My review of first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novels Review:
Veteran author Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve, chose JuMy review of first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novels Review:
Veteran author Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve, chose Juana la Loca, middle child of Spain’s Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, to bring to life in this tragic cautionary tale. C.W. Gortner also wrote about Juana the Mad in his recent novel, The Last Queen. Interestingly, both Gortner and Cullen, after doing the research, decided that Juana’s diagnosis and 50-year confinement (at the hands of her husband, father, and son, all of whom preferred ruling without her) was specious. Cullen’s Juana wasn’t mad, as in psychotic or schizophrenic, at all. She was rather a victim of the manipulating and grasping men in her life. (It could however be argued that Cullen’s Juana exhibits symptoms of depression.)
Cullen presents her as a woman without a voice. As a child Juana is in awe of her mother and in love with her father; as a young woman, sent to a foreign land to marry a handsome stranger, she is consumed by her desire for him; and as a widow, now understanding how her husband betrayed her and how her father was not the man she had imagined, she agrees to sign away her rights to the throne—back to her father. Cullen shows Juana as kind-hearted, passive, and childlike. She is a woman watching, not acting, not speaking out. Juana’s two sources of joy come from her secret love for Diego Colon, Christopher Columbus’s son, and her love for her children.
Not everyone can be Eleanor or Elizabeth, it’s true, even if she is born to the throne. Readers of well-told tale risk feeling depressed for Juana – ironically the very mental ailment that so many historians ascribe to her. ...more
Here's my review that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novel Review:
This mystery is the latest in a series, Bones in the Belfry, A LoHere's my review that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novel Review:
This mystery is the latest in a series, Bones in the Belfry, A Load of Old Bones, Bone Idle, and Bones in High Places being the earlier installments. The books have a charming premise: some chapters are told from points of view of the protagonist reverend’s dog and cat, Bouncer and Maurice. There’s a dead-on Miss Marple British village setting complete with eccentric characters; and the author’s style is cheeky, chirpy, and witty. She’s also got a nice plot, a tale of a blackmailed bishop amidst treacle tarts, waistcoats, and buggery.
I finished it with some relief, weary of feeling perplexed about what was going on. I have read a fair amount of British fiction, but this was hard work. The glib repartee here is evidently graduate level British English, and it turns out I’m a dull American sophomore. More confounding yet was that instead of a backstory the book has 25 footnotes. “First mentioned in A Load of Old Bones,” “Dumont appears in Bones in High Places,” “See A Load of Old Bones.” I puzzled over the story’s era; my guess is the 1930s. The reverend drives an old Singer. Maybe the ’50s. It was as though the first third—or more—of the book were missing. See Bones in the Belfry indeed. ...more
Between the easy-to-read prose, the clever plot, and the intriguing characters, One Blood feels like a solid new offering in a long line-up of mysteriBetween the easy-to-read prose, the clever plot, and the intriguing characters, One Blood feels like a solid new offering in a long line-up of mysteries featuring Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella. I was surprised to see it's only the second.
Kella is on the Solomon Islands Police Force in 1960. He's caught between whitey's culture and his own island culture, both a cop and an aofia, that is a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper. While it's true that an exotic location and a cop or detective caught between two cultures is a well-worn set-up in the mystery genre, it's also true that it's often used because it can work really well. Kent makes it work, especially with the addition of the feisty Sister Conchita into the mix. Sister Conchita is the new leader of a mission that's become inward rather than outward looking, and she's got to shake up three elderly nuns who would prefer things stay the same.
Sergeant Kella is investigating sabotage at a logging camp, while Sister Conchita wants to know the truth about the death of an American who died suspiciously at an open house at the mission. He died soon after reaching out to Sister Conchita, and she knows she should have slowed down long enough to talk with him. The two cases are connected, of course. The fact that these were the islands where President John F. Kennedy's PT boat sank, leaving the future president and his crew to hide in the jungle from the Japanese, also plays a role in the story.
Another great book through the Goodreads firstreads program!...more
Here's my review of this strikingly good novel, one that's literary yet so readable, for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a greHere's my review of this strikingly good novel, one that's literary yet so readable, for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
This beautifully imagined and written novel, which feels more like a literary biography than a fiction, tells the story of Vladimir Nabokov’s younger brother, a brother who followed too soon—11 months—after the 1899 birth of his bullying, brilliant sibling. Author Russell heard about Sergey Nabokov in an essay in Salon.com, and now has conjured him back to life with this many-layered, readable page-turner. The story begins with Sergey trapped in 1943 Berlin. An arrest seeming inevitable, Sergey is writing the story of his life, “without knowing how much time remains.” The chapters of the memoir then take their turns with 1943’s events.
