Posts Categorized: Book Reviews

League of Dragons
by Naomi Novik

June 29, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

Novik_LoDragons

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik | March June 2016 | Del Rey | hardback $28

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory… but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

I’m so glad I started reading the Temeraire series just when I did. (Previous post here.) I think I might have gone crazy having to wait too long for the last book. Turns out, I only had to wait a week — and since I preordered it, League of Dragons showed up at my door on release day! When I got the delivery notification I was too distracted to get much work done for the rest of the day.

This review does not include any spoilers, but it does assume some knowledge of the previous books in the series and, like, basic world history.

This was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the series. The adventures of the dragon Temeraire and his human William Laurence have all been leading up to this point — the climax of an AU Napoleonic War that has turned out to be more global than even WWI. By this point, the pair have traveled to 5 continents and encountered dragons and humans from a huge range of other races/breeds/cultures. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge sucker for world building, and seeing how Novik imagined all these different human-dragon relationships was by far my favorite thing about this series. If she ever wants to write one of those encyclopedia-like companion books with more info about dragons across cultures, I would be all over that in a heartbeat.

Alas, all stories and wars must come to an end, even for Napoleon. I was surprised but delighted by the way that Napoleon was finally “disposed of” (and the behind-the-curtain architect of this suddenly became one of my favorite characters)… although, you have to wonder if he will end up having his Waterloo in this AU, too. I think it likely. Which brings me to one of the things that I liked about this book — most of the foundational threads are tied up and it does “feel” like an ending, but there are still enough questions about the future to keep a reader’s imagination going for some time. I can’t say I was 100% satisfied with everything that happened, but that’s life. The only thing I can’t imagine is that Temeraire and Laurence will manage to stay out of trouble for very long!

However, I do think that the book wasn’t long enough and the chapters jumped around more than I would have liked. I can appreciate the fade-to-black scene change method, but when every chapter end/begins that way it can be a bit much. Honestly, I would rather have had an extra hundred pages if it would have allowed for smoother transitions. I would have actually liked to read the scenes that were skipped over! (Can’t say much without spoiling, but seriously, LIEN.) And I found it slightly confusing at a couple of points. Oh, well.

The 5-star rating is for the series as a whole. Some books were better than others. Some characters were interesting, some were pointless, some were irritating, and a few even grew on me as the series went on. The plot was perfectly paced for the most part, though there were some too-slow and too-quick spots. But overall, I gobbled up these books like a humpback whale gobbles up krill, and even after finishing the series I’m still enjoying daydreaming about the world that Novik built. So yeah, solid 5 stars from me!


Links:


Publication information: Novik, Naomi. League of Dragons. New York: Del Rey Books, 2016. Print.
Source: Purchased for home library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

June 19, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 3

Subtitled: Your Fav is Problematic, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book

Gone With the Wind was originally published 80 years ago this month, so it seemed like a good time to tackle it for my Classics Club reading challenge.

Hold on to your hoop skirts, because this book review is going to be a bit different from my usual short’n’sloppy fare.

Mitchell_GWTW

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell | 1936 | Scribner| Hardcover $30

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell’s epic love story is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and its people forever changed. At the heart of all this chaos is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

Where to start with this one?

If I was friends with Gone with the Wind on Facebook, our relationship status would be “It’s Complicated” …


It’s well-loved for a reason.

It’s beautifully written, with a near-perfect balance between character development, interesting plot, and atmospheric scenery. The pace never lags and no detail feels extraneous. I felt immersed Scarlett’s world, in the last days of the Confederacy and its Reconstruction. It was such a unique, strange place & time, simultaneously lavish and brutal, elegant and savage — it’s no wonder that so many people are fascinated by Southern plantation culture and the details of life before/during the Civil War as well as the war itself.

GWTW_5

Scarlett herself, though not precisely likeable, is well-developed and interesting. This book might even be a master class in making a basically narcissistic, mean-spirited and shallow character into someone that the reader can actually sympathize with + care about… even if she never freakin’ learns, the daft woman.

