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Kaethe

Kaethe

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Nanaville - Anna Quindlen

Nanaville - Anna Quindlen

Quindlen has long been a favorite. She notices the details and captures them, then ponders what they mean, but without pomposity. She doesn't pretend to have expertise, just some experience. There is humor to her writing, much self-deprecating, although mostly not jokes. Years of writing have gone into creating a natural, casual style that seems like no effort at all.

Here she is waxing wise about grandparenting: how it has changed over time as families have, how to do it well, how to get along with your child's beloved. Good, practical stuff intermingled with the charming details of her interactions with Arthur, her first grandchild. It's very sweet for the most part, although juxtaposed with just a few of the ways it could not be, such that it never becomes complacent.

This will likely be a very popular gift for women crossing that border for the first time.

 

Unrelated to my consideration for the text, I do have a issue with the book as an object:I really hate whole sections in italics. Two lines may be my limit. It feels weird to me, and I can't stop being aware of it. Forty-five years on the sans serif font of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, still bugs me, so of course, YMMV.

 

Library copy

A Company of Swans - Eva Ibbotson

A Company of Swans - Eva Ibbotson

Harriet is the daughter of the worst professor at Cambridge, a man who doesn't mind teaching her Latin, but won't even consider the possibility of her attending university. Her aunt, Louisa, keeps house for them and is the cheapest person ever, so were Harriet to hack them to pieces with an ax, no one would be surprised. fortunately, Harriet is offered the opportunity to join the corps of a ballet troupe headed up the Amazon for an extended stay among the insanely wealthy rubber barons of 1912.
It's a delightful book. Just as in [book:A Countess Below Stairs|714569], the heroine isn't brilliant at everything, but she is charming and kind. The hero is a good man, which we know because of his efforts to protect a native tribe (or two). Sure he's a colonial making a fortune, but he treats his workers well, and cares about their long-term interests (if not their land rights).
In addition, we are treated to the amusing characters of the ballet company, a buffoon of a suitor for Harriet, an entrancing young boy, a scheming Scarlett O'Hara type, and quite a lot of natural history. Fleas get their due, as does a coati.
The magic of the book is that Ibbotson tells an Edwardian love story in a way that mostly feels authentic and also progressive. Perhaps it's because when the author brings in a <i>deus ex machina</i> she proclaims it as such. Maybe it's because our leads are enjoying everything unabashedly. I don't know, what the magic is, but I bet you anything you like that Ibbotson had FUN writing this book.

Library copy.

Dark Saturday - Nicci French

Dark Saturday: A Novel (A Frieda Klein Novel) - Nicci French

Copy on its way! can't wait! One of the best writing duos of all time.

***

I don't think of myself as being a fan of series in general, because so many series that I started out loving became unreadable at some point. Maybe there will be a let down somewhere in the future, or maybe, as with Terry Pratchett, the books will just keep getting better. Fingers crossed.

Frieda is in trouble with powers that be, because she's such a maverick, but she also has more powerful powers that be, which are vague, and mysterious, and appreciate a clever woman. There's her whole extended family of people who mostly aren't related to her, and her cat, and her fire, and her walking. The mystery was fine, although that really isn't the point any more. Mostly now Freida has to deal with her own sort of celebrity, which is horrible for someone who never sought the limelight. And there's this other problem that won't go away...

At this point I wouldn't mind at all if the authors dropped the mystery plot convention altogether. As a means of addressing a topic it is fine, but they could just use a patient. I admit that I love seeing social injustice (and crime) being fought, even if Frieda didn't win.

Advance copy, yay!

Wild Ride - Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer

Wild Ride - Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer

Next time I decide to read this it will probably be for Halloween bingo, because this hits a lot of squares, including Halloween itself and carnivals.

It's fall in small-town Ohio, and Mab is almost finished restoring the old rides and statues in a small amusement park that's being refurbished. Mab unwittingly sets free a demon, and then all Hell is breaking loose. There's a little murder, a lot of mayhem, sex, beer, demon-possessed teddy bears, and a nice array of weapons.

Crusie and Mayer work so well together: it's witty and clever and exciting and sweet, and flows smoothly through all of its moods without a false note.

In a perfect world, Crusie and Mayer would write more of this kind of thing, and they would all be optioned for Netflix. In a pretty good world, other writers would mine the same vein. Who doesn't want more banter and brawling with a side of hellmouth?