Russell has succeeded in the impressive feat of making vivid and compelling the story of a vulnerable hanger-on, a person Vladimir Nabokov described as a “shadow in the background.” Sergey, an affectionate child in a liberal, wealthy Russian family that celebrated the gregarious Vladimir, was mostly overlooked. An effeminate, stuttering adolescent, Sergey was pitied and scorned. As an adult, he drifted for years, opium making him even more shadowlike as he searched for love and meaning. The shimmering world he lived in, though!—the tables he ate at, and the beds he slept in! After graduating from Cambridge, Sergey moved with the glitterati of between-the-wars Paris. Here are Cocteau, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, and Vladimir Nabokov himself, all of them written with wit. There are fireworks of detail that would overwhelm a reader in the hands of a less adept writer. (Details pulled off in part, it turns out, by a cadre of research assistants!)
This is a book that ends all too quickly, and calls to be reread and enjoyed again. Absolutely recommended. ...more
The Invisible Bridge is an amazing story, peppered with just enough brilliant toss-offs - like the hero feeling "carbonated joy" rising in his chest uThe Invisible Bridge is an amazing story, peppered with just enough brilliant toss-offs - like the hero feeling "carbonated joy" rising in his chest upon seeing his brother - to let a reader know that the writer is masterful without feeling as though Orringer is showing off. Her research is also impeccable - how on earth did this American write so convincingly about Paris just prior to World War II through the eyes of her young Hungarian protagonist?
I picked this up at the library, read the first couple pages, just to make sure I wanted to read it, and could put it down. I was reading it at 4 a.m.
Yes, it's yet another book about the grim situation of Jews in World War II Europe, but Orringer is writing about her own ancestors, so you know that at least a couple of these people will survive. It is mostly a love story, and the story of survival in the face of terrible evil. Wonderful writing, plotting, and characters set against the landscape of World War II. Magnificent....more
If you like Agatha Christie you'll like Carola Dunn, who writes with the dame's ease. This mystery has a classic feel to it that invites a reader to lIf you like Agatha Christie you'll like Carola Dunn, who writes with the dame's ease. This mystery has a classic feel to it that invites a reader to light a fire in the study and retreat to that easy chair next to it, cup of tea in hand and the little Jack Russell terrier at your feet. The story is a "who done it" puzzle as easy to enjoy as a drift down one of England's canals.
Writer Dunn is an expat Brit living in Eugene, Oregon. If you're English and land in the United States, it's hard to imagine a more copacetic place than Eugene -- maybe Corvallis, up the road, or Ashland, just south with its Shakespeare Festival, or even Portland... but all of them share a green rolling landscape and cultural sensibility that must have helped Dunn settle in. Even so, her nostalgia for England, rural Dorset in this case, had me wanting to book tickets. Gone West, set in the 1920s, has the requisite yet-to-be-electrified manse; country folk both dour and genial; a clever detective, Daisy Fletcher, a writer whose husband works for Scotland Yard -- a real detective, who is in turns appreciative of Daisy's help and exasperated by her meddling.
Daisy has driven from London out to the wilds of southwest England at the request of an old school acquaintance, a widow Daisy doesn't know well. The woman is secretary to a sickly author of Western pulp fiction -- he puts out three books a year, books that have become much better sellers since his long and worsening illness necessitated Daisy's old friend taking on the writing. Is someone in the household dosing him, keeping him sick so the secretary can keep up the writing?
The writer dies a bit more than halfway through the book, and now it's up to Daisy to make certain the killer doesn't go free.
Gone West has a great cast of characters, memorable insights into human nature scattered throughout, and a spot-on evocation of 1920s England, complete with obscure card games and the best description of how difficult automobile driving used to be that I've ever read. ...more
This book put me off a few months ago - I read the first dozen pages and set it back on my shelf. Then came all those movie trailers of Daniel Craig aThis book put me off a few months ago - I read the first dozen pages and set it back on my shelf. Then came all those movie trailers of Daniel Craig and I was inspired to give it another try.
Thanks Mr. Craig. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a lot of fun - and it's lasting fun. So many good books end all too soon, but Dragon Tattoo is a hefty 590 pages leading a reader on. And on. And on. Just when the main mystery wraps up, around page 490, the other one kicks in.