Many of her “co-stars” are well-developed and interesting, too — perhaps more interesting, but of course the story is all from Scarlett’s point of view and will therefore always be focused mainly on herself. Melanie and Scarlett together make quite the formidable pair of Southern Belles, and their friendship (such as it is, given Scarlett’s narcissism) is one of my favorite non-romantic relationships in literature.

BUT. The book is not without problems. I don’t know if it can stand on literary merit alone, and those problems deserve some discussion.


Popular things can be (and often are) problematic.

I’ve seen or heard this book called the literary equivalent of the Confederate flag, and even though I don’t want that to be true because it would mean that something I enjoyed/respected is downright bad, I can easily see why it may be viewed this way. Even though several of my own ancestors fought for the Confederacy and I try to respect the history of the South for what it is (painful as it is), I cannot condone modern use of the stars & bars flag because of its continued association with racist ideals.

GWTW_1

The glorification of the Antebellum South is extremely problematic, erasing as it does the suffering of literally millions of enslaved people in favor of rosy nostalgia for a kind of American nobility that lived on mint juleps and among magnolia trees. (And I can’t lie; that very atmosphere is one of the most appealing parts of the pre-war section of this book.) Should Gone With the Wind be treated the same way as the Confederate flag — as a relic of an embarrassing past, to be remembered but not revered?

Or, as a piece of work that has not only outlived but thrived well beyond its expected lifespan, should we be more forgiving of its quirks? After all, the story at its base is a kind of nihilistic coming-of-age tale, and it does not shy away from nastiness nor encourage many warm fuzzy feelings. If it doesn’t manage to address all the cruelties of slavery and war, well, that might simply be a function of its concentration on the life of one particularly self-centered character who, as complicated and problematic person herself, did not recognize all those cruelties.


Historical books deserve a little leeway.

By ‘historical books’, I mean both historically important AND fiction set in historical time periods. Gone With the Wind is included in both categories, having stood the test of time in the literary canon, and with the story being set approximately 70 years prior to the publication of the book itself.

GWTW_3

After all, adults who read this novel when it was first published in the late 1930’s had grandparents who lived through the Civil War & Reconstruction. In fact, we are farther removed now from the publication of Gone With the Wind than readers in 1936 were removed from the War Between the States. The equivalent for the modern reader might be a book set during WWII, from the perspective of a German or Japanese person. Such a book would no doubt be disturbing to read in some ways, but it might also offer interesting insight into the lives of people who experienced a devastating war and the total destruction of their culture.

Furthermore, the book itself is of historical importance. It won a Pulitzer in 1937 and inspired a hugely successful film that won 10 Academy Awards. To reject it outright as a relic of the past is to ignore the huge impact the book had on the culture of its own time period.


Historical leeway doesn’t make the bad parts any less cringe-worthy.

Subtitled: SO MUCH N-WORD HAPPENING WHY

Let’s go back to that example of a WWII historical fiction for the modern reader as a comparison to Gone With the Wind for its original audience. If the book was set in Germany, one might expect that it would include pejorative terms for Jewish people, or Polish or French or British people. Or perhaps it would have all the Jewish characters speaking some form of pidgin Yiddish. Those kinds of things are upsetting, especially in this historical context, and many readers might be upset at their inclusion, historical accuracy be damned. It is a fiction book, after all,and the author is choosing to use derogatory language about a severely abused group of people. But: is the author actually racist, or is she just aping the language/attitude of that place at that time?

GWTW_4

Is Mitchell’s somewhat upsetting, certainly patronizing treatment of her black characters a reflection of her own views, or an attempt at historical accuracy? Or, perhaps, both? Perhaps historical context necessitates some forgiveness on the part of the present-day reader. And yet, when that historical context includes racist language, or more complicated issues like the encouragement of the devoted and coddled near-family slave trope in the form of Mammy and other slave characters, how far should that forgiveness extend?


But sometimes you just have to accept (and even love?) a thing for what it is, warts and all.

