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Sunday Morning Book Reviews

Truth Partisan's picture

Good morning, and welcome to the Book Reviews.

Please post any reviews of books you have been reading, classics, beach books, your favorites, etc. We'd like to know what's on your bookshelf.

Please note the Austen Reviews today, and the book is "Sense and Sensibility." Please post your review of this book too--as well as Lost Clown's thoughtful and historical review of this book--so we can have as many viewpoints as possible.

Does anyone have any thoughts about doing a multiple Vinge review? I thought several had "voted" for that. Is there a particular book that you would like to review or would this be an author review with many selections? Please let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile over at Slate, Jack Shafer says, what is killing newspapers is that they no longer provide information for people to talk about, like, say, the sports page used to provide a"few cents" of social currency to exchange with others.

"Not that long ago, the daily newspaper was an indispensable coiner of social currency, and it gave its readers piles of the stuff in each edition. The phrase, which comes from sociology, is often used to describe the information we acquire and then trade—or give away—to start, maintain, and nurture relationships with our fellow humans."

Is that partly our mission too? Or are we just finding good books to read?

BTW, he also says Facebook is "the Federal Reserve Bank of social currency." RL bank failings aside, do you agree that Facebook replaces newspapers? Does Facebook have many book reviews?

Save the dying (newspaper) Book Review at Correntewire, review a book.

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Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Original fiction by Chicagodyke posted here:
http://www.correntewire.com/a_birthday_s...

Fascinating in terms of its history and so engaging that it will carry you back to the past, CD's "The Ashes of the House of Ur" is an historical fantasy short story written about an ancient time. The ancient world is well imagined, colorful and complex, complete with human reactions to religious and sacred rituals so we can personally identify. You will want to know what more about what happens to these characters, the proud princess, the loyal and brave handmaiden, the much married, weary merchant...and the visions that drive them will change history.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

(Knopf) by Joan Didion

Your daughter becomes sick almost unto death with a mysterious illness that harks back almost to an evil curse, constantly changing its shape and nature. She lives in a coma in the hospital. Your spouse, always a dominant force in your life to the point of correcting your very sentences, suddenly dies at your dinner table, but strong often lifelike memories continue to haunt you. You begin practicing magic to save both their souls.
This is the real story behind the real life of Joan Didion in her book of essays, "The Year of Magical Thinking." She covers some of this up in her telling, full of New York City taxicabs, cigarettes and books, beeping monitors and blue doctor scrubs, but the true underlying story is of dealing with powerful uncontrolled forces, the intrusion into a highly sophisticated life of brute life and death.
The weakness of the book is that Didion can't decide how to deal with it all--as a person, that is fine, as that is largely the point of the book and how we relate to it. But as readers, we are often thrown into rather off-putting cool self-observation and recounting of the facts:

"At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, "the ordinary instant." I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word, "ordinary," because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind." (p.3)

(Mind you, this is at the very beginning of the book.)

In sharp contrast to this, there are also emotional and magical passages:

"...but I needed that first night to be alone. I needed to be alone so that he could come back." (p.33)

Although the detailed, detached fact telling was interesting and helpful, the emotional parts are much more compelling and carry the book. She shows us her grief: at the loss of her husband, at how she can't save everyone, at the illness of her daughter. What happened? How could this have happened? What could have been done? What did her husband last say? Her daughter? Didion shows us here her emotional break-down although in most ways she carries on in the ways she must, now and then practicing a little magic. It's a sad book, trying to understand life and leaving life, regrets and memory.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Anne Perry, "Cardington Crescent"
Caroline Graham, "Faithful unto Death" and "The Killings at Badger's Drift"
Agatha Christie, "Black Coffee"
Michael Chritchon, "Prey"
Dick Francis, "Somekescreen."
William Least Heat-Moon, "Blue Highways"

