Hello my lovely readers!
It’s my pleasure to be able to wish you all a happy spring! I am so excited for the lighter days and warmer weather, although we definitely are still having a few cold ones here and there. My partner and I celebrated Ostara (spring equinox) with an after-work walk on the Charles River, a special dinner, and presents of course. We were surprised to spot three swans on the Charles during our walk. It’s not common to see swans on the Charles, so it was a nice surprise. Plus, they let us get very close to them! For Ostara dinner, we made deviled eggs, salad with pickled turnips and homemade honey mustard dressing, and homemade handcut fries. I had a pina colada with it, and my partner had hard cider. Delicious!
Even though we’ve been together for over a year and a half, my partner and I had never been to a concert together. We finally changed that this month when we went to see The Dum Dum Girls live. They’re a band my bf is a fan of, so I hadn’t listened to them prior to the night. They put on a great show, though. Kind of surfer/rocker chick style music. Plus their outfits were really fun. I left the concert wanting one of their albums, which I think marks it a success on their part. We had a blast going to a concert together, and I’m pumped to go to more!
I posted six book reviews this month and read five books. I unfortunately got a bit bogged down in a stroke of bad luck of three mediocre reads in a row, so I didn’t end up with time to read a Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge book or an accepted review copy 2014 book this month. I plan to make up for it next month so I can stay on track!
I’ve been dialing back in my fitness along with the gradually lengthening days. I’m doing more yoga and calisthenics, and aiming to lift heavy once a week. Hopefully next month I can ramp it all up a bit more.
I hope you all are enjoying your springs! Happy reading!
Book Review: The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America’s Greatest Pastime by Charley Rosen
Did you know baseball has been entwined with Irish-Americans from the very beginning of the sport? Rosen goes through the history of baseball, focusing in on how Irish-American players, managers, and owners impacted the game.
I picked this up from my pile of older review copies to read in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I’m part Irish myself and was a US History major in undergrad, so the concept of the book definitely appealed to me. The book addresses the interesting topic of Irish-Americans in baseball but unfortunately presents the history in an only sometimes interesting way and utilizes sloppy research.
The book starts in the 1800s and works its way up through time, ending many chapters with a modern day interview to reflect upon the ideas presented in the chapter. The earliest chapters are the most interesting. They take the events and use them to tell the story of how Irish-Americans broke into baseball partly because many careers were closed off to them due to anti-Irish discrimination in America (No Irish Need Apply). Originally, the game was much less regulated, and the Irish-American players brought with them a willingness to be sly and rough that added an element of excitement to the game that brought out more viewers. Reading about how the rules slowly changed and how Irish-Americans impacted those changes was definitely fascinating. It was also disturbing to discover how many players in the early years had serious addiction problems, not to mention the presence of multiple suicides. Unfortunately, the opportunity to analyze this phenomenon and discuss it in depth is passed by, as is most true historical analysis.
Starting in the early 20th century, the formatting of the book changes so that instead of telling a story, the heading of a year is given and bullet-points of events for that year are listed. Some of these bullet-points break out to be actual stories, instead of just pure listing of facts, and that is what kept me reading. But mostly about half the book is just lists of baseball facts. It reminded me of reading Chronicles in the Bible (so-and-so begat so-and-so). There are some interesting tidbits in there, but they are few and far between.
I was truly appalled when I flipped back to check the references in the back that almost all of them are secondary sources, and a significant number are Wikipedia. It’s one thing to start your research at Wikipedia to familiarize yourself with the topic and then broaden out to more scholarly work and primary sources. It’s another thing entirely to publish an entire book that basically just sums up Wikipedia. A work of historic nonfiction should seek out as many primary sources as possible, read secondary analyses, and provide analysis both of the primary and secondary sources. What Rosen has done is mostly to regurgitate what Wikipedia and other secondary sources have already said. The exception to this is the modern day interviews Rosen conducted, but they make up a small portion of the book. Perhaps 15%. If the book had consisted of interviews with modern Irish-American players and descendants of Irish-American players and managers, complete with analysis and investigation using primary and secondary materials, that would have been a fantastic book. Instead we get a relisting of information already gathered (and better sourced) in secondary sources spiced up with a few interviews. If I had bought this book, I would have returned it.
Overall, there are some interesting tidbits about how Irish-Americans impacted the game of baseball. Unfortunately, large parts of the book are lists of facts, with no analysis or storytelling, Additionally, Rosen relied primarily on secondary source materials, mostly Wikipedia, to research his book. The reader could get similar information from Wikipedia themself and have the ability to click through to the source materials. I would suggest doing that over buying this book. For those seeking a book on the topic, I recommend The Irish in Baseball: An Early History by David L. Fleitz, a sports historian who clearly consulted primary and secondary sources in his writing.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from publisher in exchange for my honest review
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s. But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree. Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults. When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message. When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.
