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Nonfiction November Review: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

My Interest

I’m a woman.

The Story

If you are a woman you will read this book. Now, here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Doctors, aside from their gynecology and labor/delivery training, are trained on an “average” male body even though women’s heart attacks are very different.
  2. Drugs, with a few exceptions, have traditionally been tested on mostly male volunteers. Which explains why some do not do what they should for women
  3. City planners design spaces that all must live in, but that forget the needs of women and children for things like grocery stores and playgrounds.
  4. Transportation systems engineers design systems for men’s commute to work–not for women’s round-about trips to first check on Grandma, then drop the two stroller-bound toddlers at daycare and THEN go to work and then at the end of the day adding a stop to buy groceries before going to the daycare and the other Grandma’s house.
  5. Cars and airbags are designed for men. Pregnant women, who are naturally closer to the steering wheel? Never considered.
  6. Disaster relief teams, refugee camps, and similar forget that women menstruate, endure cultural shunning for being with men to whom they are not related, and often must give birth. Condoms, yes. Sanitary pads–no. Or worse, only tampons in spite of taboos restricting them to only married women.

The book shows all the ways that leaving women out of surveying, quantifying, and otherwise amassing information to inform decisions is costing us time, money, productivity, advancement, lives, and more. Just read it.

My Thoughts

There are so many more I won’t go on. Now, about the author. Yes, she is a strident left-wing feminist and yes the HRC person is mentioned more than one time. Ignore both and read the book. This book has been needed for so long! The distortions of data have cost women lives, dignity, safety, and opportunities–and that is being said by someone far to the right of the author. This book should be used in every course on quantitative research or similar. It is not a boring textbook. The author tells the story very well and illustrates it almost too well. This is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in years. I do not agree with every single thing she says, but it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Just read it. Have I mentioned you should read it?

 

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Invisible  Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

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Novellas in November Review: The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield

My Interest

Epistolary novels are a thing with me. I love reading real or fictional diaries, books of letter, tweets, emails–anything similar. Love it. I think it started when 84 Charing Cross Road came out while I was in high school. Since then I have loved such books. (My posts on them are linked at the bottom of this post, too.)

A while back I read The Diary of A Provincial Lady and just knew I’d read any others if it was a series. Today’s review is of the second book in the series.

The Story

Note: This is one book where it would be a little easier to enjoy the story if you’ve read the first book, but it can the “who’s who” of the story can also be figured out pretty quickly if you have not.

The Provincial lady is married  to Robert an agent or “man of business” of similar on a large landed estate in Shire. The children, son Robin, daughter Vicky, are both off to boarding school this year. Cat Hellen Willis is still with them. And, The Lady herself has enjoyed literary success, so for a very brief time the family excheuquer is in good shape. Good enough to by herself a dear little London flat. So, off she goes to London to write. Except she stiill can’t say “no” to requests and gets entangled with outrageous peoplegoes to their outrageous parties and dinners and gets nothing done. Robert is left home with the new cook and occasionally writes to suggest it is time to come home. The children thrive at school.

My Thoughts

This was the perfect, mindless, little escape back to a time when maids and cooks (not to mention boarding schools) could still be afforded by many quite normal, decently-educated people. It was just plain fun. I look forward, eventually, to getting through the entire series.

I discovered, while getting the link to this book on Amazon, that the copy I bought may have been pirated and could also be The Provincial Lady Goes to London [which could be an alternate title for US/UK]. How interesting!

The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield.  [Note, I’m linking to a different version than the one I bought]

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Nonfiction November Review: Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

My Interest

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A few miles down the road at the Adams County, Ohio, line, is the start of Appalachia. I did not grow up here, but landed here through a series of events related to trying to rent a house with 4 cats! Plus, my mother retired here in the same neighborhood with my brother’s in-laws. I live surrounded by Appalachia or people who grew up there. In my former job, in Louisville, I worked with staff, lawyers, and librarians who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and did not view it as “making it out” in the way many outsiders do. Some had had help from  Berea or Alice Lloyd College. Others had National Merit Scholarships or income-based free rides to state colleges. They were not ashamed of these roots–nor should they be. Unless you are from there or are very close to someone who is, it can see like the back side of nowhere. In many ways, it is. But in all the ways that matter, that view is wrong. An often staggering work ethic, family and community loyalty, preservation of historic ways of working, of cooking, of surviving, and of speaking are all part of it.

