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.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

  • THE BOOK
    • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
    • Published May 30, 2017
    • Other works by author include Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, The Truth with Jokes, Lies & the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair & Balanced Look at the Right and several others.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author currently serves as senator for the state of Minnesota as a Democrat (in Minnesota it is technically the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party).
    • The book documents his political life, including his contested first election when it took 8 months to wend through the courts before he was confirmed as senator by a mere 312 votes.
    • His interest in politics started far sooner than the run for Congress and he explains how even during his years as a comedian and satirist it was a topic which he was drawn.
    • Why Minnesota? That's where his family moved when he was a toddler so it is his home state.
    • He extols the value of hard work, showing up for every committee meeting, learning the ropes and dealing with the varied personalities of the political world.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was my first Franken book and I really enjoyed it. He uses humor to tell his stories but he also tells them with the humility of a born and bred Midwesterner. 
      • I laughed out loud while reading. I also got teary-eyed reading about his first piece of legislation. Well written and entertaining.
    • The author says he was advised (I forget by whom, sorry) to be a work horse, not a show horse. He seems to have taken this advice to heart.
    • In our politically divisive country this book will smack of a take-down of the conservative wing of government for many people on the right. (Sorry for all those prepositional phrases!) 
      • It will be read and liked much more by the liberal wing. That is how these things go. It does not mean the book is not well-written. The Senator is a Harvard graduate after all. And he apparently majored in government so his love of politics goes way back.
    • I was especially taken with the parts of the book that detail how things are done in the Senate:
      • Writing laws: senators don't actually do it themselves
      • Talking to journalists: a politician has to learn how to (almost) never answer the question but rather spin the topic back to the "message" 
        • Kind of like this: (NOT from the book) 
          • "Senator, do you believe in global warming?"
          • "What I believe in is more jobs for my constituents and the rest of the American people."
          • This explains so much about the interviews with members of Congress I see on TV or read about in the paper. The goal is to get their message out and they have staff members there to keep them on track. Apparently this is just the nature of the beast.
      • The travel involved: most senators spend the week in Washington D.C. and fly home each weekend to meet with constituents. There are also all the events in the home state for a senator to show up and mingle or give a speech.
    • Again, this book will probably be read and enjoyed more by liberals than conservatives. Is there an equivalent book on the conservative side? I'm trying to find a recent book that covers similar ground. Maybe Ben Sasse's? Recommendations are welcome in the comments.
    • Recommended for those interested in politics, in how a political career started and in smart and gentle humor scattered throughout. Recommended for liberals but conservatives might enjoy some of it too. Especially the Minnesotans he works for. 
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, May 15, 2017

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

  • THE BOOK
    • Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
    • Published March 7, 2017
    • Other work by author is The Serpent King

  • THE PREMISE
    • A few weeks before the start of senior year Carver's three best friends die in a car accident. The driver was responding to Carver's text message at the time.
      • Carver feels intense grief as well as guilt and some of the families blame him for the loss of their sons leading to a possible criminal complaint against him.
    • One of the boys, raised by his grandma, doesn't blame Carver but wants to have a "goodbye day" doing all the things she loved doing with her grandson one last time but with Carver in his place.
      • Then the other families, even the ones who blame him, want to have goodbye days too.
    • Meanwhile Carver's only friend is Jesmyn, the recent girlfriend of one of the boys. He is also supported by his sister and his therapist.
    • They all attend a high school for the arts in Nashville. Carver is the writer and the other boys were all artistic too: one is an artist, one a musician and the other an aspiring comic. Jesmyn is a pianist aspiring to Julliard.
    • The book is told from Carver's point of view and moves about in time as he remembers meeting each of his friends and how they became a strong circle of four.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The entire book is a meditation on grief and survivor's guilt and it almost has to end on a hopeful note, right?
      • The plot is outlined on the dust-jacket so it seems likely to include moments of intense grief with moments of hopefulness. 
      • I was glad that Carver got some real help quickly and his development of panic attacks seemed realistic.
      • Plus it has some real suspense based on the outcome of the criminal investigation into Carver's possible culpability.
    • I read this book with a lump in my throat almost the entire time. Imagine you are in high school and have a group of friends. Imagine losing ALL of them in a car accident just before the last year. Brutal.
      • My family moved across the country between my junior and senior years of high school so I understand a modicum of grief related to losing my entire group of friends in one fell swoop.
    • I liked that we get to know the boys who died even if it's only in flashbacks and through their families.
    • This isn't probably a book for everyone but I really loved it.
    • Recommended for readers of young adult novels. I think I will try to read the author's first book too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (first 5-star review of the year!)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long

