Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #2)The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wonderful book has the same narrative tone that I loved in The Magician's Nephew, but is a bit more serious. Lion was the first book written in the Chronicles of Narnia but comes second in the storyline. I am reading the series, in a beautiful boxed set, with illustrations by Pauline Baynes. 

In this book we meet Aslan who is a huge and frightening powerful lion who is also kind and wise, "good and terrible at the same time" (p, 126). That seems to me the key to the whole story--characters who are both good and terrible--and it is what makes it timeless. 

My favorite supporting character in this tale was Mrs. Beaver. I love how she arranges things and lets the others know when they should have listened to her. She is very cozy and domestic--she was at her machine sewing while Mr. Beaver was out and about--but is ready with practical plans when adventure calls. 

This book counts as a classic about an animal for the Back to the Classics challenge.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Endless Night

Endless NightEndless Night by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel doesn't feature a detective, it is a more subtle story than Christie's typical detective tale. The tone of it reminded me of DuMaurier's Rebecca. The construction of this novel was brilliant. It doesn't seem like much at first, but when you get to the end and see the whole thing it dazzles.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Key West

Key West: History of an Island of DreamsKey West: History of an Island of Dreams
by Maureen Ogle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because of the title. For the 2017 What's in a Name Challenge I needed a book with a compass direction in the title and "West" fit the bill.
This history of Key West, Florida turned out to be fascinating, though a bit repetitive. It covers the island from the days of pirates and salvaging through the civil war (when the island remained loyal to the Union despite Florida's secession), the New Deal, and wraps up with the real estate boom of the 1980s. The boom and bust cycles of the military installations on the island and the various people (mostly writers) complaining about all the tourists several times gave me the feeling that I had read a particular bit before. Overall this was a very readable tale of a place I knew almost nothing about.
Maureen Ogle also wrote Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (2007) which is definitely going on my TBR list.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food RenaissanceThe Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance 
by Thomas McNamee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Growing up in NYC I certainly knew the name Craig Claiborne, but really knew nothing about the man. 

This book paints a picture of a selfish, mean, alcoholic, delusional jerk. It does however make it clear that there were many people who adored him and that he was indeed responsible for changing the way Americans think about, make, and eat food. The actual facts of Claiborne's life are probably not enough to fill a book, but McNamee does an excellent job of describing the larger context, including some long sections where he wanders into things that have no direct connection to Claiborne but which must have influenced him. These sections are among the most interesting in the book. What the French Nouvelle Cuisine was actually all about, for example, and the structure of early culinary education.  

I don't think I would have liked Craig Claiborne, but I enjoyed reading about his 20th-century foodie world.

Linking up with Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's All a Game

It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of CatanIt's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  • Trivial Pursuit was invented in Canada.
  • The planning of the attack on Pearl Harbor involved a D&D Style Dungeon Master.
  • Backgammon was a huge gambling fad in the jet set 1970s. 

These are just a few of the odd facts I learned from this fascinating look as board games. Chess and artificial intelligence technology are recurring themes, but most board games that I can think of (and a few I never heard of before) get a spotlight that shows not only how they developed, but what they influenced and where they affected stuff you wouldn't expect. If you are a fan of table top games this book is for you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Citizens of London

Citizens of London: The Americans who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest HourCitizens of London: The Americans who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This well written history made the Blitz much more real to me than it had been before. The information about the people and the political maneuvering was fascinating, the military planning parts went into more detail than I was interested in. Reinforced my impression of Roosevelt (not that great) and it was funny to hear the contemporary accounts of how people saw Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lisa's Review: The Only Child

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychologist. She was orphaned as a child when her mother was brutally attacked by a bear (though this explanation never did sit well with Lily).

Her most recent patient, Michael, is unlike any she has had before. Not only does he claim to be more than two hundred years old, but he also tells Lily that he knew her mother.

I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the Goodreads synopsis "[Andrew Piper] radically reimagines the origins of  gothic literature's founding masterpieces - Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula." I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I ended up with a read that hooked me on the first page, and kept the pages turning.

This is my third book read for the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!

Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided CountryOh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country
by Mordecai Richler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was published in 1992 at which point the future of Quebec as a province of Canada was in doubt.
"As I write, late in September 1991, Quebec is pledged to definitely, but not necessarily, hold a referendum on sovereignty by next October. Or, on the other hand, the referendum could deal with the rest of Canada's binding offer for renewed federalism. Or, if such an offer were near, the referendum could be delayed. Or, instead of a referendum, there could be an election in 1993 to settle the question once and for all, but only for another decade." (p. 228)
The tone of the whole book is biased, snarky, and highly irreverent. This is what gives it its charm. It was a bit like listening to a very well read, highly informed person on the barstool next to you rant about the sad state of affairs among the idiots elected to govern. The french-language sign vigilantes, anti-semitism, and the folly of the building in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics are among the topics Richler touches on in his survey of Quebec politics in the 1980s. I enjoyed this book, and learned a lot from it as an historical document.
This book counts toward the 11th Canadian Book Challenge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: The Spy

The SpyThe Spy by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most of this novel takes the form of a letter from Mata Hari about her life that she is writing so it can be given to her daughter. The last part is a letter from the lawyer who was defending her life against charges of treason. The part from Mata Hari's point of view was fascinating and compelling. According to the author's afterword it was also historically factual and he recommends Pat Shipman's
Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari as further reading on the subject. The part from the lawyer's point of view wasn't as good and seemed a bit tacked-on.
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