mabith's 2015 reads

Denne tråd er fortsat i mabith's 2015 reads Part II.

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mabith's 2015 reads

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1mabith
Redigeret: jul 1, 2015, 12:34pm



Last year I read SO much without really feeling like I was spending more time reading than previously.

This year I hope I'll read 100 books, but I'm not going to number them off as I go. I think I'll reach that, given the last few years, but who knows. I'm trying to get my neurotic side well away from my reading life. I'll also be listing my re-reads for the first time.

This was my first home on LT, so I hope it's okay I stay here without a super defined goal. I read a lot of non-fiction on many subjects, historical and general fiction (with a little sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery), and children's and YA novels (more children's than YA). I have great soft spots for ancient history and WWI reading.

2015 Reading
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Pearl of China by Anchee Min
Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
The Borgias by G.J. Meyer

Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa
Toast by Nigel Slater

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Mr. Selden's Map of China by Timothy Brook
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters
The Martian by Andy Weir

The Porcelain Thief by Huan Hsu
Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier
1914: The Year the World Ended by Paul Ham
Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

Mister Monday by Garth Nix
The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Ingo by Helen Dunmore
Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert

Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi by Ryusho Kadota

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Freddy Goes Camping by Walter R. Brooks
Driving the King by Ravi Howard
Social Physics by Alex Pentland
The Jedera Adventure by Lloyd Alexander

Alan Mendelsohn: The Boy From Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Mussolini: His Part in my Downfall by Spike Milligan
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix
Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
Rena's Promise by Rena Gelissen and Heather Dune Macadam
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain by Joshua Levine

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
Lady Friday by Garth Nix
A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes
Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French
Freddy and the Ignormous by Walter R. Brooks
Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
The Agony and the Eggplant by Walter Hogan
A World Undone by G.J. Meyer
The Clockwork Twin by Walter R. Brooks
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
The Truth by Terry Pratchett
My Planet by Mary Roach
The Great Dissent by Thomas Healy
I, Rigoberta Menchu by Rigoberta Menchu

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball
Angelica by Sharon Shinn
The Voices of Glory by Davis Grubb
4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Let Me Go by Helga Schneider
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Ascent of George Washington by John Ferling
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Non-Violence by Mark Kurlansky
Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith
Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

The Enemy at the Gate by Andrew Wheatcroft
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Not My Father's Son by Alan Cummings
Between You & Me by Mary Norris

Marbles by Ellen Forney
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Clariel by Garth Nix
Blood Work by Holly Tucker

The Trolley to Yesterday by John Bellairs
Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey
Medicus by Ruth Downie
Here by Richard McGuire
How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
Tommy Gun Winter by Nathan Gorenstein
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis
The Divide by Matt Taibbi
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

2swimmergirl1
dec 31, 2014, 12:56am

Welcome!

3Eyejaybee
dec 31, 2014, 4:30am

I hope you have a great year for books. I am looking forward to picking up lots of recommendations from you.

Best wishes for a happy, prosperous and bookish 2015!

4mabith
dec 31, 2014, 10:54am

Thanks! We are all very bad for each other's to-read lists, but thank goodness! I was having such a hard time browsing for fiction I'd really love before LT, and now I have a massive list.

5jfetting
dec 31, 2014, 11:03am

Welcome back! I love the header.

7mabith
dec 31, 2014, 11:29am

>5 jfetting: Thanks! Those are my ROOTs from this year (well, the ones that fit with my rainbow theme, I read a few extras that weren't colorful).

8jfetting
dec 31, 2014, 1:29pm

I just cut and pasted that list into a word doc. Thank you, that was very helpful!

9mabith
jan 1, 2015, 11:00am

Ha, you're welcome!

10mabith
jan 1, 2015, 9:27pm


The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

This is really the history of the creator of Wonder Woman, what formed his opinions about women and women's rights, the push and pull of what various people wanted Wonder Woman to be, etc...

It was very interesting, though a more accurate title is "The Secret History of Wonder Woman's Creator." It mentions Wonder Woman's move through comics titles and time with the Justice League and all, but that kind of thing represents a tiny part of the book.

If your main interest is Wonder Woman's life in the comics, I'd skip this one. If you're interested in the feminist influences of Wonder Woman and how they were expressed, here you go! Good book, though not entirely satisfying somehow.

11mabith
jan 2, 2015, 6:30pm

It's out of character for me, but I just bought a load of books, mostly fiction! I'm a library girl and then will buy books if I really love them, want them for reference, etc... Only 5% of the books I own are unread.





World's End: A Memoir of a Blitz Childhood and White City are Donald James Wheal's memoirs. I've read the first already and wanted to own it (or keep it as an emergency present for my dad!).

Union Street and Blow Your House Down are Pat Barker's first two novels, set in Northern England following working class women.

Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany was recommended in an article about Egyptian authors, I think. I added it to my to-read list long enough ago that I've forgotten!

Prickle Moon, short story collection by Juliet Marillier. I'm a great fan of her novels and only just found out about this collection. I'm not much of a short story fan, but I'll read them if I like the author already. It's the one book of hers my library didn't order.

Generally I'd talk myself out of so many books at once, as I'm rather miserably frugal. I seem to have accidentally been very thrifty in November and December though, so I had some extra spending money and my library doesn't have any of these (and I ask them to order stuff all the time). Granting I could afford these purchases (all used copies) any month, but again, miserably frugal.

12mabith
jan 4, 2015, 12:26pm


Pearl of China by Anchee Min

This is a combination novel, a biographical novel about Pearl S. Buck and a historical novel of China during the 20th century. It is narrated by Willow, a girl in the village that Buck lives in with her missionary parents and siblings, who becomes best friends with Buck after a rocky start. Willow is from a poor family, and her father is an assistant preacher to Buck's father, more out of gratitude than belief in God.

Through partings and meetings they remain friends. Buck is forced to leave the country in 1934 (when she is 42), and neither realize they'll never see each other again. Willow has married a communist and struggles to be happy with the life that brings. The novel focuses on Willow, from that point, of course, though Buck is never far from her thoughts particularly when Buck is labeled an enemy of China.

I enjoyed this quite a bit though the period from the end of WWII to the Cultural Revolution is made exceedingly quickly. The way it's written is meant to give insight into what Buck might have thought of the events in China that were blocked from view. It's a good novel, but not a masterpiece. Recommended for fans of Min and/or Buck.

I'm hoping to read Buck's memoir, My Several Worlds this year, and it will be interesting to see if Min changed/added much. Buck was a remarkable person in many ways, as well as writing lovely novels. She was a political activist and humanitarian, and deserves to be recognized far more than she is. Her parents were also not your typical missionaries and were critical of the racism they saw in their peers.

13mabith
jan 4, 2015, 12:27pm


Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite by June Casagrande (re-read)

I re-read this now because my book club chose Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss for our January book. The theme was language, and it baffled me why people suggested and voted for grammar books, but oh well. I will just spend a lot of time being angry if I read Truss' book, so I re-read this as a protest.

Casagrande has been a copy editor and started writing a grammar column for her newspaper (she's worked for newspapers in various capacities). This book is partially inspired by letters received from people wishing to correct minor points of grammar but also the sudden popularity of books like Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (which is about British usage anyway, so why was it so popular here??).

The book is both about grammar and about the super-snobs. Part of her point is that no matter what any particular expert says you can pretty much always find another expert to contradict them and there are always exceptions. Casagrande writes with a lot of humor and she explains various grammatical issues in a very accessible way while admitting that she'll learn something and then forget it in three months and start making the same mistake again (which usually doesn't matter even a tiny bit). She reminds us that our first instincts are often right and that if a mistake in a sentence gives it a better sound and flow then we should keep it.

For those of us who were raised or taught by people with particular mistake pet-peeves it can be hard to get over the automatic urge to correct someone. I had a teacher who was extremely picky about less than/fewer than being used correctly and I wish I could get that out of my head. There's nothing like reading a powerful, important, and moving sentiment only to find your brain fixating on a point of grammar which will never have any effect upon the clarity of the sentence.

Recommended for everyone.

14mabith
jan 4, 2015, 12:40pm


Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (re-read)

This is only my second reading of this novel (I've read most of the books many more times). While Commander Vimes awaits the birth of his child he needs to go out after an extremely unpleasant criminal. The chase ends up in the library at Unseen University and both Vimes and the criminal, Carcer, are both sent back in time. The history monks make some brief appearances, and Vimes must become the sergeant who inspired his young self so much.

Unlike a lot of the recurring Discworld characters, Vimes grows with each book. His character changes quite a lot over the series. Oddly, I don't feel like all that many of those changes happened in this title or in The Fifth Elephant (another I've only read once). However, I've never read the Watch books in order, which might change that thought. Maybe that's a project for this year.

Discworld is Discworld, and the writing is always sharp and funny. This is definitely not a good title to start reading the series with, however.

15wookiebender
jan 7, 2015, 12:39am

Late popping by here, and you're already well under way this year! And I'm dodging book bullets (love the title of the grammar book)...

16mabith
jan 10, 2015, 6:24pm


The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer

Not long after starting this book I wondered why on earth I felt I should read it. The fault is probably not the book's, but the fact that I don't feel a deep enough interest in the Vatican politics that fill the work.

The short story is that the Borgia name was darkened out of personal spite and political motives and really, they probably weren't any worse than their contemporaries. Often there's just a lack of information but if they'd actually BEEN that bad surely there would be more contemporary and impartial records of that. Lucrezia especially shouldn't be viewed in a negative light.

Recommended to people VERY interested in the Borgias general normalcy or Vatican politics of this period. Not recommended to the general history reader.

17mabith
jan 10, 2015, 6:34pm


Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers

This slim volume is comprised of two essays Sayers wrote on the way women were viewed and the cause of feminism. Sayers did not consider herself a feminist and her ideas on "well we can't have aggressive feminism" are rather dated and make me roll my eyes (particularly in light of Sayers' privileged background and life).

In general the essays are still heart-breakingly relevant. The sections on how women are treated in the media are especially on point. While male actors are asked about the psychology of the role women are asked what their pre-shooting diet entailed. It also never fails that when I mention my mom works for an airline people automatically think she's a flight attendant (though perhaps people don't realize that workers at the ticket counter, gate, and on the ramp are employed by the airline and not the airport in general).

Here's a quote from a section on what interviews would be like for men if they followed the pattern foisted on women (generally involving the idea of men being looked at solely in terms of stereotypes and needing to be the quintessential Man in order to be taken seriously):
If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: “Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man,. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.” Or: “there is nothing in the least feminine about the home surroundings of Mr. Focus, the famous children's photographer. His 'den' is paneled in teak and decorated with rude sculptures from Easter Island; over his austere iron bedstead hangs a fine reproduction of the Rape of the Sabines.”

That kind of thing is so recognizable in current life.

18wookiebender
jan 10, 2015, 6:56pm

implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache

The whole thing was brilliant, but that made me snort tea out my nose.

19mabith
jan 12, 2015, 7:22pm


Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

A lightly comedic lightly romantic novel of the 1930s. Not a masterpiece, not bad, a nice light fiction book, which is just what I needed.

20mabith
jan 12, 2015, 7:26pm


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

A family story set in the 1980s narrated by younger sister June. Her uncle, Finn, who she adored, dies due to AIDS. She gets to know his boyfriend, Toby, who she didn't know existed until the funeral. While she sneaks around to see Toby (the rest of the family blames him for Finn's death), her sister Greta is self-destructing a bit.

For me, this family was not believable. The mother and older sister Greta particularly felt unreal. Greta's actions seemed totally unbelievable and unnatural for her age (I say that as someone with an older sister and three older brothers). While the effect of watching a brother slowly die would certainly impact a person, the mother seemed to pay no attention to what her kids did even when in very close earshot while driving.

The unbelievable family kept me from enjoying the book. The narrator was believable, particularly to me since as a 14 year old I spent a fair bit of time in imaginative games (an aspect some people might find uncommon in an early teen). Her reactions to her sister and the world in general felt largely true.

This book got so many amazing ratings and reviews, and I can't quite understand it. It's not a bad debut novel, but it's certainly flawed.

21mabith
Redigeret: jan 12, 2015, 7:41pm


The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize winner 2010, Peruvian)

The book chronicles the lives of Flora Tristan and her grandson Paul Gauguin, the artist (born four years after Tristan's death). The chapters go back and forth between their lives, covering the last ten years of Guiguin's life and the last eight months of Tristan's (but with both reflecting on the entirety of their lives).

While both are seeking ideal lives, they are running on opposite tracks. Tristan was a socialist activist and early feminist. She views marriage as the buying and selling of women, is disgusted by sex, and works ceaselessly for her idea of a worker's paradise. Gauguin fetishizes non-western ways of life (seemingly because he thinks they'll allow him to do whatever he wants with no consequences), views women entirely as sexual objects, and thinks only of himself.

The attitude doesn't come off as being the author's, but I found many of the Gauguin chapters disturbing. His ideal age for a partner is 14, he constantly fondles women without their permission, intentionally pushes himself on children whom he knows are uncomfortable with his requests, spreads his syphilis around without thought, and if he doesn't explicitly rape (though I think he does) he is certainly extremely coercive regarding sex. The extent of the truth of these things is not something I know off-hand, and would take a very good biography to find out. Only at the moment at least I never want to see anything connected to Gauguin again. The lack of anyone criticizing these actions was part of the problem for me, but in the chapters our subjects focus purely on themselves

I enjoyed Tristan's sections far more, though Gauguin's got less awful as the book went on. I was quite happy when he died.

The writing style is distinct, switching between second and third person narration. That may sound annoying but it was done extremely effectively and I found the writing quite engaging. I would certainly read more by Llosa, though I will be more careful about what I pick up.

22jfetting
jan 13, 2015, 9:37am

Interesting review of The Way to Paradise. I haven't read that one, but I usually really like his work (although I can tell right now that I'd have similar problems with the Gauguin chapters), especially the historical novels (like The War of the End of the World).

23mabith
jan 13, 2015, 10:31am

He's certainly an author I'll want to revisit. Unfortunately there are no audiobooks of his work (typical for non-Western European books in translation), so it will probably be a while. I have his The Dream of the Celt on my shelf though. From the description I thought The Way to Paradise was the one I'd love best, given Flora Tristan and the two-stories-in-one style. Oh well.

24mabith
jan 15, 2015, 9:50pm


Toast by Nigel Slater

This is one of those memoirs of childhood and very early adulthood told from the perspective of childhood. Those are fine and dandy, but Slater seems to keep the much younger tone through to the end of the book when he's older. He employs almost no introspection throughout the entire book. It also gave me the feeling that he didn't bother talking to anyone about these memories, and in fairness, there weren't many people left to talk to who were around. With adult introspection that's less of a problem, without it I frequently found myself wondering how events really happened (our own memories are often great big liars).

The theme of food does run throughout, but not in a way that made the book particularly interesting. It did make me crave sweets, but that's not my measure of a successful memoir.

I feel like this kind of memoir writing only works up to age 12 or so (I loved it in Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy, but she's also a million times less whiny and spoiled). Slater went too far along without any change in tone or maturity.

Not particularly recommended. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either. If it's in a pile of books left in an airport or hotel and you're desperate you could certainly do worse. Also, trigger warning for brief mentions of sexual abuse to a minor.

25mabith
Redigeret: jan 28, 2015, 5:48pm


Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

First off, this magical realism novel takes very little from the fairytale of the same name (similar to Bluebeard). In the beginning it SEEMS like it will follow that more, but then things just go nuts.

Is this person a fiction character come to life, is this section something that's actually happening or something written by the author character, etc... While I didn't dislike the writing and didn't dislike it to the point of stopping the audiobook, I also didn't really enjoy it. I like my books to make sense, to have a flow, to not just veer off into a random "is it real or not" vignette. I've known magical realism was not for me for some time, but didn't realize this one took it quite so far.

If you don't like magical realism I would stay away from this book.

26mabith
jan 18, 2015, 7:50pm


Mr. Selden's Map of China by Timothy Brook

I'm trying to determine whether or not this counts as a micro-history, so if you've read it, let me know your opinion!

John Selden was an English polymath scholar, particularly interested in Asia. When he died (1654), he donated many items to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, including a remarkable map of China. Its accuracy was unprecedented and no map (that we know of) would match it for four decades. However, it was not made use of or placed in the hands of anyone who could be influenced by it's accurate 'mapping from the sea' method (which helped account for the curvature of the earth).

