Janine Brown lives in Iowa, and has entered a contest to win a house on the Maine coast. Janine Brown (no relation) lives in Iowa, and has entered an c...moreJanine Brown lives in Iowa, and has entered a contest to win a house on the Maine coast. Janine Brown (no relation) lives in Iowa, and has entered an contest to win a house on the Maine coast.
The contest winner is...Janine Brown of Iowa! Thus starts what at first glance will be a mistaken identity comedy. The two Janine's are opposites in many ways, and are unlikely to ever get along. And which one is the real winner of the house? Author Kelly Harms has made this anything but a mistaken identity comedy (although there are more than enough comedic moments). What happens when the two women actually meet at the house they both are sure they have won? Once the reader gets beyond this delightful confrontation the book gets more serious. Uppermost is the concept of truthfulness (or truthiness). Neither of the women, nor any other significant character is even close to truthful with the others (with the possible exception of 88 year old Aunt Midge). And much of the drama is a direct result of everyone being untruthful. I won't say much more, other than this is delightful reading and has deeper meaning than it appears at first glance. I will mention that food and the preparation of food is central to the story; each chapter begins with a quote from a well known cookbook.
This is a generally believable story of the two Janine's (Janey and Nean), their relationship, the men in their lives, and their histories. The only fantasy is winning a multi-million dollar house on the Maine coast. But it's a fantasy that we can live with.(less)
Reza Aslan came to my attention thanks to Fox News and their incredibly offensive interview, so first of all I must grudgingly thank Fox for leading m...moreReza Aslan came to my attention thanks to Fox News and their incredibly offensive interview, so first of all I must grudgingly thank Fox for leading me to such a learned and readable scholar. I might have found him by accident, but Fox made it a "must read". "Zealot" is much more the Times of Jesus of Nazareth than the Life; that's because so little is known of his real life. Most of what we know has been overshadowed by the myths created by his followers after his death (few of whom actually knew him). Dr. Aslan makes a valiant, and generally successful attempt to separate the man from the myth. We learn of his birth (in Nazareth, not Bethlehem), what little can be be deduced from his early life based in general on life in small rural communities, his large family (~7 siblings). Then on to his ministry, which bears little resemblance to the myths written later. The larger focus is on the times he lived in; a violent, dangerous time, with constant conflict in "Palestine" between the Roman overlords, the priestly class, the wealthy aristocracy, the poor and downtrodden. It was a time of assimilation, with many of the rich "romanizing" their families, just as minorities have done in the 2,000 years since (and probably 2,000 years before). Putting Jesus the man into his milieu is quite revealing; I won't ever see him and his followers the same way again.
I have one minor quibble with the work, which I normally would have downgraded my review to 4 stars for, but the overall impact of Zealot overrode this objection: Dr. Aslan repeats the same incidents, in all of their detail, multiple times (e.g., the story of Jesus curing and cleansing the leper). I attribute this to poor editing; once the story has been told, future references to it should just have reminded the reader of what has already been said rather than repeating it word for word. I suspect this happened because Zealot was probably assembled from a group of papers or lectures where each had to stand on its own. But once combined into a book the editor should have caught the repeats.(less)
There are so many reviews that discuss the structure of the book that there's no point in repeating it. What we have is "alternate universe" scenarios...moreThere are so many reviews that discuss the structure of the book that there's no point in repeating it. What we have is "alternate universe" scenarios, where Ursula Todd makes a decision at a cusp that changes the outcome of the story and her life (except for the first, which is beyond her control; 3 scenarios of her birth, two of which result in surviving into childhood). It's important to note the date of each chapter; if you don't you will be lost forever. The dates tell you alternate universes. For mathematicians it would be possible to create a decision tree that provides a map to all of the alternatives and outcomes; that would be an interesting exercise.
