang. I've always loved this line snippet from "Hey, Jude",  a song, written by Paul to cheer up John's son Julian when his parents were getting a divorce.  

 

 

It's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.

 

 

Paul holding Julian's hand back in the day.

 

I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:

 

Rules:

1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you. 

 

2.  Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.

 

3.  Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Born in a brothel, died in a mansion

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic - Margaret A. Oppenheimer

Born in a brothel just weeks after the start of the American Revolutionary War, Betsy Bowen’s life may not have started auspiciously, but by the time Eliza Jumel Burr died 90 years later the Civil War had ended and she had transformed herself into a prominent citizen who had mostly disguised her past, a collector of art who was fluent in two languages, and a businesswoman who had accumulated so much wealth her heirs and heir-wannabes battled for years over the property she left behind, one case going all the way to the Supreme Court.

 

And yet, if she is remembered at all today it’s because her second marriage was to the notorious but apparently still charming Aaron Burr, a former vice president who was disgraced after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and to add insult to injury in Burr’s biographies she’s often described dismissively as a former prostitute, which is probably not accurate. What’s ironic about the way Eliza Jumel Burr  has been misrepresented is that the truth of her astounding path of upward mobility is far more dramatic than any of the falsehoods told about her.

 

This captivating biography of Eliza not only rights those wrongs, it’s a real page turner. Chapters tend to end on an exciting note, so I often found myself reading much longer than I had planned. While the book is focused on Eliza, it’s also an interesting cultural history of life in the years after the American and French Revolutions--Eliza’s  first husband was a savvy and warmhearted merchant from France, and the couple lived in that country for a while after The Reign of Terror had settled down.

 

Though well researched there are gaps in Eliza’s life, especially her early years, because records left behind don’t tell much about what she was doing then, but I still found her story moving, even romantic. When Eliza met Stephen Jumel, the man she would soon marry, she had care of an unrelated young boy whose mother had died, something that was apparently not unusual at the time. Jumel generously paid for them both to have French lessons and treated Eliza’s charge as a son. Later the couple they adopted one of Eliza’s nieces who was brought up by them with lots of love and every advantage money could buy.

 

There were definitely ups and downs in the couple’s relationship, especially as they grew older, but I was struck by how much Stephen trusted Eliza to make astute business decisions and help manage their growing estate. After Stephen was killed in a carriage accident she was able to continue to increase her financial assets, making her a very wealthy women and bringing her to the attention of perennially broke Aaron Burr, who ran through some of her fortune before she managed to divorce him--being a husband he, of course, had charge of her money.

 

Eliza wasn’t a conventional women of her time because she was unable or unwilling to maintain a facade to hide her emotions and ambitions behind a mask of daintiness and allure, which meant the upper echelons of  society were never as accepting of her as she wanted them to be. But her accomplishments and life trajectory are astounding and make a fascinating tale that is well told in this book.

 

I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss at no cost. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/born-in-a-brothel-died-in-a-mansion

Elizabeth I as a Renaissance prince

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince - Lisa Hilton

If you wanted to create a character for your novel or play, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with someone as interesting and story-worthy as England’s Elizabeth I. After her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded Elizabeth was declared a bastard, but she continued with her rigorous education and the hardships she experienced as a result of her demotion helped make her politically savvy, a trait that saved her neck more than once and ultimately put her on the throne. I’ve enjoyed several biographies about Elizabeth I, but this one has extras that make it stand out.

 

Lisa Hilton’s premise is that Elizabeth saw herself as a Renaissance prince, and while Elizabeth was happy to invoke the conventions of courtly females when it suited her, she lived in an age when royal gender was more fluid than we might think now. Hilton spends some time describing the Renaissance era and what being a Renaissance prince would mean, which leads her to a discussion of contemporary literature, period attitudes, and Machiavelli. Elizabeth’s relatively long life is covered thoroughly, but more space is given to art analysis, cultural philosophies, and intellectual history than I’ve read elsewhere, which I found fascinating. I’ve read other books by Hilton, my favorite being Horror of Love about Nancy Mitford, and I appreciate the broad scope and thoughtful scrutiny she brings to her subjects, this book about Elizabeth being no exception.

 

I read an ebook review copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss. Review opinions are mine.

 

 

--Among the artwork discussed in this biography is Elizabeth in a Judgement of Paris allegory with Juno, Minerva and Venus--the artist is Joris Hoefnagel. The painting hung in her court at Whitehall where it and its message of regal power were seen by thousands of visitors. 

 

File:Joris Hoefnagel or Hans Eworth - Queen Elizabeth I & the Three Goddesses, ca 1569.jpg

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/elizabeth-i-as-a-renaissance-prince