The book explores the times in which it was produced, the relationship between China and the west in the early to mid 17th century, the way cartographers worked, life in China during this period, laws governing sea traffic, etc... We glimpse an entire world through its connections to this map.

I really enjoyed this book, and as with any which deals with the early 17th century I always find myself amazed that my ancestor left for Jamestown in 1606, that the Tempest was written while he was facing The Starving Time (well, likely facing that, it's a bit unclear whether or not he went back to England in 1609 with Smith, as he doesn't 'appear' in England until 1620 or so I prefer to think he was there in the colony eating the dead to survive).

I recommend the book generally but especially if you have any interest in China.

27mabith
jan 18, 2015, 8:00pm


The Examined Life: How we Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz

Grosz recounts various experiences with patients in his psychoanalysis practice, generally talking about the way we humans are. I'm not a fan of psychoanalysis or Freud (one guy takes an entire year before they actually get into the issue he's come about), so that made some sections shine a bit less for me.

Also, the parents who signed their 10 year old, middle child up for 5 sessions/week when she started wetting the bed and being clumsy soon after a baby brother arrived... REALLY? How hard is it to figure out that she's feeling ignored and displaced! All parents really should have to take a course in basic psychology. When I was little I'd wet my bed once and been allowed to sleep with my parents that night, so I kept doing it to get to sleep with them (not consciously) and it only took a couple times for my mom to say "You don't have to wet the bed if you want to sleep down here," and it never happened again. And my mom is not the most astute person when it comes to psychological issues.

It's an interesting little book, and a very quick read. Recommended despite my eye-rolling at certain things.

28mabith
jan 21, 2015, 6:10pm


A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters

The last published book in the Cadfael series, though chronologically it's the first. It contains three short stories, the first the only one to take place before Cadfael joins the Benedictines (it is after he is home in England though).

They were enjoyable, though felt a bit rushed. That may be down to me just being used to the novels, or possibly Peters just wasn't as adept at short stories. I'm pretty sad to be done with the series, and I may re-read a few favorites this year.

29mabith
jan 21, 2015, 6:42pm


The Martian by Andy Weir (re-read)

One of my favorite books from last year still just as great on the re-read. I love basically everything about it. The success/failure ratio is good, the science is explained well, and Watney is hilarious. The humor employed by most of the characters is part of what makes it seem so real, since people do tend to use humor to help them cope with frightening situations.

Highly recommended to all. There is a moderate amount of swearing, but only one character swears gratuitously when the situation doesn't warrant it.

30mabith
jan 21, 2015, 6:55pm


The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China by Huan Hsu

This is an ER that won't be published until March and this review is based on an ARC copy.

Huan Hsu grew up in Utah trying to be as un-Chinese as possible. After becoming interested in porcelain after seeing an exhibition of it, he's told to ask his mother about her family's collection.

The family story goes that his great-great-grandfather had a large collection of China, including from the imperial kilns, which he buried in the garden before fleeing as the Japanese approached his village. Hsu is driven to go to China and do what he can towards digging for the porcelain, while also finding out more about his family's history.

The book is a mixture of Hsu's experiences in China, the history of porcelain, the personal history of his various relatives, some of whom never left China and some who fled to Taiwan when the Communists took power, and the history of 20th century China in general (often viewed through a relationship to porcelain).

While the title is rather misleading (there's really nothing about theft mentioned except in an abstract way), I really enjoyed the book. I liked Hsu's writing style, the mix of histories, and Hsu's growing appreciation for his family and for China in general. It ends incredibly abruptly, and there's not much narrative arc, but I would recommend it to pretty much anyone with even a slight interest in China.

31mabith
jan 22, 2015, 5:39pm


Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier

This is Juliet Marillier's first collection of short stories, some written specifically for this book, and some initially published elsewhere. I liked it quite a bit more than I'd been expecting to.

Most of them are quite short barring the title story (30 pages) and Twixt Firelight and Water (48 pages), which deals with two minor characters from the Sevenwaters trilogy universe. I really enjoyed that one.

A lot of the stories have a fantasy element, but there were a fair few without that too, which she'd written for various women's magazines. Given that I don't enjoy short stories all that much in general, the book was a surprise and a treat. Marillier gets to pull out some humor, does a couple fairytale retellings (I especially liked her take on Rapunzel), and I think any of her fans will be pleased with the book.

32mabith
Redigeret: jan 25, 2015, 11:55am


1914: The Year the World Ended by Paul Ham

This is a very well done primer to how WWI started and the course of battle within 1914 (the war itself started in late July with the western front being formed in early August). The first third of the book covers the years prior to 1914, the various alliances and treaties, the stress points, and it gives a strong focus on what was actually going on between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

Ham's writing is immensely readable, and while he may not evoke as emotional a response as say, Barbara Tuchman, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The information was clear and organized, and he covers various common perceptions of the war and whether or not they're accurate. He gives only overviews of the battles, rather than detailed coverage, so those with a military history phobia need not fear.

Highly recommended, certainly a good one for people who will only read a few books about the war. While this was largely a refresher for me, Ham put emphasis on slightly different events and relationships, viewing some events from a different angle than many books, so I recommend it to the WWI completest as well.

I've certainly put Ham's other books on my to-read list on the strength of his writing. I wonder sometimes if modern Australian historians are able to get into these events more accurately, without the drummed in sensitivities of Americans and Europeans where the world wars are concerned (granting it may be different when battles featured heavy ANZAC losses).

33mabith
jan 28, 2015, 1:41pm


Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis

This is the 12th book in the Falco series, and Davis' sharp eye is on bankers, publishers, and writers. She makes sure to state that the publisher is not based on hers nor are her writing peers anything like the writers in the book...

The Falco series are some of my favorite books out there. Falco wishes he were a totally hardboiled detective, but in the end he is also a poet with a relatively soft heart. While he is a progressive man of his era, Davis doesn't make him unbelievable. He is always cynical about the suspects in his investigations, and he doesn't underestimate the women around a crime. As usual Davis excels at building historical detail and really immersing you in this time and culture, showcasing both the differences and similarities between their lives and ours.

While Davis works hard to make sure that the books can be read out of order, I wouldn't recommend starting cold later than the 6th book. The first six really give you the firm foundation you need to enjoy the rest in almost any order you choose (barring the last three, I think).

34mabith
jan 28, 2015, 5:32pm

Just in case anyone is hesitating to read Toms River by Dan Fagin I thought I'd give it another plug here. I heard him speak last night, and while he's less cynical about some things than me (I'd say less realistic), it was a great talk.

I got the book as an ER and was not at all in the mood to read something which would depress me. At that point I was really strident about reading ERs within two weeks of receiving them though (HA HA, no longer the case), so I sat down and blew through 130 pages in the first sitting. It's depressing, but the thread about the Toms River environmental disasters and cancer cluster are balanced with chapters about the history of epidemiology, the history of the EPA and superfund sites, the history of environmental laws. The writing is great, but the balancing of the most distressing aspects and the interesting historical aspects made it so easy to read.

35mabith
jan 30, 2015, 4:43pm


Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr

Originally published in 1840 and written to expose how poorly common sailors were treated, this book also became a literary classic.

Dana is suffering from vision problems so he leaves Harvard for a spell on the sea in hopes his eyes would improve. That makes no sense to me, but it was 1834.

While Dana isn't outside the racism of his day, you can also see clearly that he is a good person in the way he talks about others, and he became an avid abolitionist. He is deeply interested in the indigenous peoples they encounter and in the culture of the California Mexicans (he was there when it was a province of an independent Mexico vs of Spain).

At times I was bewildered by the ship-speak, but I didn't worry about it too much. It certainly was an interesting (and hazardous) journey, and I can see why it sold so well as a simple sea adventure too. Certainly recommended reading.

36mabith
jan 30, 2015, 5:04pm


Mister Monday by Garth Nix (RE-READ)

If I were forced to name an heir to L. Frank Baum's world-building prowess, I would choose Nix. While the style of the writing and the level of action is very different, the other world created in the Keys to the Kingdom series (of which Mister Monday is the first) is absolutely fantastic (and I find the world in Sabriel refreshingly original as well).

Arthur is 12 and living in a world that is not quite our own. In his world there are widespread flu epidemics (and far reaching government powers to deal with them), one of which killed both of his parents when he was only a baby.

On his way to school he has a bad asthma attack and while two other children run for help he sees two strange creatures arguing about whether to give him a key. Mister Monday needs to pass the key on to an heir and hopes to snatch it back after Arthur dies. However, Arthur doesn't die. When he's back at school creatures from this other world are after him to attempt to take the key back meanwhile the school is being quarantined. He must trust someone called The Will and go into the other world and there the action really begins.

It's almost a non-stop action book, and very fun. You want to immediate go on to the next book to join Arthur for the next adventure. Really well down and original children's fantasy isn't the easiest thing to find. I highly recommend this series. It is Fantasy! with some very classic archetypes and references to a zillion things, and it's really fun. I was not a big reader of fantasy as a kid, but if I'd started on this book I think I would have been easily hooked into the series.

37mabith
feb 2, 2015, 3:05pm


The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

A nice quick read and a reminder that we often bring more sorrow upon ourselves by not communicating when we're upset and by assuming the person who has upset us realizes that. It is also about communicating with ourselves to the extent of being able to acknowledge what we're feeling. While communicating our feelings isn't as guaranteed to help as Hanh believes (there certainly are people who don't care, just as there are people who will use how someone feels against them), it is a first step that often gets ignored.

This was a good January read for me, a reminder to set the tone for the rest of the year. Recommended.

38mabith
Redigeret: feb 2, 2015, 3:20pm


We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

This was a great read. It's the story of young Zimbabwean girl, Darling, telling the story of herself and her friends as they roam through Paradise, the neighborhood of tin huts their parents brought them too after their houses were destroyed by paramilitary forces. When Darling is 13 (she is ten at the start of the book) she goes to live in Detroit with her aunt, and it becomes the story of her changing expectations and the realization that she cannot go home (not if she wants to return to finish school, as she's overstayed a visitor's visa).

It's a book of adaptation, displacement, and how small the circles of our lives often are, if we do not choose to widen them.

Until I got into the last quarter or so of the book I wasn't sure I'd like this one as much as a few friends did. Recommended.

I also love this cover so much, I think changing it for the paperback was quite a mistake.

39mabith
feb 2, 2015, 3:37pm


Ingo by Helen Dunmore

I really did not like this children's fantasy book. It tells the story of Sapphire, her older brother, Conor, and their parents who live in cottage on the sea in Cornwall. Her father is a fisherman and disappears one night and is presumed dead by all but Conor and Sapphire. Soon after Sapphire is worried about Conor who has been away from home for an entire day. She goes to look for him and sees her brother talking to a mer-person, Elvira, on a rock. He is unaware that so much time has past. Later she sees him talking to Elvira again and meets Elvira's brother Faro who takes her into Ingo, the sea kingdom. Because Sapphire and Conor both have some mer-blood they can be taken into it.

That sounds fine, right? Well sure, but there's no real plot guiding the book. You think it's going to be about finding the dad, since the kids believe he's alive. NOPE. Is it going to be about saving her brother from the clutches of Ingo? NOPE. Soon it's Sapphire who is missing all day and Conor couldn't care less about Ingo. Everything is just completely inconsistent. The passage of time in Ingo compared to the air world shifts based on what's convenient for the story (VS anything that makes sense), the kids barely even mention their dad when everything leads you to think he's in Ingo, one minute resisting the sea is difficult, the next it isn't, Faro's attitudes about humans and decisions shift wildly...

If I didn't have a bit of a problem not-finishing books I would have stopped half-way through at the latest, which is when I realized it was never going to improve. Took me ages to finish as I just hated starting it up again (I listened to the audiobook, which has a good reader).

This is the first book in a series, but it read like maybe it was combined with the second book in the series and Dunmore decided that instead of editing it she'd just publish two books. I haven't been so annoyed at a children's book in a long time. Not at all recommended.

40mabith
feb 7, 2015, 6:43pm


Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert

This is an excellent history, both of cotton and the rise of global capitalism. Beckert never loses sight of the fact that the cotton industry was built on slavery and exploitation in general. In fact, it is still an industry that keeps many in extreme poverty and in dangerous working conditions.

It's written very well in chronological order and covers the entirety of the industry, the growing of cotton and it's processing into yarn and cloth.

Highly recommended.

41mabith
feb 10, 2015, 5:41pm


Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany

This is a book about Egyptian students and teachers (and their loved ones in the US) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It has a large cast, some who've been in the US for many years and some who have just arrived. It's about adjustments, compromises, culture, and immigration. There aren't many likeable characters, but that didn't bother me.

While I didn't hate this book, I also didn't love it. I did, however, feel a keen want to keep reading it, and it went quickly. Partly this is due to how frequently the focus changes (among the characters), but I also wanted to find out how all the characters would fare. It's not really fair for me to say this, as Naguib Mahfouz is probably the only other Egyptian author I've read (though I also have an Egyptian aunt), but the book felt VERY Egyptian.

It would have been a three-star read for me, except for the end. In part I felt Aswany wrapped up threads that didn't need wrapping up. This is not a book with a firm plot, but a meandering novel of real life. One ending felt extremely forced and not particularly believable and the events of the last page were unbelievable to the point of being totally ludicrous. A character has an abortion and when it's over the staff have let her boyfriend, who did not accompany her to the appointment, into the recovery room to see her! No clinic in the US would let someone in who hadn't accompanied the patient, even if that person were a relative, spouse, or the bloody President! That's such a silly mistake for an author to make and it wouldn't have been hard to work around.

I can't say I particularly recommend this book, but I think I'll probably still try to read the author's The Yacoubian Building.

42mabith
feb 10, 2015, 6:14pm


Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (RE-READ)

This was the 8th Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and a favorite of mine for the advertising slogans and such. Sayers herself worked as a copywriter for an advertising firm for nine years, quite successfully. She is also given credit for the phrase "It pays to advertise."

Wimsey is Wimsey, of course, and it's quite fun to see him going undercover at the ad agency. This year I might go back and re-read Wimsey from the beginning. I know he's one of those "too perfect" detectives, but he does make the books such fun.

43mabith
feb 10, 2015, 7:18pm


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My book club chose this for our books-to-movies month, much to my dismay. I'd seen one review that made me feel like reading it, but most made me feel like it wasn't a book for me. Then another book I was reading (Bad Feminist) revealed the main 'twist.'

It is not a bad book, but I don't really understand why it's SO popular (or why anyone would call it a thriller, I know I had the main thing spoiled, but it's not hard to guess and it's really not that suspenseful). It's not a work of genius, it didn't feel particularly original, and it didn't provide great psychological insight at any stage. It seemed like an average contemporary, stand-alone mystery.

The book is also SO anti-women, and in ways that don't seem entirely right for the main characters' lives. As in, last year I read The Slap, which oozes misogyny, and while upsetting, it felt extremely realistic. I stopped using gendered insults some time ago, and the frequency of the word b***h in this one was hard to take.

44mabith
feb 10, 2015, 7:18pm


James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

One of the most important things about Dahl's books is that he gives us some key unhappy children with unfit guardians/parents. It's an important thing to represent. I loved the movie they did of this one when I was a kid (some aspects are very different from the book, for better and worse), but hadn't made time to read the book.

The downside with Dahl movies is that they have to miss out so many funny little scenes. I think they missed quite a trick by not including some of the centipede's excellent poetry in the movie, not to mention the discussion about insect anatomy.

A wonderfully fun book, destined to be a classic for many decades to come.

45mabith
feb 13, 2015, 10:02am


On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi by Ryusho Kadota

I got hit with a major book bullet after reading LoisB's review of this, which is far better than mine will be.

When my library finally ordered the book it had been a while since I'd read her review, and I was stalling on starting it. Once I did though, that was it. It is an intensely compelling read and I didn't want to put the book down.

Kadota gives us the inside story in the sense that he interviewed people who were in all stages and sides of the disaster (those who worked in the plant, those in the self-defense forces, the government, those who lived in the nearest town...). If there's a personal focus to the book it is on Masao Yoshida, the site superintendent.

Kadota doesn't get into debates about nuclear power, he simply tells the story, day by day and hour by hour. Going through events that way definitely adds to the air of suspense even when you already know what basically happened, because now you hear the human side and begin to understand conditions on the ground..

