mabith's 2015 reads Part II

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mabith's 2015 reads Part II

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1mabith
Redigeret: dec 31, 2015, 10:56pm



Time to record the reading for the second half of the year!

Books reads July - December

Elsewhere by Richard Russo
The Yggyssey by Daniel Pinkwater
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
The Globe: The Science of Discworld II by Terry Pratchet, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Sipping From the Nile by Jean
Gulag by Anne Applebaum
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglass Wiggin

Saga Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett
When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird
On Second Thought by Wray Herbert

The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis
Just Babies by Paul Bloom
Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin

Goblins by Charles Grant
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger
The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens
The Pixilated Parrot by Carl Barks
Sole Survivor by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell
July's People by Nadine Gordimer

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin
Jovah's Angel by Sharon Shinn

The Upright Thinkers by Leonard Mlodinow
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Servants by Lucy Lethbridge
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Austerity by Mark Blyth

Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
Enabling Acts by Lennard J. Davis
The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo
The Race Underground by Doug Most
Beloved by Toni Morrison

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Mrs. Adams in Winter by Michael O'Brien
Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figes
The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

Gulity Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist
Letting It Go by Miriam Katin

The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell
My Mother's Wars by Lillian Faderman
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook
Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland
Katherine by Anya Seton

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
Treasure Under Glass by Don Rosa
Why I Read by Wendy Lesser
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Generation Why: Ms Marvel Vol 2 by G. Willow Wilson
Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison
Crushed: Ms Marvel Vol 3 by G. Willow Wilson
Trumbo by Bruce Cook
Malcolm X by Manning Marable

Jack by Shannon Cate
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Places of the Heart by Colin Ellard
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Coventry by Helen Humphreys

El Deafo by Cece Bell
Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler
A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck
Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm
Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnett

Freddy and Mr. Camphor by Walter R. Brooks
Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl
Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis
Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw

Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier
Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd

Anne Thornton, Junior Guide by Lotta Rowe Anthony
Book of Ages by Jill Lepore
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
Claudine at School by Colette
Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton
The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Moomin Comics Vol 2 by Tove Jansson
Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
Silence by Shusaku Endo
The Chimes by Charles Dickens
Thirteen by Henry Cooper

Freddy and the Popinjay by Walter R. Brooks
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Freddy the Magician by Walter R. Brooks
Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr

2mabith
jul 8, 2015, 9:21pm


Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo

This is a memoir of Russo's early life, but the focus is largely on his mother, her mental health problems, and their relationship. It is a little scattered and mostly Russo just deals with the surface. The truth of his mother's problems doesn't hit Russo until after one of his daughters has OCD, when suddenly his mother's (and some of his) behavior is seen in a different light.

It was definitely an interesting memoir, and very illustrative of how there is no "normal," since what we experience we tend to normalize. I don't think it will make my list of favorite memoirs, but I'm glad I read it. Also, it sounds like Russo's wife is an absolute saint.

3mabith
jul 8, 2015, 9:39pm


The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, Found Out Where They Went, and Went There by Daniel Pinkwater

I love Daniel Pinkwater, so I go into his books with some bias. This is one of the few books of his with a female narrator (this book's sequel has one too). I hope he keeps that trend going. This volume is a sequel to The Neddiad and it's followed up by Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. As usual, Pinkwater is a master at names, as our protagonist here is named Yggdrasil Birnbaum.

As with most Pinkwater books, the journey is somewhat more important than the end point. In this he brings back the idea of alternate plains of existence, a concept which thrilled me when I was 11. Once they get going on the adventure it has overtones of the Wizard of Oz and something else which I can't currently remember. Maybe it will come to me.

Great book for your pre-teens and early teens.

4mabith
jul 8, 2015, 10:01pm


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This one has been on my to-read list for a while. I picked up Walter's The Financial Lives of Poets some years back on a whim and enjoyed it, so this was on my list prior to the hype.

I went into it knowing nothing about the plot, which is generally good for me, I think. The book switches between three or four different times, and goes into the histories of a variety of people. It's somewhat sentimental, but not overly so. I enjoyed it as a relatively light read. It's not taxing but also not complete fluff. The end was a bit.. I don't know, convenient, too happy? But otherwise it was nice.

5mabith
jul 8, 2015, 10:08pm


A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

This is a book about Kim Philby and his life as a Russian spy through the lens of his friendships. Macintyre writes very well and this felt like an extremely fast read (which is weird when you're listening to an audiobook).

It is probably not the best, most definitive book about Philby, but the angle is on his personal relationships, how he escaped notice for so long, and the fallout for those friends after he escaped (or perhaps was allowed to escape) to

Good book, recommended.

6mabith
jul 8, 2015, 10:14pm


The Globe: The Science of Discworld II by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

This volume focuses on evolution, mostly (with a bit of quantum thrown in). It felt like more of a stretch than the first Science of Discworld book. In between these two I read The Folklore of Discworld, which makes more sense to me as an obvious spin off book.

It was an interesting read, but I don't feel like there's any advantage to reading about science through a lens of Discworld. Maybe if I were a teenager it would be different.

7mabith
jul 9, 2015, 12:15am


The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This was certainly a surprising book. I was only vaguely aware that it was written from the dog's perspective and it was also much shorter than I'd expected. Buck the dog goes from being stolen from his owner and then being trained to be a sled dog.

I really enjoyed it, and felt like the style and the perspective worked well. I can see why it's hung on as a classic. If I can be bothered I'll look up contemporary reactions to it, which must have been interesting in 1903.

Recommended. It's quite short, so even if you don't like it you'll not have spent much time on it.

8Eyejaybee
jul 9, 2015, 9:33am

>5 mabith: I enjoyed this, too. I agree that it isn't the most definitive book about the subject, but I thought that his journalistic style lent itself to the subject matter very well.

I read John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy immediately after reading this, and they went together very well.

9mabith
jul 10, 2015, 12:39pm

I've been dithering on whether or not I want to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I'm not much for thrillers or spies, but it's such a classic and I don't like to feel I'm excluding a whole genre.

10mabith
jul 10, 2015, 1:33pm


Sipping From the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar

This is a memoir about Naggar's childhood in Egypt and the months before they had to leave (due to hostility towards Jews after the Suez crisis). I don't remember her mentioning her birth year, but she was around 18 when they left, so she would have been born in the late 1930s.

The book starts with an interaction in the US with an Egyptian cab driver where Naggar says she is from Egypt as well, and is pondering the fact that she does not say she is Egyptian (though her father's family had lived there for 200 years). She grew up in a loving home, near many cousins, speaking many languages. Around age 13 she begins attending boarding school in England which was a largely unhappy experience for her, as she desperately missed her family and was often treated as an 'other' as she was not from England.

It was a good read, largely just a series of remembrances about her diverse family and her early life. Definitely an easy, mostly feel-good memoir about the experiences that built the adult Naggar became. Interestingly, she never visited the pyramids at Giza until visiting Egypt in the 1990s! Recommended.

I first picked this up because my mother and her family lived in Egypt during her childhood. I was incredibly fascinated by this as a child, though it was pulling nails to get my mom to talk about it much. I find it so interesting that her mother (who died while they were in Egypt), a very typical American 1950s housewife in some respects, was willing to uproot herself and four children (ages 12 to 4 1/2) to live in Egypt. She spent her first 18 years in rural Virginia, on land her family had occupied since the early 17th century. Of course she immediately moved to Washington DC to work and live upon graduating high school, which says something about her. When my grandaddy first asked her about it she even said she'd only agree go if he got the five-year contract vs the two-year (and I suppose it says something about him that he left the decision to her). I include a picture for atmosphere, taken in 1964:

11mabith
jul 15, 2015, 3:04pm


Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

This is a remarkable book, covering a wide swath of history, which not only tells us the history but asks us to confront the way we've separated Soviet regimes from the way we treat other, similar, systems. Teenagers can hang vintage propaganda posters and wear shirts with the sickle and hammer, and we will ignore the Soviet concentration camp system in a way totally removed from our view of Nazi Germany. I can think of various things that contribute to that, but Applebaum just leaves us with the facts, not an analysis of that issue, which I appreciate.

The book is a masterpiece, and extremely readable. Don't be put off by the length (and really, it's not THAT long, around 700 pages), as the style makes it fly by. It's an important book, and well worth reading.

12mabith
jul 16, 2015, 7:57pm


All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

This book has so many nice covers I had to include three of them. There's a cover for Wyld's first book, After the Fire, A Still, Small Voice, that's in a similar style as the middle cover, and I feel a great need to own both of them only I don't feel like I'll want to reread these anytime soon (like, maybe in 10-15 years when I'm older and wiser).

I've been saving this read for a while, as I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it. However the bad part of trying to go into novels with as little knowledge of them as possible, is sometimes you get involved in a story you're not in a good place for (emotionally speaking). This book involves an abusive relationship, and the way it's written made it feel especially intense, yet it took me some time to realize I needed to put it down for a while.

Wyld takes us through a woman's life, switching between different times and places as we go, and in general working backwards. So if different eras of her life are A, B, and C we start at the end of C, then switch to the end of B, then the end of A, onwards to the beginning of her time in each place. This makes it a slightly better choice in print than as an audiobook, though it didn't take long to figure out where we were (the reader doesn't really add anything to it though). It's a short book, and again I think the structure is very effective. I'm not sure I've seen quite this structure before (skipping around, yes, but doing it while also working backwards through various threads, no).

Wyld's two novels make me extremely interested in what she'll do in the future, and I wonder if she'll end up one of the Great Writers of my generation (she was born in 1980). Both the novels are hard reads in different ways, but All the Birds, Singing has a heart-gripping intensity that After the Fire, A Still, Small Voice did not (granting I read it six years ago).

Recommended with caution? This novel is still taking up a lot of space in my brain. I don't think I could come close to accurately gauging whether or not any person I know would enjoy this novel, it feels like one that will be a very personal read.

13mabith
jul 17, 2015, 7:51pm


Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin RE-READ

My first read of this was a couple years back. I am a big fan of the Shirley Temple movie of the same name, but the only thing they have in common is a young girl goes to live with her cranky aunt.

The book is absolutely charming, and it really holds up. Rebecca is one of seven children in a very poor home. Her father has died and her aunts Miranda and Jane offer to take one of the children and put them through school. Rebecca is a charming, open, good-hearted girl, who, like Anne Shirley, sometimes gets into trouble, though no one can help but love her.

We follow her from age 9 or so up through her secondary schooling. Along the way she wins hearts, even when people aren't quite sure why they like her. When we leave her, there are still troubles, but we know she'll get through them. Rebecca is not presented as flawless, or 100% good, and that's important to me too. She also accepts her aunts as they are, and the book does not try to change them much (only as much as loving any child will change a person).

Highly recommended for any reader of children's fiction classics. As I say, it's held up to the years extremely well. I picked it up as a soothing balm after the harrowing All the Birds, Singing, and it certainly did the trick.

14mabith
jul 17, 2015, 9:58pm


Saga Vol 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Another great addition to the series. It's taken a turn I certainly didn't expect. Still eager to read more, still loving the art style.

15mabith
jul 17, 2015, 10:09pm


Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

This is a moving and extremely well done children's novel. Sal's mother left her and her father to go to Idaho, soon after which Sal's father moves them away from their farm in Kentucky to Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Sal is extremely unhappy, but befriends a girl named Phoebe, whose closeted existence and worrier mother leaves her constantly worrying about ax murderers and that like. Sal is telling Phoebe's story, and her own story as well, to her grandparents as they drive from Euclid to Idaho.

I had this on my list after I put whatever Newberry winners I could find on there. This won for 1994. It's one of those where you could still not-know when the book was set (unlike after widespread internet adoption and cell phone adoption started appearing). It covers a lot of ground, and manages to cover this age (11-12) really realistically. My favorite theme of the book is that of mothers being more than their identities as mothers, and needing to live their own lives and fulfill themselves as individuals, as well as mothers. This one really pulled the heart strings at the end. Recommended for children and adult reader's of children's lit. This will definitely go on my list of suitable books for the nieces and nephews.

16mabith
Redigeret: jul 20, 2015, 5:07pm


Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

First published in the 1930s, this is a parody of the "loam and love-child" type of novel especially popular in the late Victorian period, but I think it's been a common genre throughout history. The modern version is more "prodigal daughter returns to her small hometown in her 30s where she learns how to respect country wisdom and finds love with a high school sweetheart or nemesis."

The humor in this still stands up extremely well, and I really enjoyed it. The scenes with Myburg particularly made me giggle (THAT type of man certainly hasn't phased out of society, unfortunately) and I loved Aunt Ada's sections, particularly her thoughts being described as "drowsy yaks."

Well worth a read. Going by the trailer for the 1995 adaptation I think I'll give myself a while to forget the book details before trying to watch that.

17mabith
jul 20, 2015, 5:29pm


Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

I picked this one up after reading Rebecca's excellent review, which you should go read as I won't be able to equal it.

It was a great read, filled with dark humor, and I'm definitely going to look for his other books. I feel like the fact of it being semi-autobiographical comes through strongly in the writing.

Recommended.

18mabith
jul 25, 2015, 10:56pm


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke RE-READ

After watching the BBC mini-series based on the book, I had to reread it. I found i remembered absolutely NOTHING, other than that there was magic and it was historical fantasy. The mini-series was good, and well cast and acted, though of course very changed and condensed, due to the length of the book and only having 7 episodes for it.

The way the book is written, really in a narrative non-fiction style, is extremely effective. While it's quite a long book, it doesn't feel long while you're reading. It feels as real as an alternate universe where we have magic can. I absolutely LOVE all the footnotes.

Highly recommended for everyone, and an excellent example of historical fantasy.

19mabith
jul 25, 2015, 11:05pm


The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, and Wings by Terry Pratchett RE-READ

This was the second thing I ever read by Pratchett, and I really loved it. It's a children's fantasy trilogy about Nomes. A group of Nomes living outside in the world need to find somewhere better to leave. They climb onto a truck and are taken to The Store (a semi-old fashioned department store), which has a community of Nomes living in it, most of whom think the Store is the entire world and there is no outside.

It's a wonderful world Pratchett created, full of fun characters. They also seem to have counterparts with the rats in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. The store is going to be demolished and they have to leave, but getting hide bound Nomes to risk going Outside is a difficult proposition. The book is interspersed with passages from the Nome bible, heavily influenced by the Store signage (the great enemy being Prices Slashed and the beneficent one is Bargains Galore).

Highly recommended. It's a fun read as an adult, and a great one for your elementary and grade school aged kids.

20mabith
jul 25, 2015, 11:16pm


When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book (would it refer to blatant propaganda works or something else, etc...), but figured it would be interesting no matter what.

And it was! This was the book I really needed right now. I think it would be a good read for anyone who likes books. The text focuses on the Victory Books Council and the invention, production, and distribution of the Armed Services Edition paperback books, specially designed for easy use by troops in any conditions. This program brought US publishers into cooperation, helped spur the production of paperback books in general, created a generation of serious readers, and made The Great Gatsby a classic (a book I don't enjoy myself, but oh well).

It is also a love story to the importance of reading and the great emotional rewards we gain from books, particularly when we're in strife. What I found most lovely was the popularity of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I ADORED) among the servicemen, even though it's narrated by a young girl. Betty Smith received an average of four letters per day from servicemen and answered all of them. Books frankly became the most valued luxury, with men trading money and cigarettes to move up a few places on a hold list.

It was heartwarming to see how seriously those involved took their role in getting books to our boys (service women were not provided with books, annoyingly). They were also serious about fighting censorship, as they argued part of the purpose of the war was to fight censorship and the banning of books.

Wonderful, relatively light read. Recommended to all readers.

21mabith
jul 30, 2015, 10:57am


In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Judy Blume was a middle schooler in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the eight-week period when three planes crashed in the town. Her father, a dentist, helped to identify some victims from dental records. This novel is built around those crashes, with a wide cast of characters including adults and children. A list of characters with a brief description would have been helpful, and I hope one is included in the print book. I still enjoyed it via audio with no character list to help though.

The novel merges the everyday and the extraordinary in a way that I found effective and realistic. While three deadly plane crashes in one town is a type of 'close to home' disaster most of us will never know (inshaAllah), our daily lives do exist in conjunction with extreme events in our state, our country, and in the world. The 24 hour news cycle and the internet ensure that we're much closer to the extraordinary than we used to be, but our daily lives and struggles don't lessen because of that awareness.

