I read in a book (well, duh) about a guy who wrote a review after reading a book and I thought that was a neat idea. Plus I don't have the best memory when it comes to titles. I'll remember the characters, the plot and the author but titles always seem to escape me.
All the reviews are hand written but maybe one day I will put them all online. To be honest, I do ramble quite a bit in my reviews and there is little attention paid to grammar and spelling. And legible handwriting.
Here is the list of books I have read since Jun 2006.
Best of Links2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011
400th | 500th | 600th | 700th | 800th | 900th | 1000th | 1101th | 1206th |
10 Years of Reviews | Notes on 12 years of Reviews
13 March 2020
The main theme of most of this year's list is the burden of adult responsibility thrust onto the very young characters. Some are saddled with these responsibilities because of poverty, war, or by their own bad choices.
I read a number of very good books but it wasn't until the fall that I found the winner.
Woman 99 by Greer McAllister
It looks so calm from afar.
Books that take place in a 19th century Asylum are usually horrific but by the end of this book the main character emerges as a cunning and capable young woman You Do Not Want To Mess With.
In the good old days you could whisk away your troublesome female relative to one of these rest facilities and go back to your important duties of groping the servants and gambling with the comforting knowledge that the wilful girl is getting the best care possible.
Asylum novels always assemble an interesting cast of characters; Nellie Bly meets Orange is the New Black and this book is no exception. A group of women who would never meet in society form a weird but loving family. Some are sick, some are merely poor, some are troubled and rich but they are all treated as disposable. And then Charlotte shows up.
Charlotte is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco family. She is madly in love with her boyfriend Henry but there are money troubles and her family is pressuring her to marry Henry's unlikable brother George. Charlotte is pressured to marry George because her bi-polar sister was suppose to marry George. Nobody knows what is wrong with Phoebe and certainly nobody knows how to treat the illness. Phoebe is sent to an asylum and Charlotte blames herself for Phoebe's incarceration. If only she could have managed Phoebe and her mania better. Guilt is not only a 21st century feeling.
Charlotte concocts a scheme to pretend to visit an aunt in Newport for six weeks but plots to have herself admitted to the asylum and somehow spring Phoebe. Armed only with the knowledge gained from Nellie Bly's book Ten Days in a Madhouse, this plan is bound to fail.
The reason I absolutely loved this book is that Charlotte flourishes in the asylum. She is a quick study and learns mental and physical toughness. She figures out who to manipulate, who to flatter and how to lie without guilt. Proper Girl Charlotte knows all about love and duty but learns deceit and diplomacy and uses these skills to further her own agenda but not harm or humiliate the other inmates. She also isn't afraid to throw a little blackmail into her mixed bag of newly acquired skills.
Here are the rest in no particular order.
All Other Nights by Dara Horn
Jacob Rappaport is young, 19, and the son of a well established businessman in NYC. His father has hatched a plan to marry Jake off to a business associate's simple minded daughter. Jacob flees the city and joins the Union army and fight in the civil war rather than marry this girl. Jacob is a good soldier, actually likes the army and after a year, he is brought before some high ranking officers and told they need him for a spy mission. The reason Jacob is picked for this mission is because he is Jewish and the target of the mission is a high ranking Confederate Jewish politician and an outsider could never infiltrate. Oh, and the target is Jake's own uncle. Being a people pleaser, Jacob agrees to the mission even though he likes this uncle.
The mission is a success and the superiors send Jake off to Richmond to uncover a spy network that involves the Levy family. The Levys and the Rappaports were in business together before the war but fallen out of touch. Jake is to woo the oldest daughter Jeanne and marry her. The Levy daughters are all eccentric geniuses and Jake finds himself In Over His Head!
A main theme of this book is hypocrisy. Jacob's southern relatives mention freedom and slavery of Jews right in front of their own slaves. The Union Army asks Jacob to engage in very dangerous espionage but then at the same time persecutes Jewish soldiers. And with this anti-semitism, is Jake selected for the mission because he's expendable. It takes a very long time, and a chronic, crippling wound for Jake to realize he's been conned by the army. The army got short term results but Jake got a lifetime reminder of his service.
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Emmeline has a comfortable life but wants to do more for the war effort. She gets a job as a typist for a terrible advice column Dear Mrs. Bird. Mrs. Bird is the villain of the book because every book needs a villain. Mrs Bird is stuck in Edwardian England and there is no way she will ever leave that comfort zone. The rule of the column is no unpleasantness . So, in the middle of the Blitz, people are enduring some tough times and Mrs. Bird’s advice to pretty much everyone is to yell at them and call them stupid or useless and tell them to suck it up. Suffice to say, the magazine isn’t doing very well.
Emmie is drawn to the letters, many of them are gut wrenching, because she has her own personal life challenges to deal with. Her fiancé dumped her for a nurse, her best friend Bunty is engaged, and Bunty's fiancé Bill is a fire fighter who takes a far too many unnecessary risks at work and they quarrel.
Emmie can’t stand to reject the letters so at first, she answers some letters and mails back her responses.
This is a book about life in London during the war but the little wars of emotions that occurred as the war went on. People had to deal with the war and then the ramifications of the war and Emmie’s little story shows how a group of friends deal with the everyday tragedies of the time, mixing despair with humor.
The Ladies Guide to Piracy and Petticoats by MacKenzi Lee
I found out that the author shares a name (but not spelling) with a porn star. Not sure if this is good or bad for sales.
We all have that annoying internal monologue in our head and Felicity Montague is no different. She's from a good family but it's 1750s England and there is no way in hell she can become a doctor. She's estranged from her family and has set off to London to help her fuck up brother Monty. During this trip, she learns she can arrange a meeting with her hero Dr. Alexander Platt. She desperately wants to become his research assistant she embarks on a completely ridiculous journey that brings her back in touch her her childhood BFF Joanna Hoffman. The two had a falling out years ago but this trip re-establishes their friendship.
Felicity has a habit of categorizing people based on their actions. She ends up being schooled by Joanna who points out that you can like silly frivolous things and still be smart and curious and life is not all black and white. You can be friends with people who do not share your passions. This takes a very tospy turvy adventure for Felicity to learn.
The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller
Two of her books have ended up on my Best of List.
Elodie Buchanan is the no nonsense 17 year old daughter of a 19th century orchid hunter. She is the oldest of 10 daughters and she and her sister Violet (all the girls are named after flowers) must run the household. There are money troubles and Elodie must track down her father in London and get him to go back to China for more orchids. He's suffering from some sort of mental breakdown and to keep the family from becoming destitute, Elodie travels to China with him.
I could relate to Elodie because she's forced to grow up quickly because the adults in her life act like children. She's opinionated, stubborn, impulsive and short tempered because of the burdens forced upon her.
I knew the orchid business was very competitive during this period but didn't know about the violence associated with the trade. Elodie recognizes her stubbornness and hardheadedness but still remains tough under trying circumstances. A flawed but likeable heroine.
An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney
The parrot is a long dead parrot, now stuffed in a cage. Sort of.
The novel begins with Tully Truegood awaiting the gallows at Newgate prison in 1763.
Tully Truegood is poor and her father marries her off to a seaman to pay a debt. It's only a marriage on paper but this will cause trouble later on. Things aren't great due to dad's debts but at 16 she is sort of saved by an unlikely source. Her father remarries and her step mother Queenie is kind and brings along her two daughters who treat Tully like a sister.
But it doesn't last, and Tully finds herself alone and with no money. It's 1763 and that means prostitution. But it turns out her step mother is a successful madame and her "sisters" were a couple of her girls. Tully is pretty and it is a high class brothel, so she goes to work. As a virgin, she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, and she falls bad for her client. But he's poor and has to marry a countess. A familiar story.
Tully has the power to see the dead but also bring them to life for the world to see. So the parrot is not always dead. This lands her in trouble for witchcraft and there are many twists and turns in her journey.
This book could come across as porn or erotica, but I didn't think that. More like shop talk. The main theme is love. Tully loves her clients (for the most part). She loves Queenie and her by-default-sisters. I found the characters likeable and there was humour with the euphemisms for body parts and acts.
The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
I have often defended bodice ripper books over the years because most of them are meticulously researched and usually smart, funny and sexy.
Alexandra Mountbatten is a clock setter and because of a series of accidents and misunderstandings she finds herself the governess for the wards of Chase Reynaud. He is going to be the future Duke once the old duke dies off and he needs to focus on the estate and not a couple of feral girls. Rosamond is obessesd with death and Daisy piracy.
The strength of this book is the witty banter. Alex and Chase bicker because they like each other.
I don't care if you're gently bred, roughly bred, or a loaf of brown bread with butter. You're educated, you understand propriety, and you're breathing.
The girls are not happy with Chase's latest conquest.
Daisy: She's rather beautiful.
