Friday, October 6, 2017

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  • THE BOOK
    • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
    • June 26, 2014
    • Also by author: Little Fires Everywhere

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is a novel about a family in 1977 Ohio.
    • The mother is Marilyn and the dad is James.
      • James is ethnically Chinese --- his parents were immigrants --- but thoroughly American in all ways except the way he looks. Marilyn is white.
      • They have three children: Nathan (17), Lydia (15) and Hannah (10), all of half-Chinese heritage.
      • James sees too much of himself in his son and treats him dismissively. 
      • Marilyn gave up college and a career to marry and have children and she resents it. She compensates by making Lydia her favorite and works with her so she will become the doctor Marilyn couldn't be.
        • Lydia has no desire to be a doctor but agrees with whatever her mother says to keep her mother happy
      • The parents basically ignore their youngest child who craves their affection, all reserved for Lydia.
    • The first two lines of the book are: "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."
    • So the story turns out to be a mystery of why Lydia died while giving us the backstory on the whole family and why things are the way they are.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • As I was reading this book I realized that I was approximately Lydia's age! I turned 15 in 1977. Creepy.
    • I liked the story and stayed up late to finish it because I had to know how it turned out.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy popular fiction with a mystery at its heart.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb

  • THE BOOK
    • Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb
    • Published March 24, 2016
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Using modern psychology the author covers 12 different famous people and the diagnoses they might inspire if they were alive now.
    • You also get a general history of each mental health issue and the ways it was dealt with in the past and how it is treated now. 
      • This is combined with a biographical sketch of each person.
    • The subjects and their issues are:
      • Andy Warhol and hoarding
      • Marilyn Monroe and Borderline Personality Disorder
      • Howard Hughes and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
      • Diana, Princess of Wales and bulimia
      • Abraham Lincoln and depression
      • Christine Jorgensen and Gender Dysphoria
      • Frank Lloyd Wright and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
      • Betty Ford and substance abuse
      • Charles Darwin and anxiety
      • George Gershwin and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
      • Fyodor Dostoevsky and gambling addiction
      • Albert Einstein and the autism spectrum (specifically Asperger's)

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was an entertaining book with a few sloggy chapters. 
      • To each their own but I found the Wright, Lincoln and Dostoevsky chapters boring.
        • Wright was utterly unpleasant. Dostoevsky had a tragic life.
    • I had no idea about Andy Warhol's hoarding so that was interesting. The chapter on Christine Jorgensen, who had sex-reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1950, was a brave person in a time when people were not understanding about such things.
    • Some of the diagnoses seem spot on --- obviously Betty Ford suffered from substance abuse issues --- but some are on less firm ground, particularly the one with Lincoln and depression. Could he have had clinical depression and still run the country and managed the war efforts?
    • It was a fun read overall. 
      • What is it that makes reading about OCD and hoarding so fascinating? Is it because we ourselves think we can tip over into those disorders at any time?
    • Recommended for those interested in the history of the above listed issues. Read only the chapters of the people who interest you, that's my advice.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stephen Colbert's Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert

  • THE BOOK
    • Stephen Colbert's Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert and the other writers of "The Late Show"
    • Published September 5, 2017
    • Other works by author include I Am America (And So Can You!), America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't and I Am a Pole (And So Can You!)

  • THE PREMISE
    • Stephen Colbert is the host of "The Late Show" on CBS.
    • He does a weekly bit where he "confesses" to the audience. His line is, "They may not technically be sins but I do feel bad about them."
    • This book collects a handful of the confessions, basically one on each page, along with a bit of illustration by Sean Kelly.

  • MY THOUGHTS 
    • I watch "The Late Show" and have seen the Midnight Confessions portion many times.
      • He usually goes through about a dozen of them each time.
      • The book does not collect the complete confessions and is more of a greatest hits collection.
    • It took me about 15 minutes to read.
    • Here's the one I thought was the funniest:
      • "When I receive a save-the-date card I don't even save the card."
    • Amusing but light in content. I wish they had included more.
    • Recommended for fans of Stephen Colbert and can toss it off at the bookstore or library.
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Bravetart by Stella Parks

  • THE BOOK
    • Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks
    • August 15, 2017
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author is a pastry chef whose work is featured on the website Serious Eats (seriouseats.com).
    • This is a cookbook about American desserts for such things as peanut brittle, blueberry muffins, brownies, vanilla wafers, ice cream, lemon meringue pie, ice cream sundaes, hot fudge sauce, marshmallows, sandwich cookies, toaster pastries, Twinkies, Snickers, chocolate chip cookies and much more.
    • You will learn the history of the various desserts immediately followed by the recipe and variations.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • It never occurred to me that the library would have cookbooks to borrow but they do!
      • Better to check a cookbook out before buying it as they can be kinda pricey.
    • I adored the history of all the desserts! In some ways it is a history of America. Quite fascinating.
    • I checked out each recipe too to see if it was something I'd want to try but even though the author constantly referred to how easy certain things were, I am no baker.
      • I get the appeal of making things like marshmallows and Oreos from scratch. I adore sweets of all kinds but I really prefer to put my cooking skills towards savory meals than desserts.
    • There are lovely photos of every main dessert and lots of pictures of ephemera related to the history of the item too.
    • I perused a few reviews on Good Reads and found a few fun comments:
      • "I was tempted to try Fig Newtons but the words 'piping bag' were a wake up call!"
      • "Junk food made at home. Ick."
    • Someone else commented on the easily found ingredients and I suppose that's mostly true but one recipe --- I forget which one --- called for ground "freeze-dried corn" and I am still not sure where one finds that! Whole Foods? Trader Joe's? Safeway? Um, no thanks.
      • Lots of variations in flour too: all-purpose, bread, rice, corn, and others. If I recall correctly the freeze-dried corn was supposed to be ground up as a flour too.
        • My motto is "if it needs something other than all-purpose flour I'm not making it".
    • It really is a pretty good cookbook with lots of explanations for WHY she recommends different flours and other ingredients. And if you would prefer treats without all the preservatives and chemicals, then this book would be perfect for you.
    • ★ ★ ★

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro

  • THE BOOK
    • Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro
    • Published April 28, 2005
    • Other works by author include: Julia Child, What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, and Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century.
  • THE PREMISE
    • After World War II women returned to their homes from the wartime work force. 
    • Food businesses were creating new products to make life easier for the modern cook.
      • This went hand in hand with the new appliances for the kitchen.
    • People today assume that everyone ate TV dinners in the 1950s and that women embraced the new frozen foods (and other shortcuts) now available to them.
      • Frozen foods had been around at least since the 1930s but not many stores had the equipment necessary to carry them. This was before the advent of the big supermarkets.
      • I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and TV dinners were special treats, not the norm. My mother cooked most nights and eating out was another rare treat.
        • This jibes with the author's premise that women didn't jump on the frozen food bandwagon in any great way in the 1950s.
    • There are sections covering the frozen food industry, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, Poppy Cannon (The Can-Opener Cookbook), Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking and "The French Chef"), MFK Fisher, Alice B. Toklas Gertrude Stein's partner), Peg Bracken (The I Hate to Cook Book), James Beard, Betty Crocker (not a real person but based on and played by real people) and Betty Friedan, to name a few topics.
      • Poppy Cannon was a new name to me and I found her story fascinating.
        • Her birth name was Lillian Gruskin. She worked as a food writer for several magazines and collaborated with Alice B. Toklas on a food book.
        • She was already married when she met Walter White, who worked for the NAACP (he was eventually head of the organization from 1931-1955).
          • Poppy had been born in South Africa and she was white (also Jewish).
          • Walter had white skin, blue eyes and blond hair. He had 5 black great-great-great grandparents and 27 white ones but as someone born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, he was considered black and that is how he identified.
        • Thanks to the times, and his work with the NAACP, their marriage was an affront to everyone. (That and they were both married to others --- and already had children --- when they fell in love.)
        • They met in 1927 but didn't get married until 1949. He died in 1955 and she died in 1975 (in a fall from the balcony of her 23rd floor apartment in New York City, a possible suicide).

