Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, by Mark Hodder. Pyr, 2011







 
This is the second book in the alternate history/fantasy/steampunk series featuring Sir Richard Francis Burton and his sidekick, poet Algernon Swinburne. In the first book, a time traveler altered time. Queen Victoria was assassinated and Prince Albert was made king. Steam mechanisms of all kinds – including flying chairs (helicopter style) are being invented and used. Genetic manipulation is being put to use, too, creating jumbo horses, parakeets that deliver messages in between bouts of fluent obscenities, huge swans that tow passengers through the air after themselves and hyperactive delivery dogs. It’s also a world where the supernatural is real.

In this volume, the long lost heir to the Tichborne estate turns up alive and ready to get his hands on the family fortune. The problem is that, while his face looks roughly like the heir and he has the proper tattoo on his arm, this person doesn’t resemble the lost heir in any other way; he is slow of speech, his face has sutures around it, and his right and left arms don’t match. He has strange lumps under his scalp and most people immediately take to him and believe whatever he says. Soon he has the working class stirred up and rioting against the upper classes. Meanwhile his brother has been carried by spirits through solid walls and through a window to his death. And some infamous black diamonds have been stolen; gems that have metaphysical properties. And then there’s the family curse of the Tichbornes…

This is one of the most action filled books I’ve ever read. There is always something going on or some new marvel being introduced. The personalities are bigger than life. In the midst of all the action and fantasy the author finds ways to make social commentary- but not with too heavy of a hand. The book can be read without reading the first one, as Hodder fills in the background well enough. If you like steampunk, you’ll probably like this book. 



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way affected my review. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century, by Kevin Fong, M.D. Penguin, 2012






The subtitle of this book is a little misleading; while the medicine described is (or was when it was first developed) extreme, very little of it was actually brought about by exploration. The first chapter, ‘Ice’ starts with the exploration of Antarctica, which did teach us a lot about dealing with extreme cold and hypothermia, which eventually led to the use of hypothermia during radical surgeries and other treatments. ‘Fire’, which tells about the beginnings of plastic surgery and skin grafts, is based in WW 1 and how many pilots were burned beyond recognition when their planes burnt around them in battle. ‘Trauma’ shows us the first ambulance use in the Napoleonic Wars and how the trauma protocol was invented by a doctor who crashed the small plane he was flying with his family as passengers. Polio led to life support machines and ICU style care- supporting vital systems to give the body time to heal itself. Still, even though the title isn’t accurate, it’s an interesting book. The author jumps around a lot; it’s not a smooth narrative. Sometimes he gives a historical account, sometimes he writes about his own experiences (and he has had a lot of experiences; he got a degree in physics before he turned to medicine and has worked with NASA), sometimes he tells us about what happens to the body in these extreme situations. Those were the parts I found most fascinating, especially in the ‘Ice’ chapter, when he recounts how a skier went hypothermic to the point that her heart stopped, but because she was so cold, brain damage did not occur even though she went three hours without a heartbeat. An interesting book but it wanders a bit.


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This did not alter my review. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When the World was Young, by Elizabeth Gaffney. Random House, 2014






“When the World was Young” starts off to be a grand story, opening on V-J Day and the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood spontaneously celebrating together, marching around making noise. Nine year old Wally Baker starts that day happy but that isn’t to last long.

Wally is the daughter, granddaughter and I think great-granddaughter of female M.D.s; it’s the family tradition. Her grandmother Gigi runs the family with the aid of Loretta, her black live-in maid of all work. Loretta basically raised Gigi’s daughter Stella and is now raising, for the most part, Wally, along with her own son, Ham. After a childhood of studying ants with Ham, Wally is determined to study insects, not become an M.D. no matter what Gigi wants. She comes of age during the Korean War (oops ‘police action’). She’s extremely smart. She has relationship issues.

The story moves back and forth between times, sometimes showing us Wally’s timeline from seven year old to college student, and sometimes Stella’s past. It touches on the use of the atom bomb to end WW 2, racial prejudice, and sexism but it touches so lightly that it seems like they were just little problems that didn’t really affect people. No one will call Stella ‘Dr. Baker’; it’s always ‘Mrs.’, even from other doctors, but she is given no problems as an intern other than that. There are a couple of incidents of prejudice against Ham when he is with Wally, once when they are children and once when they are grown, but neither is serious despite the fact that during that era (and for a long time after in some areas!) being an interracial couple could bring very serious physical repercussions. Most things work out fine for Wally with little effort. The things that don’t work out for her – even very serious things- don’t seem to bother her. Things just bounce off her.

I have a problem with this. A lot of things happen in the story, but it doesn’t have any depth. The characters seem shallow and seem stereotypical; Wally is the do anything American Girl, Loretta is the Magical Negro, Wally’s father is the Absent Father who has nothing to do with Wally’s upbringing, Gigi is the Strong Matriarch. You would think that a novel dealing with race relations, suicide, marital infidelity, loss, and more would be exciting and that the characters would have a lot of emotions, but alas, no. Stella is the only one whose emotional life is explored very much. The book was a fast read and rather enjoyable, but it’s more like it’s an outline than a novel, waiting to be completely filled in.  



