Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Last Hours, by Minette Walters. Mira, 2018

In 1384, the Black Plague entered England. By the time it ran its course, the Plague would kill one third to one half of all people in Europe. Most people of the time saw it as an act of God, a punishment for who knew what. They had no idea what it was, how it was spread, or how to stop it.

The loutish, brutal Sir Richard of Develish rides off to cement a marriage proposal between his 14 year old daughter Eleanor and the son of another Norman lord, and finds illness at the demesne. At the urging of one of his serfs, they head for home, but on the way, Sir Richard becomes ill. The news of the illness has already reached his wife, Lady Anne, and she, convent educated and conversant in healing, has brought all the Develish serfs into the moated area and destroyed the bridge. Ahead of her time in her ideas, she refuses to take the chance that Sir Richard will bring the illness with him. Of the group who went on the errand, only one avoids the illness and survives- and it’s not Richard.  

No one in the moated area comes down with the disease, but with 200 people inside, plus animals, their food supplies dwindle quickly. How long do they need to stay cooped up? Tempers flaring as the weeks go by; one of the worst is Eleanor. She is spoiled and snotty and resents the serfs who are now sharing the castle. It turns out she has reason to be unhappy, but she was over the top with her nastiness to others. Then to add to the stresses, a teenaged boy is murdered.

I found this book fascinating to read; there is a LOT of historical details. I felt like I was immersed in the time and place. The story does move very slowly, though, and Lady Anne seems like an anachronism with her advanced theories on health care, women’s rights, and the equality of serfs. It would have benefited from a cast of characters- there are so many that I had trouble keeping them sorted out, at least early in the book. And the ending was a shock- to be continued! No loose ends tied up! I wish I’d known ahead of time it was a series. Four stars and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. 

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine Program in return for an honest review.

Neither of these things influenced my review 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Little Panic, by Amanda Stern. Grand Central Publishing, 2018

At 25, Amanda Stern was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This, after going through stress hell growing up, being wrongly diagnosed with a learning disorder, worrying that her mother would die if she didn’t keep an eye on her, and worrying that the world would fall apart at any second. Her life up until diagnosis and treatment was basically one long panic attack.

Shifting between childhood and being an adult, Stern tells a story that is hard to read. As someone with an anxiety disorder myself, I found myself going “Yes, yes, that’s how it was growing up” frequently. She had it much harder than I, though; I was able to lose the anxiety for periods, where I’m not sure she ever could. As if she didn’t have enough things to fear as a child, a boy vanished from her neighborhood when she was young, proving that horrible things did, indeed, happen to kids. Her mother had some kind of chronic illness that kept her in bed a lot and required lots of bottles of pills, and her father was remote, so even though her step-father was fairly attentive and caring Amanda’s illness sort of stayed under the radar as long as she wasn’t in trouble at school. Intelligent and articulate, Amanda has been able to have a career as an author of children’s books, which was a relief to read, as I found myself wondering how someone this crippled with panic could hold a job!

Stern has a sense of humor that she looks at the past through, which makes her story a little easier to read than it could have been. I do think the story could have been edited down some- it does drag in some places. It is the details, though, that make her story come to life. I appreciated reading a book that illuminated a lot of the things I’ve gone through in my own life! Four stars.

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine Program in return for an unbiased review. This did not influence my review. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cancerland: A Medical Memoir, by David Scadden, M.D., and Michael D’Antonio. Thomas Dunne Books, 2018

Dr. Scadden is an oncologist with several discoveries about cancer treatment under his belt. He is the co-founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and one of the world’s leading experts on immunology as it applies to oncology. He, like most of us, has also encountered cancer up close and personal, in his own friends and family. And he’s treated numerous patients in his career.

He tells us of his history of cancer care and research. It’s been a long, hard trail to get to effective treatments. Cancer, it seems, is not one disease but many, many different disease, so there will never be a magic bullet that ‘cures cancer’. But stem cell research is finding cures for a number of cancers, the CRISPR gene allowing them to change the DNA of sick cells. These methods are more accurate than cutting huge amounts of the body away or the scorched earth methods of older chemotherapy. Reading the history of this research was fascinating. Near the end of the book the writing gets very technical, but it’s understandable by the average reader (okay, I had to read a few sentences twice, but I *managed* it!). One of the biggest problems in cancer research? Not enough funding, which is weird when you consider that EVERYONE knows people with cancer, if they don’t have it themselves! There is also the problem that there are people out there selling bogus ‘cures’ that lead patients away from treatments that could extend their lives. A really good book that I’d recommend to anyone interested in medical history or touched by cancer.