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have recently read another book by Laura Shapiro (What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, see review here) and this title looked interesting to me too.
    • I have the 50the anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's The I Hate to Cook Book on hold at the library.
    • I definitely enjoyed the history of the 1950s as related to food. Poppy Cannon was interesting, as stated above, but I also really enjoyed the history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off as well as the creation of Betty Crocker.
    • Recommended for those with an interest in American food history of the 1950s.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

  • THE BOOK
    • Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen
    • Published June 20, 2017
    • One other book by author: Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema. Also the Culture writer at Buzzfeed.com

  • THE PREMISE
    • From the book jacket blurb: You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated --- too much.
    • The author has written several essays based upon the woman who in her opinion best exemplifies the chapter heading:
      • Too Strong: Serena Williams
      • Too Fat: Melissa McCarthy
      • Too Gross: Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer ("Broad City")
      • Too Slutty: Nicki Minaj
      • Too Old: Madonna
      • Too Pregnant: Kim Kardashian
      • Too Shrill: Hillary Clinton
      • Too Queer: Caitlyn Jenner
      • Too Loud: Jennifer Weiner
      • Too Naked: Lena Dunham

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was interesting, especially the biographical information on the women spotlighted.
    • I get that society, aka the Internet, labels women like this but it's not a part of the Internet I frequent.
      • I learned more about the Kardashians from watching "The Soup" where Joel McHale showed clips out of context for laughs. 
        • There was a scene in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" where Kimmy rattles off every current detail about the Kardashians and then wonders, "How do I know all that?" 
          • I totally get this as I somehow learns details of famous people's lives without even trying sometimes, mainly because I read TV and movie entertainment websites.
        • Pop culture insists we hear about certain famous people and their doings even if we don't care or don't want to know!
      • I root for Serena because I think she is awesome in all ways but I don't actually follow tennis anymore. (I was a Chris Evert fan long, long ago.)
      • I enjoy Melissa McCarthy when I see her in something but I don't seek out her films. That said, I just don't watch many current movies anymore so I could say the same thing about almost any movie star!
      • I voted for Hillary because I am a Democrat. Most of my family are Republicans so my vote would be meaningless if they were the only ones who decided elections!
      • I have never watched "Broad City" and I don't think I have read any books by Jennifer Weiner. Sorry, fellow women!
      • I love much of Madonna's work as she began her career when I was in college so it was part of my personal soundtrack.
      • I don't know any of Nicki's music because I have never developed a taste for hip-hop. I know who she is and have never assumed she was "slutty" because of the outfits she wears during her work as a musician.
      • I watched "Girls" and loved it. I also read Lena's book.
    • Advice for those who read this list of names and hate some of them: it's okay to ignore the people you aren't interested in! 
      • Don't like the Kardashians for instance? Don't watch their shows! Don't click on links about them! It's okay!
    • Again, most of this was fairly interesting but because they were personal essays some bias was evident. The author does not seem to like Madonna at all because she IS too old, apparently. 
    • Recommended for those who are interested in popular culture and how society labels women.
    • ★ ★ ★

Monday, September 18, 2017

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

  • THE BOOK
    • What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro
    • Published July 25, 2017
    • Other works by author are: Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America and Julia Child.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The six women are:
      • Dorothy Wordsworth, sister to poet William
      • Rosa Lewis, cook and caterer of Edwardian England
      • Eleanor Roosevelt
      • Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress/wife
      • Barbara Pym, author
      • Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex & the Single Girl and longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine
    • By delving into their eating habits --- or in the cases of Braun and Gurley Brown, non-eating habits --- the author seeks to learn about the women and their lives.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I found this quite interesting. Generally, when you read a biography of someone they seldom mention what or how they ate. This book rectifies that for six women.
    • Here are a few tidbits:
      • I had never heard of Rosa Lewis but her life was used as a basis for the Masterpiece Theatre show, "The Duchess of Duke Street".
        • Interesting to learn about fancy food of those days.
      • Eleanor Roosevelt, who came from a wealthy background, rarely cooked but when she did she used a chafing dish to make scrambled eggs.
        • When the Roosevelts entered the White House, Eleanor hired Henrietta Nesbit. Mrs. Nesbit was a TERRIBLE cook. The scuttlebut in Washington D.C. was that you should make sure you ate before going to the White House for a meal. Some samples:
          • "Eggs Mexican": rice topped with bananas and fried eggs
          • "Pear Salad": canned pears covered in cream cheese, mayonnaise, chives, and candied ginger.
          • Five "stuffed eggs" were supposed to feed 6 people. (It is unclear what stuffed eggs are? Like deviled eggs?)
          • Dinner appetizer: canned, cut pineapple rolled in crushed peppermint candy. (Note to my husband: guess what's for dinner tonight!)
          • "Asheville Salad": canned tomato soup in a gelatin ring mold
          • Probably the best line in the book: "How the men reacted to "Jellied Bouillon Salad' is not recorded."
          • Bess Truman ultimately fired Mrs. Nesbit for continuing to serve brussels sprouts after she was asked not to and she continued to do so anyway.
        • The Roosevelts lived in the White House for 12 years, all with this horrible cook! The author thinks it was one of Eleanor's methods of punishing her husband for his infidelity.
      • Eva Braun was only 17 when she met Hitler and was basically his mistress from then on. She was immature and star struck. Her role was to be the perfect German woman. That meant keeping a good table for Hitler and his cronies but eating very little of it herself.
        • I wonder how the world would have treated Eva had she decided against suicide in the bunker (she was 33). Would she be hated utterly? Something of a celebrity? She would have loved being famous but not being infamous.
      • Helen Gurley Brown ate practically nothing but she would cook regularly for her husband. She made breakfast for him every day. She weighed 105 pounds with a height of 5'4" and was never fat a day in her life.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy reading about food, especially over the last 100 or so years.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