The Story

Cassie Chambers was born while her parents were students at one of America’s few remaining “work-study” colleges, Berea College in Kentucky. They came from Eastern Kentucky [historically it was Western Virginia] where there are coal mountains, the farms that gave definition to the overused word “hardscrabble” and a lot of “outdoors.” Moonshine comes to mind to those not from there (as well as to those who are but with a different view). It’s soup beans, cornbread and home canned vegetables for many meals, it is summers working tobacco, and butchering a hog in the fall. Cassie’s mother grew up in exactly that life with hardworking, but to the rest of America “uneducated” parents in Owsley County. This was the type place that introduced Jack and Bobby Kennedy to the meaning of “poverty.”

Orlando and Wilma Chambers wanted more for their only child. While Cassie went thru the public schools in Berea and her father rose to have a PhD in Agricultural Economics, even they did not truly envision the height to which their daughter would climb. Like the future Queen of the Netherlands, (attended the branch in China) like two of Lord Mountbatten’s grandchildren (attended the UK branch), like the heir to the former Greek throne and many others, Cassie got accepted to the United World College of the U.S.A.–one of the schools that, like Outward Bound, grew out of Salem and Gordonstoun–the schools Prince Philip attended. Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward and host of other semi-royals attended Gordonstoun, too.

DJI_0421-HDRPhoto: Dan Rose [if this is incorrect please I will be happy to correct it]

United World College U.S.A. in New Mexico

The name says it all–United World College. Cassie landed in this rarefied atmosphere for the two year stint that sets up students regardless of income from all over the world and prepares them for and connects them with the world’s most competitive colleges–or as close as possible to them. I once went on a job interview to a small college in Pennsylvania. My student driver was shocked that I’d  heard of this school–his Alma Mater. His mother sold vegetables in a Kenyan market. It takes you places just like Berea College took her parents places–only even father. Cassie stuck it out and “made it.” Better yet, she decided home had a lot to give her as well and now helps all sorts of women there.

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Map of Kentucky showing Owsley County

The real stars of this book though are her Aunt Ruth and her Granny. These women worked harder than the hardest working men all their lives. The farmed tobacco. While the world looks down on that now the truth is there are few crops worldwide that have ever had the income potential for small farmers in the USA or in Malawi or other nations that burly tobacco has. These women, who for a variety of reasons, didn’t finish elementary or high school, coped with life in the way the matriarchs of history have always done. They just got up and did it. They shared what they had. They went without, but they got on with it.

They managed to convince Wilma, Cassie’s mother, to graduate from high school, and to go on get her degree. [Eventually Aunt Ruth got a GED–in almost record time, too.] Unlike in Hillbilly Elegy (the dysfunctional family portrait of the region) the men in Cassie’s family worked. They worked that farm. They worked later at other types of jobs. The provided for their family. The, like many in the region even today, would not accept handouts or charity. Their pride was everything.

Perhaps my favorite story was when she asks her Aunt Ruth about the word “hillbilly.” “I suppose so,” [or similar–I had the audio version] she says when Cassie asks if she is one. It is acknowledged that is ok for someone from there to use it. “Redneck” is one term they do not like. There are people all around my area who feel the same way. It can be a term of respect in its way; most often it is a racial slur. Twenty years ago, I would never have looked at the semantics of this. Today, it seems right to stop saying that word. I am Scotch-Irish, just like Cassie’s family. That group came to the Midwest through Virginia. Mine took a detour to Australia, but it is still the same group of people from whom I descend. My family just moved a lot faster.