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine Program in return for an unbiased review. This did not influence my review. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Also Human: the Inner Lives of Doctors, by Caroline Elton. Basic Books, 2018

Dr. Elton is a vocational psychologist who works with doctors. This has put her in place to have firsthand experience with the mental problems they have. She also obviously does a lot of research on it; she cites studies and statistics fluently.

Doctors have pretty much the hardest training of any occupation. It’s not just the book learning that’s hard; it’s also the long hours, and the helpless feeling when tossed into the hospital and they are suddenly responsible for patients. Everyone knows a doctor or two with a big ego, but there are probably just as many who constantly fear they will not be good enough. As in any profession, they face racism and sexism. There is never time for family or even sleep. They sometimes have patients die. It’s not easy. The book is heavy on the subject of new doctors entering training; I assume this must be the time of the most stress since it’s emphasized. It’s mostly on the NHS system, although she does give some time to the American system.

The book was interesting, but not quite as interesting as I’d hoped. I think I was hoping for more case studies; the book was too heavy on the statistics for me (although I do realize a book like this *had* to have statistics). The chapters seemed to be arbitrarily divided and just sort of blended into each other. Three stars.

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review.

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Family Tabor, by Cherise Wolas. Flatiron Books, 2018

Nobody knows it, but the Tabor family is on shaky ground. The five gathered (plus grandkids) for the weekend ceremony of presenting the Palm Springs Man of the Decade award to Harry Tabor all have their secrets, Harry most of all.

Everyone in the family is a star; Harry the great philanthropist; his wife, Roma, a child psychologist; the children are two lawyers and an anthropologist. They gather together in a great pool of everybody-is-happy-ism, each determined to hide their problems from the others. But cracks appear fairly rapidly: Phoebe refuses to divulge any details about her new boyfriend, Camille is hiding the job that truly gives her fulfillment, and Simon’s wife refuses to stay in their marriage if he decides to practice his Judaism. Roma knows they are hiding things, but doesn’t know what. And she has no idea her husband is hiding the biggest secret of them all. Then, on the night of the presentation, Harry disappears into the desert night.

Panic ensues. Did he walk into the desert? Was he kidnapped or murdered? The police take the investigation seriously, and their questioning starts turning up surprises. Mysterious bank accounts. Really odd stuff on Harry’s computer. Roma quickly realizes that despite spending her life with him, she really doesn’t know Harry at all. And the kids find themselves forced to look into their own lives and admit the truth.

I have to admit that the ending surprised me. I thought I knew where the author was going, and then, in the last few pages, I find out I was wrong. Well, partly wrong. It was going where I thought it was when it derailed. The last part of the book was kind of a let-down to me, but tolerable. We never get to find out if what Harry was experiencing before his disappearance is real or hallucination. Harry is the center of the mystery and the book, but much of the book is not about him. It’s about his children, and what they need to do to feel authentic; as he needs to confront his past, they need to confront their futures. Four stars. 

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine early reviewer program, in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

House of Rougeaux, by Jenny Jaeckel. Raincloud Press, 2018

This is a beautiful family saga spanning 1785 to 1964, broken into seven segments. They are enslaved in Africa; carried to Martinique; taken, still enslaved, into Canada; freed; and have to navigate racism, homophobia, and just plain trying to make a living. The Rougeaux family saga is not told sequentially; it jumps around in time which I first found hard to follow but the family tree in the front of the book enabled me to sort it all out.

Iya is taken from her homeland and is later brutally raped and killed when her two children, Adunbi and Abeje are still small. Adunbi later has a daughter, but his wife dies giving birth. It is this daughter, Ayo (Hetty) who is taken to Canada by the plantation’s two white daughters; they teach her to read and when she is bought by a Free Black, Dax Rougeaux, they are all for it. Abeje stays on the island. She has a magical ability to talk to the plants; she knows which ones will heal and which ones will kill. Though she never has children, her influence is still seen in the family tree.

The writing is lovely. There is a richness to the text that absorbed me totally; when I finished the book it was like I was coming up from to sea to take a breath. The people stayed with me at least all through the next day. Before this book I knew nothing about people of color in Canada. They seem to have been treated better there than in the USA! Certainly freedom came earlier. Of course there was still a lot of prejudice to overcome. Five stars out of five.