I can't recommend this book enough. It is absolutely a five star read, no matter what your interest level in the subject. I admit I even got a bit misty-eyed at the end.

46mabith
feb 13, 2015, 10:18am


Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

If you haven't read this yet and plan to, I highly recommend reading Boo's afterward first. It somewhat baffles me why it wasn't a forward, as it talks about how she wrote it, how much time was spent on it, and her hesitation to write this story (as a white, westerner). I would have been able to get more out of it if that had been first. I did wonder at how and why she arrived at this subject, and I did feel like the style it's written in was too presumptive (it's written like a novel and I was unsure about all the thoughts and motives attributed to these real people).

Though of course it's never true, this is one of those books where I feel like I'm the last one reading it. It tells the story of a group of people dwelling in the Annawadi slum district which sits near the Mumbai airport, partly surrounded by luxury hotels. The people she talks to are in a variety of positions in their lives, some are scraping by and some are just edging ahead so precariously they may fall back at the slightest bump. It's a snapshot, albeit taken over a few years, of this one tiny part of a large city in a large country.

The book is well done in that she does not judge anyone, and she largely lets the people she met speak for themselves. She shows the good and bad traits together, and does not get sucked into a "Poverty is noble" narrative. If you've read much about poverty and makeshift cities anywhere, it's also not a necessary book. Poverty is poverty is poverty, basically, and human nature doesn't differ much.

47judylou
feb 13, 2015, 6:21pm

Excellent review of Boo's book. I also felt a bit conflicted as I read this because at times I forgot that I wasn't reading a novel.

48mabith
feb 15, 2015, 7:34pm

Glad it wasn't just me! I am still going back and forth on whether the ability to mistake it for a novel is a good or bad thing. Novels can enlighten us about the real world just as much as non-fiction can, but I feel like alternating the novel-esque chapters with intercalary chapters that are hard non-fiction would have been the best compromise.

49mabith
feb 15, 2015, 7:35pm


Freddy Goes Camping by Walter R. Brooks (RE-READ)

This is number 15 out of 26 Freddy the Pig books, and it's a goody. Well, they're pretty much all goodies, though I do find the obsession with space travel in the later books a little tedious (talking animals, fine, talking animals who are going into space, maybe too much).

What happens in this book isn't particularly important, though it involves camping, a ghost, a plot to swindle an old lady, two hard-to-handle aunts, Simon and Ezra and the rat gang, some sad poetry, and a lot of campside pancakes.

The important thing is that the Freddy the Pig books are golden, and should be held as a national treasure. I'm not sure why their popularity has never been more widespread (neither of my parents were aware of the books when they were kids). They are funny, charming, and contain truly excellent character building. The animals have flaws and strengths, all of which are represented. Many of the books cover fear in some way, and learning to be comfortable admitting to fear and to be honest about our feelings in general.

When Freddy dresses up in human clothes I do have to laugh at the suspension of disbelief required to believe that a pig in a dress and bonnet walking on its hind legs could ever be mistaken for a person.

If there's a young person in your life, buy some of the Freddy books. They really are excellent and Brooks deserves to sit alongside Roald Dahl, Eleanor Estes, Beverly Cleary, and the other great children's authors of the 20th century.

50mabith
feb 15, 2015, 8:05pm


Driving the King by Ravi Howard

This review is based on the audiobook received through the ER program.

This novel focuses on a fictional childhood friend of Nat King Cole, Nathaniel Weary, who stood between Cole and a white attacker during a show in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama (a fictional event based on the attack on Cole in Birmingham in 1956). After beating the man Weary served ten years in prison. The book goes back and forth in time, from the night of the first show, to Weary's post-prison job of driving Cole in Los Angeles, to a second try at the Montgomery show.

The changes in time were a little confusing at first, as years aren't stated, and it took me a little while to get Weary's timeline straight in my head. Otherwise, I thought the book was well done. It does a good job conveying the times, and the difficulty being a black musician in the United States, even when Cole's popularity was at its height. It also contrasts the bus strike in Montgomery with Cole's relative lack of politics (he continued to play to segregated audiences until negative comments caused him to join other entertainers boycotting segregated venues, the attack in Birmingham may also have forced him to face the fact that following the rules laid down by whites did not lessen their bigotry toward him).

It's an evenly paced, but short book, about individual lives, choices, and consequences, without much plot. A solidly good read, though not in the 5-star realm for me. I do look forward to reading Howard's future novels.

Interestingly, Nat King Cole held the number 1 song in the US charts on the days both my parents were born (in 1948 and 1951). It made me laugh that the one for my mom's birth was "Too Young."

51mabith
feb 18, 2015, 7:27pm


Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science by Alex Pentland

This is quite a short little popular science book, quite narrowly focused (which isn't bad). Some things that were 'proven' were a little ridiculously obvious (people with more money seek out more new experiences and people than poor people? what a shock!), but in general it was an interesting read.

Recommended to anyone. It's a quick read.

52mabith
feb 18, 2015, 7:43pm


The Jedera Adventure by Lloyd Alexander

This is the fourth in Alexander series about Vesper Holly, a young woman who is a mix of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes. They're set in the 1870s and narrated by her guardian Brinnie (I love how he goes on about doings things befitting a Philadelphian).

In this Vesper ensnares Brinnie in a trip to an isolated desert city in order to return a 700 year old library book her father had borrowed. As usual Vesper makes friends and trouble very quickly and eventually her nemesis Dr. Helvetius shows up. As is frequent with this series, emphasis is placed on the fact that unbending adherence to a custom or decision is often a negative thing and that compromise is important.

One of the things I admire most in these books is that Alexander does not hesitate to use words from whatever language is spoken in the places traveled to, and doesn't feel compelled to give translations with them. It's not necessary that kids have an exact translation, the words are understandable from context but especially now that kids can look everything up online, they might learn something. Alexander doesn't hesitate to drop in famous names that 10-12 year olds won't necessarily recognize either. These are the kind of books, I think, that make children value learning for its own sake. Vesper is an adventurer but she also just LOVES learning.

53mabith
feb 22, 2015, 10:27pm


Alan Mendelsohn: The Boy From Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

Leonard Neeble has just moved to a new neighborhood and is going to a new high school. He is miserable, the school is awful, and he finds that by pretending to be a little dim and confused the teachers don't bother him.

A new boy at the school, Alan Mendelsohn, immediately shakes things up. In the course of their explorations that come across a course that claims it will help them master mind control. They end crossing existential planes, among their adventures. It is zany and silly and fun. This book also features a grandmother who insists on being called The Old One, something I'm going to steal when my nieces and nephews are older.

For me, this book represents an incredibly important moment in my youth. Picture it, a girl has just been ditched by her friends at the start of seventh grade because she doesn't wear brand names, follow fashion trends, or express interest in makeup or dating. I was that girl, and it served to make me pretty insecure about my interests (which included imagining I was Caesar on campaign and making tiny banquets for elves). This, and a couple other Pinkwater novels, helped me continue to value my imagination. The idea of existential planes stacked on top of each other really grabbed me at the time, perhaps partly because there were many times I wished I could vanish into a different reality (what teenager doesn't sometimes feel like that?).

54mabith
feb 22, 2015, 10:56pm


Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

This book is set prior to the First Opium War (1839), and features a large cast of characters from a variety of walks of life. The pace is fairly slow, given that not a whole lot happens in this, the first volume of a trilogy. While I am somewhat curious to see what happens with the characters, I'm not rushing out to the read the next in the series, and I don't particularly CARE about any of them.

Some of the plot elements also just came absolutely out of nowhere. Like, someone doesn't want to be married off (she's been laughed at for wanting love and she has kind of fallen for someone), but when she's asking for help to flee the reason is totally different and off the wall (that character did not feel very real anyway). Okay, technically that's how real life often is, humans are good at hiding things, we're blindsided a lot, but we don't generally read fiction because we want it to mimic every aspect of real life.

Before a few sudden events towards the end, I was enjoying this a lot more, despite not really caring about the lives of the characters. The writing is good and the atmosphere is evoked very well. When I think about the book I do want to read the second, but really just out of curiosity to see if author continues the "out of the blue" plot devices or if Sea of Poppies was written merely to set up the story he really wanted to tell.

55mabith
feb 22, 2015, 11:05pm


Mussolini: His Part in my Downfall by Spike Milligan

The fourth in Milligan's war memoirs, and quite a bit longer than the previous installments. It involves a lot of difficult fighting in Italy, the result of which was shell shock for Milligan, worsened by a superior with severe shell-shock denial. He leaves the army after these events (discussed in the next book Goodbye Soldier.

I love these audiobooks, because Milligan is so amused by the 'worst' jokes (I kind of love bad jokes) that he can't keep from laughing. As usual the switch between silly and serious can be a little jarring, but they're worthwhile reads.

56mabith
feb 23, 2015, 12:49am

With the latest reviews written I finally feel like I'm properly on vacation! I brought books, obviously, but at the moment I feel like just vegging out. Part of that is being so worn out and in so much extra pain due to the drive and first day out, no brain for reading!

Very foggy day, so strange when islands suddenly disappear in the mist!



57mabith
mar 5, 2015, 5:40pm

We got one lovely sunset at the beach. I've not even been home for a week and it's all snowy here again. Dratted March!



58Eyejaybee
mar 5, 2015, 5:46pm

Gorgeous sunset :)

59mabith
mar 5, 2015, 5:54pm


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I expected to really enjoy this novel, and I did. It wasn't quite a 5-Star read for me, but it was a great read. I'm not sure where that most common cover with the rose came from, but I find it deeply inferior to this version with the fox (which actually ties in with the book).

Here's a better summary than I can write:
"On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula's world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization -- if only she has the chance?"

Atkinson handled the transitions to and from Ursula's lives very well, and while it may sound like a grim book, it's really not. There's even a fair bit of humor. What could have been tedious or just generally melancholy is handled very lightly. Ursula is curious about the flashes of insight she sometimes has, rather than anxious.

Definitely recommended. I wish I could have read this and her Behind the Scenes at the Museum when I was in late middle school or early high school. I know they would have been favorites that I pored over again and again.

60rainpebble
mar 5, 2015, 6:00pm

Hello Meredith. I am so glad that you appreciated Life After Life. I loved it when I read it last year or the year before. (I sometimes get lost in time;-)
I hope that if you do read Elsewhere: A Memoir by Russo you will like it. I found it very different but quite good.
Cheers, my dear.

61mabith
mar 5, 2015, 6:12pm


Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

A friend of mine recommended this and rather over-hyped it for me. I think in part that's because she's still absolutely thrilled to read about anyone thinking even a bit like she does. For me books about disability make that light turn on, whereas I'm well aware my anxiety issues are run of the mill.

This book covers a relatively short period of the author's life, and deals with not only his but his mother's and brother's anxiety briefly too. He talks about his trials and tribulations with different therapists and the one who finally lit a bit of a lightbulb for him, as well as some techniques which have helped a bit.

It's a book that covers everything briefly and moves in circles more than delving deeply. It will be eye-opening for some and repetitive for others. For me and the type of anxiety I've been dealing with, it wasn't on much of a parallel.

Not a bad book at all, recommended with caution.

62mabith
mar 5, 2015, 6:43pm


The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in 1975, in Baltimore, to Paul Coates who was a "Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, (and) an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization." He also had a very good understanding of the challenges facing his children and the knowledge that they would need help making it through adolescence and into college.

Ta-Nehisi is a dreamy and sensitive child, one who checks out of school while pouring over his father's books that many would think too difficult for his age.

Coates' adolescence is about as far from my own as you can get in the US, on one axis at least. It's an important book, especially if your ideas of childhood and high school are limited to only a few narratives. At times it is easy reading, Coates is curious about and interested in the world, like most kids, and at others it's not. The book is well-done though, and worth reading.

63mabith
mar 5, 2015, 7:06pm


Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix (RE-READ)

This is the second in the Keys to the Kingdom series (the first is Mister Monday). It is one of the finest children's fantasy series I've read, certainly the best of the 21st century. If L. Frank Baum has an heir when it comes to creating unique other worlds, Nix is it.

Arthur Penhaligon has only been back from his first adventure in the House for eight hours when he is called again. He was promised six years before he had to take over, but of course House time runs much more swiftly than earth time. He faces Grim Tuesday, whose greed has caused him to mine the Far Reaches for Nothing to make into copies of fine artworks.

It's a great adventure, and I love that Arthur would really rather be at home and not be adventuring (however the goings on in the House always threaten earth and his family, so he goes on with it).

Highly recommended, great for ages 8 or 9 and up through middle school (depending on the child). I first read this a few years back, in my mid-20s though, so if you can appreciate juvenile fiction, give them a go.

64mabith
mar 5, 2015, 7:23pm

>60 rainpebble: I find that the books I love always feel like I've just read them in the last year or six months. Then I look it up and find it was three or more years ago! I do think I'll enjoy Elsewhere, it's been on my list for a while and, while your review pushed it up to my mental foreground, I doubt you've over-hyped it. With Monkey Mind my friend raved about it for a solid 20 minutes or more. I was surprised when I realized the author was so young (when it comes to books dealing with psychology I probably judge the young authors quite harshly).

65mabith
mar 5, 2015, 7:29pm

I only bought four books on my vacation. Due to the weather when we left we had to take a smaller vehicle, so we didn't take the box of books I had to exchange for credit at my favorite used bookstore along the drive.

At the bookstore in the town we stay in I bought Roman Britain: Outpost of the Empire, Victorian Needlepoint, and Phoenix Rising (a favorite YA novel from childhood).

My big find was at a charity shop where I found a first edition of The Grapes of Wrath for $1.

66jfetting
mar 6, 2015, 8:43am

Gorgeous sunset photo!

67mabith
mar 6, 2015, 9:45am

>58 Eyejaybee: >66 jfetting: It was definitely a good one (and my favorite sort, with enough clouds to make it interesting). All photo credit goes to digital photography.

68mabith
Redigeret: mar 9, 2015, 10:51am


The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed the writing, the depth of the characters, the flow of the book, and everything that should make me love it, and in many ways I did love it.

There is however, the aspect of the Saintly Disabled Person trope (and being disabled myself this strikes me hard). To McCullers credit, she exposes and criticizes the way the townspeople treat Singer as the saint (a deaf man, and I should say many deaf people do not identify as disabled). At the same time though, she has written this saint, who patiently sits while a group rotate through his room, talking talking talking at him, projecting themselves onto him, and expecting him to attend to their ramblings. Singer never locks his door, Singer never pushes them away, Singer never confronts them when they're talking to him about things he does not/cannot understand (Mick and her music), he never tries to explain about himself. So yes, McCullers shows us the selfishness and self-absorption of these people in their treatment of Singer, but has him play the saint anyway.

It is still a great book, and this aspect won't bother most people (unfortunately), especially since her writing does show that the townsfolk's treatment of Singer is ridiculous. It's hard to believe she was only 23 when she wrote it, and I certainly recommend the book and will look forward to reading more by her.

(Nothing to do with anything, but I'm tickled that her real first name was Lula, as I can't imagine her being called that.)

69mabith
mar 10, 2015, 11:09pm


Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix (RE-READ)

The third installment in the Keys to the Kingdom series, just as strong (perhaps stronger) than the first two. This one has some particularly charming inventions and events (it's pretty much all sea-faring too, which leads to a lot of fun, including a counting house turned ship due to a flood).

Again, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys children's literature, and especially adults who love the Oz books. Can't wait for my nephew to become old enough for this series.

70mabith
mar 13, 2015, 7:49pm


Doc by Mary Doria Russell

This is an excellent historical novel. Whether staying true to real life or going on the built up legends, the Earps and Doc Holliday are always a good read. This novel focuses on Doc, obviously, and on his and the Earps time in Dodge City.

Doria strips away myth and gives us as much truth as she can. The book uses an all-knowing, omnipresent narrator which adds to the western feel. The audio edition is very well narrated.

Definitely recommended. It was a great read. It has made me yearn to watch Tombstone again. Val Kilmer made a great Doc.

71mabith
mar 13, 2015, 7:56pm


Sir Thursday by Garth Nix (RE-READ)

Fourth in the Keys to the Kingdom series. Arthur faces Sir Thursday, leader of the House's army. He is drafted and faces a washing between the ears, not to mention the army of nifflings. Meanwhile there's an Arthur simulacrum causing havoc in his own world.

