Posts Categorized: Books

Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

March 19, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 2

Oops! I apologize for posting this later in the month than usual — “real life” has distracted me a bit from reading/blogging as much as I’d like. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

The Dragon Reborn – the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him – is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how – for no man has done it in three thousand years — Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

My Thoughts:

I have to admit that Rand REALLY got on my nerves in this book. I mean, on the one hand, I kind of understand why he went haring off alone… the poor guy was dealing with some really rough personal issues (to put it mildly) and he didn’t want to accidentally hurt someone else. BUT. Dude. The entire rest of the cast is either trying to find him or trying to help him in some way… maybe disappearing like a crazy person is not the best way to convince other people you aren’t crazy (yet), yeah?

Anyway, I actually quite liked getting POV chapters from not-Rand characters more than Rand’s POV. Perhaps my favorite scene in this book is Mat’s unexpected yet well-done defeat of the princes during their Warder fighting practice at Tar Valon. Oh Mat, that scamp — he’s starting to grow on me now that his annoying little thieved-treasure problem has been more or less resolved.

I hadn’t thought about it on previous reads through the series, but I noticed this time around that repentance/redemption seems to be a bit of a theme. Ingtar did his bit in the last book during the battle at Falme, and in this book it was the thief-catcher Juilin’s turn, and I vaguely remember a couple of other instances… don’t worry, no spoilers. I just think that these remorseful “sinners” are an interesting contrast to the Forsaken and the Black Ajah — some of the “bad guys” turn out to be good guys at heart, though of course some of the good guys might not be as good as we think they are!

Questions:
  • Did anyone else pick up on that whole repentance/remorse thing, or am I reaching for some kind of meaning that isn’t really there?
  • Have your opinions of any of these characters started to change now that we’re a few books in?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Women in Science History Event 2017

March 3, 2017 Books 2

I’m excited to sign up for Doing Dewey’s Women in Science History reading event this month!

Here are the details; head over to Doing Dewey (link above) for more info or to sign up:

All you have to do to join in, is link-up one review of a book about a female scientist. You can read nonfiction or historical fiction for the challenge as long as the book you pick features a non-fictional female scientist. I’ll post a link-up for your reviews every Friday and my goal is to also post a book review each week as well. If you want to join in, check out my suggested reads[…]

I just borrowed the audiobook of Hidden Figures from the library to listen to during my commute, and I also got a copy of Lab Girl for this past Christmas so maybe I’ll be able to squeeze that one is as well. (No promises — this is going to be a busy month.)

Last year I read Jane Goodall’s book In the Shadow of Man for this event; check out my review here.

Will you be participating — and if so, what do you plan to read?


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 2 – The Marvelous Land of Oz

February 27, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 6

Welcome back to Oz!

Book 2 – The Marvelous Land of Oz

Young Tip runs away from his guardian, the witch Mombi, taking with him Jack Pumpkinhead and the wooden Saw-Horse, and flees to the Emerald City where he learns the incredible secret of his past.

My Thoughts:

Uh… what just happened? That was a wild ride!

OK, I admit that I was a little annoyed by Tip at first. I know Mombi is supposed to be a Bad Guy, but for some reason I found her much more interesting and slightly more sympathetic than the Wicked Witch of the West in the previous book.

I also have to say that I was a little confused by the whole coup thing with the Scarecrow… but that scene between him and Jack Pumpkinhead and their “translator” was adorably funny. Cheesy, sure, but cute. I like a little cheese every once in a while.

Actually, several scenes were a little confusing. Or maybe not so much “confusing” as “WTF just happened” or “was there a point to this”? Don’t get me wrong, this was a good fun romp of a story, but… are ALL the Oz books going to be as random/manic as this?

I quite enjoyed the addition of all the wacky new characters/creatures, like The Gump in particular — I hope it shows up again in future books. And the Woggle-Bug’s terrible puns were DELIGHTFUL.

I do wonder if Baum was trying to get political with all the Girl Power / Evil Feminazi stuff. The book seemed to be simultaneously poking fun at feminists while praising other leading ladies — even so far as turning a boy into a girl. I’ve tried not to read too much into all this, though — after all, the book was written while the 20th century still had the shiny on it and the 19th Amendment was still nearly 2 decades off.