  • THE BOOK
    • Sophie Someone by Hayley Long
    • Published March 28, 2017
    • Other works by author include Fire and Water, Vinyl Demand, What's Up with Jody Barton?, and the Lottie Biggs series.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Sophie remembers moving to Brussels, Belgium, from England when she is about 5 years old. When she is 14 she discovers something that causes her to start questioning and seeking answers about who she really is.
    • Her dad is a car mechanic and her mom is a recluse who never leaves their apartment or learns to speak the Belgian language. Sophie also has a younger brother named Hercule who was born in Belgium unlike Sophie who was born in England like her parents.
    • The book is written in a different way than most books. Sophie is the narrator and she uses different words for things throughout the entire book.
      • People are pigeons.
      • Mom and dad are mambo and don (or donny). Parents are parsnips. Man is maniac. Friends are freckles. Names are noodles.
      • Face is fax, voice is vortex, head is helix, ears are eels, mouth is mush, hand is hashtag, teacher is torturer, litchen is kindle, and on and on.
      • It is very similar --- only in the way language is used! --- to A Clockwork Orange. This is a book for middle schoolers, however, so I imagine this might be a more challenging book for those grade levels.
        • For me it was fairly easy to discern the meanings from context. By the end of the book you are fairly fluent in Sophie's lingo. But I can see how this would irritate some readers.
        • The character explains why the word substitutions are made by the very end of the book.
          • I must admit, at first I thought the book was about a girl who had some sort of developmentally delayed issue or was on the spectrum who just used language differently. That would have been fine but she was neither of those things.
    • The story jumps about in chronology as Sophie pieces together the past with the present.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I liked the story and was anxious to find out the big secret that her parents were trying to hide. It's a doozy. 
    • I thought the ending was abrupt. 
      • By the end of the book the family's circumstances have changed drastically and which seems to leave the family with absolutely no means of financial support. 
      • Sophie's best friend Comet, who has major troubles in her own family, is given short shrift.
      • And Sophie makes a new friend along the way who's story could use some fleshing out.
      • I have to wonder if there will be a sequel addressing these issues.
      • Spoilers are located in the next bullet point in white text so they are invisible unless you highlight them with your cursor or finger:
        • Sophie's dad, a gambling addict with large debts and with her mom's encouragement, helped two criminals rob an armored car, netting millions of pounds. The two criminals left the dad with just enough money, a few thousand pounds, to buy a mechanic business in Brussels. At the end of the book he turns himself in and will go to prison for years. The agoraphobic mother decides she better leave the apartment after all, so she can buy groceries. The end.
    • I'd definitely read a sequel.
    • Recommended for middle schoolers and others who enjoy young adult books.
    • ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

  • THE BOOK
    • Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel
    • To be published July 18, 2017
    • My copy is an uncorrected proof I received from the publisher through Library Thing's Early Readers program in return for an honest review.
      • Naturally my reviews are ALL honest though if I truly loathe a book I TRY to be as gently brutal as possible!
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is an epistolary novel, told entirely by letters and e-mails to the central character, Julie.
    • The chronology jumps around a bit, covering Julie's childhood up until she's in her 30s. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she has a younger sister with a wild streak.
    • Some of it is very funny. Julie's parents in particular are hilarious in their well-meaning advice and thinly veiled passive-aggressiveness.
    • Some of the letters are from inanimate objects such as a treadmill or a cell phone.
    • The subtitle is "A Tragicomic Novel in Letters".

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I laughed out loud by page 10 due to this passage in a letter of invitation to teenage Julie from her aunt, which includes a list of house rules for guests:
      • "Please do not remove any body hair in the bathroom. If you must...please do so in the backyard, using the hose. Since we have been experiencing freezing temperatures this week please avoid getting water on the patio to prevent black ice."
    • From her grandmother who just got an e-mail account at her retirement home:
      • "They say it will allow us to spend more time with our loved ones. I don't buy it." 
    • I enjoyed the book but did feel it had a couple of unresolved storylines by the end.
      • I can't decide if it would have been better with Julie's end of the correspondence included. Probably not but it's a short book (just over 200 pages) and I guess I would have liked more.
      • I would definitely consider reading more from this author.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy comic novels, epistolary novels, and/or a quick read.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Inkblots by Damion Searls

  • THE BOOK
    • The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls
    • Published February 21, 2017
    • Other works by author include: What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, Everything You Say is True, and several books as translator.
    • My copy is an uncorrected proof furnished by the publisher through Library Thing for an honest review.