The characters feel enjoyably real and multi-faceted (including Sweden itself); the plot is well twisted; and the writing is invisible... you're simply there. The book also offers great insights into the best and worst of journalism, and its hero is a journalist - hooray!
I still haven't seen the movie, and a friend tells me that it's the Swedish version that's better. Hollywood prettified the characters, she complained, explaining that Daniel Craig isn't a good fit for the journalist hero.
Mmm. Maybe. I've been picturing him as the hero, however, and it hasn't hurt my enjoyment of the book one whit....more
I've been going back and forth between three stars and four for this very funny book - three stars for me, because while I liked Don't I didn't reallyI've been going back and forth between three stars and four for this very funny book - three stars for me, because while I liked Don't I didn't really like it, which is the criterion for four stars. However, that's me, a woman who NEVER watches basketball and am beyond Titus's demographic as well.
I gave it four stars because I realized just how many people I'd recommend it to - I can't figure out which of several basketball-loving family and friends to pass it along to. It's hilarious, a great behind-the-curtains look at sports; and a welcome relief from the zeitgeist of over-the-top admiration, respect, and pay for entertainers -- and their tedious books on why they deserved to reach the top.
Titus writes that although he does have a competitive side, basically he "just want[ed] to be good enough to make it consistently fun."
What comes through is a smart, smart-ass guy who must have been the catch of his high school (he was the quarterback of the football team and the best basketball player on the school team). His dad was a coach, and he was also in club basketball in middle school, a 6 foot 2 kid playing on the best AAU team ever assembled. He was the only white boy on that team, and gets into race issues just a bit, again with humor, and he also talks about coming to grips with the fact that he wasn't going to play pro basketball.
Now think of the time in your life when you realized that what you had always wanted to be was an impossibility. Maybe it was when you figured out that you'd almost certainly never get to be the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire because it sadly doesn't exist anymore. Or maybe it was when you decided that being a doctor involved way too much school for your liking and/or you weren't smart enough. Or, more likely, you realized that you couldn't be a carnie because you didn't smell like a combination of meth and stale cotton candy, you didn't have a balding mullet, and you weren't missing over half of your teeth...
After my sophomore year at Ohio State, I had my realization. No matter how much I had wanted to be a Big Ten basketball star, it was never going to happen. Some would say this made me a failure, but that's an incorrect assessment because before my career was over and my window of opportunity closed, I changed my goal so I wouldn't technically fail. (It's a very popular strategy among us underachievers.) Out was my dream of being a star college basketball player and in its place was my new dream of simply making the most of the cards I was dealt and having as much fun as I possibly could for my last two years of college...
This is definitely not the book to offer up to an idealistic sixth grader who has his or her whole life ahead of them. It's rather a book for the rest of us, who have a lot of our life behind us, and are never going to be star basketball players, ballerinas, or even president. Titus shows how to get over it. Funny, funny stuff unless you're too liable to cringe at adolescent grossness.
This was a firstreads win for me -- and also either for Danny, Kira, Josh or Jack, one of whom will get it soon....more
The Shadow Patrol begins with the deaths of a half dozen important U.S. intelligence officers in Kabul - victims of a Taliban double-cross. Then thingThe Shadow Patrol begins with the deaths of a half dozen important U.S. intelligence officers in Kabul - victims of a Taliban double-cross. Then things get rough. Two years later, the Kabul station is still in trouble and John Wells, a freelance undercover operative, investigates whether there's a traitor among the Americans. Drugs, terrorism, tough soldiers, dangerous and exotic locales -- and the writing is excellent, pulling the reader along. The writer is a former reporter for the New York Times and it shows -- he's scarily prescient with this plot. There are plenty of battles, plenty of twists.
It's for fans of the genre, and I suspect that you should begin with the earlier books -- this is number six in the John Wells series. I'm giving this four stars even though it turned out to be not my cuppa tea - but that was me, not the book, which is a solid and frighteningly real story. ...more
OK, so I haven't read every entry... worse, depending upon your sensitivities, this book is on the shelf in the bathroom. If it were a guy's book, sayOK, so I haven't read every entry... worse, depending upon your sensitivities, this book is on the shelf in the bathroom. If it were a guy's book, say, titled PRICK-tionary you know it would be a bathroom book. (Has that been done?)
It's a perfect little break from work, with 200-word definitions of head-scratchers like:
Security Clearance, noun: A ranking scale that measures the intimacy of a friendship by the degree of personal information divulged to that friend. For example, the receptionist at your office might have Level One security clearance, meaning that she knows your car and that you have a boyfriend, but not whether the car is paid for and how you met the boyfriend. Your former college roommate's Level Five clearance, however, indicates that she not only knows that you're two car payments behind, but that you're about to dump the boyfriend because of that thing he does in bed with his thumb...
