Avid 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.
It sounds strange to say I enjoyed reading this book about the increasingly profound and potentially devastating impact humans are having on our home planet, with an especial focus on the animals and plants who share Earth with us, but enjoy it I did. It’s a riveting topic, the history of our world and our species, and Elizabeth Kolbert has the knack of writing about science so it retains all its natural fascination while still being accessible to laypeople. She takes the reader with her back in time and around the world as she accompanies researchers in places ranging from the Andes mountains to the Great Barrier Reef.
One particular fact has really stuck with me--as human activity increasingly homogenizes the global environment by transporting plants and animals all over the planet biodiversity is increasing on the small scale, so that where you live is likely to have more species than it did formerly, but because invasive flora and fauna can wipe out native plants and animals global biodiversity is rapidly shrinking as the total number of species on the Earth continues to dwindle. And that’s the point of the title, The Sixth Extinction. There have been five periods of mass extinction on our planet and some scientists are finding evidence indicating that we may be on the cusp of or even in the midst of a sixth wave of mass die offs, this one caused by the activities of humans, a chilling realization.
The ending of Kafka's The Castle:
She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said
That's just one of twelve books in this Publisher's Weekly blog post about novels that end in the middle of a sentence. The reasons for each abrupt ending are given, but Kafka has the best excuse--he died.
The books are the nine above and these three below:
Time travel where you go back to 1950’s Paris and slip into the body and life of a risqué burlesque dancer? Sign me up.
Straight-laced Claudia Davis finds herself in an awkward predicament. Pregnant from a one night stand, Claudia is now in love with another man, a suave but kindhearted French actor she meets at her grandmother’s ballroom dancing studio, but before she gets a chance to tell him how she feels she falls and bumps her head, waking up back in time inside the body of a gorgeous young dancer accused of murdering a fellow cabaret star. Scared and desperate to get back to her old life, Claudia has just a few days to straighten everything out, or else . . .
In spite of the dangers Claudia can’t help enjoying her lithe new body, the sensual pleasures of the City of Lights, the racy dance routines she can suddenly perform, and the solicitous attention of a handsome Parisian. Dancing With Paris is written in a bright lively style that sweeps you up, allowing you to feel the swirling wind on the boulevards, see the sparkling snow on the Tour d'EIffel, and smell the buttery croissants in the boulangers. I haven’t been to 1950’s Paris so I can’t tell you if that city is accurately evoked, but either way this book version of it is a fun destination.
I am SO EXCITED by this!!
Before reading this biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte I didn’t realize Napoleon Bonaparte had a Baltimore connection, but it’s a fascinating story, well told in here, that encompasses both European and early American history and culture. Betsy met Napoleon’s younger brother Jérôme in 1803 while he was in Maryland avoiding military service and the two teenagers fell in love and married within that year, against the wishes of their families and governments.
Betsy’s strict controlling father did not trust the aristocratically unemployed foreigner, but Betsy was eager to escape the limiting and prosaic social strictures she felt awaited her if she was forced into a more conventional match. Because Betsy and Jérôme were courting during the unsettled period while Americans debated whether to choose sides or remain neutral in the conflict between France and Britain their romance became a political event monitored closely on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the early days of their marriage Betsy and Jérôme enjoyed mingling with the major political players of Washington, where Betsy scandalized party goers with her risqué French fashions, but their happy days did not last long. Napoleon wanted to further his empire building ambitions by arranging a royal marriage for Jérôme, so when the young couple arrived in Europe Napoleon declared their marriage annulled. Unable to stand up to his older brother Jérôme abandoned Betsy, then pregnant with their child, and married the highly titled but much less scintillating Princess Catherine Fredericka Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg to become the king of Westphalia.
Betsy still managed to live a fascinating and intellectually rich life, spending as much time as possible in the great cities and salons of Europe where she was welcomed by luminaries that included Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, and the goddaughter of Voltaire Marquise de Villette. She taught herself to be a shrewd manager of what fortune she had to support her chosen lifestyle and had high expectations for her son’s future, goals he unfortunately for her did not share.
Author and history professor Carol Berkin treats Betsy with sympathetic but clear eyed respect by not downplaying her shortcomings. For me one of the most interesting aspects of this very readable book is the way it highlights the evolving differences between European and American cultures.