Rosamond: Take care Daisy, or else Millicent might contract the pox.
Alexandra: You shouldn't speak of such things. You shouldn't even know of such things.
Rosamond: I've chased away every governess and been sent down from three schools, but that doesn't mean I haven't had an education.
Chase is worried about being the guy who seduces the governess and she must remind him that while she is gently bred she spent many years living on board her father's ships so she's not as gently bred as one would think. The unexpected F bombs resulted in much laughter.
This book has a lot of silly situations but also a serious story of how young children handle death. This book could have been silly banter until the clothes came off but there was much more to it. Chase is ill equipped to explain death and mourning to two young girls who feel abandoned by their parents. His only solution is to provide food, shelter and schooling. Alexandra must explain that what the girls need stability and a home rather than just a house. And love.
So 2019 was a mix of silly, sombre and a few instances of the supernatural. Be sure to check out the list linked at the top of this page.
Death of Montcalm.
Note the palm trees!
Review #1206 A, 22 June 2019 Death or Victory – Dan Snow
Books 1200-1205 were just okay.
I took way too long to read this book which is a shame because it was really engrossing. I also took way too long to post this as review # 1206 but that’s life when you have a busy job and a long commute by bike. The hours disappear.
This book seems daunting as the chapters are very long, but each chapter addresses a specific element of the battle.
I really liked this book because Snow gives the reader information about each of the generals, the strength of their armies and then the physical demands of soldiering in a completely foreign country where there is little information about the terrain, the waterways and the civilian population. The British had to deal with French troops as well as hostile natives and Canadian guerrillas who fought without mercy and the British were completely unprepared for this type of warfare. The British struggled with these tactics and eventually had to adopt them as more and more as soldiers were killed or wounded in ambushes. In the end they only won because of dumb luck and greater numbers.
I do not recall ever learning about this battle in school which is odd but perhaps it was because I was educated in French. It really was interesting how Britain really wanted to keep France out of North America and what could have been a dull account of two powers coming to head is brought to life with Snow’s attention to detail and how each chapter addresses a different logistical aspect for both Wolfe and Montcalm as they prepare for the battle. All of the chapters lead up to the big battle on the Plains of Abraham. Apparently that title was over exaggerated; it was more like a cow pasture owned by a guy named Abraham.
I still find it unfathomable that Wolfe was commissioned into the army at age 9 and Montcalm at 13 but then again, the concept of childhood didn’t really exist in that era.
I highly recommend this book as it is interesting and not just for history nerds like myself.
Best of 2018
New job and new schedule means fewer books read this year.
This how I feel after a long wait for the bus.
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Like The Glass Palace, this novel is an epic read. It took me a while to get into the audiobook because it was bit confusing for the first 30 minutes but then I started over and was able to sort out all the characters. The story took me on a voyage of many characters, from different countries and social classes. They all end up on a ship called the Ibis.
It's 1838 India and what made this book so entertaining as an audiobook is the multicultural cast of characters. We have British, French, American, Chinese and Indians of many religions and castes. The language of the Ibis is a combination of English, pidgin English, Bengali and a shipboard slang that everyone knows. The dialogue is hilarious especially when the pompous British ship owner tries to be cool and speak the shipboard slang.
The reason this book was so entertaining was the complex set of back stories of the characters. Usually too much back story is tedious, but the inter connected stories help develop the character's personalities and eventually drive the story. The author's amazing imagination shines with the rambling but interesting back stories. So the novel is a short(ish) story within a bigger story. The reader gets lured into the story and truly cares about the fate of the characters. This audiobook is very long so you learn everything about the characters and they turn into, well, friends.
India was, and always will be, chaotic, but in 1838, it must have been insane. 19th century India is under British rule but also Indians are at war (at least ideology wise) with each other based on caste and religion. The American first mate Zachary is accepted by the British because he is well spoken yet he is firm and fair with the ship's crew and well liked by the mostly Indian crew. But he has a secret that can destroy his standing in the community and force him back to the U.S. All this intertwines together with a cliffhanger ending.
House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure
I freakin' loved this book.
John Cross is a well off architect with a useless son George. George is a mathematian, educated at Harvard but his arrogance over numbers makes him think he can gamble and win. Of course it's 1886 and there isn't really a honest gambling hall in America so he loses, a lot. To the tune of $48,000 which probably is like $480,000 today, if not higher.
Cross is well off but his clients are the uber rich and he will never be in their class. He's well liked but not exactly a friend but sort of the hired help (even if the help is an architect). This theme falls into play throughout the book.
Cross learns of the debt from James Kent. A son of a wealthy family, trained as a doctor, also at Harvard, he went into a life of crime. The ruthless head of a gang of theives, he tells Cross the truth. George owes him a lot of money and Cross can work off the debt by getting him blueprints, building plans and inside knowledge of places he's built.
Kent is sort of likeable as he's charming and well spoken, but underneath there is a ruthlessness. When Cross talks to his lawyer about the problem, the next day he gets a mysterious ice delivery and inside the block of ice is his lawyer's head. Cross has no choice.
It turns out that Cross is good at this. And Kent strings him along, telling him the debt is not paid.
As this is going on, George continues to gamble and Cross' beautiful daughter Julia finds herself out mixing with the riff raff and falling for a charming and very handsome Irish pickpocket. She loves the streets, so much more interesting than being a debutante and corsets. Julia has street smarts, they just need to be nurtured.
Cross' youngest son Charlie is 12 and allowed to roam the neighborhood because his parents never think he would leave it. He takes a train and ends up in the Bowery completely out of his element and lacking any street smarts. He is befriended by Eddie an orphaned newsie who takes pity of the rich kid. I think Eddie's kindness at the beginning was to gain food and help him steal but Charlie was naive and innocent so Eddie did not have to worry about Charlie trying to get something from him so Eddie befriends Charlie. The two run wild and unsupervised. Charlie takes a while to learn about the street but then he is just as feral as Eddie.
Cross' wife Helen is bored and unhappy. The marriage has stalled and she's frustrated by Julia's lack of interest in being a debutante. John works all the time and George is never home.
The Cross' planning the next heist.
Cross can never seem to do enough jobs to satisfy Kent. Kent knows a golden goose when he sees one and George keeps on gambling. Eventually as his excuses and odd late night behavior and close calls catch up with him, he has to confide in Helen. She IMMEDIATELY recommends the next house to rob. In fact, she gets way too into the thievery thing. She loves to plan parties and charity events so this is a natural transition. The spark in the Cross' marriage is back!
I liked this story because it's a fish out of water story for all the characters (except George who is just a dick) and I love a good fish out of water story. The storyline of how they are all going to get out of this mess is also very intriguing. So much fun.
The only thing that was disappointing is that everything wraps up. I want to know how the grandkids turn out.
The Way to London by Alix Rickloff
Terrific read. Lucy is rich, beautiful, ignored by her mother, and hit on my her creepy step father. But mostly, she is bored by her idle life in Singapore. The Japanese take care of that for her. Lucy is lucky, she gets our, even though her ship is torpedoed but she survives. As does Micheal the annoying Scot soldier also on his way back to England. Yeah they will meet up.
Michael is a decent working class guy and Lucy is spoiled and priveledged. But while they fight, Lucy deep down is a good person. Most of the book has the two trying to get to London along with Jack, an east London evacuee.
The three bond and comfort each other, forging their own very weird family as the fate of their actual families is in question.
I hope the author writes another book from the perspective of Lucy’s mother. Maybe she isn’t dead and survived the fall of Singapore.
A Mad Wicked Folly Sharon Biggs Waller
It's 1908 and Vicky Darling, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant is in Paris at art school. Vicky is dead serious about her art and has great talent. When the model is a no show, she decides it's her turn to model and strips down. Yes, this gets out and Vicky finds herself expelled and back in London in the care of her very pissed parents.
All Vicky wants to do is go to art college. This book is all about the hoops she has to jump through to try and apply to the Royal Academy of Art. Her family pressure her into a marriage of convenience but she also finds herself among the suffragettes and arrested. She quarrels with the police constable Will Fletcher and yes, of course they fall for each other. In the end she marries for love and hatches a plan for art school. The joy of this book is how the author shows the frustration of Edwardian England, especially for women, in a comical way. I really related to Vicky because lately I've had to jump through hoops all day long just to do my job and after a while life gets a little surreal. I wonder if there will be a sequel as WWI is looming as the book wraps up.
With Every Drop of Blood by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Excellent tween fiction to get kids talking about race, using the Civil War as the setting. The title, a little disconcerting for juvenile fiction but the title is from a speech by Lincoln and how the union has to be defended with every drop of blood. Oh be careful what you wish for Abe.