Can't repeat enough how much I love this series. It is juvenile adventure fiction at its best. Arthur is an immensely likeable and relatable protagonist, and Suzie Blue a really fun character. Arthur's friend Leaf gets more page time in this one, which I'm also glad of.

72mabith
mar 14, 2015, 10:34pm


Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

This is an excellent book, and was a really interesting and enjoyable read for me. If you like Mary Roach I think you'll like this too. The authors don't try to say people should behave any one way or that certain things are unworkable, they're just presenting the data and correcting fallacies. The audiobook is also well done.

Highly recommended.

73mabith
mar 15, 2015, 7:50pm


Rena's Promise by Rena Kornreich Gelissen and Heather Dune Macadam

This is an expanded edition of a memoir that was initially released in 1995. New information and verifications have been added, as much more information is available now.

Rena Kornreich was among the first registered transport of Jewish women to Auschwitz (998 women). She was taken there in 1942, at the age of 21, her sister Danka soon followed. They had been illegally in Slovakia (they were Polish), but Rena feared what would happen to the people harboring her and turned herself in. Danka followed her example, feeling they should stay together. Both had been fooled as to what life in the camp would entail.

They survived over three years in the camp, including the death march to Ravensbrück. Rena did everything in her power to keep her sister's spirits up, and promised that they would get out. She was resourceful and wise beyond her years, and while her sister came first, she helped others as much as she could, and would not directly harm anyone just to live.

The book is done extremely well. Macadam recorded Rena's story and manages to capture the directness of it without sacrificing readability or quality of writing. The sense of how our memories fracture and compartmentalize and connect is preserved, and footnotes let you know the precise dates of events Rena describes. Even though you know that she and Danka survive, it's a book it's a book you don't want to put down. Rena seems to have been one of those people who is liked by everyone, and the reasons for that come through, I think.

Absolutely recommended.

74mabith
mar 15, 2015, 8:38pm


Stig of the Dump by Clive King

This is an odd little book which is or was a bit of a British classic (presumably is since there was a new TV adaptation done in 2012), and it gets referenced relatively frequently by people of a certain age on panel shows.

Barney is staying at his grandmother's for some holiday, and near her house is the town dump. In exploring it he meets Stig, a caveman living there. King doesn't make any explanation for how Stig is there, which I appreciated. Barney mentions Stig to various people but they continue to think he's an imaginary friend.

The book doesn't really have much plot, and things get a little too ridiculous at the end for my tastes. It tries to be two things at once, I think, and doesn't quite pull it off. I don't think it's destined to be a classic in 50 years, but we'll see.

75mabith
mar 15, 2015, 9:02pm


Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain by Joshua Levine

This is part of a series largely using audio interviews with a wide range of people who have experienced these events (the series explores numerous wars and trying circumstances in general). If you listen to the audiobook you get to hear the actual people, speaking from their gut, not reading prepared statements.

Last year I read Forgotten Voices of the Somme, which felt more cohesive and complete than this volume. I don't think it's possible to get the same amount of scope covering the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.

Lately I'm somewhat oppressed by the fact that the men and women who served in WWII, and those old enough to really remember it, are rapidly aging and dying. The fact that those who served in WWI would all die in my lifetime was automatic, most were dead when I was born, but WWII has been such a constant part of my consciousness. I started heavily reading that period, particularly about the Holocaust, when I was nine years old and never stopped. I'm glad my aunts did an oral history interview with my granddaddy. It's nice to be able to hear his voice (particularly now that his heavy Norfolk VA accent no longer baffles me).

76mabith
mar 18, 2015, 7:05pm


Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Tey certainly chose a title that would never grace any other book. This was the last new-to-me mystery I had by her, and I'm tempted to go back and read the earlier ones.

While it's hard for me to put my finger on the specifics, Tey's mysteries are always just a bit different. They stand out from the pack of mystery writers who started in the golden age (technically only two of Tey's fall in the golden age which is usually considered to be the period between the two world wars). Her books are also rather calmer and more even-keeled than Christie's or Sayers'.

Brat Farrar is an orphan, he took to wandering and working with horses on American ranches until the focus switched to oil. He returns to England, and a chance meeting draws him into a missing heir scheme, which he is largely uncomfortable with, but the family's horses draw him in.

It's an engaging book, and a great light read.

77mabith
mar 18, 2015, 7:08pm


Lady Friday by Garth Nix (RE-READ)

Plowing ahead with this series. I took a break of five books between this and the last volume though, so it could be worse!

There's a lot of interesting development in this one. Again, I'm just so fascinated with the world Nix built. It's absolutely wonderful. It's the only world-building I've seen that comes close to Baum's in Oz.

78mabith
mar 20, 2015, 7:55pm


A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

Reading three WWII focused books in the last week was not my best decision (though all focused on very different events/areas). A Bridge Too Far was a book too many for me, I think.

It's a very well done book, and I appreciate that the author was reporting from Europe and with various military groups during the last years of the war. The book interviews many people after the fact. For me that kind of intense battle detail is hard to read, though.

Operation Market Garden needed to take five bridges across the Meuse and two arms of the Rhine. It was a total failure (though often misrepresented as a partial success), and between 15,000 and 17,000 allied troops died. The detail Ryan achieves in covering the nine days of this operation was stunning, and the book is a well-deserved classic.

If battle-detail (especially here with so many different groups involved) boggles you a bit, maybe just watch the movie of the same name. If you love military history though, this should be a winner.

79mabith
mar 20, 2015, 8:11pm


A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

Someone at Knopf ridiculously decided to label this a novel (including having it written on the cover), not sure why that was agreed to, it's not labeled like that in England. It is a collection of short stories which occasionally reference each other in small ways (I think there's only one instance where not having read a previous story would negatively impact the reading).

Some of these I liked quite well, others were just okay. I didn't hate any of them, but I'm not a fan of short stories really. The Raft of Medusa was my favorite, and well-worth reading on its own. The first story, from the point of a view of an insect stowaway on Noah's ark was a great idea, but I felt it really needed editing.

One of those difficult to rate, didn't hate, didn't love it books. I am still thinking about some of the stories, but then I just finished the book today.

80mabith
mar 24, 2015, 8:34pm


Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

The only bad thing about reading these books mostly in one month is that I'm a little tired of having to write the reviews! Great books, heir to Baum's world-bending, exciting, great characters, blah blah blah.

81mabith
mar 24, 2015, 8:45pm


All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

Rather than the traditional tack of studying parents' effects on their children, this studies how children affect their parents. It's also about how parenthood has changed, and the societal and cultural expectations put on mothers (and how this makes it harder for mothers than fathers to balance their own needs vs time actively spent with kids).

Really great read, fascinating and important. I've never wanted children, and my closeness to my niece and nephew cemented that (though I adore them and being with them, I just want to be the aunt). Barring that in mind it was probably an easier read for me than it would be for a parent, but I think most parents will find the book largely affirming.

One interesting tidbit was about how having children so much later gives new parents a much clearer idea of the freedom and the independence they no longer have.

82mabith
Redigeret: mar 24, 2015, 9:23pm


A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French

I went into this with relatively low expectations, given the whole actor writes a book thing. I love Dawn French though, so I wanted to read it.

The novel circles around mom Mo, dad (who's name I currently forget because I'm terrible) and their two children, almost 18-year-old Dora, and mid-teen Peter. Dora is in the grips of utter teenage self-obsession. She's extremely insecure but also totally self-obsessed. For those of us who were lower-key as teens she may well feel over-the-top, but I had friends who were a lot like this (meaning HORRIBLE to their very nice parents who gave them bloody everything). Peter is obsessed with Oscar Wilde, which may also be an eye-roller for you. Given that I was obsessed with Damon Runyon and wore a lot of pinstripe pants with dress shirts and fedoras, plus talking the talk, I didn't mind that. Mo is a psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents, which she wishes Dora would understand as a blessing.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. It gets a bit over-the-top, but it is largely a comedic novel and shouldn't be taken too seriously. The novel switches narration between Mo, Dora, and Peter, with a single solitary chapter narrated by dad at the end. The way French chose to end it was a bit... I don't know. Not great, but also made one aspect of the book make a little more sense to me so maybe that's good. It felt a bit too wrapped up (there was no reason to resolve this particularly thread) and was predictable.

It was an interesting read to have just after the parenting book, and particularly since I'm a long way from teenage-hood but also a long way from being 50 (as Mo is turning in the book).

Recommended as a light, fun novel, particularly to parents who have coped with teenagers.

83mabith
mar 27, 2015, 3:30pm


Freddy and the Ignormous by Walter R. Brooks

I reread this just last year, but I had a simul-listen with a friend, so here we are again.

The Freddy books deserve so much more press. They're incredibly fun and funny, but the characters are also very very human. Children will relate endlessly to the appropriately flawed animals. Freddy is curious and poetic, and would like to think himself very brave but is often scared. He is able to admit to his flaws in good humor though (an excellent example for kids).

84mabith
mar 27, 2015, 3:30pm


Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong

Armstrong has written a number of books about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and seems perfectly suited for this short work. I found it well done and interesting throughout. It's organized well and the information is very clearly presented, not to mention important. I'd like to send a few dozen copies to Fox News...

Highly recommended.

85mabith
mar 27, 2015, 3:41pm


Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

The last installment of the Keys to the Kingdom series. As I've read I've tried to pinpoint what makes this series so special to me. Part of it is just the world Nix created. It's very neat and extremely original. While Nix brings in all sorts of symbolism, it's not something that most children will think about. Just like most don't think of Christianity while reading the Narnia books.

Another positive to the series is that events in the House affect earth. When denizens come to earth strange diseases modern medicine can't easily fight are spread, and the world stays affected. Arthur is not on this journey in order to help the House or fix things over there, he does this because it's the only way to change what's happening on earth, to his friends and family (and there is usually only partial success). There's also a lot of fun word play, and immense potential for vocabulary building for kids (in this one at one point someone is in a "slough of despond," I love things like that).

I recommend this series so much, to children or to adults who can appreciate children's books, and put themselves back to their child mind.

86mabith
mar 29, 2015, 1:28am


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

This is Winterson's memoir, which among other things serves to show how much in her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is fictional. If you found Oranges far too grim, maybe skip this memoir, as the truth was rather worse. Winterson does not sink you into the abuse in an overbearing way though.

Winterson also talks about love and loss, her feelings as an adopted child, her search for her birth mother, and other subjects. I found it a very good read, and enjoyed the audiobook especially since Winterson read it. Winterson has interesting insights and an interesting perspective.

Recommended.

87mabith
mar 29, 2015, 10:43am


The Agony and the Eggplant: Daniel Pinkwater's Heroic Struggles in the Name of YA Literature by Walter Hogan

This is a critical analysis of Daniel Pinkwater's YA novels, with some chapters devoted to his entire body of work (as of 2001). Pinkwater has only written three full-length novels and two shorter works where the protagonists are teenagers when this book was written, and these are the focus of the book. There are also chapters devoted to the expedition novels, as Hogan calls them, which have pre-teen protagonists (Borgel, Lizard Music, Yobgorgle, etc...).

If you're a fan of Pinkwater, this is a really interesting read, and sometimes very affirming if you read him when you were young. His books helped me so much in middle school when my imagination and desire for silliness was under attack by the forces of conformity. The book also contains a lot of good biographical information (and, no surprise, Pinkwater came up with the title for this volume). It shines the light on Pinkwater as an excellent satirist and general humorist and talks about how his books have been reviewed.

While Pinkwater, in 2001 and now, was a much more prolific picture book author than novelist, that was largely because that's what publishers wanted and would pay for. After the first couple Harry Potter books came out and became hits Pinkwater was optimistic that longer books of quality could be published more easily and he was right. He's written four since 2006, with another on the horizon. Some of his long out of print works have also been released as ebooks recently and Pinkwater records audio editions of many of his books which he gives away for free via his website.

It would have been nice to see an edition that just dealt with his younger-age novels, and included his two series of beginner chapter books (longer than I Can Read books but maybe only 40-50 pages) Fat Camp Commandos and The Werewolf Club.

88mabith
apr 1, 2015, 8:44pm


A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer

I think this is the only WWI book I've read that has focused on all the fronts and all the years of the of war. It is a book of epic proportions and really done well. Meyer takes the time to give us background where it's most necessary and it is very detailed.

Definitely a good read, an important book, and one I would recommend. If you're only going to read one book about the war, it probably won't be this one, just due to the daunting length, but it wouldn't be a bad choice. It is possible to read it in stages. I took a short break two thirds of the way through just because it was getting a little overwhelming. The specific battle descriptions were done well, for those of us who don't like a minutely detailed report on all movements. They're substantial enough to be very worthwhile though.

Given the title you might expect more commentary on changes in the world after the war, but there really isn't TOO much of that. For me, that's a good thing. What there is focuses on the big, obvious changes like debts incurred by the fighting nations, women in the work place, etc...

89mabith
apr 5, 2015, 4:55pm


The Clockwork Twin by Walter R. Brooks

The fifth Freddy book, deals in part with the story of Adoniram, a boy who lives with his cruel aunt and uncle who exploit him for farm labor. During a flood Adoniram rescues a dog, Georgie, from the raging river, only for both of them to be swept away as the summer house they're standing in is taken by the flood. Adoniram swiftly rescues a rooster, Ronald, as well. Thankfully, the river bumps them into a department store before too long, so they climb over to that, where thankfully there's food and drink. And who are in the department store? Why, it's Freddy the pig and Jinx the cat, on their annual holiday from the Bean farm. With a bit of a detour, they all head back to the farm, as the Beans are eager to adopt another child.

Uncle Ben, an extremely adept engineer (he builds a spaceship in a later book) and former clockmaker is also staying at the farm. Freddy commissions a clockwork boy to be made as a companion for Adoniram (which will eventually be powered by a small animal who sits inside). Some great suspension of disbelief is required, as very few can tell the difference between it and the boy (talking animals, on the other hand, seeming very natural to all).

If you're wondering why Brooks went with the name Adoniram, it's because there's another plot in this volume involving the finding of Georgie's previous master, Hiram. Georgie says Hiram and Adoniram look so alike they must be brothers. There's another the issue of how to convince Adoniram's aunt and uncle (who turn out to be no relation at all) to let the Beans adopt him when they're hell bent on keeping him for free labor.

Just as much fun as the rest of the series, though not destined to be in my top five, I'd say (there are 25 books total in the series). A pig using a typewriter, fine, but when Brooks goes into mechanical marvels it doesn't work so well for me.

90mabith
apr 5, 2015, 5:27pm


Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell's first novel, while her powers were not yet fully developed, was as enjoyable to me as the rest of her work. It takes place in Manchester, where Gaskell moved after marrying. Scandalous for the times she includes Manchester regionalisms, and is sympathetic to the labor unions. In none of her books does she ever give unions full support but rather embarks to explain to readers why want them and why them see them as the only recourse.

Mary Barton and her father John are alone for most of the book. Her mother dies, (John thinks out of grief for her sister's disappearance). John falls into a depression and though concerned enough to keep Mary out of factory work, he doesn't pay much attention to her movements or actions. Mary is very pretty and has long had an admirer in the part of Jem Wilson, son of family friends, universally admired himself. Growing up on "someday I'll make you a lady" talk from her aunt before she disappeared, Mary has never had any time for Jem. She has developed a secret relationship with Harry Carson, who she feels sure will marry her.

It's a slow sort of novel, but it didn't feel slow while I was reading it, but like the right pace for this kind of book. Gaskell's razor sharp insights aren't as well honed here as they are in her last work, Wives and Daughters, but one wouldn't expect them to be, but they're not far from it. Given that Gaskell only had three (possibly only two) short stories published prior to Mary Barton, I was surprised that the quality was so close to that of her later work.

I assume the Penguin edition of this, like the one I have of North and South, includes a glossary of the regionalisms. If you're listening to the audiobook (as I was), you can look many up on dictionary websites, though the only that I wasn't immediately getting from context was clemming (starving).

91mabith
apr 5, 2015, 5:28pm


Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements (published 2002)

I really don't remember why I added this to my list. I thought it must have been a Newbery winner or nominee, but it isn't. I can't really imagine the plot appealing to me all that much for this age group. One of life's mysteries I guess.