 

Library copy

She's Not There : A Life in Two Genders - Jennifer Finney Boylan

She's Not There : A Life in Two Genders - Jennifer Finney Boylan

Memoirs are hard to get right: too much honesty and everyone will come away hating you, too littleand everyone comes away hating you and thinking you're a phony. Then too, many people who have had interesting lives aren't able to articulate them very well. Then you can read a couple of hundred pages and still never have a clue what the author is like. And those who are good at turning their personal history into charming anecdotes are rarely also good at placing their narrative into a bigger context. Every single bit of it is hard: there are just so many places to screw it up.

Boylan does not screw it up. She gives the reader enough to feel engaged on an emotional level, all the while she's making one laugh and cry and laugh and sigh and laugh. I had no problem at all believing that she's the most popular professor at her college. She's funny as hell in a quiet sort of way, not at all like a string of jokes cobbled together. And then wham, right in the feels.

 

What I think it is, is this: Boylan is brilliant at capturing the concrete detail, and the detail is so much more evocative and visceral than emoting would be. There's no cataloging of emotional states, instead there are things that happen, or that noticeably fail to happen. There are weird relatives, and stupid kid stuff (from both the parent and child angles). I like the visit to the beach and the creepy aspects of an old house.

  

A good book by a writer who is new-to-me gives me a list of titles to look forward to reading. Not only do I want to read everything else Boylan has written, but I want to read everything Richard Russo has written, too.

 

Library copy.

Lovable Livable Home: How to Add Beauty, Get Organized, and Make Your House Work for You - Sherry Petersik, John Petersik

Lovable Livable Home: How to Add Beauty, Get Organized, and Make Your House Work for You - Sherry Petersik, John Petersik

DIY is not my thing; my thing is reading books. Young House Love was a blog I found and followed closely. I was never going to do any of their projects, but despite our different tastes and inclinations, I loved it. There are lots of pretty pictures, and many ideas if you need some, and their whole attitude is very pragmatic and individual: this is what we want.

This book does a fine job of recreating the feel of the blog with lots of pictures, some text, some step-by-steps, and a big helping of "sometimes you screw up and then later your change that."

Used to be Better Homes and Gardens magazine ran a feature every year of 100 projects under $100. I loved that issue! Playhouses and cool teen beds and such. These ideas would fit in one of those issues perfectly. (big impact with low pricetag is part of their thing).

Plenty of inspiration, if one is looking for that sort of thing. I just find the pretty pictures very soothing.

Library copy

 

Library copy

A Castle in Wartime - Catherine Bailey

A Castle in Wartime - Catherine Bailey

This is how highly I think of Catherine Bailey's work: she has a new book, I place an order, I receive it, I start reading it. Why no, I hadn't even noticed the subtitle until I pulled the book up here to mark it Currently Reading.
Doesn't matter. It's going to be fascinating.

***

And it was. I hate the title though. Not that I have a better suggestion.

The topic is right in my wheelhouse: women in wartime. In this case, a young woman, daughter of the German ambassador to Italy during WWII. She met and married an Italian nobleman, bore two sons, and tried to hold the estate, its farm, and the surrounding community safe against the Germans. Meanwhile her father and her husband are both off, fighting against their respective country's fascist leaders.

The Gestapo come for her, taking her and the boys to Austria, where they are taken from her and she is sent through a succession of concentration camps.

Italy isn't a country whose history I know very well, and although I've read a fair amount about WWII none of it was ever about the resistance within Germany to the Nazis and their atrocities. You know how in time travel stories everyone's first thought seems to be "Let's kill Hitler?" There couldn't have been many more attempts on his life if all those stories were true. I had no idea.

It is heartening to know that so many within these countries were resisting, often at enormous personal and familial cost. There are those who think blaming some poorly-treated minority for the ills of their society, rather than, say, the actual people who are running the government and controlling the capital. But there are also the others who despise aggression and are appalled by violence. I need to hear more of those stories.

Side bar: it is not a "brothel" full of "prostitutes" in the concentration camps. Rape as an act of war isn't any less horrific for being indoors and controlled by military authorities.

Library copy

The Worst Witch Saves the Day - Jill Murphy

The Worst Witch Saves the Day - Jill Murphy, Jill Murphy

This is one to pre-read for the Possum, mostly. She relies heavily on my suggestions, and it's kind of hard to keep ahead of her.

***

I'm unimpressed. It's all a bit thin.

Library copy

The Dot - Peter H. Reynolds

The Dot - Peter H. Reynolds

pretty with an excellent point

***

2009 Mar 31

A big hit with the PandaBat who is not much of a drawer yet.

***

Cleaning up some database errors I came across this. Fun fact: a decade on, the child in question is now an adult and an accomplished artist. This is what makes raising children and also going back over old little reviews, so much fun.