This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series. For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me. However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.
At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith. The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town. At the core of the conflict are a married couple. The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church. Their two small boys are caught in the middle. The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion. I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves. For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror. They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.
For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror. Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled. A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense. In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer. Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled. The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before. That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.
I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending. A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches. It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix. It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way. Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.
The characters are interesting and widely varied. The children, particularly, are well-written. The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated. I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.
Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end. It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith. As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.
2 out of 5 stars
I am incredibly excited to announce the new line in my shop: Miffy / Nijntje!
Miffy is a beloved character from a series of children’s books by Dick Bruna. Her name is Nijntje in Dutch. I discovered Miffy on Netflix one night, and immediately fell in love. She’s such an adorable little bunny, and her stories are wonderful! Their availability in dual-language apps are also helping me on my side-quest to learn Dutch. When I discovered a shocking lack of Miffy cross stitch patterns, I made my own so we could hang a version of her in our living room. I decided to make BOTH the patterns and the completed products available for all Miffy fans to enjoy. The picture on this post is just of my personal favorite design, Miffy’s Garden / De Tuin Van Nijntje. Please click through to my shop to see all five designs!
PS I am now shipping completed items to The Netherlands and the UK in addition to the US! Patterns are available worldwide.
ETA 3/5/15: I have now closed my Etsy shop, but I’ve made my patterns available on my Cross-Stitch page.
Book Review: The Many-Colored Land by Julian May (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne)
In the future, the universe exists in a peace-loving era that allows many alien races and humans to co-exist. People are expected to act within the confines of acceptability and are offered various humane treatment options to help if their nature or nurture sends them the wrong way. But some people don’t want to conform and would rather live in the wild, warrior-like days of old. When a scientist discovers time travel but only to the pliocene era, these people think they have found their solution. There’s only one catch. The time travel only works to the past. For decades the misfits step into the time travel vortex, not knowing what is on the other side. The government approves the solution, since it seems kind and no time paradoxes have occurred. When the newest group steps through, they will discover just what really waits on the other side of exile.
I became aware of this book thanks to a review by fellow book blogger, Resistance Is Futile. Imagine my surprise when going through my wishlist to check for audiobooks, I discovered a brand-new audiobook production of it featuring the audiobook superstar Bernadette Dunne. This is a creative, action-packed book that truly encompasses both scifi and fantasy in a beautiful way.
Since this is the first book of the series, it takes a bit to set the plot up and get to know the characters. People are sent through the time travel portal in groups, so we get to know everyone in one group prior to going through the time portal so we can follow them all after they go through it. May spends the perfect amount of time familiarizing the reader with the future world, as well as the people who are choosing to leave it. Some readers might be sad to see the imaginative future world left behind for the pliocene era, but it quickly becomes evident that the pliocene is just as richly imagined, albeit different. The pliocene era is not as straight-forward as the exiles believed, and new problems quickly arise for them. It’s not the lawless paradise they were envisioning, and while dealing with the realities of it in an action-packed manner, they also must deal with themselves. Now that they realize there is no true escape to solitude or an imagined perfect past, they must address those aspects of themselves that led them to exile in the first place. These deeper emotional issues are the perfect balance to the other, action-oriented plot. I did feel that the book ends a bit abruptly. However, it is part of a series and clearly the cliff-hanger is intentional. I prefer series entries that tell one complete smaller story within the larger, overarching plot, but this is still a well-done cliff-hanger.
The characters offer up a wide variety of experiences and ethnic and sexual backgrounds, representative of all of humanity fairly well. One of the lead characters is a butch lesbian, another is an elderly Polish-American male expert in the pliocene era, another a nun, another a frat boy style space captain. This high level of diversity doesn’t seem pushed or false due to the nature of the self-selection of exiles. It makes sense a wide variety of humans would choose to go, although the statistics presented in the book establish that more whites and Asians than Africans and more men than women choose to go. Some of the characters get more time to develop and be presented in a three-dimensional nature than others but enough characters are three-dimensional that the reader is able to become emotionally invested in the situation. My one complaint was in prominently featuring a nun in a futuristic scifi, yet again. Statistics show that less and less people are choosing to become nuns or priests. Given that this is set so far in the future with such a different culture, a religious leader of a new or currently rising religion would feel much more thoughtfully predictive of the future.
Most engaging to me is how the book mixes scifi and fantasy. Without giving too much away, the book offers a plausible scientific explanation for human myths of supernatural creatures such as fairies, elves, and shapeshifters. The presence of the inspirations for these myths give a delightful, old world fantastical feel to the story, even while May offers up scientific explanations for all of it. This is not a mix I have seen in much scifi or fantasy, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Overall, this is a delightful new take on time-travel that incorporates some fantasy elements into the scifi. Readers looking just for futuristic hard scifi might be disappointed at how much of the book takes place in the ancient past, but those who enjoy scifi and fantasy will delight at the mixing of the two.