What struck me is that Ursula's choices (again, except for the first) determine her future, and that the choices where she takes positive actions rather than passive acceptance are the ones where the thread of her life continues
Overall Life after Life is a somewhat challenging but very satisfying read.(less)
I very much enjoy McEwan Ian's works; I've never read one I didn't like, and some really stand out. So what was my problem with Sweet Tooth? There is...moreI very much enjoy McEwan Ian's works; I've never read one I didn't like, and some really stand out. So what was my problem with Sweet Tooth? There is the common expression "I couldn't put it down." My problem was "I couldn't pick it up." It would sit on the desk for days at a time; I didn't really want to read further, because the first person narrator seemed shallow, inconsistent, and not terribly likable. Surprising because it is a short work, and could be finished in one or two sittings.
We are told at the very beginning how it will end; Serena botches an Intelligence assignment while working for MI5, is fired, and now, 40 years later, is going to tell us what happened in between. It turns out she had an affair with a writer who has been secretly subsidized by MI5. He bears a striking resemblance to McEwan, and she even summarizes several of his short stories, which are only slightly altered from early McEwan works. To say more would raise spoilers.
Even though it took an effort of will I'm not one to give up, so on a Sunday afternoon I finished it. And was well rewarded. The final chapter is a masterpiece of reversal, and a great opportunity to turn the tables on the reader. So stick with it.(less)
I chose this book based on a review of a non-fiction book on motherhood by the author. The reviewer cited The Gathering as an example of the author's...moreI chose this book based on a review of a non-fiction book on motherhood by the author. The reviewer cited The Gathering as an example of the author's work. Centering around the wake and funeral of the narrator's brother, it explores the relationships within and around a large family (12 siblings) from the perspective of one of them. The narrator is confused and flawed, as are all of us, and this distorts our view of the family. There is, of course, a looming secret that will come out when the family gathers for the funeral; it's a good one, and ties all of the threads weaving through the book together.(less)
This is the great theoretical astrophysicist at his best. It could be subtitled "A Brief History of the Universe", and, as that, it is one of the clea...moreThis is the great theoretical astrophysicist at his best. It could be subtitled "A Brief History of the Universe", and, as that, it is one of the clearest explanations I have read (out of many). Hawking uses the history to disprove the existence of God, applying the purported quote from LaPlace, "I had no need of that hypothesis." Whether you accept that view or not, The Grand Design is an excellent (and short) dissertation on current thinking on the origins of our world and universe.(less)
This short contribution to the centuries old question of whether we have free will takes a different approach - the fact that our brain knows what we...moreThis short contribution to the centuries old question of whether we have free will takes a different approach - the fact that our brain knows what we are going to do before we become consciously aware of it. He thus concludes that free will is an illusion, because our path is already determined before we act on it. An interesting thought, but one that has uncomfortable implications. Worth reading to stimulate thinking.(less)
Skios is a comedy of errors and mistaken identity, taken to an improbably extreme on a Greek Island paradise. But for me it just didn't work. I'm a gr...moreSkios is a comedy of errors and mistaken identity, taken to an improbably extreme on a Greek Island paradise. But for me it just didn't work. I'm a great fan of Michael Frayn, so this was a disappointment for me. It won prizes, which is a mystery to me. Your mileage may vary.(less)
They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under the milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unhe...moreThey departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under the milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes...I would not swim, no, not ever again.
Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone.
Thus begins John Banville's Booker prize novel The Sea. The opening caught my interest; its mystery is not resolved until the very end of the book, which, in many ways wraps around to this beginning. The narrator has returned to the scene of a significant childhood experience, at a seaside resort his family summered at during his pre-teen years. The events of that summer haunt him throughout his life, through failed attempts to exorcize the memories. Now, in late life, he returns to the scene of the "crime" to write his memoirs. Through a long narrative Max tells us about his life, jumping around in time constantly, tying apparently unconnected events together, including his relationship with the Graces, another family also summering by the shore, his relationship with his wife, her death, and ultimately explaining the opening paragraph. Throughout we are reminded of the fallibility of memory, as the same scene keeps changing in Max's recollection.
