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.
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.
After a wonderful, inspiring vacation in Africa, anthropology student Elizabeth Enslin decided she wanted to do her field work research there, romantically picturing herself living among and studying women involved in revolutionary or liberation movements, but then she married a man from the Himalayan nation of Nepal and not only did her focus have to shift, after living with her husband’s extended family of Brahmin caste farmers in a compound without electricity or indoor plumbing she discovered that being embedded in another culture is nothing like a holiday visit. Especially when you’re pregnant, a natural introvert, and can’t quite figure out how the unwieldy world you’re now part of can be filtered into a doctoral thesis project.
This is at least a three-fold book, part personal memoir of early married life, part story of an aspiring anthropologist trying to find her way in a new culture, and part intimately researched study of Nepal during a time of political turmoil, especially looking at the evolving and for me sometimes surprising roles of women, caste, and class. As a westerner and a non-Brahmin, Enslin feels her outsider status acutely. It confers a prestige that as an anti-imperialist academic she doesn’t want to exploit, but it also means that even in her husband’s fairly liberal family she’s not considered pure enough to help prepare their food--when she sees a pot boiling over on the stove she has to shout and point to it, but not touch it and thereby pollute the meal. Though not a lighthearted lark, While the Gods Were Sleeping utterly fascinated me.
I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions are mine.
With wonderful diverse quirky characters (including a fortune telling parrot), eccentric grand but dilapidated architecture, and lush beautiful scenery, I don't think any series makes me happier than Betsy Woodman's Jana Bibi books, set in a small Indian hill station in the 1960's. They are books I wish I could live in or at least visit on an extended time-traveling vacation.
Janet MacPherson Laird, aka Jana Bibi, is Scottish in heritage, but she's lived in India for most of her 58+ years and it's where she most likes to be, so she's very pleased when she learns she's inherited her Grandfather's Jolly Grant House estate in Uttar Pradesh. It needs a lot of work--it's overrun by monkeys for one thing and it takes a bagpipe playing Gurkha to drive them out--but that just connects Jana more closely to the people of the town.
In the first book she helps save the town from being flooded by a new, government planned dam, the second book involves international bird smugglers and possible love, and in the third book her son is coming to town to introduce Jana to his Hungarian fiancée, provoking a flutter of activity. The stories are topical and very much of their period, not so long after India's independence, so historical interest is included among their many pleasures.
My favorite cozy mysteries have some extra element to intrigue me and hold my interest, and the Auntie Lee series is a perfect example. Set in Singapore there’s an international multicultural cast of Singaporean residents who are ethnic Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian, and Filipino, plus there’s lots of woven-into-the-plot tidbits about life in Singapore, including its laws--this time around especially relating to medical practices and gay rights--culture, family dynamics, and, of course, food. Auntie Lee, a wealthy widow of a certain age, runs a restaurant featuring Singaporean specialities just for the fun of it. She’s curious, nosy, likes to be around people, and is determined to be of service, even when her “services” aren’t exactly appreciated.
As this book opens Auntie Lee and her restaurant crew are catering a party that becomes the scene of two deaths: the hostess, a highly controlling local bigwig who owns her own law firm, and her bedridden formerly wildchild son. Food poisoning? That’s the easiest answer. Auntie Lee would get a slap on the wrist for being careless and everyone could just move on with their lives. The police are under pressure to accept that explanation and close the case, but Auntie Lee has other ideas. With distractingly delicious gifts of homemade delicacies and the ability to act strategically befuddled Auntie Lee pursues truth without worrying about the trouble she’s stirring up.
This is the kind of book that makes me miss hanging out with its characters when I’ve finished reading. Though the focus is on Auntie Lee the narrative point of view shifts around between the characters, and there are several developing relationships (including maybe a love interest for Auntie Lee?) that I look forward to catching up on in future books.
What engrossing book would I read at the beach? One of the sumptuous, literate, recent historical romance sagas of Penny Vincenzi.
Until she falls off the back of a pickup truck in book one of this series, leaking some kind of machine fluid instead of bleeding, Mila has no idea that the gaps in her memory and the overprotective tendencies of her mother are clues to her real nature. Which is android--and when she finds out she is just as horrified as she thinks everyone else will be. As this second book opens Mila has escaped from the military facility that wants to use her as a weapon, the place where she was tortured and forced to fight her evil look-a-like twin android sister, but the woman she knows as her mother is now dead and Mila is left with only cryptic clues about her past, the obviously false childhood memories that keep surfacing, and who she should go to for help.