  • THE PREMISE
    • A biography of Hermann Rorschach and of his famous inkblot test.
    • The first half of the book covers the life of Rorschach and his place in the founding of modern psychology.
    • Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 and Eugen Bleuler was born in 1857. Bleuler, who coined the terms schizophrenia (it used to be called dementia praecox) and autism, was instrumental figure in psychology but was overshadowed by his student Carl Jung, born in 1875.
      • Rorschach was born in 1884 and was also a student under Bleuler.
    • Rorschach developed his inkblot test in the late 1910s and published the book Psychodiagnostics in 1921.
      • He died in 1922, only 37 years old, of peritonitis due to a burst appendix.
    • Because Rorschach died so young he never got the chance to continue refining his test.
    • The second half of the book covers the rest of the history of the inkblots.
      • Various people came along later and added to the test protocols though the inkblots themselves have never really changed.
      • The test has come in and out of popularity as other tests came to the forefront.
        • It is either an amazing diagnostic tool for mental health issues or a complete pseudoscience depending on what's going on in the world of psychology at any given time.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was quite an interesting book but some parts are difficult to understand for the layman who has no background in psychology, mainly in regard to the test protocols themselves.
    • The author is very thorough in the topic and had a trove of research to use. Especially interesting is the acknowledgements section, a few pages in the back, detailing how he came to possess this trove, full of primary sources relating to the life of Rorschach and his inkblot test.
    • I found the life of Rorschach to be quite interesting, especially in the early years. He had a fascination with Russia and spent time there, for example.
      • The detail is immense, however, so some sections could be a bit of a slog.
    • It was stunning to find he died so young. One must wonder if he would be as well known as Freud and Jung are today if he had lived a full lifespan.
    • I floundered a bit when the author was describing the way inkblot test results were scored. I wished for more concrete examples to understand how it really worked but I think this would be a great book for students in psychology to read because they will understand much more than me.
    • Because my copy was an uncorrected paperback proof the text referred to color photographs that weren't included. The text pages have several illustrations and photographs though.
    • I totally want to take this test to see what it reveals about me! Unfortunately it would cost too much to find a practitioner to administer the test, especially when I have no need of it.
    • Recommended to those who are interested in psychology.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter

  • THE BOOK
    • Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter
      • This version of the book has illustrations by Gluyas Williams
        • Williams, a cartoonist, was born in San Francisco in 1888 and died in Newton, Massachusetts in 1982.
    • Published in 1948
    • Other works by author include Mr. Hobbs' Vacation; Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter; Dere Mable; and Thats me all over, Mable.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Mr. Stanley Banks' daughter Kay is getting married. The story follows his point of view as he experiences the frenzy surrounding the wedding.
    • He experiences the following:
      • Having a talk with Kay's fiance, Buckley
      • Meeting Buckley's parents
      • The engagement party
      • Choosing the caterer
      • Trying and failing to keep the guest list down
      • Getting used to the idea of "losing" his little girl
      • The wedding and reception
    • Two movies have been made based on the novel:
      • "Father of the Bride" in 1950 starring Spencer Tracy as Stanley Banks and Elizabeth Taylor as Kay, the bride. Elizabeth is at her most radiant in this film.
      • "Father of the Bride" in 1991 starring Steve Martin as George Banks and Kimberly Williams as Annie, the bride.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This book was a gift from my best friend, Lady Chardonnay. Thanks, Lady C!
    • I love the Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor movie and it is faithful to the book with a few minor changes.
      • Sorry, I have never seen the Steve Martin version. I know many people love it but it does not look faithful to the book.
    • This was fun to read and one thing that surprised me was the inclusion of a couple of prhases that would never have been allowed in films of the early 1950s. Stanley's favorite epithet seems to be "Good God!"
      • Here's an example:
        • "The Society Editor would hand your copy to the office boy, who would bitch the whole thing up anyhow."
      • Here's another:
        • One of the caterer's staff: "Too many God-damn bushes out here. Ought to get rid of 'em."
      • I find it hypocritical of society that it was perfectly fine for these things to be in books but they needed to be kept at all costs from the movies!
      • The movie is definitely rated G but the book is PG!
    • What's also amusing is the fact that I am older than Stanley Banks! He mentions his age, 50, a couple of times. Well, 50 in 1948 was "old" compared to 55 in 2017, right?!
    • The story has a few quaint moments, notably in the prices for things that would make today's father of the bride weep. 
      • Stanley wants to keep to a budget where the price per person is $3.72 and this includes everything: food, flowers, champagne and cake!
        • With the guest total as 572 early on, this translates to a cost of just over $2,100. I just looked up a local caterer choosing their "Light Garden Wedding" as closest to the book's reception plan and they estimate a cost of $45 to 70 per person!! That's a total of $25,000 to $40,000!! Not counting the flowers or anything else. 
        • I'm now obsessed with going through the menu options at this local caterer!
          • Pineapple Upside Down Cake is $8.50 PER PERSON! 
          • "Sonoma County Bounty Display" aka cheese, crackers and fruit cost $8.25 per person.
          • Street Tacos are $6.20 per person.
          • Deviled Eggs are $48 for a tray that serves 12-15 people. "Traditional deviled eggs but with the tang of Dijon mustard" is just how I make them anyway and for less than $48!
        • I think today you could probably hire a food truck or two and it would be cheaper than actual catering!
        • This might be one of those things that's like how I feel about room service: a good idea in theory but I am way too cheap to pay so much extra for it. 
    • Well, that was a fun discursion!
      • Dang, now I'm hungry for deviled eggs.
    • Anyway, this book was fun and I enjoyed the author's writing style. The illustrations were a great addition too. 
    • Recommended for those who enjoy a quick fun read with gentle humor.
    • ★ ★ ★

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

  • THE BOOK
    • Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt
    • Published March 14, 2017
    • One other book by author: I Don't Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author introduces us to an example from the early 1960s when two statisticians used data to determine which Founding Father wrote which essays in The Federalist Papers. 
      • The essays were originally published under the same pen name. 
        • Before the famous duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton made a list taking credit for those he wrote. 
        • Years later James Madison made a list of the ones he wrote.
          • The lists differed. Years of scholarly debate ensued.
      • In 1963 Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace, statisticians but not historians, used word frequency as a way to solve the puzzle. 
        • In those pre-digital days they had to cut out the words and count them manually.
        • Using known works by the purported authors they could compare statistically the words used --- or not used --- and make a strongly creditable decision on the actual authors of each essay.
        • As a single example of the evidence: Madison used the word whilst but never used while; Hamilton used while but never used whilst.
    • Today all it takes is a digital copy of a given work to quantify word usage in mere seconds.
    • Some of the questions tackled in the book:
      • Do better writers use -ly adverbs less frequently than lesser writers?
      • Do female and male writers use words differently?
      • Do writers have a similar style in word choices if they write in different genres?
        • Example: J.K. Rowling and her pseudonym Robert Galbriath
      • Can you tell which co-author wrote what in a given book?
        • Examples include Tom Clancy and his various co-authors and James Patterson and his.
      • Which group of writers uses more exclamation points: NY Times bestsellers, literary fiction or fan fiction?
      • Using the Fleisch-Kinkaid Grade Level test, are books getting dumber over time?
        • Spoiler: Duh.
      • Can you tell whether the writer is American or British?
      • Which writers use the most cliches?
      • What does the size of the author's name on a book cover tell us?

