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.
For a parent, there are few things as devastating as the loss of a child and normally I avoid stories about children abducted or killed, but there’s an approachability to main character Sarah St. John that drew me into this novel and after reading the first few pages I was hooked. Breckenridge, Colorado is a mountain resort town full of tourists, but Sarah’s family has deep roots in its snowy landscape because it’s been their home for generations. Sarah’s son Cully was twenty-two and after graduating from college he was back home living with her when he died in an avalanche. It’s been just a few months since his death when the book opens and Sarah is overwhelmed but no longer crushed by sorrow and loss.
The Possibilities is told in the present tense which I often dislike, but here the immediacy suits the story since Sarah is working through her grief, not reflecting on it later. The main characters--her father, her best friend, her former boyfriend, and the young woman who comes into their lives--are all realistically imperfect and sometimes petty, but their connections to each other are deeply moving. Without thinking too closely about it, which would probably ruin the analogy, they remind me of the family from Little Miss Sunshine.
I appreciate that this book took on a difficult topic without providing formulaic answers, over simplifying, wallowing in tragedy and doom, or tying everything up too neatly and sweetly.The setting is so thoroughly integrated into the story that crisp, cold, clear mountain air practically blows off the pages. I haven’t read The Descendants, the author’s other novel, but if it is as well written as this book I fully understand its popularity.
Unfortunately it's just a photo shoot for charity, but wouldn't he make a PERFECT Mr. Darcy?
Showcasing 200 years of Jane Austen book covers with large color photographs and entertainingly informative text, this is a book Austen fans will treasure, but really anyone interested in history, the evolution of book publishing, or changes in graphic art will have lots to enjoy in its pages. The covers chosen vary wildly, from gorgeous to hilarious, and the passages explaining their circumstances and putting them in historical context are fascinating.
In Austen’s own day each title was published in three volumes, bound demurely in what looks like leather and decorated with gold lettering and modestly patterned designs, but by the 1840’s the smooth ride of train travel had revolutionized life and reading habits so wonderful looking but inexpensive editions with brightly colored picture covers were sold in railway station bookstalls. The most stunning cover is maybe the Peacock edition of Pride and Prejudice published by George Allen in 1894, though there are more than a few contenders. Through the years there have been many variations: sweet covers, noir covers, psychedelic covers, tastefully classic covers, YA influenced covers, and even slightly risque covers. Since Austen has fans all over the world it’s only fitting that there’s a section of covers from around the globe, lettered in languages other than English.
Jane Austen Cover to Cover opens with a timeline that stretches from Austen’s birth to the first episode of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and it includes a brief synopsis of each novel and novel fragment in its final pages. I read a fully finished copy of this very lovely book provided without cost to me by the publisher through LibraryThing. The review opinions are mine.
Like several Karen Armstrong books I’ve read, Fields of Blood is so rich with information and ideas that it has years worth of material to reflect on and discuss. Even reading slowly and carefully it felt like I was just skimming its surface, but that was still enough to make me question some of my thinking patterns. For years Armstrong has heard people from all walks of life confidently making the broad mostly unexamined pronouncement that religion has been the cause of all major wars in history--I have been guilty of similar shortcut thinking myself--so she wrote Fields of Blood to address that claim with a fascinating, wide-reaching, and detailed world history of culture, politics, violence, and religion from the prehistoric pre-agrarian era to the post-9/11 present day.
The central themes of the entire 400+ page book are well summarized in its nine page Afterword, but the particulars of history in the earlier sections are what makes this book so interesting. One of the main ideas Armstrong makes a case for, as best as I can do justice to it, is that religion isn’t the cause of violence, the same religious texts can inspire very different actions, and it’s societal stratification and expansion brought about by the development of agriculture and then industrialization that began the cycle of subjugation and violence as we understand it today. Among the book’s many other interesting points to ponder, whether or not you end up agreeing with Armstrong, are that most people don’t make the claim that WWI or WWII--two of history’s largest wars--were caused by religion, that before the French Revolution there was no separation of church or religion and state so separating out religion as the cause of war is problematic, and that belief systems, even secular belief systems, can play a role in stemming violence and preserving the best aspects of our humanity.
I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher. The review opinions are mine.