Bobby Phillips wakes up one morning to find he's become invisible. He immediately tells his parents (a scientist and a literature teacher), who immediately say he shouldn't tell anyone else or he'll be carted off by the government. Before they can really figure much out, his parents are in a car accident and must stay in the hospital for a few days. This begins a long series of lies, as a school counselor finds out and calls to make sure some adult is coming to stay with him (and a series of problems with the authorities).

Along the way he makes friends with a blind girl, Alicia, and there's much about teenage (non-literal) invisibility, disability, suffocating parents and other subjects which may well feel deep to your average 10-14 year old. Bobby and Alicia take the lead on figuring out why this has happened as their fathers both think in the longterm. A crush developing between the two is present but mostly kept in the background.

It's not a bad book, just one best read at the age it's intended for.

92mabith
apr 7, 2015, 11:03pm


The Truth by Terry Pratchett * RE-READ

This is only my third read of this one, making it one of my least read Discworld books. It's not a lesser work really, it just didn't seem to speak to me as much.

It deals with the first newspaper (and then the first tabloid) in Ankh-Morpork, and hence the beginning of investigative journalism, as there is also a plot against the Patrician. Something about our plucky newspaper writer/editor, William de Worde, just doesn't draw me in, nor do the villains. I do love the vampire photographer though.

93mabith
apr 7, 2015, 11:05pm


My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach

This book collects a series of short columns Roach wrote for Reader's Digest (I think largely before she started book writing). Unlike her books science gets nary a mention, and they focus on daily life and marriage. While I liked some of them quite a lot, Roach relies on far too much “men do this, women do this,” nonsense. If you like Roach, give it a go, but be prepared for the sexism. Other than the sexism, she sounds like someone I'd get along with (re our general sense of humor and feelings on how often bath towels and sheets need to be washed).

94mabith
apr 11, 2015, 5:43pm


The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy

I was a little disappointed in this book. It's pretty short, which is fine, but what's there kind of seemed padded out. It's a very rambling book which largely felt disorganized. I think probably because of having to look into various factors it couldn't be a straight forward book, but still.

Definitely interesting, and not a bad read, but also not particularly gripping or inspiring.

95mabith
apr 11, 2015, 5:43pm


I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchú, edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray

This is an oral history from civil rights activist Rigoberta Menchú, originally published in 1983. Menchú was born in 1959 (the same year as my youngest aunt, which always makes things doubly interesting for me). She had an extremely difficult childhood (which one can scarcely call a childhood at all), and was involved in various uprisings of the Indians in Guatemala (who made up most of the population but were/are greatly oppressed and exploited).

This is another rather rambling book, because it is literally an oral history transcribed, and somewhat edited/reorganized. There is a lot of repetition though, and if you're looking for beautiful turns of phrase or deep insights you won't find it here. Menchú's immediate family all seem to have been involved with various activist groups, and her mother, father, and at least one brother were all killed by the army. I believe this was a book which really helped put the situation in Guatemala on a larger stage and bring it to wider world attention.

It's a book that's worth reading, especially for the description of her family's life and cultural traditions. It's not the book to pick up in order to understand 20th century Guatemalan history, however.

96mabith
apr 13, 2015, 11:29am


The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

This is the first book I've read by Eliot, and it won't be the last. I really enjoyed her writing style and the way the narration was done. The book was also far less predictable than 19th century classics tend to be (in my limited experience). You can still predict what probably WON'T happen, but Eliot lays out a lot of options.

The book is largely about siblings Maggie and Tom, and their complex and changing relationship and lives. They must struggle through poverty and disgrace, and determine what's really important. Maggie is loved by two men, one of whom she is forbidden to talk to (as his father had a role in the ruin of their father resulting in a bit of a feud). It is an every day novel, largely without huge dramatic events. The book covers a period of about ten years, and I didn't find the pacing particularly slow, just appropriate for what the book is. The ending was a bit sudden and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

It was a generally enjoyable and interesting read, and I'm looking forward to reading more by Eliot. If you want something where the characters get to be happy, maybe don't pick up this one.

97mabith
apr 14, 2015, 12:55pm


Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

This YA novel (though I feel it's perfectly appropriate for any age down to nine or so) set during WWII, follows Ida Mae, an African-American woman in Louisiana who lives to fly. After learning on her father's crop dusting plane it's her life's ambition to be a pilot. After her brother enlists in the army she sees a flyer advertising the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) and uses her light skin to pass as white so she can join.

The novel deals with the restrictions placed on her as a woman and as a black person, and the deep rift passing can cause (not to mention the danger of trying it in the south). Ida Mae's sense of herself, wanting to just be HER, just a person is very strong. It's a good book, but not mind-blowing. Smith has based the depiction of the WASP on historical facts, and it's an interesting part of WWII history that's rarely told in fiction for young people.

Recommended for the history loving youths in your life. I think the strength of it fades a bit for a adults. It would be a great classroom book, since there are a lot of angles to discuss.

98mabith
apr 14, 2015, 10:39pm



I made a shelf of the books I own but haven't read yet that I'd like to get to this year. Of course then I went on a library spree so I have lots of holds coming in (this is more to do with finally phoning them to confirm my address was the same which was blocking my ability to put anything on hold but which of course I couldn't deal with without calling).

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Union Street and Blow Your House Down by Pat Barker
White City by Donald James Wheal
Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
Bring Me a Unicorn by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Beyond the Vicarage by Noel Streatfeild
Unbeaten Tracks by Isabella Bird
String Too Short to be Saved by Donald Hall
Matewan Before the Massacre by Rebecca J. Bailey
Suicide and the Soul by James Hillman

Foundation by Peter Ackroyd
The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
Love, InshAllah by Nura Maznavi

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw
Life in Ancient Rome by F.R. Cowell
Anne Thornton, Junior Guide by Lotta Rowe Anthony
Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

If anyone has strong feelings that I should read one of these sooner rather than later, do let me know!

99Eyejaybee
apr 15, 2015, 7:01am

Hi Meredith

The only one of those books that I have read is Peter Ackroyd's Foundation which I did find very enjoyable. It is a history of England from the Roman to medieval period, and while he doesn't offer up anything new, he writes with great clarity and renders a lot of complex developments and changes in a coherent and very accessible way.

100mabith
apr 15, 2015, 10:02am

I've heard a lot of good things about it, and I'm definitely excited to get to it. The bigger sweeping histories are great, and so useful for putting things in context, when they're done well.

101mabith
apr 16, 2015, 7:56pm


Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

I feel like this is a more interesting book if you're a more hardcore Tolkien fan than I will ever be. The Hobbit was the first proper novel I read myself as a kid that I really loved, and I'll always treasure it dearly. Lord of the Rings I can mostly live without, though I have read the books.

The main point of this point is to show how the war (and his experiences in it) affected Tolkien's writing just as much as it did, say, Wilfred Owen's, how fantasy does not equate to escapism, etc... It was generally interesting to hear about Tolkien's love of languages and the process of coming up with some of his invented ones, but then it would go into his poems about fairies and I just don't care enough. It's not a badly done book, just better if you have a greater (or equal to) interest in Tolkien than in WWI.

102mabith
apr 16, 2015, 8:08pm


Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

I've been looking forward to reading this for some time, feeling relatively sure I'd enjoy it after seeing reviews here, and I did really enjoy it.

Eilis is young woman living in 1950s Ireland with her mother and sister. She is gifted at accountancy but can't find work. Her sister wants her to have a different life and arranges for her to go work in the US. Eilis doesn't really want to go, but it has all been arranged around her.

In New York City she has work as a shop girl, but is intensely homesick and takes a bookkeeping certification course as a distraction. She lives in a rooming house with other Irish and Irish-American girls, but isn't really friends with any of them. She largely floats around with the current, and lets people and events happen to her, even when she has doubts or concerns or would rather be anywhere else.

It's a novel of the everyday, a story many people lived and in many ways still live. It's also a novel that feels like it might get a sequel. If you want a novel that ends with all the strings tied tightly up and a clear arc of beginning, climax, conclusion, this may not be for you. The writing was lovely and Eilis felt so incredibly real. When I was younger I also just let things and people happen to me, and adjusted my hopes and needs in the aftermath, so I really related to some of her experiences.

103aquascum
apr 17, 2015, 1:21am

Ooooh 101 sounds really interesting! *saves booklink* ;)

104mabith
apr 17, 2015, 9:15am

Hope you'll like it! I think it's a great book for the right audience.

105mabith
apr 17, 2015, 11:47pm

I decided it was high time I read some fiction by West Virginia authors (talk about rare in the audiobook world). I started almost at random with Davis Grubb. Grubb was born in 1919 and was a relatively prolific writer of short stories and ten novels before his death in 1980. A number of the novels are crime dramas and he wrote Fools' Parade, which was adapted into a movie starting James Stewart.

I'm reading The Voices of Glory and absolutely loving it. Each chapter is told by a different narrator (some of them dead) and reveals information about Marcy Cresap, a social worker who seems to be accused of some crime (I'm only 50 pages into the 450 page book). It's a little reminiscent of the way Faulkner did As I Lay Dying, only much broader. Grubb is letting you know the town through individual members of the community and the writing is great. He was influenced by Mother Jones and his mother who was a social worker during the 1920s-30s.

It's a very new experience for me to read a book that feels like home, that feels truly West Virginian, and I absolutely love it. WV is so often misrepresented and misunderstood. It is entirely Appalachian in culture, not southern, not eastern, certainly not midwestern. You can tell I'm a West Virginian by the way I have strict guidelines about who "counts" as a West Virginian (I am only slightly joking). For instance, lists of WV writers include Pearl S. Buck who didn't consider the US to be her home, let alone WV where she never lived (beyond the age of three months) or attended school.

From The Voices of Glory:
“And I would say to myself: It is still Virginia. It will always be Virginia. Nothing ever can really make it be West Virginia. But I was mistaken. Years later I came farther west. I settled clear across the state in the town of Glory. Within a few years I discovered that people here had traditions and a history peculiarly their own. They were West Virginians. Perhaps they had always been West Virginians, even back in the days when Washington and his rich neighbors lived elegantly in east Virginia while the mountaineers hewed out a tough life of a far more austere and lonely sort in the western counties. "

Of course it's still early days, maybe I won't love where the book goes, but I think I will enjoy feeling so at home in the pages. Reviews at the time of publication, in 1962, weren't all hugely favorable, but I think that was partly due to literary trends of the time.

106mabith
Redigeret: apr 18, 2015, 6:43pm


Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

This memoir covers Thiong'o's childhood through his admission to high school. He was born in 1938 in Kenya, and his family was caught up in the Mau Mau war. As a child he lived in a community with his mother, his father, his father's three other wives, and his half-siblings.

He keeps the tone throughout the memoir that of his childhood self, throughout, engaging in little to no hindsight speculation or expansion. I appreciate this in a childhood memoir, as I think it presents things more realistically.

Definitely recommended. I'm eager to read some of his fiction now. (Also, I LOVE this cover.)

107mabith
apr 19, 2015, 6:54pm


The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball

For no good reason the author of this decided that jumping around in chronology was a great idea. I would say this is a book where chronology is particularly important, especially since there has to be the back-and-forth of telling the story of Eadweard Muybridge and Leland Stanford.

It was an interesting book, and not badly written, but a change in the organization of the information would have made it a more pleasant read for me. I don't mind tripping back and forth in time in fiction, but unless there's a really compelling reason I don't want my non-fiction to do that.

Muybridge was initially funded by Stanford and seems to truly have been the originator of moving pictures (granting I'm assuming this book is properly researched and presented, as I haven't studied the issue in great detail), and is behind those famous studies of horses galloping and trotting. He also murdered his wife's lover and has a link to temporary insanity pleadings (this link was, if you go by the book, a bit overstated on the TV show QI).

Generally recommended for the non-fiction enthusiast. If you don't read much non-fiction there may be more worthwhile books to spend your time on.

108rainpebble
apr 21, 2015, 4:01pm

Finally...........someone else who likes George Eliot! I love her works but have found that on LT she is not much in favor. Don't care; still love her!
I find your titles so interesting and diverse. You definitely like mixing it up, don't you Meredith?
I was checking out your profile and noted that you get the newer published books from the library. I generally do the same excepting for bios & memoirs which I usually read numerous times.
I hope you are doing well and I wanted to say how much I like your profile photo. It's a very nice shot of you.
Cheers,

109mabith
apr 21, 2015, 4:53pm

>108 rainpebble: Hi Belva! I really enjoyed Eliot's writing style, so I'm eager to read more by her. I need a lot of variety in my reading to be happy, I think, especially reading at this volume. I'm definitely enjoying giving myself more leeway to re-read this year, I used to reread favorite books on a monthly basis sometimes, and I've missed that. Thanks for stopping by and for the photo compliment! I wish I could get my hair to do that every day, but I'm not really willing to put any effort into hair styling.

110bryanoz
apr 23, 2015, 12:07pm

Great to see some George Eliot love, and very nice photo too !

111mabith
apr 23, 2015, 1:34pm

I have a feeling Eliot is going to be in my list of favorite Victorian writers along with Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy.

112mabith
apr 23, 2015, 1:39pm


Angelica by Sharon Shinn

This is the fourth of Shinn's Samaria books, but it's chronologically set before Archangel, the first in the series. It's interesting in part because if you've read the trilogy Archangel is part of then you're privy to this BIG secret about Samaria that these characters don't know.

It's not my favorite of the books, but it's not bad. As usual there's a pair of would-be lovers who are having communication issues and can't quite hit it off, there's a threat to Samaria which is mysterious and hard to counter, there are people who are lost in the sphere they usually inhabit and looking for their true home.

This series is very much that combination of science fiction and fantasy (though what denotes something as fantasy? are a race of people with wings necessarily fantasy? I don't know). The Archangel trilogy is my favorite though, and really threw me with its twist partway through (there are plenty of hints, but I'm not that sort of reader).

113mabith
apr 23, 2015, 2:03pm


The Voices of Glory by Davis Grubb

Originally published in 1962, the book is set in the late 1920s and told in twenty-eight chapters each narrated by a different resident of the town of Glory (a stand-in for Moundsville, WV). Each chapter mentions, in some way, Marcy Cresap, a woman who is a county nurse and devoted to treating TB especially. Grubb was inspired by his mother, who was a social worker in the 1920s-30s and by the activism of Mother Jones.

I really enjoyed this book and the way it was told, perhaps partly due to how at home it felt. This was my first time feeling my home described in a book. I enjoyed the way the book was written, getting all these perspectives. It's stated early on that Marcy Cresap has been charged with some criminal offense, but the exact nature isn't made clear until close to the end. The novel includes all the racism, sexism, anti-immigrant feeling, and antisemitism of the period, though most chapters only deal with the sexism. I think any woman reading this will be quite sure a man wrote it, but mostly those areas didn't bother me, as they rang true to the general attitudes (versus fringe views) of the period the book is set in and the period it was written in.

The reviews of this when it came out were quite mixed. Time magazine felt that the book was railing against "enemies long since weakened or dead," but frankly, that wasn't the case for West Virginia (not in the 1920s and honestly probably not in the 1960s either). WV is one of the few states which allows NO exceptions in its vaccination requirements for public schools, and I have a feeling that law still stands because vaccination was a longer, harder battle here due to the largely rural population (and we love our elderly politicians who would remember these diseases). Another criticism was that the characters were pure good or pure evil, but I didn't see that. Most of the characters had mixed, realistic natures.

I'm pretty sure this is the first novel I've read by a West Virginian (I've read a lot of non-fiction by my fellow residents). In following this up with more, the next WV read will be Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina.

I recommend this book particularly if you're from a rural area or anywhere in the upper Ohio river valley. I felt like maybe it was a bit too long, but perhaps that's because I'm an impatient reader of fiction, particularly when I'm enjoying it. The chapters grow longer as the book goes on, with the last being 80 pages, and I'm not sure those last few people needed THAT much room to speak.

114mabith
apr 28, 2015, 3:47pm


4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie

A classic Miss Marple mystery, also published under the title What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. A friend of Miss Marple's sees a murder happen in a car of the train traveling next to hers. She immediately informs the railway authorities and the police, but they generally dismiss her as a befuddled old woman. Marple of course figures out the most likely place the body would have been dumped (since none was found on the train), and sends a young woman of her acquaintance out to work nearby and investigate.

It was an enjoyable read. The young cohort, Lucy, is fun and nearly as sharp as Marple herself. Just the kind of easy read I needed after a physically demanding weekend.