4 out of 5 stars
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books. It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole. These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another. Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.
Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in the rural town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and she has a secret. She’s a telepath, and it’s ostracized her from most of the people in her town. But when vampires come out of the coffin, Sookie discovers that she can’t read their minds. Mind reading made her dating life non-existent, for obvious reasons, but with vampires, Sookie can feel somewhat normal. She soon starts to get pulled into their supernatural world, which contains more than they’re letting on to the mainstream public.
I first want to make it very clear that this series review is talking exclusively about the books and not the tv show inspired by them, True Blood. There will be no spoilers for the show and no comparisons between the books and the show. The show diverged very quickly from the books, so I think it’s fair to keep discussion of the two separate. Moving right along!
This series takes the mystery series whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie and drenches it in the supernatural and the American south, utilizing it to tell the overarching story of one woman choosing who she wants to be. Perhaps because of the presence of some handsome leading men and the occasional sex scene, some mistake the series for a romance one. But this series is truly not a romance. Sookie’s romantic life (and sex life) is really secondary to the mysteries she solves and her slow discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.
The whodunit plots are generally murder mysteries. The violence is moderate. If you can handle a vampire biting someone or knowing someone is being beheaded without actually getting the gore described to you, you can handle the violence in this series. The whodunit plots start out engaging but gradually become more repetitive and ho-hum, almost as if the author was running out of ideas for situations to place Sookie in. Similarly, Sookie gets kidnapped and has to get saved by her supernatural friends kind of a lot.
The setting of a supernatural American south is well imagined and evoked. Both small town, rural lives and larger southern cities like Dallas and New Orleans are touched upon. The American north is visited once, however, Sookie has a strong aversion to northern women that sours the representation of the north in the book.
The characters can sometimes feel like overwrought caricatures. While some characters are given depth, most are not. This is odd, since Sookie can read minds. one would assume that she, as the first person narrator, would have a very three-dimensional view of those around her. And yet she doesn’t. Sookie likes to say that she’s for equality and seeing the good in everyone but she actually judges people very harshly. For instance, she thinks it’s a shame that women who are not virgins wear white wedding dresses.
Sookie’s character does develop, albeit minimally, over the course of the books. Characters should grow and change, particularly over the course of 13 books, but unfortunately Sookie’s character changes to become less and less likable. This is extra frustrating when the book is told from her perspective. Instead of becoming more powerful and strong (emotionally, mentally) over the course of the series, Sookie becomes less and less able to handle the things going on around her. She also continues to act shocked and appalled at the wars and violence she doesn’t just see, but participates in, in spite of it now being a normal part of her life. Perhaps if she was just repeatedly a victim this mentality would make sense, but Sookie enacts violence on those around her and then acts disgusted at what the vampires/werewolves/etc… do, which comes off as hypocritical. Either own your own actions and validate their necessity or stop doing them. Don’t do certain violent actions then deny your involvement while simultaneously judging others for doing precisely what you just did. The fact that Sookie slowly becomes this hypocritical person makes her less and less likable. Similarly, she starts out the books with a firm belief in social justice and equality for supes but over the course of the series clearly comes to believe that humans are better than supes. I don’t blame her for wanting a quiet life or for wanting to stay human or wanting to have babies but she could have done all of those things without coming to view supes as inferior. It is frustrating for the reader to have a main character in an almost cozy style mystery series gradually change into someone it is difficult to empathize with.
There is a consistent presence of GLBTQ characters, albeit mostly in secondary roles, throughout the series. Homophobia is depicted in an extremely negative light since only the bad guys ever exhibit it. Unfortunately, there is an instance of bi erasure in the book. One of the characters is identified as gay but everyone also acknowledges that he periodically sleeps with women. Even the character himself calls himself gay, so this isn’t just a case of the author writing a realistic amount of the realities of bi erasure into the book.
The sex in the book is not well-written. It is just awkward, cringe-inducing, and laughable most of the time. But the sex scenes aren’t very often, and they do fit in with the rest of the book. Just don’t go to this series looking to get really turned on.
This sounds like a lot of criticism for the series but some of these things, such as the campy, two-dimensional characters, are part of what makes the series enjoyable. It’s kitschy, not to be taken too seriously. It’s a series to come to and read precisely to laugh and roll your eyes. To be utterly bemused at the sheer number of supernatural creatures and the ridiculousness of how they organize themselves. To sigh in frustration at Sookie as she gets kidnapped yet again or is oblivious yet again to who the murderer is. It’s a series that’s candy for those who enjoy camp and not too much violence with a touch of the supernatural in their mysteries.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
Dead Ever After, review