This futuristic sci-fi fairy tale series continues to be inventive, suspenseful, and fun. In this third of four books we spend more time with Cress, a shy, romantic, computer hacker Rapunzel who has been trapped in an orbiting satellite instead of a tower. She now joins Cinder, a mechanically gifted cyborg Cinderella determined to rescue the prince, and Scarlet, a hoodie wearing space pilot Red Riding Hood who’s partnered with the genetically modified lunar soldier Wolf, as the cohorts struggle against the odds in their quest to overthrow the evil queen of the Moon, now threatening to wrest control of Earth. We’re also given an intriguing glimpse of Winter, the Snow White stepdaughter of the lunar queen, who will have her turn to shine in book four. With a growing group of great characters, cleverly integrated sci-fi elements, and plots that sweep readers along in the action, The Lunar Chronicles remains one of my favorite series.
Yes, Kurt Vonnegut claimed they are "transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing" but here is an ode to the semicolon by MATTHEW KASSEL in The New York Observer. Kassel believes semicolons are perfect for texting, but my favorite point in the article quotes novelist Claire Messud from the March/April 2014 issue of Intelligent Life magazine:
“For those of us whose thoughts digress; for whom unexpected juxtapositions are exhilarating rather than tiresome; who aim, if always inadequately, to convey life’s experience in some semblance of its complexity—for such writers, the semi-colon is invaluable.”
When I began These Broken Stars I had a brief worry that Lilac and Tarver, the two main characters, were too perfect for me to find interesting, but that dissolved within the first few pages of the book as their story made me forget my own reality and held me rapt. Icarus, the immense luxury spaceship they and thousands of others are riding through hyperspace begins to break apart and within moments pleasure is replaced by panic and chaos as crowds of passengers struggle against each other to locate their designated escape pods.
Both Lilac and Tarver have hidden depths and more dimension than I gave them credit for at first. Lilac is the gorgeous daughter of the richest, most powerful man in the galaxy, but that father has a tyrant’s control over every aspect of her life and contrary to her pretty girl image she’s worked hard to develop mechanical skills. As a soldier Tarver is far below Lilac in social status, but in spite of growing up without privilege he’s earned esteem as a war hero. His job means he’s spent lots of time in some of the galaxy’s most rugged outposts, but he also writes poetry.
In the evacuation crush Lilac and Tarver end up alone together in a bare bones escape pod meant for crew, crashing on a strangely terraformed planet--strange because there are no people in sight and who would go to the trouble and expense of creating an Earth-like environment only to abandon the project? Though they had an initial flirtation on the ship their feelings quickly changed to an intense dislike and now Lilac and Tarver are completely dependent on each other for survival as they journey across the planet on their own with minimal equipment and provisions, hoping to find other survivors or rescuers or the planet’s elusive inhabitants.
It’s a compelling adventure and beautifully written with some surprises, at least for me, in the plot. The point of view alternates between Lilac and Tarver, and I enjoyed the character development that allowed. First novels in series of this sort sometimes leave readers on edge with cliffhangers, but the ending of These Broken Stars is perfectly balanced. There’s enough resolution for some satisfaction/relief but I’m still very eager to see how the story continues in the next book.
This is my first ever guest review for the wonderful website AustenProse:
With only half a dozen speeches in Pride and Prejudice Mary Bennet still manages to make an impression. Bookish, socially awkward, and prone to moralizing, it’s hard to picture her as the heroine of a romance novel. Though I’d laugh along at her cluelessness Mary has always had my sympathy, so when I discovered Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice I couldn’t wait to read it. Would this book rescue Mary from the shadows of Pride and Prejudice? I hoped so.
The Forgotten Sister opens before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with Mary recounting her story in her own words. She begins with an admission of early worries, “For the best part of nine years--from the age of four until just before I turned thirteen--I prayed for a brother every night.” (8) By then family life is strained, but early on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are carefree and happy. Young Jane and Elizabeth are doted on by their parents, who are optimistic there is still time to produce a male heir and secure their entailed estate. Everything changes though when Mary, a third daughter, is born. Worries set in. The Bennets begin bickering. About a month after Mary’s birth Mrs. Bennet has an attack of nerves so acute that Mary is sent away to a wet-nurse, Mrs. Bushell, with whom she stays for several years. From then on, neglect by and separation from her family become recurring patterns in Mary’s life.