It was a good read for me (though I've decided to forget that the last chapter exists, as I don't think it was necessary, it's the "catch up 20-30 years later type), if not one that I'm likely to re-read. I don't know how longtime Blume readers will find it, as it's my first Blume read ever! We didn't own any of her books, and I was a non-fiction and historical fiction kid, not given to reading "normal teens with normal problems" books. Still seems ridiculous that I went through chlidhood not really aware of Blume's work.

22mabith
jul 30, 2015, 11:16am


He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and his Daughter's Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird

First, I love this cover. It's so effective and well designed.

Mimi Baird's father was a brilliant doctor who began to study manic depression around the time he began to seriously suffer from it. He was an early believer in a biochemical root for the disorder but was unable to continue research as his illness worsened, his medical license was revoked, and he was institutionalized. His daughter was a young child when this happened, and did not see him again.

As an adult she looks to his brothers for more information about him, and is led to a manuscript her father wrote, a diary of sorts about his actions and experiences in various mental institutions. She lets the book alternate between her narration, her father's manuscript, and his medical records.

It's a short book, one without a satisfying conclusion. The institutions are largely horrific places, her father's life and work are eventually just a footnote in the history of the study of manic depression. It was a very interesting read though, and an important one. Many of the well known stories of mental illness in the 20th century are success stories. They may include poor or abusive treatment in institutions, but through support, new discoveries, etc... the patient finds their way back to the good life. Those are the exceptions, however, and Baird's story is the more common one. It's important to keep that in mind.

Related to the audiobook - Of all the books that have multiple readers (for different narrators), this book needed it the least. It's totally obviously when there's a switch because the style, point of view, and references are vastly different. I found myself really annoyed since there are many books that would benefit from multiple readers. At the very least the reader for Dr. Baird's manuscript could have also read the hospital records portion. I will never understand how audiobook publishers think.

23mabith
jul 30, 2015, 11:23am


On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert

I like that it took a second look for me to 'get' the cover image.

If you're going into this book, I'd ignore the subtitle. It's a standard popular science book and spends almost no time on how to avoid our brain's foolish mistakes. The trick there is in the title - give everything a second thought, examine why you've decided on something, etc...

It's another good title in the "our brains really do some illogical things" series. This one focuses on cognitive heuristics, paths our minds subconsciously and automatically take.

Good book, recommended. In the same vein as You Are Not So Smart and Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, but with a slightly different focus.

24mabith
aug 9, 2015, 2:17pm


The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley

This was not a good choice for audio, at least not without a detailed character list. I pressed ahead anyway, but I think I'll try to reread it in print eventually as I believe I'll enjoy it more.

Smiley gives us a book with the style of a Norse saga that sprawls over the difficult lives of the Greenlanders over the course of a few decades.

It's an interesting book, though perhaps not one that would be beloved across the board. It's a hard one to review for me, in part because I'm well behind on reviews, and because I know the audio version impacted it negatively. I absolutely loved the dialogue. There was just something about the way she wrote it that felt true and right.

Recommend for those who a more unique piece of literature maybe? Definitely read it in print.

25mabith
aug 9, 2015, 2:36pm


The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

This is the second Penderwicks book, and was rather a let-down. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book (though it's been long enough that I don't remember it well), and expected more from Birdsall.

The four Penderwick sisters have lost their mother to cancer (happens right at the start of the book). Per the mother's instructions their aunt gives their father a letter four years later in which the mother instructs him to start dating again. The girls are upset, which is natural, but also decide to sabotage the dating (picking out awful women) so their father will give up. Right there is where I lost my interest. The older girls are also dealing with crushes, etc...

The beginning made me think of Sonya Sones' One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. I didn't find the children's actions realistic, and I feel like Birdsall is conflicted about her style. The book isn't set in any specific time, but it feels neither fully contemporary nor vintage. I felt like she wanted the book to be like Swallows and Amazons or Ballet Shoes, but didn't commit to setting it back in time.

I probably won't read the third book in the series, and I don't recommend this one.

26mabith
aug 9, 2015, 2:37pm


The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis RE-READ

This is probably my favorite of the first five Falco books (yes, I have to break it down into fives). As usual for the early books Helena and Falco have a misunderstanding that leads to a fight. Both are stubborn, both want the other to bend, both have difficulty expressing their love exacerbated by the gulf between her patrician class and his plebeian upbringing and life. Both worry they'll only do the other harm. Their tentative relationship always feels very realistic to me.

One of the reasons this is a favorite is for the travel, and firm relationship to past and current (to the book) events in Germany and along the Rhine. The presence of the very poorly behaved Augustanilla (Falco's niece) also makes it quite fun. I feel like Davis captures the way Falco's upbringing, and the society of Rome in that time, with his internal fight against pre-programmed notions about women, foreigners, etc... Historical fiction where men are just 100% feminist all-good guys might be nice from time to time, but it's so unrealistic given that even the best of us are still struggling with internalized sexism, racism, ableism, etc...

It's such a great series. I enjoyed all the books, but Davis doesn't quite hit her stride until the third and fourth books.

27mabith
aug 9, 2015, 2:43pm


Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom

While I really enjoyed this popular science book, I feel the title and subtitle are a little misleading. While a number of studies with babies and toddlers are mentioned, they generally serve as starting points, with more of the book dedicated to studies in adults.

It does seem that babies are basically born with some sense of right and wrong, or at least fairness, built in, and observable at as young as three months old. And of course the studies in that line are fascinating. True to humanity of course, while a baby or toddler might see lack of sharing as bad in others/puppets/etc... it's a different story when they're expected to share their OWN things.

An interesting, quick read. Recommended to the popular science fans, just take the title as a loose guideline rather than descriptive of the book as a whole.

28mabith
aug 9, 2015, 2:51pm


Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin

Grandin is an autistic woman who has always found animals easier to understand than people. She has spent years working to make slaughterhouses more humane and make the review process simpler so that plants are shut down when they need to be. (Because a 50 item checklist means if a slaughterhouse fails one or two items, no matter how serious, inspectors are more likely to let them slide.)

The book covers some of her work, including various experiments around animal intelligence, the work of others, and how our own human biases can affect the animals we live with (and the way experiments with animals are done). It also talks about why her autism has made it easier to understand animals. There is a lot of "normal people" talk in reference to allistic/neurotypical people, just as a warning.

It's a really fascinating book, and well worth a read for anyone who has pets (especially dogs) or deals with horses. The book covers a large swathe of information, but horses, dogs, and cows probably get the most time.

29mabith
aug 13, 2015, 5:05pm


Goblins by Charles Grant

I started watching X-Files as a way-too-young kid when it first started. It was one of the few shows I was really really into (The X-Files and Sailor Moon, slightly strange bedfellows). I read some of the novels the sprung from it in middle school and really liked them, particularly Ground Zero and Ruins, both by Kevin J. Anderson. I'd thought those were the first, but then stumbled upon this title (and a second, Whirlwind) by Grant, which were actually the first two published.

Goblins is, unfortunately, not a good effort. I'm sure this is partly because it was published in 1994, and the series started in 1993. That resulted in Mulder and Scully not actually acting much like Mulder and Scully. In Anderson's efforts he really writes the characters as they are in the show, which makes a huge difference. The plot and pacing also just weren't done well. The concept was somewhat boring and not really suspenseful. Putting Mulder and Scully with inexperienced partners for the case also didn't make any sense whatsoever and didn't serve any purpose from a narrative or character development standpoint.

While I'm sure the other X-Files novels prospered from my young age when I read them (12-13), I know I was so engrossed in the show that getting the characterization wrong would have certainly killed the books for me, and they began with more interesting concepts as well.

Not recommended for anyone unless you're doing a dissertation on the development of the X-Files as a cultural phenomenon (I'm sure someone's doing that).

30mabith
aug 13, 2015, 5:36pm


Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier RE-READ

A favorite book by a favorite author, and my first re-read via the audio edition. This was one of the first long books that I read in one sitting. I picked it up as a teenager, on the recommendation of a family friend I was visiting (a librarian). It was, I think, everything I really wanted in a fantasy novel.

It is historical fantasy, set in early medieval Ireland and England (post Saxon invasion, pre-Norman, vikings not quite in full swing), a bit of fairy/folktale retelling, and extremely character focused with realistic characters. No one is 100% good, no event is !00% happy or sad, good people make mistakes and are held accountable, etc... Our duty of protection towards those who need it is a theme in Marillier's books, and characters' actions are never excused with "oh that's just how they are." The characters also pretty much fit their times, and live within social norms and familial expectations barring a few cases.

Sorcha is the 7th child of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters (himself a seventh son), the only daughter, whose mother died after giving birth to her. Her brothers are kind and protective of her, while their father is largely checked out. Colum and the older boys are caught up trying to regain an island occupied by the English. Life is going relatively smoothly until Sorcha and her brother Finbar rescue a prisoner who has been tortured and their father comes back from a trip engaged to a wicked woman who wants to tear the family apart. The fantasy element comes from elements of their religion and folklore being true, but no mythical creature serves as a main character, and the plot is always a mix of the human and fey issues.

Marillier has a great gift with characters, and with sucking me into a story. Even though I've read this a fair number of times I still felt so anxious and upset towards the end with one of the great villains (he's a real Villain's Villain). I would say her work all strives to build empathy. Even with her recent YA series, which is full-on fantasy, and not something I loved or will read again, I still had to read the last book in one sitting.

31mabith
aug 17, 2015, 8:33pm


Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

I was so impressed with Lai's first novel, Inside Out and Back Again, and loved her perfectly descriptive writing. She was also so adept at getting into the child's head and keeping her characters believable. In that her narrator is a young girl whose family just manages to get out of Saigon before the fall. Her father was missing, and she, her mother, and brothers are sponsored by a family in Alabama.

In Listen, Slowly our narrator is a 12 (almost 13, thank you) year old girl who has grown up in the US. Her parents came from Vietnam as children, and her father goes back every year to perform surgeries in poor areas. This year she is made to go so someone can stay with her grandmother as she returns to her village for the first time, as a detective has found some news of her husband, who was taken a few years before the family had to flee. Mai is not happy about this. She can understand but not speak Vietnamese and was planning a summer at the beach with her friends. At the same time she loves her grandmother and she is curious about her parents lives as refugees, but frustrated that they would never tell her about it.

It's an accurate picture of life at that age, I think. Wanting to get far from parental authority and being stroppy and dramatic, but caring deeply about your family and still being able to appreciate them. As an adult (and as a youngest child who had to constantly put up with being at events for older siblings) I sometimes wanted to shake her, but it was pretty realistic.

Lai's writing is beautiful, and I really recommend the audio edition so that you can hear the Vietnamese spoken. Her books are the ones that will spur children into wanting to turn a beautiful phrase.

32mabith
aug 17, 2015, 10:07pm


The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger

I found this book really interesting, and I appreciated the writer having three siblings he grew up with (and two much younger half-siblings). He covers a lot of ground, including our feelings about only children and whether or not they do face disadvantages. I have four older siblings ranging from five to fourteen years older than me, the oldest two didn't live with us, and the younger two both left home when I was ten (one to live with an aunt to get away from delinquent friends, and one to boarding school). After feeling left behind or lost in the shuffle as a younger kid it was interesting (and good for me) to be a sort of only child for a bit.

He also talks about birth order traits, which I roll my eyes at. My closest siblings and I are basically the opposite of what those traits say we should be. There are so many other issues that impact children's personalities which easily alter that birth order stuff, not least of which are the parents' own personalities and the age differences between siblings. My parents are both oldest siblings, both very independent, and neither one cared at all what their siblings were doing. They had no understanding of the level of teasing (and general harassment) I went through because they couldn't understand wanting to bother with a younger sibling in the first place.

Kluger alternates his own experiences with various studies, and it is quite effective. Recommended to anyone interested in the subject. I don't feel it will be particularly helpful on a parenting level, so I wouldn't get it just for that.

33mabith
aug 17, 2015, 10:47pm


The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

This was Bellairs first novel for children/young adults. It was initially written for adults and then rewritten for children at the behest of a publisher. I feel like this shows in the work, in terms of some odd pacing especially, and I'm wondering if the second in the series will feel different. I was a die-hard fan of Bellairs' Johnny Dixon series but didn't read any of the other series for reasons not entirely clear to me (I think I just felt too devoted to Johnny Dixon).

The pacing and mystery in this one felt odd, but I did like the characters. There are almost no women in the Johnny Dixon series, but this features Florence Zimmerman, a somewhat crochety older woman who I loved. The protagonist Lewis Barnavelt was good too. An over-weight, awkward, bad-at-sports boy with an interest in history, and Bellairs is not afraid to have his male characters cry, something I love. Johnny Dixon is also awkward and a lover of history (the history love is part of what drew me in as a kid).

Bellairs died quite young (51), and I think he'd be doing some really amazing things if he were alive today. I'm going to look for The Face in the Frost, his only adult novel soon. It's a fantasy book that was judged quite good when it was published. I will eventually read the next Barnavelt title, but my heart still belongs to Johnny Dixon, and I do sometimes wish that Bellairs could let his awkward protagonists be friends with OTHER awkward kids (vs popular kids).

34mabith
aug 17, 2015, 10:48pm


The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens

If you were 8 or older when the movie The Rocketeer was released you probably enjoyed it. It's such a solid action/adventure movie, with some great humor, great settings, and the most villainous of villains. I knew it was based on some comic stories, but I'd never been able to find a complete edition. Happily I noticed they'd recently released it, and bought a copy for myself and one for my brother (rather regretting getting two at this point, at least it should be a solid resell to a used bookstore).

The comics have a very different feel and pacing from the movie (not too surprising) and are lacking in the charm and humor of the movie as well. They certainly feel geared toward the young, entitled, adult male audience. Jenny in the comics is basically Bettie Page, including doing nude pin up shoots (Page herself credited the comics, published in the early 80s, with revitalizing interest in her). She really just seems to be there so Stevens has an excuse to drawn a semi-nude woman (and as a reason Cliff needs to keep the jetpack, of course).

All in all, I'm somewhat disappointed. You rather expect the print source of a movie to be something special, but sometimes the movie is just so much better. Even without the movie to compare it to, I wouldn't have liked these comics.

35mabith
aug 17, 2015, 11:01pm


The Pixilated Parrot by Carl Barks

This is the sixth volume of Barks' Donald Duck comics published (though technically it's volume 9 in the series). I wasn't familiar with any of the comics in this album, it didn't seem to have a particularly well known Duck story, but that might just be me.

Still a book full of solid stories and Barks' wonderful humor. I really appreciate the short essays on the various stories in the back of these volumes.

36mabith
aug 28, 2015, 5:56pm


Sole Survivor by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

I could have sworn I updated with this book. I have distinct memories of fixing the touchstone.

McCunn is writing about Poon Lim, a Chinese sailor who survived 133 days on a raft in the Atlantic ocean. This is the longest "survival at sea" to date, and all the more impressive given that Poon Lim was not an experienced sailor. He was a second steward on the merchant ship SS Benlomond when it was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942.

This was an early work in terms of non-fiction being written in a more novelized form, and it's very successful. Poon Lim was on an odd sort of raft with no sides, which undoubtedly helped him survive a particularly rough storm. His resourcefulness led him to make fishing hooks out of the spring in a flashlight and one of the nails on his raft. His system of drying and storing fish led to him being in much better physical shape than sailors rescued after shorter periods at sea.

It's an interesting book, and a good read for me. I'm weak for sea survival stories. It's not the most compellingly written book ever, but given difficulties in translation and communication I don't think it ever could have been. Recommended for fellow sea survival lovers.

37mabith
Redigeret: aug 29, 2015, 3:59pm


Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is a novella by Gaskell, the last one she wrote published in 1864. It was interesting, since I've read all of her novels, but won't be a favorite.

A young man, Paul, (our narrator), working in a different part of the country is urged to call on a distant-ish cousin there. He is welcomed into the family and is quite taken by them, especially the daughter, Phillis. It's a simple story mostly about the young people and their attractions (relatively predictable, but two more parts were planned and unwritten, so it's hard to say where it would have ended up).

It is supposed to be the best of her novellas and a fitting run-up to Wives and Daughters. I can see that, certainly, and there's a slight similarity with one plot point. An interesting read for this Gaskell fan, though not one I loved or will feel the need to re-read.is text haven't aged well, I think, but it was an interesting read.

