Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Journey Through Tudor England, by Suzannah Lipscomb. Pegasus Books, 2013

This is a little guidebook to the structures- castles, houses, churches- that were built during Tudor times. Sometimes they are intact; sometimes they have been altered through the centuries; sometimes they are in ruins. The book is divided into geographical areas, making it easy to plan a trip to the area. Each structure has its story given in detail; it’s a quick history of Tudor fortunes given in an easy to digest style. Sadly, save for a tiny line drawing at the beginning of each chapter, there are no illustrations, making it a good guide for one able to make the trip but not so good for those of us unable to see them in person.


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

The Inexplicables, by Cherie Priest. Tom Doherty, 2013

‘The Inexplicables’ takes us back to the zombie ridden; poison gas saturated Seattle of the late 1800s that Priest brought to life in ‘Boneshaker’. This time, the main protagonist is Rector ‘Wreck ‘em’ Sherman, an orphan who has just turned 18 (or thereabouts) and so is evicted from the orphanage he grew up in. Feeling guilty over helping his friend Zeke enter the deadly Seattle, and thus condemning him to death, the sap addicted Rector himself seeks entry to the walled city. Imagine his surprise to find that not only are there people in the city, but one of them is Zeke, alive and well. But along with its regular woes of zombies and poison gas, Seattle is being haunted by some creatures that aren’t zombies, creatures they dub the Inexplicables. At the same time, something is happening to the city’s zombie population. Are the two things connected? Seattle’s various peoples will have to work together settle things.

I love this series and I was glad to see this story set back in Seattle, the place where the characters from all the books congregate. I love its underground world and the characters that live there. While this story isn’t as much flat out action as some of the others, a lot of character development happens and there are still plenty of perilous things happening. I enjoyed seeing some Pacific Northwest mythology come to life, too. A very satisfactory addition to the series.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow, by Kelly D. Norris. Timber Press, 2012

From Timber Press comes another informative and lavishly illustrated gardening book. Norris has been obsessed with iris since a very young age; as a boy, his idea of a great time was to go and buy fancy iris rhizomes. That passion has led him to breeding his own iris, and buying and moving an existing iris nursery that was going out of business to the family farm in Iowa (it’s now run by the Norris family). This child prodigy of horticulture is the youngest person to win Iowa State Horticulture Society’s Presidential Citation, Award of Merit and Honor Award. He has ten years experience running a nursery, and he’s only 25. He knows his stuff, and I was happy to find he’d shared that knowledge in this book.

The Guide describes the various types of bearded iris, tells you how to grow them, tells you what pests and diseases afflict them (which doesn’t happen very often), and even how to hybridize your own iris. The back half of the book is an encyclopedia of his recommendations of the best of the six classes of bearded iris. Many of these iris I had never heard of; some are very new and exciting. The pictures are stunning; this book has the beautiful photos of a coffee table book but in a regular book size that makes reading it a lot easier. While this is a beginner’s guide, there will be things in it to inspire even long time iris growers. 


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

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer. HarperCollins, 2013

After her twin brother dies and her lover of many years abruptly leaves her, Greta Wells sinks into an unrelenting depression. Nothing she tries for it works. As a last ditch effort, she tries a series of shock treatments that have unexpected side effects: she finds herself first in 1918, then, after a second treatment, in 1941, before returning to 1985 after a third one. That she travels in time is weird enough, but in each era she is still Greta Wells, and the full cast of characters from her life is there, too: her aunt Ruth, lover Nathan, her brother Felix, Felix’s lover Alan as well as Dr. Cerletti to give her the shock treatments. Each era has differences, too; in both 1918 and 1941 Greta and Nathan are married, Felix is still alive but deeply closeted instead of living with Alan, one Greta has a child, one a lover. Yes, there are multiple Gretas- every time ‘our’ Greta changes eras, so do the other Gretas. This is not really a time travel story, because it makes no sense that the same set of people would exist in multiple times; it’s more a story of multiple universes. But that’s not the important part of the story. It’s the relationships that are important.

In each era, Greta places a different relationship in the primary place. To one, it’s Nathan, To another Greta, it’s her lover. To the third, it’s brother Felix. Each Greta is dealing with loss and/or the possibility of loss; the 1918 influenza pandemic, World War 2 starting in 1941 and an auto accident, AIDS in 1985. In each era, the Gretas are trying to fix the relationships most important to them.

But I had a hard time caring about Greta very much; she managed, despite her traveling in alternate worlds, to be boring. I didn’t like Nathan, who wasn’t much more than a cardboard cheater. Aunt Ruth was the most appealing but even she was sort of a generic eccentric, crazy enough to believe Greta’s tale of time travel. The book does, however, serve up a great line, uttered by Felix to a horrible rude woman: "When you were a little girl, Madam.....was this the woman you dreamed of becoming?" It’s a good question, one that propelled Greta to try and get things right in all three eras. It’s also a question we should all ask ourselves, before it’s too late to make things turn out better.  I admit the ending surprised me, but that wasn’t enough to make me love the book. 

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Pure Gold Baby, by Margaret Drabble. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

In a novel that spans 50 years, from the early 1960s to the present, Margaret Drabble follows the lives of Jess and her daughter Anna, the pure gold baby of the title.

Jess was a budding anthropologist planning on doing field work in Africa when she became pregnant by a married man. Putting her career aside, she becomes instead a free lance writer so she can stay home and support and raise her child. At first Anna is seen as a perfect child; never cranky, never colicky, always cheerful. In a few years, however, it becomes clear that she is developmentally delayed, never to learn to read or do numbers, always to remain a child in mind. A very self possessed child, though; she seems to be ever calm and even unwilling to upset others, especially her mother, with her problems. All the people around her go through turmoil and change, Anna remains the still heart of the storm. The story, in fact, does not seem to be so much about her as about relationships and obligations that swirl around her as she remains her mother’s anchor.

Anna’s preeminence in Jess’s life obvious; she dumps lovers (and she has very few of them) if she feels they interfere with her relationship with Anna. Other people are background filler: Anna’s father who goes nameless until late in the book; the first person narrator about whom we know just as little and who also goes nameless until late in the story; the husband who Jess moves out of her house after just a few months but who stays in her life to help with Anna; a sort of satellite, a body with little gravity and pull.

Drabble explores many things in this novel; motherhood, friendship, commitment, the treatment of the mentally ill, aging, feminism, and more. While there is little action, the book is dense with themes. For such a quiet book, it was gripping to me and I couldn’t put it down. 

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. The above is an affiliate link; if you click on it and buy the book, Amazon will give me a few cents.