I'm a huge fan of historical fiction that's not set too far back in the past. The early 20th century is hugely fascinating to me because it was such aI'm a huge fan of historical fiction that's not set too far back in the past. The early 20th century is hugely fascinating to me because it was such a turbulent time, caught between the two World Wars, with huge sociopolitical upheavals and the effects of first wave feminism. Add to that the jazz age and flappers, and the setting of Libba Bray's Diviner's series is catnip to me.
The second book, Lair of Dreams, returns to New York City in the early 1920s, bringing the reader back into the world of Evie O'Neill, the "Sweetheart Seer" and her motley assortment of friends. Evie takes something of a backseat in this book, although she's still crucial to the plot. Meanwhile, friend Henry Dubois and a new character named Ling Chan take center stage as the Diviners try to solve the mystery of what's behind a terrifying new "sleeping sickness" affecting New Yorkers. Hot on the heels of 1918's Spanish Flu, another epidemic shatters the fragile facade of inclusiveness in the city, leading to calls for Chinatown's population to be segregated and deported.
As Henry and Ling descend into their dreams first for their own reasons, and then to solve the mystery of the illness, Evie has her hands full with Sam Lloyd as they try to discover the truth behind the mysterious Buffalo Project, a thread that runs through both novels in the series to date and ties them together. At the same time, Jericho, Theta and Memphis are fighting their own battles as they come to terms with who they are.
Lair of Dreams is a story that in a way feels very self-contained, and could probably be read mostly independently of The Diviners, although it helps to have some background knowledge of each character's history. There are also threads that are left untied, with the expectation that there will be a third book (or possibly more) in the series to tie up loose ends and solve the mysteries that remain.
One of the great strengths of both books is the language that Bray uses. The challenge of writing a book set in the past is getting the "voice" of the period correct; many writers fail to tend to this detail, but when it's done well, it greatly enhances the reader's ability to get immersed in the story. Bray's facility with the slang of the period is a testament to not only her writing skill, but her ability to get inside her character's stories. She should also be recognized for the richness of her characters; the Diviners come from a variety of sociopolitical backgrounds, cultures, and orientations, and these books are all the more interesting and engaging for it.
While I felt that the first book was a little stronger in terms of plot, Lair of Dreams certainly entertains. I look forward to the next book in the series, and hope that it comes along in a shorter period of time than elapsed between the first two.
Digital ARC graciously provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Netgalley....more
Unlike a lot of people, my issue with this book was not its reliance on an unreliable narrator; I can appreciate and even enjoy a character that doesnUnlike a lot of people, my issue with this book was not its reliance on an unreliable narrator; I can appreciate and even enjoy a character that doesn't have it together, and Rachel, the narrator and the eponymous girl on the train, is nothing if not a mess. Sometimes the messier a character is, the more interesting their story. I have a love/hate relationship with villains and I often find them the most interesting characters. Rachel isn't a villain, nor is she particularly interesting. Hawkins establishes early on that Rachel is on a downward spiral: divorced, unemployed, and a floundering alcoholic, she wants nothing more than to be a part of life, even if that life has nothing to do with her. So when she sees something suspicious and then learns of a connected disappearance, it's not a surprise that she gets involved in the investigation. The victim, a woman named Megan, lives on her old street, a few doors down from her ex-husband and his new wife. This, of course, lends itself to several levels of complication in the story... but none of them are particularly compelling. This was a fast read, but that doesn't mean that it was an absorbing one. Instead, it was glossy and easy to skim over. When the reveal came, it felt as if I was sitting at the finishing line, waiting for the characters to catch up.
A number of reviews have compared The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl, but I think this is a mistake, a simplistic sorting of the two into a sort of "female thriller" subgenre. None of the characters in this book, and certainly none of the "twists" are as clever as what Gillian Flynn achieves. ...more
**spoiler alert** A boy tries hard to be a man His mother takes him by the hand If he stops to think, he starts to cry Oh why?
Bono wrote those lyrics in**spoiler alert** A boy tries hard to be a man His mother takes him by the hand If he stops to think, he starts to cry Oh why?
Bono wrote those lyrics in 1981 but they're the words that I thought of when I finished J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar -- part memoir, part tribute to the bar that had helped raise him -- but I wondered as the book drew to a close, would he recognize the sacrifices that his mother had made to make him a man? (Spoiler: yes. At one point, he writes: "All this searching and longing for the secret of being a good man, and all I needed to do was follow the example of one very good woman.") Throughout and even after, however, he was full of praise and adoration towards the men who were surrogate fathers to him, from his Uncle Charlie to Bob the Cop to Bobo and Cager and most especially to Steve, the owner of Publicans, the bar he romanticized throughout much of his life.
And yet, the person he turned to in his hour of need was often his selfless, long-suffering mother. He turned away from her as well, in shame, self-loathing, embarrassment, and in the need to become independent (even though it seemed doubtful he would accomplish this). Perhaps this is what keeps me from rating this memoir, which is undoubtedly well-written -- even poetic at times -- and full of heartache and joy and grief and love, with five stars. Moehringer is a talented writer, but is sometimes myopic in the treatment he gives his childhood and young adulthood. It is clear to the reader that he doesn't always give credit where credit is due, nor is he able to view the men and the bar at all objectively. Given that this is his memoir, that's fine. It's even to be expected. But it's disappointing because the reader never really feels that young J.R. has grown....more
Full disclosure: I am firmly in the pro-vaccination camp; I think it is incredibly selfish and shortsighted, as well as dangerous, to refuse to vaccinFull disclosure: I am firmly in the pro-vaccination camp; I think it is incredibly selfish and shortsighted, as well as dangerous, to refuse to vaccinate against illnesses that have known (i.e., documented and proven) effects ranging from disablement to death. The argument that certain diseases no longer exist therefore we do not need to vaccinate confounds me. How do people think diseases become extinct in the first place?