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • A book which combines literature with math? Filled with graphs and charts?
      • I loved this book! It was so much fun to read and I thoroughly enjoyed all the visual aids.
      • This book combined the two things I loved best about school: math classes and English classes.
        • I was occasionally made to feel like a weirdo sometimes (not by my parents though) because I was good at math and sciences AND English and history. Apparently I was supposed to be good at one category or the other, not both. 
        • I literally remember one woman telling me I wasn't supposed to be "good at both" during high school. Like I should --- or could ---  turn that part of my brain off?
          • In college I started out majoring in writing and then ultimately switched to accounting, via mathematics and economics. I was never a big fan of statistic class but I definitely understand the subject.
    • The author explained why he picked the books he does, using various "best of" lists in classic literature and modern literary fiction along with fan fiction for various topics.
      • I had read a bunch of the examples so it made reading that much more interesting to me.
    • Recommended for readers who enjoy a trove of fun facts about writers and their writing styles. It's a quick read too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Great Movies IV by Roger Ebert

  • THE BOOK
    • The Great Movies IV by Roger Ebert
    • Published September 28, 2016
    • Other works by author include many, many books on film.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Roger Ebert died in 2013. This is the final collection of essays in his Great Movies series, comprised of 62 movies.
      • He said in the first volume that these are not necessarily the BEST movies but rather great films for one reason or another.
    • There's a foreward by critic Matt Zoller Seitz and an introduction by Roger Ebert's widow, Chaz Ebert. 
    • Here is the list:
      • 25th Hour
      • A.I. Artificial Intelligence
      • An Autumn Afternoon
      • Badlands
      • The Ballad of Narayama
      • Barry Lyndon
      • The Big Lebowski
      • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
      • Cache'
      • La Ceremonie
      • The Circus
      • La Collectionneuse
      • Come and See
      • Contact
      • Day for Night
      • Departures
      • Diary of a Country Priest
      • Diary of a Lost Girl
      • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
      • French Cancan
      • The Grey Zone
      • The Hairdresser's Husband
      • Harakiri
      • Heart of Glass
      • In a Lonely Place
      • Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II
      • The Killing
      • Leon Morin, Priest
      • Lost in Translation
      • Make Way for Tomorrow
      • A Man Escaped
      • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
      • Man with a Movie Camera
      • The Match Factory Girl
      • Mon Oncle d'Amerique
      • Monsieur Hire
      • Mulholland Drive
      • Mystery Train
      • Night Moves
      • Nosferatu the Vampyre
      • The Only Son
      • Pale Flower
      • Pink Floyd: The Wall
      • The Pledge
      • Red Beard
      • Richard III
      • Rio Bravo
      • Senso
      • Seven
      • Shadow of a Doubt
      • Shoah
      • Smiles of a Summer Night
      • Souls for Sale
      • The Spirit of the Beehive
      • Spirited Away
      • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
      • Stagecoach
      • Superman
      • Tender Mercies 
      • Veronika Voss
      • Viridiana
      • Yellow Submarine
        • The ones in blue --- 32! --- are foreign language films and the ones in red --- a mere 4 --- are silent films.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have only seen 7 of these!
    • There were far too many foreign language films for me to love this volume although I read most of those essays anyway. Roger Ebert has many interesting things to say about film.
    • The one movie I want to see now is Make Way for Tomorrow, a 1937 Leo McCarey film starring Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore.
      • An elderly couple lose their home to foreclosure and none of their five adult children want to take them in. They split up the parents, one each to a different home. But the dad needs a mild climate so they decide he should move to California to live with one of his daughters. The daughter doesn't have room for both so they decide to put their mom into a retirement home. Thus the parents will be split apart forever. 
        • Sounds like the kind of film to watch when you need a good cry.
    • Recommended for movie buffs, especially those who enjoy foreign language films.
    • ★ ★ ★
      • Roger Ebert's writing is great as always, definitely a 4 or 5 star review there, but my personal enjoyment of the book merits only 3 stars.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Spare the Kids by Stacey Patton

  • THE BOOK
    • Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won't Save Black America by Stacey Patton
    • Published March 21, 2017
    • Other work by author: That Mean Old Yesterday: An Abused Girl's Fight for Survival, a memoir