38mabith
aug 29, 2015, 3:59pm


July's People by Nadine Gordimer

This is a classic banned South African novel. Gordimer gives an alternative world where the white South African establishment has been violently overthrown. July has worked for a white family for some time and helps them escape to his village.

The main thrust of the novel is how even in this situation the white family still feel entitled to whatever they want. The fact that they would have left the country already but they couldn't get their money out in time. Though July is their savior they still treat him as a servant, despite being Good Liberal White Folks. Gordimer's choice to focus on characters who see themselves as opposed to racism but do not examine their choices, words, or actions for casual racism was a good one.

Some aspects of this text haven't aged well, I think, but it was an interesting read.

39mabith
aug 29, 2015, 3:59pm


An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

An excellent work, though the length limits its scope. Dunbar-Ortiz examines various policies and acts by the US government against American Indians, and how the legacy of the Indian wars remains in standard military vernacular (referring to enemy territory as Indian country, often shortened to in country, and using the phrase "off the reservation" for a rogue agent/person, among others).

Well done, interesting, important read. Recommended.

40mabith
aug 29, 2015, 4:18pm


What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

And now for something completely different...

I had such hopes for this classic of the 1870s. The main character, Katy, the oldest sibling, wants to be good but can't help getting into a bit of trouble. So much more spirit than milk-sop Polly of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

Things were bad enough with their disabled cousin coming and being that perfect, patient, kind, beautiful trope of disability. Therein included the line "A sick woman who isn't neat is a disagreeable object," which makes me rage (when you have a chronic illness looking neat so people don't dislike you really isn't top of the list of priorities).

Then of course Katy was injured and disabled and oh she was just soo mopey until cousin Goody Two Shoes gives Katy the speech her father gave her when she got ill - basically "this is god's way of making you good and sweet and pleasant, it's god's school of pain." Obviously Katy couldn't stay disabled, so becoming patient and perfect cures her.

An excerpt of a poem Katy writes:
"I used to go to a bright school
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain."


I was enjoying this book and then BAM two fists full of ableist nonsense and disabled character tropes.

41mabith
aug 29, 2015, 4:18pm


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book deserves all the praise and attention it's received. It is such an important work and I recommend everyone read it. It is a letter Coates writes to his son, about his fears, about his attitudes shaped by a childhood vastly different than the one his son has had, about the difficulty in living in a world of institutional racism.

I'd especially recommend you give it to white people who deny having white privilege because they are part of another oppressed group (female, LGBT, disabled, poor, etc...). I think it will help people understand the nature of privilege and intersectionality. Our lives are never ruled by a single issue.

42mabith
aug 29, 2015, 8:28pm


Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Another great non-fiction read, and an important subject for everyone. It's likely that towards the end of your life you'll need help from someone and they may have to make decisions on your behalf or that you'll be the one helping someone else.

Gawande talks about the changes in eldercare, the switch from parents living with their children until death to living independently or in nursing homes, he talks about the ways doctors can do harm in these situations, and includes the backdrop of his own aging parents.

Content warning for a whole lot of ableism and total discounting of the lives of people with disabilities, often of the "I'd rather die than be in a wheelchair," variety. I wish Gawande had brought this up, or at least said "actually once people get to that point they don't kill themselves, they just adapt." Since that attitude is so prevalent you'd think able-bodied people would be more concerned with accessible spaces, but no (I mean, anyone can become disabled at any time, it's in your own best interests to fight for accessibility on all fronts).

The big thing to take from this is that we don't get to choose what kind of life is worthwhile to someone else. These choices are hard, and they may frustrate or anger us, particularly if the person is not set on extending their life, but we don't get to decide for our parents.

43mabith
aug 29, 2015, 8:28pm


Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

This was an interesting graphic novel, focusing on two step-siblings who both seem to have a mental illness which involves auditory and visionary hallucinations (their grandmother seems to as well). The story revolves around that and around extremely ordinary aspects of daily life for teens. It ended very suddenly and strangely. An interesting book, but not quite my cup of tea.

The drawing style was mostly great, but sometimes got way too sloppy in terms of facial expressions. It's a minor criticism, but the rest of the style wasn't really messy and it was very jarring to me.

44mabith
sep 2, 2015, 3:52pm


A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

This memoir of Golinkin's childhood in Russia and his family's escape was a fascinating read. The attempt to get Soviet Jews out in the latter half of the 20th century is one of those events that don't register in our memories when we think of the refugee experience. Golinkin's internalized anti-Semitism, taking many years to overcome, is so heartbreaking.

My reading of this was also informed by an online friend who recently shared her story of being a Russian Jewish refugee in Germany around the same period as Golinkin. She still struggles to feel at home there decades later, as even now Germans continue to ask where she's really from and compliment her German.

The book mostly deals with Golinkin's childhood perspective with added information about the process of leaving Russia and the way various organizations worked. He did return Austria (their way-station before going to the US) as an adult and attempt to answer questions he had about their particular circumstances.

This is an under-represented part of world history, definitely recommended.

45mabith
sep 2, 2015, 4:10pm


Jovah's Angel by Sharon Shinn RE-READ

This is the second in Shinn's Samaria trilogy. It takes place roughly 150 years after the events in Archangel during a period of upheaval and change. In Samaria the angelic race (who have functioning wings) have specific prayers to sing to the god, Jovah, which effect changes in weather, rains of medicines or seeds, and lightning strikes. Different angel holds support each region of the country, lead by the Archangel (chosen by the god, changed every 20 years).

Samaria is now beset by rain and storms, and Jovah does not seem to hear the prayers the angels send up (for weather intercessions). Only the angel Alleluia is able to reach the god. When the archangel Delilah is injured in a storm and no longer able to fly the god chooses Alleluia as her replacement. Samaria has also advanced technologically, having gas and electric lights, and a newly developed combustion engine. New factories are changing the face of cities and the usual teething problems of industry are present, as well as friction between the nomadic Edori and the settled merchant interests. Alleluia is quiet, dislikes singing in public, and is the last person most want as Archangel (including herself).

I can't say too much about this without big spoilers, but I really love this series and the huge reveal in this book. In my re-read of Archangel I loved picking up on all the pretty darn obvious foreshadowing that I didn't notice in my first read (I live in the characters' moments when I read). It's still a really fun concept, and I love the discussions of technology and religion. Unlike others in the series this one doesn't have a real villain. It's very much a humans vs nature book.

46mabith
sep 9, 2015, 8:01pm


Dragonsong Dragonsinger Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey (Harper Hall Trilogy) RE-READ

Forgot to post about these! That's what I get for thinking "Oh I'll post when I've done with all three." If anyone is thinking that Gary (valkyrdeath) and I read a lot of the same books it's because we simultaneously listen to them. It's a very miniature book club.

First read (and listened) to these when I was in middle school. I really love the first two, which should just be one longish book (but you know how publishers are). The third is fine, but pretty removed, and I could never feel comfortable with a main character doing something that would bring disrepute and dishonor to the Harper Hall and those who had helped him. There are questionable medical ethics as well from our otherwise shiningly good characters and it doesn't sit well.

Highly recommend the first two especially to any middle grade readers. I really admire McCaffrey's skill with world building, and the way that she uses familiar language for foreign foods and technology that's immediately understandable for the reader without any extra explanation. I've read a few of the early Pern books and enjoyed them well enough, and really liked at least the first couple of Acorna books. Even if she's not to your taste, she's a writer to be admired.

47mabith
sep 9, 2015, 8:08pm


The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos by Leonard Mlodinow

I think maybe the subtitle presents this book as having more of straight line chronology than it actually does, but it was a good read. It examines how our minds differ from those of the smartest primates, and how knowledge and research into the universe progressed.

Not bad writing at all, and worth a read so long as you're not looking for something too deep and focused. I'm not stupendously science minded, so as we got to the modern age my brain had a harder time focusing.

48mabith
sep 9, 2015, 8:19pm


The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

This is a YA novel with a great premise that didn't quite pay off. The headmistress of a small (tiny really) boarding school and her brother die at dinner, both presumably poisoned. While the girls don't care all that much, they also don't want to be sent home, so they try to cover up the deaths when the neighbors come. That hooked me right in, especially since one of my favorite movies as a kid was Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.

Berry sets this book in the Victorian period, but other than her telling us that there's not much to place it precisely there. She tries to parody Victorian (I'd say more 20s-50s really, or Edwardian at the earliest) girls boarding school life, but the farce doesn't really go far or deep enough. The pacing is strange as well and the end a bit too neat.

Not really recommended for anyone. I was expecting a lot more out of it.

49mabith
sep 9, 2015, 8:19pm


Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain From the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

I found this to be a really fascinating read on a number of levels, and I think it's well written and organized. The upper class being so confused as to why young women would rather slave in a factory than go into service is pretty hilarious. This held a special interest for me when she talks about how awkward people become with servants later on. I qualify for a home health aide and it's a huge struggle (most of us aren't brought up to be sitting while someone cleans our things, for one).

The book brought up some memoirs of servants that I've now put on my list to read (mostly Margaret Powell's). Upstairs Downstairs was my mom's thing to watch after we kids were all in bed, and I greatly enjoyed it once I was 13 or so.

I will say the audiobook is pretty annoying. I wish non-fiction readers would understand they really don't have to do accents for quotes. If they're great at the accent fine, but most of the time it's not relevant that so-and-so they're quoting was American. If it is relevant the text will remind us of that multiple times. So sick of hearing terrible American accents in non-fiction audiobooks.

Recommended if you have an interest in labor history, trends in servants, etc...

50mabith
sep 12, 2015, 1:04pm


The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander RE-READ

This is my first re-read of this since the single reading I did as a kid. Then and now I preferred Alexander's other work to his very high fantasy series (Vesper Holly, of course, and Time Cat and The Wizard in the Tree). I'd forgotten how old this was, having originally been published in 1964.

The age actually makes the book more impressive, because while it is a high fantasy story, Taran (protagonist, would-be hero, and assistant pig keeper) has most of his expectations of how hero-ing should go dashed. Alexander gives us this story but also pokes fun at it, and there's nothing easier to joke about than high epic fantasy.

It's definitely a fun one, if not a favorite of mine, and I'd recommend it for any child interested in fantasy.

51mabith
sep 12, 2015, 1:22pm


Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth

Blyth has written an extremely readable and readily understandable book on one of the most important economic recovery theories we face today. At the beginning he covers the answers you'll find in the book, and divides it up so that if you want to know A just read section A, if you want a quick overview just read section B etc...

You can feel how passionate Blyth is about understanding the recent financial crash and the responses to it, and discovering what really helps a country recover. He gives us historical and current examples and examines the instances when it's claimed austerity worked in detail, pointing out factors that were ignored or erased.

American readers take note that Blyth is Scottish and uses the term liberal in the UK political sense, more akin to libertarian, not how we use it in the US. The book is concise and the writing never feels dry or overly academic.

Highly recommended.

52mabith
sep 14, 2015, 7:44pm


Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier RE-READ

This is the second in Marillier's Sevenwaters trilogy, and my favorite of the series (I think it's tied with Wolfskin for my favorite Marillier book). I don't pick up books specifically for romantic storylines (Marillier's books usually have a relationship that's part of the bigger plot), but my favorites are always those that start out with the eventual couple bickering and disagreeing and misunderstanding each other. I'm not sure if this is because I'm fairly emotionally guarded myself or just because I'm an argumentative person!

This is a historical fantasy book, set in a real place and time (old Ireland, maybe 6th or 7th century CE). They focus on the house of Sevenwaters, which has struggled to put itself back to rights after facing destruction in Daughter of the Forest. While that first book focused on Sorcha, the second focuses on her daughter Liadan (and the third moves down another generation). When I first read the book this made me sad, because I was attached to other characters, but after re-reads of most of her books, I think that style of linked book works best for Marillier.

Liadan is the good, quiet daughter who was supposed to give them no surprises (guess how that works out). When her sister, Niamh, chooses a partner the older generation finds disastrous, she is packed off in a hasty marriage leaving Liadon and her twin Sean confused about why the man was so unsuitable. As Liadon travels part of the way to Niamh's new home she is abducted by a band of mercenaries who need her healer's skills to treat a comrade.

I suppose some parts of this are just setting up the third book in the series, but it's a complete story in its own right. Marillier is really exceptional about sucking me into the characters lives and feelings. She doesn't avoid hard questions, she doesn't avoid moral quagmires, her characters are realistically flawed. The characters deal with secrets, anger, jealousy, fear, prejudice, and pretty much every issue we face. As is often the case with Marillier's writing, characters (even the good guys) have to face up to their mistakes. Though in this one the older sister's tendency to cruelly lash out when she's upset is excused way more than I think it should be (I have a sibling who does that, and you know, we all get stressed, we don't all take it out on easy targets and expect them to forget it).

I still love this book, though the audio edition really needed a younger sounding reader (she gets better as the book goes on, but still). Marillier's books have gotten more than their share of poor audio editions. I'm not sure if that's because Marillier signed away rights to them early or she just doesn't care much. Her newest book one of the readers is an American even though it's still historical fantasy set in 6th-7th century Scotland. Her Bridei chronicles books all have editions read by the wonderful Michael Page now, at least.

53mabith
sep 15, 2015, 11:16am


Enabling Acts: The Hidden story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest US Minority its Rights by Lennard J. Davis

I was slow in starting this book, in part because of feeling generally depressed about how the ADA has failed in enforcement, particularly when it comes to employment protections. This is especially rich since the Republican justification for it was always “then more disabled people will be employed and won't need benefits.” After it passed the early court decisions totally shrunk the scope of what is or isn't a disability, to the extent that when two pilots were denied employment at United Airlines because they were nearsighted if they weren't wearing glasses/contacts, the court said they didn't have protection under the ADA because their impairments were corrected via glasses. Only they were still denied based on an impairment... This ruling affects wheelchair users as well, and anyone whose impairment is corrected with a device or medication. I know many people who were denied employment because they needed the accommodation of sitting down behind a checkout counter. That tiny thing, which causes no financial impact to a business, is still keeping disabled people from working and keeping us in poverty.

Once I did start the book, it was a good, compelling read, though don't believe the cover blurb about it being “a spellbinding political thriller.” Davis writes well, and with some insight into disability pre-ADA (his parents are both Deaf), but he is not disabled and he does fall into ableist language at times (though being disabled doesn't necessarily prevent that, of course). The organization of the book is good though, and he describes the people involved well. The ADA was unusual in it's formation, as there was a strict agreement that meetings would go on behind closed doors (mostly without any disabled people there, by the by) and no one would talk to the press. That way there would be less press and public pressure and response to specifics of the legislation, meaning more politicians were willing to back it.

It wasn't quite a five-star read for me (and I can't help but wish it had been authored by a disabled person). I recommend this book to everyone, really, in part to increase understanding of being disabled in the US (and keeping in mind this is one of the easier places in the world to be disabled). It's also an important reminder of just how different things are now, post-ADA. Curb cutouts, elevators in metro stations, accessible buses, these are relatively new and now (mostly) ubiquitous things. There are still many architectural barriers to accessibility, but it is so much better now, and it's easy to take those seemingly simple changes for granted.

54mabith
sep 15, 2015, 9:39pm

I made a lot of notes in Enabling Acts, some of which I'd like to share, but didn't want to make the review even longer. First, a few criticisms.

(pg 80) “Feldblum, herself lesbian and bisexual...”
--Uhh... If he didn't know her identity he could have said she was a member of the LGBT community.

(pg 90) “Because Senator Dole had a disability, he didn't have to actively endorse any bill to get the votes of people with disabilities.”
--Because that's how we vote. Riiight. Not to mention that disability encompasses an enormous range of issues (most of which are not embodied in Dole).

(pg 131)
“The idea in the poem was that the lives of disadvantaged people should not be ignored or dismissed “with disdainful smile,” that their existence was as important as those with beauty, power, and wealth.”
--Because disabled people can't be beautiful? We are already seen as sexless in general, we don't need books about the ADA falling into that.

Now for the interesting/infuriating bits and pieces.

He begins with a treatment of section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973, which included these lines to tie it to other civil rights legislation (getting people to recognize that disability was a civil rights issue was an important part of the ADA process):
No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United Sates, as defined in section 7(6), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

If there hadn't been intense legal backlash to the protections in Section 504, the ADA might never have been written. A wide interpretation of 504 would have sufficed.