My Thoughts

Cassie made me very angry when she dared to apply today’s woke view of older man/younger women relationships. Yes, TODAY, it would not happen for a 15 year old to date a man 32. But in that time he was well-known in the community, was a very hard worker, was not violent and she had left school and was ready to do what most young women did then–marry and have children. Cassie’s shrillness on this was unnecessary. Her grandfather was a good man, a good husband and a good provider. Her grandmother did not appear to have regrets. So leave it be.

I also skipped past the parts on Trump being elected. I’m not a supporter of his, but this week I could not handle any more moaning about him. The book was written not long after his election. This week he appears to have lost his bid for re-election.

She made me proud, too. She took her boyfriend home to have dinner with the family. It wasn’t easy–she was college girl at one of the world’s leading colleges. Dinner in a trailer isn’t what is done there. I found her embarrassment at her relatives manners and even, in other scenes of that era of her parents’ ways to be typical of her age. I was happy that she could reflect on it and be glad she did it. Something in her told her she needed their blessing. Thank goodness, too.

Otherwise, I quite admired her for her grit and determination. Academically she went form an average high school in a peripherally below-average education state to Universities that regularly deny entry to the graduates of Choate, Groton, Eton, and Harrow–the schools that regularly create Presidents and Prime Ministers.

I admire, too, the passion she brings to her work helping poor women. She does not talk down to them–she understands them. She exposes the Kentucky court system for what it is. The laws are stacked against them in family court, especially. In time, perhaps letting in light on that rot, will give rise to a thorough cleaning of the system. I hope so.

Today Cassie is happily married with a son, lives in Louisville. She is active in politics and has taught in the law school at the University of Louisville. She seems like someone I would have liked to work for in a law firm.

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A final note. Only a publishing intern straight Manhattan (and I don’t mean Kansas) would compare this story with Educated. Let’s remember that Cassie grew up in a town (Berea), with two educated parents, attended public schools, went to the doctor, and had normal experiences. In no way does that compare to Educated. Even her mother’s story still centers on public school, a doctor’s help, and a college education. Someone made a silly marketing decision with that choice.

Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers.

My friend Susan at Girls In White Dresses offers a more conservative take on the book here.

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Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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“Piranesi is a tenebrous study in solitude.” 

Paraic O’Donnell in the Guardian

Definition of tenebrous

1 : shut off from the light : dark, murky tenebrous depths 2 : hard to understand : obscure a tenebrous affair 3 : causing gloom

My Interest

I stumbled upon this book–which, by the sound of it should be way outside my comfort zone, at Eric Karl Anderson‘s Youtube channel. (I think it was the first and last name that did it–I was once crazy in love with a guy with that name, albeit not this one]. I think I found him via Twitter. My first time watching him and he got me to read a “way out there” book! He mentions the person cataloging the contents of this huge, fantasy-ridden house. I wanted to read it instantly, fantasy, or no fantasy elements.

(It is the first book reviewed)

Amazon says it is “an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality” which, for once, is true! Chiwetel Ejiofor’s reading of the story was wonderfully hypnotic and dreamy. I listened to it mostly in small doses as a soothing bedtime story at first. Then I was hooked and wanted to know the outcome. I became obsessed.

The Story

“Entry for the 8th day of the 8th month of the year the albatross came to the Southwest halls.

It is my practice to index my journal entries every other week or so. I find this is more efficient than indexing them straight away. After some time has passed it is easier to separate the important from the ephemeral. This morning…I sat down…with my journal and index. A great deal has happened since I last performed this task. I made an entry into the index:

Prophet, appearance of.

Journal #10, page 148-152

I made another entry:

Prophecies concerning the coming of Sixteen….”

[I listened to the audio, so punctuation may be a little off.]

The story is set in a strange, unending house with so many corridors and statuses and even a captive ocean.  One man spends his life exploring the place and compiling the journals/catalogs of its contents. It was the journals and indexing that caught my attention–the rest sounded like fantasy and I rarely enjoy that. This time I did!