So Mila calls on Hunter, the guy she liked before she discovered she isn’t an average teenage girl and the guy she still gets heart palpitations around even though she knows she’s a machine, doesn’t have an actual heart, and what’s she doing with emotions anyway. Without updating Hunter about what she now knows about herself and her situation, Mila makes up a story that convinces him to road-trip with her so she stay one step ahead of the people trying to recapture her while trying to make contact with someone who can explain things. The fast action excitement of the plot and the exciting discoveries Mila keeps making about her useful android abilities get a little bogged down by Mila’s predictable and somewhat excessive internal agonizing about keeping her secret from Hunter, though generally I’m greatly enjoying the friction created between Mila’s human and machine sides.
Author Debra Driza smoothly worked review information into the first chapters of Renegade, a big help for readers like me who have had a time gap since reading Mila 2.0. Along with Mila we learn more about who/what she is in this second book, and we meet some of the key people from her past--though it’s not always clear who can be trusted. There is still a lot of story left to tell, and I look forward to reading the next book.
I haven't read this yet, but (obviously) I'm excited by the book summary:
From Anna Loan-Wilsey comes the first installment of a new historical mystery series featuring Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary who arrives in a small Ozark town only to discover her new employer has disappeared. . .
Motherly, list compiling, sharp but with a tendency to act strategically distracted, Auntie Lee is a wealthy Singaporean widow who runs a restaurant just because she’s curious (nosy) and enjoys being of service, though not everyone actually appreciates this. When the bodies of two young women wash up on the local beach Auntie Lee is convinced the police could use her help--after all, both women have eaten at her restaurant--and she’s not wrong because tasty gifts of Singaporean delicacies allow Auntie Lee to push her way through closed doors and ask a lot of questions.
Food lore and Auntie Lee’s cooking inspired philosophies are part of the fun, and the story is told from multiple points of view which is especially entertaining because there’s an international multicultural cast: Singaporean residents who are ethnic Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian, and Filipino, and tourists from America and Australia. Not all of those characters are likeable, but while the solution wasn’t a complete shock there were still surprising twists and turns and the story is irresistible.
Rebel is the second book in a duology featuring Wren, a slight but focused and fierce seventeen year old girl who reanimated (rebooted) after death and was trained to be the perfect fighting machine in a dystopian post-viral infection Texas, but its fast action plot and cool world building aren’t, to me, the best things about the story--the wrenching but thoughtful character evolution is what kept me flipping the pages. Wren is supposed to be the baddest of the bad because she took a full 178 minutes to come back to life, and the longer they are dead the faster, stronger, more emotionless and less human reboots are, but from the start, and even more in this second book, Wren struggles with nascent emotions and an uncomfortably changing understanding of right and wrong.
In the last book Wren and her boyfriend Callum helped free a large group of reboots from their slave-like, police-warrior working conditions, but as this sequel opens they discover that the rebel reservation they’ve struggled to find is not a free, comfortable, utopian place for reboots to live their lives in peace, but is instead just another repressive, violent dictatorship, this time under the rule of a vindictive reboot commander instead of the powerful government authorities. There is a serious crack in their relationship when Wren’s first impulse is that she and Callum should just head out on their own, she’s sick of fighting and killing, while Callum wants them to stay and thwart reboot commander’s rampageous plans.
Wren and Callum are a great, well-balanced pair and a romance formula role reversal with a lot to learn from each other. Wren is the best fighter around while Callum is the one who’s in touch with his emotions. Callum also has a light-hearted side, adding humor to the story, and since he took only 22 minutes to “reboot” after death Callum’s skills and perceptions are very different from Wren’s so they both play crucial roles in the plot.
This is the second space opera for grown-ups featuring intelligent, capable, determined Cordelia Naismith, now Lady Vorkosigan since her marriage to aging warrior Aral Vorkosigan, and after all the multi-planet craziness of Shards of Honor it looks like Cordelia and Aral have finally been able to extricate themselves from government and military responsibilities enough to relax, semi-retire, and start a family. But of course that nice, quiet state of affairs doesn’t last.
Not long after Cordelia discovers she’s pregnant the emperor dies, Aral is made Regent for the too-young-to-rule heir, a power struggle war divides the planet’s battling aristocracy, and Cordelia is on the run, scrabbling across the countryside desperate to protect her unborn child. Complicating matters, Cordelia with her civilized Beta Colony background is far from comfortable with the Barrayaran planet’s warlike anti-feminist culture or primitive (meaning like our own) health care options for, among other things, pregnancy. Plus there is the young emperor to hide and protect, battle-damaged comrades to nurture and deploy, and a highly hostile father-in-law with deadly plans to thwart.
Lois McMaster Bujold hasn’t scrimped on anything in this story--character evolution, world building, sci fi coolness, or high action plot--and I found it all totally captivating.
