Thursday, August 2, 2012

the physick book of deliverance dane by katherine howe

what if some of the women tried in the salem witch trials were really witches? 

that's the premise of this book.

i've been curious about this book for awhile and picked it up when i found it in a used book store. 

it was fun, a good summer read. it jumps back and forth from the present to the past, which got a little old. the past narrative was a little too cryptic and just seemed messy and confusing a lot of the time. the end brings it together, but it could have been more graceful in the telling throughout.

overall i really enjoyed it. i also appreciated that the author put up a suggested further reading list on her website for people interested in more scholastic reading on the time period and the salem witch trials.

the happiness project by gretchen rubin

this book was mediocre for me. 

i didn't like the author, i found her a bit annoying, really. i came away with one or two good ideas, but mostly it was uninspiring. i was anxious for the book to end, and, if i remember correctly, i skipped over big sections when she got lazy and just pasted in reader responses to questions she had posted on her blog. 

i did appreciate the bibliography at the end. 

pope joan by donna woolfolk cross

pope joan is a historical fiction novel based on the legend of a female pope during the middle ages. 

joan is an intelligent girl, born in a time when females were not allowed to be educated. despite these restrictions, as a young girl she manages to learn to read and write. when an opportunity presents itself, joan disguises herself as a man, continues her education, and rises through the ranks within the catholic church.

i enjoyed the book. the author did a good deal of research on the time period and the legend of joan herself. 

i enjoyed being immersed in a time period of which i have little knowledge. the story was entertaining and kept me interested. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

elizabeth the queen by sally bedell smith

it was really fun to read this just before the diamond jubilee celebrations. i had little knowledge about queen elizabeth ii and thought of her as stoic and out of touch. how wrong i was! this book gave me such respect for her intelligence and dependability.

the book covers her life and reign up through 2011. it seemed daunting when i started out (over 500 pages of biography!), but it proved to be very readable. i learned a lot about the commonwealth that is so important to her, her relationships with the many prime ministers, her skills at diplomacy, and her devotion to her country.

peter and the starcatchers by dave barry and ridley pearson

this has been on my to-read list for quite some time. i love children's literature, and i love, love peter pan. the book was a fun, lighthearted read, but i didn't love it.

the story was born when one of the author's daughters asked how peter pan and captain hook met. 

it tells the story of how peter became the boy who never grew up, where tinkerbell came from, how captain hook got his hook, how mermaids came to be, the location of never land, and the true substance of pixie dust. 

it was a fun book, and i'm sure it would be delightful to read as a child. but it lacked the depth and moral message that i really value in children's literature. i know it's the first in a series of book, but i'm not to sure i'd make a point to read the others. however, i have a sneaking suspicion that the series could only improve. there was so much to set up in this first book it lost some of the whimsical quality that draws me to peter pan. i'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the series.

i am, however, quite interested in seeing the broadway production of peter and the starcatcher. i hear great things about it.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

the immortal life of henrietta lacks by rebecca skloot

henrietta lacks was an african american woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. she received treatment at johns hopkins hospital where, before her death, some of her cells were harvested for biopsy and, more importantly, scientific research. 

her cells are significant because they were the first cells to successfully survive and grow in culture. the cell line, known as the HeLa cell line, reproduced at an astounding rate which opened the door for medical and biological research which had previously been stunted due to the quick death rates of cells once they were taken out of a body. 

the book tells the story of henrietta and and the family she left behind. she had not given permission for her cells to be used in scientific research and her family was not aware that they were being reproduced. this was standard practice for the time (and for a lot longer than you would venture to guess).

the book is full of medical history and questions/observations about medical research ethics and patients rights.

i learned a lot reading this book. the writer makes the science accessible and easy to understand. i learned things about the medical research field and surprised, and to be quite honest, enrage me. once tissue leaves your body (during an operation/biopsy/birth/etc.) it is no longer considered yours and the facility can use it or sell it for medical can read from this that they can make money from your tissue.  you do not have the right to demand your tissue be destroyed or block the facility from selling it.

the major source of anger on the part of the lacks family is that HeLa cells represent a multi-billion dollar industry, and they live in poverty, some of them living on the street. this brought to my mind the several moles i've had removed and the spleen that was taken out to cure my itp. no doubt some of my tissue has been used/sold. i don't necessarily have a problem with my tissue being used in research if it helps discover cures and save peoples' lives. but if i discovered that someone was making millions of dollars regrowing and selling my cells, you bet i would feel entitled to some of those proceeds. but i wouldn't be.  

i enjoyed this book so much more than i expected. i'm anxious to hand it off to my friends and family. 

cold comfort farm by stella gibbons

cold comfort farm has been on my list of books to read for about a decade, ever since i watched the movie in high school.

it is about flora poste, a young woman who cannot stand untidyness. upon the death of her parents, decides to go live with some relations in the country.

the relations agree to take "robert poste's child" on in order to make up for a wrong done to her father many years before, but she is warned to never ask about what the wrong was.

upon arriving at the farm flora is confronted with a backward group of relations who live in a broken-down farm. the bulk of the novel revolves around her efforts to tidy-up and organize the farm and lives of her relations.

cold comfort farm is a comic novel, poking fun at the popular novels of the time (much the same way as jane austen's northanger abbey pokes fun at the popular gothic novels of her time). it must not be taken too seriously. if you read it in the right frame of mind, it is immensely funny. if not, it comes off as ridiculous. 

the lesson to be learned, of course, is that the best answer to any question is, "i saw something nasty in the woodshed."

the house at tyneford by natasha solomons

this was a book club read.

it was pretty good, but don't be fooled by the caption on the front that compares it to downton abbey. it's not. it's nowhere near as compelling as downton abbey.

it's a bout a technically jewish girl (not religious at all) who had to flee austria to escape the nazi's. she ends up working as a servant in a manor house on the england's south coast.

going into our book club meeting several of us voiced concern that there wouldn't be anything to talk about, but it turned out we had a lot to talk about!

it was an enjoyable read and i appreciated several of the themes in the book: it's exploration of how the wars broke down the class divisions in england; the privations suffered by all during the wars; determination to survive despite suffering great loss.

the thing that stood out for me the most was the fact that the story was inspired by an actual place/events. at the end of the book the people living in the town are all forced from their homes by their own military with a promise they will be able to return after the war. in real life the village of tyneham was commondered by the military, turned into a target practice location, and never (NEVER, still to this day) returned to the owners. it reminded me of my days studying the revolutionary war in jr. high/high school, and one of the things we talked about that angered the colonists was the british troops demanding food and lodging in private homes without paying for it. it also reminded me of some of the civil rights we enjoy in america that are not rights in great britain. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

graceling by kristin cashore

i picked this book up sometime last year and have only now just got around to reading it.

it was okay. brain candy, beach reading sort of material.

as i'm writing this review several months later, i don't really have much to say. it's a bout a girl with a "grace" (a special ability). hers is the ability to kill with her bare hands (or is it?).

through the course of the story she rebels against her uncle and his use of her an an enforcer, discovers a conspiracy, goes on a quest, meets a boy . . . you get the picture.

good enough to get through, but i wouldn't necessarily pass it on to anyone and i have no desire to read any more books in the series.

Friday, May 11, 2012

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by mark haddon

this book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. the story is not really important; this book is really about perspective. it's told entirely from the point of view of a young autistic boy. 

i found several things particularly interesting:

- he talks about lying. he never lies. he explains that he doesn't lie because he can't figure out what to say. only one thing is the truth (i broke the lamp) while there are endless possibilities for the lie (the dog/aliens/robbers/etc. broke the lamp). he can't arbitrarily pick a non-truth. he becomes overwhelmed by the possibilities. 

- he talks about why he dislikes changes to his surroundings. it's not about familiarity and stability, but rather, he sees so much more than the normal person. he sees EVERYTHING. he easily becomes overwhelmed by external stimulus which renders him confused and unable to concentrate on specific things. when his environment is unchanged, it is easier for him to focus his attention on tasks or conversations, etc.

- talks about his problems with understanding people. it confuses him when people use phrases or colloquialisms like "i'm so hungry i could eat a horse," because you actually couldn't eat a horse. your stomach would explode if you sat down and ate a horse, etc.  he is also confused by non-specific instructions. he cannot follow the instruction "be quiet" because it is infinite, and he cannot possibly be expected to be quiet forever. he needs to be told "be quiet for 5 minutes" or some determinate amount of time.

- the logic he follows to come to conclusions is so absolute. once he has come to a conclusion or made a decision, it is almost impossible for him to accept another possibility.

with autism becoming more and more prevalent in society, i appreciated the opportunity to gain some understanding and perspective.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

cold mountain by charles frazier

i've had this on my to-read list for quite some time. i have to say i'm sorry i saw the movie before i read the book, because i think i would have enjoyed the book more if i hadn't. 

cold mountain is the story of ada and inman. his journey back to her after going awol toward the end of the civil war, and her development into a self-reliant individual. 

the book was very good. very full, descriptive, full of life and breath. it was so vivid in it's portrayal of the various characters encountered by ada and inman. you really get a feel of the poverty and desperation experienced by those left behind while the men went off to fight; how devastating the war was to the people in the south. 

reading the novel is really like entering another world. it makes you ache for cold mountain just as inman does. i wish i had read it with a group, to get other perspectives on it, to see what themes they pulled from it. 

i do wish there had been more in the book about ada and ruby's friendship and how much ada grew as a result of that friendship. it was one of my favorite things about the movie.

i was also disappointed to find that my favorite line from the film isn't in the book. it's when ruby and ada are about to head up the mountain to find ruby's dad, and ruby says, "people say this war is a cloud over the land. but men made the weather and then they stand in it and say 'oh shit, it's raining'!" (or something to that effect). i think it's such a poignant part in the film and beautifully sums up one of the themes of the book. we cannot divorce ourselves from our actions nor can we divorce ourselves from our leaders actions. the civil war was devastating. devastating beyond comprehension. and it was of our own making. and it's hardly ever the people with the most power in controlling events who pay the price.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

a tale of two cities by charles dickens

my first proper charles dickens novel.