My Thoughts

At first, to make sense of it, all I could do was to sing to myself :

It’s a big, big house

With lots and lots of room

A big, big table

With lots and lots of food

A big, big yard

Where we can play football

A big, big house

It’s my father’s house

(Ziyu Lu–see below)

Gradually I began to understand a little of the story. The keeping of meticulous notebooks–the cataloging and indexing that had initially caught my attention kept nagging at me. I wanted to know about those notebooks. I wanted these journals to be a bit like a grown-up version of Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You crossed with, say, an outstanding guide to Harewood House. That would be utterly fascinating for a fantasy world! In time, I began to see the “house,” to “know” the corridors, and to understand the Year the Albatross Came to the Southwest Corridor.

Piranesi, as our narrator is known, seemed to be telling me of an alternate world. But, was this really not an alternative world but a re-telling, with a few digressions, of the story of creation? I keep having that feeling. The unending-ness of the “house,” the ocean, (he devised his own method of predicting the tides) all seemed to signal that. But then he talked of a crime and a few other events. No, I thought—not a creation re-telling. Hmmmm. I couldn’t get a real grasp of the story until the end. Aha! came at the end. To say more would be to write unfortunately spoilers.

No matter whether I could put all the pieces together or not, it was such a wonderful, soothing story to listen to! Piranesi himself seemed so sweet, so gentle. I thought of Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe due to both the tone in which he was written and the tone in which the reader, Chiwetel Ejiofor, voiced him. Plus, who wouldn’t love a journaler/indexer/cataloger who uses “see also” notes?

I am NOT a fantasy reader, but this one delighted me. It deserves all the praise it is getting, though I imagine a movie of it would be too creepy for me!

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

4 VERY FULL, VERY BRIGHT STARS!

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Review: His Only Wife: A Novel by Peace Adzo Medie

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.com

Afi Tekple has grown up with a widowed mother who is “beholden,” as we used to say, to wealthy woman in the community for her home, her job, her daughter’s education. When “Auntie” [as the lady is known] needs a wife for her well-off, son to tempt him away from the “foreign” woman who is the mother of his child, her gaze falls on Afi. No matter that the son cannot show up for the [traditional] wedding–it goes on with a brother as his proxy.

Afi is then parked in a luxury apartment in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, a modern city with all the normal upper-class diversions.  Only one problem–Elikem  or “Elie” as he is known, rarely visits the apartment in the same luxury development expatriates and his own brother’s current girlfriend live. How can Afi be a wife without a husband?

I did not like Afi. That is not to say I like Elie, either. Afi was no naive American marrying a Ghanaian hotshot. She knew the score. She knew the men of her area and ethnic group. Elie just did what men do there. I found her whining to be about as tone deaf as Meghan Markle’s. I thought she was very spoiled and tried to hard to feel put-out over everything.

As for Elie, if Afi had bothered to listen, he was as upfront as most men would ever be about his situation. Malawi, where I lived, is a world away from Ghana in most ways, but traditional culture is very much the same in many places on the African continent. One successful person supports several villages worth of relatives. Men have their ways. Women accept them–or not.

Afi’s friend was basically right. By all that he knew, Elie WAS a good man. And, yes, many women would have–and willingly. So what was up with precious little Afi? She no longer lived in the dreary shack of a house her mother rented from Auntie. She had the career she wanted in the city to have it in and her son would grow up with almost unlimited privileged. It wasn’t enough.

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I’m sure I’m supposed to side with Afi and see her as a champion for women. And, she was a champion for women. But, again, like Meghan Markle, she’d have nothing without the guy having provided it! It’s not that no other Ghanaian women think like Afi–I’m sure there are millions who do. To be the only wife is every woman’s dream. In no culture is plural marriage or the “bit on the side” taken without insult. It was just the WAY Afi whined about it. I did not hear maturity in it. I heard only “I want, I want, I deserve,” yet never a reason for it. Why was she worthy? Why did she and not the other woman deserve this commitment? That is what was truly lacking in this story.

In spite of my feelings for Afi, the story was well-told. I did not like having an American voice read the book. When a book is set elsewhere, I want to hear the accent of that country in the audio book.