It's the spring of 1865 and Johnny is a 14 year old from an isolated hamlet in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. His father has been in the army since the beginning of the war, saying he's fighting for state's rights. The family is too poor to own slaves and when home recovering from a war wound, Johnny's father dies from an infection. His dying declaration to his son is to not get involved in the war. Johnny is good at working with mules so he agrees to fast money by contracting to haul goods to Richmond. Of course this goes wrong and he and his goods are captured by union troops. Black union soldiers!
Cush is a black union soldier and is the war winding down (nobody knows it's winding down) and he's Johnny's guard.
As the two boys, both 14, being to talk, they explore each other's cultural and racial stereotypes. There are brief skirmishes and both are nearly killed and Cush is taken prisoner by confederate troops. Johnny is irritated because he and Cush have become friends by mistake and he goes off and rescues Cush. Cush is fortunate to be caught near Appomattox courthouse the site of the Conferate surrender. Hurrah the war is over. Kids will like the story because there is adventure and two enemies working things out by talking, something kids have learned all their lives instead of duking it out like kids used it to do.
The preface of this book talks about racial slurs and swearing during the war. Part of me thought this disclaimer was more for Nervous Nellie parents than kid who are way smarter than we give them credit. I think the writers of regular fiction should take notice, this story did not drag. Not a lot of overly flowery language but lots of insight.
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
I was surprised how much I enjoyed a book about the Spanish Influenza.
The story takes place from summer 1917 to January 1926 and depicts the Bright family's experience with the US entering WWI and the flu epidemic. The family has a unique perspective because they own a funeral home in Philadelphia which was one of the hardest hit cities in the US.
The funeral business is fairly new to Americans. Most families still held services in their homes, but when the flu strikes, the city and the Bright's are overwhelmed by the dead.
The story is told from the perspective of each of the Bright daughters and their mother Pauline. The entire family is mourning the death of baby brother Henry. Henry's death signifies a change for the family. They move from rural Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to work at Pauline's uncle Fred's funeral home. Fred never married and had a family of his own, but he welcomes the family and Pauline's husband Thomas who will become his assistant. Pauline mourns baby Henry. Willa is the youngest and not sure what is going on when the flu strikes. She doesn't have a firm grasp concept of death. Evie is bookish and smart and loves Philly. Maggie, is in love with the neighbor's son Jamie despite a 7 year age gap.
Before the flu strikes, neighbor Jamie, joins the army and goes off to France, young and naive like so many doughboys. Evie and Maggie are curious about the embalming room and eventually they are allowed to see some of the processes.
When the flu strikes, it ravages the neighborhood. Willa gets sick but survives, only to have her mother die. Thomas is drafted but avoids the war because he has to come home to say goodbye to his wife and help Uncle Fred with the hoardes of bodies, literally left on their back stoop.
Pauline and Maggie go to the south side of town to help the sick immigrant population and Maggie discovers a dead mother, a dying sister and a little baby. She lies about the family, telling her mother the sister and mother were dead and they need to take the baby. The baby, becomes Baby Alex and he along with Evie, Willa and Maggie survive the war. Jamie survives the war and comes home with PTSD and immediately leaves, much to Maggie's chagrin. Uncle Fred, who turned out to be a good guy, selfishly cares for his friends and neighbors but dies himself, not letting anyone know he was sick.
After the war and epidemic, the story jumps to 1925. Baby Alex is 7 and part of the family. The girls are now older and the story is about the effects of the flu and how is shaped their lives. Evie is in medical school. Maggie is seeing a nice man named Palmer but still carries a torch for Jamie who has cut off communication with his friends and family. Willa has discovered she has a great singing voice and some how finds herself sneaking out and singing at a speakeasy. I have to say I did not see that coming as the author also writes romance novels for the Amish community.
Maggie is still a little tormented about how she never really tried to find baby Alex's biological family. She has a steady boyfriend who proposes, a perfectly nice guy but not Jamie.
Evie has immersed herself in medicine. She wants to be a psychiatrist and is working an insane asylum. During the course of her work, she suffers a massive heartbreak related to Alex and his real family. She finds love at the insane asylum with the husband of a declining patient but he rejects her. Willa finds that she loves being a nightclub singer. Maggie likes working with her dad, preparing the bodies. The character's personality is shaped by the flu. All of them see that life is short (especially when you work in a funeral home) and you have to take a few risks. The author gets away with this sort of corny cliche, because she subtle with the theme. The characters slowly see how their lives were shaped by the flu and how they are timid right after the pandemic in taking emotional risks but work through their emotions and decide to take risks.
Everything works out but no without a lot of angst and in this case, the angst is not too formulated.
The Book Rewiew Project Turns 12!!!!
I was on vacation for the 12th anniversary of the Book Review Project. Unfortunately I started the vacation by getting a cold so I didn't get around to this until now. Here is a breakdown of why it took so long to write about the project:
To continue the theme of lazy, here is the lamest review I have ever written.
B The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh
I listened to this book, I think in early April, and I've been horribly distracted by life and forgot to write the review. I forgot most of the details of the book but upon reading the description I remembered a bit.
I recall that I liked the book but not much else. It was a mystery. A prostitute died and medical student Sarah was sad as the victim was a patient. I think the frustration of being one of the first women enrolled in the Edinburgh medical school was interesting as well as the fish out of water part when Sarah volunteers at a medical clinic for the poor. The rest of the story is hazy. I think this might turn into a series and perhaps I will remember more. I suppose I could listen to the book again.
Review #1001 - A+ 19 Jan 2018 Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Book # 1100 wasn't that great and since this is my book review project, I can do whatever the hell I want.
These young Dutch resisters should be
out having fun but instead they are busy fucking with the Germans.
Another great wartime read. Monica Hesse is a Washington Post reporter and her writing reflects the direct compact prose you might expect from a journalist. Hesse still describes the people and landmarks of Amsterdam but without deviating from the plot.
Hanneke is a 19 year old girl in 1943 Amsterdam. Technically she is a secretary for a local undertaker but her real job is acting as the middle man in his black market business. She help makes deals and picks up and deliver goods to a select group of clients.
Hanneke isn't interested in resistance or getting even with the Germans, she just wants to get through the war. Deep down her black market dealings are an unrisky way of getting back at the Germans in a life under occupation. She isn't really putting herself in too much danger. She still mourns the loss of Bas, the love of her life. He enlisted when the Germans invaded and was killed early in the war.
One of Hanneke's clients is a wealthy woman named Mrs. Janssen. She wants Hanneke to find a missing girl. Mirjam is the daughter of a Jewish friend of the Janssens and Mrs. Janssen was hiding her in a closet behind a cabinet, but has vanished without a trace. Hanneke reluctantly agrees to find the girl, I don't think for altruist reasons but to prove to herself that she is clever enough to find Mirjam. Mirjam was last seen in a blue coat and that is pretty much all Hanneke has to go on.
Much of this book is about how people had to adapt to life under occupation. The endless rules, shortages, the fact that you always had to choose your words carefully or you'll reveal something suspicious even if you aren't doing anything illegal or suspicious.
Being in such a state of uncertainty means you have to anticipate everything, your occupier's mood, the neighbour's snooping, your friends loyalty. The constant act of sizing people up must have been exhausting. I felt it in the story which I am sure is what the author wanted to convey to the reader. Who do you trust? Can you be trusted?
To find Mirjam, Hanneke ends up working with Ollie, Bas' brother who is in the Dutch resistance. They are reluctant to use up resources to search for one person when those resources could be used to save many. All difficult tasks but amplified during war time. Harsh lessons for characters barely out of their teens.
The story wraps up nicely but it's only 1943. I want a sequel.
Best of 2017
It is just a co-incidence that most of this year's books take place during war.
The common theme of all the war books is the difficulty in maintaining relationships between family and friends during periods of intense stress.
Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris
I read this book just as the #MeToo sexual assault/harassment scandals hit and the timing is interesting because this book is about women in the path of war and how the constant threat of rape is a tool used by soldiers to evoke fear in the civilian population.
There are few male characters in this book except occupying union soldiers who are not portrayed as liberators but as terrorists which probably was somewhat true. The soldiers use rape as a way to control the civilian population but also as a means of shame and revenge because they know that southern women would rather die than shame their family with the humiliation of being put in a situation where they were raped or give birth to a child conceived as a result of an attack. This was the first war where cities were occupied, over run, shelled to ruin with little thought to the safety of the civilian population. In this story, the civilian population is just as much a military target as the troops in the battle.
Anne-Marie (called Amrie by her friends) is the narrator, a girl at the beginning of the book but 15 by the end of the story.
This book is about women alone at home in occupied Louisiana and having to manage farms and finances and an occupying force as well as the daily battles and skirmishes as the war encircles them. Social norms remain but as living conditions worsen, the strict hierarchy of southern society loosens but does not completely disintegrate.