The author's prose is beautiful, his descriptions sumptuous, his vocabulary extensive to the point of showing off. I consider my vocabulary above average, but I still had to look up a number of words. (Thanks for the Kindle dictionary!) I chose The Sea on its Booker Prize selection; I have done well with Booker Prize winners, and this was no exception.(less)
Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to the author's Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker prize in fiction for 2009. She promises us a 3rd book in the ser...moreBring Up the Bodies is the sequel to the author's Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker prize in fiction for 2009. She promises us a 3rd book in the series; after reading the first two I wait with 'bated breath. What Hilary Mantel has done is take the supposedly familiar story of Henry VIII and his wives, but from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who is usually viewed as the villain. See, for example, A Man for All Seasons, the story of the fall of Sir Thomas More, in which More is a saint (literally, eventually) who is martyred by Thomas Cromwell. More does not come off so well in Mantel's telling of the story; he is a zealot who likes to torture (literally) heretics.
In Wolf Hall the author has covered the period of the end of Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies begins where Wolf Hall left off, and takes us through the bloody end of Henry's marriage to Anne, including her execution and much collateral damage, all orchestrated by Thomas Cromwell, Master Secretary to Henry. Cromwell is the consumate politician, who survives and advances his career and fortunes by being able to read Henry and anticipate his needs and desires. Everything is from Cromwell's perspective, so he comes across as a superman who is resented by the nobles of the kingdom both because he is a commoner and because he can outsmart them without breaking a sweat. We have sympathy for him, as he successfully navigates one political minefield after another.
The author's style has improved a little over Wolf Hall, where it sometimes was difficult to understand who was speaking, as she mostly uses pronouns rather than names. Now she says, "he, Cromwell.." rather than just "he..." if there is ambiguity in the scene. But even with this minor nitpick in Wolf Hall it is clear that the author is a superb writer and storyteller. Her books are not to be missed.
An interesting point of enlightenment can be found in the Frick Collection in New York City. This famous art museum has 2 Holbein portraits, one of Sir Thomas More and one of Thomas Cromwell. They are positioned either side of the fireplace in the "family room", looking towards each other. After reading Wolf Hall these portraits and their mounting take on deeper meaning. There is a mystery, also, as between them is a painting of St. Jerome. I seek a hidden meaning in the placement of these 3 works of art, but have yet to find it.(less)
Umberto Eco is a quixotic writer who I usually enjoy (The Island of the Day Before being the exception). His focus on conspiracies and his dismissal o...moreUmberto Eco is a quixotic writer who I usually enjoy (The Island of the Day Before being the exception). His focus on conspiracies and his dismissal of them truly endear him to me. Indeed, in many ways Foucault's Pendulum is the anti-The Da Vinci Code. The Prague Cemetery continues his debunking of conspiracies, as his protagonist creates and destroys them as need's be. Other reviewers have described the story, and there's no point in my repeating them. Eco grabbed me in the first few sentences, describing the contents of a junk shop, and stopped me dead describing "a pair of firedogs that would disgrace any hearth". Eco's use of language, even in translation, is unmatched among modern authors (which probably also makes him the anti-Dan Brown).
What I find most delicious is how Eco has created a protagonist who is truly the most despicable character in modern literature, and possibly in literature of all time. There is nothing redeeming about him; you can feel no sympathy for him, and his activities untimately (in Eco's interpretation) to the Holocaust. He murders when convenient, (expertly) forges documents for a living, betrays friends, befriends foes, is violently anti-Semitic, but also hates everyone else (Catholics, Protestants, Jesuits, Masons, doctors, women, royalty, commonfolk, satanists, even himself). The only pleasure he has in life is good food. Eco emphasizes this by having the scoundrel describe meals in detail, and also occasionally recipes for the dishes in the meals he enjoys.
