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Book Review: The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

March 29, 2020 2 comments

First, a note….

I hope all of my readers are as safe and well as possible in these difficult times we are living in. A few people have asked me what I recommend reading to get through things. My advice is what my advice always is – read what most entertains you. Read what distracts you. Feel no guilt for what you enjoy reading. Read whatever it is you most enjoy. I think now more than ever it’s important for all of us to get a respite from the world around us and visit another world, whether that’s fiction or nonfiction, romance or thrills. In the spirit of this, I’m just going to keep reviewing the books I’ve most enjoyed recently.

43808355Summary:
Ava is writing a cookbook of what Maine fisherman communities ate during the 1800s. She’s hit a bit of a writer’s block, so she rents a summer home on the coast of Maine for inspiration – and maybe to run away from the tragedy that is haunting her. But when she arrives at the home in Maine she starts to think it might actually be haunted. She also discovers the previous renter mysteriously disappeared.

Review:
I love house-sitting or house-renting thrillers. There is something decidedly spooky about short-term rentals, and I love how this type of thriller just goes there. It reminded me of the Victoria Holt books I would borrow from my grandmother in middle school only set in modern day Maine.

What I wasn’t expecting from this book or its summary was its deft handling of alcohol addiction. Ava’s alcohol addiction isn’t her entire personality – far from it. She is very well-rounded. We get to know her incredible talent at both cooking and researching then recreating historic recipes. She is intelligent and caring. She loves her sister. But she has definitely made a giant mistake that is haunting her, and I would argue it’s a mistake that was rooted in her alcohol problem although before it became as serious as it is in Maine.

There are no easy answers in this book – not for the “ghost” of Captain Brodie. Not for the disappearances. Not for how small towns handle things. Not for Ava straightening her life back up. The lack of neat ends makes it all feel more real which really works for a book with a creepy ghost.

There were many aspects of this book that kept me staying up too late reading it: the mystery, Ava’s addiction, the ambience, is there really a ghost, what happened in Ava’s past. I also just liked visiting the house and waterfront, which was well described and realistic. It had just the right amount of twists and turns and well-rounded characters.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

First, a note….

If you’ve subscribed to this blog, bless you for still being around. I hadn’t posted since July 2018! I’ve still been actively discussing books but mostly on my Instagram where I’ve been enjoying the bookstagram community. However, I have missed having a more permanent, long-form place to talk about books. I wasn’t enjoying the monthly round-ups I was doing but I also simply cannot devote the time to blog post about every book I read. So I’ve decided to aim for reviewing one book a month – the book I found most meaningful to read in some way in the month prior. Maybe sometimes I’ll review more, maybe less, but no longer take this blog to be a record of every single book I read. Moving right along.

Book cover of The FiveSummary:
You’ve heard of Jack the Ripper – the serial killer who murdered five women in London in 1888. Most people know the name Jack the Ripper but what about the names of his victims? Here, meet the women whose lives were cut short by Jack the Ripper – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary. Get to know their world, their personal struggles, and come to see them as people rather than simply victims.

Review:
I learned so much reading this book, and none of it was dry. It was entirely fascinating. I liked the structure very much – Rubenhold goes through the intricacies of the lives of each of the women in the order they were murdered. She also doesn’t just stop at the moment they died – she follows through with who identified the body, who grieved for them (and every single one had someone grieving for them).

A large misconception is that all five of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper were homeless prostitutes. Of course even if that were the case it wouldn’t make the murders less tragic. However, it is simply not true of these women. Four of the five were not prostitutes but rather were simply sleeping on the street because they were homeless. The fifth (Mary Jane) was a prostitute but had a home and was murdered in it.

I found it very interesting how different all of their lives began and yet how most of them ended up on the street regardless. In a way this is really the story of how society failed these women long before it failed to find their killer by allowing them to end up living on the streets to begin with.