On to the book: I found this an interesting and well-researched overview of the history of, and philosophical arguments behind vaccination. To my mind, it was not critical enough of the anti-vaccination movement; Biss takes great pains to avoid criticizing the anti-vaxxers, instead couching much of her discourse in neutral language. I found this disappointing when the evidence against altered vaccination schedules or, at an extreme, a refusal to vaccinate has been so clear about the risks both individuals and the larger community face when vaccination numbers decline.
Still, this was a good starting point to learn about some of the issues surrounding the vaccination debate. Aside from my disappointment with Biss' reluctance to be confrontational, my only real issue with this book was in the editing. First, that whomever was responsible for taking a fine-toothed comb to it didn't reorganize some of the arguments. The book jumps from topic to topic and back again and could have used some more structure. Finally, I am not a huge fan of endnotes (as opposed to footnotes) in the first place, but when they are used without notations in the main text, they become doubly as frustrating (particularly when reading on an e-reader, which thankfully was not the case here).
All in all, On Immunity: An Inoculation was thought-provoking and interesting, but not quite what I expected....more
Cute but predictable. The travel was mostly well-researched but the part about "all the little towns" in Jasper National Park as well as the descriptiCute but predictable. The travel was mostly well-researched but the part about "all the little towns" in Jasper National Park as well as the description of all the mountains on the train trip out west from Toronto made me laugh. Not quite. ...more
So much has been written about the European theatre in WWII that it occurred to me while reading this book that I knew very little about the other "haSo much has been written about the European theatre in WWII that it occurred to me while reading this book that I knew very little about the other "half" of the war, with Japan. Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and POW imprisoned by the Japanese after his capture off the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.
This is a remarkable story about endurance against immeasurable odds, and a testament to the human spirit. ...more
For years, I've thought that France rolled over when the Nazis invaded during WWII. Books like Sarah's Key left the impression that most French citizeFor years, I've thought that France rolled over when the Nazis invaded during WWII. Books like Sarah's Key left the impression that most French citizens did little to protest against the repression, violence, and occupation that the Germans left in their wake. A Train in Winter tells a different story: that of the resisters, ordinary citizens who in their own, often seemingly small ways, fought back against the terror of those days. In particular, Caroline Moorhead focuses on the women of the French resistance; these were defiant, proud women who not only supported their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons, and lovers in the fight to reclaim Occupied France, but who often risked their own lives and gave up their children in the process.
Moorehead's tale of these women is well-researched and documented, but I had many of the same problems that others did with this book. In truth, it's probably closer to a 3.5-star book for me, but the second half of the book makes up for some of the slog that must be undertaken to get through the first half; there are a lot of facts that must be recounted in order to establish the atmosphere in Vichy France, and unfortunately, the first half of the book suffers from too much telling, and not enough showing.
I would also have to agree with those who suggest that Moorehead attempts to pack too much into A Train in Winter. There were 230 women packed on to the train that left France for Auschwitz, and at times, it feels as if Moorehead is trying to tell each woman's story, but there simply isn't enough of a story in order to include them all. If she had focused on a smaller number of the women, perhaps the reader would feel more of a connection to them than is possible when trying to remember which woman is which.
That said, the second half of the book, which takes place at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück, and Mauthausen, is brutal, heartbreaking, terrifying -- and impossible to put down. It then becomes clear that it almost doesn't matter that you can't remember the differences between the women -- their story is so intimately tied together that it can never fully be untied. This is what gives the book its power -- and lifts it from a mediocre book into something a little more special....more
This eternally unanswered question lies at the heart of Sweetness #9, the new novel by Stephan Eirik Clark. AWhat came first, the chicken or the egg?
This eternally unanswered question lies at the heart of Sweetness #9, the new novel by Stephan Eirik Clark. A fictionalized account of the current debate over food production and the Western diet, the novel follows the story of the Levereaux family during the period of the American food revolution. The father, David, works as a flavourist, but he came into his role after an eventful start doing animal research at one of America's leading food production companies. What David sees and doesn't see in the production of the bestselling, ubiquitous artificial sweetener called Sweetness #9 sends him on a decades long search for the truth.
While David struggles with questions of ethical responsibility, his family falls apart at the seams. His long-suffering wife, Betty, fights the age-old battle of the bulge, but is hers the quest of Sisyphus and the rock? Meanwhile, David's children, daughter Priscilla and son Ernest, have problems of their own. But is their malaise caused by the composition of Sweetness #9 (found in almost everything they consume), or is it the result of the "American condition"? And just what caused this "American condition", anyway?
Sweetness #9 veers off into strange territory while attempting to solve the mystery, but with great wit and sharp storytelling, Clark never loses his reader. Tangents aside, Sweetness #9 leaves one pondering the eternal question, thereby dismissing the notion that this particular formula is all empty calories.
*** ARC generously provided by Little, Brown and Company, and Netgalley.