His Only Wife: A Novel  by Peace Adzo Medie

3.5 Stars

Sunshine

Other Titles I’ve Read From Reece Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club

 

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Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

 

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The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

 

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Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chancel Cleeton

 

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Throwback Thursday Review: The Kaiser’s Last Kiss aka The Exception by Alan Judd

It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s Chocolate Lady’s blog. Thanks to Books Please for reminding me of this today.

The Story

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany’s deposed Emperor, is living out his days in exile at Huis Doorn in the Netherlands. He and his controversial 2nd wife, Hermine, live in a sort of gilded cage–able to travel freely only 15 miles from home.  Born Queen Victoria’s eldest grandchild, Wilhelm now spends his days railing at Juda-England, as he now calls his mother’s country, chopping wood, smoking, and feeding the ducks.

When the Nazi’s invade Holland, the Kaiser is given an SS security detail headed by Martin Krebbs, a young officer not sold-out on the SS or Nazi ideals, but who none-the-less discounts the idea of an “interior” life.( “You were what you did; the rest was froth.“) All the same, he arrives not sure he cares about an old Emperor–he wants to go back to the war.

Not long before the Nazis’ arrival, a new well-educated maid, Akki, joins the staff at Huis Doorn and the Kaiser takes a liking to her. She has lovely hands and hands are sexual thing to him–a part of a woman’s beauty and sensuality. And, she is very well-educated and respectful.

Trouble arises, as you can imagine! To say more would be to spoil the story.

The book is now a movie starring Christopher Plummer as the Kaiser. The movie’s trailer is at the bottom of this post. The story has been re-titled The Exception. Names have been changed, too.  (I have not, yet, seen the movie).

What I Liked

I thought Judd’s portrayal of the twisted, lonely, and often deluded Kaiser, was excellent. He also captured the personality of the scheming Hermine as well. I thought each of the major characters were believable. More depth would have been nice, but the story was very compelling as is. He did not bog the story down in too much historical minutia–even though I’m a reader who often enjoys that. This kept the story moving at a fast clip.

What I Didn’t Like

If you’re going to write a book–even a novel–on royalty get a grip on titles and forms of address! If you don’t know, look it up! Judd was all over the place with this and it was annoying.  Even though real life added some confusion, he should have figured out how the staff would properly address the Kaiser and his wife. By all the residents at Huis Doorn Wilhelm and Hermine were treated exclusively as Emperor and Empress. When the Nazis were present they insisted he was simply Prince Wilhelm. Yet Judd never could get it right. This was irritating.

The other thing that I wasn’t so happy about was that the beginning of the book seemed to mostly be just retelling parts of this video:

My Verdict

Overall, this was a great fast-paced story and I enjoyed it. But for the title thing I had to knock it down a bit in my rating.

3.75 Stars

The Kaiser’s Last Kiss  (aka The Exception) by Alan Judd

Originally published on this blog on November 6, 2017 

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Review: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland by Tory Bilski

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Thank you to Liz Dexter for bringing this  book to my attention.

If you are a horse lover, you may already know that one of Iceland’s greatest natural resources are it’s horses. Short and sturdy, Icelandics are somewhat like the Fell Ponies we’ve seen Queen Elizabeth ride in recent years.

Tory writes vividly of the trail rides, which for me were the highlight of the book:

“The horses pick up the pace. They vie to be in the front of the pack. This is what horses are like in Iceland because they aren’t coddled like pets. They are brought up in semi-feral conditions: the young and the mares are set free for many months, driven into the mountains to live off the land with no human care. Since they are left to forage for food and water on tier own and figures things out for themselves, they grow to be healthy, sturdy, and for the most part, sane.”

The horses have four or even six gaits. The six gait horses are from a genetic mutation. Riding a horse through all of those gates must be a bit like getting a Semi through a short, uphill intersection for the first time. It takes practice to for the horse and practice for the rider to not only post properly, but to get the horse to agree to the different gaits.