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I obtained this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things affected my review.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday 56 & Book Beginnings 7/11/2014

It's Friday, so it's time to post excerpts from my current read:



  • Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, where you share the first sentence or more of a current book you're reading, along with initial thoughts about the sentence and the book.
  • The Friday 56, hosted by Freda's Voice. Grab a book (in my case, the book I'm currently reading), turn to page 56 (or if you're using an e-reader, to 56%), find an interesting sentence or two (no spoilers!) and post them. 
Today it's "Extreme Medicine by Kevin Fong, M.D.




















Beginning: "Robert Falcon Scott is dying, slowly succumbing to hypothermia in a tent pitched on the wasteslands of the Ross Ice Shelf, full of the weary knowledge that he was not the first explorer to reach the South Pole- only the first to have lost an entire expeditionary party doing so."

Page 56: "Once recognized as 'other', foreign bodies are attacked by battalions of immune cells."

What book are you reading now or are about to start?


Monday, July 7, 2014

A Sudden Light, by Garth Stein. Simon & Schuster, 2014





 When Jones Riddell goes bankrupt and loses his house, he and his wife have a trial separation. Rachel returns to her home in England, while Jones takes his son, Trevor, back to the Riddell family home: North Estate and the Riddell House on Puget Sound, just outside Seattle proper. At the turn of the 20th century, Riddell House was an amazing mansion, built with the proceeds from exploiting the old growth timber that covered the Pacific Northwest. Now it’s termite eaten and unkept up; there is no money for repairs and barely enough to live on; and only Jones’s sister Serena and their father Samuel live in it. The crux of the story is that Serena and Jones want to sell the house and property to developers, so they can have the money they ‘deserve’, but Samuel, who has Alzheimer’s, refuses to do so. Years ago, an ancestor tried to make it so the property would eventually be returned to nature as a park, and this has created a conflict in the family for years.

The story is told by Trevor, looking back from adulthood to events that happened when he was barely 14, as he seeks to find the truth about what is going on in the house at that point- and digging into the past that formed it. He finds that there are a lot of secrets in the Riddell family and no one seems to want them dug up. There is a gay great-great (I think that’s right- I had a lot of trouble keeping the family linage straight) uncle and his soulmate; there is the medicine that Serena gives her father; there are hidden passages and stairwells everywhere; there is the maneuvering to get Samuel to sign a power of attorney; and there are ghosts. Lots of ghosts. Oh, and the family is seriously dysfunctional. Samuel comes closest to normal, and he’s got dementia. Jones abandons all parental care as soon as they enter Riddell House to wallow in his own problems- not that, it turns out, he hadn’t already been doing that for years. Serena is the creepiest aunt/sister/daughter ever.

I couldn’t put this book down. I couldn’t wait to find out what Trevor would discover next. But the book is not without its flaws. Trevor is altogether too calm when confronted with ghosts. What 14 year old meets a ghost for the first time and doesn’t have *some* kind of emotional reaction? Even if they aren’t scared, there would have to be at least some excitement. Likewise, all his other emotions seem damped down. This could be the result of the story being told from an adult perspective, but I thought it took a lot of the excitement out of the book. Still, four and a half stars for the way the book wouldn’t let me go. 



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

This book was given to me free by the Amazon Vine program. 

Neither of these things affected my review.  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rooms, by Lauren Oliver. HarperCollins, 2014




This is a story with ghosts in it, but it is not a traditional ghost story. There are no chains rattling, no dishes being thrown, no bleeding walls. Two ghosts inhabit the house of the late Richard Walker: Alice and Sandra. They spend most of their time getting on each others nerves, until Walker’s ex-wife, Caroline; their daughter Minna and son Trenton; and Minna’s four year old daughter Amy come to deal with the funeral and estate. Things change rapidly for them at this point. Everyone, living or dead, has secrets and problems that start coming out. Caroline can’t face anything- including getting out of bed- without alcohol. Minna only seems to find life bearable if she’s shagging someone- anyone at all. Trenton is still recovering, both physically and emotionally, from a nasty car accident along with being one of those kids whom everyone in school picks on. They are all absorbed in their own pains and cannot really see each other- until Trenton meets girls both living and dead.

This is a great family drama as well as a mystery; why are the two (and then three, as another joins them part way into the story) ghosts stuck in the house? What do some missing girls have to do with them? The story shows the perils of being trapped in the past and not facing up to things. The characters, other than Trenton, are very deeply flawed and, in fact, not likable at all. They are the kind of people who, if they were your neighbors, you would wish they would move away. But they are capable of learning from their mistakes, and this made me feel better about them. The book lacks somewhat in depth- there are too many characters to get deeply into most of them- but I understand that this is the author’s first venture into adult fiction and this could be the reason. I’m willing to give this book 4 stars and look for more of the author’s work. 


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

This book was provided to me by the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things affected my opinions.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

It's Friday, so it's time to post excerpts from my current read:

  • The Friday 56, hosted by Freda's Voice. Grab a book (in my case, the book I'm currently reading), turn to page 56 (or if you're using an e-reader, to 56%), find an interesting sentence or two (no spoilers!) and post them. 
  • Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, where you share the first sentence or more of a current book you're reading, along with initial thoughts about the sentence and the book. 
Today's book is Rooms, by Lauren Oliver.




















Beginning: "The fire begins in the basement.
Does it hurt?
Yes and no. This is, after all, what I wanted.

Page 56: "...and even called in literary experts and a Harvard professor, who judged from the language and imagery that the book might date from the mid-nineteenth century.
             This was endlessly amusing to me. I know for a fact that The Raven Heliotrope was completed between 1944 and 1947. I wrote it. "

What book are you reading now or are about to start?