Complications and ambiguity are just part of life and human history, and are necessarily going to be part of a story about a very imperfect person’s life during any historical time period. Yes, even in fiction — in fact, I think complications and ambiguity can be a sign of good fiction.

In the end, I’ve decided to go with my gut and just accept that I enjoyed reading Gone With the Wind. It’s simply an engaging story and, because the story centers on a purposefully problematic main character, I’m inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the problems of derogatory terms + condescending treatment of slaves.

I also have to accept that being able to enjoy this book may be in itself a function of white privilege. Did my own ancestors’ privilege as descendants of Europeans instead of Africans in the slavery-dependent South before the Civil War echo down the years to confer upon me the privilege of being able to enjoy this book in the present, a century and a half after slavery was abolished in our country? Probably, which is why I think it is important to address my misgivings about the book here, & to absolutely avoid the temptation of Old South glorification.

This is the third time I’ve read Gone With the Wind. I was a child the first time I read it, which was soon after seeing the movie version. It was one of the first “grown-up” novels I ever read, and I loved it with the kind of uncomplicated love that only a child who has never directly or even indirectly experienced racism or the destruction of one’s home/entire culture can feel. I thought it was a lovely story about a plucky girl in fantastic dresses who didn’t care what anyone thought of her — because I was a little budding feminist, & I somehow managed to admire Scarlett because I imagined her story was all about fighting The Man. (Plus, I had a little crush on Rhett.) When I read it again several years later, as an undergrad whose eyes had been freshly opened to the actual history of the Civil War and racism in America in general, I was disgusted. Why was this book so popular; couldn’t people see how horrible it was, how horrible Scarlett herself was? I had not yet learned how to enjoy reading about “unlikable” characters, or how to handle the guilt of my own ancestors’ misdeeds. (Although I still had the tiniest bit of a crush on Rhett.)

I’m glad I chose to read it a third time. I can see now why I admired Scarlett as a kid: she was outspoken, flirtatious, strong-willed, and generally fancy — all of the things I wasn’t. And even though I’m still disturbed by certain aspects of the book, I guess I’ve learned to accept those flaws as parts of the overall-worthwhile whole. (And I’m still rather charmed by that scamp Rhett, to be honest.)

GWTW_2

Gone With the Wind is, I think, a good book/movie to have in a COLLECTION of other books and media about/set during the Civil War. It’s a good work in an of itself, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it should stand on its own as a singular perspective on life in the Old South. Here are a few other options for starters:

  • Mercy Street (2016 TV series, PBS)
  • Roots (1977 TV series, ABC; based on novel of the same name by Alex Haley)
  • Jezebel (1938 film, Warner Bros.)
  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
  • Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone ed. by John Q. Anderson
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Haven’t read yet; on my next Classics Club list)
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (Haven’t read yet; on my next Classics Club list)

And check out these links for some other perspectives:

Got your own opinions? Gone With the Wind does invite a lot of criticism as well as praise, and I’d love to hear what you think. Talk to me!


Publication information: Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. New York: Scribner, 1964. Print.
Source: Personal library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Chocolate Wars
by Deborah Cadbury

June 18, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Cadbury_ChocolateWars

★ ★ ★

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury | January 2010 | PublicAffairs | Paperback $16.99

In the early nineteenth century the major English chocolate firms — Fry, Rowntree, and Cadbury — were all Quaker family enterprises that aimed to do well by doing good. The English chocolatiers introduced the world’s first chocolate bar and ever fancier chocolate temptations — while also writing groundbreaking papers on poverty, publishing authoritative studies of the Bible, and campaigning against human rights abuses. Chocolate was always a global business, and in the global competitors, especially the Swiss and the Americans, the English capitalists met their match. The ensuing chocolate wars would culminate in a multi-billion-dollar showdown pitting Quaker tradition against the cutthroat tactics of a corporate behemoth.