I personally found Annie’s story to be the most meaningful, but I think everyone will connect with a different woman in a different way. Annie ended up on the street due to a failed battle with alcoholism. She had a loving family, had climbed up to the middle class, and even did a stint in rehab. But she still lost the battle with her addiction.

Interestingly, her sisters chose the sobriety movement and prospered from it. I found this to be a meaningful passage:

The complete rejection of alcohol resonated with those who found themselves balanced precariously on the edge of middle-class life. By eschewing drink, a hardworking man or woman could save money and build a better life for themself and their family. Annie’s sisters not only adhered to this creed but prospered by it financially. (27% location)

Although her sisters were able to give up the drink, Annie was not. Her brother also still drank alcohol at the time of her murder. Even though she was on the street, he would still see her sometimes and imbibe with her. After her murder, he left the UK for Texas and achieved sobriety.

This hit me hard:

What her murderer claimed on that night was simply all that remained of what drink had left behind. (33% location)

To me, Annie’s full life story was sorrowful, although some beauty did come out of it in that her brother’s life was saved by observing her downfall. I still reflect on her story sometimes. I hope through Rubenhold’s work, Annie’s unfortunate downfall will come to affect change in more people than solely Annie’s brother’s.

I’ve spoken at length about the woman’s story I found the most personally moving and meaningful, but there is also a story of an immigrant, a woman scorned by her husband, a prostitute and the man she loved, and a working class woman who worked in a tin factory and ran from an abusive husband. I am sure you will find one that connects with you and that you will find meaningful.

Those who are disturbed by the gruesome will be pleased to note that there are not gruesome details in this book. The focus is on the women’s lives, not their deaths.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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March 2018 Book Review – Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend (#nonfiction)

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Hello my lovely readers! Notice how that says book review and not books reviews? Well that’s because I somehow managed to only finish one book in the entire month of March. :-O

I know the reason for this. It’s because my print book I was reading was a real chunkster. So while I read religiously throughout the month, I just didn’t quite finish the print book within the month of March. But I’m actually ok with this book getting to take center stage, because it’s a cool one.

John Henry is an American folk song that I thought was famous until I was reading this book and had to keep explaining it to people. (I couldn’t find the version I grew up listening to on YouTube but here it is on Spotify – John Henry as sung by Wee Sing on the album America). Essentially the lyrics tell the story of John Henry, a black man who worked on the railroad and beat the steam drill at going through a mountain but died doing so. There are many different versions of the lyrics, but this is the closest to the version I grew up listening to. What’s the point of singing this song to and with children? Well, that depends on who you ask and what version you sang. The gospel version focuses on John Henry’s rewards in Heaven. The blues version focuses on the unfairness of the job and the fear (warranted or not) of machines replacing blue collar labor.

(I did find it comforting that the book indicates that this is an extremely popular folk song in the United States – with the librarians at the Library of Congress telling the author it’s the most researched folk song in the US.)

In Steel Drivin Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson seeks to find the origins of this folk tale and see if there was a real man behind it. Fascinatingly, he successfully found who most likely was the real John Henry. Perhaps not surprisingly, John Henry was a free black man who in the immediately post Civil War era (Reconstruction) Virgina was arrested on what may have been fair charges of shoplifting (no one can really say if a crime actually occurred or not) that was then escalated to a higher charge (most likely falsely). In spite of the North attempts at forcing the South to treat black men and women equally to white, some districts in the South pulled off the Jim Crow laws, which led to unequal punishment for equal crimes, which meant John Henry got put away in prison for a very long time for a very small crime. Unfortunately for him, this was about the time that people got it into their heads that they could use prison labor in the form of chain gangs much like they used to use slave labor. John Henry was sent out to work on the railroad and died there, as working on the railroad was essentially a death sentence.

Some prisoners escaped, and some were killed by guards for what the railroad labeled “mutiny,” but the remainder entered tunnels where tiny bits of microscopic rock floated in the air, entered their lungs, and over a period of six months to three years, strangled them. These prisoners died gasping for air. (location 34%)

I for one after reading that passage couldn’t help but think of Eric Garner and was saddened by how little some things have changed.