With a culinary school degree and experience as a restaurant chef Rochelle Bilow hoped to make a career out of food writing, but it wasn’t happening as quickly as she wanted. Looking for a breakthrough article she set up interviews at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm to gather information and surprised herself by falling in love with everything she saw--the small farm group lifestyle, the farm fresh cooking ingredients, and a particularly appealing farmer who caught her eye. She hung around for about a year, eventually moving in and becoming part of the crew, and this memoir recounts her farming, cooking, and romantic experiences.
CSA farms have members or subscribers from the local community who come out once a week during harvest season for shares of whatever the farm produces, and Bilow’s farm supplied everything from vegetables to meats so the farm experiences she details range from weeding to slaughter, but for me the best part of the book are her descriptions of what she cooked for the rest of the workers. She created lavish meals fit for rural gods, gods who don’t have cholesterol issues that is, with abundant amounts of uber-fresh vegetables and meats enhanced with generous portions of animal derived fats like lard and butter. The book is divided by the time of the year, and season appropriate recipes are included at the end of each section.
As a vegetarian I appreciated the humane treatment of the farm animals, but squinched my eyes and skimmed over the sections about converting them from living creatures to food. Her love experiences made me squirm a little too, both because for my sensibilities she overshares the physical side of her relationship and because her farmer’s ardor didn’t quite equal her own, but Bilow’s openness and honesty are part of her charm and add to the interest of this book, so I wouldn’t have her eliminate the passages that made me uncomfortable.
I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through NetGalley. The review opinions are mine.
This fragment of an Austen novel about a sister raised by a wealthy aunt now returned to her former home has evidence of Austen's wit and keen observational skills but it's not as polished or well written as her finished books, or even Sanditon, which is both mildly shocking and very endearing.
“The cold on a Saturday night in Billings, Montana, is personal and spiritual . . .”
I was completely hooked by The Home Place even before I had it in my hands. Just reading the hauntingly beautiful opening pages sampled on Amazon made me almost desperate to go on, and I recommend trying that if you might be interested because the finished book fully met all my hopeful expectations based on that passage--if you enjoy the first section I think you’ll love the book.
After the death of her parents, Alma escaped as far away from her Montana home, high school boyfriend, and extended family as she could by leaving for an East Coast college, but it’s not that she hated the place or people. She loved both but, overwhelmed by her loss, she turned herself into another person, a driven and highly successful Seattle lawyer living with her French Canadian lover. When Alma’s troubled younger sister dies in questionable circumstances she comes home to take care of her niece and investigate.
The “home place” of the title is the rustic, isolated farm house her family lived in for generations, though it’s deserted now and an aggressive mining company representative is pressuring Alma’s grandmother to sell. When Alma moves back into the home place with her niece to try to sort out what happened to her sister and what’s going on in her family she’s down the road from the ranch of the boyfriend she abandoned years ago and so necessarily but uneasily back in his life.
As a literary psychological thriller very grounded in its location,The Home Place reminds me of novels by Tana French and Julia Heaberlin, though the austere beauty of its Big Sky Midwestern setting is far from French’s Dublin. Full of tension and suspense and without an ounce of saccharin this is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
My favorite category of time travel fiction sends cautious but dauntlessly curious academic types into the past to research history and Blackout, set during the Blitz of London, stands out in this group because it also includes plenty of humor, lots of period details about ordinary lives, and a large cast of intriguing characters all having different experiences. I loved the story and highly recommend it, but there were a few things that marred its perfection for me.
It’s a long book, over 500 pages, and too much of that length is taken over by the repetitive thought processes of its worried main characters. Also, I was well into the novel before I could figure out its overarching plot direction--lots of interesting things happened but I didn’t see their connections. And then there’s the fact that the story just ends, and I don’t mean in a cliffhanger it simply stops to be continued in All Clear, the second book in the duology.
But in a strange way those complaints actually helped prove to me how great a book Blackout is because even with a few minorly exasperating elements I was still totally invested in the story and characters. Blackout is suspenseful and moving and full of the courage, perseverance, cheerful defiance, and ongoing heroism of WWII Londoners amid bombs, uncertainty and destruction. Plus there’s all those fun time travel paradoxes, conundrums and embedded dangers the main characters have to cope with.
I listened to the audiobook version of Blackout with a wonderful narrator who managed to give distinct voices to each of the story’s many characters. In theory I planned to take a break and listen to another audiobook when I was finished Blackout rather than going on with its sequel All Clear, but no way that ended up happening. I started All Clear during the same car ride that I finished Blackout. The story goes on and so do I.
