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Showing posts from October, 2012

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach

Pages: 303 Original date of publication: 2003 My edition: 2003 (Norton) Why I decided to read: saw the author speak at a conference How I acquired my copy: Denver airport, October 2012 I saw Mary Roach speak at the annual meeting of the American Medical Writers Association in Sacramento at the beginning of October, where she was presented with an award at a luncheon I attended. Her talk was so humorous and interesting that on my way home I was able to find copies of her books in a (gasp!) real bookstore in the Denver airport (I saw Flaubert lurking behind the counter along with Jane Eyre ). For Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers , Roach harangued everyone from morticians to doctors to body farm personnel others whose work brings them in proximity to cadavers. In this book we see how cadavers are used for everything from medical student anatomy lessons to crash test dummies (the impact that cars have on cadavers is more realistic than if they were to use cra

Review: On the Night of the Seventh Moon, by Victoria Holt

Pages: 329 Original date of publication: 1972 My edition: 2010 (St. Martin’s Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, April 2012 After running out of fresh Mary Stewart novels to read, I turned back to Victoria Holt to try and fill the gap. On the Night of the Seventh Moon is romantic suspense with a bit of a fantasy twist. Set in the middle of the 19th century and spanning the course of about two decades, this novel is set in the Black Forest. The Night of the Seventh Moon is the evening on which Loke, the god of mischief, comes out to play; on one such of these nights, Helena Trant becomes lost and meets a dark handsome stranger in the forest… The concept is a little bit cheesy, the outcome is predictable, and there were a number of coincidences that were a little bit too much for me. But I loved this novel. The setting is magical, literally, and the book moves at a rapid pace. Holt keeps her reader perpetually guessing at the moti

Review: Harold the King, by Helen Hollick

Pages: 690 Original date of publication: 2000 My edition: 2000 (Random House) (later published as I Am the Chosen King) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, November 2009 I’ve had Harold the King on the TBR pile for a long, long time and had nearly forgotten about it, but when I went on a trip, this seemed as though it would be perfect reading for the plane ride. The novel tells the story of the Norman Conquest from the point of view of Harold, the last truly English king. The novel is a sequel of sorts to The Hollow Crown . It opens in 1044 with the crowing of Edward, but follow Harold’s story over the next 20 years. It covers his relationship with Edyth Swan-neck; conflict with William; and eventual crowning. Because the novel is from Harold’s perspective, it portrays him in a bit of a rosy light; its William that gets short-changed. But I thought that Hollick’s treatment of both characters seemed very realistic, given that the events of thi

Review: The Glimpses of the Moon, by Edith Wharton

Pages: 297 Original date of publication: 1922 My edition: 1994 (Collier Books) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Philadelphia bookshop, August 2012 The Glimpses of the Moon tells the story of Nick and Suzy Lansing, a young couple who married for neither love nor money—or, rather, they married for money but other people’s. Their bet is to spend a year honeymooning in their rich friends’ houses in France, Venice, and elsewhere; and if one or the other should wish to marry someone else who can advance themselves socially, they will be free to do so. What really happens surprises not the reader but Suzy and Nick. Nick and Suzy are characters who undergo a lot of self-growth. They start out as people who are only concerned with living in the moment; and enjoying life, or their perception of it, as much as they possibly can. They both come to realize that there’s much more to life than what appears on the surface. Their growth is pretty predictable, but it’

Review: An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43

Pages: 430 Original date of publication: 1982 My edition: 2010 Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: September 2011, Persephone shop I’ve been putting off and putting off writing a review of An Interrupted Life , mostly because I wanted everything to sink in and also because I really didn’t know what to say about this wonderful, albeit heartbreaking book. There I go again, using clich├ęs to describe this book, but I loved it from start to finish. Etty Hillesum was born in January 1914 in Holland and lived in Amsterdam working as a translator of Russian and Russian teacher. Even still she aspired to be a writer, and kept a journal to that effect during WWII. As a Jew, Etty’s life became increasingly circumscribed by the restrictions placed upon her; she was later given a job as a typist in the Jewish Council, an organization that sought to mediate between the Nazis and Dutch Jews. Etty later volunteered to help accompany Jews to Westerbork, a detention camp

Review: Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee

Pages: Original date of publication: 1959 My edition: 2002 (Vintage) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London, September 2011 Laurie Lee was a journalist, writer, scriptwriter, and poet, who also spent some time volunteering in the Spanish Civil War. Later, he worked with a team of documentary filmmakers, among them Emma Smith , author of Persephone’s The Far Cry . At the time, Cider with Rosie was an idea that Lee had, but Emma Smith encouraged him to finish writing it. Cider With Rosie is considered a children’s book, but even as an adult, I enjoyed it. Cider With Rosie is the first in a trilogy of memoirs that Lee wrote about his childhood and young adulthood. This installment in the trilogy focuses on the war and early-interwar years, when Lee was roughly between the ages of 4 and teenage, and it is often hailed as a classic in describing scenes from a provincial childhood, much like Lark Rise to Candleford .   The bo

Review: Less Than Angels

Pages: 256 Original date of publication: 1955 My edition: 1982 (Perennial) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Philadelphia Book Trader August 2010 As a parallel to society as a whole, Barbara Pym tells the story of a group of anthropologists in London. Tom Mallow is an incredibly self-absorbed but brilliant anthropologist working on his thesis, and he has a convenient live-in arrangement with a magazine write named Catherine, who seems to be more of a friend, although it’s hinted that the two may have had a relationship in the past. Tom takes up with Deirdre, an earnest but naive anthropology student. Barbara Pym worked with anthropologists for many years, so they are a recurring theme in many of her books. Anthropologists make cameo appearances in some of Pym’s other novels (such as Everard Bone from Excellent Women , who has a cameo appearance in this book; Emma from A Few Green Leaves ; and Tom Mallow is an early version of Rupert Stonebird from An U

Review: No Surrender, by Constance Maud

Pages: 328 Original date of publication: 1911 My edition: 2011 Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, June 2012 No Surrender was published in 1911 at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in England. The novel tells the story of to women from different walks of life: Jenny Clegg, a former mill worker, and Mary O’Neil, an upper-class woman who gets Jenny involved in the suffragette movement. No Surrender is a product of Constance Maud’s involvement with the Women Writers Suffrage League, an organization that sought to change public opinion with the use of words, and whose members included Violet Hunt and May Sinclair. As a piece of social history, No Surrender is excellent in its portrayal of the suffrage movement. But this isn’t necessarily a novel that’s just about suffrage. It’s also about the struggle against oppressive authority and the senseless rules that, to give an example from the novel, allow a husband to send his c