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

I received this book from the Library Thing's Early Reviewer giveaway. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Earthship Vol. 3: Evolution Beyond Economics, by Michael Reynolds. Solar Survival Press, 1993

Even though I’ll never build another house, I picked this book up out of the free pile at the library because I’ve long been fascinated by alternative building techniques and architecture. The Earthship system uses old tires filled with packed earth for walls, frequently with the building backed into a hill for even more insulation. This volume, though, doesn’t really give the details of doing this. It tells about updates in structural techniques and water systems, as well as building a thermal mass refrigerator, a solar toilet, solar oven, and doing a temporary structure. So, good if you’ve got the first two books. I do love the way the structures look once the tires are hidden, with their thick walls, arched doors and windows, and lots of plants inside. It would be interesting to see if the buildings have stood the test of time. 

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

This did not influence my review.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Muddy Boots and Red Socks: A Reporter’s Life, by Malcolm W. Browne. Times Books, 1993

Malcolm Wilde Browne (Wilde because his grandmother was Oscar Wilde’s cousin) was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who covered wars all over, starting in Korea, and thence to Viet Nam (for which he won said Pulitzer), and then to the Middle East. War wasn’t all he covered, though; among other things, he was the editor of Discover magazine for a while. Along with being a memoir, political and philosophical musings are included- some I agreed with, some very much not.

Malcolm was a proponent of the type of journalism that got right into a situation instead of sitting back and being told what was acceptable to print, hence the ‘muddy boots’. In his quest for the truth, he ended up in three plane crashes, a lot of gun fire, and numerous tight situations. Because of his close ties to the Buddhist community in Viet Nam, he was on hand the day the monk doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. The resulting photos of the burning monk shocked the world. The American leaders did not think much of his reporting as he pointed out the ways American ‘aide’ was hurting Viet Nam. AP was impressed, though, he was *the* reporter for them during this time.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if I’d find a memoir about war journalism engrossing. After I was given the book (a dear friend gave me the book when I blogged about Malcolm dying; he was my cousin whom I’d only met once, when I was a teen) I’d dipped into it many times- mainly for his family and personal life- but never read it front to back. I finally did so and found it was as gripping as any novel. His writing flows and draws you along; I found it un-put-downable. I know more about my cousin now, and just as much more about the politics of war. Five stars. 

the above is an affiliate link. IF you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. This did not influence my review. 

I won't claim that my review is unbiased, though. I mean, he was family! 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Death of No Importance, by Mariah Fredericks. Minotaur Books, 2018

In 1910, Jane Prescott is hired as ladies maid by the Benchley family. They are new money, and in need of someone to tend to the needs of their two daughters. Louise, the elder, is awkward and not a beauty. Charlotte, the younger, is a demanding beauty who does not see why she does not get her every wish granted. And right now, her wish is to marry Norrie Newsome, handsome scion of a family with older wealth. Never mind that he is all but engaged to a girl of an Old Money family. She claims he will announce *their* engagement at the Christmas ball. This plan goes south badly when Jane discovers Newsome dead downstairs on the night of the ball.

There are a lot of people with motives to hurt the Newsome family, ranging from family members, the possibly jilted fiancĂ©, anarchists, people hurt by the family business… Jane sets about trying to find the culprit, with some help by an eager reporter, Michael Behan. There are enough red herrings to make a decent fish n’ chips. Jane is uniquely positioned by being a servant, the person who is ‘invisible’- when you’re a servant, the upper class people you’re serving ignore you totally and will say the damnedest things in front of you like you aren’t even there.

There is a lot going on in this novel. I thought it would be a fairly frothy story, full of dress descriptions and sparkling events. And it is. But it also gets into historical events like the anarchist movement, horrible working conditions for the working class that featured such delights as little children working in the mines which collapsed with them inside, child sex abuse, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and more. The problem is that the historical bits aren’t worked well into the story. They sit out like sore thumbs, rather obviously put in to make the story more dramatic and less fluffy. This is the author’s first novel for adults; hopefully she’ll improve this aspect of her writing. And then there is a need to suspend disbelief on another aspect- no maid who was the ladies maid for two people, as well as running the house, would have the amount of time Jane finds for sleuthing. Four stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. IF you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, I will get a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.