There are also more exact definitions of expressions you thought you already understood, like:
Pole Dancing, noun: A raunchy form of erotic dance in which a nude or semi-nude woman writhes around a vertical metal pole. Popularized by Eleanor Roosevelt during her tenure as First Lady of ... [ahem] Could you excuse us for just a moment, please? [elevator music] All right, we're back and like like to introduce Leticia, our new research intern. So. Pole dancing. A popular form of erotic entertainment at strip clubs and bachelor parties, pole dancing has also made modest headway into the female commercial mainstream as both a "workout" and a "confidence booster" (see also: interesting blisters).
I've enjoyed every definition so far.
The back cover has a blurb from stand-up comic and author Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, who wrote, "...sure to make you laugh until you pee."
Stefanie. Put it in the bathroom.
(I won this via a firstreads giveaway - thanks, goodreads!)...more
I'm having a tough time with this -- I put my name in the hat for its firstreads giveaway, thinking it looked fun, even though I don't read the witch/I'm having a tough time with this -- I put my name in the hat for its firstreads giveaway, thinking it looked fun, even though I don't read the witch/vampire/werewolf/queen of the underworld books. And I don't read romances. I did the same with Rainshadow Road, by Lisa Kleypas -- another romance with (slight) paranormal elements. I loved that book.
Witchful Thinking, however, is really a full-on romance, its heroine an insecure witch. It's full of breathtaking abs and auras, and the witchy heroine in love with a warlock who can't control his temper, a warlock who kisses her, their "tongues circled in a carnal dance," who silences her with a kiss.
I heard recently that half the fiction sold in the United States is romance -- and judging from the Goodread pages, most of the rest is paranormal. Best of luck to H.P. Mallory; there's nothing wrong with her writing, and I suspect that her mix of romance, witches, and drama (inherent in her heroine's being queen of the underworld) will be just the thing for readers who crave that kind of concoction.
It's just a little sweet for me, that's all. ...more
I'd never read a Spellman mystery and but I expect to go back and read some of the earlier books in this series now that I've at last cracked this oneI'd never read a Spellman mystery and but I expect to go back and read some of the earlier books in this series now that I've at last cracked this one open. Author Lisa Lutz is seriously funny, with a unique style that is immediately appealing. Probably everyone but me has known for years that the Spellmans are an eccentric family of private eyes in San Francisco. It's a great set-up for comedy.
This mystery is more about the Spellmans' antics than the clients, but by the book's end Lutz has circled around with a couple of twists that surprised me regarding Isabel Spellman's investigations.
Trail of the Spellmans is a great beach read, perfect for a flight. I loved it.
Fortune Favors the Bold from SmarterComics is publisher Franco Arda's own contribution to SmarterComics offerings. According to the bio blurb, he's aFortune Favors the Bold from SmarterComics is publisher Franco Arda's own contribution to SmarterComics offerings. According to the bio blurb, he's a former derivatives trader for Deutsche Bank. I'm guessing this is what worked for him. (Pretty bold to admit to being a derivatives trader...)
Fortune Favors the Bold offers classically good advice in a story-board format. It encourages readers to see life as a full-sized and fun board game. Work should be strategic play. That's a winning attitude. Each of the book's two-page spreads illustrate a point, some of them predictable, some not. For instance, chapter 8 is "Confidence = Believing in Yourself" or chapter 16: "It's OK to Fail." In Chapter 8, the illustrations make the point that success builds upon itself, and that a lack of confidence leads a person to behave in ways that lead to failure. We all know that, although it's good to be reminded. Less predictable is the chapter pointing out that someone with a closer to average IQ in many ways has a leg up on the higher-IQ individual...
One of my favorite chapters are chapter 12: "Focus + Speed = Momentum," which refers to the "power law" that says 80% of results flow from 20% of the causes... so focus on the 20% that really matters. I need to put that up on my wall. Other favorites were "Life Lessons from Skiing," "Life Lessons from Poker," and "Strategy vs. Tactics."
I've read a lot of self-help books, and there's really no reason most of them need to be 50,000 words or more. This one gets the message across with illustrations (each picture worth 1,000 words, of course). There's 50 pages with an average of four illustrations per page; that makes 200 illustrations... good grief. This is a 200,000-word self-help book (not counting the actual words), easily readable in an hour, even with time spent reflecting upon each chapter.