I asked for this book for Christmas because one of my favorite nonfiction foodie books is The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner, and I thought it might be interesting to read about the history of the chocolate business from the perspective of the Brits. The Emperors of Chocolate is still my preferred title in this chocolatey genre, but I’d say that if you’re really interested in the history of the world’s favorite food you ought to try to get your hands on BOTH of these books.

And yes, the author is from THAT Cadbury family. Curiosity about her own family history is what prompted her to begin investigating/writing this book, actually. But I think she does a fair job of representing the stories of other English (& European, & American) chocolate-making families/firms. The history of chocolate as a foodstuff in general is fascinating, and made even more so when you get to “know” the people who made it into a global gazillion-dollar business.

The last third or so of the book wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first parts. I enjoyed reading about the Quaker families who took chocolate from a luxury (and sometimes highly adulterated) drink to the kind of household confection we’re familiar with today. But the latter part of the story is all about the modern corporate food world, and it turns a bit dry and even a bit more depressing. The subject is no longer chocolate and plucky industrialists; it’s globalization and out-of-control-capitalism. I found myself wishing that the book had ended just a few chapters earlier.

Still, it’s a pretty good foodie history story. I enjoyed Cadbury’s writing enough that I’ll be on the lookout for her other history nonfiction titles — she’s written some quite interesting-looking books!


Links:


Publication information: Cadbury, Deborah. Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers. New York: Public Affairs, 2010. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Season
by Jonah Lisa and Stephen Dyer

June 10, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 1

Dyer_TheSeason

★ ★ ★ ★

The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer | July 2016 | Viking Children’s| Hardcover $17.99

She can score a goal, do sixty box jumps in a row, bench press a hundred and fifty pounds… but can she learn to curtsey?

Megan McKnight is a soccer star with Olympic dreams, but she’s not a girly girl. So when her Southern belle mother secretly enters in the 2016 Dallas debutante season, she’s furious — and has no idea what she’s in for. When Megan’s attitude gets her on probation with the mother hen of the debs, she’s got a month to prove she can ballroom dance, display impeccable manners, and curtsey like a proper Texas lady or she’ll get the boot and disgrace her family.

I received a copy from the publisher via Edelweiss for review.

This is a fun, modern take on Jane Austen’s timeless classic Pride and Prejudice. Highly recommended for fans of the popular YouTube series The Lizzie Bennett Diaries or Clueless, or just for anyone who likes contemporary YA fiction about spunky gals getting into trouble in improbable ways. And it would probably make a good beach/poolside choice, if you’re looking for a bit of cute summer reading.

This, for me, was a something of a palate cleanser between some brain-demanding nonfiction and a heavy duty fiction classic, so I worry that my view might be biased. I wanted something fun and quick and familiar, and this book delivered. But then, how impossible is it for a book review to not be biased in some way? So I’ll simply tell you that I enjoyed this book and let you decide for yourself whether or not you trust my opinion.

The Season is not a book that’s aiming to teach the reader big life lessons, nor is it one-of-a-kind as either a P&P re-telling or a contemporary YA romance (unless the reader is actually entirely ignorant of the story upon which it’s based, in which case I don’t think this book should serve as a replacement for the original). If you take Austen super seriously and couldn’t bare to see her beautiful prose defiled, give this one a miss. But if you think “Pride and Prejudice, but with disgustingly rich Texas cattle/oil barons and 21st century college kid mores” sounds like a good time to you, well, put this title on your to-read list!


Links:


Publication information: Dyer, Jonah Lisa and Stephen Dyer. The Season. New York: Viking Children’s, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


His Majesty’s Dragon
by Naomi Novik

June 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

Novik_Temeraire

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik | March 2006 | Del Rey | Paperback $7.99

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When his ship captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Again with the dragon books, I know. I CAN’T HELP IT, I’M GOING THROUGH A PHASE OR SOMETHING.

Anyway, I picked this book up at just the right time, because the 9th and final book in the series is coming out in just a few days. I’ve been madly reading the rest of the series over the past couple of weeks, and it’s been gloooorious.