Why oh why would they name the movie Blade Runner when the novel it's based on has such an irresistible title?! Who's idea was it to jettison Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
(I love both the book and the movie,)
Part self-depreciating, scathingly honest, bitingly funny memoir, and part town history, author biography, literary critique, Perfectly Miserable mesmerized me with its multi-tiered perspective, frequent revelations, and consummate writing. Sarah Payne Stuart grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, and though she was perfectly miserable much of the time memory and desire are funny things. She hightailed it out of Concord as soon as she was old enough, but found herself deciding to move back when she had young children of her own, picturing for them an ideal childhood in the town where Thoreau, Emerson and the Alcotts lived, even though that was far from her own experience. Things, of course, didn’t work out exactly as planned, but then again neither did the lives those Transcendentalists.
The Puritans and Transcendentalists left a mixed legacy for the people of Concord, and Payne spends a good part of the book on their personal lives, which is fascinating, and on how their history and philosophies are still influential, especially in old New England families like hers, but not always with good results. I don’t have Payne’s real estate cravings, she moved her family every few years, usually by choice, always expecting social redemption, or parental approval, or a more exact approximation of the ideal New England lifestyle, but she and I brought up our children close enough in time that I can relate to many of her child-rearing choices (promote self-esteem! don’t burden them with meaningless chores!) and subsequent mishandlings. Even so, while reading along I sometimes couldn’t help but want to ask her in amazement why, why, why did you say that to your mother or child, or think that, or believe that tack would work, and yet she makes you totally see it too, and understand how it all made sense to her at the time.
Because Perfectly Miserable is about how Payne’s life has been affected by the literature and lives of Transcendentalists and Puritans the book it most nearly reminds me of is the also thoughtful and engrossing My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, though the two books have very different tones. I first encountered this material in a shortened form as a New Yorker article--which oddly or not was the same way I became aware of My Life in Middlemarch--and Payne’s article was so promising and fascinating it left me determined to read her book. In book form it is maybe a little overly long in the middle, or at least my interest diminished briefly, but the concluding chapters are strong again and most of the time I was reading I couldn’t put this book down.
Trollope seems to be having a lot of fun in this second novel of his Chronicles of Barsetshire series making it an entertaining, almost light, book for this reader in spite of the length and the somewhat heavy issue the plot revolves around--the heated battles between England’s low and high church clergy. The story is full of clever, often laugh-out loud asides by a very present, quite friendly, somewhat cozy omniscient narrator who frequently parses the actions, thoughts, and feelings of the characters rather than just reporting them.
Most of the main characters from The Warden, first book in the series, are back, and it’s part of the fun to see how they are getting on with their lives, but there are many new and wonderful additions too, including a bishop cowed by his wife and curate, the oily manipulative Mr. Slope, the steeped in ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition Thorne siblings, and the scheming Stanhope family fresh from Italy and full of continental ways. Trollope writes characters who can be silly, weak, selfish, stubborn, pompous, and irresponsible and still you feel some sympathy for them. Like many Victorian novels Barchester Towers is long, but the ending is perfect, with every character arc and plot thread resolving in a way that is highly satisfying.
A lot of creatively flavored, delicious sounding cake gets baked and eaten in this funny family novel filled with likable but personality filled characters by Jeanne Ray.
Mother of novelist and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, Jeanne Ray also wrote my favorite senior citizen romance based on adolescent star-crossed lovers, Julie and Romeo, as well as the novel Step Ball Change featuring a 60-something dance instructor and her lively family.
What does a 70-something journalist, advocate for social justice, and life-long atheist trained in science make of the long series of spiritual-feeling dissociative experiences she’s had off and on since she was a teenager? Barbara Ehrenreich, author Nickel and Dimed, turns her unflinching, unsentimental powers of investigation on herself this time and the result is largely fascinating.
She originally expected to write a history of religion, but at the advice of her agent that plan morphed. Ehrenreich often appears in her writing, taking menial jobs to report on them in Nickel and Dimed, and using her experiences as a cancer patient in the magazine article “Welcome to Cancerland,” but this is a more personal life history. Ehrenreich writes about being raised without much affection by alcoholic parents in a working class family whose atheism goes back several generations, giving her no context for the maybe mystical, world on fire states she would slip into. As a young child she became consumed with the question “Why do we die and what is the purpose of life?” and even before her scientific training she tried to find answers in the most systematic ways she could design--a quest she has continued though it has taken various forms. By her own account she was self-centered, almost not believing in the existence of conscious feeling beings outside herself, until a lab partner mentioned he might be drafted into the Vietnam War, a revelation that began her career as an activist.
I have long been impressed by Ehrenreich’s commitment to causes and powers of reasoning so the chance to look inside her life was irresistible.There were a few parts of the book I skimmed, the details of her lab experiments for instance, but even those sections usually led to the consideration of interesting ideas. Like all of Ehrenreich’s books Living With a Wild God is unshrinking, eye-opening, and thought-provoking, with passages of smart, sharp humor.