So… tell me what you thought of this one!

Questions:
  • Did you particularly like any of the new characters/creatures? Or were you hoping for more old favorites from the first book?
  • Do you ever feel a little twinge of sympathy or unwarranted fondness for “bad guy” characters?
  • What did you think of all the gender politics stuff in this book? Do you think Baum was making an eloquent point about the feminism of his day, or is that maybe reading too much into a wacky little kids’ book?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 2 – The Great Hunt

February 18, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 4

Welcome to The Adventures of Rand & Friends, Part 2.

Book 2 – The Great Hunt

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.

And it is stolen.

My Thoughts:

Dude, SO MUCH happens in this book. It’s hard to kind of wrap my mind around all of it at once.

One of the worst/most surprising series of scenes in WoT World happens in this book. In an attempt to avoid spoiling anyone who hasn’t read it yet (WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, GO READ IT), I’ll just say it starts with the scene involving the four “Too Big For Their Britches” girls meeting the scary invaders who like to keep people as pets. I couldn’t stop cringing over it for days after I read it the first time.

On a lighter note, one of my favorite characters in the series — maybe my absolute favorite character? — shows up in this book: Verin, of the Brown Ajah. The way she just casually tells the Amyrlin and Moiraine that she knows what shenanigans they’re up to and she wants in on it is pretty funny. And… not to be too spoilery, but a revelation that we get about Verin several books from now is actually hinted at here, and I have to brag that I caught it the first time I read the series — although, at the time I thought it was some kind of continuity mistake, so I can’t take too much credit.

There are a few scenes that really captured my imagination. The first is the scene where Rand is introduced to/interrogated by the Amyrlin and only manages not to make a complete fool of himself thanks to Lan, Moiraine’s Warder. Just… something about this battle-hardened, Aes Sedai-beholden man doing what he can to help out Idiot “The Chosen One” Farmboy, despite everything… it’s nice, you know? I also thought Nynaeve’s test to become Accepted was interesting, and Loial’s little flirtation at the stedding was cute.

Finally, I just really enjoyed the addition of all these unique characters to the cast. Verin, of course, and Siuan and Leane, Hurin, etc. I guess I like stories with lots of interweaving plots and varied character perspectives — although, if I remember correctly, this series starts to get a bit overcrowded and the addition of new characters won’t be quite as exciting after the first few books.

Questions:
  • Was there a particular scene (or more than one) that you really enjoyed, maybe even made you laugh?
  • Conversely, were there any scenes that you totally did NOT enjoy, either because something Really Bad happened or because the characters were just being buttheads/idiots?
  • Were you actually surprised by the behavior or revelations of any of the characters? (The first time you read it, if this is a re-read for you.) Or did you see all the little “twists” coming a mile away?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Backlist Love | Let’s talk about S-E-X

February 12, 2017 Backlist Love, Books 4

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach (W. W. Norton & Company, 2008)

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)

Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker (Basic Books, 2006)

Bonk

In Bonk, the best-selling author of Stiff turns her outrageous curiosity and insight on the most alluring scientific subject of all: sex. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Why doesn’t Viagra help women — or, for that matter, pandas? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Mary Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm — two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth — can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to make the bedroom a more satisfying place.

The Birth of the Pill

We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Sperm Wars

Sperm Wars is a revolutionary thesis about sex that turned centuries-old biological assumptions on their head. Evolution has programmed men to conquer and monopolize women while women, without ever knowing they are doing it, seek the best genetic input on offer from potential sexual partners. If you’ve ever looked upon sperm as a little army of white-coated soldiers setting off to sack and pillage a barely pregnable fortress… well, you’d be right, according to Dr. Robin Baker, who has studied sperm and cervical mucus in much greater detail than anyone would’ve thought necessary and has come to some startling conclusions.

Why I liked them

Well, you know, the actual subject of intimate human relationships is and always has been kind of a hot topic — especially with Valentine’s Day coming up. But beyond that, I just really like well-researched narrative nonfiction that can take an embarrassing or taboo subject and present it in an interesting or even humorous way. Bonk is probably the best of the bunch — or at least the funniest. The Birth of the Pill gets a little more into the weeds with all the history of contraception and early 20th century sexual health/culture issues, but is still absolutely fascinating and well worth the read. Sperm Wars is also fascinating, but TBH it kind of goes off the rails at some points. The author got a little too, uh, excited about the fictional scenarios he made up to illustrate certain points, for one thing. And even though his points are based on scientific research, the conclusions presented in this book should be taken with several very large grains of salt (they tend to rely on oversimplification of human psychology/behavior and outdated social norms).