(Pg 33) “When the Office of Management and Budget, headed by David Stockman, well-known proponent of trickle-down economics, proposed further changes that would be coming two months later, these were also leaked. They included a particularly odious provision that said you could weigh the necessity of providing an accommodation against “the social value” of a particular person. Bob Funk commented: “this was a cost-benefit analysis of how human you are.”
This led to a backlash of 40,000 angry letters over a few years, and led to Bush's (George H. W.) first statement of support for disability legislation. Bush's support might well have been what propelled him to victory in the Presidential election, as Dukakis was conspicuously silent on disability rights.

(pg 37) Lex Frieden, who broke his neck in a car wreck and was quadriplegic, applied to Oral Roberts University as it was newer and had a more accessible campus, but was told flat out he was denied because of his disability. This was his first big setback and a spur to becoming a leader in the fight for the ADA. “We were sending men to the moon. It was just another one of those challenges in life that people have. Then, when I was told I couldn't do something—the only thing I thought I could do—that I wasn't able to do it because of my disability, then I felt guilty. I felt like, my God, I screwed my life up worse than I thought here. That was really traumatic.”

(pg 53) I was continually amazed while reading at the ridiculous “logic” used against ADA language.
The case then went to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that “otherwise qualified” was a tricky term. Essentially, the court said that a person might be “otherwise qualified” but particular disabilities would disqualify him or her from taking a job. The court used the example of a blind person who was applying to be a bus driver.”
If you want a job driving a bus then knowing how to drive already is part of “otherwise qualified” since you're not qualified if you don't already know how to drive!

On the employment side I get so frustrated. Stores often aren't willing to let someone sit behind a checkout counter, and they get away with it because of the narrowing of ADA definitions and because generally we disabled people don't have the time, energy, or money to fight this stuff. The other side is healthcare based. For those of us at the very bottom of Social Security Disability payments, you receive help paying for Medicare premiums and co-pays and such from Medicaid. If your income goes up $1 you lose that, and usually we can't make enough to cover that loss in help. If you only break-even on that then it's better not to get a job (and thus have no chance of finding just the right employment opportunity that would help raise us out of poverty).

(pg 86)
“Coelho didn't get the diagnosis of epilepsy until he tried to enter the priesthood in 1964, inspired to do some good in the world after the shock of the Kennedy assassination. His parents, frat brothers, and girlfriend of five months were all aghast. In his physical exam for the seminary, he was properly diagnosed. The physician, John Doyle, told him, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you're unfit for military duty. The bad news is that you will not be able to become a Catholic priest, because canon law, established in 400 AD, said that if you have epilepsy you're possessed by the devil.”
1964!!! What the hell.

(Pg 94)
“Owens ended with a sweeping statement of inclusion. He noted that he had recently learned the term “temporarily able-bodied” could be applied to all “non-disabled” people. The phrase indicates that being “normal” is only a temporary state. He went on: “When you think about it, our entire country is made up of disabled people and temporarily able-bodied people. The people we are protecting are not a mysterious, distant 'them,' but rather ourselves.

So a lot of religious groups wanted exemption from having to follow the ADA, and that really upsets me. Like, churches, temples, mosques, etc... you should be automatically making them accessible! Come on.

(pg 207) Regarding the Chapman ammendment that would remove protection for HIV+ people:
“The reality is that many Americans would refuse to patronize any food establishment if an employee were known to have a communicable disease.”
I laughed hysterically at this, because in general Republicans don't seem to think restaurant workers deserve paid sick days and encourage “right to work” legislation so workers can be fired for such things as, oh, calling in sick. People with communicable diseases are constantly making our food!

(pg 235)
Case of golfer who couldn't walk the PGA course and wanted to use a cart for the tour was denied it. He sued, won in lower court, PGA tour appealed to the Supreme Court. Court ruled Martin could use the cart because he had a disability, the PGA was a place of public accommodation, the cart was a reasonable accommodation, and walking was not an essential activity of golfing. The only two justices dissenting were Scalia and Thomas.
“Scalia's withering dissenting opinon contested what he called the “Kafkaesque” role of government in determining the rules of sporting events.

This is the kind of stuff that really really gets to me. This is the kind of exclusion that disabled people face on a daily basis, for no good reason. We have a serious problem with internalized ableism, and one way it manifests is discomfort around people with disabilities, and the idea that productivity equals worth and if you're not working you don't deserve the same things working people have.

55mabith
sep 20, 2015, 8:57pm


The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo

This was an interesting read, covering the scientific experimentation happening during Shelley's childhood (mostly galvanism), and a moderate exploration of her life. I do think it's padded out though. Always interesting to read about Burke and Hare and the body-snatching, but Montillo spends way more time than is warranted on that. It doesn't really have a firm connection to what this book is supposed to focus on.

Amusing line about Shelley's father when he'd met his second wife: "The professor is COURTING," his friend Charles Lamb said. "The Lady is a widow (a disgusting woman) and the Professor has grown quite juvenile. He bows his head when spoken to, and smiles without occasion...You never saw...anyone play Romeo so unnaturally."

It's interesting to me that our culture (in the US) generally has a negative reaction to people being head over heels in love. Smiling without occasion, that's just the beginning of the end. And here's Godwin's view on prison.

Godwin told the prisoner he hoped this time alone would allow him to "reflect on his error." Perhaps being imprisoned would let him feel "the beauty of universal benevolence."

The padded out bits didn't bother me hugely, and I think it's an important angle on Shelley's inspirations. Recommended if you like the annals of nutso old science.

56mabith
sep 20, 2015, 9:04pm


The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway by Doug Most

Well, this rivalry wasn't that big, or wasn't represented that well in the book. It was still an interesting book, particularly if you have any interest in engineering. Lots of digging and accidents and "oh no we've run into a dead body."

Again, interesting, though not as dramatic as the subtitle states. A solid history read otherwise.

57mabith
sep 25, 2015, 10:25pm


Beloved by Toni Morrison

This was one of my suggestions for my book club, which most of them didn't enjoy. We vote on suggestions though, so I don't feel bad, they all had time to look up more information about the book. Most of them had issues with the style.

I really liked it and pretty much everything about it. I loved the living house, I loved the changes in time, I loved the fragmentation as Sethe's emotional state builds, and the path her character takes. The writing is full to brimming with emotion and it's a novel that must speak to the heart to be loved, I think. All of Morrison's choices made solid character sense to me.

I was one of the last in the bookclub to finish, and was apprehensive after so many people weren't liking it. Looking forward to reading more by Morrison.

58mabith
sep 25, 2015, 10:35pm


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

This is the hot new YA fantasy novel. It was a good read, though I'm not blown away by it (I'm not a huge fan of fantasy though, and it had the "love at first sight, drawn to a person for no reason" trope that I hate). That's what I like about Juliet Marillier (and Sharon Shinn for that matter), her love relationships build over time generally. Difference between YA and adult fiction, I guess.

Marginalized group living under oppressive rule of ultimate evil group, young woman's family is gone, her brother taken before her eyes and to get the rebellion to rescue him she must go undercover and serve the sadistic local ruler who killed her parents. Who can she really trust, etc...

It's one of those that ends in the middle of the story, though from what I can tell it won't be a long series or even a trilogy, just two books. Where it left off it felt like it really wouldn't have taken another whole book to resolve things, but we'll see.

Not a bad read at all, but maybe over-hyped. If you're a big fantasy or YA fan you'll probably want to pick it up.

59mabith
sep 28, 2015, 12:22pm


Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O'Brien

I'd initially put this on my list without looking closely, thinking that it was about Abigail Adams. It's actually about Louisa Johnson Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, and the only First Lady born outside of the US (English mother, American father, grew up in England and France). Her marriage, while not terrible, wasn't great either, and Adams was not a loving person in general, and didn't believe love-match marriages were a good thing.

The book is part biography of Louisa and part travelogue of her journey from St. Petersburg to London, taking forty days. Not too far into her journey Napoleon escaped from Elba, increasing the chaos and danger of the trip.

It was a generally interesting read, but nothing amazing. Recommended for Presidential/First Lady history readers. Mostly made me want to break out the family tree to see exactly how I'm related to the Adams men.

60mabith
sep 28, 2015, 12:34pm


Just Send me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag by Orlando Figes

This book springs from an almost certainly unique collection of letters. As with many Russians who had been captured by the Germans during WWII, Lev Mishchenko was sent to a gulag after the war ended. His pre-war sort-of sweetheart, Svetlana Ivanova, and he wrote each other for the eight years of his imprisonment in the Pechora labor camp (and they even managed a couple of visits). There are 1,246 letters in the collection.

What is unique is that the letters survived, given the danger in keeping them (especially as many were smuggled in), and particularly that Lev's letters to Sveta survived. Just being related to a prisoner could spell disaster for a person on the outside, let alone being in contact with them. Lev saved and hid the letters from Sveta and when a certain number accumulated they were smuggled out of the camp and back to Sveta. It is an invaluable archive of life in that period and in a labor camp.

I picked this up as it was the only title by Figes my library had on audio (what I really want to read are his books The Whisperers and Natasha's Dance). It was very interesting and, since much of it is quotations from the letters, so personal. I was braced for a very unhappy ending to their tale, but was pleasantly surprised. Lev is eventually released and he and Sveta are able to marry and finally make a life for themselves.

General recommendation if you're interested in this part of history.

61bryanoz
sep 28, 2015, 9:07pm

#57 mabith I'll support your Beloved book club selection! It is a great novel IMO, though not an easy read.
I had a similar experience in my book club when I suggested History of the Rain by Niall Williams, which most didn't like, but I thought was a touching literate story.
Her Song of Solomon is another good read IMO.

62mabith
okt 2, 2015, 11:17am


The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres (look at that gorgeous cover and yet there's another version which is awful and doesn't fit the time period at all and HOW COULD THEY ALLOW THAT!)

I saw bryanoz's review of this and it immediately went on my to-read list. Thankfully my library obliged me by ordering the audiobook for me, as the readers were very good and brought something extra to this wonderful book.

It's first and foremost a family saga, taking place before, during, and after the First World War. If there's one book that perfectly encapsulates the change of mood (and some changes in society) between pre and post-WWI Britain, this is it. The writing is beautiful, but even more so the characters are so alive. The book seemed so realistic to me that at times it felt like a memoir.

A perfectly stunning read. After finishing I felt the only thing I could do was pick up the trashiest novel I own (well, the first in the only series of trashy novels I own). Trying to pick up another serious fiction title just after would have shone badly on the new book (probably) but I also just wanted to hang on to this one and its characters a bit longer.

Heartily recommended. This is one I'll definitely want to re-read.

63mabith
okt 2, 2015, 11:39am


Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

I try not to be embarrassed about anything I read, but the Anita Blake series comes pretty close (especially since I believe more people are familiar with the later books). It has the reputation of being full of sex, but the main character doesn't have sex until the sixth book in the series (and she narrates them, so it's not like we're seeing other characters' sex scenes). I read and enjoyed the first nine and then it just got a little too ridiculous to continue.

Anita Blake is a professional necromancer, raising zombies for a living mostly for the purpose of clarifying wills, telling the family where XYZ is, etc... She is also on retainer with the police department's preternatural crimes unit. In this world vampires have been living opening for two years and while the surface is mainstream the underbelly of vampire politics is not. Blake is a professional when it comes to hunting down rogue vampires who have broken the law and in their community she's known as the Executioner.

The books aren't horribly written, and Hamilton was wise in letting Anita narrate them. They are casual, and Anita's sarcasm is there on every page. Hamilton also lets her be scared, and be realistic about her own abilities vs a vampire's supernatural speed and other powers. Anita has a full life outside of interacting with vampires, she has female friends, she has a history. They're fast reads, with the action rarely stopping and lots of gun talk. I first read these when I was 17 and 18, but they're still really fun reads today, and I've re-read my favorites many times. All the books involve a police case, which usually end up wrapping Anita up in vampire politics.

This was first published in 1993, and it seems like they mark the start of a turning point in vampire fiction (these involve all sorts of preternatural creatures), away from the Anne Rice style and towards the more urban "what if vampires were just a mainstream part of life." When True Blood came out I couldn't help feeling it was a bit of a rip-off of Anita Blake only less well-balanced. I gave the first book from the series it's based on a read but the writing was just so terrible.

64mabith
okt 2, 2015, 11:59am


The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

This is the book that the Disney movie The Black Cauldron was very very loosely based on. Alexander said that as a book movie it's a failure, but just as a movie it's good.

This one is quite as fun as The Book of Three, which happily pokes fun at the epic/high fantasy tradition (perhaps unusual as these were published in the 1960s). The Black Cauldron has less of that and is more of a partial "read the next volume" story. It does have some very fun scenes, particularly with the witches.

65mabith
okt 6, 2015, 9:03pm


The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

I feel like the name Rinker Buck predestines you to do something like buying a covered wagon and team of mules, and embarking on the Oregon trail with only your brother who you mildly dislike along to help.

If you're looking for a true history of the trail, this isn't that book. It has a lot about the trail and the periods of migration and issues faced by travelers, but more of the book focuses on the author's journey and his relationship with his family (particularly his brother Nick and his father).

It was an interesting read, and a good enough book. Nothing particularly amazing, but good. I also appreciated that Buck didn't try to be a trail purist and eschew modern gadgets and things. That wasn't the purpose of the trip. While really totally immersing yourself in a period of history can be helpful in learning some things (ala Ruth Goodman's farm programs), that wasn't the purpose of this trip.

I feel like this would be a nice light history travel/beach book.

66mabith
okt 6, 2015, 9:12pm


Coot Club by Arthur Ransome

This is the fifth book in Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, but this book contains neither Swallows nor Amazons. Instead it focuses on Dick and Dorothea Callum, who met the Swallows and Amazons the previous winter and had great adventures with them. Dick and Dot are eager to learn to sail and assume that staying with a family friend on her rented yacht will give them the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately it's too large to sail with one person and two beginners, but Mrs. Barable enlists three local children to teach them. Tom, twin girls Port and Starboard, and the 'pirate' crew of the Death and Glory are members of the Coot Club, a bird protection society, whose activities have landed Tom in the drink with some 'foreigners' (people on holiday).

A wonderfully fun and vivid read, I truly love this series (enough that I'm carefully rationing the books. Ransome not only writes children very accurately, but adults as well. I appreciate that Mrs. Barable is not an average adult, but also isn't the stereotypical 'perfect adult' (to children) that you find in some children's books.

When I get that time machine I'm giving the whole series to child-me. I can't wait until my niece and nephew are old enough to enjoy this series.

67mabith
okt 9, 2015, 2:13pm


The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

The magazine The Economist, in reviewing this book, complained that slave owners were portrayed negatively, and that says everything about why this book is necessary. When people let guilt over our country's past blind them to historical facts they do as much or more damage than vehement racists.

This is an important book, dealing with an extremely important subject. The past is not simply the past, and telling people they should focus on something else or that "the past is past" (and notice how supporters of current use of the Confederate flag tell people to get over the past while yelling about their 'heritage') is both dismissive and ignorant.

One strength of this book is that it merges the big picture with the every day, human facts of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. If you have any high school students in your life, get them this book. The way slavery and the Civil War are covered in schools all over the US (IF they're covered at all, which is not a given) ranges between ineffectual and downright false.

Absolutely recommended.

68mabith
okt 9, 2015, 2:40pm


Letting It Go by Miriam Katin

This is a graphic memoir of Katin's reaction to and attempts to come to terms with her son announcing he's moving to Berlin (requiring her to fill out forms stating her Hungarian origins which will allow him to claim citizenship and give him an EU passport). She is a lone voice of overwhelming concern and despair at his decision, and finally agrees to visit Berlin.

Katin is one of those artists whose sometimes scribbly fill style and usually simplistic faces, can temporarily blind you to just how impeccable her drawing skill is. Her graphic memoirs are very quick reads, and it's really worth taking your time over the pages to appreciate her drawing skills.

An interesting read, if the arc of her emotions and the way they're compressed in the book do seem a little too pat and perfect overall (that's life vs the telling of it though).

69mabith
okt 9, 2015, 2:54pm


The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

Another graphic memoir. Sandell's father is the absolute ruler of the household. He is always telling stories of his dramatic past, and while Sandell absolutely worships him, he also has a really frightening temper. As she gets older and he loses a teaching job she's forced to notice the problems he causes in their lives and the way his personality has shaped how she treats her sisters and others. When he takes out a credit card in her name and she intercepts the envelope she is shocked but mollified as he agrees to cut it up and does so in front of her. A while later when she wants to get a card herself she's shocked to find that the card she saw him cut up has been fully maxed out. She requests a credit report and finds multiple cards under her name and it's the same with her sisters. Soon after she discovers he has lied about his college degrees.