The Prague Cemetery is also historical fiction. In a postscript Eco explains that all of the characters except his protagonist (even his grandfather) were real people, and their words were things they actually said. (less)
As a disclaimer, I read Lovers and Beloveds because I know the author through a different context. I've also recently read the first two "Fifty Shades...moreAs a disclaimer, I read Lovers and Beloveds because I know the author through a different context. I've also recently read the first two "Fifty Shades" novels. I won't repeat what other reviewers have said about the story line. Instead, I will focus on what this is: A coming of age story set in a mildly fantasy mythos that would be targeted to teens, except that most teens probably won't be allowed to read it due to the explicit (and excellent) sex scenes. I say mildly fantasy because it deviates from our own reality in only small ways. People are people, and act like people. They have desires and emotions that we will recognize, and act in ways that we can understand. The fact that there's a little magic in the story doesn't detract from it.
The sex is far from gratuitous; it is central to the story as Prince Temmin is 18, and his mind is an 18 year-olds. While the same story could be told without the explicitness, it would be weaker overall.
The contrast with Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels is striking. Lovers and Beloveds is a gripping story with well developed and understandable characters. The Fifty Shades books are excellent pornography, but the characters are not as believable as the fantasy characters in MeiLin Miranda's works. Appreciate the irony.(less)
Diana Gabaldon has created a rich world view set primarily in the mid to late 18th century in Scotland, with excursions into England and, in this work...moreDiana Gabaldon has created a rich world view set primarily in the mid to late 18th century in Scotland, with excursions into England and, in this work, Ireland. Her principal story line begins with Outlander and continues for (currently) 7 voluminous works centered on Claire, a 20th century woman who time travels (inadvertently initially) to the 1740's, meets a Scottish laird and outlaw, falls in love and marries him. The main thread follows Claire and Jamie through the Uprising and into the American colonies. We are all waiting for the next volume, not due for another year.
Along with the main story line the author has written several short stories and novellas around minor characters and events that occur in roughly the same time period. Most of these are mysteries, and can be read independently or in conjunction with the main series. In Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner Jamie, the Scottish Prisoner, has been separated by Claire and is an indentured servant at a manor in England. His parole officer, Lord John, enlists his help in solving a mystery that takes them to Ireland and through the intrigue of an incipient Jacobite uprising.
As always Diana Gabaldon is an excellent writer and story teller, and a joy to read. I recommend Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner for all followers of the Outlander series, but also just as a free-standing mystery/adventure.(less)
I had read Singularity in hard cover when it first came out, and liked it so much I bought 2 more copies as gifts. Now that it's available as an ebook...moreI had read Singularity in hard cover when it first came out, and liked it so much I bought 2 more copies as gifts. Now that it's available as an ebook I just bought it again. I have a special affinity for Jonathan Knox, Consultant, as I have been an IT consultant most of my working life. In Singularity Jon teams with Marianna, a US Government spook (or more correctly is shanghaied by her) to...well...save the world from evildoers. The book is extraordinarily well researched, from details of the Tunguska event through the physics of black holes (and is even endorsed by physicist Kip Thorne). While it starts with a hard science background, it is first and formost a great technothriller with believable characters, seriously villainous bad guys and and an ending gripping to the last page. (less)
I read this after seeing the play Venus in Fur, which is based on the book (but not a play of the book). It's interesting from a historical perspectiv...moreI read this after seeing the play Venus in Fur, which is based on the book (but not a play of the book). It's interesting from a historical perspective, and, of course, is the origin of the word "Masochism". It's also fun to read. It was considered an erotic novel when published in 1870; today it would be considered relatively tame. (less)
Nathanial Philbrick writes about the sea. In In the Heart of the Sea he wrote about the tragedy of the whale ship Essex, which was sunk by an angry sp...moreNathanial Philbrick writes about the sea. In In the Heart of the Sea he wrote about the tragedy of the whale ship Essex, which was sunk by an angry sperm whale. Only 5 of its crew survived the aftermath, and resorted to eating their comrades to do so. If this sounds familiar, Herman Melville knew about the Essex tragedy, met the captain of the Essex, and incorporated parts of the story into Moby-Dick. Philbrick has crafted a highly readable, short analysis of Moby-Dick, what makes it great, what it means, what parts of US culture around 1850 it represents, and how to read it. This work is a masterpiece in itself, and will provide fodder for American Lit majors for decades to come. He answers the perennial question, "What does the White Whale symbolize?" in language that is completely understandable. Read Why Read Moby-Dick? to find out for yourself.(less)