The author does not sugar coat the carnage of battle and the horrendous wounds caused by the technology of modern warfare but at the same time she does an excellent job at depicting Amrie's hostility and hatred of the union soldiers. Amrie's mother Katherine, is able to filter out the nastiness of the war and calm her angry daughter. Amrie is in the middle of a destructive war but is also a teenager who can be impulsive and resentful under normal conditions, but Katherine in her no nonsense Massachusetts way reigns her in with her calm demeanour.
The title comes from a popular song of the time and as I got further into the book I could not fathom when the good time was coming. Each month gets tougher to survive and the death toll rises. Amrie's extended family (mother, grandmother, aunt and servants, the family does not own slaves) keep everyone's frazzled nerves together and the characters never lose hope that they will survive and the good time will come.
The rest in no particular order....
Sisters of Shiloh Kathy Hepinstall
I thought this would be a lighthearted story of two sisters who disguise themselves as boys to fight for the Confederacy. This book proved to be more about the complicated relationship between sisters. The relationship between sisters is complicated enough but more so when you are disguised as boys and fighting on the losing side of a war.
Libby wants to avenge her husband Arlen's death and is tormented by dreams where Arlen chastizes her for not fighting hard enough. Josephine does not want to participate in this charade but feels compelled to do so to keep her sister safe. As the war and escalates and the casualities mount, Libby loses her grip on reality and Josephine finds herself still fighting as Joseph only to keep her sister from going completely mad but she risks sacrificing her own sanity and life to save her sister.
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Chilbury is a small village in England with as usual an assortment of quirky villagers. The title comes from the situation where there are no men left in the village and a new music director Prue encourages an all female choir. Crazy in conservative 1940s England.
The choir and the war force people of different classes and agendas together. It's a WWII cliche but it works because this book is written as each character's journal entry (Brits were encouraged to write journals during the war). The reader gets drawn into the silliness of village life and then life changes on a dime and being so close to an airfield, the village is bombed and residents die. Everyone's social status is the same as far as the bombs are concerned. The main theme is love and how love makes you crazy and/or do crazy things.
The Spy Lover by Kiana Davenport
I can't go too much into detail of the plot of will end up in spoiler territory.
This civil war novel was sort of two books in one. A war story and a love story. The author's prose is lyrical which was odd considering the war story parts were filled with such graphic violence there were times I had to take a break because the war violence wasn't just violent, but up close and personal violent. Neither side of the conflict did not anticipate this level of carnage with America's first modern war. Then there are the parts where the characters sneak away from the war for some happiness. The author does a terrific job of balances the two into one coherent story.
The Diplomat’s Daughter by Karin Tanabe
This is an interesting WWII story about civilians who were put into difficult living situations by their country's government. Emmie is the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, Christian the son of a German-American business man accused of nazi sympathies and Leo an Austrian Jew. Each are forced out of their comfortable affluent lives.
Mail service is cut off for many of the characters so they have no contact with their friends and family and constantly worry about their safety and health. This is a classic fish out of water story. The characters must swallow their pride, size up friends, manipulate their occupiers in order to survive. A great study of human nature during wartime.
Nobody Comes Back: A Novel of the Battle of the Bulge by Donn Pearce
What was it like to be a replacement during the Battle of the Bulge? Tobias Parker is too young to serve, only 16, but he's very poor and has a crappy home life so he finds a way to get into the army.
The author does a terrific job at depicting the chaos of the Bulge. Parker finds himself attached to other units and forms brief friendships with his fellow soldiers but they die and then he meets new guys and they die. With no real unit, no objective or leadership, Parker goes from battle to battle, is captured twice, then finds himself in command of a rag tag unit of other misplaced replacements.
The pace of this book is what makes it so good. The story moves at the speed of the battle. The reader feels just like Parker who is tossed into the mess and he never really gets a break. He must battle fear, the weather, the lack of supplies and fact that he has no combat experience and has been dumped into the middle of a major German offensive. The reader feels the exhaustion and despair as Parker stumbles from one battle to another, each getting worse.
A Light in the Storm by Karen Hesse
I enjoyed this novel because the author did not dumb down the prose because this is a YA book.
Amelia is a teenager in 1860s Deleware. Her father is the assistant lighthouse keeper on Fenwick Island. Amelia loves helping out but there is tension. Her mother's chronic arthritis makes her angry and resentful of her life on the cold island. Her mother is a southerner and her father a northerner, and like everyone, lines are drawn over slavery and the brewing war.
The book is written as Amelia's diary chronicalling her life during the war. The elephant in the room is not the war, but the disintegration of the Martin's marriage. I think teens will relate to a character whose parents are divorcing. The lack of a mother figure is a common theme in Hesse's books so I wonder if her own mother was missing from her life?
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schultz
This book is the diary of a lonely, abused 14 year old Joan Skaggs in 1911 rural Pennsylvania. Her mother is dead and Joan is worked to exhaustion, forced to leave school and living in terrible poverty. She is a slave to her brothers and violent controlling father. Joan's only friend is her teacher Miss Chandler and the three books she owns. Joan puts up with this misery for years but when she discovers money her mother sewed into a childhood doll, she leaves the farm. She re-invents herself as Janet Lovelace and moves to Baltimore and finds herself working as a maid for the Rosenbach family.
The appeal of this book is that Janet is living the life as an adult but still very much a child. She must balance her life of responsibilities but also battle the moodiness and change of adolescence. She meses up a lot but teens will find solace that 14 year old girls are also emotional messes in 1911 just as much as they are in 2017.
The main theme of this book is religious intolerance. The Rosenbach's are wealthy business owners, but Jewish, so always under suspicion and insulated from other wealthy business owners. Janet returns to her Catholic mother's faith and must figure out her religious training but also must debunk stereotypes about Judaism. The Rosenbach's took her in and treated her well but her role within the household, just like with religion, is filled with grey areas. Oh please let there be a sequel!
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson
Based on the title you would think that the premise of this book is to just not care about anything. That idea could not be further from the truth. I think we can all agree that not caring about anything puts you in the psychopath department. Most of the advice in this book is about life sucking. Life is going to suck, there will be pain. A lot of pain. And disappointment. And a Disappointment Panda. You need to work through the pain and not try so hard to be great at everything because nobody is great at everything because we are all flawed. Once you figure out the pain, you can be better at picking your battles fucks and lessen the pain. There is a lot of advise and insight packed into this fairly short book, so much so that I will read it again and perhaps more times as I work through my own pain and sucking-ness.
Bonus! No stupid exercises or workbooks. I hate those!
11 June 2017
A+ The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson
I haven't posted a review in a while and June is the anniversary month of the Book Review Project so why not! I haven't read much non fiction but liked the title of the book and Jairo was nice enough to give me a copy.
This book started out as a rather potty mouth blog post by Mark Manson. If there are no sensitive ears nearby, I recommend you listen to the blog post because Manson curses 146 times in a ten minute post. The post was so successful, he turned it into a book. You would think he just wrote a bunch of shit with the word fuck popped in every paragraph or so, but there is much more to this book.
Based on the title you would think that the premise of this book is to just not care about anything. That idea could not be further from the truth. I think we can all agree that not caring about anything puts you in the psychopath department. Most of the advice in this book is about life sucking. Life is going to suck, there will be pain. A lot of pain. And disappointment. And a Disappointment Panda. You need to work through the pain and not try so hard to be great at everything because nobody is great at everything because we are all flawed.
Once you figure out the pain, you can be better at picking your
battlesfucks and lessen the pain. There is a lot packed into this fairly short book, so much so that I will read it again and perhaps more times as I work through my own pain and sucking-ness.
Bonus! No stupid exercises or workbooks. I hate those!
Best of 2016
I listened/read a lot of books this year and it was a year of average and mediocre reads.
The books weren't necessarily bad, just not spectacular. Some had great writing but implausible or confusing plots or one dimensional over the top villains.
I admit that I don't like it when the writer dumbs things down or makes a character such a brilliant genius that nobody but them could possibly solve the big mystery and shame on you for even attempting to figure it out with your tiny unbrilliant non genius brain. Hey, nobody likes a smarty pants.
There was no slam dunk clear winner this year. I actually had to think about it.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Jane Steele is a tribute to Jane Eyre but with teeth!
Jane Steele begins with Jane confessing to the reader that she is a vicious English murderess and unworthy of life. Naturally there is a story behind her confession and the author weaves a yarn about Jane's life and crimes during the period 1830 to 1840.
Jane's life is rough. She is cheated out of an inheritance and sent off to a boarding school that trains girls to work as governesses. Like in Jane Eyre, she is poorly treated at school. The parts at school read more like Orange is the New Black. But with starvation.
A lot happens in this book and it's too hard to explain it all so instead I will just explain why I liked this book so much.
1. Great storytelling. Poor Jane's ups and downs are compelling and tragic and even at times entertaining in a black humour kind of way.