TBH, I’d heard about this book a couple of years ago but the blurb didn’t sound all that interesting to me (What do I care about early 19th century warfare? Nothing, that’s what) so I skipped it. But then Kritika posted a really positive review of it over at Snowflakes & Spider Silk, and I just had to try it. The mass market paperback box set of the first 3 books was going for pretty cheap, so that’s what I started with. And right now I’m working my way through book six, so obviously it turned out to be worth the “investment” haha.

The main human character, Captain Laurence, starts out as, let’s be honest, a bit of a dick. He’s a stiff, rather snobby upperclass Englishman who is suddenly thrown into a very different life when a baby dragon, Temeraire, adopts him and forces him to leave the Navy in favor of the dragon-based equivalent of the Air Force. To complicate matters, his young be-winged beastie is a tad bit mutinous and begins to grow into some kind of early 1800’s version of a teenaged social justice warrior. They’re quite a pair!

I wavered between 4 and 5 stars for this one. The book by itself feels incomplete, more like a set-up for the storylines that follow than the kind of series starter than can stand all on its own. But I’m giving it 5 stars because it was ultimately so enjoyable that I immediately wanted to go on reading the rest of the Temeraire books, which have not (so far) disappointed me.


Links:


Publication information: Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon. New York: Del Rey Books, 2006. Print.
Source: Purchased.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan

June 3, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Brennan_NatHistofDragons

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan | February 2013 | Tor | Paperback $15.99

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

File this one under ‘W’ for: Why Did It Take Me So Long To Get Around to Reading This?

I’ve been on a bit of a dragon book kick lately, rereading Seraphina and a handful of Pern books and tackling the Temeraire series for the first time (instead of working on any of my reading challenges or finishing up some ARCs like a good little book blogger should). I’m quite glad I picked this one up, too.

It has 4 of my Achilles heels (yes, I have more heels than I have feet) when it comes to fantasy stories: dragons (obviously); a plucky, smart, no-nonsense heroine; a kind of alternate-history setting; and a healthy dose of science! The story is told in the style of a memoir, and Lady Trent is an excellently-built character and convincing narrator. To be clear, this is not so much a book about dragons as it is about the early years of a young naturalist’s career. This was all the more interesting to me because the young naturalist in question is a woman in a world very much like Victorian England (albeit one with fantastical creatures), where she’s expected to develop ladylike hobbies and leave the science to the boys. Dragons do play a big part in this, but the book really focuses on Lady Trent’s first adventure into a strange land in pursuit of knowledge, and the mysterious/violent — yet very human — happenings there.

I also have to put in a good word about the illustrations by Todd Lockwood. Elegant and detailed, these “sketches” really add an extra oomph to the book that pushed it firmly into 5-star territory for me.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book or 2 in the series ASAP!


Links:


Publication information: Brennan, Marie. A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. New York: Tor Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Locally Laid
by Lucie B. Amundsen

May 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

Amundsen_LocallyLaid

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — From Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen | March 2016 | Avery | Hardcover $26

When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he’d tell her over dinner — that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg.

With a heavy dose of humor, these newbie farmers learn to negotiate the highly stressed no-man’s-land known as Middle Agriculture. Amundsen sees firsthand how these midsized farms, situated between small-scale operations and mammoth factory farms, are vital to rebuilding America’s local food system.

With an unexpected passion for this dubious enterprise, Amundsen shares a messy, wry, and entirely educational story of the unforeseen payoffs (and frequent pitfalls) of one couple’s ag adventure — and many, many hours spent wrangling chickens.

I was fortunate enough to win this little gem of a book from a giveaway put on by Amanda and Holly of Gun in Act One.

First, let me clarify that I know very little about farming and even less about chickens in particular. What little I do know has been gleaned from various books and TV shows (of the educational variety, to be sure) rather than practical experience. So my admiration for the “middle agriculture” efforts of the Amundsen family is based entirely on the engaging way that their farming life is described in this book. I’m sure people who actually do agricultural stuff for a living could be more eloquent about the Locally Laid venture than I am.