Pure Drivel - Steve Martin

Pure Drivel - Steve Martin

Martin's writing appeals far more than most comedian's. Joke-writing is hard and I have nothing but respect for the work that goes into it, but most comedians aren't practiced at or devoted to longer formats. Martin is much more appealing to me as a short story writer than as a stand-up performer, actually. Although the idea of re-reading him scares me: if it doesn't age well I don't want to know.

 

Library copy

 

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium - Robert Lacey, Danny Danziger

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium - Robert Lacey, Danny Danziger

One of two books I remember reading in honor of the millennium; the other was Stephen Jay Gould's Questioning the Millennium. So one look back and one look forward. The look back was fascinating. Although I know more about the history of the British isles than any place outside the US it remains impenetrable to me.
I enjoyed it quite a bit, of course, I'm the sort of person who walks out of any historical film discussing how well they did in recreating the period. for England the answer is almost always "not enough sheep."

Library copy

White Nights - Ann Cleeves

White Nights - Ann Cleeves

May 2019
This may well deserve a higher rating, but 7 months after I finished it without making even the slightest effort at a review, I have no idea. I recognize the start of the story from the blurb. And that's pretty much it. The identity of the first victim eludes me, as does the reason for any of it. All I seem to recall is that there was extensive back story. Well, also it got me interested in the the Hebrides and other islands, enough to look at houses for sale and jobs listings, not that I could consider moving without a lottery win because there is no way in hell that I am packing up and lugging all these books anywhere. I would love to see the white nights though.

Sad, innit, how little I remember? Still, I'd like to read more by Cleeves.

Library copy

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

The prologue begins with an opening line reminiscent of A Christmas Carol: "First of all, it was October, a rare time for boys."

Forty or so years ago I read this and identified with the boys, of course I did. This time I couldn't. So it was just a bunch of wordplay and monologuing and there was no horror to it anywhere, just an ad for an imaginary place I wouldn't be welcome. He did say some nice things about libraries, though, so I'm giving it a couple of stars.

Library copy

Sleeping Beauties - Owen King,Stephen King

Sleeping Beauties - Owen King, Stephen King

 

 

for Modern Masters of Horror

I enjoyed this enormously. There were some surprises and some poor reading on my part (my earlier race comment was wrongish, because of my failure to notice and/or remember the race of characters, but also kind of accurate given later developments - it's complicated). Anyway, nice work with archetypes and fairy tales and a premise that is clearly fantasy, but also very grounded and concrete. There's a large cast and lots of plot. But also really nuanced and generous, kind even. Stephen has always showed an understanding of and sympathy with abused women, so a whole lot of compassion towards the inmates of a women's prison is no surprise. But there is also a lot of anger, some of it directed at people behaving badly and some of it directed at society for creating and exacerbating iniquity. Dickensian.

Good on these two for writing a book that is absolutely entertaining, but more than just entertaining.

Good for many squares, and recommended to those who don't care for horror in general.

Library copy

Sleeping Beauties - Owen King, Stephen King

Sleeping Beauties - Owen King, Stephen King

for Modern Masters of Horror

 

I enjoyed this enormously. There were some surprises and some poor reading on my part (my earlier race comment was wrongish, because of my failure to notice and/or remember the race of characters, but also kind of accurate given later developments - it's complicated). Anyway, nice work with archetypes and fairy tales and a premise that is clearly fantasy, but also very grounded and concrete. There's a large cast and lots of plot. But also really nuanced and generous, kind even. Stephen has always showed an understanding of and sympathy with abused women, so a whole lot of compassion towards the inmates of a women's prison is no surprise. But there is also a lot of anger, some of it directed at people behaving badly and some of it directed at society for creating and exacerbating iniquity. Dickensian.

Good on these two for writing a book that is absolutely entertaining, but more than just entertaining.

Good for many squares, and recommended to those who don't care for horror in general.

Library copy

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do - Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do - Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt

Eberhardt has been working at Stanford for 30 years now, uncovering the roots of systemic racism via social science. Together with other researchers she has performed a lot of studies and learned and published. One focus of her work has been in using social science to address pressing social problems. In this book she takes all her years of research and expertise and lays it all out for the non-academic reader.


If you're not up on implicit bias it is the part that we all have picked up on regardless of our explicit ideas or beliefs. It kicks in faster than thought and slips in under our mental radar. It's why police shoot unarmed black boys, why they stop more people of color driving, it's why fewer African American and Hispanic children are labelled gifted and are more likely to have the school cop called on them for minor infractions. It's much more than that, too.
But there's the best part: Eberhardt knows how to short circuit it. There's a reason why people call them "genius" grants even if the MacArthur Foundation never does.


Engrossing, insightful, and with luck, truly helpful. We can all do better and this book is a first step for many. Brilliant.

Library copy