2. Wonderful details about the period. Descriptions of clothing, food and social norms are not just filler but part of the story. There is a lot of interesting information about how women could (and could not) inherit property and this is essential to the story.
3. I learned quite a bit about British rule in the Punjab and Sikhism.
Not Quite a Spoiler: The author wraps things up but not completely so there is a faint hope of a sequel. Oh please let there be a sequel. I miss hanging out with Jane.
The Trouble with the Truth by Edna Robinson
There is a side story about this book that involves bad timing and Harper Lee. Edna Robinson's daughter Betsy does an excellent job explaining the book's back story.
This book was just a delight to read. A wonderful quirky family in 1930s America. This book isn't about much, just a series of vignettes about the Baird family as they move from town to town during the Depression.
Walter was in his late 40s when the kids were born and his wife died giving birth to daughter Lucretia so Walter finds himself an older single parent in an era when men were not expected to raise children by themselves.
Each chapter is a little story about an individual family member. Many of the anecdotes are about someone awkwardly and painfully falling in and out of love. The Bairds commiserate as a family. The ups and downs and strength of family is the predominant theme in this book.
Sedition by Katherine Grant
It just happened that this book was review #1000 (see below). All I can add to the review is that I was glad this book was not available in audiobook format because the high naughtiness level of this book meant I would have walked the cubicle farm without making eye contact with anyone.
Johnny Tremain by Ester Hoskins Forbes
This book was recommended by Jessica at Quirky Bookworm. Of course it's a pretty famous book but not part of the curriculum in Canadian schools since it takes place during the Revolutionary War. Since Upper Canada was part of Britain and we were on the losing side of the war, I never thought to read it.
This book was published in 1944 when a lot of boys, not much older than Johnny, found themselves forced into a war they didn't start, but were destined to fight.
I liked Johnny so much I even added a storyline about the book into my own book.
"Mom doesn't want me to bug you," said Todd and then he began to cry. "But I went to the library and Mrs. Parkdale was really busy and I really really tried to write my report on Johnny Tremain. I even read the whole book." Johnny was a bit of a jerk at first but then he had some bad luck and Todd felt sorry for him. Was it weird to feel sorry about a boy in a book?
"Oh Todd, of course I will help you," said Doris and she gave him a hug. Poor Todd must be really upset because he usually flinched at any girl contact. She calmed him down with some peanut butter and banana sandwiches and a big glass of milk and then they sat at the kitchen table for an hour and once Todd understood the difference between plot and theme, something his teacher should have taught him, they made good progress.
"Ben, I think I like Johnny even better than I did before!" said Todd and he crammed another sandwich in his mouth. It turned out that Johnny was about the Revolutionary War but also about World War II. There was a reason Dorie went to college, it was because she was really smart.
"So much for not helping," whispered Ben.
"I find it hard to say no to Todd," Doris whispered back. When he was upset he looked like a sad, wet puppy.
There are just so many good YA themes in this book that the story is timeless. Pride, friendship, loyalty and duty to country are just a sample of the many layers in what appears to be a simple story.
Funny story. Jessica did not mention that first few chapters of the book are VERY SAD. As I walked around the cubicle farm picking up trash, people asked me if everything was okay because I wore a very despondent look on my face. Then in true Jo fashion I babbled about Johnny's run of bad luck and this probably reinforced the notion that I am a bit insane.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleaves
If you enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Life After Life , this book also has British people exchanging witty banter while bombs fall.
This is the story of Mary, Hilda, Tom, Simonson and Alister as they try and survive the arithmetic of war. As each day progresses, the war get worse, and more and more people close to the characters die or are horribly wounded. The characters have to be, well, brave even if they don't feel all that brave at the moment. The great tragedy of war is that the friendships formed are so deep and intense yet in a flash, that person not only dies but ceases to exist as a fully formed human being.
In theory this book should have been a real downer, but the characters use dark humour to push themselves to endure even though they would just like to curl up in a ball and die or wait for the war to end.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
I didn't want to finish the book because I would miss the characters. This story sort of reminded me a skit I saw on You Tube called Jane Austen Fight Club. Proper ladies with split lips and shiners bashing each other in period costume.
Ruth and Dora grow up in their mother's brothel in 1790s Bristol. Dora is the beauty so she goes into the family business. Ruth is not pretty but has a temper (especially around her sister) and carves out a career as a female boxer. She meets Tom who is completely smitten with her despite her raw looks. He's a pretty good fighter too and they manage to somehow earn a living boxing and Ruth captures the interest of boxing fan Mr. Dyer.
Dyer marries Charlotte a smallpoxed scared lady and the character's lives become intertwined. Each chapter is told by a different character. I liked the parts with Ruth and Charlotte. I liked how Charlotte and Ruth break down their prejudices about each other's social class and become friends. Charlotte is the most interesting character because while she is a lady, she is at the mercy of her brother and husband for everything. Ruth is dirt poor, illiterate and earns a living in a trade that could kill her at any time but she has more opportunity and freedom than the wealthier Charlotte. I look forward to more books by this author.
Review #1000 - Sedition by Katherine Grant
This is a random photo I found of a cool home library. It's obviously not mine because the room is five times the size of my apartment. But I liked the picture and it's a neat way to celebrate review #1000.
Sedition is a sexy, naughty, extremely inappropriate look at 18th century courtship. It's like Jane Austen read 50 Shades of Grey and then sat down to write Pride and Prejudice.
Three men of trade have done well and have built successful businesses/careers and between the three of them, they have five daughters who need to be married off to proper titled gentlemen. They decide that if the girls learn to play the pianoforte, this skill will attract the right sort of man.
There is a lot of scheming and double crossing among the characters (I admit, I was a little confused at first) and as a result, a Frenchman, Monsieur Belladroit (a refugee from the French Revolution), is hired to teach the girls the pianoforte so they can play beautiful music, wow the gents, and marry into the aristocracy. It's all on the up and up because while M. Belladroit kept his head during the Revolution, he might have lost a couple of other things.
The girls have different ideas about who they want to marry. For all kinds of reasons. And they want sex. Lots and lots of sex. No virgins here! Oh, Belladroit, lost nothing during the Revolution. Belladroit seduces some of the girls and the girls seduce him. At one point, he has five women demanding services (on top of actually teaching them to play) and he's exhausted. Some guys have no luck.
I think the best adjective to describe this book is romp. I did not want it to end. The romp, the book. All of it!
It's all very very very inappropriate which is why I loved this book. The reader expects the characters to be the picture of 18th century purity and chastity and instead you get sexually liberated women who are smart and in control of their own fate. How can you not like this?
I can't go into too much plot detail because I will end up in spoiler territory but I was mad at myself for missing some rather obvious foreshadowing. I was so engrossed in the story and the crazy antics of, well, everyone, that I missed a very important clue to how a particularly deviant plot line was going to end up. And the foreshadowing was not at all subtle. The author basically punched me in the face with it and I missed it.
What I am saying is that after 1000 reviews, there's still much to be learned. So here's to a 1000 more!
Ten Years of Readin'
26 June, 2016
Writing this was delayed by a maintenance emergency in my apartment. Sorry NINE fans!
It's been 10 years. Oh how time flies. Lots of pencils, 12 notebooks, and 966 reviews.
The main reason I started this project was to keep track of titles. I am terrible with titles. You could ask me what I am reading and I might answer "Uh, a book, about the wind, in the South, with some chick named Scarlett."
Naturally my life has been enriched by reading but in ways I didn't expect. Here are some interesting things I learned (in no particular order).
Bob Dole was wounded in Italy just a few weeks before Germany surrendered. He spent six months in a body cast and was in and out of hospital for two years. While in the body cast his mother moved into an apartment across the street from the hospital to help him out. It was a tough time for both of them. Bob wasn't in the best mood (and lost 90lbs) being in the cast and there wasn't much for him to do. His mother read to him (he couldn't sit up to read) and lit his cigarettes for him even though she hated the smoke.
The NYC neighborhood of Five Points was a scary place riddled with drunks, crooks, deadly infectious disease and other misery but the neighborhood's reputation for lawlessness was very much exaggerated. There was not a murder a night every night for 15 years.
In the 18th and 19th century it was considered obscene to use the word leg. Limb was much more polite. I find this hillarious considering necklines were rather plunging!
Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker takes place during the NYC draft riots of 1863. The draft riots remain the worse case of civil and racial violence in US history. I know, that's hard to believe.
Historical fiction bodice rippers have really evolved and are very well written and researched. Deep down the authors are total history nerds!
I listened to one at work one day and I have to say that I learned quite a bit about 18th century estate and divorce law and also the auction business. I still am not sure how the wicked duke finds time between running the estate and his conquests to maintain his rather fit physique!