Lucie writes in that kind of casual, “Here’s me and all my flaws, haha, and oh by the way let me drop this ton of knowledge/wisdom on you,” style that I so enjoy in contemporary nonfiction. I wouldn’t shelve this book in the humor section, but there are plenty of LOL moments — alongside some anxiety-inducing moments, of course. I can’t imagine the crushing levels of stress, physical labor, and debt that these people had to (have to?) deal with.

I think the local food movement is actually pretty great — not without its logistical problems, of course, but generally a smart idea — and I need to do a better job as a consumer of supporting smaller, hyper-local organizations. (“Hyper-local” as opposed to the general “Made in Texas” stuff that I make a point of picking up at the grocery store when the opportunity arises.) Now that I have weekends off on the reg again, it’s probably time to pick a nearby farmers market or two to try out.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the local food movement or just the state of modern agriculture in general. I also think it would be a good pick for folks who enjoy sort of blog-like memoirs.


Links:


Publication information: Amundsen, Lucie B. Locally Laid. New York: Avery, 2016. Print.
Source: Giveaway from publisher Avery and blog Gun in Act One.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Summer Days & Summer Nights
edited by Stephanie Perkins

April 30, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Perkins_SummerDaysSummerNights
★ ★ ★ ★
Summer Days and Summer Nights ed. by Stephanie Perkins | May 2016 | St. Martin’s Griffin, and imprint of Macmillan | Hardcover $19.99

Maybe it’s the long, lazy days, or maybe it’s the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

First, let’s all just acknowledge that we suddenly have ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease stuck in our heads now, OK? OK.

Next, I also have to acknowledge that I am not normally one for romance – in books, at least. If I hadn’t read Perkins’ last multi-author “romance” short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me (Christmas 2014), I don’t think I’d have given this one a second glance. As it is, I was a bit surprised that none of the authors beyond Perkins were repeats from that previous winter-themed collection, and I was a little unsure about the whole thing. I needn’t have been.

If you’re wondering who all contributed to this book besides Stephanie Perkins, here ya go: Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, and Jennifer E. Smith.

I don’t think there’s a bad story in this collection, though some of the stories are more satisfying/interesting than the others. Some of them have elements of fantasy/sci-fi, some of them are more realistic. Some of them are cute, some just kinda weird.

I think my favorites were ‘Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale’ by Bardugo (about a mostly-sensible teen and her budding friendship/romance with a mysterious summer visitor) and ‘In Ninety Minutes, Turn North’ by Perkins (actually a continuation of her story from My True Love Gave to Me).

I think I’d recommend this to someone who wants a little light beach reading, or perhaps something to distract you on a plane while you’re thinking about how a 970,000 lb hunk of metal with seats in shouldn’t really be able to fly without pixie dust.

Please note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss.


Links:


Publication information: Perkins, Stephanie, Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith. Summer Days and Summer Nights. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Middlewhat? Moving on from a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Book

April 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Eliot_Middlemarch

Middlemarch by George Eliot | Originally published 1871-2, this ed. 2003 | Barnes & Noble Classics | Paperback $9.99

George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’.

Well, if this is a novel for ‘grown-up people’ I don’t even want to grow up.

Middlemarch by George Eliot is on my Classics Club list. (That’s a list of 50 classic books I intend to read within 5 years.) I gave it a good shot, but the time has come for me to give up and move on with life.

It’s just so damn boring.

The problem is twofold. First, I struggle with Victorian “social” literature generally. I try to appreciate it for what it is, but this genre is just not my forte. The thing is, I knew going into the novel that this is a particular failing of mine, and in an effort to get more out of the book I chose to read slowly, take notes, and divide up my reviews by book (Middlemarch is actually made up of 8 volumes).