  • THE BOOK
    • The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
      • Book #1 in the Athena Club series
    • Published August 10, 2017
    • Debut novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Mary Jekyll's mother has just died and she is left penniless in 1890s London. Her father died when Mary was a child.
    • Wrapping up business with her mother's lawyer and finding other details in her mother's papers Mary sets off on an adventure across London.
    • Mary meets the following women:
      • Diana Hyde, daughter of Edward Hyde
        • Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde come from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, the classic case of split personality. Jekyll invents a serum that splits him between good and evil halves. Hyde, the evil persona, soon takes control.
      • Beatrice Rappaccini, daughter of Giacomo Rappaccini
        • Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story called "Rappaccini's Daughter" wherein the daughter was raised to take care of poisonous plants and thus became immune to their affects but became poisonous to others through her breath or touch.
      • Catherine Moreau, creation of Dr. Moreau
        • The Island of Dr. Moreau, a novel by H.G. Wells, introduces a man who experiments on animals by vivisection, surgery while the animal is conscious and feels all the pain entailed. Dr. Moreau surgically turns animals into human-like beast folk. Catherine is the last one he creates.
      • Justine Frankenstein, creation of Victor Frankenstein
        • Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, has the monster demand that Frankenstein create a mate for him. He does but ultimately destroys her. This novel posits that the events actually happened and Mary Shelley had the mate destroyed to hide the fact that Justine escaped.
    • Mary also consults with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson too when murders occur that tie into her story.
      • Many other subsidiary characters in the original stories also appear in this book.
    • This is the first book in a new series called The Athena Club.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I loved this book! 
    • Oddly, I haven't actually ever read any of the source tales but thanks to movies and TV I knew the gist of all the women's stories with the exception of "Rappaccini's Daughter". And of course, we all know about Sherlock Holmes!
    • It takes place in London in the 19th century, one of my favorite eras.
    • The murder mystery is almost incidental because getting the women together is really the most interesting part of the book.
    • It does break my cardinal rule where I generally wait until a series is complete before reading it and I am annoyed that this is indicated nowhere in the book jacket or on Amazon or Good Reads. I think this just might fall under my exception of mystery novels though because the overarching story was about murders.
      • The last section of the book is basically setting up the premise of books to come and I think we will be meeting more characters from works of fiction as we go along. Mina Harker from Dracula, for example.
      • According to the author's website she only has one more book in the series but perhaps this may change.
    • The book is being "written" by Catherine Moreau and we know this because the other female characters interject with asides during the narrative. Sort of like footnotes but right in the middle of the page.
      • Some people found this annoying but I liked it fine and it was a nice little twist on the mystery formula.
    • Recommended for mystery series readers, those who enjoy genre fiction featuring women characters, and fans of 19th century London.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Buried Heart by Kate Elliott

  • THE BOOK
    • Buried Heart (Court of Fives series #3) by Kate Elliott
    • Published July 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include the first two books in this series: Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade; and several other series such as Highroad, Jaran, Black Wolves and Crossroads.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Jessamy is the main character and she is finds herself as part of a rebellion in this YA fantasy novel, the final volume of the series.
    • She loves Prince Kalliarkos but he decides to become king and the king cannot be involved with a half commoner girl so they break up.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I try not to read series anymore unless they have all been published (with a few exceptions, mainly for certain mystery series) and I thought this one was complete when I ordered them at the library a few months ago. 
      • I ended up reading the first two in June and my review is here. I got the last book sometime in August.
    • I guess I kept reading to see how it all turned out but I don't actually remember! Did Jessamy end up with Kalliarkos or not?! Hell if I can recall. Hmm, not a good sign, is it? I was definitely NOT invested in the romance.
    • The general plot was always going to feature Jessamy winning the rebellion and vanquishing her enemies and that's fine. You want to see how everything turns out.
      • One thing that seemed obvious early on was that Jessamy's mother ends up being someone important and she does.
      • Other plot threads were started in the first two books and then sort of dropped or quickly written off.
        • Example: Jessamy's mother gave birth to twins in book 1 but the boy twin dies. His body is then taken over by the soul/lifeforce of a grown man because...magic.
          • Only Jessamy sees the adult in the eyes and actions of the infant but it all basically comes to nothing, with Jessamy's mother merely noting that she knows the baby is not as he seems. Okay then.
    • I am not a fan of the trend where characters are given names that aren't obvious in their pronunciation. I am fine with unusual names but I think some books should have a glossary/pronunciation guide. Sorry, my brain has already purged the examples I had.
    • As you can tell I did not care for the final book of the trilogy which is unfortunate because I really liked the first two.
    • Recommended for die-hard YA fantasy series readers only.
    • ★ ★

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Four Princes by John Julius Norwich

  • THE BOOK
    • Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich
    • Published April 4, 2017
    • Other works by author include A History of Venice; A Short History of Byzantium; The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean; and many more.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The four princes are:
      • King Henry VIII of England, lived 1491-1547
      • King Francis I of France, lived 1494-1547
      • Emperor Charles V, Spanish Empire and Holy Roman Empire, lived 1500-1558
      • Sultan Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, lived 1494-1566
    • These men all ruled at approximately the same time and were of an age to each other.
    • This work covers their biographies and their wars, conquests, alliances, marriages, and what happened to the succession after their deaths.
    • Sometimes they joined forces; sometimes they were bitter enemies. Sometimes they made alliances and then broke them when expedient to do so.
    • With the exception of Suleiman, whom the other three never met in person, Henry, Charles and Francis had family connections:
      • Henry's sister Mary was briefly married to Francis's cousin, his predecessor as king, Louis XII
      • Charles was Catherine of Aragon's nephew and thus also Henry's by marriage (she was Henry's first wife, the one he divorced for Anne Boleyn)
    • And the Protestant Reformation started with Martin Luther in 1517.
      • Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Muslims.
      • Some things never change...

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The author is what is referred to as a "popular historian" as opposed to an academic historian, who is usually attached to a university. (Some are both.) This generally means the writer tells history emphasizing "narrative, personality and vivid detail over scholarly analysis" per Wikipedia's article on "Popular History".
    • I read a book of the author's a couple of years ago called The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean and it was fascinating. In reading it you understand why war continues even today (hint: religions clash constantly). That book was more detailed than this book.
    • I know quite a bit of Tudor history, especially about Henry VIII, but I did not know much about the other three men. 
      • In many ways it showed Henry as a bystander to all that was happening in the rest of Europe. This was a good perspective to have because when you read a lot of Tudor history you come to see Henry as VERY IMPORTANT in history.
        • But except for history as it relates to England he was actually not a big player on the world stage. And being the father of Elizabeth I.
        • Suleiman's domains spread across east Europe, Charles had control of most of the rest of Europe except for France and England, and Francis held France, right in the middle of Charles' domains.
    • The author is currently 87 and still writes entertaining books. I can only hope I can still READ books if I ever make it to his age!
    • The book is a relatively quick read for a history book and probably a bit more surface than detail.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy general European history of the 16th century. I'm sure there are lots of you out there!
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean

  • THE BOOK
    • Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean
    • Published July 18, 2017
    • Other works by author: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements; The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code; and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story starts with the idea that when we breathe in we might very well be inhaling a molecule or at least an atom that was exhaled by Julius Caesar as he died on the floor of the Roman Senate. When we inhale and exhale sextillions of molecules enter and leave our lungs. 
    • The book covers the various atoms that make up our air: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and the rest. In this respect it's a history of the air starting with the beginning of the universe.
    • But the author always includes interesting stories about the people involved.
      • The usual suspects like Einstein, Lavoisier and the Curies as well as the lesser known like Humphrey Davy, Henry Cavendish, Fritz Haber, Le Petomane, and more.
    • Many fascinating topics abound: Mt. Saint Helens (which had its big eruption 2 days before I graduated from high school), spontaneous combustion, nitrous oxide, refrigeration, anesthesia, and Roswell.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have read every book by the author so I am obviously a fan of his work.
    • This is just a fun way to learn about science: history well seasoned with anecdotes and entertaining stories.
    • The footnotes in the back are worth reading as well because they often have a side note to the main tale. (As opposed to strict scholarly footnotes that are no fun to read at all.)
    • Recommended for those who enjoy science and/or the history of science. And for those who just enjoy a good non-fiction book.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