Many American folk songs, including this one, were actually originally work songs. I learned through this book that rock and roll refers to these work songs, as the two man crew who drilled had one man to shake the stake and another to hit it, which was called rocking and rolling. Songs were sung to a particular beat both to pass the time and to help ensure no one’s fingers got smashed.

The original blues version of John Henry as opposed to praising his work ethic actually was memorializing his strength and the unfair situation. His status as a prisoner wasn’t so much rewritten as not mentioned (because it didn’t matter), and his strength of character was symbolized by being a man of large stature, even though the real John Henry was actually quite short (under 5’4″). The gospel version focuses more on his strong Protestant work ethic and the rewards he’ll see in Heaven.

The author speaks some about the song and the groups that attached themselves to it over time. I found it interesting that Communist groups in America liked it because of its demonstration of an unfair use of labor. Also interesting was that he found that schools in historically black neighborhoods would devote entire music classes to the song and its history. He also traces John Henry in everything from comic books to Disney shows. I admit that I found the beginning of the book about the real John Henry and the early versions of the song to be the most interesting.

I would have given this book 5 stars but the ending let me down, particularly when the author postulates what message John Henry’s bones might tell us, and I thought that message was very far off the mark, speaking about working less when in fact John Henry was mistreated due to racism, not out of any workaholicism of his own!

Overall, though, I’m not sad this was the only book I read in the month of March. I learned so much, and I really did enjoy it.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

My total for the month of March 2018:

  • 1 book
    • 0 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 0 female authors; 1 male author
    • 1 ebooks; 0 print books; 0 audiobooks

A trio of #nonfiction Reviewed in #Haiku

August 5, 2017 2 comments

anne frank

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates
By: Theo Coster

Summary:
Theo Coster was one of 28 Jewish Dutch students segregated into their own classroom by the Nazis. Another one of these students was Anne Frank. Theo gathers stories from other surviving students and himself both of their experiences of the Holocaust and their memories of Anne.

Haiku Review:
All together yet
Each experience unique
Grounding reminder.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
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crazyenough.jpg

Crazy Enough: A Memoir
By: Storm Large

Summary:
Storm knew growing up her mother was crazy so it was pretty scary when a doctor responded to her inquiry if she was crazy like her mother that she wasn’t yet but was going to be. Follow Storm through her journey of multiple diagnoses and a search to be more than just crazy.

Haiku Review:
A one-woman show
Reflects in the narrative
Left with some questions

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Publisher
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tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By: Marie Kondo

Summary:
Japanese cleaning consultant vows she’s never had a client relapse after following her sort everything once by category not by room and then organize it method. You may have heard jokes in social media about her sorting method being based on “does this spark joy?”

Haiku Review:
Some good tips mixed with
Animism but take it
With a grain of salt

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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A Trio of #chicklit Reviewed in #Haiku

July 16, 2017 2 comments

581811

Valley of the Dolls
By: Jacqueline Susann

Summary:
The 1960s classic about four women and how fame and drugs destroyed them.

Haiku Review:
My dolls! My dolls! But
Hard to compete with modern
Opioid crisis.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
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The Runaway Princess
By: Hester Browne

Summary:
Amy Wilde’s new boyfriend has a secret….he’s a prince! Can she fit into his world without losing herself in the process?

Haiku Review:
The Prince and Me but
British with saving the bees
Left me wanting more

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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129645

Cocktails for Three
By: Madeleine Wickham

Summary:
Three friends meet for cocktails every month but life events and secrets start to pull them apart.

Haiku Review:
If you can manage
To laugh at alcoholism
Then you might like it

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows (Series, #1)

26225506Summary:
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Review:
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.

The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.

Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)

All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

March 15, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray BradburySummary:
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham

Review:
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.

The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.

Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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