I gotta go Iceland

Author Tory and friends, one of whom was among the first to import Icelandic horses into the United States, began going to the same horse farm in Iceland as an annual get-a-way, recharging mission, and gal-pal road trip on their favorite breed of horses. Horses that even swim them places! Now, that is my kind of road trip!!

 

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Photo source: Wikipedia

All of the women are in mid-life, in the 40 to late 50-ish years of yo-yo-ing young adult children, aging parents. The marriages are settled and allow for alone time. The jobs are a now not stressful from inexperience but are now routine. “Going Iceland” is what they think of when the stress gets to them. In Iceland the worries are on another continent and for a week life is reduced to riding amazing horses in the beautiful natural world surrounding them.

Unique Icelandic Odd Horses Beautiful Cute
Icelandic Horse  photo credit

The trips are not without problems–one year it’s a mean girl clique, another year its a visit to a new touristy horse farm where anyone, even a novice, can ride Icelandics with a German, Norwegian or other hired guide working for the farm. This causes the ladies to see how truly blessed to have “their” farm to visit all those years.

There are fun side-trips to Iceland’s many quirky museums–a cod canning museum that recreates the workers living quarters is on–there are others celebrating folk lore, fishing and maritime history among other subjects (I actually knew of this–a professor of mine at I.U. wrote a book on the Anglo-Icelandic Cod War). Then there’s the horse show where they are rescue by Iceland’s answer to George Clooney and the ladies imagine one of their own being swept off her feet by him!

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As Game of Thrones and various movies put Iceland on the tourist map, changes come to Iceland. The capital city, Reykjavik, goes from town to city, albeit a still-small city and suburbs begin sprouting around it. What changes are coming for the nation and its horses? The ladies start seeing writing on the wall, but choose to turn their heads–exactly s I would do! Your own version of paradise is just that–your own. Tourists, movie stars, McDonald’s–they can’t take it from you.

Wild Horses of Summer: A Memoir of Iceland by Tory Bilski

You can follow author Tory Bilski on Twitter @exploratoryish or on Facebook.

My other reviews of books set in Iceland:

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Names for the Sea by Sara Moss

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The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

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Review: Murmur of Bees by

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My Interest

This book, free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, caught my attention when I was trolling through my Kindle to see what I had in translation. I struck gold for this a Women in Translation Month–appropriate book! I splurged and bought the audio narration and it was well worth it, for this is a longer-than-average book. 470 pages used to be pretty average, but with the change of centuries books just started getting shorter on average.“We walk without looking back, because on this journey, all we care about is our destination.”

“We walk without looking back, because on this journey, all we care about is our destination.”

The Story

Simonopio is found abandoned as an infant, with a cleft palate or other facial disfigurement, and covered in bees. He is taken in by a local land-owning family and raised as their own. Meanwhile, all around them in Mexico revolution is raging and the Spanish ‘flu of 1918 is doing its own damage. Simonopio and the rest of his adopted- Morales family go on with their lives, taking what is dealt out to them.

“The miracle would have been if those arrogant fools with the fate of the country in their hands had listened in time to the voices of the experts. Now it was too late.”

My Thoughts

I laughed at some of the comments about it being too long, with too many characters. We have become a nation of lazy readers! The story is slow–it has an old-world pace to it. I did not find there were too many characters, though, it did take me a while to understand who one of them “was.” There were times when a sort of folklore tale took over and I did nearly quit in that scene. The family saga, though, kept me going–I wanted to know what happened to the family.

I have studied little of Mexican politics, but this revolution was among what I did encounter in college so I was aware of the setting. It is helpful, but not necessary to making sense of the story. This book made me truly aware that Texas and California were once truly part of Mexico. No reason for that to be the case–it just really hit me. Like most Americans today who are not of Mexican heritage. I suppose, Those two huge states, along with neighboring Arizona and, of course, New Mexico, have always been part of the U.S. Woodrow Wilson sent troops down to the boarder during this revolution.

The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia and translated by Simon Bruni

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Review: Last Train to Key West: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

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My Interest

I loved the author’s previous books (see the bottom of the post for links to my review) so much that she is now a “must-read” author for me!’