While the memoir is about trying to figure out her father and the enormous pile of lies she grew up in, it is equally (perhaps more so, really) about her struggles with relating to others and an addiction to ambien and alcohol. If you only want to read it to find out what her father's deal was or the truth behind the lies, this isn't the book for you (and in the end that is never fully resolved, though it seems likely to me that he simply has a narcissistic personality disorder).

70mabith
okt 9, 2015, 3:34pm


My Mother's Wars by Lillian Faderman

This is Faderman's biography of her mother mostly dealing with her decades in the US up until Lillian was born. It's written in a novelistic style, with occasional breaks where the author laments for her mother's hardships and struggles with wishing her mother had severed relations with her father while being conscious she wouldn't exist otherwise. Her mother, Mary (often used in place of her real name, Mereleh), came to the US from Latvia in 1914 when she was 17 or 18 and becomes a garment worker. Sponsored by her much older half-sister and her husband, they soon kick her out due to her desire to spend her nights dancing, basically (she wanted to be a professional dancer). A chance meeting with a younger man begins a relationship that will last, on and off, for over ten years. Morris is educated and from a well off family, and will not marry her while his mother lives. Much of the book takes place in the run up to and during WWII, with Mary growing frantic as there's no way to bring the rest of her family to the US or get them out of Latvia at all.

It was an interesting read in many was, but Faderman refers to her childhood only a few times and in the shortest, most vague ways. I had a hard time buying into the depth of knowledge and emotion in telling her mother's stories without any detail of when or how her mother talked about all this to young Lillian. I constantly expected there to be at least a few paragraphs about that, but there really wasn't anything. Faderman talks of her aunt Rae being the rock to her mother's instability but with no details of that life at all (Mary and Rae were opposite personality types, and Mary shared as little as possible with her, and even avoided seeing her much until the late 1930s, so Rae wasn't the source of this history). The book basically ends at Lillian's birth.

Her mother's struggles with living through the Great Depression and participation in strikes against one of the factories she worked in were the most interesting parts of the book to me. The book didn't go into Faderman's relationship with her mother enough to really sustain interest in it or understand why Faderman felt led to write this book. I could write a novel of my mother's life from what I know of her decisions and the time-line of it, plus snooping through letters and journals. However, it would simply be a novel at the end of the day because getting my mom to share anything about her childhood or young adulthood is like pulling teeth (let alone getting her to share how she FELT about anything during those years). Yet with vague statements I could probably make it appear that my mother had shared her past wildly and fully and that her sisters had added lots of information to that as well.

71bryanoz
okt 9, 2015, 6:57pm

#67 Will read it, thanks mabith

72mabith
okt 15, 2015, 12:43pm


Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace RE-READ

One of my favorite book series, which follows Betsy from age seven or so up through her wedding. I actually stopped reading them when she got close to teenage, in part because we didn't own the later ones and because the idea of growing up was absolutely repellent to me as a kid. I mostly pretended it would never happen to me.

Betsy and Tacy are great characters though, and the books are based on the author's own childhood (meaning they're more indicative of Edwardian life than the 1930s and 40s when they were originally published). When I worked in a bookstore I pushed this series onto many parents and the kids always liked them, so I think it's fair to say they still hold up for modern kids.

The first four books gradually increase in reading level in keeping with Betsy and Tacy's age. It's a great starter series for your book loving seven or eight year old.

73mabith
okt 15, 2015, 12:54pm


Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis RE-READ

I suggested this book for my bookclub's historical mystery theme month, and it was voted in. This is the sixth book in the Falco series, and an especially funny one for me (being familiar with the theatrical world). I chose this one in part for the humor, but also because Davis has totally hit her stride by now and Falco and Helena are pretty settled in together. I think the first ten you can skip around quite a bit without trouble, and Davis is good at filling the reader in without being annoying about it.

Falco needs to get out of Rome, and reluctantly takes on a spying mission for Vespasian. Helena goes too, and they head for Petra (in modern day Jordan). While there they discover the body of a recently murdered man who worked for a traveling theatre group. Falco convinces the operators to take him on as he hunts for the murderer (while also working as the theatre's writer) and they travel around the Decapolis. Falco also works on an original play The Spook Who Spoke, which is basically Hamlet, and all the actors have quite a negative reaction to it. It makes for a great running joke.

It's always fun when Falco is abroad, and I just love how Davis packs in the history. Falco is more progressive than many of his peers, but still a product of the time with all the prejudices that implies. Still my favorite historical mystery series and that's unlikely to change. Hope the book club like it, but if they don't it's their loss.

74mabith
okt 23, 2015, 7:48pm


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery RE-READ

Though I grew up obsessively watching the late 1980s mini-series of this book and the first sequel, I didn't read the books while I kid. I think mostly because the editions we had were mass market paperbacks which I associated with Boring Grown Up Books. I read the first four books in the series around ten years ago, and then got kind of bored with Anne being all grown up and married.

The book is just so wonderful. It is absolutely perfect comfort reading and Anne is one of those characters who captures your heart pretty much immediately and never lets go. Now I have a very strong need to watch the mini-series again, especially since the casting is so perfect.

75mabith
okt 23, 2015, 7:54pm


A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook

While this title sounds like it might be science fiction, it's actually a history and examination of several purpose-built, instant cities, constructed with the aim of being modern which generally meant being Westernized. It focuses on St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai as the historical examples and looks at Dubai as a more modern equivalent.

Pasting from Wikipedia, as it says it better than I can:
For example, "(a)ll of the questions St. Petersburg raises are still with us: Which way should a city face: outward to the globe, or inward to the nation? What is global and what is local? Is cosmopolitanism a threat to native ways and self-sufficiency or a necessary condition of progress? What does modernity look like, separate from its Western conception?"

According to the author, "We need to understand (these cities) because they’re the places that matter today. I describe them as 'dress rehearsals for the 21st century.' People used to be fascinated with them because they were so unusual. Now, we need to be fascinated with them because the project for which they stand — urbanization/modernization of less developed regions — is the project of our time."


It was a very interesting book, and well done. It rotates through the cities focusing on different periods of their development. Since the chapters are divided by city it's also easy just to read about Dubai or Mumbai if you want to focus on recent history.

76mabith
okt 23, 2015, 8:03pm


Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and others

I kept forgetting to pick this one up, but the first volume only came out this year, so I guess I'm not too late.

This is a middle-grade/YA issue comic, originally slated for a fixed one-off storyline but then expanded. It's a lot of fun, and I love the art style. I also love the way the writers use the names of notable women (who are largely missing from school history lessons) in situations where a character is exclaiming, so we get "Oh my Bessie Coleman" etc...

Enormously fun, can't wait to see more.

77mabith
okt 23, 2015, 8:10pm


Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

I think I'm officially too old to read anything else where young women are going through the process of unpacking internalized misogyny (anything associated with femininity is bad/worthless, etc...). Prince recounts her childhood of being a dedicated "girls suck," "not like other girls" tomboy.

I have been there, I get it, I just can't keep reading about it apparently. Good book for teens and college age women, probably. In many ways I'm just tired of gender in general, and I don't understand how anyone can talk about gender in this world and mean anything except societal gender norms.

78Eyejaybee
okt 24, 2015, 5:55am

<75 That sounds fascinating and I shall definitely hunt down a copy. It isn't the sort of book I might have come across myself so thanks for flagging it up.

79mabith
okt 27, 2015, 10:20pm

I forgot where I saw A History of Future Cities, I had an inkling it was on LT but may have been random browsing. Hope you enjoy it if you get to it!

80mabith
okt 27, 2015, 10:22pm


Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland

Tom Holland wrote one of my favorite books about ancient Rome, Rubicon, and this one almost measures up to that quality (the others I wouldn't really bother with). I am partly biased as I just love Julius Caesar.

If you want the rundown Julio-Claudian emperors in a more readable style than Suetonius' Twelve Caesars (though that also covers the year of the four emperors and the Flavian emperors), this might be the book for you. It covers the ground well and is helpful in terms of dealing with the aspects of society more alien to to us.

It was good timing, in some ways, as I just recently watched all of the first season of HBO's Rome (practically my favorite show of all-time). Generally recommended. It's a nice refresher on the period without having to read separate books about each of the main players.

81mabith
okt 27, 2015, 10:51pm


Katherine by Anya Seton

This is one of the major (dare I say foundational,) works historical fiction, published in 1954. I absolutely loved it, particularly the last two thirds of the book or so. It follows Katherine as she goes from being a sheltered convent girl to marrying a well-placed lord and on to being the mistress of John of Gaunt (third surviving son of King Edward III, born 1340).

Seton was known for her research and given the that she was not a historian and there wasn' the same breadth orfresearch or ease of access in the 1950s, she does a very good job with accuracy, particularly in portraying life in general in this period. It certainly felt more grounded and realistic to the period that most other books of fiction set in this time (though I'm not expert). While some of her speculations have turned out to be partially or wholly incorrect, I don't think she ever asserted that they were absolutely accurate anyway.

It was a really satisfying read and I'd recommend it to historical fiction fans and biographical novel fans, or those wanting some Plantagenet history without any dryness. If you don't know Katherine's story already I'd read the book before looking it up. More fun if you don't know how her life goes.

82mabith
okt 28, 2015, 2:20pm

Because of my obsessive drive to know more and more about my grandparents (or any of my relatives, really), I decided that starting next year I should keep a hand written record of my reading which my nieces and nephews can peruse if they're curious creatures like myself. Partly I feel like this sounds very egotistical but really I'd give much to have the reader records of my aunts, grandparents, parents, etc... when they were young. I can't count on them finding or browsing ancient LT groups!

So all that led me to trying to find the perfect book journal. It's been a struggle, and I felt like I really needed to see them in person in order to judge them accurately. Luckily, thrift stores selling on eBay and the used section on Amazon allowed me to purchase eight different journals all for about $4 each. I'll eventually use all of them (many don't have enough room to contain my full year's reading), but thought I'd review them here in case anyone else is in this quandary.

The links go to Amazon, because many of pictures of what the interior pages look like and they're more likely to have reviews to look at. It's worth trawling eBay for cheaper listings. Three of the ones I bought had very minor markings, none of which will hamper my use of them.


The Book Lover's Journal

This is tied with the next one for my favorite. I do wish it were a bit wider, but because of the spiral binding it will lay flat. It has fields to fill in that I like a lot (you can see the inside here or in the title link). It has a 'rank 1-10' bit for plot, pacing, etc... which is a nice touch, I think. At the back it has places to list books you want to read, books you've borrowed or loaned out, and some prize winner lists (including one for non-fiction, which wasn't common in the other journals with prize lists). In the back it also has list prompts for favorite authors, books loved in childhood, and (most importantly) books you'd want with you on a desert island. Nicely, it has a place to list all the books you've entered and which page they can be found on.

It has room for 65 books, though one could use the second page and just enter the same information as on the first page doubling the books you could record. However, because this one is so narrow doubling up would leave you with very little room to say anything about the books.


My Bibliophile

The other favorite. I like the size on this one much better, as it's a good bit wider. It doesn't have as much to fill in as the previous journal, but has a star rating you can shade, and plenty of room. While it's still a pretty small book, it lays quite flat when open. Also I think it has the prettiest cover. The book journal pages are interspersed with sort of reading flow charts to fill in, lists to make, spots for favorite quotes, etc... It also has a bunch of “best book” and prize lists in the back, plus space to record author talks you've been to, to-read lists, borrowed/loaned books, and favorite bookstore addresses.

This one isn't numbered, so I'm not sure how many books it allows for. Since it's wider and has fewer pre-printed fields it would be easier to double up on entries than the previous one.


Books I've Read: A Reader's Journal

This and the next journal aren't bad, but they're a bit too school-ish and would be best for grade school and pre-teen readers. “When I finished this book I felt...” “Message/plottheme:” That kind of stuff. This one is one of the largest journals, lots of room to write, lots of entry space and that's it. No book lists or other falderal.


Readers Journal: Diary for Book Lovers (Exact same interior with a nicer cover here, but the first one was $4 vs $8)

Like the previous one, this is nice, just a bit too book reportish for me to take seriously as an adult reader. This one gives room for 102 books, and each page has a book/reading related quote. It has a couple pages for a to-read list and a place to list all the books you've entered and which page they can be found on.


Read, Remember, Recommend

This is a pretty big book, and the vast majority is taken up with book award lists with fields to check mark if you own them, recommend them, want to read them, or want to own them. Personally, bit silly. Own, read, to-read is more than enough. I bought that one more for the lists (and it was $3!), but it also has a book journal section (the sections are separated by tabs, which is nice, but I wish all of these had ribbon bookmarks as well). Not sure how many books it allows for as there are a mix of formats, allowing for 2 books per page or two pages per book. That's probably a nice feature, but means you might well be filling them out of the order you read them in. It does have a list page where you can write what pg number each book is on though.

It also included general lists of book awards divided by country, region, subject, etc... and website addresses for each, plus lists of book blogs. Have to wonder how many are no longer active now! I don't see this one as being super practical for a book journal purpose.


Books I've Read: A Bibliophile's Journal

This is a pretty little book, with bookish/homey watercolor illustrations scattered throughout. The key word though is LITTLE. It's much too small. It's also the simplest of the ones I bought, each left hand page says “Title_____ Date____” and the rest is blank. It also has award winners, big lists at the back. I'd love it if it were larger. Not recommended.


Moleskine Book Journal, Interior page sample

A pretty book, a good size, lays relatively flat, includes three ribbon bookmarks. Only for some strange reason the journal pages have an alphabet tab system on the side, like an address book. This makes NO SENSE. It doesn't have enough pages to be sensible to cataloging the books you own and you'd never list books as you read them that way. It's like they thought “you'll need a way to look up where a specific book is easily” and no one arrived at the solution in most of the other journals (a page to list the titles and what page they're on). It's just so ridiculous.

It's still very usable, since I'll just ignore the letters and go straight through in the order I read the books, but that really annoys me. It has room for 155 books. Then a third of it is taken up with blank pages with tab separaters. It comes with a sheet of stickers with suggested uses for the pages (to read, my library, wish list, bookshops, events, etc...). I'd so much rather the whole thing be book pages.

Just realized it DOES have a “fill in yourself” index at the back, which also has the alphabetical letters which again you can just ignore. Now I'm even MORE annoyed about the way they did that. In many ways I really like this one, and if it just had book journal pages and the fill your own index and nothing else it would be my favorite of the lot, I think.


Book Life

Very pretty cover, but I was expecting a larger book for whatever reason. The pages won't lie anywhere close to flat so it will be annoying to fill out. Extra annoying since I like the prompts and that it allows for a letter grade vs the star system. Room for about 58 books.

What really annoys me is they try to have all these sections for favorite books, favorite quotes, etc... only they're tiny. So you can only have 15 favorite books, eight books that changed your life, and six favorite quotes. Pointless to have those sections be so short. They also list bookstores by state, but weirdly don't list the one I worked at for West Virginia's. It's ridiculous since if you're stopping in WV you're most likely to be in Charleston (vs Elkins or Wheeling which they do list), the capitol, because of the interstates and such, plus it's a seriously beautiful store.


A Book Lover's Diary

Worst book journal ever. You can definitely tell it was designed by librarians who didn't read much (my dad was a librarian for 30 years and he'd be the first to tell you librarians aren't necessarily big readers). It's small, but also doesn't have room to say anything about the books, just room to list title, author, etc... On top of that, it further minimizes space by dividing each section into three so you can list everything by title, by author, and by subject.

All the other journals I'll use them, even if they're not perfect, but this one really isn't usable at all. If all you want to do is make a list of the books you've read, without commenting on the books at all then a list in a word processor or a blank non-book specific journal will work.


Bookworm Journal

I ordered this for my nephew for his birthday next week. He's turning seven and I think he'll like it. I really liked the format and the fact that it has a place to note if he read the book himself, if someone read it to him, or if it was a combination of both. It has little extra bits interspersed throughout and just seems like a really nice start for early readers. I'd say it's best for 6-8 year olds and after that get one of the two I mentioned above which allow for more room and are a bit more grown up.