This beautiful memoir is as utterly wonderful as it sounds. Written by a woman who wakes every morning to a symphony of songs, chatter, and calls from the 350 birds of 40 species that’s she’s rescued and housed in colorful and imaginatively decorated aviaries in her back and side yards, I was almost cooing with happiness as I read. It’s pages are packed with lively avian personalities, birds who scheme, talk, tease, fall in love, cope, connect, dance, mourn, celebrate, and pick cage locks. There are moving stories of mistreated birds saved, abandoned birds given a home, and lonely birds found a mate.
Author Michele Raffin’s interest in birds began almost by accident but quickly grew into an overwhelming, almost all-consuming obsession. Her book chronicles the joys, disappointments, triumphs, and heartbreaks of the personal hobby that she grew into an official nonprofit sanctuary, breeding and saving birds who are endangered in the wild and using outreach programs to educate the public about the plight of birds and the acute need for conservation. Written in a conversational style that makes this a fast and enjoyable read, there is obviously a serious side to its message too.
The only thing that would make me love this book more would be if it had color photos because I’d love to see all those wonderful birds, including Sweetie, a tiny joy-filled quail who was meant to be somebody’s supper, Oscar, a Lady Gouldian finch who hops determinedly from perch to perch to roost with his mates at the top of the aviary because he can’t fly, Tico, an incorrigible, too smart for his own good but affectionate blue and gold macaw, and Amadeus, a one legged Lady Ross’s turaco who perches precariously on the laps of autistic boys that come to visit, but won’t come that close to anyone else. I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher so it’s possible the final version will have pictures. The review opinions are mine.
Burn For Me is my first Ilona Andrews book and even in the opening pages of this well developed, high action urban paranormal I found lots to love. I love Nevada, the almost ordinary, barely magic main character--her power is that she can tell when people lie--who’s struggling to keep her family’s PI agency afloat in a highly stratified alternate world Houston run by powerful magic dynasties. I love Nevada’s colorful, squabbling, loyal family members, including Nevada’s four teenage siblings and cousins who help with online surveillance and research when they aren’t doing homework, Nevada’s widowed sharpshooter mother, who’s a former soldier injured in the line of duty, and Nevada’s mechanically gifted, man-obsessed grandmother, who bears some resemblance to Stephanie’s Plum’s lively Grandma Mazur except that she can build tanks and other armored artillery-enhanced vehicles.
The world building is wonderfully vivid, mostly gritty but sometimes glitzy, Nevada has difficult choices to make, which kept me reading much later into the night than I meant to, and the philosophy of Hobbes is even briefly discussed, a smart touch that added to my entertainment. What I didn’t care for is the romance. When Nevada and Mad Rogan first meet he runs her down, knocks her out, chains her to his basement floor, and tortures her with magic because he wants information about the case she’s working on. While his actions make Nevada angry and wary, she finds his extreme “masculinity” a turn-on, but the episode and her response had the opposite effect on me. It took me a while to get back into the story, but the wife and husband author team writes with skillful savvy, and the many things I loved about the plot and characters meant I did enjoy most of the rest of the book.
This is the first of a new series so the romance is just developing--I imagine it will become a larger part of the story as the books continue. I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher; the review opinions are mine.
Apple's new iOS 8's autocorrect goes far beyond suggesting alternatives for your spelling quirks. Here's what Apple’s website says about it:
“As you type, you’ll see choices of words or phrases you’d probably type next, based on your past conversations and writing style. iOS 8 takes into account the casual style you might use in Messages and the more formal language you probably use in Mail. It also adjusts based on the person you’re communicating with, because your choice of words is likely more laid back with your spouse than with your boss.”
If like me you actually find this more horrifying than wonderful we're both in good company. Philosopher Evan Selinger tells David Berreby of BigThink:
“The more we don’t autonomously struggle with language, grapple to find the right word, muscle through to bend language poetically, the less we’re able to really treat conversation as an intentional act. As something that really expresses what we’re trying to say.”
He makes the point that “Predicting you is predicting a predictable you. Which is itself subtracting from your autonomy. And it’s encouraging you to be predictable, to be a facsimile of yourself.”
There's more discussion about the implications at The New York Times including some thoughts about the history of autocorrect and its possible affects on new language development from Gideon Lewis-Kraus at Wired.
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 Midievalists.net quiz "How British are you?" and I got this: