HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Recent Reviews | More Review Fun

Some Recent Hot Reviews

"Hot" is a compromise between recency and thumbs-up votes.

W. Somerset Maugham

Ashenden
Or: The British Agent

Doubleday, Doran and Company, Hardback, 1941.

8vo. xiii+304 pp. Preface by the author [vii-xiii]. Dust jacket.

First published by Heinemann, 1928.
First published in The Collected Edition, 1934 [new preface].
This edition first published, 1941 [preface slightly expanded].

==================================================​

The dust jacket blurb mentions a preface “especially written for this edition”. Preface there is, and it contains some fascinating things about the autobiographical foundations of these stories, but it was mostly written seven years earlier for The Collected Edition published by Heinemann, Maugham’s British publisher for most of his writing career. For this 1941 edition by Doubleday, Doran, his favourite American publisher, he simply expanded the old preface with three new paragraphs at the end. He speculates in them how espionage between the World Wars might have changed – “speculates” is right for he was deemed too old for a spy during WWII – and even pokes some fun at the venerable Dr Goebbels who was stupid enough to take one of these stories for literal fact and “gave it as an example of British cynicism and brutality”. Should you like to read more from these prefaces, I suggest you have a look at the review by Mr Maugham himself.

Before going any further, let’s clear another misconception which crops surprisingly often in annotations, references, summaries and even reviews. It is worth writing thrice with increasing vehemence:

This is not a novel!
This is not a novel!
This is not a novel!

This is a collection of short stories. Six of them. They share the character of Willie Ashenden and nothing else. Everybody who claims this is a novel is guilty of gross misrepresentation. This 1941 edition is rather guilty, by the way. It lacks table of contents and gives the sixteen “chapters” prominent Roman numerals in the beginning, while the titles are discreetly tucked in the left corner of the first paragraph. Ten years later, in The Complete Short Stories (Heinemann, 1951), fifteen of the sixteen “chapters” – except No. 13, “The Flip of a Coin” – were merged into the six well-known, longish stories:

“R.” + “A Domiciliary Visit” + “Miss King” = “Miss King”
“The Hairless Mexican” + “The Dark Woman” + “The Greek” = “The Hairless Mexican”
“A Trip to Paris” + “Giulia Lazzari” = “Giulia Lazzari”
“Gustav” + “The Traitor” = “The Traitor”
“Behind the Scenes” + “His Excellency” = “His Excellency”
“A Chance Acquaintance” + “Love and Russian Literature” + “Mr. Harrington’s Washing” = “Mr. Harrington’s Washing”

Only the first of these stories is not much of a story[1]. It is obviously designed to set the stage, and it does that beautifully. We see how Ashenden is recruited to the Secret Service by one R. and we see something of his espionage routine. The scene with the two cops visiting Ashenden in his hotel room (“A Domiciliary Visit”) and the tense atmosphere of Geneva as a den of “agents of the secret service, spies, revolutionaries, and agitators” (“Miss King”) are Maugham at his finest, writing with gusto and creating characters in a few sentences. “The awe-inspiring voice of posterity”, as Maugham once dubbed the critics[2], have spilt much ink to degrade his writing as cliché-ridden and pedestrian, but in fact Maugham’s style is unique. Only here you can read bathtub reflections such as these:

Ashenden lay back, and as his body grew used to the heat of the water gave a sigh of satisfaction.
‘Really,’ he reflected, ‘there are moments in life when all this to-do that has led from the primeval slime to myself seems almost worth while.’


[...]

Ashenden sighed, for the water was no longer quite so hot; he could not reach the tap with his hand nor could he turn it with his toes (as every properly regulated tap should turn) and if he got up enough to add more hot water he might just as well get out altogether. On the other hand he could not pull out the plug with his foot in order to empty the bath and so force himself to get out, nor could he find in himself the will-power to step out of it like a man. He had often heard people tell him that he possessed character and he reflected that people judge hastily in the affairs of life because they judge on insufficient evidence: they had never seen him in a hot, but diminishingly hot, bath. His mind, however, wandered back to his play, and telling himself jokes and repartees that he knew by bitter experience would never look so neat on paper nor sound so well on the stage as they did then, he abstracted his mind from the fact that his bath was growing almost tepid, when he heard a knock at the door.

Only in Maugham can you read of crossing a stormy Lake Leman amidst rain turning into sleet which “swept the deck in angry gusts, like a nagging woman who cannot leave a subject alone.” Only Maugham could get away with “serious Swiss taking their neutrality, like a dachshund, for a walk with them.” Only Maugham can find Lake Lucerne “absurd, the water too blue, the mountains too snowy, and its beauty, hitting you in the face, exasperated rather than thrilled; but all the same there was something pleasing in the prospect, an artless candour, like one of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words”. You may like or dislike this writing, that is a matter of personal taste that matters to you and no one else, but you can hardly call it hackneyed.

This round of re-reading – fourth or fifth, maybe sixth for some of the stories, I don’t really know – was prompted by my first, and for now if not forever last, meeting with James Bond. I keep reading how Fleming was inspired by Ashenden to create 007, but I have yet to see some confirmation by Fleming himself. If there is any truth in the rumour, it only goes to show the vast gulf between inspiration and the final product. It’s hard to think of greater contrast between two fictional spies. Bond is a professional spy without any literary pretensions, a rather troubled individual, a hopeless womaniser and generally involved in something like saving the world from a vast Communist conspiracy. Ashenden is a professional writer working as a spy for fun, a possessor of remarkably equable temperament, quite immune to women and working on a very small scale. Both are cool and cynical, but with Bond this is a working pose, while with Ashenden it is an essential trait.

I was rather curious about R. this time. How much he resembles Fleming’s “M” I will leave to Bond enthusiasts to find out. What I can say for certain is that Ashenden doesn’t think much of him. This is evident from the very beginning. The title character in “R.”, under the impression of providing Ashenden with good material for a story, relates a trite incident how a minister was drugged by a tart and robbed of some important documents. The conclusion is best left in Maugham’s words:

R. finished and looked at Ashenden with a gleam in his close-set eyes.
‘Dramatic, isn’t it?’ he asked.
‘Do you mean to say that happened the other day?’
‘The week before last.’
‘Impossible,’ cried Ashenden. ‘Why, we’ve been putting that incident on the stage for sixty years, we’ve written it in a thousand novels. Do you mean to say that life has only just caught up with us?’
R. was a trifle disconcerted.
‘Well, if necessary, I could give you names and dates, and believe me, the Allies have been put to no end of trouble by the loss of the documents that the dispatch-case contained.’
‘Well, sir, if you can’t do better than that in the secret service,’ sighed Ashenden, ‘I’m afraid that as a source of inspiration to the writer of fiction it’s a wash-out. We really
can’t write that story much longer.’

This is how R. is portrayed consistently throughout the book: smart, shrewd and capable in his work, but unimaginative, narrow-minded and really rather stupid outside of it. He is not devoid of some sense of humour, but this is rather blunt, coarse and amateurish. Ashenden, a professional humorist by his own admission, is amused by his chief’s harping on the same joke (“A Trip to Paris”) or his inability to take one at the expense of himself (“The Traitor”):

Ashenden reflected that this was the mistake the amateur humorist, as opposed to the professional, so often made; when he made a joke he harped on it. The relations of the joker to his joke should be as quick and desultory as those of a bee to its flower. He should make his joke and pass on. There is of course no harm if, like the bee approaching the flower, he buzzes a little; for it is just as well to announce to a thick-headed world that a joke is intended.

The experience he had just enjoyed appealed to his acute sense of the absurd. R., it is true, had not seen the fun of it: what humour R. possessed was of a sardonic turn and he had no facility for taking in good part a joke at his own expense. To do that you must be able to look at yourself from the outside and be at the same time spectator and actor in the pleasant comedy of life. R. was a soldier and regarded introspection as unhealthy, unenglish, and unpatriotic.


But the deadliest shot comes in “A Trip to Paris” when R. and Ashenden have lunch in a restaurant rather too fashionable for the humble background of the Colonel. The poor creature is dazed and dazzled. Again, however, no paraphrase can do better than the original:

It amused Ashenden to see R., so sharp, sure of himself and alert in his office, seized as he walked into the restaurant with shyness. He talked a little too loud in order to show that he was at his ease and made himself somewhat unnecessarily at home. You saw in his manner the shabby and commonplace life he had Jed till the hazards of war raised him to a position of consequence.
[...]
Luxury is dangerous to people who have never known it and to whom its temptations are held out too suddenly. R., that shrewd, cynical man, was captured by the vulgar glamour and the shoddy brilliance of the scene before him. Just as the advantage of culture is that it enables you to talk nonsense with distinction, so the habit of luxury allows you to regard its frills and furbelows with a proper contumely.

Maugham is on record that we may accept Ashenden as a flattering portrait of himself.[3] The trap is tempting and many have fallen in it.[4] Up to a point, it is a trap worth falling in. When Ashenden speaks of literature, raw material and human nature, it is almost safe to say that Maugham was speaking his mind word for word. The opening of “A Trip to Paris” is a classic example:

Ashenden was in the habit of asserting that he was never bored. It was one of his notions that only such persons were as had no resources in themselves and it was but the stupid that depended on the outside world for their amusement. Ashenden had no illusions about himself and such success in current letters as had come to him had left his head unturned. He distinguished acutely between fame and the notoriety that rewards the author if a successful novel or a popular play; and he was indifferent to this except in so far as it was attended with tangible benefits. He was perfectly ready to take advantage of his familiar name to get a better state-room in a ship than he had paid for, and if a Customs house officer passed his luggage unopened because he had read his short stories Ashenden was pleased to admit that the pursuit of literature had its compensations. He sighed when eager young students of the drama sought to discuss its technique with him, and when gushing ladies tremulously whispered in his ear their admiration of his books he often wished he was dead. But he thought himself intelligent and so it was absurd that he should be bored. It was a fact that he could talk with interest to persons commonly thought so excruciatingly dull that their fellows fled from them as though they owed them money. It may be that here he was but indulging the professional instinct that was seldom dormant in him; they, his raw material, did not bore him any more than fossils bore the geologist.[5]

It is much more difficult with general inferences about character. The author obviously modelled Ashenden on himself. But how much? It is not a photographic portrait for sure. After all, Ashenden, though a detached observer rather than an action hero, is still a character in these stories. It is often hard to tell whether Maugham drew on himself for the purposes of fiction or simply had fun at the expense of his critics. At one place, for instance, we are told Ashenden had in him “a strain of flippancy (on account of which, indeed, the critics had often reproached him)”. I am inclined to believe this is closer to the truth, but I think it’s easy to make too much of it. Another famous passage, this time from “The Traitor”, is as close as possible to Maugham’s personality (the only personality that matters) from The Summing Up (1938) and A Writer’s Notebook (1949), his two most personal books, but in the end it resembles more into wishful thinking than autobiography.

Ashenden admired goodness, but was not outraged by wickedness. People sometimes thought him heartless because he was more often interested in others than attached to them, and even in the few to whom he was attached his eyes saw with equal clearness the merits and the defects. When he liked people it was not because he was blind to their faults, he did not mind their faults but accepted them with a tolerant shrug of the shoulders, or because he ascribed to them excellencies that they did not possess; and since he judged his friends with candour they never disappointed him and so he seldom lost one. He asked from none more than he could give.

Sometimes Maugham’s opinions are exaggerated in Ashenden for certain dramatic effect. The stupidity of the human race is a case in point. Maugham’s opinion of our species in a nutshell was this: “Their heart’s in the right place, but their head is a thoroughly inefficient organ.”[6] This is rather milder than Ashenden’s reflections on the subject, one in “Miss King” and one in “A Chance Acquaintance”; the second example is quite brutal, but, alas, not quite as devoid of sense as die-hard humanists would have you believe:

But nothing is so foolish as to ascribe profundity to what on the surface is merely inept; it is a pitfall into which many an ingenuous reviewer has fallen headlong. Ashenden had a confident belief in the stupidity of the human animal, which in the course of his life had stood him in good stead.

Though he had both esteem and admiration for the sensibility of the human race, he had little respect for their intelligence: man has always found it easier to sacrifice his life than to learn the multiplication table.

In short, it’s difficult, doubtful and probably pointless to draw conclusions about Maugham’s character from that of Ashenden. At any rate, if that’s what you’re looking for, you should study The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and especially Cakes and Ale (1930), two novels in which Willie Ashenden is the first-person narrator and which are brimming with autobiographical asides. To my mind this is an entertaining parlour game, but nothing more. Ashenden is a great character and there is no need for him to be anything more than that. He would have been a different character had Maugham been a different man, but from that it doesn’t follow that both are interchangeable.

Even mundane details are seldom corroborated by Maugham’s non-fiction writings, which are not always factually reliable anyway, and still less often by independent sources. Maugham did spend some eight months in Geneva (1915/16) and did go to Petrograd in 1917, in both cases playing the spy, but pretty much all he did there remains a matter of conjecture. One of the few details Maugham did confirm was the play he, and Ashenden, wrote in Geneva, and which he was afraid he might not be able to finish courtesy of the Swiss authorities who had every reason to exchange his hotel for a prison. The play is not named in the story (“A Domiciliary Visit”), but Maugham reveals it was Caroline (aka The Unattainable).[7]

The one thing that continues to surprise me very pleasantly in these stories is how little they have to do with espionage. Maugham himself, in the additional paragraphs to the preface, tells us that he was told his book was required reading for persons entering the Intelligence Department. Even the omniscient dust jacket confirms this, but I find it hard to believe. One of the stories, “His Excellency”, has nothing to do with espionage. It is a disturbing tale of sordid, self-destructive, Of-Human-Bondage type of love and a wasted life masked by success. Quite haunting! The other five stories do have something to do with espionage, but only for “Miss King” it might be said to be a central theme. The plots in all cases are slight, predictable and completely unimportant.

It is the cast of characters, as always with Maugham, that makes these stories unforgettable. Who can forget the Hairless Mexican, that absurd and grotesque yet sinister assassin, “a purple patch on two legs”, armed with “revolver of formidable dimensions” and “a long knife of murderous aspect”, and the author of immortal aphorisms like “Anyone can pull a trigger, but it needs a man to use a knife”? Ashenden, like Maugham, is an “amateur of the baroque in human nature” (lovely phrase) and therefore considers the Hairless Mexican an oddity “to be considered with delight”. He is quite a bit larger than life, to be sure, but I don’t think he is untrue to life. And who can forget the voluble Mr Harrington, exasperating yet endearing, the male version of Miss Reid from “Winter Cruise”?

Grantley Caypor, “The Traitor”, is one of Maugham’s finest studies of the baffling complexity of human nature – the main topic of his complete works, to use only a slight oversimplification. Whatever his motives may be, money, envy, vanity or something else, Caypor does “his mean and despicable work with gusto” and he is never “disturbed by gnawing conscience”. Even Ashenden, tolerant to a fault, baulks at the idea of selling your country for cash. Yet Caypor is genuinely fond of his wife, immensely kind to just about anybody around, and quite ecstatic about Swiss wild flowers. No wonder Ashenden, or Maugham, should exclaim:

How much easier life would be if people were all black or all white and how much simpler it would be to act in regard to them! Was Caypor a good man who loved evil or a bad man who loved good? And how could such unreconcilable elements exist side by side and in harmony within the same heart?

(Caypor’s German wife is another piece of vintage Maugham. She is a despicable nationalist – she calls Debussy “the decadent music of a decadent nation”! – and her manners are obnoxiously conceited. Yet she is intelligent, conscientious, educated, loves her husband and is left speechless by the majesty of a Swiss landscape. And who can help being moved by her plight when Maugham draws the story to one of his most chilling conclusions?)

Improbable romances, sometimes but not always dysfunctional, were another subject Maugham deeply loved. Two of his most memorable achievements can be found in these stories. One is the affair of “His Excellency” with a vulgar slut that makes the Philip-Mildred debacle sound like blissful happiness. This harrowing story, almost too painful to read, is ingeniously told by the victim in the third person singular and in a flashback. It is even more ingeniously coupled with several other threads, past and present, but let me not spoil it for you.[8] The other bizarre romance is the one between Giulia Lazzari, a third-rate Italian dancer and prostitute, and Chandra Lal, a fat Indian fellow and a dangerous agitator with anti-British sympathies. We never see them together, but various letters and Ashenden’s insight as a novelist makes their passion more than palpable on the pages. The story ends with an ironic sting in the tail that can be interpreted in various ways.

In the third and last paragraph added to the preface for this 1941 edition, Maugham makes no bones about the purpose of these stories.

But it is not for any topical interest they may have, nor because they have been used as a sort of textbook, that I now offer to the public a new edition of these stories. They purpose only to offer entertainment, which I still think, impenitently, is the main object of a work of fiction.

Willie was being a little disingenuous here. He must have known there was much more in these stories, or he used the word “entertainment” in a very wide sense indeed. On the one hand, they are superb form of escapism that can take you to the Lake Leman, Lucerne, Geneva or Naples with vividness that no “real” going there would ever match. On the other hand, they are full with colourful characters, dramatic situations and atmospheric descriptions that leave a lasting and thought-provoking impression.

If you expect action-packed, Bond-like adventures, this is not a book for you. But if you are seriously interested in Maugham’s writing and his style appeals to you, you cannot afford to miss these stories. The more I read them, the better they become.

__________________________________________________​
[1] The stitches are visible in a few other places, too. “The Flip of a Coin” was rightly excluded; it’s too short to stand alone. “Gustav” is really a separate story (charming one, too) from “The Traitor”, or at best a lengthy introduction tenuously linked to it. The same goes for “Behind the Scenes”, but this at least includes some important details from the character of Herbert Witherspoon (“His Excellency”).
[2] Preface to East and West [1934], Doubleday, 1952, p. viii.
[3] “The Sanatorium is a story founded on my own experiences, and if you like to take the character of Ashenden as a flattering portrait of the old party who stands before you, you are at perfect liberty to do so.” Trio, Doubleday, 1950, p. 102. The line is kept in the introduction to the movie version of Sanatorium.
[4] Maugham’s sage biographers (Morgan, pp. 233-4; Hastings, pp. 203-8, 224-5) join the exalted company of Dr Goebbels by treating these stories very much as non-fiction. They are aware of Maugham’s warning that his experiences were “rearranged for the purposes of fiction”, but they find the little he said in his non-fiction writings (e.g. Part II of “Looking Back”, Show Magazine, July 1962, pp. 43-44, 49, 95) quite insufficient.
[5] Another classic example is Ashenden’s discourse on vanity in “His Excellency”. It is quoted here. Extensive quotations from Maugham’s complete stories may be consulted here.
[6] The bibliographical biography of this remark is rather interesting. Maugham first used it in his uniquely confessional travelogue The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930), Chapter XLIV, where he made one argumentative Jew say it. Eight years later, in The Summing Up (1938), Chapter LV, he admitted this had been fiction, but he did agree anew with the remark: “The conclusion I came to about men I put into the mouth of a man I met on board ship in the China Seas. “I’ll give you my opinion of the human race in a nutshell, brother,” I made him say. “Their heart’s in the right place, but their head is a thoroughly inefficient organ.””
[7] Preface to The Collected Plays, Heinemann, 1952, vol. 2, pp. vii-viii.
[8] Samuel J. Rogal, a sorry excuse for Maugham scholar indeed, has made much of the completely superficial parallel with Of Human Bondage, concluding with this piece of pure wisdom: “Once more, this story reveals the extent to which Maugham recycled characters and narratives from one piece to another, clinging to the belief that if one first succeeds, then one tries again and again.” If you have time to waste, see A William Somerset Maugham Encyclopaedia, Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 89-90.
… (more)
2 vote Waldstein | 18 other reviews | Jun 24, 2017 |
Jon Clinch continues to astound me. This book is so different from [Finn] and [Kings of the Earth], both of which I loved. And yet I loved this one too. Clinch is on Facebook, and in response to a comment I made there, he called [Belzoni] his "silly book". Well, it isn't silly, but it is certainly more light-hearted than the other two, and there is much in it to chuckle at. I'd love to see it made into a movie, à la Indiana Jones, or Romancing the Stone. Clinch has taken much of the substance of what is known of the actual man Giovanni Battista Belzoni's life, and turned it into a fictionalized autobiographical account from the deathbed. Belzoni was very large man, with strength and resourcefulness to spare; his interests included hydraulics and Egyptian archeology, and he made his mark in the world in both fields, in reality doing what we would probably call grave-robbing today. He "gave the world" the 7-ton head of Ramesses II, the way Lord Elgin "gave the world" those marvelous Grecian marbles. He also performed in circuses, traveled throughout Europe, married a remarkable woman, wrote about and exhibited his findings, and attempted to travel to Timbuktu. Unfortunately, he died along the way, perhaps of natural causes, perhaps of foul play as suggested by Sir Richard Burton. I was only vaguely aware of Belzoni before reading this novel, but Clinch has made him an irresistible personality, if one whose narration of his own life we might suspect to be somewhat unreliable. Highly recommended.… (more)
2 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jun 24, 2017 |
"Renanscence" by Leigh Goodison follows the adventures of a hand picked crew of scientists and explorer, who must collect samples and chemicals from an alien planet, in order to revive a dying earth.

I enjoyed this more that I thought I would. There are some great plot twists, plenty of action, and the characters are generally likeable and believable. There are a few leaps of faith in terms of the science, but it is fiction after all. Imaginative, entertaining and easy to read.… (more)
1 vote SarahEBear | 11 other reviews | Jun 25, 2017 |
Going just by the story, the characters, and my general entertainment throughout most of this book, I would have rated this at five stars. I’m giving it 4.5 stars, the same as the last two books, but I’m rounding down to 4 on Goodreads whereas I rounded the previous two up to 5. The reason I'm rating it so much lower, in spite of enjoying it so much, is that there were a couple things that particularly annoyed me, one being what I consider to be a major story discrepancy. More details are in the spoiler tags further below.

Aside from that, I thought the story was very entertaining. I enjoyed it at least as much as the first book, and slightly more than the second and third. I was especially engrossed by the end, and I’m eager to start reading the next book. Unlike the previous books, this one ended with quite a cliff hanger and I look forward to finding out how Laurence and Temeraire will get themselves out of their current predicament.

The rest of my comments include some spoilers for this book and also for the previous three, so I’ll put them in spoiler tags:
The discrepancy that bothered me so much was the way everybody completely ignored Temeraire’s history with the disease. Early on, when Laurence first learns that all the dragons are sick, he comments that they’d “had word” of the illness. This was true enough, I guess. In book two, when the courier dragon Volly landed on their ship to deliver messages, Volly was sick and his captain James said “half the dragons are moaning and sniffling about”. So, yes, they “had word”. They also had a nice little exchange of dragon germs.

Temeraire caught that same illness, about a week after Volly had left. In this fourth book, at around 28%, there’s finally a mention of Temeraire’s own illness, but everybody still seems to doubt the connection. Nobody mentions that Temeraire caught it after being exposed to one of the sick dragons. The connection seems like it should have been obvious, if only to Laurence and the dragon surgeon Keynes who had been with them. It seemed to me like Novik cheated, trying to drag things out for dramatic effect at the sacrifice of logic and consistency.

A more minor thing that niggled at me was the misrepresentation of where Laurence’s wealth came from. Novik really downplayed how much of it came from his capture of Temeraire’s egg and the subsequent harnessing. We’re told that the Admiralty pays little for the capture of a dragon compared to that of a ship, and that “Laurence had established a handsome capital while still a naval officer.” These things are technically true, but presented in a misleading way. Laurence didn’t capture a dragon, he captured an egg, and most of his wealth came from that bounty rather than from the capture of the ship itself, which admittedly happened while he was “still a naval officer”.

Along those same lines, Temeraire also mentions in this book that Laurence bought his breastplate with the money he earned from taking the French ship, but he knows the money came from his egg. In book one Laurence told him, after presenting the gift to him, that “it is quite your due, you know, for the better part of it comes from the bounty for our having taken your egg from the French.” So again, everything stated is technically true, because the egg came from the ship, but presented in a way that seems intentionally misleading. Maybe Novik was afraid reminding readers of that aspect of things would take away from the anti-slavery message in this book, or maybe I just read too much into it, but it seems odd that she would remind readers of some aspects of Laurence’s capital but avoid mentioning the most relevant aspect at the same time.
… (more)
1 vote YouKneeK | 86 other reviews | Jun 25, 2017 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2834617.html

Of the six wives of Henry VIII, Katherine Howard is probably the most obscure; basically we remember that she was executed for much the same reason as her cousin Anne Boleyn, ie alleged adultery, and then we move on. Josephine Wilkinson has shone a light on the sorry tale of this young woman, beheaded while still a teenager after less than two years as queen of England. There is a surprising amount of documentation - the evidence against her was obviously carefully assembled and preserved, to allow posterity to make its own judgement.

It's pretty clear from the evidence that she was an abuse victim who was then framed. At 13 she was repeatedly groped in bed by her music teacher, Henry Mannox. At 15 she was moved to her grandmother's household where she was seduced by one of the secretaries, Francis Dereham; they started to call each other "husband" and "wife", which was to prove (literally) fatal. At 17, in the royal household, she began a flirtatious relationship with her distant cousin Thomas Culpeper, who was a favourite of the king's. This was then turned upside down after a few months when the king himself took an interest in her, having spotted her as one of the attendants of Anne of Cleves during that very brief marriage.

But, even married to the king, Catherine couldn't stay away from Culpeper, and her lady-in-waiting Lady Rochford (whose husband, Catherine's cousin George Boleyn, had been executed along with his sister Anne) facilitated the continuing contact. It's not even clear that the relationship with Culpeper ever became physical, but it is pretty clear that she was very emotionally committed to him.

This all amounted to high treason, by the standards of the time. Catherine's relationship with Dereham, looked at from some angles, amounted to a marriage which would have made her subsequent marriage to Henry VIII invalid. Culpeper had also a political role, which made his privileged access to the queen a matter of state security (and he and Katherine were foolishly indiscreet, whatever else they may or may not have done).

When Henry found out that his teenage bride was not as virginal as he had imagined (and in a court with many watching eyes, where jealousy could literally kill, he was always going to find out) the end came quickly. Catherine was arrested on 1 November 1541 and stripped of her queenship on 23 November. Dereham and Culpeper were tried on 1 December and executed on 10 December, Culpeper beheaded and Dereham hanged, drawn and quartered. (Mannox, the music teacher, escaped without punishment because groping 13-year-old girls was not a crime.) Parliament voted for Catherine's execution on 7 February and it was carried out six days later. Lady Rochford was beheaded the same morning, almost six years after her husband had met the same fate for his alleged incest with Anne Boleyn.

Josephine Wilkinson has put all of this together very well, but I missed a few things. The documentation obviously does survive, but I'd have liked to know how and where. I'd also have liked to know a bit more about the political and religious context of the accusations, though of course the human drama is compelling enough on its own.

It can't have been much fun being a young woman in Tudor times, even at the highest levels of society. Elizabeth I, ten years younger, was also abused as a teenager, by her stepfather. Katherine had little choice in her relations with older men, never expected that she would be in a position where this would become an issue of life and death, and she had absolutely no protection when it did (those accused of high treason had no access to legal counsel, or indeed any other form of help).

The most vivid image we have of Katherine is that the night before her execution, she asked to have the headsman's block brought to her cell, so that she could practice positioning herself confidently for the next morning. Having been robbed of control for most of her life, she wanted at least to have some control of the manner of her end. It's a tremendously sad image.
… (more)
1 vote nwhyte | Jun 25, 2017 |
Elsie has never been close to her mother, as it's been clear all her life that the woman cared far more about the cult-like group she was involved in than she did about her daughter. Now that her mother is dead, though, Elsie regrets not knowing her better. Which she might still have a chance to, when she's given some clues that may expose secrets about her family's past.

This is a first novel, and unfortunately I think it shows. There's nothing about the writing that's actively bad, but it all feels a little... weak. At the beginning, we seem to mostly be flatly told how Elsie is feeling without ever really getting into her head in a way that let us experience things with her, which left me feeling very distant from her as a character. That improves later in the novel, I think, but she still never quite feels so much like a three-dimensional person as an itemized list of emotional damage. I also found some of the details a little unconvincing, while others were annoyingly missing. It wasn't until two thirds of the way through that I finally got an answer to the question of how old Elsie actually was, for instance, and while we're told a lot about her professional dance career, I had to piece together from clues late in the novel exactly what kind of dance she did. (I think it was ballet?)

And the story itself was a bit disappointing. Just as I was starting to get really interested in the family mysteries that were hinted at and ready for some juicy revelations, that part of the plot was put on hold in favor of extended flashbacks to Elsie's youth, and then when the expected revelations finally came at the end of the book, not only was I now feeling less interested, but they turned out not to be very exciting.

On the other hand, Elsie's narcissistic mother, in the glimpses we got of her, was a really interesting character, and the nature of the relationship between the two of them feels painfully true to life, and I give the book definite points for that. Or an extra half-star on the rating, at least.

Honestly, despite how negative most of my comments above may seem, this was mostly an okay read. But I was hoping for something a bit better than okay.
… (more)
1 vote bragan | 3 other reviews | Jun 24, 2017 |
I won this book in a Library Thing giveaway.
What a wonderful read! I finished this in a sitting and still wanted more.
The descriptions of the lands, the people, the noises lurking in the dark woods are all done so perfectly and the story weaves in and around continuously, never failing to sweep you along. I really can't recommend this book enough. I have deliberately refrained from giving you, the review reader, any storyline information as I genuinely believe this is a tale you should experience.
This is a true folk tale and I loved every word of it.
… (more)
1 vote Aeshna | 7 other reviews | Jun 24, 2017 |
I was standing in Daunt Books in the Marlyebone neighborhood of London. On any trip to London I come to this store multiple times.

Two people were browsing near me and I heard one of them emphatically tell her friend, "You have to read this book. It changed my life."

Well, you can't really pass up a recommendation like that so I asked if she'd be willing to share that recommendation with me. It was this book.

This is a great book if for no other reason than the process the author had to follow simply to write it is incredible.

When many of us meet a person with exceptional autism we wonder things. This book shows that our wonder, our lack of understanding, these things are noticed by those we wonder about.

It's a wonderous, direct response to questions none of us ask about what it means to be autistic. It's like having a conversation with someone who lives it, but those types conversations aren't actually possible. And that's what makes the book so special.

It's a great read. It isn't going to change my life. But it helps me understand a group of people. And that's always a good thing.
… (more)
1 vote nerdzach | 86 other reviews | Jun 24, 2017 |
One of my pet peeves is books that just stop without any sort of resolution. I enjoyed the reading, but I did first expect, and as I got closer and closer to the end at least hope, that somehow the various threads would somehow be pulled together. If anything, new uncertaincies were introduced at the end.
1 vote MarthaJeanne | 140 other reviews | Jun 24, 2017 |
The Hidden Life of Trees is a fantastic little big book. It's little in length but big on new perspective and ideas. Originally published in German, Peter Wohlleben is an ex-forestry manager who decided to look beyond the typical knowledge of trees. He is a lifetime close observer who sees trees as a form of animal with memory, sensory input, paternal instincts. His basis is recent science.The other great thing is Wohlleben projects a sense of mystery about trees, he's like a Gandalf character speaking about the Ents, but always remaining grounded in the facts. Great stuff and great book.… (more)
1 vote Stbalbach | 14 other reviews | Jun 23, 2017 |
I'm afraid I'm incapable of not liking this book, a collection of anecdotes from a volunteer in a first grade classroom. First off, Ms. Linda, as the kids call her, is married to a friend of ours. Second, my daughter is a second grade teacher in a similar socio-economic community, so I am extremely sympathetic with grade school teachers and their young students. Third, the school is located in the quadrant of Seattle where I also live, so I feel quite neighborly towards the students and their families. Of course, there is also the fact that Ms. Linda writes well and has some heartwarming stories to share.

Rise Up! is set in Hawthorne Elementary School, located in one of Seattle's less prestigious zip codes. Ms. Linda describes her experiences as a classroom volunteer, introducing us to a lovely collection of young'uns. (The stories you're about to read are true, but details have been changed to protect the innocent.) She takes us on a journey throughout the school year, sharing in the joys, sorrows, and struggles of these little scholars. At the end, she vents a bit about what's wrong with the education system and offers ideas for improvement, all with an eye on helping our kids.
--J.
… (more)
1 vote Hamburgerclan | Jun 23, 2017 |
I remember these books fondly from my childhood, and had never thought much about why I loved them so much. This book talks about Wilder’s connection to the natural world, and how she’d portrayed it in her books. This was definitely one of the things I remember so well from those books – the incredible sense of place she conveys throughout them. I’ve never been to a prairie – but I feel like I’ve experienced it through her eyes in her books.

McDowell breaks down the different landscapes covered in the family’s travels, and even certain intervals in the real Ingalls family life that didn’t make it into the more fictionalized version of their life in the book series. (If you want to see the difference – I highly recommend the annotated Pioneer Girl.) She talks about the actual plants and animals Wilder may have encountered, and gives ideas for doing a modern day pilgrimage to those sites. (You can visit the historic sites, but accurate representations of the landscapes are harder to find.) It’s a great book – very interesting for fans of the Little House series, but would be an interesting read for anyone interested in that time period, and the areas covered.
… (more)
1 vote megaelim | 2 other reviews | Jun 23, 2017 |
This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Song for the Basilisk
Series: ------
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 318
Format: Digital Edition

Synopsis:


The city of Berylon was ruled by 4 Great Houses, which in turn were led by House Tourmalyne. 30 some years ago House Griffin [Tourmalyne] was overthrown by House Basilisk, led by Arioso Pellior. Pellior killed every direct member of House Griffin, or so he thinks. One young boy survives and is spirited away to the Isle of Luly to become a nameless bard.

Caladrius grows up, has a son and refuses to remember. Until he makes his trip off the island and realizes that he must revenge his family and destroy House Basilisk. He becomes a nobody musician and works his way into the palace. With a magic lute filled with killer fire, Caladrius plans on assassinating the Basilisk at his birthday celebration. What he doesn't count on is his son also coming to the city to find him.

He also doesn't count on the daughter of the Basilisk having the same powers as her father. But where the Basilisk is evil, it isn't so clear that his daughter is. Caladrius must decide if revenge for his past is the worth sacrificing the future of his son. And when it becomes apparent that the Basilisk plans to rule Berylon from beyond the grave through his daughter, she must decide if House Basilisk will stay ascendant over a dead city or bow its head to House Griffin and return things to their rightful place.

My Thoughts:

This book was about the power of magic within the guise of music. I don't know how to go about talking about this book without just fanboying. McKillip can write like no one else I've ever read. I think then next book of hers I will read selections outloud to see if there is rhythm to her sentences. Her words flow.

The story itself is good. A tale of revenge that redeems itself instead of creating more death and destruction. The use of multiple instruments to show characteristics of the various people was fun to realize. It was skillfully drawn and I couldn't remember which direction the Basilisk's daughter took, so the ending was new all over again. The benefits of waiting 11 years between re-reads I guess.

Last time I gave this 4 Stars, but this time around I'm calling this a solid 5. McKillip's writing is top notch. It is well crafted and more than that, it is artistic. It is a joy to read the story and a joy to read the wordcrafting itself.

Part of the reason I like most of McKillip's writing so much is that this is as close to poetry as I'm going to get and to enjoy. I've tried various books of poetry throughout the years and each time it has defeated me and left me bored. But I WANT to like Poetry.

★★★★★… (more)
1 vote BookstoogeLT | 13 other reviews | Jun 23, 2017 |
Review of: The Indus: Lost Civilizations, by Andrew Robinson
by Stan Prager (6-23-17)

In the late fifth century BCE, one Ctesias of Cnidus, a Greek physician at the Persian court, wrote passages that described the Indus River and its environs in the distant land of Sindh, and spoke of local exotica, including unicorns. Even then there was no memory of the great ancient civilization that once flourished there and then fell, a millennium and a half before. Another millennium and a half was to pass before British railway builders stumbled upon the startling remains of what is today called the Harappan, or more commonly, the Indus Valley Civilization, which once straddled the now sometimes contentious border region of southern Pakistan and northwestern India. Among the artifacts eventually uncovered were ancient Indus seals–contemporary with Sumer and Old Kingdom Egypt–inscribed with a script that yet remains undeciphered, and decorated with images of unicorns!
The hearts of ancient history aficionados tend to beat a little faster when the Indus Valley Civilization comes up in conversation. One of three great ancient civilizations of the Old World, along with Egypt and the Mesopotamian city states, it almost certainly hosted the largest population–perhaps as many as five million–and was the most geographically widespread. Yet, it is the least known and thus the most fascinating and enigmatic of the three.
It is this that makes the publication of The Indus, by Andrew Robinson–the first entry in a new series entitled Lost Civilizations–such a welcome addition to the scholarship. In a remarkable achievement, Robinson–a polymath who is at once journalist, scholar, and prolific author–has written an outstanding digest-sized volume that brilliantly summarizes nearly everything that we know about Indus and what remains unknown or in dispute. Moreover, he does so in an engaging narrative style replete with fact, analysis and interpretation suitable to both the scholarly and popular audience.
In 1856, British engineers laying the East Indian Railway Company line in the Punjab pilfered tons of bricks for ballast from forgotten ruins along the way, including Harappa, which unknown to them was once a great urban center inhabited from 3500-1300 BCE, and one of the largest cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Some years later, amateur excavations turned up the first unicorn seal, but its significance was overlooked. Serious archaeology began in the 1920s, and coincided with the discovery of another large city, Mohenjo-daro, in Sindh. The following decades revealed that the Indus Valley Civilization encompassed a vast region represented by well over a thousand cities and settlements (uncovered thus far), extending over at least at least 800,000 square kilometers (more than 300,000 square miles), with a population in the millions.
This astonishing civilization, at its height 2600-1900 BCE, was built upon thriving river basin communities centered upon wheat and barley cultivation (and later, rice) along the Indus River, as well as another ancient river that long ago went dry and vanished, that some–including Robinson—identify with the legendary Saraswati and its descendant, the Ghaggar-Hakra river system, which now flows only with the monsoon. It is clear from Indus seals (which depicted real as well as fanciful creatures!) that they domesticated animals, including the humped zebu cattle and the water buffalo. Arts and crafts were highly developed, as was metallurgy. In addition to a writing system, they created a uniform system of weights and measures. Extensive trade networks by land and sea carried raw materials and finished objects to places as far as away as Mesopotamia, where no less a historical figure than Sargon of Akkad circa 2300 BCE boasted of ships from “Meluhha,” as the Indus was known to him, docking at his capital. Trade may also have extended to Egypt and Minion Crete. Their cities were architecturally stylized masterpieces of engineering, evidenced careful street planning, and remarkably sophisticated water drainage and sewage systems–including the world’s first toilets–that could only have been possible in a highly organized and carefully managed society. Yet, there appears to be no indication of armies or warfare. Indus Valley Civilization flourished for centuries before entering a period of slow decline most likely due to environmental factors, around 1900BCE—several hundred years prior to the time Ramses II ruled Egypt—and eventually disappeared entirely, although tantalizing traces of its cultural imprint can be detected even today.
What can we make of Indus, which truly is a “lost” civilization? As Robinson describes it, the challenges of archeology and interpretation have been and remain substantial. Stripping ruins for railway construction was only the first of many insults to the legacy of Indus. Early excavations were sloppy, in the days before strict archaeological methodology was standardized. With scant evidence, conclusions were reached and loudly trumpeted of a warlike people given to “militaristic imperialism” led by a “ruthless authoritarian regime,” who finally only succumbed to Indo-Aryan invaders—none of which stands up to scrutiny. The material culture has yet to reveal any traces of war, or even soldiers. And while Indo-Aryan migrations into the region did in fact occur, these were not coterminous with Indus decline. At the other extreme, Hindu nationalists—who vehemently reject the scholarly consensus that Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European language family rooted in those later Indo-Aryan migrations—have on entirely spurious grounds attempted to hijack Indus as the autochthonous ancestor of Hinduism and Indian national identity. These politically powerful forces have even created from whole-cloth a faux decipherment of the Indus script, to serve their propaganda objectives, which is utterly baseless. Archaeological efforts have been compromised over the years by a variety of factors, most prominently the 1947 partition that created Pakistan and India as separate and often hostile nation states—and effectively drew an international boundary line through Indus sites in a volatile region that makes excavation both difficult and dangerous. Moreover, environmental dynamics in flooding and high water table salinity threaten existing sites and complicate future excavation. In fact, about ninety percent of Indus sites remain unexcavated, including Ganweriwala, a huge urban center that ranks in size with Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro! Finally, the stubborn resistance of the Indus script to decipherment despite decades of intensive efforts offers little hope that the many mysteries of the Indus Valley Civilization will be resolved anytime soon.
It is a testament to the genius of the author that he was able to take so much material and condense it down to such a small volume without compromising the quality of the work. Concisely but carefully, in chapters that examine architecture, trade, society and the like, he discusses what is known and deconstructs competing arguments of interpretation. And while he refutes the specious attempts of Hindu nationalists to connect the dots from ancient Indus to modern India, Robinson makes a strong case for continuity in conspicuous traces of Indus Valley Civilization that seem to have indeed left an indelible footprint on the South Asian landscape. There are elements of religious symbolism that echo in Hinduism, including ritual purification, as well as the unique system of weights and measures that still survives in markets in India and Pakistan today. One of the book’s many delightful photographs shows Harappan terracotta votive objects depicting zebus and a wheeled cart, juxtaposed with a facing page contemporary photo of a similar bullock cart in use in the Indus valley, some four thousand years later. Robinson includes much discussion of the Indus writing system and the lost language it recorded, as well as its possible link to the Dravidian family of languages prevalent in southern India today.
Robinson’s little book is an excellent introduction to an extraordinary civilization that has been all but lost to time. Skillfully organized and well-written, this fine work also contains a wealth of illustrations, photographs, maps, and a timeline, adding to its accessibility for the general audience, while the meticulous notes underscore its reliability for a more scholarly one. A glance at some of the human faces staring back at us from Indus art provokes chills of a sort for the modern reader, evoking snippets of Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias and reflecting that long before Caesar, or Pericles, or even Tutankhamen, in the days when Khufu’s mummy was interred at Giza, there was a magnificent civilization in South Asia that then disappeared from human memory for thousands of years. And we are still trying to rediscover it.

This review appears on my book blog, with a map and picture of the unicorn seal, here: https://regarp.com/2017/06/23/review-of-the-indus-lost-civilizations-by-andrew-robinson/
… (more)
1 vote Garp83 | Jun 23, 2017 |
Christ, what a ride. I thought this book would be dry and unreadable. I had to read this for my Cultures & Madness class and write a book report (that I still haven't done).

While there are times that it can be dense, it is very well written. Ms. Fadiman writes about the Hmong with incredible gravitas and emotionality. I don't know how she did it but, by the time I finished the book I was all teary. Sure, it could be that I haven't slept in days (finals) but I think it's because of how the story of this little Hmong girl touched me so deeply that it broke my heart to finish this book. It changed the way I see parenting, it changed the way I see the American medical system, it changed the way I see the Hmong whom I knew about thanks to Grey's Anatomy.

This book is not a happy book. It's actually sad, heartbreaking, morally complicated but manages to be uplifting at the same time. Again, I don't know how Ms. Fadiman does it. This book teaches us to be human and to keep empathy in the front of our minds and hearts whenever we encounter someone of a different culture. It's so easy to judge. It's so easy to hate. Empathy, kindness... those are the some of the tools that can change the world or at the very least, make it a little less worse.

I enjoyed this book immensely.
… (more)
1 vote lapiccolina | 95 other reviews | Jun 23, 2017 |
Disclaimer - I came at this the wrong way around having had the excellent Heist duology recommended to me, which I thoroughly enjoyed - I found myself wanting to know more about the Grisha world, and so read these. It is in essence Stormhound's story, but told form the point of view of one of a pair of orphaned twins. Set solely in Ravka, it also explores a lot more of about the Grisha's abilities and the politics within the kingdom. As is typical for a debuet author this is three short books, each no more than 250 pages, and they flow quickly from one to the next without much on the way of gap.

Alina and Mal have always been together, and Alina manages to suppress her potential for Grisha talent when the testers come by, so that they can join the army together. Even though she's desperately skinny, and Mal remains the focus of everyone's attention, always comfortable and always fitting in. However things change when their company crosses the Darkfold - a reigin of peril in the middle of Rashka, created when the first Grisha became too greedy and failed to control his power. Now it's filled with warped monsters and perpetual darkness, a peril for all who must cross from one side of Raska to the other. Of course their crossing goes wrong and they're attacked, just about to die Alina summons forth an intense light and their lives are spared. Alina (alone) is summoned to The Darling's command, and when it is found she does have Grisha powers she's sent to school to learn better control - so far so Harry Potter. But we're spared most of the school stuff, as the Darling has plans for her - to assist him in removing the peril of the Darkfold. All she needs is a special amplifier to increase her light summoning powers, and Mal the tracker is just the one to find it for her.

There's plenty more to be told in this world, and I'd be fascinated to read more of the Suli for a start.
… (more)
1 vote reading_fox | Jun 23, 2017 |
The Angel's Game has a bit of a rambling nature and is a dark and mysterious novel. 'A writer never forget the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he coverts the most; his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.' So begins this novel about a writer, David Martin in Barcelona whose soul is sold and his body slowly poisoned by a charming French publisher. People die and the novel gets darker in a gothic style. Occasionally this was too rambling but there are delightful characters and moments of fantastic drama too.… (more)
1 vote Tifi | 354 other reviews | Jun 23, 2017 |
5479. Hell in the Pacific A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu, by Jim McEnery with Bill Sloan (read 22 Jun 2017) This book was published in 2012, the author having been born in Brooklyn on 30 Sept 1919. He enlisted itn e mrines when he was 20. He tells of his growing up years and his training as aMarine, which I dfound helpful . His book was I think inspired by Sledge's With the Old Breed (which is the best book on World War II experience I have ever read--I read it 9 Mar 2001). The account of the time the author spent on Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu is well told ad at times is overwheloming, though the author seems to have taken it in stride and contrary to so many of his fellows never was wounded, though he was overtaken by malaria. The summing up pages are well-done (though I was a bit nettled that he did not see why the Hitler first strategy was wise, since Hitler was a far more innovative and dangerous foe and needed to be beaten before he acquired more dangerous weapons. But one can understand the author's feelings, having gone through what he did.)… (more)
1 vote Schmerguls | 1 other review | Jun 22, 2017 |
A pithy philosophical rumination on the nature and qualities of the "true believer." In sum, this is a frustrated individual who seeks to flee his meaningless life, to abjure liberties and find purpose through assimilation into a greater whole. The mission is ultimately less important than the merging into a close collective.

The author shows great wit and wide familiarity with examples of the phenomena he describes. Although writing not long after WWII, he does not limit his examples to Nazis and fascists. Mass movements are all around us. Especially relevant for anyone wanting insights into the popularity of Donald Trump.… (more)
1 vote dono421846 | 19 other reviews | Jun 22, 2017 |
This is an extraordinarily intense novella: intense in its use of language and intense in its unremitting focus on just two or three characters. First and foremost in the cast list is Fleda Vetch, a young woman whose superior quick-wittedness and taste are balanced by her apparent plainness and moral rectitude; next is the manipulative Mrs Adela Gereth, a widow to whom the unmarried Fleda becomes a companion. Owen Gereth, Mrs Gereth's son, has lately inherited Poynton Place, thereby becoming a most eligible if rather vapid bachelor. Further down the cast list come Mona Brigstock, a philistine but strong-minded young woman, as manipulative as Mrs Gereth, and her mother Mrs Brigstock. Fleda's sister Maggie and a scant handful of other individuals have even more minor parts, either walk-on/walk-off or completely offstage.

I use the phrase cast list intentionally: James apparently used his failed attempt at writing for the stage to better effect here. We have set 'scenes', played out on a limited number of stage sets; and -- in the manner of Ibsen, for instance -- all the attention is placed on the psychological drama. The main crises of the narrative, and the final climactic incident, essentially take place 'offstage'; foregrounded are the ever-evolving to-and-fro of relationships and interactions.

And what are these relationships and interactions? Essentially they're founded on the fact that Mrs Gereth's impressionable son Owen has fallen for the pretty but rather vulgar Mona, who it soon becomes clear will have no intrinsic appreciation for the antique treasures that the elder Gereths have accumulated over a lifetime at Poynton. Under the terms of her late husband's will Mrs Gereth will be forever separated from both the house and its possessions unless she can persuade Owen to fall for a more suitable young woman, one with taste and sensitivity, one who can cajole Owen into letting his mother continue in residence; in short, one Fleda Vetch.

Let me start my brief commentary with a quotation from chapter XXII, at the end of the book, after Fleda has received from Owen a letter which ends with the sentence, "You won't refuse if you'll simply think a little what it must be that makes me ask."

Fleda read that last sentence over more times even than the rest: she was baffled -- she couldn't think at all of what in particular made him ask. This was indeed because it might be one of so many things.

This bafflement absolutely epitomises the veil of obscurity that permeates the novel, much like the pall of smoke that might come from a great conflagration. Here, however, it is the fire of passion. Passion takes many forms in The Spoils of Poynton, whether Mrs Gereth's for the 'spoils' themselves, the mutual attraction between Owen and Fleda that emerges only slowly, or the cupidity that Mona displays in seeking to have the 'spoils' return to Poynton -- for Mrs Gereth, to circumvent the possibility of Mona will obtain possession of the mansion's treasures, has removed them all to her dower house in another part of southeast England. The haze from all these passions hangs over the whole of the novella -- witness the way that we too, like Fleda, have to read some sentences over more times than the rest, such as when it is often not clear which woman -- Fleda, Mrs Gereth or Mona -- is being referred to by the casual use of "she" and "her". The author's long sentences, with their several subordinate phrases, only add to the opacity.

For me this obscurity of language made the start of the novel quite laborious but a little perseverance soon became its own reward, and I soon found following the cut-and-thrust of stratagem and countermove quite addictive. I was both amused and bemused by the thoughts and actions of the principal characters, Fleda and Mrs Gereth, alternately frustrated and cheered by what transpired next. The action flits between the mansions of Waterbath and Poynton, the dower house of Ricks and the homes of Fleda's family, between hotel and train station; the time scale ranges over several months (maybe as much as a couple of years) from seasonally pleasant weather to the baleful advent of winter.

These shifts and fluctuations are doubtless designed to parallel the changing fortunes of the protagonists. In many ways they are like the sudden settlings inside a bonfire that's slowly smouldering at its core before, all of a sudden, the whole thing violently bursts into flame.

One might hope for and expect a fairytale ending, perhaps with Fleda as Cinderella and Mrs Gereth as fairy godmother; or could it be a late 19th-century Pride and Prejudice, featuring Fleda as Elizabeth Bennet and Owen as the enigmatic Mr Darcy of Pemberley? But James is clearly aiming for a more realistic outcome, even if some might call 'foul!' at the way it is all wrapped up. (Here I am reminded more of the climax of Jane Eyre.) The fact is that everyone in the novel loses out to some extent, and all for different reasons -- some personal, some circumstantial. For all that very little appears to happen, two or three crucial actions determine which way the plot moves, and those moves prove decisive for the inevitability of the final resolution.

What I found quite delicious were many of James' turns of phrases, some authorial, others from individuals assessing others' characters. Owen, for example is typified (chapter VIII) thus: "He had his delicacies, but he hid them away like presents before Christmas." Mona Brigstock, when Poynton's treasures are moved out, is described as "moved not by the privation but by the insult."

Mrs Gereth in particular has some ringing judgements to make: of Fleda she says (XVII) "our situation is such that [Owen] communicates with me only through you and [...] you're so tortuous you conceal everything;" later she tells Fleda "You're not quite a saint in heaven yet." Of her son she says (XVIII), "Owen's a blockhead [and] disgustingly weak," to which Fleda the perennial rescuer can only say, "It's because he's weak that he needs me." Fleda herself notes (XXII) that Mona's "a person who's upset by failure and who blooms and expands with success." The tragedy is that many these incisive remarks are the result of characters' retrospective reflections.

This edition includes an insightful introduction by David Lodge which underlines the novel's deliberate ambiguities. I chose to read this after the main text, along with extracts from Henry James' own notebooks which outline the gestation of The Spoils of Poynton. Interestingly, the reader will find many of the familiar names originally in different guises -- Poynton was to be Umberleigh, for a start. Fleda Vetch was conceived as Muriel Veetch, Owen appears first as Albert and Mona Brigstock as Nora. In a way it's a shock to discover these individuals were not as we first meet them; but perhaps this only accentuates the ambiguities that Lodge writes about and the obscurities that I encountered.
… (more)
1 vote ed.pendragon | Jun 22, 2017 |
A wonderfully intricate novel -- my paperback edition has a gold interlace pattern on the cover, as if to underline to interplay of characters and destinies -- Case Histories is the first in a series featuring the brooding figure of 'investigative consultant' Jackson Brodie. (I've already read the second, One Good Turn -- out of order, as it happens -- and reviewed it favourably.) The title references detailed notes and records about individuals' medical or social backgrounds and, true to this description, Atkinson's novel introduces us to a missing child, a young woman murdered on her first day at work, a husband killed with an axe in his home and, lastly, Jackson's own tragic family life. How the lives of the surviving relatives intersect is the stuff of Case Histories, and it proves a real page-turner.

Not all is revealed early on, not by a long chalk; some insights only come in the last few pages, though we never really feel cheated -- even the odd coincidences that wouldn't normally stand up if you stated them baldly work here in an entirely naturalistic fashion. But it isn't really the mechanics of a crime novel that keeps the reader enthralled, it's the people. Atkinson's strength is her depiction of characters that we can get to know vicariously, sharing her voyeuristic viewpoint, not only observing their actions but getting inside their heads.

These then are all flawed but credible persons: the grown-up daughters from a dysfunctional family; a father who obsessively, almost forensically, collects the circumstantial details surrounding his daughter's death, sorting them in file cabinets and on a crime investigation board; a mysterious woman who is about to marry into landed gentry for no discernible reason; a homeless young woman who haunts the Cambridge streets, her path crossing several of the other characters; and the main protagonist, a taciturn former soldier and police officer now turned private investigator who wanders through the pages trailing secrets of his own.

The plot? Essentially, this is a labyrinth where we follow different threads, the clews somehow all getting caught up in a multi-coloured ball. Not all the various characters are able to reach the centre of the maze, but as observers we are able to draw our own conclusions from the evidence that the author presents. Like opening a gate in a wall and peering into the garden beyond, Case Histories appeals to our desire to sate our natural curiosity.

To say much more would be to spoil potential readers' pleasure, but it may help to add that I'm really looking forward to reading the later novels involving Brodie -- When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog -- which may be some measure of the genuine enjoyment I had from this.… (more)
1 vote ed.pendragon | 285 other reviews | Jun 22, 2017 |
"Certainly the Wildfire team was under severe stress, but they were also prepared to make mistakes. They had even predicted that this would occur. What they did not anticipate was the magnitude, the staggering dimensions of their error. They did not expect that their ultimate error would be a compound of a dozen small clues that were missed, a handful of crucial facts that were dismissed."
-- From Chapter 24, The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton's 1969 techno-thriller is in some ways an update of H G Wells' The War of the Worlds, but instead of invading Martians being defeated by a earth-borne microbes (or "putrefactive and disease bacteria" as Wells has it, our "microscopic allies") here it is the extraterrestrial microscopic organisms that threaten humankind. Brought back to earth by a Project Scoop satellite, they kill human beings by almost instantly clotting their blood. A top secret team codenamed Wildfire is tasked with retrieving, analysing, assessing and counteracting this virulent invader before it spreads to the general population. Holed up in an underground lab, they have a scant few days to come up with solutions; this being a thriller, things do not go smoothly.

Put thus baldly The Andromeda Strain appears to be a fairly humdrum novel, its premise familiar from scores of dystopic novel plotlines and SFF films and TV series. But, bearing in mind the date of its release -- at the height of a flurry of manned space missions (though just three years from the last Apollo mission to the moon) and on the crest of a wave of optimism in the march of science and technology in the face of Cold War tensions -- its then impact isn't hard to imagine. The nightmare scenario of an invisible killer chimed in with fears of Russian aggression -- remember, the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies had in 1968 invaded Czechoslovakia, a country at the heart of Europe. While the US became more mired in a disastrous Vietnam conflict, despite opposing a technologically poorer nation, on the other hand it had sent a mission around the moon; and computer sciences seemed to be announcing new advances on a daily basis.

In such an extraordinary time of upheaval Crichton's novel comes as little surprise. For this work of speculative fiction he chose to write in what would now be called a creative nonfiction style, buttressing it with much that would not be unexpected in a scientific paper, such as diagrams, computer print-outs and an extensive academic bibliography. Though some of this material, typical of the so-called hard SF genre, has now dated, what to me seems extraordinary is that half a century later much of it is still recognisably current when compared to the less realistic SF offerings then available in popular culture, especially in the visual media (for example TV series such as Lost in Space, Star Trek and Doctor Who).

The Andromeda Strain is largely plot-driven. Few of the characters, though mostly distinctive, remain truly memorable: bacteriologist Jeremy Stone is team leader and near enough infallible; Mark Hall, a surgeon, is accorded almost the only chance to play action hero; because of equipment failure pathologist Charles Burton seems a real goner at one stage; and microbiologist Peter Leavitt's unwillingness to face a personal truth nearly puts the whole enterprise -- and the world's human population -- at risk. Otherwise their roles seem to be to, stage by stage, elucidate for us readers the team's findings and tentative conclusions. That is, until the next crisis develops.

These crises take various forms. First there are the purely mechanical and -- to a lesser extent -- system failures, which the team have to respond to on an ad hoc basis. Then there are the human errors, not least the release of the deadly bug in the first place. Some of these human errors are procedural, from not following protocols to the letter, while others are due to human failings, pure and simple, the result of fatigue and stress compounded by the urgency of the situation. Unless I have missed something, there doesn't appear to be a crisis engineered from sheer malice -- a relief to this reader, wary of the habitual insertion of a villainous adversary in much of the more populist examples of this genre.

In short, because of the clues presented right from the start we are aware that a crisis of global magnitude is averted, so that the jeopardy premised by the novel is ultimately averted. What Crichton only alludes to without revisiting it later on (leaving it to ferment in the reader's mind) are the habitual risks taken by governments in sending objects into space: the dangers of inadvertent contamination, the foolhardiness in deliberately searching for and possibly retrieving microscopic alien organisms (for what ulterior purpose?) and, most worrying, the potential disasters waiting from the steady and unceasing accumulation of space junk in orbit around the earth.

The catastrophic risks from these scenarios (particularly the last) have increased, not diminished, in the five decades since the author published his fictional account; in this respect The Andromeda Strain -- while undoubtedly entertaining -- in the final analysis takes on the role of a modern Cassandra. Let's hope it's not too late.
… (more)
1 vote ed.pendragon | 97 other reviews | Jun 22, 2017 |
I think that it's really important for readers of this book to approach it in the right frame of mind: It's satire, through and through, lovingly poking fun at the YA romance genre in a way that pays strong tribute to the good aspects, subverts some of the bad aspects, and highlights some of the more ridiculous elements that we've come to expect (and accept!) from teen romance.

The premise is, to start with, absolutely outrageous (go read it! then come back!) and once you've accepted that & are willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story... you're ready to dive in and get hooked! The story sets a fairly strong pace that pulls you through the events with little downtime, which is great for a tale that asks you to snort and roll your eyes at the trope subversion that's sometimes overt, sometimes subtle. I know that not everyone will be down with that -- and that's fine, not every book is for every person! -- but I appreciated the author being able to not take the genre too seriously even within his own story.

In the end, I selfishly wished that we'd had a chance to get to know Dyl better -- a few chapters from his perspective would have been awesome! -- but that's another thing that happens a lot of the time in YA... we only see through one person's eyes in a love triangle (not always, but certainly quite often). And can I just say I adore this cover?! It screams "spies!" to me and I freaking love it.
… (more)
1 vote dk_phoenix | 2 other reviews | Jun 22, 2017 |
Fiona Barton's second novel, The Child, releases on Tuesday, June 27/17. I figure if I give you a heads up today, you too can spend a day on the beach next weekend devouring it - I did!

Barton is a former journalist. Her first book, The Widow, (my 5 star review) took inspiration from real life, trials and newspaper stories, as does the lead character in The Child.

Kate, a reporter, sees this story " 'Baby's Body Found.' Two small sentences told how an infant's skeleton had been unearthed on a building site..." And she wonders "Who is the baby? How did it die? Who would bury a baby?"

What a great premise - I too want to know the answers. Kate is not the only person to see the news story. The Child is told from four alternating points of view - that of Kate and three other women. Each of those three has a reason to hope - or fear - their own ties to the little skeleton. I love multiple point of view books - the reader is privy to the information that each character is holding - or hiding. And we can only hold our breath as (in this case) Kate gets closer and closer to the truth. Now, that being said, I thought I had fit the pieces together about halfway through the book. But, as one character also says..."I don't know what to think anymore. Everything is wrong. I've got everything wrong." I was quite happy to not have guessed!

The Child is a character driven novel of suspense. Kate is a wonderful lead. I wonder if there are bits of Barton's own journalistic days woven into her character? The details of the investigation and newsroom ring very true. The other three women are just as well drawn - their connections to the child are quite poignant, shocking and in one case absolutely infuriating. I'm deliberately being obtuse - The Child is a story you need unfold and discover as the pieces are slowly put together. Although I will say this - motherhood is a prominent theme and thread that ties the four stories together. "Disturbing the surface had triggered an eruption of unexpected secrets."

The Child was an absolutely addicting pager turner for this reader! Definitely recommended
… (more)
1 vote Twink | Jun 22, 2017 |
In a book of unprecedented scope--now available in a larger format—Iain McGilchrist presents a fascinating exploration of the differences between the brain’s left and right hemispheres, and how those differences have affected society, history, and culture. McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent research in neuroscience and psychology to reveal that the difference is profound: the left hemisphere is detail oriented, while the right has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. McGilchrist then takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists from Aeschylus to Magritte.
"A landmark new book. . . . It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now."—Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

"A very remarkable book. . . . McGilchrist, who is both an experienced psychiatrist and a shrewd philosopher, looks at the relation between our two brain-hemispheres in a new light, not just as an interesting neurological problem but as a crucial shaping factor in our culture . . . splendidly thought-provoking. . . . I couldn't put it down."—Mary Midgley, The Guardian

Named one of the best books of 2010 by The Guardian
… (more)
1 vote tony_sturges | 4 other reviews | Jun 22, 2017 |

Recent Firsts

"First" are first reviews for previously-unreviewed works.

Quote (J C Ryle): "There is no subject needful for the soul's health which is not to be found plainly taught and set forth in Scripture."
Quote (Unknown): "Sin forsaken is one of the best evidences of sin forgiven."
Quote (Arabian Proverb): "He is the best speaker who can turn the ear into an eye."
( )
  jamesrrouse | Jun 23, 2017 |
In Gordin’s telling, the short-lived US atomic monopoly conferred no great advantage. Scientists debated military strategy, generals fretted over the global supply of uranium, diplomats struggled to understand the science, and spies bumbled about trying to ascertain Soviet abilities and intentions. The key challenge/problem for a government ostensibly accountable to the public, then as now, is the management of information, writes Gordin. Things leak. The ruthless efficiency of the Deep State is mostly mythical, it seems.

Gordin mines previously unavailable sources―memoirs, archives, reports, histories―to reveal the Soviet response to the US monopoly. The Soviets knew of the Americans’ nuclear project before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because US officials halted the publication of relevant technical articles in scientific journals, alerting the Soviets that progress was being made. When the bombs exploded, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov commented that ‘the secret to nuclear weapons is no longer secret,’ suggesting that the Soviets knew…something. US officials presumed that the monopoly was only temporary, and so sought preemptive arms-control talks with the Soviets, only to have proposal after proposal rejected by Moscow. In order to control the flow of potentially dangerous information, but also to stimulate scientific research in other areas, US officials adopted an ‘impulse to declassify.’ The release of basic scientific and technical data favored US scientists in the competition between superpowers, or so the thinking went. The Soviets were playing catch-up, and the Americans were way ahead.

Talk about unintended consequences. Gordin discovers that the single most important source of information for the development of the Soviet nuclear project was not microfilmed and smuggled off of military bases but was the kind of open-source information found on the shelves of any public library in the US. In particular, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes by Henry Smyth of Princeton University, published in August 1945 before the surrender of the Japanese government and the end of WWII, was snatched up and translated almost immediately by the Soviets. The other two key sources of information for the Soviet development of nuclear weapons were espionage (which the Soviet government knew was often ambiguous, unreliable and/or incomplete) and German scientists (recruited and well paid by Moscow).

One advantage that the Soviets had over the Americans in developing nuclear weapons was that the Soviets knew that a nuclear bomb was feasible. And they were spurred on by a sense of urgency, unburdened by considerations of morality, says Gordin, given the nature of the threat to the Soviet homeland from the Americans during the monopoly period. The Americans had no useful espionage presence with the Soviet nuclear system, and so were forced to develop long-range detection methods to track the inevitable. On August 29, 1949, when the first Soviet nuclear test did come (called Joe-1 by the Americans), Moscow said nothing about it. It was Harry Truman a month later who revealed to the world that the Soviets now had an atomic bomb, forcing the Soviets to scramble to produce a response to what was a US intelligence coup. The Soviets would not explicitly admit possession of nuclear weapons until 1951.

Within a year of Joe-1, certain tendencies in the US approach to the Cold War became fixed in the geopolitical landscape: nuclear and conventional arms races, spy hunts and anticommunist paranoia, and proxy wars outside of Europe. To regard these reactions as having been ‘caused’ by Joe-1 is to oversimplify, says Gordin, but it is true that the Cold War ‘hardened’ at the same moment that Americans were forced to think about, deal with, and live among nuclear weapons. In my elementary school, we dealt with them by ducking under our desks.
… (more)
( )
  HectorSwell | Jun 23, 2017 |
Aside from the incredible detail, the drawings have an innocence about them that warm my heart. Like seeing the work of a technically skilled child.
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
It was okay. I liked the end especially ("Kids? Why Risk It?"), because it was what I was looking for.

My take away:
-- be careful about transmitting your food and body issues to your kids. Forbidding food (sweets and chocolates) will only make them want those more. Don't force your kids to Clean Their Plates. Encourage them to eat when hungry and stop when full.
-- No couple can maintain the same workload as before. But it doesn't have to be the mother (or father) completely giving up one's career. Both parents could cut down on their working hours.
-- Worrying is inherent to being a parent.
-- Kids will turn your life upside down.

She quotes Anne Lamott a lot.
… (more)
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
Wow, great reference! I picked this up because I wanted to learn more about the Latin and Greek root words of fancy doctor-speak, beyond the basics like "-itis" = inflammation and "-plasty" = surgical reconstruction. This book had what I was looking for, and so much more.

It's like Vocabulary Builder meets Anatomy 101. The book is divided into chapters each tackling a different system of the human body (skeletal, muscular, gastrointestinal, nervous, reproductive, etc.) Aside from breaking the terms in each system down into their basic Latin/Greek roots, each chapter also provided a good overview on how things work, like a friendly biology lesson for the layperson. This is something you could give to an inquisitive teenager, as a supplement to his or her Biology class. It does include illustrations.

There are even fun mnemonics at the end on how to remember names of bones or nerves. This isn't something one can read in one sitting, definitely, but is great for a pre-med or biology student with some free time in the summer, if they want to get a headstart on familiarizing themselves with the terminology.

Or for bored people like me, so I feel like I can decipher the little pamphlets that come with my medicine, and so I don't get too intimidated at hospitals when bludgeoned on the head with medical jargon.
… (more)
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
A book with some very good albeit basic advise. Great for beginning writers.
( )
  lapiccolina | Jun 23, 2017 |
An encouraging read regarding evangelism for those who fall more on the introverted side of the spectrum.

The title is a bit misleading; the book is really about evangelism styles for the introverted. Those who are extroverts would do well to consider the book also in light of how they treat and work with those who might be introverted both within the body of Christ and those without.

The author discusses, through his own path and experiences, the challenges he encountered in attempting to evangelize according to the "playbook" he was given. He came to recognize that much of what passes for evangelism strategy is tilted towards those who are naturally extroverted.

He does not seek to reject such methods for those for whom it works, but he points a way forward for those who are a bit more introverted to find ways to witness for Christ through writing, through the cultivation of relationships, and to ascertain how one's particular skills and strengths can be best used to advance the Kingdom. He points out that introverts might notice things others might miss, may prove more reflective and provide great counsel, and their contributions should not be minimized just because they do not reflect the strengths of the extroverted.

I find myself split on the extroverted/introverted spectrum but much of what the author says resonates with my perspective and approach. It was nice to be affirmed for what I am and not expected to become something I am not.
… (more)
( )
  deusvitae | Jun 24, 2017 |
Quote (David Powlison): "God does not accept me just as I am; He loves me despite how I am." (14)
( )
  jamesrrouse | Jun 23, 2017 |
New
  bblack4jc | Jun 25, 2017 |
This book has some scratches on the front and back cover. There is a " T " written on the outside pages and also a " 7 ". On the inside front cover it has a " 7 " and has 4 students' names written down with the dates.
  FEC | Jun 23, 2017 |
A fantastic, clear, no-fuss guide to moving to London. This isn't your typical touristy guide of where to go. All the contrary. It's all about how to navigate successfully the many trappings about living in London. Which are the tourist traps, how to fit into the workplace, should you rent or buy a property, how to avoid awkwardness when confronted with difficult situations and many other things.
( )
  lapiccolina | Jun 23, 2017 |
I read this book without doing the exercises and in my opinion, SARK's books are best experienced by doing the exercises. I'm planning on re-reading it and doing the exercises. She recommends that you actually draw and cut from the book, which I ain't doing because I like my books intact.

Like other SARK books that I have read, it is inspirational, but it was too short and I wanted more. It's more a brief overview of ways to jumpstart your creativity and get inspiration, but it was short on actual, practical advice as to how to get from point A (having an idea) to point B (initiating a project and seeing it through to the end). She offers advice on "making a habit of completion," but to me, it was a little fuzzy and New Age-y, such as "I've learned to ask for whatever I want, and trusting that the Universe wants me to have it." (Page 29.) She has been fortunate enough to live a life (I suppose) where that philosophy works for her, but it doesn't work for everybody.

I had trouble suspending my disbelief and buying into the whole "You create your own reality" concept. However, I can see where the exercises in the book would be useful to helping an individual unblock her or his creativity in constructive ways, because they are rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (questioning why you have the beliefs about yourself that you do and getting to the root cause that spawned those beliefs and working to overcome them, replacing the negative thought patterns with positive thought patterns).

This was SARK's first book, and it offers an overview of her general philosophy. I found "Make Your Creative Dreams Real" to be more helpful when it came to figuring out what I wanted to do, and why the things I was doing weren't working anymore.

Overall, I recommend SARK's books on the creative process. To derive the most benefit from them, I recommend doing the exercises.
… (more)
( )
  harrietbrown | Jun 24, 2017 |
Great collection of phrases. Uses pinyin with tone marks, with phonetics, which might be helpful but not entirely accurate. For example, ong is said to be pronounced "oong", and ang is said to be like the sound in "angst", which is a problematic example, because some Americans might pronounce with it with the "æ". But if you say it like this, and not like this you should be fine.

Doesn't have characters, which I guess is fine considering it's a "for Dummies" book. But if it did that'd bump it up to 4 stars.

Ultimate goal is to be familiar with these basic phrases before a trip to China.
… (more)
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
Being a huge Tennessee Volunteers fan, as well as a 1990 graduate of this fine east Tennessee institution of higher learning, my review of this book is admittedly biased from the beginning. That being said, Clay Travis has written a compelling and highly entertaining book on the 2008 season of UT football. Unbeknownst to Mr. Travis as he set out to write this book, the 2008 season turned out to be one of the most tumultuous and controversial seasons in the past half-century, arguably ever in the annals of UT football history. Long story short, Phillip Fulmer, who had been a player, assistant, and ultimately head coach of the Vols over the past four decades, finds himself in the middle of a terrible season, which leads to his dismissal by the UT administration. The conflict present is should Phil have received more time to turn the program around. UT fans generally were split 50-50 on this issue, but the book brings forth the angst and conflict that were present leading up to the fateful decision to fire him. I would recommend this book to all UT fans, and probably to football fans in general as a lesson on the changing landscape of college football from the year 2000 on....enjoy.… (more)
( )
  utbw42 | Jun 23, 2017 |
Peter Straub definitely knows how to hook a reader and seduce that person with his writing. Straub's style is poetic and lyrical. He is a master at crafting a scene and pulling the imagery through to the reader. This remains true for his characters too which evolve into fully dimensional characters. With all the images being created, his stories generally take a little while to build up; when they do get that time, they are awesome. This book is a collection of five short stories and unfortunately, none of the stories really have the length that they need to become gripping.

"Little Red's Tango" is a great character visualization; the short pulls multiple scenes together to illustrate a guy named Little Red. However, there is no story; it could have continued and revealed more of the characters or stopped earlier to reveal less.

"Lapland, or Film Noir" and "The Geezers" both had more story but not enough to pull me along.

"Donald, Duck" was the most interesting of the five. It revealed the life of Donald Duck and the rest of the Duck clan as they are beseeched by a Black Widow. A Black Widow that Donald is too love-blind to see.

And the final story "Mr. Aickman's Air Rifle" fell into the same problem of not having enough story to actively engage me. The writing is gorgeous and very beautiful to picture but I was hoping for a bit more action to occur.
… (more)
( )
  dagon12 | Jun 23, 2017 |
The judge brother and the best friend are matchmaking again. Beauty shop Callie is sentenced to community service building houses for the needy under Brad's direction. Brad fully expects Callie to refuse to break one of her Coral nails, but instead she works as hard as anyone on the crew. And both fight the attraction to each other.
( )
  nancynova | Jun 25, 2017 |
(1) The essence of Biblical covenant [10]
Quote (John Murray): "The greatest contribution of covenant theology was its covenant soteriology and eschatology." [4]
Quote *John Murray): " At the center of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance 'I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.'" [32]
( )
  jamesrrouse | Jun 24, 2017 |
If you like weird/horror stories, you should give this book a try. Maybe not all the stories are memorable, but all of the were well written, original and scary enough to send a little shiver down my spine. A short collection highly readable and enjoyable.
( )
  cuentosalgernon | Jun 25, 2017 |
I chose this book as I have always enjoyed Tony Hillerman mysteries. I was completely won over by this book featuring Ella Clah, a Navajo Rez policewoman. She carefully tries to balance her life between her job, her young daughter Dawn, and her traditionalist mother Rose. Ella and her fellow Rez police officers are being run ragged due to a shortage of staff, lack of equipment, and a series of vandalism, bombings and murder. If that weren't enough, tensions are high due to the upcoming vote by the tribal council concerning allowing gambling on the Rez. Unemployment is high and the jobs are desperately needed. The modernists want the casino, but traditionalists like Rose think there are better ways to help their community. Ella's has to find out who is responsible for the chaos and put a stop to it. The FBI is called in, and Ella is also getting help from an unknown email source, calling himself Coyote. I enjoyed learning about Navajo customs while following Ella on her quest to bring order to the Rez. I look forward to reading more in this series.… (more)
( )
  Raspberrymocha | Jun 23, 2017 |
I had forgotten that this story sorta started its life as as an Uber Xena story I think. That could definitely be seen in the narrative though, and boy was it a narrative.

It was about Dez, a police officer for St. Paul. She saves a young woman, Sara, and her roomie Jaylynn from rapists. That causes Jaylynn to enroll in the St. Paul police academy to become a police officer as well. Of course, because this is fiction, eventually Dez becomes Jaylynn's field training officer, and that's when things get very interesting. There's a lot of back and forth and some interesting police stuff too, as well as a body builder's competition.

It did take me a while to get into the flow of the book. It's a very dense plot, with something always going on, the plot always plowing forward. I could also see a lot of the places that the series might go too., although if this had been a stand alone I think it would have worked too.

I liked t he characters (well, I liked the ones I was supposed to like, and disliked the ones I was supposed to dislike I think). They were all definitely unique. I would have liked to see more of Jaylynn's roomies Jim and Sara, but they were different and unique too.

I will admit sometimes the Dez characterization confused me a bit, it seemed all over the place. but it seemed to flow with the story so I just went with it.
… (more)
( )
  DanieXJ | Jun 23, 2017 |
Sì fa leggere in maniera coinvolgente, soprattutto le prime due parti, poi attraversa un momento per me di noia mortale per avviarsi poi verso una buona conclusione.
Ricorda un po' "La moglie dell'uomo che viaggiava nel tempo" ma meno complicato, più spiegato e più ...oserei dire nostrano, essendo personaggi e luoghi quasi tutti italiani.
Ho letto recensioni che lo osannano come "grande storia d'amore" ma sinceramente io non lo erigerei a prototipo del genere. È indubbiamente una storia di generosità e riparazione, ma ...… (more)
  ShanaPat | Jun 25, 2017 |
No nonsense "tough love" tone. Premise is to tense your muscles then release the tension, to help you relax into a stretch. I don't think I'll be able to get it right though without a professional pointing out what I'm doing wrong that could potentially be harmful to my ligaments or knees.

EDIT: I tried the stretch for the saddle split (after 15 to 30 minutes of warming up, of course), where you pretend you're kicking the walls apart with your feet, which tenses you. Then you breathe out and let your chest drop closer to the floor. I couldn't believe it but this was the farthest I've gotten in my stretch. I don't know if I was already capable of this before (the book says that you are), but by putting a bit of faith in his theory, I was able to stretch as I never have before. Will have to go over this book one more time.

For anyone interested in the videos he has his own YouTube channel:
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuU4E2LhHDw
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB02UYaQ0rE
Paer 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaljiH52D4g
… (more)
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2788630.html

A book about Sufism, tracing it from beginning to the present day, linking together various things of which I was aware and in which I was already interested (the Bektashi, Rūmī, the whirling dervishes, Said Nursî) into a longer historical narrative.

Unfortunately it's not all that good. to start with it's a work of apologetics written by a true believer, viewing events and people jumbled together through a partisan lens. A lot of effort is spent on denouncing Wahhabism (fair enough, but that then means you don't let your own people stand on their own merits). The net of historical adherents to Sufism is cast rather with, including some people who I suspect had never heard of it in reality. The narrative is curiously unmoored from the wider historical context. the explanation of Sufist ideas seemed relatively clear, but I was irritated by the failure to link it convincingly to other things I know about. I'm sure there are better books about Sufism out there, and I'll keep an eye out for them.
… (more)
( )
  nwhyte | Jun 25, 2017 |
Stories regarding the 22 American citizens who joined the British Navy from 1939 to 1941. Much has been written about the Americans who joined the RAF with this the first story regarding those who served the British Navy.
( )
  Waltersgn | Jun 25, 2017 |
Quote (Martyn Lloyd-Jones): "And no philosopher has ever changed the world." [12]
Quorum (Leo Tolstoy): "The meaningless absurdity of life is the only incontestable knowledge accessible to men." [13-14]
Quote (Martyn Lloyd-Jones): "People will not listen to the gospel until they have seen through the fallacy of everything else and the final uselessness of everything else." [17]
Quote (Martyn Lloyd-Jones): "...man's world is as it is tonight because man in his folly and his arrogance rebelled against God." [20]… (more)
( )
  jamesrrouse | Jun 25, 2017 |
About the authors: quoting from p. 209 of the book, "Sidney Wanzer, MD, a nationally recognized author on issues of death and dying, is the former director of the Harvard Law School Health Services and an internist in private practice. He was the lead author of the groundbreaking article in the 'New England Journal of Medicine which for the first time held that, in certain situations, it could be ethical for a physician to assist in hastening the death of patients suffering intolerably. . .Joseph Glenmullen, MD, Clinical Instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is on the staff of Harvard University Health Services and in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His works include the widely praised 'Prozac Backlash' and' The Antidepressant Solution.'" About the book: quoting from the book's back cover, the reviewer for 'Choice' said of this work, "Anyone planning for end-of-life care will benefit from this book. Pearls of wisdom include discussion of the right to stop unwanted treatment. . .the need for hospice care to be started much earlier. . .and the proper dose of an analgesic being the amount necessary to relieve the suffering patients' pain." Appendices include current national and international end-of-life organizations, sample living wills, and Health Care Proxy. This book contains chapter notes and is well indexed.… (more)
  uufnn | Jun 24, 2017 |
If you think Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) is merely the respectable face of Christian fundamentalism, and Evolution the only sensible scientific world-view, think again...IDT has driven science for 500 years. It was responsible for the 17th century's Scientific Revolution and helped build modern histories of physics, mathematics, genetics and social science. IDT's proponents take literally the Biblical idea that humans have been created in God's image. This confident, even arrogant, view of humanity enabled the West to triumph in the modern era. Evolution, on the other hand, derives from more ancient, even pagan, ideas about our rootedness in nature and the transience of all life forms. It has been always more popular outside the West, and until Darwin few evolutionists were scientists. What happened to reverse these two movements' fortunes? Steve Fuller's brilliant revisionist history is essential reading for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of science's most vociferous debate.… (more)
  tony_sturges | Jun 23, 2017 |
Repetitive and boring. The illustrations made it more palatable.

This book tries to explain the origins of the Unicorn myth but never really accomplishes its goal. It wants us to believe in these creatures while at the same time kind of proving they didn't exist? Confusing.

I've always loved Unicorns ever since I was a little girl, so perhaps I was expecting a lot more than the book gave me. I expected explanations, a deeper look into different myths... not the same information over and over.… (more)
( )
  lapiccolina | Jun 23, 2017 |
Rural, rustic, pastoral or bucolic? Quality, property, character or attribute? Poverty, indigence, penury or destitution? What's the diff? Webster explains it all. My copy is especially useful to me because I have the searchable PDF. (Dear technology, I love you.) I'd be lazy to riffle through the printed version of this otherwise.
( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
El logro de la paz interior y tranquilidad en tu vida. Utilizar las técnicas de Meditación para ayudar a vencer enfermedades, ansiedad, insomnio, etc.
  Totcultura | Jun 25, 2017 |
You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 115,237,859 books! | Top bar: Always visible