  • THE PREMISE
    •  From the book's back cover:
      • "Why do so many African Americans have such a special attachment to whupping children? Studies show that nearly 80 percent of black parents see spanking, popping, pinching, and beating as reasonable, effective ways to teach respect and to protect black children from the streets, incarceration, encounters with racism, or worse. Dr. Stacey Patton's extensive research suggests that corporal punishment is a crucial factor in explaining why black folks are subject to disproportionately higher rates of school suspensions and expulsions, criminal prosecutions, improper mental health diagnoses, child abuse cases, and foster care placements, which too often funnel abused and traumatized children into the prison system."
    • This book is about the African American culture behind whupping. "Whupping" is generally worse than "spanking" and would generally be labeled "beating" by many people. The author's premise is that whupping, generally believed to keep African American kids from getting in trouble later in life, really doesn't work at all. And yet disciplining one's child is not illegal in many states and is still used in many schools.
    • Children live in a constant state of fear and their brain development suffers for it. They are also hurt, physically and emotionally, by the very people who are supposed to love them the most in the world.
    • The author delves into the history of why spanking is so pervasive. It goes back to the days of slavery whereby parents trained their children to behave in ways to keep the owner/overseer from doling out the beatings.
    • When Jim Crow came along the parents still needed to train their children to avoid the eye of the white folks just looking for an excuse to lynch or rape black kids.
    • Today parents are just trying to keep their kids out of jail or keeping the girls from getting pregnant as teens. 
    • The book also covers the role of spanking in popular culture, specifically in the work of African American comedians.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I received this book free from Beacon Press for an honest review through the Library Thing Early Readers program.
    • I am not African American so it may seem odd to have an opinion on this book but it's the one I won so there we are. Not to mention, I was personally spanked as a child growing up in the Deep South so I do have experience with that.
    • Spanking is legal in the United States but the rule is that punishment must be "reasonable and does not cause injury".
      • Thirty-one states ban corporal punishment in schools but 19 allow it:
        • Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
        • All of the Deep South and a few outliers. Interesting. I think a lot of white kids got beatings too over the last century but overall they do not face the difficulties that black kids have so while the whites have started to back off spanking the black families haven't.
    • The author contends that most children grow up to believe they DESERVED the whuppings they got and that their mothers were right to do it. Their parents are made into saints after the fact.
      • Think about the African American athletes who give thanks to their mothers. Now I wonder if they were whupped too.
    • Children need to do this because the other option is hating one's parent instead and this is unthinkable. How can you hate your mother? (There are exceptions, of course.)
      • My own mother did the EXACT SAME THING! She would tell me the story about how her mother beat her until the "blood ran down my legs. And I deserved every whipping I got." And her parents were saints of course. My grandmother was an abusive alcoholic, sadly, and by no means a saint.
      • One day about 15 years ago, I had finally had enough of this rose-colored view and finally asked her: "Is there ANYTHING my son [her beloved 8- or 9-year-old grandson] could do that would make it okay for me to hit him until blood ran?"
        • Of course her answer was no. But I think I did an unkind thing by making her question her own belief that her parents were saints. In any case she never told me that story again.
      • My mother believed in discipline and this was always something she cited for sending us to Catholic schools. "They have discipline." (That and we WERE Catholic.)
        • My brother and I were spanked once in a while but my mom had arthritis so she couldn't hit us very hard and it never really hurt. 
          • Spankings used to make me cry but once I figured out it didn't hurt I never cried and I don't think I was spanked again after that, probably around 10- or 11-years-old.
          • Her favorite punishment was having us "kneel in the corner". We laugh about this now. It seemed as if we kneeled for hours but I think it must have been about 15 minutes! The linoleum left impressions on our knees which was always fascinating to us.
    • Back to the book: If I took a switch, an extension cord, a shoe, a hairbrush or whatever was handy and started beating on anybody else, I would arrested for assault and battery. But if I did it to my minor child it would probably be acceptable. WHO decides what is "reasonable"?
      • I remember being in the backseat of my mom's best friend's car. There were four of us kids in the back: me, my younger brother and the friend's two kids. This was the 1960s; no one was concerned with seat belts in those days. The best friend was irritated by her own child so she took off her shoe --- she was DRIVING! --- and starting whaling on her kid. I remember trying to stay out of the way! Times have indeed changed.
    • Perhaps this is something that will change as time goes by in the African American community. No parent wants to be told how to discipline their own child, black or white, so it might be an uphill battle.
      • If anyone told my mother how to handle her children those people were on her shit list forever!
    • The book was well-written, well researched and fascinating to read.
    • Recommended for those interested in the African American community and child-rearing.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