Literary Listopgraphy

Not a book journal, but a collection of bookish lists for you to fill out with nice, related watercolor illustrations on each page. My plan is to fill it in totally within the next couple of years, then put it away and bring it back in ten years to add things, add notes if I'd leave something off or had changed my mind, etc... I can just stick new pages in, but trying to stick to a single pen color so I can just use a different color when I revisit it.

Noticeably missing – books I'd want on a desert island.

83mabith
nov 1, 2015, 11:00pm


Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

This is a well-written and extremely necessary book for a variety of reasons. One of them being the almost certainly false idea that rates of autism exploded in the US in the last twenty or thirty years (meanwhile girls and people of color are still underdiagnosed).

Silberman gives us the history of the study of autism and the important work of unpacking wrong ideas about the condition and correcting our general ignorance about it. He details some incredibly abusive 'experiments' and they are seriously upsetting.

I wish I had clever or insightful things to say about the book, but I highly recommend it. Anyone with children or who works with children should especially read it, and at least one book by an autistic writer (Temple Grandin perhaps). It's not a children's disease, and autistic adults are often overlooked unless they have some savant ability, so really everyone should read it, but people who work with kids especially need to understand how to adapt their programmed behavior.

84mabith
nov 1, 2015, 11:14pm


Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge And Donald Duck: "Treasure Under Glass": The Don Rosa Library Vol. 3 by Don Rosa

Third volume in the Don Rosa series. Some reprints from the two volumes of Donald Duck cartoons that came out a while back. Pretty confused about the overlap, but oh well. You have to buy these volumes up quick, as often not that many are printed.

Rosa is my favorite artist and writer for Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, after Carl Barks, of course. However, he sometimes falls into the same casual racism found in the Barks stories. Given the time when Rosa started writing and drawing Duck comics, this is really bothersome. I hope it's only an issue in these early works. In the fourth volume, containing half of his Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck stories, he is more typically overturning the racism of the 40s and 50s stories, so perhaps he got called on it enough to change those issues. It doesn't happen in every story or every other story (I think only in two out of the nine in this volume), but it is so distasteful and depressing.

These stories are all from the early 90s, and there's probably more racism in the Disney cartoon Rescue Rangers (honestly, there are some awful bits), but we do want to hold our idols up to a higher standard than the average person on the street.

85mabith
nov 1, 2015, 11:36pm


Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser

I don't feel the title of this really relates that much to the content. I never got any sense of WHY Lesser loves to read, but instead got "here is what I think makes for a successful book." As she's one of the founders of the Three Penny Review I felt like the title should be "Here are things to keep in mind if you're submitting to the Three Penny Review."

Lesser is a literature dissecter, something I don't think I could ever be with regards to fiction. And during all this dissecting and talk about character vs plot and authority in writing she says right smack in the middle of the book "The work speaks to you or it does not. That is all you can finally say." Then she says a whole lot more.

Admittedly, this was never going to be a book I loved and she rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning. She characterized two female authors as "narcissistic" because they focus on their own voices and experiences. Knowing people with narcissistic personality disorder her usage of that word annoys me, but also I feel like she'd never levy that charge against a male author. Just like women who focus their fiction around women are always getting "but can they write men?" when male authors are excused or even applauded for leaving out women entirely.

86mabith
nov 1, 2015, 11:46pm


Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery RE-READ

It's odd to read this and the following two books and see how and where all the events in the 80s mini-series, Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, were pulled in. As usual it's wonderful to be with Anne Shirley, perhaps the most beloved character ever, at least for bookish girls.

This volume pales a bit in comparison with the first, but mainly that's due to Anne having to be a bit more serious (and, for my older reading self, there's not enough Marilla). Excellent books though, really excellent.

My maternal grandmother took a long summer trip to Prince Edward Island and I always wonder if she was a fan of the books. She died when my mother was a teenager, so unless she made a big deal about it to my mom or her sisters it's a question that may never been answered. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was the firm family book on that side (great-grandmother was born in 1878 and was 44 when grandmother was born, so perhaps that's not surprising, Anne may have misbehaved too much for her tastes!).

87mabith
nov 5, 2015, 4:18pm

Another book journal to review.


The Well-Read Women Reading Journal

This was just too pretty to pass up. The illustrator did a series of illustrations of book characters with quotes from the books, which was sold as a separate book before being developed into a reading journal.

It's one of the nicer ones, too. The size is good, not huge, but big enough, and the binding isn't bad. Doesn't lie totally flat, when open, but it's pretty good. Through the link you can see what the entry pages and the watercolors look like. The entry pages have title, author, plot notes, character notes, quotes, other books to read by same author, and in the corner a place to put start and finish dates and choose a 1-5 rating. There's room for 52 books. In the back it has a bit of room for wishlists, some blank pages for general notes, a couple awards list, and a place to fill in your own 'winners' for the year/season.

I really enjoy watercolors and the style the illustrator used, so it was a great choice for me. And now I've got this other journal on the way to me. This is getting ridiculous, but I keep telling myself as long as I use all of them it's fine. I can't wait to start using them next year. This is the one to get for high school and college age daughters, nieces, etc...

88mabith
nov 6, 2015, 11:45am


A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

I really enjoyed this novel right up to the very very end where I feel Atkinson did something wholly unnecessary. While this is a companion piece to Life After Life, which involves a novel concept where the main character can do things over to get a different result, I don't think A God in Ruins needed to be anything other than good, solid historical fiction.

The book follows Teddy, an RAF pilot working in a bomber crew during the war. We go back and forth in time, and I forget now if the different threads were in order. As in a chapter on the beginning of his war, then the beginning of his marriage, etc... I felt the ordering of it worked perfectly though. We see who he is at various periods and then we see how he became that person, we see his grandchildren struggling and then see how their characters were formed.

It's a wonderfully written slice of this time period and these mindsets. It asks questions we've long struggled with, and reminds us that we cannot accurately put ourselves in any historical event because we already know the outcome. Since I wasn't expecting a similar format to Life After Life and knew it was a companion rather than a true sequel, I think that let me enjoy it on its own terms as a separate book.

Again, just that tiny bit at the very very end letting me down. I could happily re-read it though.

89mabith
nov 6, 2015, 12:00pm


Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson

This is such a fun series, and one of the (seemingly) few Marvel/DC series actually appropriate for and marked to kids. The shift comics took over time, decided to keep marketing to the same generation and just grow up with them, is something I find distressing and annoying. Leaving kids behind is a large part of why issue comics were struggling for so long.

The writing is still great and the story interesting, though the first two issues in this volume were drawn by a new artist and then the last three were by the previous artist Adrian Alphona. Then in the third volume none of the stories are drawn by Alphona. This threw me a bit (for one thing, why?), as Alphona's art is part of why I was so drawn into the comics. It's a great style, perfect for these stories, and it's quite different than most mainstream superhero comic art. The other artists are much more traditionally mainstream and it loses so much character.

90mabith
nov 6, 2015, 12:05pm


Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison

I've never read much about Joan of Arc before, though I know the basic "what everybody knows" stuff. It's such an unusual bit of history, and something that still makes me go "Hold on, really?" I think that's a bit of a common reaction given all of the fiction devoted to her.

Harrison uses the fiction as well as the historical record, providing quotes from various plays and novels and how the authors of them changed or added to Joan's story. I'm still wondering whether or not that added much or just confused the issue, but obviously I didn't find it hugely bothersome.

Certainly an interesting read. Harrison seemed to get into it quite well and I think was good about bringing up the murkier or more unknown issues in Joan's story (though of course I'm not really equipped to judge that).

Generally recommended, and it was very readable.

91mabith
nov 6, 2015, 12:18pm


Ms. Marvel Vol 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson

None of the issues in this volume were drawn by Alphona, unfortunately. It's not horrible art, just different (except for the last bit, which seems to be a guest appearance from the new S.H.I.E.L.D., just the most typical mainstream art and was constantly off-model for all the characters, which is something that really bothers me).

I was always a comics nerd, but never mainstream superhero comics (Asterix, Tintin, Pogo, Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck, various artists and series that were in Funny Times, etc...). This means I'm finding it really strange that in this universe the superheroes are real but also there are still comics about them? Comics which are strangely accurate apparently? I don't know. I know for Marvel and DC readers that's probably the least strange thing ever.

Apparently Alphona is back doing all the art in volume 4 and again I ask why all the changing? I'm not really used to issue comics like this though.

92jfetting
nov 6, 2015, 2:41pm

I don't know how this happened but I JUST discovered this second thread. You've been reading a lot of my favorite childhood books this year. I was a huge Betsy-Tacy fan, although I did read and enjoy them all the way up to Betsy and the Great World. Plus I just loved The House With a Clock in its Walls - the Gorey illustrations are fantastic and really fit the creepy feel of the book.

And as another fan of Julius Caesar I'm putting Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar on my wishlist.

93mabith
nov 13, 2015, 9:17pm


Trumbo by Bruce Cook

I got this as an audiobook ER win, as the book has been re-released to accompany the movie that's just come out recently (which looks great). Interestingly, to me, there don't seem to be any revisions to the book which was originally published in the 1970s.

Cook is forthcoming about his admiration for Trumbo, and tries to bring this up when it would appear to be coloring the book's content. He's open about his process and who he's spoken to, and what their relationship with Trumbo was/influences on their opinion.

I read Johnny Got His Gun in high school and it has certainly stayed with me over the years. However, I didn't know much else about Trumbo or the fact that he was blacklisted. Good biography, up-front, honest writing, recommended.

94mabith
nov 13, 2015, 9:19pm

>92 jfetting: That happens to me far too often! Betsy-Tacy feels like a pretty unique series in many ways. I'm hoping to read them all in order over the next few months. As a kid I tended to rebel against characters growing up (I really disliked the notion of growing up myself), so maybe that colored it too. Will be interesting to approach the later books solely as an adult though. I'm still convinced no one does creep as well as Bellairs.

95mabith
nov 13, 2015, 10:02pm


Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

It's apparently my month for biographies! Joan of Arc, Dalton Trumbo, and Malcolm X would make an interesting dinner party...

This is a very thoughtful biography, which a figure like Malcolm X needs. I do feel Marable slightly ignored the fact that today Malcolm X is still perceived as a pure criminal by most of white America (and certainly those parts in charge of middle school and high school textbooks), while they pick and choose small pieces Martin Luther King Jr to focus on. In the book he basically states that this has changed already.

The word reinvention also makes the various shifts in Malcolm's life seem deliberate and calculated, whereas I saw it more as a natural cycle of maturation and learning. It's a worthwhile read, and one that I think is necessary to understanding the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

One does wonder how so many people ignored the fact that Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934-1975, was enriching himself to a huge degree. This is while all members needed to tithe a certain amount of their income to the group AND sell a certain number of copies of the group's magazine each month. This is particularly obnoxious as one of the main charges of the group was that middle and upper class blacks weren't doing anything to help those less well off. There was certainly a serious cult atmosphere around him, and of course in terms of orthodox Islam it would be (and was) considered a heretical sect. It's really a great shame that Malcolm X wasn't taken under the wing of a better person.

96mabith
nov 13, 2015, 10:22pm


Jack by Shannon Cate

This is a self-published book that I became aware of through a list of YA LGBT reads. Set in the 1870s-1880s it follows Evelyn, her daughter Lucy, and Lucy's friend/admirer, Jack.

Jack reveals to Lucy that he was born a girl, but started dressing as a boy after escaping from an orphanage. In the book he's presented as pretty definitively trans, and I appreciated that. While I don't think it's good to speculate about real-life people and those labels, trans people have always existed and should be found in historical fiction as well as contemporary. Cate doesn't misgender Jack or let her other characters do that, nor does she present Lucy as a lesbian (Lucy is attracted to Jack as a boy/man, it is a heterosexual relationship). All of this endeared Cate to me (and she allows Jack to find other trans men to be friends with).

When Lucy is 13, Evelyn answers the ad of a man in Arizona who's looking for a gentile wife. Jack promises Lucy that they'll still be together someday. Predictably they are prevented from exchanging letters and each fear the other has forgotten them. Evelyn has always showed symptoms of depression and addiction, and Mr. Steel, her husband, is not a particularly kind man. The story is mostly a romance, semi-predictable but with some twists.

It's not the greatest book ever, but it's not badly written and it certainly sucked me in. I don't like reading on the computer, as I had to do with this e-book, but I read it all pretty much in one sitting. It has one semi-explicit sex scene between Jack and Lucy (when she's 16 or 17), which I feel was probably the weakest point in the writing. There are also a couple grisly deaths and a suicide attempt. I would still say it's suitable for middle school and up.

97mabith
nov 13, 2015, 10:45pm


We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

This book! Written in 1921, a grandfather of 20th century dystopian fiction, the first work banned by the Soviet censorship bureau (according to Wikipedia), smuggled out to the west for publication in English in 1924 the first Russian edition wouldn't appear until 1952. I read the translation by Clarence Brown, published in 1993. I liked his thoughts on the translation effort in the forward. I think it's one of those books that you can basically talk about forever.

I'm going to copy and paste the synopsis:
"We is set in the future. D-503, a spacecraft engineer, lives in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily. The structure of the state is analogous to the prison design concept developed by Jeremy Bentham commonly referred to as the Panopticon. Furthermore, life is organized to promote maximum productive efficiency along the lines of the system advocated by the hugely influential F. W. Taylor. People march in step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way of referring to people save by their given numbers. The society is run strictly by logic or reason as the primary justification for the laws or the construct of the society. The individual's behaviour is based on logic by way of formulas and equations outlined by the One State."

One of the strengths is certainly the dark humor in it, and the twisting of aspects of our lives. D-503 notes that the primitive ancestors were drawn to dance because of the wish to all be uniform, with no one standing out or being unique.

This was mostly a great read for me, but the recurring racialized comments D-503 makes about I-330's other lover left a horrible taste in my mouth. Zamyatin didn't do enough to make me feel like that was another symptom of OneState's control (vs Zamyatin's own prejudices).

98mabith
nov 18, 2015, 6:19pm


Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life by Colin Ellard

This book is generally about the psychology of place (referred to as psychogeography), though I feel Ellard strays in a few chapters that deal with technology. There are some interesting studies related here, both about how spaces affect us and how we're sometimes influenced by what we think we're supposed to like/want in a space (versus what makes us happy). A section on the use of paper maps vs lists of directions on phone or sat .nav. has me feeling vindicated about my championing of the importance of paper maps and map reading skills.

I do feel Ellard sometimes conflates an issue. Twice he talks about his children not being suitably impressed by a dinosaur bone but opting for the video of how the dinosaur looked when it was alive (also moon rocks) and this being an issue of devaluing of authenticity blah blah blah. Those are two totally separate things and I don't think you can compare them. If they didn't feel any difference looking at a real dino bone vs a plaster mold, then that's an issue to talk about. Just like I'd rather see the pictures and footage taken on the moon by the astronauts than look at a moon rock in a case (vs in a room full of rocks and minerals I will gravitate toward a moon rock).

Pretty interesting book generally well written, though I felt it strayed from the stated purpose too often.Not the best of the popular science genre, but not the worst either.

99mabith
nov 18, 2015, 6:30pm


The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This is Graedon's first novel, and for a first novel I think it's a pretty good start. Her concept was interesting, technology taking over, doing too much for us and humans catching a virus from that somehow. I'm not a huge science fiction fan, especially with dystopian stuff (though this is more dystopia lite, I think), so bigger fans of the genre take this review with a grain of salt.

While the concept was interesting I think her pacing was off, and a bit all over the place. It made it harder to see what her real focus/climax was. Also two of the main characters seem ridiculously slow on the uptake when it comes to the disease, which is always something I find bothersome.

As I say, first novel, and a good effort for a first novel. If you find the concept interesting read it, but have it in your head that this is a novice novelist. The audio edition was pretty well done, and I think highlights the word flu issue better than print reading does.

100mabith
nov 18, 2015, 6:44pm


Coventry by Helen Humphreys

I loved this short novel and sped through it. The vast majority of the book takes place over one day and night in Coventry, covering the first huge civilian bombing raid of the city during WWII (Nov. 14 1940).

I've always really enjoyed Humphreys writing, though found the plots (or lack of plot) in two of her earliest novels wanting (Afterimage and Leaving Earth), compared to her 2004 novel Wild Dogs. I loved her little vignettes in The Frozen Thames as well. This one has been on my list for a while and it was a joy to read.