  • THE BOOK
    • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
      • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
      • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
      • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
      • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
      • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
      • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
      • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    • Published from 1997 through 2007
    • Other works by author include The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Casual Vacancy, and several books of the Cormoran Strike series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Harry Potter is an orphan who lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin. At age 11 he finds out that he is actually a wizard and will attend Hogwarts for training in the magical arts.
    • Harry has an enemy in Lord Voldemart. He killed Harry's parents when Harry was a baby but he couldn't kill Harry for mysterious reasons. Harry was left with a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead.
    • Over the course of the seven books Harry contends with school and the threat of Voldemort with the help of his two closest friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
    • By book seven all plot threads have come together and the final confrontations occur between Harry and Voldemort.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • For Father's Day 1999 my mother-in-law gave my husband a book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, because she had heard it favorably compared to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, a book my husband likes.
      • I read it first because he was reading a different book at the time. I really liked it and went online to see if there were sequels. At that time there was only one, which Amazon.com tells me I purchased on June 24, 1999, four days after Father's Day.
      • The third book was due to publish on September 8, 1999, in the United States. I ordered that one on September 9, 1999.
      • This was all just as (or just before) popularity of the books exploded.
    • Eventually my family (me, my husband and my 1993-born son) all read the books as they came out. 
      • Because they were a huge publishing event they were published and delivered on Saturdays. (Books normally come out on Tuesdays.)
      • We would get the new book and read it in this order: me, my son, my husband. The fastest reader got it first!
      • By the last couple of books the order changed to my son, me and my husband!
    • We all saw and loved the film versions too.
    • I have read these books several times but this was the first time I read them in one uninterrupted flow, over the course of a couple of weeks.
    • I remember having a completely satisfied feeling after reading the final book in the series. I feel the author did an amazing job of tying everything together by the end.
    • The world-building is phenomenal. The characters are well drawn.
    • We named our first two pet rats after characters from the Harry Potter books. My son wanted a pet but I didn't want a cat or a dog. He wanted an owl like Harry's Hedwig but owls don't make good pets. So we settled on a rat because Ron had one named Scabbers. (This was before we knew who Scabbers really was!) Our first two rats were named Fred & George after Ron's twin brothers.
    • I might quibble that Professor Dumbledore left a bit too much to chance over the course of the seven books given what's at stake to defeat the bad guys.
    • My favorite book is the last one, where everything comes together. I also love the first one for its sense of wonderment, introducing us to the wizarding world.
      • My least favorite is the fifth book, the Order of the Phoenix. Harry is left in the dark by Dumbledore for the whole book and gets a bit too mopey and angry because of that.
        • That said, it features the great villain of Dolores Umbridge ("Hem, hem."), but it makes the book almost relentlessly downbeat. Not bad by any stretch, just kind of depressing. It still gets 4 stars from me!
    • Recommended for all children as well as adults who like fantasy stories about witches and wizards.
    • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ★ ★ ★ ★
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monument 14 Series by Emmy Laybourne

  • THE BOOK
    • The Monument 14 Series by Emmy Laybourne
      • Monument 14
      • Sky on Fire
      • Savage Drift
    • Published 2012 through 2014
    • Other works by author include Berserker and Sweet.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Some spoilers included.
    • Monument 14:
      • A worldwide disaster occurs when a mega-volcano explodes in the Atlantic Ocean causing a tsunami to destroy the Atlantic coastlines, killing millions of people.
        • That's not what this book is about.
      • In Monument, Colorado, two school buses are suddenly pounded with "hail" which is the rock chunks of the volcano explosion falling back to earth from the sky as the cloud spreads over the planet.
        • One bus crashes and the other bus driver rescues the survivors and takes the students into a Greenway store (think Wal-mart superstore).
        • The bus driver goes for help, leaving 14 students ranging in age from 5 to 17.
      • But the disasters keep coming: a huge pair of earthquakes.
        • The earthquakes cause damage at NORAD releasing several compounds into the air.
        • It turns out the compounds attack based on the inhaler's blood type:
          • A: skin blisters until it basically dissolves the body into goo
          • B: sterility and impotence
          • AB: paranoia and hallucinations
          • O: mindlessly violent with urge to kill
      • The students all get exposed briefly to the chemicals and then (after tying up the type O's) close up all openings with tarps and plastic sheeting after the riot doors automatically lock them in.
      • Meanwhile the outside world is going crazy and other people want to get in to the store too.
    • Sky on Fire:
      • Some of the students leave on the school bus to get medical attention for one of their own. They all wear many layers of clothing and use breathing masks to minimize the chemicals they breathe in. 
      • Some stay behind (the type O's) because they can't be sure they won't kill everyone else.
      • Both groups face problems. 
        • The bus is basically carjacked (busjacked?) and the students are stranded out in the open trying to get to the Denver Airport where they hear that evacuations are happening.
        • The store group is busy fighting off interlopers.
    • Savage Drift:
      • The rescued are in refugee camps in Canada but one of the type O's is at a camp in Missouri where conditions are deplorable.
      • The older teens mount a rescue mission.
      • Meanwhile the "drifts", clouds of the chemicals flitting about the country, are still causing trouble even though the government says there are no such things.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Interesting premise that's been tackled before: kids during a disaster, which goes back to Lord of the Flies.
    • Having the group of younger children, both kindergartners and first graders, was an interesting addition, especially in the first two books as five- and six-year-olds won't be going on rescue missions.
    • There are a few tropes: the serious guy, the popular guy who takes drugs and gets wasted every chance he gets, the pregnant teen girl, the 13-year-old girl who wants to be treated like an adult, the teen electronics prodigy, the sensitive teenage boy, and the bully.
    • This would probably make an interesting movie series.
    • The action takes place over about 6 weeks, each book approximately during each two-week period. This seems like an awfully short time for everything to happen, given the supposed destruction of the East Coast. It only took a few weeks to set up secure camps for the type O's? Given how long it took for real disaster victims to get help from the government (Katrina, Sandy, etc...) it seems unlikely that it would all happen this quickly in the 2020s.
    • It takes place in the year 2024. Cory Booker, current senator of New Jersey, is the president. Interesting but I think the books might have been better off with a nameless president or a fictional one.
    • Monument, Colorado, is a real place, located north of Colorado Springs. I have driven through it twice, on my way to and from Colorado Springs. Greenway stores are fictional.
    • The whole thing has issues but I really enjoyed reading the books. I was entertained. 
      • One example issue: an earthquake happens with an 8.2 magnitude and is supposedly the foreshock before an even bigger earthquake that happens shortly after the first. I don't think you can know it's a foreshock until the main event occurs. Okay, fine, but then no more earthquakes happen or are even mentioned in the books. In real life there would be hundreds of aftershocks for weeks or months, especially at that large magnitude. Says someone (me!) who lives in an earthquake-prone area.
      • The map in the third book amused me greatly. Who can spot why?!
    • All the books had maps on the end-pages which I really liked. But this map was the one that made me laugh out loud.
    • Recommended for young adults who like these series: The Hunger Games, The Fifth Wave, Divergent, the Tripod books, Last Survivors, No Safety in Numbers and the like. It's a quick read to get through all three books.
    • All three books: ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, August 18, 2017

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

  • THE BOOK
    • Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
    • Published May 18, 2017
    • Also known as At Home with Jane Austen or Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
      • Depends on the publisher/country
    • Other works by author include: Hampton Court Palace: The Official Illustrated History, The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock, The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace, and If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home.