This might have worked, if it hadn’t been for my second problem: I am easily bored by stories that reflect my own boring life back at me. Or rather, the boring parts of my life — I have to say, my life overall has not been entirely devoid of adventure, tragedy, and excitement. My breaking point came when I was trying to read through the section in Book II on the hospital board voting for the chaplaincy during my lunch break after a particularly long, drawn-out meeting with my fellow librarians. It was as though all the mind-numbing yet necessary political minutiae I’d just waded through for the past 2 hours was being replayed on the page, and it made me want to rip the damn book in half.

I soldiered on through the rest of this part of the story and even partway through Book III, but the novel had lost all charm for me. The lovely prose and little flashes of Eliot’s humor and insight were lost in a storm of constant thoughts like: “I don’t CARE about these people and their petty bullshit.”

I should clarify that I don’t think that Middlemarch is objectively a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book. It’s just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book for me.

If you just love Middlemarch, can you forgive me? If you want to share what you enjoyed about it in the comments, please feel free. And if you, like me, just couldn’t get into it, I’d feel much better about my failure if you’d share that with me, too.

In atonement for my abandonment, I’ve decide to add a different title to my Classics Club list as a replacement for Middlemarch. I’ve picked out 5 possibilities below. Vote for whichever seems most intriguing to you in the comments.

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1920)
  • The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

In the Shadow of Man
by Jane Goodall

March 26, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Goodall_IntheShadowofMan

★★★★★

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall | This edition April 2010, originally published January 1971 | Mariner Books | Paperback $15.95

World-renowned primatologist, conservationist, and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall’s account of her life among the wild chimpanzees of Gombe is one of the most enthralling stories of animal behavior ever written. Her adventure began when the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey suggested that a long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild might shed light on the behavior of our closest living relatives. As she came to know the chimps as individuals, she began to understand their complicated social hierarchy and observed many extraordinary behaviors, which have forever changed our understanding of the profound connection between humans and chimpanzees.

In the Shadow of Man is a classic in the realm of science non-fiction for good reason. Jane Goodall and her fellow researchers spent years — well, decades actually — studying the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream area near Kigoma, Tanzania. She not only observed an astounding range of wild chimp behaviors, but she brought the plight of these chimps (whose forest home and own bodies were/are endangered by humans) into the spotlight for the rest of the world.

This book was originally published in the early 1970’s, well before the author observed some of the more violent chimp behaviors like “war” and infant cannibalism. However, it was revolutionary at the time because it sort of humanized chimps and debunked some misconceptions about the nature of their primitive tool use or their typical diets.

(One thing to keep in mind if you decide to read this as well — it’s fairly apparent in a few instances that this was written in the 1970’s, when the general attitude of Westerners towards the native peoples of Africa was still slightly colonialist, or at least more openly superior than is generally accepted nowadays.)

Goodall and her team gradually came to know the apes as individuals, with particular personality traits as well as physical features. She was particularly fond of a few of them, which made it all that much more difficult to deal with leaving them to go back to Europe, or watching them suffer or die. The section on the polio epidemic was particularly brutal, as by that point in the book I was also beginning to feel as though I “knew” the chimps and care about their fates. However, even that section was incredibly interesting, because I had no idea that a disease like polio could cross the species boundary. It makes sense now that I think about it, though, because after all we are so closely related genetically to these particular apes.

Jane Goodall has written several follow-up books about the chimps, as well as several other books on topics like spirituality and environmentalism. I read her book Reason for Hope, about how her spiritual beliefs have developed with her experiences and scientific studies, last year. She has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you’re have a thoughtful but laid-back conversation with a good friend. You know that feeling you got when you watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a little kid, as though this intelligent but kind man was speaking to you personally about something that really mattered? It’s a bit like that, but for grown-ups and involving chimpanzees.

I’m so glad I chose to read this because I feel like I learned quite a bit + it made me hungry for more information about chimpanzees and east African wildlife in particular. I’ll have to see if I can pick up any of Goodall’s follow-up books at the library sometime soon.


Links:

This book also counts for my Classics Club challenge and Women in Science History Challenges.


Publication information: Goodall, Jane. In the Shadow of Man. New York: Mariner Books. Print.
Source: Barnes & Noble
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.