It's got the usual SmarterComics quiz in the back, plus a very nice bibliography of those 50,000-word plus books you can turn to should you feel the need. They include Rich Dad, Poor Dad for the chapter on Life Lessons from Poker; and Game Theory at Work: How to Use Game Theory to Outthink and Outmaneuver the Competition for the chapter on Strategy vs. Tactics.
Not many self-help/life coaching/business books can honestly be described as fun. This one breaks the mold....more
A review of this adaptation of The Prince should begin with a caveat. You can take a semester-worth of reading Machiavelli's The Prince in college. ThA review of this adaptation of The Prince should begin with a caveat. You can take a semester-worth of reading Machiavelli's The Prince in college. Thinking you've read and grasped Machiavelli via a 62-page comic is pretty unrealistic. What's more, Machiavelli's understanding of power is something that I suspect either comes naturally to people or not... and if not, they'll have a difficult time retaining power. (As Machiavelli points out. Do I know that because I just read this SmarterComic? Hmmm.)
SmarterComics takes Machiavelli's aphorisms and wove them throughout the story of a young computer genius and her older friend who supported her college education. He goes to jail without implicating her -- and it was a computer hacking that she was actually guilty of. She starts up a do-good business, goes public, and when he is released from jail he joins the outfit... along with the the new ways he's learned in prison. Prison values dovetail pretty closely with Machiavelli's observations.
We think of Machiavelli as an immoral or amoral philosopher, unconcerned with God or goodness. I'm no expert (didn't take the whole semester -- just read him in a survey class), but recall that in fact he actually had a lot of ambivalence about power, and included that in his pages. That comes through in this adaptation.
Both this book and The Book of Five Rings left me intrigued and edified. Intrigued enough to think that I'd like to take another look at the original The Prince (and that's surely one of the goals of these comics); edified because the SmarterComics version does deliver Machiavelli's point -- that arriving at power and keeping it is (for those who want to play) a game with skill sets to be learned.
The SmarterComics books have references and a quiz at the end, plus an invitation to visit their website for answers to the quiz and more information. The graphics for The Prince are stylish and sharp. This series is a great idea and well executed.
This book was a happy win from the Firstreads giveaway....more
My dad once told me that even though I already knew everything (something I took at face value at the time), it was a good idea to review the basics nMy dad once told me that even though I already knew everything (something I took at face value at the time), it was a good idea to review the basics now and then. This book is about reviewing the basics. Sun Tzu's advice is offered with just enough shrouds of time and distance to make you think... and agree with the advice. I knew that, but it's good to give some thought to how the hell I might cultivate a few more allies, make it worth their while to be allied with me.
I'd heard of Sun Tzu for years without ponying up and actually reading the guy. SmarterComics made that easy via the format of the graphic novel. The modern examples are imaginatively conceived and sharply drawn - really, far more fun than the Cliff Notes could ever have made it.
My husband teases me about all the self-help books I read. I'm not sure I'm going to need another after this one. Really.
I'd recommeI love this book!
My husband teases me about all the self-help books I read. I'm not sure I'm going to need another after this one. Really.
I'd recommend reading it bits at a time over the course of a year - keeping up with the discardia holidays that come four times a year.
There are, however, immediate benefits. I put Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff in the bathroom last night and this evening my husband told me he'd gotten through two bags of his stuff, and thrown a lot away. These are bags that have been in place in the basement since 2004.
Discardia isn't a book you need to read all at once. I'd recommend a bit at a time, and begin forming a mindset that will allow you to plow through your overload, giving much away. I've begun the process, and every bag that goes I feel better. (Although I saw the new Sherlock Holmes with Naoomi Rapace playing a gypsy. That's me! I thought. I'm going to start wearing that long gypsy-ish skirt and sweater that I haven't touched for years... oh. I gave them to ARC two days ago. Even so... the organized closet of clothes I actually wear outweighs the fleeting fantasy of becoming a gypsy.)
Sanders offers organizational tips for the parts of your life worth keeping - and it goes far beyond your stuff into your vision of yourself and your relationships with others. She has three principles: 1) Decide and Do; 2) Quality over Quantity; and 3) Perpetual Upgrade.
Simple! Just those three. Good. (How Ignatian, in fact; the Jesuits also advise "decide and do" - after discernment.) Sanders also has great quotes: "It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting." - and cut-to-the-heart insights - like the title of one chapter, "The Museum of Me" Yep.