  • THE PREMISE
    • A biography of English author Jane Austen (1775-1817) with special emphasis on the way she lived and details of the places and towns she lived in.
      • She is, of course, famous for 6 works: Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Emma and Persuasion
    • It also details the times she was able to work on her novels. As a women in the 18th and 19th centuries she had duties in the home that tended to get in the way of writing:
      • Entertaining the constant stream of visitors; taking care of the nieces and nephews; making visits away from home.
    • The book also covers the details of her romantic involvements and puts it all in context of the times. And the assumption is that Jane could never have written her novels had she become a wife and mother instead.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I first saw Lucy Worsley earlier this year on a show called "Six Wives with Lucy Worsley", about King Henry VIII and his marriages. I really enjoyed her presentation so I was happy to see this book about Jane Austen, an author I love.
    • I knew the basics of Jane's life but this book really filled in the blanks.
      • Jane's mother would have her children, and after keeping the infants home for the first few months, then send them to a local woman to nurse for another one to two years.
      • One of Jane's brothers, George, was apparently epileptic as well as developmentally disabled. He was sent away to live with caretakers for the rest of his long life.
      • Another of Jane's brothers was allowed to become the heir of a childless couple, wealthy distant relations. He changed his last name to Knight and inherited a fortune. This enabled him to eventually provide a home for Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother after Jane's father died.
      • Cassandra destroyed most of Jane's letters because she didn't want the other family members to read Jane's sharp comments about them. Jane wrote over 3,000 letters, mostly to Cassandra, and only 160 or so still exist.
    • Learning about the ways of life in those times was fascinating. What they ate, how they decorated, what the chores were, and more. I can't get enough of that kind of thing.
    • I am not as agog about Jane's romantic life as some people seem to be. The book delves into the topic with great detail and it's interesting enough.
    • There is great detail on all the homes Jane ever lived in and whether they still exist. Those parts would be a great companion for those visiting Jane sites.
    • Perfect for Jane-ites and anyone interested in what life was like in the early 1800s in England for the gentlefolk.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

  • THE BOOK
    • The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
    • Published August 25, 2016
    • One other work by author: The Address

  • THE PREMISE
    • Darby, whose father is deceased and mother is remarried, comes to New York City from Ohio to attend the Katherine Gibbs (Secretarial) School. The year is 1952 and young Darby will be living in the Barbizon Hotel which is for women only. 
    • The Barbizon was a famous place and still exists. It is the building shown on the book cover.
      • Many real-life famous women stayed there early on in their careers but the book only seems to care that Sylvia Plath lived there once for a few weeks in 1953.
      • The hotel converted to condos in 2005. Supposedly some of the older residents were grandfathered in and still live in rent-controlled apartments. 
    • The second main character is Rose who lives in an apartment with her boyfriend in 2016.
      • The boyfriend dumps her and she ends up staying in one of the older ladies' apartments upstairs. 
      • The lady is away for a few weeks and might be...Darby!
    • Rose, a journalist on hard times, decides it would be a good story. She starts trying to piece together the past along with a hunky war photographer. She does this by going through Darby's things in the apartment Rose is squatting in.
    • Back in 1952 Darby's story and the big mysteries of the woman who leapt to her death (or was pushed) from the hotel and the woman who got her face slashed and scarred are revealed.
    • The story alternates between Rose in 2016 and Darby in 1952 but by the end is mainly focused on Rose.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I was so excited to read this book but was disappointed. So much promise in the premise!
      • Darby!
      • New York City and the Barbizon Hotel in 1952!
      • Katie Gibbs secretarial school!
      • Snooty models on whose floor Darby is assigned a room when the Katie Gibbs floor is full!
      • Darby is supposedly plain as well as a country hick. Her favorite dress is laughed at by the snooty models!
      • Darby and her new friend Esme, one of the cleaning staff, going to a jazz club!
      • And then the real focus of the story is Rose in modern day.
      • Bah.
    • I wanted WAY MORE Darby and friends than I got. And a subsidiary character, one of the models named Stella, is more fleshed out in the current day story than in the past but you really learn nothing of the in-between.
    • Rose is a very difficult character to like. Therefore I don't care about her love life. I don't think this was the best framing device because it took over the whole story.
    • This book is not remotely trashy like Valley of the Dolls or Scruples (more's the pity). But in those books I really enjoyed the parts where the characters --- Anne in Valley and Billie in Scruples --- are living life in New York while working as secretaries or going to Katie Gibbs. I wanted more of that in this book.
      • I wanted to meet all the models!
      • See if Darby got a makeover!
      • I wanted Darby to make real friends.
      • Read about the 1952 romances!
      • Bah.
    • It's not a BAD book, just not what I hoped to read.
    • Recommended for anyone interested in a small slice of fiction that takes place in 1952 New York. 
    • ★ ★ ★

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Word by Word by Kory Stamper

  • THE BOOK
    • Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
    • Published March 14, 2017
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author works for Merriam-Webster as a lexicographer. She writes definitions for words in the dictionary.
    • There are chapters about every facet of definition writing: meaning, pronunciation, etymology, part of speech, usage and more.
    • Everything you wanted to know about dictionary writing but were afraid to ask...for fear someone might tell you.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The author is funny and sometimes a bit profane, bringing some liveliness to what many might think a dull subject.
      • For a bunch of people, especially readers (including me), the idea of writing for a dictionary or an encyclopedia is a dream job.
      • The author has a blog and a Twitter feed. I follow both and here's a recent tweet:
        • "Dear Mr. Man, Thanks for writing. Rest assured I did see the comment you left on my blog. I have not approved it because it's stupid."
    • One chapter covers the usage of the word "irregardless". Many people would tell you "it's not a word" but because it is used often to replace the correct word "regardless" it gets a place in the dictionary because of its usage. 
      • Irregardless is incorrect because it has a prefix (ir-) and a suffix (-less) which both mean "not". 
      • "Regardless" is equivalent to "not regarded" or "without regard".
      • That means "irregardless" is equivalent to "not not regarded" or "not without regard" which, as a double negative, takes you back to "with regard". That's why it's incorrect usage. But many people still USE it so it needs to be in the dictionary.
      • The point is that the dictionary is a snapshot of the language at the time it is written.
    • I find the history and meaning of words to be fascinating so I really enjoyed this book.
    • Recommended for people who love words. Also enjoyable for those who read World Book Encyclopedias as kids.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • THE BOOK
    • The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
    • Published February 14, 2017
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Taking place in 1940, just after the start of World War II, the story concentrates on the fortunes of the women in the town of Chilbury, England. 
      • It is located in Kent, notable because it is between London and the coast, where German bombers will soon be passing over.
    • With the men off to war the vicar cancels the church choir because he doesn't think it will work without men's voices.
    • A female music professor comes up with a way to keep the choir going, now called --- you guessed it! --- the Chilbury Ladies' Choir.
    • Due to class differences some of the women have a hard time adapting to new circumstances but most of them rise to the challenge.
    • By the end of the story the bombs have started to fall.
    • The novel is told from the point of view of several characters via their letters and diary entries so is thus an epistolary novel.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I really enjoyed this book and hope for a sequel someday. The story only goes up to September 1940 and there is so much more war to come for the women in town.
    • The level of description that the writers include in their letters or diaries is somewhat unrealistic: very, very detailed in the way of a novel but not a 13-year-old girl's diary!
      • This did not take away from my enjoyment of the story but I can see that it might be a dealbreaker for those who prefer strict realism.
      • To me, it's a novel told in a different form. I say, go with it and enjoy the ride!
    • I just love the slice of life stories that take place in England and this one is no exception.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy novels about England and World War II. Some people have mentioned in their reviews that it reminds them of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I read this but too long ago to recall specifically). Others mentioned the PBS series "Home Fires" which I haven't watched.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

