Posts Categorized: Book Reviews

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.


The Romanovs
by Simon Sebag Montefiore

March 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Montefiore_TheRomanovs

★★★★

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore | May 2016 | Knopf | Hardcover $35

In this fascinating chronicle, Simon Sebag Montefiore focuses his gifts as historian and storyteller on the greatest and most complex of the emperors and empresses of the Romanov dynasty (1613-1917), on how their courts worked, and on the meeting of personality and power in each reign. Scouring archives that opened up only after the fall of the USSR, the author reveals the real world of the most storied and myth-shrouded rulers — Catherine the Great, Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra — and introduces readers to the lesser-known but even more scandalous Elizaveta (daughter of Peter the Great) and Alexander II (whose wild sexual passions were bestowed upon a teenage mistress). The author illuminates the eighteenth-century Age of the Imperial Petticoat; makes clear the full extent of the remarkable political-amorous partnership between Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin; and uncovers a deep vein of decadence and stupidity underneath the accepted, romantic portrait usually presented of Nicholas II, the last of the Tsars. As with all of his previous and widely acclaimed works of history, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives an absolute scholarly and archival foundation to a book that is both exceptionally informative and dazzlingly entertaining from first to last.

The Romanovs is due to be published in the US in May 2016 (it’s already out in the UK). This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher, Knopf, via Edelweiss.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Despite its impressive length — nearly 800 pages! — this is still a rather whirlwind tour of Russian history. After all, the Romanovs ruled the country for over 3 centuries, and any one of the tsar or tsarina’s lives would make for an interesting book alone.

The book is divided into “Acts” (sections/parts/whatever) and “Scenes” (chapters). Each chapter begins with a cast of characters and concludes with a handful of notes regarding various events and people that might help clarify some points for the reader. This was particularly helpful for me, because I was reading this book in little half-hour chunks during my lunch breaks over the past month or so.

Being only passingly familiar with a few events in Russian history (most of them fairly recent, in the grand scheme of things), I admit that I got a bit lost at some points. It doesn’t help that royalty likes to recycle names, or that Russian names can begin to look like little more than a bunch of letters randomly strung together if you aren’t comfortable with the language. Montefiore did try to alleviate the confusion a bit by referring to each major player with a consistent name or nickname, though.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I did enjoy the occasional little references to what all was going on in the rest of the world while Tsar So-n-So was forcing religious reform or Tsarina Such-n-Such was beheading all her enemies. I’m much more familiar with the history of a couple of other European countries, so this was particularly helpful for my own comprehension.

One thing I was surprised by (though I shouldn’t have been, really) was the impressive amount of violence perpetrated both by the Romanovs and against them. Public torture, dismemberment, and death by impalement were common occurrences during the reign of Alexis I (and later reigns as well), while his contemporary Louis XIV in France resorted somewhat less enthusiastically to execution by the slightly more civilized guillotine. The murder of the last of the Romanovs, Nicholas and Alexandra and their children, was frenzied and bloody.

On a similarly disconcerting topic, serfdom was the fate of the vast majority of people in feudal Russia up until the mid-19th century, while feudalism in Western Europe had been mostly done away with after the dark ages, or by the end of the 1700’s at the very latest. Blood and oppression made up the foundation of the Romanovs’ autocratic dynasty — as well as the foundation of Russia’s current autocratic state.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The book is obviously well-researched and — be still, my heart! — includes plenty of notes and citations. Montefiore writes in such a way that it is obvious that he’s trying to make his subject accessible to non-scholars, too, but I still had to look up a lot of terms and events on Wikipedia just to catch up and figure out what the heck was going on.

Overall, I’d say that this is a good summary of the long rule of the Romanov family over Russia, though it might not be the very first title a person should pick up if they’re just getting started on Russian history. Anyway, I’m quite glad I got a chance to read it.


Links:


Publication information: Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York: Knopf, 2016. EPUB.
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

March 6, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Cline_ReadyPlayerOne

★★★★

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline | November 2011 | Broadway Books | Paperback $16

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win — and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

I didn’t actually intend to review this particular book here on the blog — about 1/3 to 1/2 of the books I read will just get a few stars and maybe a quick paragraph or two on Goodreads, especially backlist stuff that I’m not reading for a particular challenge/event.

But I’ve been in a little bit of a reading slump lately. Not that I’m not reading, because I am, but I’ve been taking it pretty slow, plus I just don’t have much to say about what I’m reading. So maybe it’s more like a reviewing slump. So when I felt like blathering on just a little bit about Ready Player One, I figured I’d better seize that feeling and run with it!

– – –

My husband received this book a few months ago in his Loot Crate, a monthly subscription box that delivers themed “loot” for geeks — he’s gotten all kinds of things, from a Fallout Vault Boy bobblehead to a World of Warcraft hearthstone stress ball thing. Now our dog gets a monthly box (Loot Pets), too, and they get matching t-shirts. It’s adorable.

Anyhow, mi esposo really enjoyed Ready Player One, and even though our taste in books doesn’t always match up he was pretty sure that I’d like it, too.

Plus, get this: Spielberg is working on a movie based on this book, due out in 2018!

– – –

But… I almost DNF’d this book before I even got through the first couple chapters. It starts off like just another YA dystopia, all doom and gloom and “energy crisis” this and “giant evil tech corporations” that. Which, y’know, I get it. The human species is slowly suiciding and taking this little planet with it, yes, OK, but after a while the dystopia fatigue starts to set in. And the beginning of Ready Player One seemed to me like just another teenager bemoaning the predictably broken state of the world… which I was frankly just not in the mood to pay attention to.

Anyway, I’m glad I continued on with it. Once the plot picks up, the pacing and tension and character development help keep it moving and make the book pretty hard to put down. There are a lot (A LOT) of fun references to 1980’s pop culture — not just video/arcade games, like you’d expect with a title like Ready Player One, but also tabletop games, movies and TV, music (lots and lots and lots of music), and technology.

– – –

My only real complaint is the unnecessary amount of exposition, especially at the beginning of the story. And listen, I’m normally one of those readers who loves exposition. I can’t resist a carefully built, detailed world, and I don’t do well with stories are so plot-centric that they have barely a sketch of a setting/history. So, you know the exposition must be pretty excessive if even Louise is getting tired of it. The first quarter or so of the book is like 90% infodumping!

I’m also not sure how to categorize this book for my review index. I think it is being marketed mainly as an adult SFF because the whole focus on 1980’s pop culture probably appeals mainly to grown-ups who lived through that time period. But the age of the characters, some of the experiences they go through, and the kind of “stick it to The Man” mentality are all very YA-ish. Anyway, Ready Player One did get an Alex Award for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults” from the American Library Association’s YALSA group, so I guess it really does have some serious crossover appeal.


Links:

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Publication information: Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. New York: Broadway Books, 2011. Print.
Source: Loot Crate
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