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Are the Sherlock Holmes books and the Hercule Poirot books alike?
Although the first Sherlock Holmes story (1887) considerably predates the first Hercule Poirot (1916), echoing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday (1859) and Lady Agatha Christie's (1890), there are a number of similarities that seems to come from using the same model: a puzzling genius who has a well-meaning, respected yet somehow naive sidekick, who often or always narrates the book.
A number of other authors have used the same kinds of pairing: mainly because it provides the genius with a soapbox to stand on--er, person to talk to--while explaining the crime.
But are Sherlock and Hercule unusually alike and are Captain Hastings and (Colonel) Dr. Watson unusually alike?
Sherlock (tall, thin) and Hercule (small, round) are physical opposites. They are both very finicky, particularly around clues. They both have devoted housekeepers or valets meeting their domestic and food needs. They both have strong friendships with Scotland Yard officials and policeman--but again, that is more necessary for the functioning of their fictional jobs of solving crimes (the police give them confirmed clues and test results to further convince the reader.) Hercule jokes about being Sherlock but so do Peter Wimsey and many other detectives. They also both commit the occasional mild crime of B&E and let the rare criminal go, usually a woman. They are most distinctly alike in being very observant and being able to reason out "improbable" answers no one else sees. But I think they are ideals of their time, a single "great man" who in himself embodies all modern thought and progress (and so may we be all), set to work in a modern world in public service for justice, so everything will work out okay for everyone in the end, even if they are dead (properly avenged and all that.)
Nowadays, we seem to have a liking for more of a detective noir, although these two still stand as extremely popular.
Watson and Hastings again are physically different, this time the other way around: Watson is round and short(ish), Hastings tall and thin. They are both veterans. They are both full of admiration for their own personal friend(ly-ish) genius. They want nothing more than to be in on the solving of the crime (except for their occasional sweeping romantic interest in other characters in the story.) That is, they are very like the reader. However, Watson and Hastings serve as flatterer and foil to the reader because even we can see through their wrong ideas. Watson has more medical knowledge, and, later, Hastings has more about Argentinian ranches (which, unlike Watson's medical knowledge, is not usually useful.) For Holmes and Poirot, they are the audience, and in that, they are very alike.
So yes, of course, Holmes and Poirot are very alike, with some difference (note I did not even get into their various theories on the scientific method), and so are Watson and Hastings, perhaps even more alike but, again, with substantial difference.
But are the books alike? Here perhaps is the greatest difference, although a little hard to quantify as Christie wrote so many more books. But I argue that the settings of the books are the most different. Holmes's books are mostly set in cities, usually London, for at least part of the story, with occasional forays into the wilds--and the author means wilds--of English countryside. Many of his characters are city folk and are from a variety of classes, including career criminals and conmen. Christie's characters tend to be more the residents of small English villages or small English neighborhoods or circles in London or other large cities. Also her characters tend to be middle or upper class--or pretending to be--or working in a upper or middle class home. Crimes often occur in large mansions where one of the guests staying in luxury is the criminal, the traditional "English country house" mystery. She also does a lot more locked room mysteries, although of course Conan Doyle has a very famous one (Speckled Band.) The biggest difference, then, is the depiction of and the living in a more settled and more monied settings. I argue that this makes a number of the two author's works quite different, showing different expectations in both cases by class. The poorer, both in country but especially in city, aren't expected to behave in the same manner--and in fact, can't due to financial constraints and cultural cliques--but are bound by the same underlying rules regarding murder. It is interesting to consider the times in which the authors wrote with an eye to this: Conan Doyle during a time when the Industrial Revolution was becoming increasingly important and class was changing; cities were regarded as exciting and a source of new work, but also had major slums. Christie started Poirot around the time of World War I, when many were being shipped out from their homes and families and there was a great societal conflict and upheaval. It is interesting which we in modern society and classes are more like today in freedoms, expectations, "cons" and so forth. In conclusion, let me just say, there is one important major difference between the main characters--please don't ask Poirot about vegetable marrows.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

subtitled (Del Ray) "a Hot Fairy Tale."

Here you will find "True Love and High Adventure." The most beautiful farmer in the world is marrying the arrogant prince of her country because her true love was killed by pirates. But she gets kidnapped by a clever conman, aided by a giant and the world's greatest swordsman. Her prince starts in hot pursuit--as well as the pirate who murdered her true love. And that's not even halfway through the book. Those who love the movie but haven't read the book should check it out. Goldman did the screenplay (long story) so much of it is the same but the movie format made sadly necessary some hilarious cuts you will find in full in the book. Inigo, the swordsman, and Fezzik, the giant, are more developed as characters and there is more about their previous lives (if you can find a later edition including Goldman's short stories about the Princess Bride characters there is even more on Fezzik, the farmer and her Farmboy true love--and Goldman.) Most of the book, cynical asides apart, is written in a totally romantic style:

"Gold was inviting, and so was royalty, but they could not match the fever in his heart, and sooner or later she would have to catch it." (p. 203)

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

book. by vernor, that is. joan is so-so for me, she's got talent but her stuff didn't move me like his. did i mention: he and i are email buddies? ok, maybe "buddies" is too strong, but he did answer an email i sent him once about my favorite book of his. if you want me to write a review of that, i'm more than happy. "a deepness in the sky" in particular; i literally just finished my annual reading of that this week. (and for a time, I was "Anne Reynolt.") i'm a "re-reader," books that i love get worked into my reading cycle at least once every couple of years.

on my shelf from the library today: all of Mary Renault's fiction. Just got the remaining three i don't own from the library this afternoon. if you like the ancient world and feminism, you'll love Mary's stuff. /snob/ her scholarship is of course slightly dated and many theories she accepts as truth have been replaced by more modern archaeological trends and recent discovery. /end snob/

we seem to be all about historical fiction, so the 'bathroom book' i have going is Blood Games by CQ Yarbro, another email buddy of mine. and my all time favorite author. ancient rome of Nero, and a woman in desperate straights who is befriended by a vampire. except for the vampire part, i will professionally vouch that no one does accuracy in historical fiction better than Yarbro. you may not like the way she writes (some people complain it's not faced paced enough) but if you want to know the details, she does her homework.

nonfiction includes "complete tiling," a book i picked up from one or another bigbox store; i'm going thru the CANE volumes again as i'm considering doing more writing on ancient Sumer and Akkad; and i'm working my way, backwards, and i'm on #9 of the massive story of civilization by the durants, which are true classics. if you hate reading dry, boring, "neutral" tomes on history, try these. they are *highly* opinionated, in many cases overgeneral and factually disproved by later research and archaeology. but as far as 'reading history' goes, no one has done as well since Gibbon, imnsho.

i'm also going to finally finish the wraeththu histories, i've read the first volume but not the rest. i can't find "colurastres," by the same author, if anyone has it i will kill for or sexually service you if you let me borrow a copy.

about two weeks ago, i finished the last book of the second trilogy of the Kushiel books, which if you like complex sex, you will adore. not for the faint of heart. for those who worried that Carey lost her touch with "scion" i promise that she almost makes up for it with "justice." almost. she will likely never reach the heights she achieved with "dart" and "avatar" again; i can tell as an author she's burned thru all the greatness her muse gave her to write those. imriel just isn't the same as phedre. oh well. no one's perfect.