I chose The Sense of an Ending because it won the Man Booker prize, and I have had good luck with other Booker winners (Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel....moreI chose The Sense of an Ending because it won the Man Booker prize, and I have had good luck with other Booker winners (Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel...). Wolf Hall and Midnight's Children were massive tomes, and a real commitment. By contrast, The Sense of an Ending is short; a quick read and very enjoyable. The protagonist, Tony, is an ordinary guy, with ordinary ideas. He is telling the story from his later years, and warns us at the start that his memory may not be all that accurate, as he retells his life from his Sixth Form years through university in substantial (and possibly inaccurate) detail, his 3 close friends, and his first love. He then moves rapidly through his life to his 60's, to bring us to a mystery. I won't give details of the mystery, but it is an excellent one involving one of his Sixth Form friends, his first girlfriend, mysterious suicides, enigmatic diaries, a strange bequest, and letters and emails.
UPDATE: There are a number of places in the narrative where Tony is told "you don't get it." And towards the end, "You STILL don't get it." At the very end, Tony "gets it", and I thought I did also. Until I discussed it with my wife, who also thought she got it. However, she came at it from a different point of view; together we both discovered that we actually didn't get it when we thought we did, and together we finally DID "get it." In all of "its" glory. I urge the reader to be sure they "get it" also. When you do you will see that there are no loose ends, that every action and observation, no matter how trivial sounding, goes into the final answer to the mystery. Even a single, horizontal hand movement - which was the key.
It's definitely a male perspective throughout; all of the female characters are enigmatic to Tony and us; his fantasies and reactions those of a typical teenage male at the start, and a typical male geezer at the end. This sense of reality mirrors the lives of most of us (males), making The Sense of an Ending and Tony utterly understandable to the reader.(less)
The author is married to the author of The Beak of the Finch, which is a recommendation in itself. She has focused on the private lives of Charles and...moreThe author is married to the author of The Beak of the Finch, which is a recommendation in itself. She has focused on the private lives of Charles and Emma Darwin and their family, and the book is full of interesting and thought-provoking facts that I did not know, as well as repeating a lot of what I did know. For example, as most people know, Charles married his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood, granddaughter of Josiah Wedgewood, who founded the pottery empire bearing his name. What I did not know was that Charles's sister married Emma's brother. The central theme is the differing, almost opposite views of Charles and Emma on religion. Again, this is something that has been widely discussed and known, but Deborah Heiligman brings a lot of detail from their letters that provides profound insights into their characters and personalities. Charles is, in effect, the first Agnostic (by that name) because his close friend, T.H. Huxley, coined the term.
Overall this treatment of the Father of Evolution as a human being rather than a symbol is refreshing and welcome. My only quibble is the level of writing seems to be targeted at a young audience rather than a literary audience; this is the reason I gave it only 3 stars. But I highly recommend it for this intimate portrait of a great couple with a happy marriage, through their joys, sorrows, successes and tragedies.(less)
When I started A Book of Secrets... I didn't know where it was headed. It talked about a model for Rodin I had never heard of (Eve Fairfax), her histo...moreWhen I started A Book of Secrets... I didn't know where it was headed. It talked about a model for Rodin I had never heard of (Eve Fairfax), her history, who she didn't marry, who she knew (which was just about everyone), what she knew, and the whole host of the liaisons of the late 19th century through the 1950's. Alice Keppel (mistress to the Prince of Wales and other notables), mother of Violet Trefusis (the lover of Vita Sackville-West),appearances by Lytton Strachey (author of Eminent Victorians, Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson (husband of Vita Sackville-West), Winston Churchill, and the biographer himself who is far from a disinterested observer, ferreting out who slept with whom, how often, when, and what the author thought about these relationships.