The neighborhoods in Ottawa haven't changed that much in 160 years except fewer brothels. Swap, less LRT construction with more horse poop and that pretty much describes the Byward Market in in 1849.
Some things never really change, traffic jams and drunken brawls in the Byward Market are just as bad now as they were in 1849.
Unless there is an implausible twist, most mysteries can be solved by figuring out the mantra of:
Spoiler: A book narrated by Death (The Book Thief) is not going to end well.
Joseph Stalin's chef was Vladimir Putin's grandfather. THIS EXPLAINS SO MUCH!
Buying a book about thrift or frugality is a waste of money. Most frugality/thrift books are a collection of blog posts from the author. If you want to be thrifty, spend an hour Googling.
I can't get into books about art because I lack the imagination to, well, imagine the art. I avoid books about food because they make me really really hungry.
I will never get bored of fish out of water stories!!!
Jane Austen is not dead. She's a vampire living in upstate New York. Lord Byron and Charlotte Bronte are also vampires. I would not lie to you about this!
I routinely talk to the characters in my audiobook. No it's not weird at all.
So here's to ten more years!
Best of 2015
2015 was definitely the year of the audiobook. I can listen to a book at work when I am out of the public eye and it really brightens my day to be able to relax and listen for a few hours.
2015 was also the year of the Fancy Phone. My mp3 player broke and I replaced it with a smart phone. It was becoming increasingly difficult to manage downloadable audiobooks with a basic mp3 player and also increasingly difficult to buy an mp3 player. I still am not really into my phone. All the apps (all three of them) I've installed have been to read/listen/download books.
The Martian by Andy Weir
The book was on a lot of best of lists (it took me a while to get the audiobook from the library) and boy did this book live up to all the hype.
Mark Watney is left for dead after an accident forces the rest of the crew to evacuate the planet. The reader is then thrust into the life and death world of survival on an inhospitable and unknown planet. Watney is an astronaut for a reason; he's very smart and an excellent problem solver. Most of this book is about Watney solving some big problems, food, water, shelter and communication. He never gives up and when he fails, he regroups and tries again. I am probably over thinking this, but I think Watney's success is so engrossing because self-reliance and resourcefulness are skills that are disappearing.
Note: Not enough money in the world for me to be an astronaut.
In no particular order...
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer
Like The Martian this book is a story of about having to adapt to difficult conditions in a world without rules or order. Pure survival.
Life is good for the Prins family. The family enjoys an affluent lifestyle in the 1940s Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Jeremiah Pins' only problem in the world is his beef with American Georgie Smith. Both ten year old boys are madly in love with Laura Jansen and hate each other. Georgie's hatred of Jeremiah is so deep he breaks Jeremiah's arm in a fight. It takes six weeks for Jeremiah's arm to heal and the day after the cast is removed (freedom), the Japanese army invades the island and the Prins family spends the next three years as guests of the Emperor. Many people don't know this side of the WWII experience. No Red Cross, no Geneva Convention. Men, women and children were all treated with the same harsh brutality as a military POW. If you've read the book or seen the movie Empire of the Sun, then you know what I'm talking about. Children grew up very fast. Sadly, since they are children, their POW experiences become normal as the war progresses.
Jeremiah, Georgie and Laura all end up in the same POW camp and are forced to live a scheming, lying, cheating life of a prisoner. It's not a pretty story but the writing is beautiful. Brouwer's description of an ugly war is elegant. I was hooked after a few pages despite the difficult subject matter.
Don't Ever Get Old/ Don't Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman
I counted these two books as one as they are part of a series.
Buck Schatz (Schatz is pronouced Shots so his nickname is Buckshots) is a cranky, no filter, Lucky Strikes* chain smoking, WWII Paratrooper old man.
Buck joined the Memphis police after the war and had a colourful career. He routinely denies the rumour that he was the inspiration for the Dirty Harry character portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the movies. Buck's catch phrase is "and then I shot him." Both books are mysteries. Buck is long retired from the police and struggling with the challenges of being 87 years old. The first book involves Buck tracking down the commandant of the POW camp who did not die in 1945. The second book is about a cold case bank job from 1965.
The books are so entertaining because deep down we all wish we could go through life without a filter. Buck has no filter. He says what's on his mind and even though what he says is really politically incorrect, you can't help but laugh.
Ellen and the Barber by Frank O'Rouke
Frank O'Rourke was better known for writing sports and western fiction but it appears Frank was a big old softie. This book is three novellas set in the Midwest during the Depression. The three novellas have interconnected female leads who fall in and out of love. The writing is a folksy narrative that's a lot like hanging out in a friend's parlour and gossiping.
When Johnny Came Marching Home by William Heffernan
A group of friends from small town Vermont answer the call to arms in 1861. Thinking this will be a 90-day adventure, the survivors return home scarred and broken in 1865. They try to put the war behind them and move on but when their childhood friend Johnny Harris ends up dead, there is a long list of people who wanted him dead. This book jumps back and forth in time, to the periods before the war, during the war and after the war. The reader learns how the preacher's son went from naive teen to mean spirited thug. This is the first book about the Civil War where the character exhibits signs of emotional trauma after the war. We associate PTSD with more recent wars but these characters face the same troubling nightmares and memories as any modern soldier, but without the advances of medicine to help them. Despite the theme of loss, the book has a happy ending.
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is just as entertaining. Granddad isn't in this book as much which was a little disappointing since he had all the best lines in the first book. Granddad isn't in the book as much because he knows Calpurnia is getting older and needs to make mistakes so he lets her.
Calpurnia still struggles with gender roles in 1900 Texas. She still has little patience or aptitude for sewing, cooking or playing the piano. Calpurnia is a young lady now and she learns many life lessons in this book. Calpurnia's 17-year-old cousin Agnes moves in with the family after her house is destroyed in the Galveston Hurricane. This is the first event in Calpurnia's life where she learns about death on a large scale and she has to work out her feelings about the disaster. She also learns how to get along with people. Agnes and Calpurnia don't get along and never develop a friendship but Agnes is a very good businesswoman and Calpurnia recognizes this and learns from Agnes' example. She learns to negotiate, stand up for herself (the most sexist characters are her own parents) and plan for the future. All good YA novel themes. Fans of Anne of Green Gables will love this series. Like Anne, Calpurnia is plucky. Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jane Lepore
Stewart Jameson is a portrait painter on the run from London after failing to make good on a £2,000 debt. He flees to America in 1764 and finds himself in Boston he has to work and he also needs an apprentice. Enter Francis Weston, AKA Fanny Easton, a rich girl who fell on hard times. Tired of the workhouse, she disguises herself as a teenage boy and goes to work. The reason this book is so fucking entertaining is because, well, there’s quite a bit of fucking in it. It’s a naughty, raunchy, sexy romp of a love story. I felt myself blushing at times while listening to this book. I think the combination of crude sexual conduct, genuine love and the many Shakespearean references is why it was so entertaining. While much of the book is filled with inappropriate behavior, there are serious themes of love, loss and friendship.
If these titles don’t grab your attention, you can always read my books. They’re swell.
*I didn't know you could still buy Lucky Strikes.
30 October, 2015 - Review #900 - The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld
I seem to have misplaced this review. Will upload it later.
31 July, 2015
If my ten fans are wondering, why so many audiobooks? I listen at work when I am out of the public eye. Some days it's only an hour and a half, some days it's three hours.
23 June, 2015
Today, between spilling coffee all over my pants from leaky garbage bags and eating a cupcake given to me by the Parks Canada staff, I tried to think of profound things to write about the book review project. And even with a nice sugar high, I could not think of anything too earth shattering so here are a few thoughts about the book review project.
It's more fun to write a bad review than a good review. I seem to be quite inspired when the book is bad. I admit it, I will finish a bad book just to trash it. I am slightly more kind with my reviews now that I have written my own book The Peterson Gang.
My DNF (did not finish) rate is pretty low. I guess fewer than 40 books never made it to the project. Once, I got an audiobook where the main character was French but for some reason the narrator spoke with a high pitch English accent. I listened for two minutes and that was it. I checked the paper book out and the book was pretty good.
I never read reviews online before I write my own review. After I write my own review, and I'm not sure if I get the book or am totally off base, then I go to Goodreads or Amazon to read other reviews.
It drives me crazy when an author writes dialogue that is too sophisticated based on the character's age and education. It also drives me crazy when the author has to point out emotion to me.
Jimmy cried when they lowered his mother's coffin into the ground. Jimmy cried because he was sad. Yeah, I kinda got that he's sad from the crying part. Unless the coffin kicked Jimmy in the balls, he's sad cause his mom died. That's why he's crying. No need to hit me over the head with it.
Less than 30 books in the book review project were purchased (by me or others). The rest came from, wait for it, the library. Even if I could afford the approximate $15,000 to $25,000 cost of buying all the books, where the hell would I put them all? I’d have to rent a bigger apartment and I can’t cause I spent all my money on books!