Who I’d recommend them to

I’d recommend Bonk to just about anybody, or at least anybody who has a sense of humor about sex. The Birth of the Pill is great for people who are interested in the history of medicine or the medicalization of the human life cycle, or early feminism and its impact on our current contraceptive options. I’m a little more cautious about recommending Sperm Wars, though. Only read this one if you can stand to wade through unadvertised erotica and can recognize/contend with occasional pseudoscience.

Links

Bonk

The Birth of the Pill

Sperm Wars

backlistlove_redux

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

February 5, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★ ★

The Color Purple by Alice Walker | 1982 | Open Road Media (this ed.) | E-book $14

Celie has grown up poor in rural Georgia, despised by the society around her and abused by her own family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and while Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa, Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a harsh and brutal husband.

In an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear, Celie begins writing letters directly to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women.

Whew… this novel was a bit of a rough ride.

I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t much like it at first. The dialect and disturbing abuse of the narrator made it tough to get through. In the introduction to this edition, Walker says that the story is supposed to be about a woman figuring out what “God” means to her. But for the first half of the novel, I just couldn’t see it. It seemed more like a simple story about the particular cruelties of the world towards black women in the early 20th century.

I’m glad I kept reading, though. The story seemed to coalesce into something with deeper, complicated ideas about beauty and hope and family and bravery and all of those kinds of things — and I was eager to find out what would happen next, plot-wise, and was pleasantly (or sometimes unpleasantly) surprised several times.

The Color Purple is widely considered a modern classic for good reason. It’s not an easy read, it won’t necessarily give you warm fuzzy feelings or romantic thrills, but it’s still just as rewarding as it is demanding.


Links:


Publication information: Walker, Alice. The color purple. New York: Open Road Media, 2011. EPUB file.
Source: Borrowed from public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 1 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

January 30, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 10

Welcome to the Oz! Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Book 1 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Dorothy thinks she’s lost forever when a tornado whirls her and her dog, Toto, into a magical world. To get home, she must find the wonderful wizard in the Emerald City of Oz. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. But the Wicked Witch of the West has her own plans for the new arrival — will Dorothy ever see Kansas again?

My Thoughts:

I vaguely remember reading this as a kid, but unsurprisingly the book story was supplanted by the movie story in my memory and the only thing I really recalled from the book was the whimsical illustrations and Dorothy’s silver shoes. But some scenes came back to me during this little re-read: Boq the Munchkin, the dainty people of China Country (my favorites for some reason), the goofy green glasses worn in Emerald City, and the Wicked Witch having only one eye.

There seemed to be rather a lot more gore and property destruction than I remembered, too, what with all the chopping off of heads and the smashing up of buildings and suchlike. Probably not the kind of story that could get a G rating if Disney tried a true-to-the-book animated film version these days — not that I’m complaining, it just wasn’t expected. I seem to have taken it all in stride when I read it as a child, which seems to be pretty common — grown-ups notice and are sometimes shocked by “bad” things in stories that kiddos wouldn’t blink an eye at.

A lot of the characters (all of them?) are not all that well fleshed-out. And a lot of them are just idiots. Still, it’s a charming little story, and I’m a huge sucker for creative/insane world-building, so that wasn’t too much of a problem for me. There are better children’s fantasy books out there these days, but it’s easy for me to see why this one was so well-loved in its time and gained “classic” status so quickly.

Questions:
  • Have you read this book before? How did your re-read match up with your memory? Or if you haven’t read it before, did the book live up to your expectations?
  • If you’ve seen the 1939 musical film, how do you think the book compares? Do you like one a whole lot better than the other?
  • Did you have a favorite character or culture/land?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

January 29, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

East of Eden by John Steinbeck | Originally published 1952, this ed. 2002 | Penguin| Paperback $16

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

This book was a late addition to my Classics Club list. I’d tried to read Middlemarch and just could NOT get into it, so I asked for help picking a replacement and this is the title that was most commonly recommended. So — thanks, y’all, for convincing me to read this book!