  • THE BOOK
    • The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
    • Published March 7, 2017
    • Author's first novel for adults. Also wrote two books for the young adult series The Book of Ivy.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story takes place in two time frames. 
      • One occurs when 15-year-old Lane Roanoke moves to her grandparents' home in Kansas after her mother's suicide.
        • She meets her cousin Allegra, who already lives with her grandparents after her mother "ran off" after Allegra was born.
        • Lane also meets a guy and starts a romance with him.
      • The second occurs 11 years later. Lane now lives in California but her grandfather calls and asks her to return to Kansas because Allegra is missing.
        • She searches for clues as to Allegra's whereabouts and rekindles her romance with the guy she left behind.
    • We learn, bit by bit, and through the 2 time frames, what the backstory is on the whole family of Roanoke girls.
    • And incest. LOTS and LOTS of incest.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • You kind of know incest is going to be a thing early on in the narrative but you don't really understand the whole thing until the end.
      • Spoilers in inviso-text (highlight with your cursor to read them): The grandfather molested his two sisters, his daughters, AND his granddaughters. He does this by grooming them so that they all come to believe that this is what they WANT. (Until they catch on to the whole sick thing and leave or kill themselves.) His granddaughters are thus also his daughters. Lane ran away as soon as she figured it out, the same summer she arrived, and wasn't molested. Grandma knew about the whole thing and murdered her last daughter as a baby so Grandpa would  love her again. 
    • The only real mystery is what happened to Allegra. The solution is appropriate to the story. The story is not a true mystery book however.
    • Not my favorite book but I liked parts of it. That would be the parts where we learn about life in the small town where the story takes place. 
    • The ending is hopeful.
    • Recommended for those who like mysteries but with a strong sexual element to them. Or if reading Flowers in the Attic didn't bother you.
    • ★ ★ ★

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith

  • THE BOOK
    • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith
    • Published April 4, 2017
    • Other works by author include: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch; Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess; and For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years.

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is an up-to-date biography of Great Britain's Prince Charles.
    • It includes his long-time relationship with Camilla, the marriage to Diana, his relationship with his parents and siblings, and his interests in gardening, architecture and running his many charities.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Prince Charles seems to be exactly the way you think he'd be: stuffy and modern all at the same time. Stuck in tradition but also forward looking and ahead of his time on some issues (global warming, non-GMOs, and farming without chemicals, for example).
    • It is obvious in hindsight that he should never have married Diana but rather married Camilla in the early 1970s when they were originally together. But he was told to marry an aristocratic virgin, someone without a past, and Diana fit the bill. Camilla, alas, did not.
      • It seems to me that many of Diana's "mental issues" were more immaturity than anything else. (The bulimia and cutting that she later suffered through were definitely mental conditions but they weren't developed in a vacuum.) She went into it thinking they were in love. He still loved Camilla; Diana wasn't imagining things. She just didn't have the tools to deal with it at the age of 19.
      • She was royally screwed. (Pun intended.) Even if someone had sat down to say, "This is your job: have a couple of babies (the heir and the spare) and then live your life as you want, but discreetly, while Charles goes back to his mistress, and someday you will be the queen of England," her only real choice would have been to stop the wedding.
      • These opinions aren't in the book, by the way. They are mine.
    • As I read through Charles' story I found myself wondering if any of this would someday be included in the TV series "The Crown". Let's hope so!
    • You come away for quite a bit of sympathy for Camilla who seems like a great broad by every account. I think she will indeed be called queen someday rather than "princess consort" but time will tell.
    • Recommended for royal fans but not a must-read. Some parts are a little slow.
    • ★ ★ ★

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom

  • THE BOOK
    • Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America by Tressie McMillan Cottom
    • Published January 26, 2016
    • First book by author.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author, who worked for a time as a counselor at two for-profit colleges, looks at how these schools have become successful often at the expense of their students.
    • Examples of for-profit colleges are University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, DeVry, Kaplan, Capella University, and many, many others.
      • These are not necessarily schools mentioned in the book but are listed here to give you an idea of what types of institutions the author means by "for-profit".
    • The author covers the ways schools help students to enroll for programs and also explains WHY students enroll, especially when the costs are actually comparable to a traditional 4-year state school in many cases.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The book is a bit dry with many facts and only a few case studies but is well written.
    • Jobs need workers with higher degrees than just a high school diploma. And now for-profit universities can grant Master's and PhD's! Who knew?
    • The problem with for-profit schools is that they are, well, for-profit. Investors come first, not necessarily students.
      • A small example might be a potential student who signs up for a certificate to become a masseuse, a field that has enough practitioners already so job prospects will be slim. But people get more excited over learning how to give massages and they aren't told about other areas of healthcare hurting for people to fill jobs.
    • Recommended for anyone who has an interest in the topic or for anyone considering attending a for-profit school.
    • ★ ★ ★

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar


  • THE BOOK
    • Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
    • Published May 16, 2017
    • First collaboration between the authors.
      • Stephen King is known for a bunch of novels including Carrie and The Stand while Richard Chizmar is the founder of Cemetery Dance Publications which focuses on horror and suspense.

  • THE PREMISE
    • A man named Richard Farris meets with a plump 12-year-old girl named Gwendy Peterson in Castle Rock, Maine in 1974.
    • He gives her a box with buttons and levers. One lever distributes a single piece of candy per day which will give her energy and make her less hungry; the other occasionally sends out a perfect rare coin. The 6 buttons each represent a continent but Farris won't tell Gwendy what happens if she chooses to press one.
    • Time goes on and Gwendy grows up thin, athletically gifted, beautiful and smart. She has saved a bunch of the rare coins to pay for college. (Hmm, another example of thin as better than plump trope. FYI, some people can still be athletic, smart and beautiful while plump.)
    • But her childhood tormentor/bully is still after her.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This book is a novella, not a novel, so it is short, less than 200 pages long.
    • I have read most of King's work and I was looking forward to another adventure in good old Castle Rock but I'm sorry to say that I didn't like this much.
      • It seemed a case of "sound and fury, signifying nothing".
        • Richard Farris has the same initials as Randall Flagg and other King antagonists who represent some sort of evil force.
        • And yet, while the box does indeed seem to cause harm when a button is pushed, why would an evil person give it to someone like Gwendy who has the strength of character to (almost) never use it?
    • There are anachronisms, one of which stuck out pretty strongly to me. Gwendy is my age if she was 12 in 1974. Therefore when a coin dealer offers her some state collectible quarters that I actually collected with my son in the 1990s and 2000s it seemed a pretty silly oversight.
    • The button box moves on to the next person and the story just sort of ends. 
    • I am glad it only took less than a day to read. Not sure I would read another collaboration of this kind. I guess I prefer my Stephen King books undiluted.
    • Recommended for Stephen King completists.
    • ★ ★