Here is the breakdown
(too lazy to sort by A+, A, A-, B+, etc.)
A's = 300
B's = 453
C's = 93
D = 15
F = 2
The first book reviewed was not that great.
June 23, 2006, Before Their Time by Robert Kotlowski C+
There is only one book that I had to wait a while before writing the review. I waited a week to organize my thoughts because the story was so disturbing. Kevin Baker's Paradise Alley.
Eleven notebooks are very heavy. Still using my pencils!
27 January, 2015 - Review #800 - The Asylum by John Harwood
Yippee, the 800th review!
Best of 2014
This year I didn’t read as much as I usually do because I wrote, like, four books. It’s hard to read books when you are constantly distracted by your own story and cast of wacky characters. That being said, I managed to read/listen to a number of excellent books, mainly cause I can listen to books for a few hours at work!
I also realized today that I am seven books away from review #800!
This year’s best book was so close. I went back and forth between two books and in the end, this book won out!
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Dodger is a London tosher. A tosher is a garbage picker, often in the sewers. Dodger earns a meager living finding valuables and money roaming the streets and sewers of 1850s London. He inadvertently rescues a young girl named Simplicity from abduction and this simple act changes his entire life. He meets some new friends, aspiring novelist/reporter Charlie Dickens, government man Ben Disraeli and Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in England. This is one of those books where it’s impossible to predict where the story is going because it goes off on all kinds of tangents. It’s best to sit back and let the story take you, it’s a fun ride.
This book is YA fiction but I found it delightful even though there is plenty of toilet humour in the book. Usually I don’t go for the toilet humour but Dodger does roam the sewers of London so you gotta expect a few shit and fart jokes. But Dodger is more than shit and fart jokes. As Dodger finds himself drawn into the world of Charlie, Ben, Angela and Simplicity he questions his legacy and life choices. He is guided by his friend and moral/spiritual advisor Solomon who helps Dodger navigate his changing world. Dodger knows he has to leave the hard but familiar street life. He knows that if he continues as a tosher he’ll most likely die young of disease, violence or by the hangman’s noose. Moving into the unfamiliar, confusing and discriminating world of respectability is hard for Dodger. He has to rely on people and, gasp, ask for help. For someone who has lived by his wits his whole life, this is a difficult challenge. Lots of excellent YA themes. Dodger learns about good and evil, trust, love and friendship. Anybody over the age of twelve will like this book!
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein
I got this book as an audiobook and loved it. I am sure it’s just as good to read. This book is a spy novel but also a mystery. It’s hard to review it because if I write too much I’ll end up in spoiler territory. The book is a confession of a spy written as a story.
I’ve often written and remarked that WWII was fought and won by kids barely out of their teens. This novel is also YA fiction but it’s gritty and unflinching as there is violence and torture mixed in with the quick, chaotic, irreversible decisions of war. But not reading this book would be disrespectful to those who sacrificed their youth to fight in a war that they didn’t start.
The rest in no particular order!
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book is about Alma Whittaker a 19th century botanist who spends most of her life studying lichen. This book is about science, evolution, religion, family, friendship, love and lust.
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer
In December 1969, bank robber Willie Sutton was released from prison on compassionate grounds due to ill health. He agrees for a sum to let a reporter and photographer (he just calls them Reporter and Photographer) interview him but only if they allow him to re-trace the significant landmarks in his life. Told in flashbacks, Willie spins a yarn, some true, some bullshit, about his life of crime. Willie’s wisdom and insight end up helping Photographer and Reporter with their personal and professional lives. It’s evident that crime does not pay but what do you do when you are poor, uneducated and young in the midst of the greatest economic crisis in US history?
Empire Girls Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan
These two friends write together. One writer, one character. Rose and Ivy live with their father in 1925 upstate New York. The two could not be any different. Rose is the dull homebody seamstress and Ivy the restless dreamer. When their father commits suicide, they discover that their father’s first marriage produced a son, Asher, last know address, Greenwich Village. The farm is riddled in debt and Asher may own the farm Rose so desperately wants to keep. The two sisters have to travel to the city to sort this mess out. Homebody Rose is in a panic and Ivy is thrilled. Now is her chance to visit speakeasies, drink gin and become a famous actress. Of course, nothing goes as planned. This novel is part mystery, part exploration of a complicated sibling relationship.
The Peterson Gang: Unlikely Friendships by Muriel Chesterton
Muriel is a minor character so I made her the author. It may seem arrogant to list your own book in a best of list but what the hell! I’ve never written a book and I'm pretty darn proud of how it turned out! It was fun to think of wacky things to happen. The book is not meant to be serious literature. It’s meant to be silly fun. We always think older generations totally had their shit together when they were younger but I suspect that every generation sort of fumbled their way to adulthood.
2013 Reviews in Review!2013 was not as productive in the reading department for me because I was working on another project. That being said, I did find some gems this year.
Best of 2013
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Ursula Todd lives and dies over and over again, until she gets her life right. Think, Slaughterhouse-Five meets Groundhog Day, meets Run Lola Run, meets the episode of the Simpsons when Homer turns the toaster into a time machine. But instead of Homer, Marge and the kids, the Todd family keeps the reader entertained with wonderful and witty banter. The dialogue is like hanging out all day at a dinner party that you never want to leave! The violence of WWII is dreadful and Atkinson puts you in the centre of the Blitz. It's not pretty. As it should be.
Creepiest Book of 2013The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell and read by Gretchen Moll
The brilliant performance by Gretchen Moll is what really made this audiobook so spectacular. This book is a psychological thriller that leaves the reader wondering if Rose Baker is a calculating psychopath or a naive dupe. I am still unsure. The strength of this book is the wonderful prose. Rose's descriptive passages are pure poetry. Rose uses many adjectives to describe people or scenes when most people would only use one adjective. The result is elegant rather than presumptious. Rose is not trying to show off her impressive vocabulary, she is just making sure she describes the police station or the girls at the boarding house or her taxi ride with the best selection of adjectives. Very early on the reader knows that things are going to turn out bad for Rose and this feeling of dread is what made me feel so uneasy throughout the book. It takes great talent to provoke such a physical response with a reader.
Other Books I Liked In 2013!In no particular order!
In a Class of their Own by Millie Gray
This book made the list because it is one of the few books I've read since I started this review project that really depicts the frustration of poverty. You can read a detailed review here. I compared this book to another book about affluence in present day Los Angeles.
The Love Monster by Missy Marston
Margaret Atwood and aliens. Really! Here is the review.
Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas
Ken Ilgunas graduated from college with 32K in debt. The first half of the book (my review) is what he did to pay it off. Then second half of the book is what he did so he could go to grad school without student loans. His first idea was to live in a tent so living in a van seemed less insane.
SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
This was my first non-fiction audiobook and it was wonderful. I was a little reluctant to listen to this book because I was a little afraid that it might remind me of some of the boring classroom lectures of my youth. The material is well presented and the narration by Stephen J. Dubner is excellent. The subject matter is engrossing and the author does not overload you with tedious details. I don't think I could have listened to this book for hours on end but I enjoyed listening to it in twenty and thirty minute increments.
31 July, 2013 - Review #700 - The Secret Keeper
I worry a bit that a landmark book is going to be a real stinker. So far I have been lucky. I purposely did not write much about the plot or characters in this review because I did not want to give away too much as this story is a mystery.
24 July, 2013 - OPL's New Auto Check-In
Debuted today at the Emerald Plaza branch. Since I am so good at breaking things, my audiobook (blue and green cover) takes 4 tries to climb the last hill.
Check out the very dramatic video! It might take 1-2 minutes to open and play.
17 June, 2013 - Review #676 The Love Monster
Helen knows the author so if I have any connection to an author, especially a local author, I put the review online for my nine fans.
This is the story of Margaret Atwood in and out of love. And aliens. No really.
4 June, 2013 - Review #662 Walden on Wheels
I read Ken Ilgunas' original article about living in a van and was thrilled to hear that Ken had written a book about his quest to pay off his undergrad student loan debt and his adventure as a van dweller. I wrote the review a few weeks ago but chose to post it after leaving my job.
Best of 2012
As my 7 fans know, I freakin’ love historical fiction, so only one book takes place in the present and that’s because it’s a work of non-fiction.
It was no contest, the winner was Michelle Cooper's Montmaray series.
A Brief History of Montmaray
The FitzOsbornes in Exile
The FitzOsbornes at War
Montmaray is a fictional island nation in the Bay of Biscay. The FitzOsbornes are the eccentric yet impoverished royal family. Middle child, Princess Sophia, records daily life on Montmaray in her journal. By 1937, trouble is brewing in Europe and even the isolated Montmaray is subject to German aggression. While there are plenty of hysterically funny moments, one also is reminded that WWII was fought by people barely out of their teens.