She follows two women who had a brief encounter in 1914, how their lives got to their current points in 1940, and how they're drawn back together on the night of the bombing. It's more about character and reactions to the event than a firm plot, but it worked perfectly for me.

101mabith
nov 18, 2015, 6:57pm


El Deafo by Cece Bell

I asked my library to order this last year, but apparently they didn't connect the order with my request as they never let me know it had come in!

This is a graphic memoir written for children. Bell lost her hearing around age four due to meningitis. Hearing aids allowed her to hear but the sounds were difficult to understand, requiring proficient lip reading and context guessing to understand people. A more powerful type of hearing aid was given to her to use for school (requiring the teacher to wear a microphone around her neck), but of course it made school life difficult and her fellow children weren't good about understanding her situation and she worried about people befriending her out of pity.

El Deafo refers to the superhero name she gave herself, partly born of the fact that teachers often forgot to turn the mic off, so she heard them in the house, the teacher's lounge, etc..., and thus knew things no one else did. I quite enjoyed her drawing style as well.

If you're getting this for a child (particularly a d/Deaf or hard of hearing child), be sure to read the afterword with them first, as it deals with the fact that this is one experience and covers the different ways people see themselves and how some are part of the Deaf Community and some are not (and don't want to be), some see it as a disability and some do not, etc...

The book is well done, and was a great read as an adult too (I'm a sucker for anything dealing with childhood). Definitely recommended.

102mabith
nov 18, 2015, 7:05pm


Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler

This was a book club pick. I loved Butler's Fledgling, but this isn't what I'd have picked as my second Butler read. It consists of just two short stories, at least one of which was completed long before her death. Now, stuff like that, I often think it's a mistake to publish it. Butler didn't continue shopping it around to anthologies and such, she set it aside and I think it should have stayed set aside (different when a writer finishes something just before they die or had been seeking publication already, etc...).

The stories are good, but not amazing, and not really worth publishing on their own in my opinion (though I believe this is only available as an ebook). Both of them feel like they should be part of a longer work or were meant to accompany longer works. The worlds are detailed and and fully crafted but the stories are two short to really give us a feel for them (particularly in the second story, Child Finder).

Something for the Butler completest, I guess.

103mabith
nov 27, 2015, 10:39pm


A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck

Initially published in 1948, the book's purpose was strictly to document the lives of the Russian people. The lived reality, removed from the Whys of the life or the specific policies of the USSR. Of course they also talk about the restrictions in what they (he traveled with a photographer) could and couldn't photograph, and where they could and couldn't go, etc...

It's a really interesting time capsule, a valuable record, and a very good read.

104mabith
nov 27, 2015, 10:45pm


Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm (also called If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck)

Somewhere I saw this described as a biography of Ravensbrück, and it is that. 650 pages of in-depth investigation of the camp from the earliest inception to the final days and it's life after the war, including how it was treated by histories and in terms of commemorating the women who died, etc...

While Ravensbruck might be most famous for the medical experiments (involving sulphonamides and muscle and bone regeneration), it was somewhat unique in the camp system being the only camp solely for women. It was initially populated by 'asocials' (female criminals and prostitutes), communists, and members of resistance movements. There was never any pretense of rehabilitation, but rather one of 'cleansing' the German people of these elements (even though prostitution was legal in Germany at the time). In the beginning many of the work projects the women were forced to do were meaningless tasks, simply designed the break the women and use up their strength.

The book is important, but even as concentration camp books go it's hard going. Helm organizes the information well, going pretty much entirely in chronological order (something I really prefer), switching between different issues in the camp, different periods, and different key figures. The only other books I've read on the camp were Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place and Beyond Human Endurance, which focuses solely on the Polish women who were operated on (the 'rabbits'), so it was good to see the wider picture. I've also never been so angry at the Internation Committee of the Red Cross, who kept members from even publicizing the extermination killing and the medical experiments going on in concentration camps (let alone lifting a finger to try to stop it happening).

Any even nominal look at the concentration camps leaves one feeling largely baffled by the Nazi system of total neglect, prescribed extermination killing for many groups, and yet anal retentive attention to detail. For example, in Ravensbrück they didn't have enough doctors among the SS men and women to sign death certificates for the large numbers of women killed each day, so they forced prisoners who were licensed doctors to sign them off as well. Only if they were fully qualified doctors. Particularly later in the war, when they knew that outsiders were already aware of the death camps and were hell bent on killing the evidence, you just wonder why on earth those kinds of details would matter. It's totally insensible.

It's an important book, and I'm glad it's printed on wonderfully high quality paper. The paper will last 100 years or more, and this information needs to last.

105mabith
nov 30, 2015, 10:12am


Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

This was an interesting and wide-ranging read. It uses the term psychogeography, though in another different sense from that used in Places of the Heart. Both deal with the important of place, and how ignoring or negating that experience is generally bad for humans.

Bonnett looks into some extreme and/or unusual living arrangements around the world as well as dealing with problems caused by our sense of place (as something important to hold onto). I'm sure I'm not the only one who, when driving past my childhood homes, gets a little upset that things have changed (who wouldn't be upset that people cut down two wonderful cherry trees though? Think of the pies that won't be made...).

Good read, recommended.

106mabith
nov 30, 2015, 10:18am


Freddy and Mr. Camphor by Walter R. Brooks

You'll be seeing a lot of Freddy for the next month. My library got rid of a few children's books I'd been waiting to read so I felt I'd better hurry up with the Freddy books they have that I've never read. I have read the later book in the series that involves Mr. Camphor (Freddy Goes Camping), which I loved. Camphor is fun and has an interesting relationship with his butter, Bannister, as they collect proverbs and test them.

In this volume Freddy takes a summer job as caretaker for Mr. Camphor's estate. He's largely enjoying himself, other than realizing Simon and his gang of rats are in the attic, chewing on Camphor's paintings. Before Freddy can worry much about them a familiar face appears – Mr. Winch, the villain who tried to cook and eat Henrietta and Charles, a hen and rooster, on their trip to Florida in the first Freddy book. The Winches make trouble and get Freddy fired in disgrace. There's also a victory garden related subplot where the insects of the district rally together and agree not to eat any of the vegetables in gardens in order to do their bit for the war effort (this was published in 1944).

Fun as usual, but definitely a weaker Freddy book in terms of plot and pacing.

107mabith
nov 30, 2015, 10:22am


Collected Poems: Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I've been slowly reading through this large volume (738 pages, I believe) for some time now. After putting it aside for a few months it was time to get it finished.

I love Millay and her poetry. I'm away from home at the moment, but when I'm back I'll post some of my favorites from the book. She's able to be both traditional and timeless, which is a hard path to walk.

Definitely pick up Millay sometime, particularly her sonnets. Wonderful stuff.

108mabith
nov 30, 2015, 10:23am

Found a poem I'd saved earlier. This is one of her earlier works.

In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways

109mabith
nov 30, 2015, 10:25am


The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

This wasn't a good read for me. I don't know why I kept at it when it wasn't holding my interest or being enjoyable. With audiobooks it's difficult for me to stop something halfway, and once I'm halfway I tend to feel like I might as well finish it.

The concept of this sounded like a lot of fun, but the execution wasn't exciting or even very interesting. Before enforced copyright laws there was a lot of publishing 'on demand,' as it were, whatever was proving popular. The bookaneer in question here goes to Samoa to track down Robert Louis Stevenson.

I think the pacing was poor, but also the story just wasn't that interesting. More fool me for listening to the whole thing when I could have been reading something more fun.

110mabith
Redigeret: dec 3, 2015, 1:04pm

Here are some more of Millay's poems.

The Plaid Dress
Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear? –
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence, high judgments given in haste;
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Bright hair,
Lining the subtle gown … it is not seen,
But it is there.

Impression: Fog Off the Coast of Dorset
As day was born, as night was dying,
The seagulls woke me with their crying;
And from the reef the mooning horn
Spoke to the waker: Day is born
And night is dying, but still the fog
On dimly looming deck and spar
Is dewy, and on the vessel's log,
And cold the first-mate's fingers are,
And wet the pen wherewith they write
“Off Portland. Fog. No land in sight.”
--As night was dying, and glad to die,
And day, with dull and gloomy eye,
Lifting the sun, a smoky lamp,
Peered into fog, that swaddled sky
And wave alike: a shifty damp
Unwieldy province, loosely ruled,
Turned over to a prince unschooled,
That he must govern with sure hand
Straightway, not knowing sea from land.

Sonnet CLXXI
Read history: thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos—in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face,--
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow—yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

Winter Night
Pile high the Hickory and the light
Log of chestnut struck by the blight,
Welcome-in the winter night.

The day has gone in hewing and felling,
Sawing and drawing wood to the dwelling
For the night of talk and stroy-telling.

These are the hours that give the edge
To the blunted axe and the bent wedge,
Straighten the saw and the lighten the sledge.

Here at question and reply,
And the fire reflected in the thinking eye.
So peace, and let the bob-cat cry.

111mabith
dec 3, 2015, 9:37pm

I had a very short mini-trip to Myrtle Beach in South Caroline earlier this week, and managed to buy a few books. Two University press titles I was interested in were on a super sale last Friday as well, so I got those too. I rarely used to buy books I haven't read on a whim, I blame the influence of all of you here on LT!

......



The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban
Her Act and Deed: Women's Lives in a Rural Southern County, 1837-1873 by Angela Boswell
A Muslim Woman in Tito's Yugoslavia by Munevera Hadžišehović
The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts
Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework

I'm most familiar with Hoban through his Frances books, which are some of the most well done and sensible picture books out there. The Mouse and His Child is described as a "dark philosophical tale for older children," so we'll see how that goes.

The non-fiction books should all be pretty interesting, and who doesn't need a massive guide to needlework?

112mabith
Redigeret: dec 6, 2015, 1:05pm


Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw

This book was just not very good. I was surprised to see that Kershaw has written a number of non-fiction books already as it felt like an author's early effort. A tiny portion of the book is dedicated to the family's resistance activities, and everything felt padded out. Kerhsaw also includes incorrect (or at the very least misleading) information about Ravensbruck. I trust Sarah Helm's extremely thorough book about the camp more than I trust Kerhsaw's side research about it.

Kershaw actually says in an interview that he just wanted to live in Paris for a bit, so he needed a subject based there to write about. Maybe that's more common in non-fiction than I'd like to believe, but it certainly didn't feel like a subject he was passionate about.

If you want a book about resistance work in France that focuses on individuals I'd recommend Sisters, Secrets, and Sacrifice instead.

113mabith
dec 6, 2015, 1:06pm


Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

For whatever reason I crave LGBT representation much more now than I did in high school (I'm bisexual and didn't realize that wasn't the norm until I was about 12, I was kind of oblivious). As this book is based on one woman's actual life, don't go in expecting a happy ending. It's a crushing book.

It's Iran in 1989, Farrin is in her last year or two of high school and has no friends. Her parents (more her mother) are supporters of the Shah and want Farrin to stay unnoticed in school to protect themselves. When she meets new student Sadira she's immediately drawn to her. Sadira is kind, earnest, and very hardworking. She helps Farrin break out of her somewhat selfish bubble and they fall in love.

If I hadn't been at the beach I probably would have finished this in one sitting. I do wish the writer were Iranian, just because there's so much that a writer will miss about a certain place and time if they come to it as an outsider. However, I think Ellis did a pretty good job and a fair job. There are a lot of shades of grey and I think she handled it well.

Recommended, but it is heartbreaking.

114mabith
dec 6, 2015, 1:09pm


Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

This is the third in Marillier's Sevenwaters trilogy (she went on to write three more books involving characters in Child of the Prophecy, which are more for the YA market and very separate from the original trilogy). These books are comfort reading for me, and Marillier writes her characters so well. They're not what you pick up for beautiful language, but for the characters.

This isn't my favorite of the trilogy, but it grows on me every time I read it. Fainne has been raised in isolation, learning the ways of a druid from her father Ciaran. They are outcasts from Sevenwaters, and Fianne's sorceress grandmother takes over Fainne's education, and sends her to Sevenwaters to use as a spy and pawn in her plans to destroy the family.

Fainne is a hard character to love, I think. She is spiky and unsure and refuses to put her trust in anyone. You just want to shake her. However, she's 15 in the books, and frankly I was just as wary and distrustful at that age. Perhaps that's why I didn't immediately love the book (also the one before this Son of the Shadows is my favorite Marillier work and has the exact love story scenario I'm a sucker for).

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116bryanoz
dec 9, 2015, 3:34pm

Thanks for the Juliet Marillier reminder mabith, I enjoyed her Daughter of the Forest a few years ago and haven't read further.
Have been stuck in Erikson's epic fantasy, with Parker/Holt and Grossman's fantasies to read and then I'll get back to Juliet, a change of pace and some romance will be nice, cheers !

117mabith
dec 11, 2015, 9:32pm

Bryan, she's a fun one, and the historical fantasy angle is one I really appreciate. I don't think I've ever gone out with the intention to a romance specifically, but I do enjoy hers quite a bit. Her latest series is basically historical fantasy detective agency and the idea of that genre pairing amuses me.

118mabith
dec 12, 2015, 12:33pm


Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

While I think the subtitle isn't particularly accurate, I did really enjoy this book. Dr. Mutter is a charming and intriguing person, even via words at the distance of years (his life speaks to incredible charisma). A bit of a popinjay, he was also an extremely good and caring doctor. I've been dealing with two chronic illnesses for the last ten years, and I've only seen two or three doctors who I'd class as good, caring people, so it was a little surreal to read of Dr. Mutter being such at a time when patient welfare wasn't much of a consideration.

The book wanders a bit, too much for some readers though most of it is still very much concerned with Mutter either by his difference from fellow doctors or how his students would carry on his legacy. It worked for me though. The title refers, I believe, both to his collection of medical 'oddities' and to the fact of his personality and care for patients.

Enjoyable, interesting, well-written.

119mabith
dec 12, 2015, 12:36pm


Lumberjanes Volume 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and others

The adventures at a supernatural-activity-prone camp continue! I think I liked this one even more. Great series, and really glad to see something fun, creative, and also appropriate for children.

120mabith
dec 12, 2015, 12:55pm


Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

I picked this up familiar with the general tone of the podcast, but not having listened to any of the episodes. I've seen a lot of quotes from it and tweets from the series Twitter account though and knew the kind of thing to expect. The novel was still enjoyable and interesting with podcast knowledge, though I'm not sure what I would have thought going in totally unknowing.

I love the humor present in the book and in the podcast (just started it), and while the plot elements progressed they weren't totally predictable. It's strange to feel old enough to be thinking about what a book's reputation will be in thirty years. I feel like this is the new Dada-type movement. It also made me think of Cards of Identity, a 'out there' book my dad loved in college and gave me to read when I was in high school (a satire on psychology, identity, and class theory, which I don't think I was quite old enough to appreciate).

The series will obviously be key to holding onto "cool aunt" status when my niece and nephew are older.

121mabith
dec 17, 2015, 8:14pm


Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

I already loved Hurston, but this book made me love her more. She was an amazing woman, and ahead of her time in many ways. She struggled so much to support herself just by writing, something pretty much no other black writer of her time even attempted. She went through many trials, including disrespect from black intellectuals who felt novels needed to represent all black people, versus being about individual characters, and above all have a political message. She stressed the significance and worth of black folk expression. And she urged her people to go the way of Chaucer, "who saw the beauty of his own language in spite of the scorn in which it was held" by England's French speaking Norman conquerors.

She was the only southern woman in her circle during the Harlem Renaissance and after, got a degree in anthropology and did numerous rounds of field work collecting folktales and examining religious practices. She did not apologize for her accent, and was quick to criticize outsiders using southern dialects incorrectly in their writing, she lit up every room she was in, but she valued her solitude. She overcame many obstacles in order to love herself for herself, and yet found it hard to keep in mind that her childhood in a rural all-black town was not the norm anywhere in the US. Some of her stances on racist US policies seemed backward at the time but today look more far-reaching. She paved the way for Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.

The book is wonderful. Very readable, very thorough, and always interesting. A favorite bit is the quote she chose for a Howard yearbook. Her classmates picked things like "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," and "where there's a will there's a way," Zora picked "I have a heart with room for every joy," (a quote from spasmodic poet Philip James Bailey).

Highly recommended.

122mabith
dec 17, 2015, 11:03pm


Anne Thornton, Junior Guide by Lotta Rowe Anthony

Girls' camp/being a decent person series from the early 1920s. It appropriates the liberal attitudes of the time towards American Indian culture. It's very concerned with being a good citizen, following rules, and keeping up your own personal honor and the honor of any group you're part of.