Will everyone like this book? Certainly not! For one thing, if you have never heard of the key characters (Vita and Violet, and Virginia Woolf) who made up the Bloomsbury Set you may not care about their love lives and intrigues (or you may see this book as a springboard to learn about a fascinating time in the social history of England in the 19th and 20th centuries). If you know of them, or have visited Sissinghurst, Vita and Harold's restored ruined castle and gardens (and not visited in the book) Michael Holyroyd's vast collection of intersecting biographies (including his own) is a Must Read.(less)
This work of literary pornography takes the idea that the protagonist (and narrator) can stop time, so that only he continues to move about, age, and...moreThis work of literary pornography takes the idea that the protagonist (and narrator) can stop time, so that only he continues to move about, age, and work. Imagine what you could do with this ability! Rob banks? Kill evildoers? Save accident victims? Free political prisoners? But all the narrator thinks to do is undress women. Then dress them again, without otherwise molesting them. Or sometimes planting his own erotic writing where they will find it. Baker is a brilliant, literate writer, who periodically goes off the deep end and writes something outrageous. If you can get your head around the fact that his ability is possible (hint: it isn't) you might be entertained by The Fermata, but it gets repetitive rather quickly and you might rush through it to get to the good parts.(less)
Nicholson Baker likes to write about short timespans. Mezzanine took place during an escalator ride. Vox is a single phone sex conversation. Not all o...moreNicholson Baker likes to write about short timespans. Mezzanine took place during an escalator ride. Vox is a single phone sex conversation. Not all of his books are thus structured, but he does seem to delight in keeping things compact (as does Ian McEwan sometimes; his Saturday takes place between morning and evening of one day [a Saturday, naturally]). 50 years ago this book would have been banned; by today's standards it is relatively tame, but certainly X rated. I won't spoil it, but will point out that Baker's use and abuse of words is magnificent. So you can use that as an excuse to read this basically pornographic novel. It is the language that raises it above the level of "trash".(less)
What James Joyce did for one day, Nicholson Baker does for the duration of one escalator ride. The entire book covers just one hour in the life of the...moreWhat James Joyce did for one day, Nicholson Baker does for the duration of one escalator ride. The entire book covers just one hour in the life of the narrator, as recalled on the escalator ride returning to work from lunch. Full of cogent observations on life in general (and specific), from why shoelaces break to urinal etiquette in men's rooms, to the important social interactions in an office setting, to escalator operation and polishing, how the aisles are arranged in a CVS store, drinking straws, milk cartons...Everything you have probably thought of at one time or another. The nameless narrator is everyman(woman) and easy to identify with.(less)
Poul Anderson's wife is releasing some of his early works for Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/Call-Me-Joe-ebo...Call me Joe is the first. It is a short...morePoul Anderson's wife is releasing some of his early works for Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/Call-Me-Joe-ebo...Call me Joe is the first. It is a short story published in the late 1950's in one of the popular science fiction magazines of the time, where I first read it (I think it was Astounding, but I'm not sure). The basic premise is a scientific mission to Jupiter creates a life form that can survive on the Jovian "surface", remote controlled from a moon station. The controlling scientist is a handicapped man who feels the power of the whole, vibrant creature that he controls. Is this beginning to sound familiar? Did James Cameron read this story and let it percolate for 60 years?
As always, Poul Anderson's prose is a joy to read, and the ending, while not a complete surprise, is very satisfying. Read it to see where "Avatar" came from. And for the pleasure of tasting the Master's work. (less)