Posts Tagged: 5 stars

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

April 18, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 1

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly | September 2016 | William Morrow | Paperback $15.99

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, this is the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program — and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Whew, where to start with this one?

Also: What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

In that spirit, I’ll just say a little about why I read Hidden Figures, and why I think you ought to, too.

This book was gifted to me this past Christmas, but I didn’t end up reading it until just last month — and I “read” most of it via audiobook on my drives to/from work, at that. (Shout out to the public library for the freebie!)

I’m so, so glad that I chose to read this work for the Women in Science History event. I never did get around to my second selection for it, but it doesn’t matter too much because this one was so incredibly good.

It’s so hard to imagine what these women had to overcome to do the incredible work that they rarely even get credit for. To be a woman AND African-American in the sciences in early-mid 2oth century was no picnic in the park, that’s for dang sure.

I haven’t seen the associated movie, but whether you have or haven’t I’d say this book is worth reading in and of itself. Shetterly covers a lot of historical/cultural context that I don’t think could even be translated onto film very well. That’s not to say that this is a particularly “academic” text — it’s got a quite engaging narrative style — but I don’t think the movie could really serve as a replacement for it on the whole.

Have you read this book? And/or do you have any recommendations for me on similar topics?


Links:


Publication information: Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. New York: William Morrow, 2016. Print.
Source: Public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

 

This book was read for the 2017 Women in Science History event, hosted at Doing Dewey.


Wildlife of the Concho Valley
by Terry Maxwell

December 16, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wildlife of the Concho Valley by Terry C. Maxwell | January 2013 | Texas A&M University Press | Hardcover $30

The Concho Valley, named from the abundant mussel shells found in its principal river by seventeenth-century Spanish explorers, occupies a transitional position between the Chihuahuan Desert to the west and the Balcones Canyonlands to the east. As veteran field biologist and educator Terry C. Maxwell notes, the region has experienced wide-ranging changes in the makeup of its vertebrate populations, especially in the decades since farming and ranching began here in earnest, in the mid- to late 1800s.

This is a rather niche subject and I would otherwise not review such an interest-specific book here, but I started reading this one for Nonfiction November and I just want credit for that, dangit.

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the author of this book. To be specific, he was one of my professors in college (one of the better ones for sure)… and my mother taught at that same school when I was growing up, so actually we’ve been acquainted since I was a little kid. This book wasn’t a freebie, though — we bought it, proudly and enthusiastically, and it was well worth the money.

Dr. Maxwell’s classes were certainly interesting. He was a good lecturer and an even better field trip guide, and his depth of knowledge combined with his talent for teaching shines through in this book. What’s more, several of the chalkboards in the biology department were decorated with his detailed, lifelike drawings of native animals — and, again, his talent for this particular art is evident in this book as well.

I hesitate to recommend Wildlife of the Concho Valley to just anyone… it is, after all, focused on a very local and subject-specific topic. But I do think that if you have any interest at all in the animal life of Central/West Texas, you’ll find it engaging, informative, and generally a pleasure to read.


Links:


Publication information: Maxwell, Terry Wildlife of the Concho Valley. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Print.
Source: Owned.
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 Once and Future King
by T. H. White

December 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Once and Future King by T.H. White | 1958 | Ace | Paperback $9.99

Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

I imagine that most of y’all have heard of this book — or at least of its first part, which is often read as a stand-alone children’s book, The Sword in the Stone (yes, like the Disney movie) — or AT LEAST the legends of King Arthur and Camelot. Right? Because if not, you’re missing out on a HUGE piece of Western folklore / literary canon and you should get off the internet and go to a library to amend this situation right freakin’ now.

Although it looks at first glance like a typical kind of “classic” novel, I’d say it’s closer to something like The Lord of the Rings meets Discworld meets A Game of Thrones meets Narnia. (In fact, even though I originally had it classified as red-font “20th century literature/poetry” on my Classics Club list, I’ve switched it to green for SF/F.) I was actually convinced that T.H. White had been a part of the “Inklings” group because the writing/themes seem so in-tune with their work, but apparently he wasn’t (although he did correspond with C.S. Lewis to a limited extent).

The first section — the aforementioned The Sword in the Stone — is certainly the most lighthearted of the stories, leaning more heavily on kid-friendly British folk tales and general silliness than the latter sections. It’s a kind of bait and switch, though, because the stories grow rather more morbid and grown-up after Arthur pulls his sword from that stone. The second section begins with a bored sorceress torturing a cat in gruesome detail, which should give you some clue as to how things go on for the rest of the book. The author might as well have titled part 2 “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

The writing style remains consistent throughout the book, despite the abrupt shift in tone/content. The narrator fairly frequently “butts in” for little explanatory asides or gently snide remarks, which I think annoys some readers but I personally find it charming (at least in this case). The characters are mostly fully developed (or at least sketched with decent detail), with the obvious exceptions of the villainesses, who seemed to be hardly more than seductress-witch caricatures. There are certainly more interesting portrayals of Arthur’s sisters out there, though, so I’ll just leave this little quibble to whither away in the face of the book’s more significant virtues.