Friday, July 21, 2017

Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan

  • THE BOOK
    • Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
    • Published April 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include books for kids (example: 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You're 12!) and crafts (example: Hippie Crafts: Creating a Hip New Look Using Groovy '60s Crafts)
    • I received a free copy from Library Thing in exchange for a review.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Evangeline Riley, 16-years-old, lives in Bayou Perdu, Louisiana, located in Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
    • It's August 2005 and Hurricane Katrina is on its way and Evangeline and her family evacuate to Georgia where an aunt lives.
      • Bayou Perdu is mostly destroyed and there is nothing to go back to but both Evangeline and her father want to return. Her mother wants to stay in Georgia.
    • Evangeline has no idea what became of some of her friends (cell phones existed, of course, but were not widespread yet). She enrolls in the local high school and makes new friends, including an intriguing guy named Tru, a fellow refugee.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have a personal pet peeve about girls named Evangeline that seem to exist in every story that takes place in Louisiana.I grew up in Southern Louisiana and I never met anyone by that name! Yet it is definitely a more common name in the state than elsewhere.
    • My childhood home, and the homes of my relatives who still lived in St. Bernard Parish (north of Plaquemines) in 2005, were all destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina.
    • I liked the premise quite a bit but I think the story could have gone deeper. 
      • Evangeline spends a lot of time looking for the status of her two good friends but they aren't a very big part of the story as characters. 
      • I get that this book is for the Young Adult reader and not for a woman in her 50s!
      • Given that, the book is very good. It has a satisfying ending but again, I would have liked to know more about their readjustment. It just seemed fairly superficial with not enough meat. The bones are definitely there, however.
    • Recommended for those who like young adult books and enjoy stories about families trying to get by in trying circumstances.
    • ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman

  • THE BOOK
    • The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Cost of Defeating Disease by Meredith Wadman
    • Published February 7, 2017
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Rubella, also known as German measles, was a scourge before the vaccination was developed in the 1960s.
      • If a pregnant woman was exposed to rubella her fetus would develop sever birth defects.
      • It is called German measles because German doctors first determined it was a separate disease from other types of contagious diseases
    • A man named Leonard Hayflick made a number of discoveries that led to the development of a vaccine by other researchers.
      • He discovered that human cells only divide for a limited amount of times in lab cultures (known as the Hayflick limit). Before this scientists thought the cells were immortal and would grow forever.
      • He developed the cell line called WI-38, created from the cells from an aborted fetus from a woman in Sweden.
    • Before the clean cell line of WI-38 was available scientists used animal tissues, especially from monkeys but also ducks and rabbits among others.
      • These sometimes caused reactions because there are sometimes hidden things in the cells of other animals.
    • So this book follows the entire path of the development of a vaccine that was safe and effective. There are many controversies inherent in such a topic (tissue from an aborted fetus, the current autism/vaccine standoff, etc...) and these are discussed in detail as well.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Some interesting facts I learned concerned the timing of rubella epidemics in the United States in the 1960s.
      • An outbreak occurred from the winter of 1964 through the spring of 1965.
        • Outbreaks in those days traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast, so one would presume the early outbreak date occurred in the east and the later dates included the west.
          • This matters to me because members of my family were born in February 1964 (in the south central area so closer to the east) and January 1965 (west coast). This means the pregnant moms just missed being in the thick of an epidemic that might have harmed their babies.
    • I had the German measles in July 1969 and when the vaccine became available that year I got that too. 
      • In those days vaccines were given at schools. I assume this means it was free and paid for by the government, whether local or federal? I remember lining up with other kids at the local middle school and we all got our shots one after another. 
        • I cannot imagine this happening today!
    • But back to the book! I like reading books about how diseases function and how cures come to be so I really liked this one.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy reading about the subject too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pearls Hogs the Road by Stephan Pastis

  • THE BOOK
    • Pearls Hogs the Road: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury by Stephan Pastis
    • Published April 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include several prior treasuries of the comic strip "Pearls Before Swine" and the Timmy Failure series for children.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Every comic strip from "Pearls Before Swine" for a one-and-a-half year period including commentary by the author for most of the strips.
    • Features the characters of Rat, Pig, Goat and Zebra along with their other friends and neighbors.
    • Includes the week when Bill Watterson, revered for the "Calvin & Hobbes" strip, drew three days worth of "Pearls Before Swine".

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Our family loves this comic strip so we buy all of the treasuries.
    • If you like the strip you'll love the treasury. If not, you won't.
    • Recommended for fans of the strip.
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

  • THE BOOK
    • All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
    • Published February 7, 2017
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • This book features time travel of a sort.
    • Tom lives on Earth in 2016, a place where the Goettreider engine produces unlimited energy (invented in 1965) and the future has developed like all the science fiction stories said it would: jetpacks, flying cars, the whole Jetsons lifestyle.
    • Thanks to his father's time travel experiments, intended to go back to the start of the Goettreider machine in 1965, Tom goes back in time, messes things up and ends up back in 2016. OUR 2016.
    • In his old life his mother had died and he was an only child. In this new universe his mother is still alive and he has a sister.
    • The woman he loved in his time (who didn't love him) is in this world too.
    • Complications ensue as he tries to return to his world.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I noticed that a lot of people are comparing this book to another called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I read that book last year and there are definitely similarities but I think there are always going to be similarities in time travel stories. They just happened to come out within 6 months of each other which makes it easier for people to compare them directly.
      • That book's protagonist had more of a conspiracy feel to it --- things happen to him thorugh no fault of his own --- whereas this book has Tom, kind of an aimless doofus who changes time accidentally AND on purpose, more humorous in its nature to some degree.
    • Anyway, I liked this story and the characters. Standouts include Lionel Goettreider himself and Tom's mother and sister.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy science fiction stories about time travel.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Court of Fives/Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott


  • THE BOOKS
    • Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
    • Published August 18, 2015 and August 16, 2016
    • First and second books in the Court of Fives series 
      • The final book, Buried Heart, will be released in July
    • Other works by author include the Crown of Stars series, the Crossroads series, the Spiritwalker series and the Highroad series.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Jessamy's father is a Patron and has a Commoner mistress and five daughters who are thus mixed-race in this world.
    • She secretly competes in the popular game Court of Fives, a course of five sets of obstacles called Trees, Rings, Traps, Rivers and Pillars. Jessamy is a savant on the Fives field.
    • Political machinations ensue and Jessamy's parents are split apart, he to marry the great lord's niece and she and her other 4 daughters to be entombed in a mausoleum. Jessamy is taken to participate in the Court of Fives contests for the same great lord.
    • Her mother and sisters are rescued from their premature burial and eventually disappear. Jessamy tours the land, searching for her family. She has developed a relationship with Kalliarkos and a friendship with a Commoner poet whose name I forget, sorry.
    • Everything seems to be building towards a revolution of the Commoners rising up against the Patrons with Jessamy leading the way in book 3.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I liked the world-building and the bones of the story. A little more politics than I'd like but it doesn't have the usual "heroine torn between two guys" angle (yet) so that's a plus but I fear it's coming in book 3.
    • Her sisters and mother are interesting characters but aren't utilized as much overall until later in book 2.
    • I am looking forward to reading the conclusion next month.
    • Recommended for those who like young adult fantasy fiction, especially if you like female main characters.
    • Both ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