115mabith
apr 28, 2015, 3:47pm


Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook

I would guess that most people in the US know the name Kitty Genovese and its connection with the Bystander Effect. Certainly anyone taking a basic psychology course learns about the case. However, the vast majority of books report a great exaggeration of the case which trickled down from a police commissioner to a newspaper reporter. The false information is also the main reason her case became (and remained) famous and became the driving force behind decades of psychological experiments.

Cook sets out to tell us the real story of the night Kitty was killed, but also to let us meet Kitty as she was in life, not simply as an unfortunate victim. He also shows us her killer, a man rarely mentioned in all those textbooks. I'm not sure I even knew her killer had been caught at all (that's not particularly relevant to what they're teaching you in psych courses, but still).

This book is extremely well done, and puts the case into the perspective of the times. It was very easy to read, and the short chapters made one want to continue for "just one more chapter" a dozen times over. Realizing that this happened shortly before the World's Fair in New York City, which my own mother attended, was a bit of a shock (prompting a list of questions I'll now be asking her, which will elicit her usual bafflement about why I'm interested in her experiences growing up, sigh!).

Highly recommended.

116mabith
apr 28, 2015, 3:53pm

I just found out that my library has a book club which only reads Australian authors. While it seems a little random for my area (though rural West Virginia is probably somewhat simpatico with rural Australia, plus nation of immigrants and displaced native population similarities), I'm dithering about trying to join it. I don't think I've ever read something by an Australian author that I've disliked. The book they'll discuss in early May is Breath by Tim Winton. Oh, actually maybe this month's book is Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (but he's from New Zealand! Gasp!).

117mabith
maj 3, 2015, 10:00am


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This novel sucked me in right at the beginning. It's been on my shelves a while, waiting to be read, but I think I would have gotten less from it if I'd read it five or more years ago.

Some sections in it are still heartbreakingly relevant. One being this idea many white people have that being "colorblind" towards race is good, or helpful. It simply lets them ignore their relative privileges and refuse to recognize that their life is not the universal life, their opportunities not universal opportunities.

Around the middle of the book I did feel things dragged on a bit too slowly, but perhaps because I was impatient for the inevitable explosion (I am a very impatient reader of fiction when I'm gripped by it).

Definitely recommended.

118mabith
maj 4, 2015, 2:10pm


Let Me Go by Helga Schneider

This is a memoir of Schneider's interactions with her mother, a woman who was a devoted Nazi and SS member, who abandoned her family in order to go work in concentration camps. She left when Schneider was only four (in 1941), and they did not meet again until Schneider was an adult with a five year old son (around 1971, the exact year has deserted me). This meeting was deeply upsetting and haunting for Schneider (she wanted Schneider to try on her old SS uniform, tried to give her jewelry taken from concentration camp victims, and basically ignored Schneider's son).

In 1998 a worker in the nursing home her mother is in contacts Schneider, encouraging a visit, as the mother cannot live much longer. Schneider agrees to go with reservations and presents an extremely honest account of her conflicted emotions. While her father remarried swiftly, Schneider's step-mother disliked her and had her sent away to boarding school, enlisting the young girl in lying to her little brother about who his real mother was. She has an extreme need for loving parent, and deeply wants her mother to admit her roles in the SS and show some remorse, at the very least about abandoning her. Both try to manipulate the other (Schneider largely in order to get her mother to answer her questions), which Schneider freely admits, also admitting she wants to cause her mother pain about her past. The book is written in a very effective manner, with the non-dialogue also presented as pleas, questions, and comments toward her mother that she did not voice.

I found it a very worthwhile read, and appreciated that Schneider did not try to detach from her feelings but rather lets us feel the full force of them including the deep conflict and sometimes scattered nature of her emotions. The dialogue of their meeting is sometimes interrupted with historical information about the camps her mother worked at. It is not a text that everyone will appreciate reading, but I think it's an important one. This is an also part of the Holocaust and its after-effects which is less represented in fiction and non-fiction.

119mabith
Redigeret: maj 4, 2015, 2:30pm


Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

This ranks among the group of particularly successful popular science/history books I've read. It is ordered well, and gifted at covering topics in enough depth to get you interested (vs too little information or too much given to one event/issue) and yet still feel like a full picture. The writing is good, with bits of humor which come across as natural rather than forced.

The book is divided into five sections, which cover different aspects of rain and our relationship with it, with a very good introduction about the origins of rain (why we have it and Mars and Venus lost it, the transformation of earth, etc...). One section deals with the early weather recorders and studiers and the invention and marketing of rain gear. Another covers American Rain with chapters on Thomas Jefferson (and the poor placement of Monticello when it came to water access), the insane belief that 'rain follows the plow' by which the great plains were settled (a region formerly called the Great American Desert before a brief wet period), and the rainmakers that showed up during droughts (including those who tried to practice actual science, not just the outright charlatans).

I really enjoyed reading it, learned a lot of new information and made notes on books covering some topics in more depth (a home run for me and any similarly broad non-fiction work). My favorite factoid being about the origin of the "Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night..." phrase coming from Herodotus's descriptions of Persian couriers (favorite partly because my mom was a mail carrier for most of my life).

This review is based on an ARC copy of the book, and I do hope the final edition has included some pictures and maps.

120mabith
maj 4, 2015, 3:27pm


Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

If you're a huge Sonic Youth fan, don't take my review of indicative of whether or not you'll like this book (if that's the only reason you're reading it). I liked some of their music but never really sought out whole albums (granting I did that for almost no band ever, since I didn't want to spend the money and relied on my sister making me mix tapes instead). I picked up the book on a whim when nothing else was handy.

One of the first things that surprised me was that Kim Gordon, born in 1953, is only two years younger than my mom (and they were actually at Santa Monica college at the same time)*. That added a lot to the book for me, as I really enjoy those kind of same-time/same-place connections, and comparing lives and wondering where my mom's would have headed if she'd made different choices.

Gordon seems very honest and straight forward about her life, decisions, and experiences, and I appreciated that. She largely doesn't try to speak for or over others. Her interests and the way her focus on art turned into a musical career was reminiscent of Patti Smith's in her book Just Kids.

Recommended all in all, whether you're looking for memoirs of female musicians or women born in the 1950s or bands of the 80s and 90s or artists or whichever. Really don't feel I can comment on it for big Sonic Youth fans. I enjoyed the book and I think it stands well (though not quite up to the caliber of Just Kids, that's just partly about the different circles they inhabited).

I did roll my eyes when she said something about her daughter never having heard of The Spice Girls unlike other kids on the playground (and Gordon being proud of that), but her daughter was born in 1994 and the Spice Girls were on indefinite hiatus by 2000 so that seems like a ridiculous example. I was born at the right time to love them and I hadn't heard of them until previews for their movie were on the TV (which is nothing to do with musical tastes either way, just depends largely on exposure to Top 40).

*Though there's nothing about Santa Monica on her Wikipedia page, so maybe (though it's unlikely the Wiki has been extensively updated with every little thing since this book came out in Feb) I misheard. I know Santa Monica College and 1972 were in the same sentence.

121mabith
maj 7, 2015, 5:12pm


A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

This is a stand-alone YA science fiction (space opera type) novel. I went into it thinking it was actually the start of a series, so my expectations were a bit different than they might have been. It is a book that could easily have a sequel though.

Prince Khemri is one of many children taken from their parents as babies in order to be raised by priests and given heavily augmented bodies to become princes of the empire, one of whom will become emperor. Once they leave the safe haven of a temple they are targets for assassination by other princes. But of course they're never given the whole story of how the empire works.

As usual, Nix is incredibly gifted at creating unique SF/fantasy worlds. While there are common tropes in this book (giant empire whose high born citizens don't know the truth, etc...), it's still a really neat world. However, I am getting tired of SF where prince, sir, any typically masculine label is used for women too, primarily because it's always done that way. Why couldn't an egalitarian society have had matriarchal roots and use ma'am, princess, etc... for both sexes? It's a fictional world!

This isn't among my favorite books by Nix, but it was enjoyable. It should be suitable for sixth graders and up. Sex is mentioned, but not with any detail at all (just the fact that sex is sometimes had solely for pleasure, which most sixth graders are aware of already).

122mabith
maj 9, 2015, 5:59pm


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This novel follows a Captain serving the South Vietnamese army as part of Special Branch (think secret police) under the umbrella of the Phoenix Program (a CIA initiative). He has served the General (neither are given names) for some time as a trusted member of the operation, but the Captain is actually a sympathizer, reporting to the communists. As the book opens in 1975 at the fall of Saigon, he is making arrangements for the General's and his family's escape, along with the Captain's schoolyard best friend Bon and his wife and child. The Captain is unmarried, and doesn't expect to be married. His father was a French priest and his life has been marked by the word bastard never feeling 100% accepted in any situation.

From early on in the book it's made clear that he is writing a confession (the whole book is first person narration) for an unnamed Commandant. So while there is an anticipation to know who this is and who they serve, the book really isn't a thriller in sense of being tense and totally driven by a big plot. If you see it referred to as a spy thriller and you love traditional high action thrillers, this may not be the book for you.

The majority of the book takes place in Los Angeles, amid the refugee community. The General is not ready to surrender to this new life where he is a businessman. The book is about the push and pull of two political forces, but also two countries, the difficulty of coming to the US as a refugee, particularly from THIS war, and the host of micro-aggressions and racism faced.

A good book, recommended. A very good debut novel, and I'll be interested to see how Nguyen develops if he continues as a novelist. There were a few missteps, but not many, I am still feeling somewhat lukewarm about the ending. One issue was a statement about the US being a country where they arrest you for slapping your wife or child, which they barely do now, let alone in 1975. There are still huge hurdles for domestic abuse victims to get the help they need. Largely we're still programmed to not poke our noses into others' lives (except when it comes to how people use food stamps or judging someone's relative health by their looks/telling them yoga will cure a serious chronic illness...).

123mabith
maj 9, 2015, 6:12pm


The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling

By "hidden genius" Ferling really just means Washington's skills as a politician (in getting and keeping what he wanted even when he was failing at a task) are largely ignored. Washington is often praised for not being political or partisan (apparently, I've not read many books just focusing on him) but that's really not true. A lot of the politics in question were during the Revolutionary War, so it's a different sort of issue than pure 'elected official' stuff. This also means you get a lot of fairly detailed military history in this, which rarely thrills me.

It was a decent book, but not particularly amazing. Tentative recommendation, as it at least purports to deal with a side of Washington that is more overlooked. I never feel all that driven to read about the founders, perhaps in part because we did the Colonial period and Revolutionary War in school every single year from 3rd grade to 8th grade (obviously that was pellet sized, mashed down stuff, but it's really made me ambivalent).

Still not sure why my dad loves Washington, but maybe it's partly an old man thing (I mean, he used to really dislike Hamilton but now suddenly he's pretty great, so I think I should get paid for the all the times I had to listen to the anti-Hamilton lecture as a kid). I'm pretty sure his criteria for historical figures is now based on what booze they liked best anyway.

124mabith
maj 13, 2015, 10:15am


The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

This book centers around boxing at the end of the 18th century, but I don't think the boxing is SO prevalent that a person who disliked the sport would also hate the book (the actual boxing scenes are pretty few and far between). I'm no big fan of boxing, I can somewhat see the appeal, but can also see why it would be distasteful. In any case, the book is about people and attempting to escape their narrow lives more than anything else.

The narration is split between three characters and mostly set in Bristol. Ruth, the youngest daughter of a whorehouse proprietor, who is never destined to go into that business. She begins boxing when her sister's usual client, Granville, sees her fighting and takes her to fight. George, the youngest son of a gentry family who is sent to a boarding school and becomes friends and lovers with Perry and then friends with Granville (son of a prosperous merchant). And Charlotte, Perry's sister who is highborn but pox-marked and somewhat reclusive.

I absolutely loved this book top to bottom. I knew after the first few chapters I'd love it. The characters all felt very real. Ruth and Charlotte are both great and add wonderful depth to the way women are often portrayed in historical fiction (or classics) set in this period. All in all it was an extremely impressive feat for a debut novel and I really look forward to more books by the author. I loved her use of language and slang.

Highly recommended.

125mabith
maj 13, 2015, 10:41am


Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis (RE-READ)

This is the third book in Davis' Falco series, and the first where she really hits her stride in pacing and character development meshing evenly with the mystery plot.

One of the things I love most about Davis' works is her ease at including so much historical detail without it feeling forced. She's also funny, and all of the books have some humor. Her characters are all allowed to be very human, in terms of being snarky and sarcastic and not just a straight cut-out character that you often see in historical fiction. She reminds us of things people often don't think about when ancient Rome is the subject - such as the sprawling bureaucracy, real estate scams, the maze that the city was, etc...

The books continue to tighten up and get better and better as the series goes on. She's also quite good at making them read-able out of order, except for the last six or so in the series. She fills you in on past events without it ever feeling like too much or being annoying.

126mabith
maj 13, 2015, 10:41am


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

The Clark fortune is not one that remained in the American memory (unlike that of Carnegie or Rockefeller), but it was incredibly immense. Huguette was Clark's youngest child, born to his young second wife Anna, when Clark was 67. Huguette was born in 1906 and died in 2011 at age 104. She seems to have always been somewhat eccentric, and became very reclusive, especially after her mother died. She spent over 20 years living in a hospital while owning several residences and having more than enough money to ensure she got the best home care.

It was an interesting book, though not really a five star read for me. She was certainly a character, and a passionate woman with many hobbies and intense generosity. Given how much she disliked the idea of publicity, I feel like it was a sketchy decision to write this book and publish it before her death.

Again, an interesting subject, but far from a necessary one. I feel like the book doesn't serve much purpose, at least not in my life. Again, I question the decision to publish when it was extremely obvious that Huguette rejected all publicity even to the extent of making nearly all charitable gifts anonymous.

127mabith
maj 15, 2015, 10:06pm


Non-Violence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky

This book covers the beginning of pacifism associated with Christian sects, the differences between pacifism and active non-violent protest, and uses various examples through history to show its effects.

A well-written book, interesting examples and just enough background history. A very quick read, as the audio reader was ridiculously slow, even turning the speed up to 1.4x normal some bits still seemed too slow.

I went to a Quaker high school and my dad had a hearing during the Vietnam War to approve CO status (and assign two years of alternative service), so this subject is closer to me than it might be for others. Generally recommended. It's a book that will primarily lead you to deeper reads on the subject/events.

128mabith
maj 15, 2015, 10:10pm


Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

This book is part of the Canongate Myth Series, all of which are quite short, I believe. I've already read The Penelopiad from the series.

Dream Angus is largely a series of vignettes, alternating with Smith's retelling of the myth. In the vignettes there is always an Angus character.

It was an interesting little diversion. Well done, I think, though I wasn't longing for it to last another 100 pages.

129mabith
maj 15, 2015, 10:19pm


Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson

I really enjoyed this one and found it very compulsive reading. Fans of Mary Roach should also like this title. It's a wonderful peek into professional archaeology and the pitfalls and joys of making it your career, the pros and cons of amateurs being involved, etc...

Johnson flits around to different digs, talking to people in widely varied specialties. I do wish she'd gone to an experimental archaeology site, such as the Guédelon Castle construction. I felt like those projects were missing from the book (though perhaps it's just my rabid fandom for Ruth Goodman talking).

Recommended for anyone who's ever had the slightest interest in archaeology. Great read.

130mabith
maj 21, 2015, 10:46am


Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

While this is the third Moomin book published it was the first to be translated into English, meaning it got this title (and a foreward) rather than the original The Magician's Hat, which is the star of the book. It's the first Moomin book I've read, as it was the only one I could find!

It covers a season of Moomin life, with the hat causing all sorts of trouble along the way. It was quite fun and random, and I'd definitely look out for the books for my niece and nephew.

131mabith
maj 21, 2015, 11:23am

I just got back from a few days of camping, taking advantage of a cooler spell (I have a neurological disease that can't do heat or sun or high humidity and end up stuck inside for most of the summer, so I jumped at this last chance to be out in the woods). I always forget how much I miss being in the woods. I am definitely not a city gal at heart.


This is Sandstone Falls, near Hinton, WV.


This is up at Pipestem State Park where we camped. Unfortunately the tram down the mountain (no public road access) wasn't running yet.