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The Story

Three young women have lives that are about to intersect. Mirta, the Cuban society girl married off to a mobster with a heart for her, Helen a waitress married to a cruel Cracker-fisherman and about to give birth to her first child, and Elizabeth, a once rich New York debutante whose family has lost all in the Crash of ’29.  Helen works in a small diner in Key West to which a quiet man comes to lunch. Elizbeth flirts all the way down on the train, catching the eye of a genial young man. And Mirta goes to her honeymoon with a man she has met only briefly.

Meanwhile, outside Key West there are scores of Great War veterans in camps–the Bonus Army that Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower teamed up to run out of Washington, D.C. Conditions are deplorable. Many, if not most, of the men, suffer from “shell shock” as PTSD was known back then. Among them is Elizabeth’s brother–the brother she needs to find.

When a record-breaking hurricane hits, the story gets really interesting! [No Spoilers!]

My Thoughts

At first, I was disappointed that this book did not tie into either of her other books, but then I got into the story and didn’t care. I shouldn’t have worried–Cleeton is a masterful storyteller. No cliched storylines here! While she did occasionally use a modern term “give him his space” is an example, I really didn’t care. The story consumed me! I listened to the audio for 3 hours straight because I HAD to know the ending–and I was not disappointed at any point in the story. Admittedly, occasionally, Elizabeth was a touch too modern–especially on care for the veterans, but there WERE people like that so I let it go. I just loved the story so much.

Last Train to Key West: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

 

My Rating

4 Stars

 

My reviews of Chanel Cleeton’s other books:

 

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When We Left Cuba: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

 

 

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Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Review: Lions of Fifth Avenue

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

My Interest

Ever since I read Robert K. Massie’s account of researching the court of Nicholas and Alexandra and reading the memoirs he found in the main reading room of the New York Public Library’s research library on 5th Avenue, I’ve wanted to go there. As a student, I loved hiding away in the stacks, not to study, but to discover new books. Indiana University’s main library–now the Herman B. Wells Library, has 10 accessible floors on the graduate side and 1 additional floor accessible by stairs. I knew them all. As a librarian, I never had the ambition to work in pubic libraries–though I did for a few months. The library with those fabled lions out front is not your average public library. This is a closed-stacks research institution with a rare book collection, incredibly knowledgable staff, and much, much, more.

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Reading room of the NY Public Library on 5th Avenue

The Story

The story is told in two time frames: 1914 and 1993. Grandmother Laura and granddaughter Sadie are both involved with the great NYPL on 5th Avenue. The story shifts back and forth between the two eras, but the story in both is about the theft of rare books and the possible relationship of the family to the thefts.

While granddaughter Sadie has the job of head of the Berg Collection–the rare books collection, dropped into her lap, she has never disclosed her relationship to the long-ago Supervisor of the building–her grandfather, Jack. Her grandmother Laura went on to become a well-known feminist, ahead of her time in just about every way until a bomb took her life in the London Blitz in World War II. Can interest in her grandmother be a help to Laura’s career? Or a major hindrance? Was a member of her family involved in the theft of books as rare as Poe’s Tamerlane?

My Thoughts

Oh, how I LOVED the idea of that apartment within the great library building! Creepy? Sure at night, I bet it was a horror movie of sounds and imaginary movement. But, gosh what an amazing address, right?

I cannot say that I fell in love with anyone in this book. If I felt for anyone it was Jack–the husband. He had every reason to feel trampled by his wife and her ambition. I did not warm to fellow [fictional[ librarian Sadie either. She just wasn’t very likable.

Davis’ writing and storytelling were fine. Her characters just weren’t people I could invest in. Overall, this book was a major disappointment. It just did not hold my attention. I wanted to love it, but it was pretty “meh” to me.

My Rating

3.0

 

Fiona Davis discusses the book at the NYPL

 

 

Between The Lions–a fun tribute to the iconic lions from PBS that encouraged reading.