(i've read a christmas carol, it's more of a novella.)

i finally understand what everyone is going on about when they talk about his powers of description. holy cow. talk about a wordsmith! i was constantly rereading sentences and passages trying to figure out what he was saying. (and sometimes i never got it, i just moved on and tried to glean out the meaning in context.) it definitely stretched my skills as a reader, which i appreciate. 

this novel really brought home to me how violent and terrifying the french revolution was. i had no idea. here in america we talk about it with almost a sense of admiration and camaraderie, as it happened so close to our own. but i was horrified. 

i can honestly say i had no idea what was going to happen in this book. i've never read the plot, never seen a movie version. i was just along for the ride. and the end, well, it devastated me. there was crying. and not of the gentle, romantic variety.

well played, mr. dickens. well played.

these is my words by nancy turner

this book was recommended to me by several different people before we picked it for our book club read in february.

love. this definitely goes in the reread pile.

it tells of 20 years in the life of sarah agnes prine, beginning when she is a young woman and ending when she is in her 30's. it follows her life on a wagon train and living in the arizona territory. 

sarah is the woman you hope you will be in the face of adversity. brave, hardworking, enduring.

its a love story, an adventure story, a story of the american west. i was angry and happy and excited and heartbroken and shocked.

and there is this one little bit with a giant rattlesnake that still gives me anxiety when i think about it. 

sarah was a woman i could identify with, a woman i was inspired by, a woman i rooted for, a woman i would want as a friend and neighbor in any situation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

the woman in black by susan hill

best. ghost. story. ever.

i've read it three times now. 

i wanted to get another reading in before the movie comes out next week (which i cannot wait for!!). from the looks of it, they've gotten a little free with the plot/story, but it's hollywood. what can you expect. 

as for the book: it never disappoints. chilling! every single time. 

the book is the story of arthur kipps, a young lawyer who is sent to settle the affairs of a recently deceased client. as soon as he arrives in town he begins to sense that there is some horror attached to his client and her house, which he brushes off as simple townsfolk nonsense. 

all too soon he is personally acquainted with the reality of those horrors, and pays a price for his meddling.

read it. ideally at night in the fall or winter. you won't be disappointed. 

cinderella ate my daughter by peggy orenstein

i read this for my book club. out of all the books we had to choose from, this was the one book i absolutely did not want to read.

i really enjoyed it.

i don't exactly know how to review this book, or summarize it. it's an exploration of how media, marketing, literature, technology, psychology, etc. affect our perception or understanding of what it is to be female/feminine.

i think i'm pretty safe from devolving into a vacuous barbie zombie; i'm discerning about what i watch on tv, what i read, what i wear and how i present myself to the outside world. i value my intellect more than my appearance; i'm selective about whose opinions i allow to influence my own. all that being said, all precautions being taken: sometimes i still end up being dazzled by the wrong things.

the book gave me a lot to think about and and made me re-evaluate how i look at things, how i judge things, how i perceive things, how i present myself, why i like the things i like, how i react to things. i'm coming away from it determined to be more aware of and more accountable for my interaction with outside influences. i would definitely recommend it (even if you don't have a daughter).

the hobbit by jrr tolkien

surprisingly, this is my first time reading the hobbit. i think i was turned off of it by that creepy cartoon movie that was perpetually on television when i was a kid. but i loved the lord of the rings series (novels and films) and i wanted to read it before the movie comes out. 

i like that the book completes the story in one volume; but at the same time, i often felt like i was being rushed. you're told a long time passes, rather than experiencing the passing of time with the character. you're told there is action rather than having it described to you in detail. i think this book leaves more for your own imagination to fill in than the lord of the rings trilogy. 

relatively easy to read, good characters, good messages (be brave, be wise, be fair, be loyal), a lot of story in one book. it left me wanting more . . . in a good way.  

i can't wait for december!

the girl with the dragon tattoo by stieg larsson

i really can't explain what possessed me to pick this book up. a whim.

i really don't see what all the hype is about. i mean, the movie looks pretty exciting, i'll give it that . . . 

but the book is just straight up genre fiction. entertaining, but devoid of any real moral substance or inspiration.

i doubt i'll read any of the others.