And this is how I spent most of the trip! In many ways this is the happiest place for me to be - hammock in the woods with a book.

Now I'm feeling genuinely bereft being back in my fifth floor apartment where I can't even sit and watch a bird feeder. Back to researching small towns to move to.

132mabith
maj 21, 2015, 11:27am


Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

I've been meaning to read this for many years, but never quite got around to it. My experience with Giardina was with her 2000 or 2001 campaign for West Virginia Governor. This is the year I've decided to read more West Virginians though. While I felt absolutely completely at home in The Voices of Glory, set in the upper Ohio river valley, I didn't have the same reaction to Storming Heaven which is set in the southern coal counties and eastern Kentucky (fairly foreign compared to where I grew up). It was certainly a place and life I recognized, however (plus the WV Mine Wars are my specialist subject).

The book is a telling of life before and after the railroad came to southern WV, making it possible for the big coal companies to follow. Many people had their land illegally taken from them (in real life history and in the novel), and the ramifications of fighting the railroad or the (usually out-of-state) mine owners, could be death. When I say the land was stolen, I mean that this was often land these families had been on for 6 or 7 generations. Giardina takes us through early union activity and through WWI, with narration changing between several residents of Glory, almost all caught up in the struggle to unionize in some way.

The book is set in a fictionalized Mingo county (Justice county in the book), and two main characters end up in a fictionalized reenactment of the Matewan massacre, and subsequent courthouse shooting. I feel like, honestly, this was taking things a little too far in fictionalizations, but it won't detract from the book for those who don't know the history well. The story culminates in the miner's march from Charleston and the Battle of Blair Mountain. Giardina stays true to history, which means don't expect a happy ending for anyone but the mine owners.

It's a good book, and she gives a variety of perspectives on the struggles to unionize (which ultimately wouldn't happen until 1931). Giardina, while born in 1961, did grow up in a coal camp with veterans of these battles and with the companies still showing little concern for their workers. There were a few little things that bugged me, but all in all I'd highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of southern WV or labor history in general. This will give you more of the human sides of the conflict than most non-fiction about the mine wars.

I also love that when West Virginians are writing about this period they're giving us fictional towns with names like Glory and Justice. It's so... well, typical for one thing.

133mabith
maj 21, 2015, 11:33am


The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft

I feel like I should have enjoyed this more than I did. I think for me it was too detailed in the battle history and felt somewhat detached from the human experiences of these times. Probably a more specific book would have suited me, or one following specific leaders or generals more closely.

I don't think it was badly written or particularly dry, just didn't suit me right at this moment.

134mabith
maj 24, 2015, 10:12pm


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Simply put, this is a beautifully written book. It is about wildness, about our ideas of wildness as purity, about violence, about hawking, about anxiety, about grief, and about TH White.

Macdonald has always loved hawks and falconry, which shines through. The book is a journey through a period of her life, and it is both rewarding and painful.

Highly recommended.

135mabith
maj 24, 2015, 10:32pm


Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (RE-READ)

If you're a lover of all the Discworld books and that patented Pratchett way with quips and packing in the satire and humor and historical references, it's best to think of this book as a Gaiman book. I always wonder how these partnerships work, especially when one author has a very distinctive style. I've not read enough Gaiman to have noticed if he has a specific style of writing.

It's a fun little book, with an angel and a demon trying to prevent the apocalypse, and losing track of the anti-christ. Not to mention Agnes Nutter and her 100% accurate book of prophecies. It's not destined to be a super favorite of mine, but fun enough to be worth a re-read every ten years or so.

136mabith
maj 24, 2015, 11:23pm


Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

I read this after numerous positive reviews, and seeing a snippet of the story after watching Cumming's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (watched largely for his lovely accent and pretty face than knowledge of his work). I also feel an affection for him as a bisexual actor who insists on being called bisexual and not standing for the erasure of that identity by either the gay or straight community (which happens CONSTANTLY).

The memoir focuses on a short, but emotionally intense period of Cummings life, with flashes back to his childhood. His father had been emotionally and physically abusive to him and his brother almost since Cummings can remember. When word gets out about the genealogy show his father tells his brother than Cummings' is not his son. This sets off a huge range of questions but also a bit of happiness, as Cummings' is relieved at the thought that this abusive man might not be his father, that his mother might have known some love or tenderness.

Cummings writes with fierce honesty (this book was published after his father's dead). He does not deal with theories, turning what he's lived into academic speeches, he deals with his emotions and lets them be raw. It's a powerful book, both about childhood trauma and about healing. Highly recommended. The audiobook comes with the extra treat of Cummings reading it himself, I don't think anyone else could have done justice to the emotions expressed.

137mabith
Redigeret: maj 25, 2015, 11:31am


Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Norris has spent more than three decades in the copy department of The New Yorker, having started there in 1978. While this book addresses grammar and the correct uses of punctuation, it's also simply about her time at the magazine, starting when things were still much more old fashioned and continuing to see two writers battling for who can get the most profanity published in the magazine.

Norris is relatively flexible about language (though I feel being inflexible about they/their as a singular, gender neutral pronoun is a ridiculous position - English speakers have been using it like that for decades and three made-up pronouns are unlikely to catch on). Language changes, even word definitions change. Taking away that sense of neutrality that many people crave in the name of correct grammar (always a thing of the moment) is kind of immoral. Even when we disagree though, I found Norris to be very likeable. She talks about the flagrantly ungrammatical uses of punctuation by numerous famous writers, and how the way we use those marks has changed (and also that apostrophes aren't actually punctuation marks).

Interesting, fun book about language and life in one of the bastions of the English language press. I loved the parts about working at The New Yorker and her coworkers. Recommended.

138jfetting
maj 25, 2015, 11:22am

Beautiful photos of your trip! Reading in the woods is the best.

139mabith
maj 25, 2015, 11:53am

I definitely agree with you there. Any outdoor reading is pretty great. Nice to have that wind, outdoor smells, the birds chirping.

140mabith
maj 27, 2015, 7:07pm


Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

This is an intense, graphic journey of Forney's life starting with her bi-polar diagnosis and the years it took to find the right combination of medication. She confronts the idea of creativity and if it is linked to mental illness, and she is constantly worried that the medication will dampen her creative spirit or overshadow her true self.

The book is a good refutation of the "medication makes you a zombie" idea, which is generally only true for the unsuccessful med cocktails. It does take a lot of time to work that stuff out, and it involves commitment; with serious mental illnesses yoga and dietary changes are unlikely to cut it. Even with serious physical illnesses too many people are quick to deride medication and encourage strange supplements and yoga yoga yoga. There's a lot wrong with our healthcare system and 'Big Pharma' but medication as a general idea is not bad or evil.

The book also deals with the reactions of her friends and family, including the revelation that many of her friends also had mental illnesses that she hadn't known about. The book returns again and again to the question of creativity and creative geniuses in times gone by. Highly recommended.

141mabith
maj 29, 2015, 3:14pm


The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

I enjoyed this novel of secret pasts quite well. It's definitely not my favorite Hardy, as there was far less to like in the characters (Far From the Madding Crowd is my current favorite), but still a good read. With the audiobook only being 13 hours it seemed rather short for a Victorian novel! The pacing was done well, and while it has the typical predictability and heavy foreshadowing of Victorian novels, that doesn't bother me when the writing is good.

I do really enjoy Hardy's writing style, and his characters generally behave very realistically. Everyone except Elizabeth Jane is always so concerned with what people will think of them, above anyone's happiness, it makes you want to lecture them something fierce.

Recommended for Hardy fans, but I wouldn't make it the only Hardy you read (or one of the few Victorian novels you read).

142mabith
maj 29, 2015, 3:29pm


Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (RE-READ)

I love this novel and it's sequel, Dreams of Joy, so much. It takes place from 1937-1957 and See pulls much from her own family history for the book. Her paternal great-grandfather was Chinese, and she has written a family history, which I highly recommend, called On Gold Mountain. She may be known for Snowflower and the Secret Fan, but it is not her best work by a long shot.

Pearl and May are sisters who grow up well off in Shanghai. They have the money for beautiful clothes, spend nights out dancing and drinking, and they pose for an artist friend who paints 'beautiful girl' pictures for advertising. Their father gets into debt and arranges marriages for them in order to have the debts forgiven. Pearl and May aren't aware of that when they decide not to meet their husbands and father-in-law to go to the US as arranged. Soon after the Japanese invade and they must flee. As their plans shift and change they realize they must go to the US after all, to their husbands.

The novel deals with immigration, racism, assimilation, family secrets, communist witch hunts, reaction to trauma, sibling relationships, etc... It's a beautifully done book which also deals with our perceptions and how two people can see the same event in almost opposite ways. Pearl and May love each other very much, but also experience a lot of conflict due to their different natures and different views on how life has treated them. The story of these sisters and their family of in-laws is always firmly set in the history of the time.

Highly recommend. This and the sequel sent me on a non-fiction reading spree dealing with China in the 20th century, and especially Mao's "Great Leap Forward." For me, that's what successful historical fiction should always do.

143mabith
jun 1, 2015, 3:12pm


Clariel by Garth Nix

This book is a prequel to the Sabriel trilogy, which I loved to bits when I first read it. I feel like this one wasn't as strong though. The pacing felt off, and in general it just wasn't as interesting to me. The pacing made it feel that this was the first in a new trilogy, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Nix is also working on a sequel to Abhorsen, the last book in the Sabriel trilogy.

So, I don't know. Maybe I'm missing out since it's been 7 years since I read the other books (and I've only read this once). For whatever reason I didn't feel like this particularly held up to the quality of the others.

144mabith
jun 1, 2015, 3:18pm


Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker

I was excited for this book, but in the end felt it was rather drawn out. It seemed like a long article could have served nearly as well, as the book started to feel a bit samey.

English and French physicians start trying blood transfusions from animals to humans as a great cure-all (replacement for blood-letting, basically), argue over who invented it, and don't kill as many people as they might because they weren't really getting much animal blood into the patients. Then transfusion research is basically banned for quite a while.

The book was still interesting, just not particularly gripping or impactful. Tentatively recommend if the subject interests you. It's a relatively short book, if you don't enjoy it then it's low-risk if you're a compulsive finisher.

145mabith
jun 1, 2015, 3:41pm


The Trolley to Yesterday by John Bellairs

As a kid, this was my favorite of the Johnny Dixon books, a series I adored. Unlike the other books in the series it doesn't have that creepy, semi-horror aspect but instead involves history, which is why it was my favorite.

The books are set in the 1950s, during Bellair's own teenage and early adult years. Johnny Dixon is a shy, rather nerdy, boy. He lives with his grandparents and is friends with the old history professor who lives next door. They've gotten into all kinds of supernatural situations, along with Johnny's friend Fergie, who's a greaser-dressing smart-aleck, but a good egg. Together they frequently face evil. In The Trolley to Yesterday it's Johnny who must help save the professor and keep him from enacting his dangerous scheme to keep Constantinople from the Turkish army in 1453 (and of course they all end up there).

I've always said these books are why I've never been tempted to read any horror books. I can't imagine any book being creepier than Bellairs' The Eyes of the Killer Robot (which I still won't read after dark) or The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull (also it's more the characters and the semi-constant focus on history that I loved, vs the creep factor). The downside is they're really bare of women/girls. Other than Johnny's grandmother there are really none to speak of. I guess it's good there's not a parade of "girls used solely as victims" in each book, but it makes me sad. While they're set in the 1950s, they're fantasy books, and it's silly to defend that sort of thing with "being realistic." Bellairs wrote most of this series in the 1980s. I still love the books, but I would have loved them even more if Johnny's same-age friend had been a girl, or the professor a woman. For what its worth, his other two children's series each have female main characters.

146mabith
jun 2, 2015, 4:56pm

I've become bored with a subscription snack service I was using and realized that it was $1 more per month (in a four week month) than a two books/month Audible subscription. So I finally signed up to audible. I think it will be a very good deal for me. $11.50 for an audiobook isn't bad, and there's so much (particularly in non-fiction and translated fiction) that my library will never get. I went through my to-read list last night and looked up everything I hadn't found in audio format and everything my library didn't have in any format, so I've got a good wishlist on Audible to draw from.

First two books The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano and Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth, two books I was very surprised were given audio editions at all. Very excited for both of them. Since I get to keep the books forever, I'll occasionally use the credits to buy titles that I love to re-read.

147mabith
jun 4, 2015, 9:09pm


Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

Last year I devoured the TV show based on this book, found due to my searching out other projects actors from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries had been involved in. I feel like there aren't actually that many realistic depictions of female friendship during the teenage years out there, but Puberty Blues hit the mark (as does the BBC show Some Girls). I went to boarding school for high school, and those friendships were so intense.

For my fellow Americans, Puberty Blues was published in 1979 and strikes me as the Australian Go Ask Alice except it's (apparently) largely truthful rather than being totally made-up propaganda. I imagine both have the same lure for the average teenager/pre-teen. The more truthful nature makes Puberty Blues kind of terrifying, and I was thanking my stars I still felt like a KID at 13.

It's an interesting artifact, in a lot of ways, and I know I would have read and re-read it constantly if I'd had it as a teen. It made me appreciate the TV show SO much more. I felt like they really expanded on so many things in perfect ways, but since the book is so short they got to include everything (and the additions weren't against the feeling of the book, I don't think). The ending of both really pleased me to bits. I also love that the TV show explored the parents lives (as well it should) and now I want to go rewatch the whole thing.

148mabith
jun 4, 2015, 9:20pm


Medicus by Ruth Downie

I made note of this a while back, when I realized just how few Cadfael books I had left (now all finished, sadly). Mysteries are my easy-read books, but I finished up Dorothy L. Sayers, most of Josephine Tey, the Ngaio Marsh I could find, and Lindsey Davis (queen of my heart) isn't writing any more Falco books. I tend not to like modern mysteries set in our time, so I don't bother trying to them.

Ruso is a doctor who has a taken a post in Roman Britain around the time of Emperor Trajan's death. His wife has divorced him and he's generally sour, over-worked, and underpaid. The British weather doesn't help much A few mysterious deaths come across his table and he ends up involved almost against his will. He's a reluctantly decent guy who wishes he wouldn't keep finding himself in situations where he feels he has to be a decent guy.

It was a very good read, though I predicted the villain right away (something I don't try to do, but you can't help forming an opinion). I'll certainly read the others in the series. Downie could stand adding more historical detail, but the lack didn't keep me from enjoying it.

149mabith
jun 4, 2015, 9:20pm


Medicus by Ruth Downie

I made note of this a while back, when I realized just how few Cadfael books I had left (now all finished, sadly). Mysteries are my easy-read books, but I finished up Dorothy L. Sayers, most of Josephine Tey, the Ngaio Marsh I could find, and Lindsey Davis (queen of my heart) isn't writing any more Falco books. I tend not to like modern mysteries set in our time, so I don't bother trying to them.

Ruso is a doctor who has a taken a post in Roman Britain around the time of Emperor Trajan's death. His wife has divorced him and he's generally sour, over-worked, and underpaid. The British weather doesn't help much A few mysterious deaths come across his table and he ends up involved almost against his will. He's a reluctantly decent guy who wishes he wouldn't keep finding himself in situations where he feels he has to be a decent guy.

It was a very good read, though I predicted the villain right away (something I don't try to do, but you can't help forming an opinion). I'll certainly read the others in the series. Downie could stand adding more historical detail, but the lack didn't keep me from enjoying it.

150mabith
jun 6, 2015, 5:37pm


Here by Richard McGuire

This is a graphic novel, each page showing the same spatial coordinates (usually as a living room in a house built in 1907) in a wide range of years (from a million years ago up to a hundred years in the future). Sometimes there are people and you follow them along for a few pages or they reappear in ten or twenty pages. The background year will often have panel inserts from other years.

It was a really neat concept and well executed. For me, this is the stuff I think about. When I'm in an old house, when I'm handling old objects, I think about the people who held them in the past. That might make this a better read for me than others.

151mabith
jun 6, 2015, 5:41pm


How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis

This is a collection of short comics. Davis uses a range of drawing styles and I loved each and every one. Her art was just so wonderful, especially the full color pieces.

The stories often have a fantasy or dystopian theme, and generally kept you off kilter. They were interesting, and fun (if rarely funny), and I appreciated all of them for one or another reason.

Recommended, even just to stare at the gorgeous cover, which certainly made me feel happy in my soul.