This series is technically YA fiction which means there is always a busy body who is unhappy about some sort corrupting influence. So as an added bonus, this series was apparently banned (I don't by who and frankly I don't care!) which we all know makes the book even more appealing. The banning people were miffed by sexual content and language.
I find it very entertaining that most of the sex in the book is Sophia (and her brilliant but clueless-about-love cousin Princess Veronica) working out their feelings and fears about sex rather than any actual fooling around. The book banning people might have been miffed by a gay and a bisexual character, but today's teen would just roll their eyes and possibly tell the book banning people to take a chill pill.
The Montmaray girls are fairly sheltered and Sophia admits that she never learned all the best curse words so the language seems very tame by 2012 standards. They do use "bloody" a lot which I suppose is the closest the proper Princesses could get to dropping F-bombs. Considering there are real bombs falling on the characters I am surprised that there is not MORE swearing. If anything, just getting to work in 1940s London was difficult enough to get the most patient person to lapse into a fit of bad language.
The main theme of this series is family. No family is perfect. The FitzOsbornes like all families, fight, make up, fight some more but no matter how bad things get (and they get pretty bad) strong family ties provide the characters with the strength to overcome adversity. Now if the bloody book banning people did not have their minds in the gutter, they might have picked up on that.
The Runner Ups in No Particular Order
A Good American by Alex George
Three generations of Meisenheimers in small town Missouri. I loved this book even though a LOT of people die in it.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
The reader would think that this is a coming of age story for 15 year old Louise Brooks, but instead it's the 36 year old chaperone Cora Carlisle who changes.
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
It takes real talent to write a story that accompanies a scrapbook. The graphics are chosen with great care but so are the words. They complement each other perfectly.
A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick
Not your regular mail order bride story. An erotic psychological thriller that has the reader guessing right up to the very last page.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Just a wonderful example of storytelling! It's tough being a tween, even in 1899. Mother wants you to learn how to cook and clean to prepare to be a wife but Calpurnia is more interested in hanging out with her not-as-scary-as-she-thought Civil War veteran grandfather learning about botany. This leads to all kinds of crazy ideas, like not getting married at 18, going to college, and figuring out how to make whiskey from pecans.
Note: Granddad has all the best lines.
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
I did manage to squeeze in some non-fiction this year. This book is a must read for anyone who is running or thinking of starting a business. Chris Guillebeau outlines many non-traditional ways to market your products and services. There was a ton of stuff in this book that I would have never thought of in a million years.
Worse book of 2012
The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
I normally don't include a worse book in this list, but this year I was completely puzzled by the plot. I usually enjoy this series by Rhys Bowen but this book was terrible.
The Twelve Clues of Christmas is really about the 11 senseless murders in 11 days. I am a giant grinch and even I felt that multiple murders is not very Christmasy. The characters also must be grinches or dead inside too cause they did not seem to be affected by the mass murder in the tiny English village with scarcely 100 inhabitants. I cannot believe an editor(s) actually allowed this train wreck of a book to be published.
16 November, 2012
13 November, 2012 - Review #617 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Review # 617, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! This review may be riddled with typos and grammar faux pas as I am tired and I wrote it between calls and outages at work today.
15 September, 2012 - Review #600 Murder on Fifth Avenue by Victoria Thompson
Well folks, it's been 2,277 days (or 6 years, 2 months, 24 days) since I started the book review project and we are at review #600. To write 600 reviews you can't really think too much in advance or you will never write 600 book reviews. You have to just read one book at a time and jot down some thoughts.So here's review #600.
1 June, 2012
I bought this book directly from the author at the Glebe Garage Sale last weekend so of course I had to put the whole review on the site. So here is review 564, The Underling by Ian McKercher.
Best of 2011
The O'Briens by Peter Behrens.
An epic story of a Montreal family.
Best Guilty Pleasure 2011 Read
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.
It's not literature, just scandalous fun!
Most Surprising Read of 2011
The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli.
This novel is technically "juvenile fiction." Imagine the best opportunity for your 9 year old son is to put him on a boat, alone, sailing from Naples to 1892 New York City. Not a word of English, no money, friends, or anyone to look out for him.
Top 5 Reads In no particular order!
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.
Naughty fun in London.
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.
Yee have cometh a long way baby! My only criticism of this book is that a white woman tells the story of the first two Native Americans to attend Harvard College.
Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons.
The 500th Review.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.
Gals, mix yourself up a pitcher of martinis and enjoy.
Lottery by Patricia Wood.
Don't call Perry L. Crandell retarded!
6 Jan, 2011 - Review #500
24 October, 2011, In honour of my 500th book review, Mr. Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons, I have posted the review online. I don't normally do this because believe or not, sometimes people are really mean on the internet. I have to deal with a lot of mean people all day at work so I don't need to invite them into my life.
23 June, 2011 5th Anniversary of the Book Review Project!
Today is the 5th anniversary of the project. I wanted to be at 500 books, but having a damn job really cuts into my reading!
11 June 2011 I did review #465 today
I filled up notebook #6. I write the reviews by hand just because I am not always in front of a computer when it comes time to write the review. I've written them on the bus, at the airport, in mom's backyard and at a bunch of other places I can't remember.
6 Jan, 2011 - Review #400
400 book reviews
a lot of pencils!
I have been told that my handwriting is a bit messy.
Note: I think my handwriting is just fine. It just reflects my eccentric nature.
When I start a notebook, do try to make the writing somewhat legible. The grammar is usually a mess. When I have time, I re read the entry and make corrections. I just realized I need to make a few corrections.
Early entry in notebook:
Then it turns into this:
6 August 2011
Been reading Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing. 17th century fathers if you don't want your daughters to question the Bible or your wisdom, then you should not be teaching them how to read. Yee is just sayeth.
17 August 2011
Asshole! There are 660 people waiting for this book. Unless you are dead, you are a book jerk. That's right. An overdue-book-owe-the-library-jerk. If I could, I would ban you and your children and your children's children from the library for 3 weeks!
Book Quotes by Jo
Cute librarian guy # 2: We just put your name on the card and you can take out books.
Nutjob chick: I don't want my name on the card
Cute librarian guy # 2: We need to know who you are.
Nutjob chick: Can I use your name?
Cute librarian guy # 2: Uh, no.
Nutjob chick: Why not!
Cute librarian guy # 2:We need some ID with your name and address for the card.
Nutjob chick: Never mind!
Reason # 45,208 I love historical fiction? Scandalous women!
Reading historical fiction has taught me that child rearing has really changed.
2011 dad: Kids, we're going to Disneyworld!
2011 kids: Yeah!
1849 dad: Kids, we're going to a public hanging!
1849 kids: Yeah!
I really love the Library. The library is more than a place for the homeless to doze and pee.
Today at the library I saw a woman reading a book about pecans. I thought a) this woman must really like pecans b) the author of the book must really have a passion for pecans to write a whole book c) the publisher of the book felt there was an untapped pecan lover market out there and published a book dedicated to pecans. It was quite the educational trip to the library.
I have been reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Apparently I've had it alllll wrong! Caroline Bingley dislikes Elizabeth Bennet because Elizabeth is so skilled in the art of zombie killing. Listen Darcy, get off your pompous ass and marry that girl. There are also discussion questions!
Some critics have suggested that zombies represent the authors' views towards marriage - an endless curse that sucks the life out of you and just won't die. Do you agree,or do you have another opinion about the symbolism of the unmentionables?
Sigh, I never have an library issue that requires a conversation with cute-librarian-guy but stinky schizophrenic-off-his-meds-guy always wants to chat.
I am reading a book called Nothing to Envy about the lives of North Korean defectors.
Quote from the book: It is not easy for people earning less than a dollar per month to be integrated into the world's thirteenth [South Korea's] largest economy. Yeah. No shit!
Strange how reading a fun book about Jane Austen being alive and well as a vampire in upstate NY has lead to be actually learning something. I did not know that Lord Byron's daughter was Ada Lovelace. Luckily she did not inherit her father's whorish ways and instead devoted her life to mathematics.
Dear Library, I love you, so please stop putting the barcode sticker over the book's description.
Mom: I think the dog is a Republican.
Mom: She chewed Obama's book.
Note: All of us, including the dog, are Canadian.
Perhaps a 100 years from now when someone (who is bored) is reading thru my book reviews will wonder if I was so moved by the fact that Jane Austen and her mother did not always get along that I shed tears all over my notebook. This is not true. I merely read a funny auto correct caption while sipping a Diet Coke and there was some pop related spittage onto the pages. Sorry Jane.
Going to the library for me is like a kid in a candy store. Except that I don't eat the books!
Do you think sometime you could just go up to people who are being annoying, or creepy or stupid and slap them on the side of the head with a book?