  • THE BOOK
    • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
    • Published 1962 and winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel
    • Other works by author include: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, several other novels and many short stories
      • "Blade Runner", "Total Recall", and "Minority Report" are among the several works adapted for films.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story is an alternate history where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II. In this world Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933 just weeks before he became president creating a different timeline. Thus history occurs differently in regards to America's involvement in World War II.
      • Imperial Japan invades the West Coast and Nazi Germany invades the East Coast. The war ends in 1947 after Nazi Germany drops an atomic bomb on Washington D.C.
    • The story itself takes place in 1962 (the year of publication) and takes place in the Japanese-occupied Pacific States of America, specifically San Francisco, and part in the Mountain States buffer zone between the two powers.
    • The book does not really have a plot per se, but it has a few characters who interact with each other and most people are reading a banned book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which depicts a world where the Allies beat Nazi Germany & Imperial Japan in World War II, similar to ours but not quite the same.
    • A couple of characters meet up and start looking for the author of the book, the titular Man in the High Castle.
    • There is a character who seems able to move among the various alternate histories.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I watched the Amazon Prime series based on the book and LOVED it. There will be a third season later this year. I highly recommend it.
      • Rufus Sewell, most recently seen as Lord Melbourne in the PBS series "Victoria", plays an American Nazi officer (Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith!). He is my new TV boyfriend.
      • None of the Obergruppenfuhrer's plot is included in the book; he is a creation for the TV show. He has a whole family and Muscular Dystrophy factors into his plot.
      • The TV show has a detailed, interwoven plot, with many book characters interacting together and takes place in San Francisco, New York City, Berlin, and a small town in Colorado. There are several added Japanese characters too.
      • The world-building is phenomenal. You alternately find yourself appalled at the actions of the villains and then you are actively rooting for them to survive and succeed. John Smith is alternately a Nazi and a family man. 
        • Hitler, Himmler, and all their pals are still alive in the TV series and book but all up in age. The Nazis have nuclear weapons --- and have used them --- and rocket technology.
      • The science fiction portion, whereby characters move among multiple realities, is more pronounced in the TV series. In the book, however, the Nazis have started exploring and colonizing the solar system.
      • The show is extremely well cast. Standouts include actors Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who plays Mr. Tagomi, Brennan Brown who plays Robert Childan, Chelah Horsdal who plays Helen Smith and Joel de la Fuente who plays Inspector Kido. And Rufus Sewell, of course. But Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans and all the rest are very good too.
      • It has the creepiest version of "Edelweiss" run over the opening credits. Google "Jeanette Olsson Edelweiss" to hear it yourself.
        • I read somewhere that the song "Edelweiss", written for "The Sound of Music", would not have existed in this reality because there would have been no Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about an escape from the Nazis!
    • As for the book, it is more a philosophical experience than a rollicking adventure like the TV series. Here is an interesting quote about it from The Religion of Science Fiction (published in 1986) by Frederick A. Kreuziger:
      • "Neither of the two worlds, however, the revised version of the outcome of WWII nor the fictional account of our present world, is anywhere near similar to the world we are familiar with. But they could be! This is what the book is about. The book argues that this world, described twice, although differently each time, is exactly the world we know and are familiar with. Indeed, it is the only world we know: the world of chance, luck, fate."
      • The book introduces a handful of the same characters depicted in the TV show and you delve deeper into their thoughts as they go through their lives without a lot of crossover with other characters.
      • Many book characters use the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text of fortune telling. Even the author used it to determine the direction of his characters.
    • It's worth a read if you want have a sci-fi classic under your belt. It's beautifully written but not heavily science fiction-y.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Journey Through Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb

  • THE BOOK
    • A Journey Through Tudor England: Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London to Stratford-upon-Avon and Thornbury Castle by Suzannah Lipscomb
      • Known as A Visitor's Companion to Tudor England in Great Britain
    • March 15, 2012
    • Other works by author include: 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, Tudors: The Illustrated History and Six Queens: The Wives of Henry VIII