152mabith
jun 7, 2015, 10:00am


Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano

This was an intense read, and extremely rewarding. The subject matter is important, and we must make sure we're looking at history not just from the vantage point of the exploiters (I had a very personal experience with this as a teen when our WV history textbooks were produced and approved by a coal company).

Originally published in 1971, Galeano analyzes the history of Latin America from the time of colonizations to the 1970s (depending on the edition). He focuses especially on economic exploitation, and how a region so rich doesn't seem to profit by those riches. This book was once banned in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Galeano's home, Uruguay.

It's a really important read, and I only wish there were an edition that had been brought up to the present day. My paper copy was printed in 1997, but I think the audio version may have been drawing from one of the older texts, as I don't remember it having the introduction by Isabel Allende. Highly recommended, particularly for anyone living in the Americas.

While the author said in 2014 that the language he used in the book was "extremely boring," this reader didn't find that to be the case. The only part where I glazed a bit was a section on banking.

153mabith
jun 15, 2015, 1:58pm


Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

This is a novel about Dowager Empress Cixi, written long before we had the access to information and research found in Jung Chang's recent biography of Cixi. However, Buck had an interesting advantage in this book. She grew up in China during the last 16 years of Cixi's reign and grew up around people who had lived during Cixi's earlier years and spoke of her fondly. She was also cognizant that female rulers are always judged to a very different standard than men (a few killings for a queen or empress make them hopelessly cruel while a king of emperor's are just a necessary part of the life).

It's a well done book, though certainly not historically accurate for what we know now. Cixi is not perfect, but she always has her reasons for what she does. It depicts a supreme loneliness, as her status and the political realities do not allow for true friends. It depicts her ignorance of the world outside of China at a time when understanding the military disparities between China and England were of extreme importance. She holds no punches when it comes to the English and American pressures and crimes and their total disregard for China as an ancient civilization.

Definitely not my favorite of Buck's novels, but enjoyable. I found her name switching particularly effective, as Cixi starts as Orchid, then as a concubine a family name is used, then when she gives birth she is the Empress Mother, etc...

154mabith
jun 15, 2015, 1:59pm


Tommy Gun Winter: Jewish Gangsters, a Preacher's Daughter, and the Trial that Shocked 1930s Boston by Nathan Gorenstein

First off, I think it was an exaggeration to refer to three men with a short-lived crime spree as gangsters. The word implies rather more scope and wide reaching networks. The main title is great, but also a bit much as I think only one of their crimes used the tommy gun they'd acquired.

It is, however, a well-written and researched book. Two brothers, Murt and Irving Millen, and Murt's friend Abe Faber, beginning planning and executing crimes, largely theatre holdups at first. They scheme to acquire more (and more deadly) weapons before hitting a bank and killing two policemen in the process. This act sent local and state police (often working against each other) and the press into a search that revealed previously unconnected crimes. The final apprehension of the men relied on some very minor clues. Murt's wife Norma also becomes tangled up in the story and trial.

While the book was well done, it's pretty niche. There's nothing in the book that really has any wider impact on the world (versus something like the Kitty Genovese murder). While the trial involved an initial insanity defense the circus around it only served to confuse the issue and make people more suspicious of psychiatry (but again, on a local level). It was relatively interesting, and a quick read, but I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to other than heavy readers of Boston history.

155mabith
jun 15, 2015, 2:44pm


Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

I sped through this book in almost one sitting (my eyes got too blurry to read, so I slept and then picked it back up in the morning) and really enjoyed it. Well, mostly really enjoyed, three quarters or so through there was a bit that made me roll my eyes pretty hard and dampened my enjoyment somewhat. However, it's something that I most people would find unsurprising (not to say un-annoying) in a book narrated by a straight man (there are other moments like that in the book and its important to think about these double-standards).

It's a LGBT classic for a reason, but anyone reading it should be aware there are problematic, coercive sex scenes. Molly grows up in small-town Pennsylvania. She doesn't fit in and doesn't feel bad about it. After an incident her mother lets slip that Molly is a bastard and adopted. Molly falls in love with and has a relationship with a girl in school which is broken up by her family's sudden move to Florida.

Molly isn't totally reckless about disclosing her identity as a lesbian, but she has a hard time understanding why it matters to anyone. She stays true to herself in moments of adversity and refuses to apologize for who she is or her dreams. The book isn't one big happily ever after, but it differs greatly from the angst and misery that almost seemed a requirement of other LGBT books from this period and the previous decades (Rubyfruit Jungle was published in 1973).

156mabith
jun 15, 2015, 2:45pm


Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly

A very interesting book about the realities of pirate life and how they came to be seen as figures of romance (largely through literature and films). For a group of people who murdered and raped as a norm, we don't seem to think about that anymore (Vikings are going the same way, or were at least).

Cordingly packs a lot of information into this book, and it can be a little overwhelming. Nice read for the history lover or pirate enthusiast though! Like every other group in history pirates represented a huge variety of personalities and traits. A favorite bit was when Anne Bonny who had been dressed as a man decided to tell another pirate her secret as she wanted to sleep with him. Only it turned out to be another woman, Mary Read, in male disguise. How they must have laughed.

Enjoyable book, perhaps a little dry at times. Interesting to pick through what actual pirates did versus the things we got from literature. Amazing how quickly something becomes 'general ignorance' as they'd say on QI.

157mabith
jun 25, 2015, 5:36pm


To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

I've read (and loved) all of Willis' other time travel novels, and really enjoyed this one too, though it's probably my least favorite of the bunch. It's a very comic novel, with much less serious drama/fewer ramifications for the present world. The main character, Ned, is sent back to 1888 to fulfill some task and then get some rest as he's suffering serious time lag. However, the time lag symptoms mean he has no recollection of what he's supposed to do. His frequent bemoanings about how in fiction such-and-such would happen to make his life easier, are very enjoyable. Book characters talking about what would happen in a book is something I always love.

One of the things that kind of bothered me about this title is that it feels much more Wodehousian than Victorian, and Wodehouse is frequently mentioned (as well as 20s-30s mystery novels). There were a few other minor things that annoyed me a bit, though nothing serious. It's a good book, and fun, just not my favorite Willis.

158mabith
jun 25, 2015, 5:43pm


Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Well, this one was predictably depressing. In short it explores extractive institutions and how they keep countries rich in resources largely in poverty. It talks about countries which overcame extractive governments and colonial regimes, how it happened, and why it's not a given. It's well written and informative, if a bit dry at times.

If you're a US citizen be prepared to occasionally roll your eyes/grumble in anger at a very simplified view of US life. The line about people in the US being able to "choose their occupations" was a particularly egregious example. People who have the privilege of going to college might be able to choose their major, but that's a far cry from choosing your occupation (and this was written in 2012, well into the devaluing of a college degree and simultaneous increases in tuition costs).

159mabith
jun 25, 2015, 8:14pm


Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon RE-READ

I was assigned a scene from this play for a theatre course in my brief college life (I got sick and had to leave), and fell in love with the play. It's an interesting example of something that is dated, but in a normal, time capsule sort of way. You know it's the sixties, but most of the humor isn't dated and in some ways it really captures living with a lover for the first time, expectations vs reality, etc... Granting I'm someone who at age 14, when making a list of reasons it would be nice to live with a partner, put "someone to put lotion on my back" in the number one spot.

I re-read now because a full cast version was the Audible deal of the day. Even though I did not like the sound of one of the leads in the sample, for 99 cents I couldn't resist and since it's not that long I felt I could put up with less-than stellar actors. The actress reading Corie and the actor reading Victor were doing that "wink wink I know I'm saying something funny" thing, which is rarely good for comedy. I definitely wouldn't recommend the audio edition, but it's a fun play.

160mabith
jun 25, 2015, 8:27pm


The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost RE-READ

Proving that re-reads are a good thing, I finally realized that the title of the book came from a specific thing and refers to Troost and his girlfriend (the title had annoyed me, though I really like the book). On the islands of Kiribati the locals tell naughty children that the I-matang (foreigners) will eat them if they don't behave. I'm still damn sure Troost titled this and his next book specifically to attract attention in an annoying way, given publishing I guess that's not surprising, but I retain my annoyance.

It is a really fascinating book, and often funny, book that's still my favorite of his works. It is a mix of personal experiences and essays on the problems with aid workers, environmental issues on these small islands, and the truly horrible treatment of such places by the US and other governments. Plus a history lesson on the bloody Battle of Tarawa during WWII.

This isn't your average travelogue for many reasons. One being that Troost and his girlfriend lived there for two years, and the other being that this kind of island life is hugely removed from what is familiar to most readers. Highly recommended.

161lilithburns
jun 26, 2015, 7:22am

I just finished this a few days ago and it was amazing. It really opened my eyes to the realities of medications. Definitely an amazing and highly recommended read!

162mabith
jun 26, 2015, 2:49pm


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

This was a very good read, and deserving of its place on the classics shelf. The writing reminded of John Steinbeck (who is one of my favorite writers). I am not up to the task of writing a true review of it, so here's some extra information.

From Wikipedia:
The story is set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s and describes a single day of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.

The book's publication was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history since never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed. The editor of Novy Mir, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, wrote a short introduction for the issue, titled "Instead of a Foreword", to prepare the journal's readers for what they were about to experience.


Definitely recommended!

163mabith
jun 26, 2015, 3:02pm


Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis

This is the second of Davis' Flavia Albia series, a spin-off from the Falco series. Albia is Falco and Helena's adopted daughter who they found in Britain. She has set herself up as an informer.

I am still not impressed/happy with this series. Albia does not act like she was raised by Falco and Helena. While of course that happens in real life (all I have to do is look at siblings...), this is fiction. Albia strikes me as Davis' idea of "young women today," only based solely on negative stereotypes and our inherently sexist media. The books aren't as historically informative and the language is highly modernized. While I don't think the modern language is a problem in general (the phrases that stood out would certainly have equivalent phrases in latin, or any language in any period), it feels very different from the writing in the Falco books and I do not adjust to that kind of thing easily.

I need to search out opinions on these books from people who haven't read the Falco books. I cannot separate the two. I also feel like it would be better if Albia were removed from Rome and her family. The references to Falco and Helena, the scenes with Falco's brothers, I don't think they do the story any favors. It feels too gratuitous, there just to please fans of the Falco series.

I'm not a completist for that many authors, if something doesn't hold my interest I won't keep reading. However, I know that I'll continue to read anything Davis writes (I've loved all the other non-Falco books I've read). Maybe the series will improve, but I just can't help keeping up with Davis.

164mabith
jun 26, 2015, 3:17pm


Lists of Note by Shaun Usher

I was a longtime follower of Usher's website Letters of Note, so I jumped at the chance to request Lists of Note via the ER program.

It's a beautiful, well put-together book. Perfect coffee table/guest room fare, as it's a book one browses through rather than reads for long periods. The only weaker point for me are the lists which are just type-written, and have no picture of an original handwritten or typewriter-written list. It's not a great criticism, of course there are many interesting lists only ever written on a computer screen, but somehow those lists just feel a bit less real.

This book would probably make a good gift for a lot of hard-to-shop-for people. The lists and their writers cover a huge range of topics and professions (the ancient ones are my favorites). It has a lovely textbook look under the dust jacket.

165mabith
jun 26, 2015, 3:25pm


The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

If you want to hold onto the idea that Democratic leaders in the US fight against the corporate arrogance, market manipulation, and law breaking rampant in the last two decades, you may not want to read this book.

It is a stark look at the different standards for corporations (doing serious damage to every day people) in the eyes of the law, vs the average poor citizen. It covers the lack of action against Wall Street criminals and the heavy handed actions against the poor, particularly the non-white poor. It covers the very real fact that money determines, at least in part, the way our justice system treats us.

Depressing, but necessary and useful information that we could all stand to be more aware of. Recommended.

The audiobook was done well, and you could tell that the reader, Ray Porter, had done a close reading of this book and was really pissed off about what he read.

166mabith
jun 26, 2015, 3:28pm

After a few weeks of highly increased pain and bad brain fog, I'm finally up to date on my reads. These were not all great books for brain fog days, but I always feel like maybe they'll help my thinking skills. Now I'm eager to finish up North and South, as I have a lot of thoughts about it, and the BBC adaptation, that I want to write up.

167mabith
jul 1, 2015, 1:13pm


North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (RE-READ)

I'm so happy I reread this one now. I really love Gaskell's writing, and I found interesting modern notes in this one the way I did with Ruth. During this re-read I also watched the BBC mini-series (which was my first window into Gaskell) as I got to each episodes events in the book. They changed very little, and mostly I think they were smart changes, in part bringing the book more in line with lived-reality. The one change I disliked was giving Mr. Thornton a love interest to make Margaret more aware of her feelings for him. I really hate that trope, and if someone only decides they love you out of jealousy I say stay the hell away from them.

The book was known for having a somewhat favorable view of labour unions, though that's laughable now. It really speaks to how much the well-off hated unions and how much they sought to suppress them that they felt Gaskell was being lenient to the point of comment. That's changed to be more realistically favorable in the mini-series. Rereading the book was also a reminder for just how well-acted and perfectly cast the mini-series is. Daniela Denby-Ashe IS Margaret, and I feel she must have read the book very closely to achieve that performance. Like Richard Armitage, but is he ever anything but excellent? It is surely my all-time favorite book adaptation.

I love the book for all of Gaskell's beautiful little touches. One of the "feels modern" moments is her knowledge the our eyes dilate during emotional situations, regardless of light. I feel like that's barely common knowledge now, let alone in the 1850s. The end is beautifully done, with a kiss that's only implied. In many ways I feel that's a strength we under-rate. When those actions aren't spelled out clearly it gives the reader free reign to imagine what they want. It would have given readers at the time the freedom to imagine something chaste or something more passionate without Gaskell getting in trouble for writing a love scene far outside middle and upper class societal boundaries.

What's interesting with Gaskell, is though her novels are all quite long they don't feel long to me. This is remarkable with North and South in part because the mini-series really doesn't leave much out, despite only being 4 hours in total. Gaskell focuses on the human, and her books feel like they move at exactly the pace they should.

Romance isn't a driving factor in my reading (or viewing) life, but North and South contains one of the view that make my stomach squirm in the best way. I am extremely partial to those that start out disliking/misunderstanding each other (Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe being another firm favorite). Now I'm rather eager to re-read Wives and Daughters too.

168mabith
jul 1, 2015, 1:29pm


Cat Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean by Jackson Galaxy

Jackson Galaxy has/had a show on Animal Planet called My Cat From Hell, which I always enjoyed. Part of the love is that most of the problems came from the owners, who often don't understand even basic cat behavior.

This memoir is about how he got started on the path to being cat behaviorist, but I'd say the dominant theme is about his addictions. Jackson goes from addiction to iillegal drugs, to prescribed meds, to food. I hadn't realized just how severe those addictions were before starting the book.

It's not a bad read, though I'd give a content warning for sexist and ableist language (it's not too severe, and he sometimes scolds himself after thinking something sexist, but still). For me it wasn't brilliant but I have a hard time understanding that kind of severe drug use and also I've not had much experience with cats who had behavior issues. I'd have enjoyed the book more if the focus was a bit heavier on cats and their lives (though my cat is an angel, thank god).

169mabith
jul 1, 2015, 2:01pm


The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Michael Karpelson

I read this at the request of my dad, but it really wasn't the book for me. I have a hard time enjoying magical realism, and I'd say this fits in that category. Partly I just want a book to be firmly one way or the other. The exception seems to be when the fantasy element is particular to one character and integral to their life (as in Life After Life).

The second part of the book was more enjoyable for me, perhaps partly because it felt more like full on fantasy. I am also just a straight forward reader. While I might enjoy more rigorous analysis and examination of a text in the confines of a literature class or book club, it's not something I ever want to do, or naturally do, outside of that. Maybe part of it is just my non-fiction brain, and the deep need I've had since childhood to know things exactly.

Not giving a book summary here, since it's a classic and easy to look up.

170bryanoz
jul 2, 2015, 5:58pm

#169. Agree with you on this one, cheers

171mabith
jul 8, 2015, 8:58pm

Glad it's not just me! It didn't feel plot or character driven, which I think has been the problem with most of the magical realism I've read.

172mabith
jul 8, 2015, 8:58pm

New thread time!
Denne tråd er fortsat i mabith's 2015 reads Part II.