This was actually a re-read for me, though it’d been probably about a decade since I read it originally. It’s certainly a favorite of mine now!


Links:


Publication information: White, T.H. The once and future king. New York: Ace, 1958. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

September 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

rhys_widesargassosea

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys | 1966 | W. W. Norton | Paperback $14.95

With Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

What can I really say about this book that hasn’t already been said, and by people far more eloquent than myself?

Whatever, it’s MY OWN DANG BLOG, DANGIT.

Anyway, this might not have been the absolute best time to read this book? I mean, Jean Rhys Reading Week, so that’s one point in its favor. But I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and… well, this (IMHO) was a fantastic novel. So on the one hand, I was actually motivated to read and was super happy to have spent my time on it! But on the other hand, how can anything else compare to this???

OK, maybe I’m just being overly dramatic.

TBQH, I might not have picked up this book if it weren’t for the word “Sargasso” in the title. Now, I know that might seem weird, but hear me out: I live on the Gulf Coast. Every year, we (or some other spot in/on the Gulf of Mexico) will get an influx of this Sargassum shit. I realize that might seem like a crazy reason to put a book on your TBR list — it happens to mention a type of seaweed in the title! oh joy! — but is it honestly any worse than “the cover is pretty” or “it’s a classic so people SHOULD read it”… ?

In any case, I am so, so glad that I put this on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so grateful to the folks who hosted Jean Rhys Reading Week this year. Maybe this was just what I needed to read at this point in my life? It kinda felt like it….

So: You? Have you read this novel — & what did you think of it? Did you participate in Jean Rhys Reading Week, too?


Links:


Publication information: Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Book
by Keith Houston

September 5, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

Houston_Book

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston | August 2016 | W.W. Norton & Co. | Hardcover $29.95

We may love books, but do we know what lies behind them? In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages—of civilizations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000-year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today.

I haven’t been reading a whole lot lately, but at least when I actually DID read, it happened to be a fantastic book-about-books!

I got an ARC of this in e-book format via Edelweiss (and I’m a bad reviewer for not even finishing reading/reviewing until after the publish date, but whatever) and the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking, “I NEED this book IN MY HANDS.” Now, don’t get me wrong, the e-book is perfectly nice, but we’re talking about a book that covers everything from papermaking to binding to mass printing… so if you’re at all a fan of the physical object we know as the book, you’ll probably enjoy reading this in its classic format. The printing of this book in particular is quite lovely — and it includes many full color illustrations/photos, which is a huge plus in my book. (Ha.)

I’m convinced that this would make the PERFECT gift for any bookish person on the planet. I know it’s on my wishlist, and I can think of at least one person who’ll probably be getting a copy from me as well.


Links:


Publication information: Houston, Keith. he Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wine Folly
by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

September 4, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Puckette_WineFolly

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack | 2015 | Avery | Paperback $25

Red or white? Cabernet or merlot? Light or bold? What to pair with food? Drinking great wine isn’t hard, but finding great wine does require a deeper understanding of the fundamentals.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine will help you make sense of it all in a unique infographic wine book. Designed by the creators of WineFolly.com, which has won Wine Blogger of the Year from the International Wine & Spirits Competition, this book combines sleek, modern information design with data visualization and gives readers pragmatic answers to all their wine questions….

I like wine, but getting “into” it was a little bit intimidating. All the new vocab, funky tasting methods, and just the general snootiness of oenophile culture can be kind of a hurdle to get over, you know?

A while back, I dug around in the internet for wine websites and blogs. There are plenty of them out there, but Wine Folly is different from most. It seems more welcoming to newbies, more casual/fun/relatable. I was super happy to see that the creators of the Wine Folly website had published a book by the same name.

highly recommend this blog + book to anyone who’s interested in learning more about wine yet might be hesitating because of how intimidating the whole wine scene can seem. The book starts with the basics — how to store wine, carefully taste it, and pair it with food. Then come the wine style profiles, followed by info about regions where the grapes are grown and how geographic origins can affect quality. This is all accompanied by simple but attractive infographics that make it all so much easier to understand.

The real reason I’m reviewing this book — besides the fact that I really do think y’all out to check it out — is because I’ve just started the Wine Folly tasting challenge. This involves tasting 34 wines from the 12 main wine-producing regions, with at least 1 or 2 selections from each of the 9 main wine styles (aromatic white, full-bodied red, and so forth). I originally intended to get this done by the end of this year, but (1) I’m trying really hard to watch my calories right now and (2) I’ve got a lot going on between now and then, what with the holidays and some big work projects and stuff, so I can’t realistically commit to tasting X number of wines per week. If I taste just 1 or 2 wines per weekend, I should be done with this challenge by the end of next April at the latest.

So, how about you — do you enjoy wine? Have you done much exploring with it, or with any other type of beverage you like (tea, craft beer, or whatever)?


Links:


Publication information: Puckette, M. and J. Hammack. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. New York: Avery, 2015. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


League of Dragons
by Naomi Novik

June 29, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 3

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.


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.