  • THE BOOK
    • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
    • April 18, 2017
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • In the 1910s young women (some as young as 13) began to work as "dial painters", painting luminous paint onto clock-face numbers so they would then glow in the dark. During World War I they also painted things for use in military equipment, allowing soldiers and pilots to see the dials in the dark.
    • The paint was made with radium, a chemical element discovered by Marie & Pierre Curie in 1898. 
    • The girls would take their paintbrushes, put them in their mouths to make a perfect point. Then they would dip the point into the paint. (Watch faces, for example, are fairly small so the numbers painted needed to be very precise.) The book refers to this process as "lip-dip-paint" or "lip-dipping". They did this hundreds of times a day.
    • The girls were told that radium wasn't harmful --- even while the male employees in the labs used lead aprons and gloves when handling the stuff --- and it was in their hair, on their skin and clothes. They literally glowed in the dark.
    • The job was considered a good one because it was an "artist's studio" rather than a factory. It paid 1.5 cents per dial painted. A good dial painted could make about $20 per week, a great salary for a young woman in those days.
      • The girls would sometimes even paint their fingernails with the luminescent paint. Or take it home to paint onto their siblings.
    • Meanwhile, radium was considered a health elixir and was added to all sorts of things. (Read about Eben Byers on Wikipedia to see how that worked out.)
    • Even while they were still working at the studios the girls started having health problems: loose teeth, abscesses, joint pain, exhaustion and many others.
    • So here's the deal: radium is radioactive. It emits alpha, beta and gamma rays. No one cared about alpha rays because they didn't travel far, maybe a few inches. Beta and gamma rays are the ones to protect one's self from, hence lead aprons and tongs when handling it. (Rules are MUCH stricter in modern times.)
      • Because the girls were ingesting it with every touch of the brush to their lips, the radium entered their bodies where it has a half-life of 1600 years. 
      • The human body treats radium just like calcium: it goes right into the bones. Once it's in the bones those alpha rays kept emitting those few inches, causing radiation poisoning, something the radium dial businesses knew but ignored when it came to these women.
      • Their teeth fells out; their jaws disintegrated. They suffered from anemia (bone marrow is where new blood cells are created; radiation destroyed that ability for many). Their leg and arm bones got shorter and easier to break. Their spines collapsed.
        • All of this came with constant excruciating pain. There was no cure
      • Those who weren't affected in this way eventually developed sarcomas, tumors on the bones.
    • The main story of the book follows two groups of women and the fight they had to try to get just compensation for their medical costs. One group was located in Orange, New Jersey and the other in Ottawa, Illinois.
    • Of special note are the stories of Katherine Schaub from Orange and Catherine Wolfe Donohue of Ottawa. Both were the plaintiffs in cases to claim compensation.
      • Catherine found out in a court hearing that her condition was incurable.
    • Typical corporate legalese: In one case they were all, yes, yes, radium poisoning happened but the statute of limitations has run out so too bad while in the next they denied any poisoning had occurred because radium was safe.
    • Their ordeals led to the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    • Some of the women lived long lives but still suffered the affects of radiation such as constant pain, lameness, and amputations. Most died in their 20s and 30s after more suffering than we can imagine.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • As you can probably tell from my very long premise section, I loved this book. My heart ached for these women, many of whom would have been contemporaries with my own grandmother who was born in 1898. 
    • You keep wishing for an ending like the one in the movie "The Verdict" where the jury wants to give even more money to the victims than they asked for but for various reasons there was only a pot of $10,000 to split among the Illinois women, most of whom were already in huge debt due to their medical bills.
    • Since they were female and the medical troubles started months or years after they worked at the radium studios, they were not taken seriously. When one of the men who worked in the lab got sick people noticed.
    • The story is fascinating but it does take a while to remember the women's names as we learn their stories. The story goes back and forth between New Jersey and Illinois and can be a little confusing but it ends strong with the legal section on Catherine Donohue's claim.
    • Recommended for those who are interested in life about 100 years ago or just find this topic intriguing.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  • THE BOOK
    • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
    • Published February 14, 2017
    • Author of several collections of short stories including Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation.
    • This is the author's first full-length novel.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story is based on contemporary reports that Abraham Lincoln visited the cemetery where his eleven-year-old son Willie had been buried after his death on February 20, 1862. Lincoln was reported to have gone back to hold and talk to his son's body.
    • The novel takes place over a single night, February22, 1862, when Lincoln visits his son's body. Willie, meanwhile, still exists in the bardo, a Tibetan word meaning "intermediate state".
      • He is ready to go on but pauses when he sees his father. When his father leaves he decides to stay until Lincoln returns.
    • There are a cast of many others in the graveyard, those who have not gone on, and in most cases do not know they are dead. They tell their own stories while trying to get young Willie to move on to the next place but also fascinated with the reality of Lincoln coming in and touching his son.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I heard about this book and wasn't sure what to think. The premise sounds odd and the format of the book is different than a typical novel.
      • The dialogue is written more like that of a play, which makes sense, as characters in the cemetery come in and out as the story requires.
    • I thought: This could be one of those over-hyped books that end up being pretentious and irritating!
      • I was wrong and I really enjoyed it!
      • That said, I think some readers will think this book IS pretentious and irritating. 
    • The stories of the ghosts (not a term used in the novel) are affecting and you understand their lives, their deaths and their struggles in the afterlife/bardo. The relationship between Lincoln and his son is affecting as well.
    • The story is about grief so it's not for everyone even ignoring the novel's unusual format.
    • There are moments of levity during the story. It's not an ultra-depressing tale but there is a palpable sadness infused throughout.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy stories about Abraham Lincoln, the 1800s and who might appreciate what amounts to a meditation on grief.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, June 30, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman


  • THE BOOK
    • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
    • Published February 7, 2017
    • Other works by author include: Stardust, The Graveyard Book, American Gods, Coraline, and The Sandman.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author has taken two main sources of Norse mythology, the Prose Edda (written by the awesomely named Snorri Sturluson, who lived from 1179-1241 CE) and the Poetic Edda, and written the stories of Odin, Thor, Loki and the rest for a modern audience.
    • Each story is an individual part of the whole, from the early days of the gods to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods.
    • The format is similar to that of a book of fairy tales. 
      • It would be similar to Homer's Iliad told in prose rather than its original (translated) poetic form which can seem a bit flowery for our modern eyes..

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Despite the book's fairy tale format and style, this is not an appropriate book for children.
      • Even the compilation of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm aren't really for children. Nor are the Greek and Roman myths. Children get the expurgated versions to learn.
      • Same with the Norse myths: not all parts are appropriate for children. 
      • I would recommend this for junior high and up.
    • The book was a quick read, again due to the fairy tale structure of the stories. In other words, this is not a dense fantasy novel based on the Norse myths; it's the actual Norse myths in all their original glory.
    • I did not know most of these stories, having picked up bits and pieces of the mythology over the years. 
    • Some of the Norse gods are with us every week: Tiw (also known as Tyr) is what Tuesday is named after; Wednesday is named for Odin (Woden in Old English); Thor's Day is our current Thursday; and Friday is named for the goddess Frigg (sometimes called Freya).
    • The main characters are Odin, Loki and Thor. Too many years exposure to Marvel Comics and the related movies have made Thor the big hero but he's doesn't have the sharpest mind in these myths! Loki is the most fascinating character because he's always stirring up trouble at every opportunity.
    • Recommended for those interested in learning more about the Norse mythology in a quick, easily readable format.
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This is Just My Face by Gabourey Sidibe

  • THE BOOK
    • This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
    • Published May 1, 2017
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author is an Oscar-nominated actress for playing "Precious" and has played roles in "The Big C", "American Horror Story" and "Empire" on TV.
    • This is a memoir about her early years and how she got into acting.
    • Her father is from Senegal and her mother is an American singer.
    • She worked for years as a phone sex operator and has several engaging stories about that.
    • For health reasons she recently had gastric bypass surgery and she discusses that with humor as well.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • She has a writing style that's engaging. She comes off as a down to earth person with whom you'd want to be friends.
    • I haven't seen "Precious" yet but I have seen some of her other work, including a few guest appearances on talk shows, and I am a fan. 
    • Definitely one of the better celeb memoirs I've read.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★