The Forgotten Sister provides new background to explain Mary’s personality. A frightening encounter when she is young makes her timid and tongue tied. The kindness shown by her pious instructor pushes Mary toward rigid religious beliefs, though the harsh moralizing mini-sermons she sometimes gives are just an awkward girl’s attempt to join the conversation. Because all four of her four sisters are paired in close bonds, Elizabeth with Jane and Lydia with Kitty, Mary is left without a close companion in the family, and being often on her own does not help her acquire social skills.
At the assembly dance where Jane catches the eye of Bingley and Elizabeth begins her antipathy for Darcy, Mary has her own pivotal encounter. She bumps into the handsome son of her former wet-nurse as he races up the stairs to join his band, and then Mary can’t stop trying to spot Peter Bushell through the crowd. Though far beneath Mary in station he’s a talented musician. When their eyes meet as he is playing his fiddle he smiles and, she cannot help herself, she smiles back, though she then resolves to look at him no further because she “…could not possibly befriend a person of his order.” (110)
But Peter is kind during their brief encounters, leaving Mary alternately relaxed and flustered. Though her feelings are decidedly mixed she’s left with a strong desire to see him again. But would it be proper? Mary’s religion councils her that all people are equal in the eyes of God, but that’s not what society says. Increasingly drawn to Peter, Mary remains deeply divided. How does an inexperienced, devout girl decide what to do?
The unique slant and moving insights of The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice kept the book in my hands any moment I had free. It’s fascinating to see younger versions of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, and events that took place before and after that story. I love when a novel incorporates fascinating bits of history or offers vicarious travel pleasures, and The Forgotten Sister has the surprising bonus of taking us by ship around the world to rough and tumble Australia when it is still part penal colony.
Still, Mary was difficult for me to like in the early pages of the book. Her feelings of anger and resentment toward her family are understandable, she’s often left out and sometimes ridiculed, but her spite could be hard to take. And my beloved Elizabeth when seen through Mary’s eyes does not seem quite as wonderful as before, which is disconcerting.
But the realism of Mary’s character and feelings ultimately adds to the strength of the novel. And there’s good precedent in the original for enlivening the story by shaking up the reader’s comfortable notions. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I abhorred Darcy just as much as Elizabeth did, so when he handed her that letter after his disastrous proposal at Hunsford Parsonage,I was as shocked and disoriented as she was. The Forgotten Sister provides some of that same, wonderful eye opening catharsis, and by the end of the book Mary has a new and promising future.
1. I've been a vegetarian since 1975. When I was in college I decided it was hypocritical to eat meat if I wasn't willing to kill, skin, gut, etc. it myself. The last carnivore dish I had was probably a Whopper, but I never liked meat much anyway so it was no hardship to give it up. My daughters (now in their 20’s) have grown up vegetarian, though one experimented with eating meat briefly.
2. I hate chocolate. Even its smell makes me feel unwell and the taste is vile. It must be a genetic quirk because both my daughters feel the same way. I see it as a perk because there are far too many foods I adore already--even without meat--so if I liked chocolate as much as everyone else seems to I’d probably weigh twice what I do.
3. I’m a third degree black belt, but I prefer modern dance class to beating people up.
4. I studied The Great Books--Plato to Einstein--at St. John’s College, an undergraduate degree that obviously doesn't prepare you for any specific career path but was and has been perfect for me.
5. I learned Transcendental Meditation in the 1970’s, and still practice it today.
6. Until I got divorced I had the retro-lifestyle of being a full time mother, which I loved. After a few random jobs I stumbled into being a self-employed tutor/”academic coach” for children with various learning challenges--a career I really enjoy.
7. I rarely get sick--it’s been years since I've even had a cold--in spite of the fact that I get exposed to all kinds of nasty bugs by my students, but . . .
8. I've had breast cancer TWICE (I’d rather get colds), 15 years apart. My BookLikes photo is a selfie I took about a year ago, thrilled that after chemo baldness my hair had finally gotten long enough to have a salon haircut. Being bald (also twice) is an interesting experience. It’s very cold, I don’t know how men stand it, but both times as it was growing back my extremely short asymmetrical hair had people thinking I’m way cooler than I actually am.
9. I turn 60 this year. Whoa.
10. It may be related to getting older, but in the last few years I've turned into an avid birdwatcher, and I love them all, small and large. My gateway bird was actually the turkey vultures who roost in my neighborhood. (They have a great life, soaring high in the sky all day and hanging out with their friends all night--when I reincarnate that's what I want to come back as) Now I build large, elaborate brush piles in my backyard woods so little birds can shelter there when it’s cold, and I tramp through swamps with my boyfriend, a pair of binoculars around my neck.