  • THE PREMISE
    • A tour of the various places associated with the Tudor monarchs: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.
    • The book is arranged geographically by area in England.
    • In each section, most of which are only 4 to 5 pages long, the place is described and a story of a Tudor personage (Shakespeare, Henry VIII's wives, Jane Grey, etc...) is covered. The author also catalogs the various pieces of art located at each place.
    • Many places from the Tudor world have been destroyed by time or progress and these merit mentions as well, sometimes only as ruins.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • A fun, quick read but one I spent constantly stopping and searching for photographs of things on my tablet because the book has no illustrations aside from those in chapter headings.
      • When the author is describing a painting of Queen Elizabeth, say, or the paneling at a castle, it really helps if you can look at them rather than just reading a description. This is one of the best things about the Internet.
      • I would assume that getting rights to all the necessary photographs as well as the increased cost to print the book kept this from being an illustrated volume. It is the one thing that really detracts from the book.
    • I am a big Tudor history buff so I knew a lot of the information on offer. 
    • I think this would be a great book to have with you while traveling around England. If you wanted to map out a visit or learn where to find the hidden gems at each place I would recommend reading the appropriate section before each visit.
    • I saw the author on a recent PBS showing of her "Hidden Killers" series (of the Tudor home, the Victorian home, the Edwardian home and the post-war home - your toys, food, gadgets, clothes and so forth can KILL YOU!) which were really interesting. She is a historian whose specialty is the Tudor period.
    • Recommended for fans of English history.
    • ★ ★ ★

Friday, March 3, 2017

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

  • THE BOOK
    • Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens
    • Published April 21, 2015
    • Originally published in Great Britain as Murder Most Unladylike
    • Book 1 in the Wells & Wong series
      • In Great Britain it is Book 1 in the Murder Most Unladylike series
    • First book by author. Other Wells & Wong book titles include:
      • Poison is Not Polite (or Arsenic for Tea in GB)
      • First Class Murder
      • Jolly Foul Play
      • Mistletoe & Murder

  • THE PREMISE
    • The first book in a new mystery series aimed at young teens, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up a secret detective agency in their posh boarding school in 1934 England.
    • A teacher is found dead by Hazel but when she runs off to get help from Daisy the body disappears. The two girls, who are 13 years old, decide to keep it quiet and solve the mystery.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Oh, how I wanted to adore this book! But I just couldn't because I loathed the character of Daisy. 
    • Hazel is ethnically Chinese, originally from Hong Kong, and is attending boarding school in England because her dad is an Anglophile who also went to school in England. Daisy is the aristocratic, popular girl in class who befriends Hazel. She is, of course, blue-eyed and blonde with a perfect figure. Hazel feels fat and unattractive near her.
    • It is hinted that Daisy has a dark secret which Hazel knows, and this is what somehow bonds the girls. Daisy is such an arrogant person and you wait for this shocking secret to come out because then maybe it might explain her actions in some way.
      • I am going to SPOIL the secret because it irritates me too much to play coy:
        • Daisy is secretly brilliant but hides it so as not to come off as a bluestocking.
        • GASP.
        • Oh please, she's already got blue eyes, perfect blonde hair and I think she even has a title (The Honorable Daisy Wells. Her deep, dark secret is she's TOO SMART.
          • Hazel is also brilliant and advised by Daisy to hide it just like she does. This is what we want girls reading about, right? How you should hide your intelligence because other people won't like you if you flaunt it.
            • Yeah, yeah, it takes place in the 1930s but I faced this same shit in the 1970s and 1980s and I AM OVER IT!
    • Hazel often compares herself negatively to perfect Daisy. This is another thing that needs to go by the wayside: blonde is not greater than dark hair and we certainly don't need more "thinner is better" characters in this modern age.
    • Anyway, Hazel narrates the story and she is the subservient Dr. Watson to Daisy's Sherlock Holmes. Naturally Daisy is always in charge. She treats Hazel like crap most of the time. Hazel takes it without complaint.
    • The murder mystery is interesting enough but since almost all of the suspects are the adults we don't really get to know them very well until the rush of the ending. 
      • It makes sense because Hazel is telling the story and she has very small interactions with the teachers overall. 
      • Classroom demeanor doesn't necessarily tell you anything about the teachers' private lives.
    • For those who want to know, there are some minor sexual references.
      • A closet is casually pointed out as a place which some of the girls use as a make-out place (it's an all-girls school) and some of their fellow students have "pashes" (aka crushes) on each other.
      • Two of the teachers share a two-bedroom apartment --- nothing scandalous there --- but they have a SPARE ROOM. This is not a bad thing but it seems odd that everyone in school knows about it in 1930s England, no?
    • There are 5 books in the series so far but only the first two have been published in the United States. I will not go further even though my library has the second book. I imagine Daisy gets nicer as the series moves on? I will need to live without knowing for sure.
    • Recommended for middle schoolers and above, especially those who like mysteries. I know there must be many people who can overlook my issues with the story and characters and really enjoy the book.
    • ★ ★