I was a little intimidated by this chunkster, but needn’t have been. It’s true that it dragged a bit in spots and included some rather heavy-handed moralizing on the part of the narrator, but overall it read more like an old but clever relative telling an important family story — a kind of family story for the country as a whole, perhaps.

Plus, the prose was simply lovely. The content was not often lovely, no, mostly quite the opposite actually, but Steinbeck was unquestionably a master of prose. Take this example from Chapter 7 (no spoilers):

Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the full eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy — that’s the time that seems long in memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

Have you read East of Eden, or any other Steinbeck novel? How did you like it?


Links:


Publication information: Steinbeck, John East of Eden. Penguin: New York, 2002. Print.
Source: Personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation
by Randall Fuller

January 22, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 6


★ ★ ★ ★

The Book That Changed America by Randall Fuller | January 2017 | Viking | Hardcover $27

Throughout its history America has been torn in two by debates over ideals and beliefs. Randall Fuller takes us back to one of those turning points, in 1860, with the story of the influence of Charles Darwin s just-published On the Origin of Species on five American intellectuals, including Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, the child welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace, and the abolitionist Franklin Sanborn.

I absolutely jumped at the chance to get a review copy of this title from Edelweiss. Science? Antebellum American history?? A book about a book??? Yes, please.

I read Darwin’s account of his adventures as a young naturalist (Voyage of the Beagle) just a few months ago. Even though I didn’t give it a full 5 stars, it’s one of those books that has stuck with me — you know the kind I mean, like when random bits of news or conversations will suddenly remind you of a scene from the book or an impression it gave you.

In my review of that book, I mentioned that Darwin seemed to accept his colonialist culture’s prejudice against indigenous peoples as a matter of course. An acquaintance of mine pointed out that Darwin was actually an abolitionist, and some of his statements that might sound paternalizing to contemporary readers were in fact pretty radical for his own time.

In an 1862 letter to Asa Gray, a scientist at Harvard who was the first to read On the Origin of Species in the U.S., Darwin wrote (in reference to the Civil War):

But slavery seems to me to grow a more hopeless curse. […] This war of yours, however it may end, is a fearful evil to the whole world; & its evil effect will, I must think, be felt for years.

The Book That Changed America is an examination of the ways in which Darwin’s idea of biological evolution by means of natural selection influenced the scientists, authors, and social reformers who read it — and therefore influenced the trajectory of our country. Non-Americans (and many Americans, too) are often baffled by our country’s long-standing issues with the acceptance of the scientific theory of evolution. I think this book helps to explain why evolution has been so contentious for us — because the idea is all wrapped up in our national troubles with the repercussions of slavery and institutionalized racism as well as the popular (yet flawed) idea of our history as a Protestant Christian nation.

The book is written in a narrative style that makes the profiled individuals feel more like interesting characters than plain old names out of history books, which I mostly enjoyed. Some bits kinda dragged for me, and there were a few little tangents from the main story that I found frustrating. And I would have liked to see viewpoints from folks outside of the particular little intellectual circle that the author focused on — politicians involved in the events leading up to the war, African-Americans, Southerners, and maybe just “everyday people” sorts, you know?

Regardless, I did enjoy the read and would recommend this book to people who are interested in the history of the theory of evolution as well as anyone who’d like to learn a little more about science-based abolitionist perspectives prior to the American Civil War.



Publication information: Fuller, Randall. . New York: Viking, 2017. EPUB.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Quick Classics Club Update

January 20, 2017 Books, Meta 6

This is just a quick little post to let y’all know that I’ve updated my Classics Club page. It now includes my original list, arranged by title with color-coded categories, and two other arrangements: by time period, and by geographic origin.

And because I’m apparently completely bonkers, I’ve already been working on future Classics Club list(s)… with well over 200 titles to play with (and growing), I felt like I needed to be a bit more organized! Hence, the multiple sorting options.

I’m still debating on whether I ought to call for peanut gallery opinions on future CC picks. Or maybe I should publish the list(s) ahead of time to provide opportunity for comment. What do you think?