Troubles continue to plague St. Sunniva University’s time travel lab. In this second entry of the series it’s diligent assistant to the dean Julia Olsen’s soon to be ex-husband causing the uproar. He’s convinced that the alleged Viking runestone found by his grandfather not far from the Minnesota campus is authentic, so he hijacks the university’s time travel machine to prove it for a TV reality show he hopes to produce. If like me you enjoy time travel novels with an academic setting, eccentric but appealing characters, pervasive but subtle humor, space/time conundrums, interesting historic eras to visit, and just a light background romance then this is the perfect book.
Reading historical biographies has become my favorite way to get the sense of an era, and for that the lengthy but aptly titled Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters Tells Part of the Story of the American Revolution has a lot to offer. Abigail Adams, the wife of the second US president John Adams, was the middle of three very close sisters who corresponded whenever they were apart, leaving plenty of source material about their lives.
Through those three thoughtful lively women Puritan beliefs and culture come to life in this book, including how attitudes about family, religion, and the role of women begin to change during the time surrounding the American Revolution. Abigail Adams traveled to New York, Philadelphia, London, Paris, and the brand new, just being built on a swamp Washington, DC, so the history, personalities, political climate, society, and ambiance of those eighteenth century cities become part of her story. The small town Massachusetts setting of her sisters' lives and the courtship trials of their daughters provide pleasures similar a Jane Austen novel. Informative and entertaining.
My car--and it's still coming down. For us in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC this counts as totally snowed in, so READING DAY!
And there's a corresponding article in the NY Times:
The practice of spacing an author’s books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same “must-know-now” impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad.”
I don't like to think I have less attention capability than a fish, but I recently read The Baskerville Trilogy by Emma Jane Holloway and I did appreciate that all 3 books were released within months of each other. They're long books with complicated plots and reading them almost one after the other meant I didn't forget things, but unless the author is a speed writer she must have had to hold back the first book for years while she was writing the other two.
A smart mystery set in WWI era England that features an intelligent young heroine who can match wits with the theoretically (but not actually) retired Sherlock Holmes AND there are lots of sequels already published--what more could you ask of the first book in a series?
The Burglary is a detailed, thorough, and utterly absorbing account of what had been a largely forgotten event. Before Edward Snowden, before Wikileaks or the Pentagon Papers or the Watergate scandal, peace activists broke into the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office in 1971, stealing virtually every file and finding proof that J. Edgar Hoover’s organization was aggressively working to demoralize, discredit, and break up legal citizen groups involved in the antiwar and civil rights movements.
The scope was staggering. Every black student organization in the country was actively under suspicion, for instance, and every African American attending nearby Swarthmore College was monitored. The revelations shocked the nation, and The Burglary vividly brings to light the agitated and highly polarized culture of the American Vietnam War era. It’s a time and event I have reason to remember well. Media, PA is my hometown, I was a high school student when the burglary was executed, and people I knew discovered that the local FBI office kept files on them.
Though now overshadowed by other events, the Media, PA burglary has had long lasting reform and oversight consequences which this book recounts in documented detail. Despite a massive FBI investigation the burglars were never caught and until very recently they never revealed their identities. For me, the most transfixing part of The Burglary tells the burglars’ varied, fascinating and often moving stories, before, during, and after the carefully planned but still terrifying heist that kept them on their guard for years.
The burglars were a diverse group, including a physics professor, a daycare director, and a taxi driver. One college age member of the group who’d dropped out of school to do what he could to stop the war trained himself to be an expert lock picker, then was young enough to be at loose ends and have to reinvent his life once they’d achieved their immediate goal. A married couple committed to ending the war had to think long and hard about what would happen to their young children if they were arrested, but once the burglary was over their daily family and job responsibilities helped them cope with the aftermath.
It’s a long book covering a number of aspects including the controlling mindset of Hoover’s FBI, the pains Hoover took to keep its illegal activities secret, the fervid but fruitless FBI investigation of the Media burglary, and the far reaching effects the burglary has had to this day. A final chapter considers the events of 1971 as they relate to post 9/11 surveillance activities and the Edward Snowden NSA files controversy.
Parts of the book read like a thriller, but this is a thriller with substance. Riveting, instructive and unsettling, The Burglary reanimated the zeitgeist and events of 1971 for me and it leaves me with a lot to think about.