It's a really ridiculous series, and not nearly as fun as the Dorothy Dixon or Ruth Darrow books (they're aviatrixes after all, and their fights against criminals see them wielding guns sometimes). This is book three in the series. I read book two as well (Anne Thornton, Wetamoo), which was much more amusing. It takes place at school whereas this one takes place at camp. I do like how the villain is the evil factory owner exploiting his poor, foreign work force.

There was supposed to be a fourth book, but I don't think it was ever actually published, as I can't find any reference to it. In terms of obscurity, only one other person on LibraryThing has this and the previous book in their library.

Not really recommended for anyone. If you're hard up in a rural retreat and have exhausted all other reading matter, then read it, but if not... There are so many better girls' books from the period. Even the totally-written-as-propaganda-for-the-film-industry Moving Picture Girls was better.

123mabith
dec 17, 2015, 11:16pm


Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

I've had this book on my to-read list for quite some time. I actually went into it with lowered expectations because The Secret History of Wonder Woman didn't blow me away. Perhaps as a result of that, I was really pleased with this book.

It was very interesting, and I found Jane Franklin to be a fascinating subject. It is, almost by default, also a glancing biography of Benjamin Franklin but more so of their family. Jane had a difficult life, and a lot of sorrows. Anything focusing on women's lives before the 20th century is probably going to be a winner in my book.

Recommended.

124mabith
dec 17, 2015, 11:36pm


A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

I became devoted to Jaclyn Moriarty after her book Feeling Sorry for Celia, which is one of the funniest YA novels I've ever read, and very realistic in terms of characterizations (and the mother daughter relationship is super fabulous).

A Corner of White is a fantasy novel, though retaining the spirit found in Moriarty's other novels, and partially told in novels (most of her other YA novels are totally epistolary). Madeleine and her mother have recently moved to Cambridge, England and are living a rather poverty stricken life compared to their former life of ease and wealth with Madeleine's father. Her story alternates with that of Elliot, a boy in the Kingdom of Cello, a place much like our earth but with an inane royal family, and “color attacks.”

I think it's a very successful YA fantasy story. I was engaged all through it, and would happily read the second book in the (predicted) trilogy immediately, if I didn't have some other reading obligations. It retains Moriarty's slight zaniness, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

125mabith
dec 20, 2015, 2:53pm


Claudine at School by Colette

I have been reading too many things published in the last five years so I was in need of something older. Everything that was easily accessed on audio seemed to be five days long, so I plumped for Colette's first novel.

It was... interesting. I keep seeing things like "assumed to be highly autobiographical" without explaining why that's the assumption (except perhaps that many men like to think that's what's going on in girls' schools). I highly doubt it's particularly autobiographical, except that Colette probably had a crush on a teacher at some point and quite possibly had her brightness at school dismissed by people saying it was natural and she didn't work hard at it so it didn't count. It was published in 1900, when Colette was 27, so I don't think the assumption is "well she was 18 and very early works are often autobiographical."

The whole thing certainly felt like it was written for the male gaze though somewhat sarcastically. The image in my head is Colette getting male feedback on a simpler less sex-focused novel of schoolgirl life and then sarcastically tarting it up to the point where she felt the joke would be obvious only to have the manuscript accepted after all.

126mabith
dec 20, 2015, 3:02pm


Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse RE-READ

I first read this in third grade, and I can't remember if it's one that our teacher read us or that I picked up on my own. She always said not to get the book from the library and read ahead, so of course that's what I did and why I can't remember if it was her pick or mine (sorry, Mrs. Perrine, but if you hadn't said that I never would have thought to read ahead).

The book is based on the story of Hesse's great-aunt Lucy and her family fleeing Russia in 1919. It's told in letters, though it's more like a diary as Rifka is writing in the margins of a book of Pushkin poetry that her cousin gave her before they left. Each entry is headed by a fragment of Pushkin which relates to the entry. The family pretty much all get thyphus in Poland and then Rifka gets ringworm and isn't allowed to sail with the rest of her family, but is hosted by a couple in Belgium until she's cured before dealing with trouble at Ellis Island.

I still really enjoyed re-reading this. It was one of the first historical fiction books I read and led me to Hesse's other wonderful books. For three or four years I read this (and all of Hesse's novels) pretty much every month. I always read new books too, but had a growing number of favorites that I insisted on checking out every month. I haven't read it for at least a decade though. It's a quick book and never underplays how hard life was for Jews in Russia. It brings up a lot of issues and does it well, usually without hitting the reader over the head, and it works over a wide age range. Hesse is a great writer in general for family relationships and a range of good female role models who are always a mix, never fitting into a single stereotype role or box.

Whenever I see her name it's usually paired with her novel in verse Out of the Dust, which will never cease to annoy me as it's one of her weakest novels in my opinion (the individual 'poems' don't really stand alone as poems, so doing it in that style seems pointless and slightly lazy, and I blame that novel for the being the beginning of that trend).

127mabith
dec 20, 2015, 3:10pm


Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

The second collection of Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant! comics. I think this one has more comics that aren't available on her website than the first one, but possibly not. If you love reading and/or love history, you'll probably enjoy her work. It's pretty much perfect to me, and I really love her drawing style.

Plus I was very happy to see her velocipedestrienne grace the cover.

128mabith
dec 20, 2015, 3:23pm


The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Historical fiction about Napoleon Bonaparte's second wife, Marie Louise, great-niece of Marie Antoinette. I like Moran's books and I think she's very good at hitting a balance of historical accuracy with largely minor changes in her more recent settings. I am happiest when she's writing about the ancient world though, because frankly there's so much scope and so little we know in some cases that there's lots of freedom for the novelist.

With this period of French history there's basically the opposite - HUGE amounts of primary source material, like a ridiculous amount. Since some of the people and events are also pretty ridiculous (or pretty awesome) you don't really need alterations to have a compelling story.

Good, recommended for the historical fiction fan. I still prefer her novels set in the ancient world, but that's just because I love ancient history vs a quality issue.

129mabith
dec 20, 2015, 3:59pm


Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

A memoir of Thrash's all-girl summer camp experience at age fifteen, centering around her realization that she's attracted to a counselor (who returns the affection). I found the writing and pacing to be very good, five stars for sure, but then there's the art...

I like a lot of styles of drawing, art doesn't have to be "pretty" or highly detailed but messier or simpler drawing styles aren't necessarily immature. Thrash's art is very immature, and it's just not good or enjoyable. I feel bad/odd about saying this, but I don't understand why a publisher would accept this without insisting on a separate artist. If the main audience were younger kids it might make more sense, but it's definitely YA (due to the counselor/camper disparity and the fact that it's not really addressed).

Worse than not being "good" (very subjective, obviously) or practiced, there were numerous times when the art took away from the story simply because Thrash is not able to draw a variety of facial expressions or draw them with any nuance. It made me think of the stick-figure comics my friends and I drew in middle school. My friend Heidi, a very good artist, was able to show emotions and facial expressions with more range and finesse than Thrash despite only working with very small stick figures.

This book could have been SO much more with a professional artist and I'm just kind of annoyed about that.

130bryanoz
dec 26, 2015, 5:07pm

#121 Thanks for this mabith, sounds great and I will find it !

131mabith
dec 26, 2015, 7:56pm

Hope you like it when you get to it, Bryan!

132mabith
dec 26, 2015, 7:56pm


Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Book Two by Tove Jansson

For reasons best kept from we mere mortals, this is the only Tove Jansson book my library has. It's a big baffling, but oh well.

I've read one of the Moomin novels and I can see why it's a classic. They're great fun and I love that the Moomins are a ver bohemian family. These comics were initially made for the British market, and are just delightful in every way.

Though the character drawings and backgrounds are simple it's easy to see that Jansson is a seriously accomplished artist. There's so much ease and beauty in her linework, which makes it a pleasure to look at them. I'm ordering some of the other novels soon, but these volumes of comics (at least the ones Jansson wrote on her own) are something I'd love to have on my shelf.

Recommended.

133mabith
dec 26, 2015, 8:16pm


Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

I have a new favorite non-fiction writer and her name is Mertz. This was a brilliant book, funny and interesting as the day is long. I love Mertz' writing style and her jokes. I love that she got a PhD in Egyptology, wrote a few non-fiction books, and then wrote detective fiction.

There's not much to say on the book other than that it's wonderful. Mertz is informative and quick to tell you when something is subjective or lacks evidence, and reminds us that a lot of earlier European proclamations about ancient Egypt involve quite a bit of racism and quite a lot of dreamy speculation vs hard research.

One of the highlights of the year for me, both in my non-fiction reading and overall. Absolutely recommended, and the audiobook was very well done.

134mabith
dec 26, 2015, 8:59pm


Hogfather by Terry Pratchett RE-READ

A special book both because I reread it every December and because it was my first Discworld read. I think it's a brilliant book to start with because there's a bit of everything in it, and most people are already familiar with Christmas traditions/jokes/stereotypes, etc... so you're not coming in at the deep end.

Still love this book so much no matter how many re-reads I go through.

135mabith
dec 26, 2015, 9:51pm


I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

When the author was 13 she, her brother, their parents and aunt were taken to Auschwitz. They were living in Samorin, today in Slovakia, then in Czechoslovakia, and previously in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Bitton-Jackson and her family spoke Hungarian and considered themselves Hungarian. Because she looked older and spoke good German, and was lucky in some ways, she managed to stay with her mother pretty much the entire time. Both survived despite her mother getting a spinal injury and becoming partially paralyzed. Just surviving the revier at that point is fairly miraculous.

The book is very much written from a child's perspective, with a child's frantic emotions in the fore front. Bitton-Jackson isn't here to philosophize or tell the stories of others, but gives a straight forward account. Though she would have been quite young at the time, I think the book needed more time spent on their life pre-deportation and how the political situation in Czechoslovakia changed and developed through the 30s to the mid 40s.

The writing is perfectly appropriate for eleven year olds and up, in my opinion, and appropriate for younger ages at the parents' discretion. I read much more graphic books when I was eight or nine.

136mabith
dec 28, 2015, 2:01pm


Silence by Shusaku Endo

This is a Japanese classic of historical fiction, focusing on Portuguese missionaries to Japan after Catholicism was banned in Japan and converts were forced to practice secretly (kakura Kirishitan - hidden Christians). In 1639 two Jesuits, Rodrigues and Garrpe are sent to discover whether a fellow Portuguese Jesuit is alive and if he has committed apostasy.

Much of the novel deals with the question of suffering and why God would send such trouble to the faithful. The idea of bravery and moral courage are also a large part of the book. Rodrigues frequently struggles with the fact that in peaceful times a man could be seen as a good, devoted Christian while never having to struggle for his faith.

I am not religious in any sense, and wasn't really raised with any religion, and perhaps because of that the tone of the book often felt like it was pointing out the folly of faith and religion in general rather than supporting it. It was an interesting read in many ways but at the same time I'm not really sure if I liked it or not.

Throughout I was thinking of the picture of religion and popular culture around religion that I see represented in anime and manga. There have been a number of titles with involve Catholic girls schools, which seem largely used as an outlet for the Japanese love of/admiration for France and vehicles for only-hinted-at lesbian relationships.

137mabith
dec 28, 2015, 2:17pm


The Chimes by Charles Dickens

This Dickens novella was Audible's free book this year, and I've been in need of older books lately (I blame all of you for introducing me to so many recent books). The reader for this edition is Richard Armitage, who is one of the few actors I get a bit squishy over. I wasn't actually expecting him to be a great reader, probably because he inevitably plays broody, grim, monotone types (barring two special episodes of The Vicar of Dibley where he's allowed to be happy and smiling the whole time).

Turns out Armitage has a very very good range (in terms of pitch as well as accent) and was an excellent reader. I wouldn't have enjoyed this nearly as much in print. The book did have some horrifically amusing bits at the beginning with Alderman Cute, but as Dickens gets into his moral lessons it didn't hold my attention as well.

The book focuses solely on poverty really, and it's message is basically that giving in is wrong and you need to keep pushing and hoping to improve things. Also that you shouldn't let the wealthy tell you what to do, and the poor aren't inherently wicked.

138mabith
dec 28, 2015, 2:29pm


Thirteen: The Apollo Flight that Failed by Henry Cooper

Written in the early 1970s, this book examines the disastrous events on the Apollo 13 flight. It really only covers what went wrong and what was done afterward to get them back home. It does not give us any extra historical background or personal background. That made it rather a different read than I'm used to in more recently popular science books, which often spend quite a few pages studying something only tangentially related to the title.

If you like NASA acronyms this is the book for you! It's handy to be able to look them up after I inevitably forget what they mean. It was interesting to see how the astronauts initial statements differed from those they later gave the press.

Recommended if you're interested in the subject. It's a concise, bare bones "this is what happened as it happened" book, and we could probably use more of those.

139mabith
dec 28, 2015, 2:33pm


Freddy and the Popinjay by Walter R. Brooks

Another installment of the brilliant Freddy series, this one falling at not quite halfway through the series. Freddy helps a bird get and pay for glasses, introducing a town-wide trend of live birds as hats, and deals with the anti-social behavior of a neighbor boy.

It's a nice one, and I think a bit better than the last I read (Freddy and Mr. Camphor) in terms of more interesting plot points. It still pales a bit in comparison with the books that have a truly villainous character, or with the farm's recurring nemesis - Simon the rat and his gang.

140mabith
dec 31, 2015, 11:09pm


The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

While the mystery aspect was pretty predictable, I loved this book. And really when you're dealing with a Victorian setting there are so many plot options closed off, especially since Peters manages to impart and very realistic Victorian tone rather than just sticking a modern character into the setting.

Amelia Peabody, a spinster in her early 30s now has the means and the freedom to travel, so she's off to Egypt to indulge her passion for Egyptology. Picking up a distressed Englishwoman, Evelyn, on the way to serve as her companion is the least adventurous thing that will happen to her. They meet a pair of brothers, the younger immediately taken with Evelyn, the older is cranky and dismissive of Amelia.

Reading this after reading the author's non-fiction work about Egypt (Elizabeth Peters is pseudonym of Barbara Mertz) really added something to this book. I could feel Mertz's own frustration with men in her profession and she fill the book with humor. Predictable or not it was such a fun read and I'm looking forward to the others in the series.

Side note, Mertz was extremely prolific, writing at least 70 books in 44 years.

141mabith
dec 31, 2015, 11:15pm


Freddy the Magician by Walter R. Brooks

Another Freddy book down, two to go, and their library due date is creeping up. I checked out almost all that the library had, of the ones I don't own and had never read, out of fear they'd get rid of them all suddenly as they did with the Rescuers books.

Freddy has dealings with a nasty magician and his rabbit when the Boomschmidt's circus comes to town. Zingo the magician is fired, and Freddy is keen to pick up the art. However, Zingo is making trouble in town for the hotel owner by planting bugs in his food in order to get free meals. He and his rabbit Presto also ruin Freddy's magic debut show and basically steal money from him. The hotel owner hires Freddy to try to get Zingo to pay and in turn Zingo tries to frame Freddy for a variety of crimes.

I think the Freddy books work best if there's either a proper villain or a journey, as this was better than a couple I've read lately. They're always fun, but I like the note of danger, and I like that Freddy doesn't just always succeed first try.

142mabith
dec 31, 2015, 11:16pm


Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr

And now for something completely different... Mohr's history of swearing was readable and interesting, though I disagreed with her on some points (personal slurs and swearing are not the same animal at all in my book).

A lot of it is focused on the Bible and religious swearing and oath taking in general, and the dangers posed by those who resisted that, so don't expect it all to be f**k and c**t and etymology.

Good, interesting read. Made me want to watch the Peabody and Sherman episode where they meet Shakespeare and he says "ods bodskins!"

143mabith
jan 1, 2016, 4:35pm

It was a pretty good reading though, I feel like last year was better, at least for children's lit.

Total ended up being 251, annoyingly. I'd thought it was 250, a nice round, pleasing number, but had left one off my master-list and noticed when I was double checking it against my calendar (2016 calendar with January showing the books I read in Jan 2015 etc...).

Being that one extra book I'd read a perfectly even number of men and women authors. And SO many recent books this year! My average publication year is usually in the 1970s but for 2015 it was 1991! 46% of the books I read were published between 2010 and 2015. 51% had been on my to-read list for more than three months.