Literature

Murder in the Paperback Parlor by Ellery Adams

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I feel like I cheated with this book. The whole premise of Storyton Hall, a resort where folks go to get away from technology and read, is to get away from technology and I read this one as an e-book on my computer because I was too impatient for my library to get a physical copy. I don’t think they let e-readers into this place, but they certainly make people leave their cameras, phones, and laptops in their rooms.

This cozy mystery is set during Valentine’s Day during a week full of events geared towards Regency Romance Novel lovers. Once again it’s all very well done and completely believable even with certain spins this family takes (you’ll understand what I mean once you read Murder in the Mystery Suitethe first book in this series). I am a sucker for a sweet romance and I like the depth of one hinted at within this book. At first I wasn’t impressed, but as I finished the book, I have high hopes.

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Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

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“Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet like a jockey-cap, and altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men.  Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior.”

 I picked this one up to satisfy my continued need for period pieces written in the period as well as it being the novel a TV show I watched was based on. It’s a nice tale, a stream of consciousness view of life in small town England with all it’s quirks. I’m still not sure what to think about the husband who wrote to their son that his wife had sprained her ankle and therefore wasn’t able to hold a pen. Considering her note on the back of the page, I guess the pain in her foot didn’t affect her hand that much. I don’t know whether to laugh at the obsurdity or to suspect that something more sinister was amiss.

I wouldn’t consider this a special piece of literature per se, but it’s definitely a good introduction to social history and viewing historical figures as they viewed themselves.

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If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

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Ugh. I have a headache now from all the crying I did while reading this book. I still rated it a 5, but it was just so dang depressing for a Kristan Higgins novel! Spoiler alert (it’s in the blurb) one of the husbands is a cheater.

I’m not sure exactly what made me cry so much. They were the leaky tears that you don’t even notice until they either roll down your cheeks or make it difficult to see the page. I suspect my BF’s smoking played a roll in my tears because it’s our “other woman”. BF won’t lie about it, but he certainly isn’t as forthcoming as he should be and there are a lot of the same “I’m weak” comments. Grr.

My mom came out here to spend half the day with him since she had the day off and with two full grown children her compulsive shopping addiction has gotten out of control (she’s depressed). He took her out to lunch, drove her around the county on all his favorite back roads, showed her a Fort we found, took her to get a car with the tow truck, and at some point brought up the idea of marrying me. She gave her blessing, of course (she’s had us hitched since she first found out we were a couple). He told her that it won’t happen until he’s been smoke free for 2 months, but there’s still the Feb 29th deadline looming. And I came home yesterday to him in the backyard smoking a pathetic looking butt that he wouldn’t but out until he’d gotten one last drag on it. So yeah…while I don’t have to worry about another woman catching his eye, I still have to contend with the siren’s call that can be triggered by nothing more than a neighbor asking if he has a cigarette to spare. By the way, he’s been telling me for a week that he’s only been getting drags, rather than whole cigarettes from his friends–how did he end up with something smokable in his pocket?

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Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

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“If every young vandal was forced to do his rounds without pants on, the world would be a safer place.” –Fletcher Moon

I picked this book up because I’ve adored the Artemis Fowl series as well as Airman. Again we have an intrepid youth who takes matters into his own hands when the parental units aren’t willing to bend a few rules in order to find out the truth.

Fletcher “Half-Moon” Moon is a 12 year old (or so) detective with the badge to prove it. While trying to solve one mystery he finds himself in the middle of a much bigger case.

What I liked most about this book is that it really makes you think about judging people guilty before all the facts are gathered. Sometimes the guilty party is the person you’d least expect and sometimes the person who is easiest to blame is completely innocent. It’s a lesson everyone needs to take to heart.

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In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

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Sigh. This is one of those wonderfully depressing stories that leaves you crying at 3 am because you can’t put it down. I read it purely on a whim because it was advertised as a “Big Library Read Book” this month on my library’s ebook site (a book which isn’t limited in checkouts by the number of copies the library owns). It’s one I highly recommend.

It’s set in 1918, during the last months of WWI and the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Lot’s of death, lots of sorrow. And yet, finishing it has left me hopeful rather than depressed, which is how the best books are (in my opinion).

The last book I read on Spiritualism was set in WWII Britain (The Strange Case of Hellish Nell) so we know that this phenomenon (I mean the act of believing in spirits) lasted a long time. This book paints a very realistic view of life during this period–no white washing.

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Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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Like many people, I’ve seen the movie a few times, but had never read the book before.

Up until the final chapters, this book reads like the movie. The only real difference is the age of the girl (I cannot remember her name in the movie to know if they changed that as well) and her being given some of Tim’s (the boy) actions. I think this was a good change because it gave us a second strong female character. Lex, in the book, is like 7 years old and for the most part she acts like a 7 year old, which is a good choice. She’s a strong 7 year old, but still a 7 year old.

Where the movie ends, this book continues and there are distinct differences from the direction the movie went. I think I prefer the book in this, but I don’t remember how sympathetic I felt towards Hammond at the end of the movie, but he definitely learned his lesson by the conclusion of this book. And I think many readers will walk away with a more ethical approach to scientific advancement after reading Jurassic Park.

When it comes to Malcolm’s ethical preaching, I agree in the most general terms that we as humans should never seek to play God. BUT, whereas Malcolm seems to think that all scientific study is for the advancement of human ego, I think that study is inherently for good of humanity not just the prestige of the scientist. Take this conclusion Malcolm gives near the end of the story: “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet–or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.” Add to it this part of a lecture I heard in college where the professor listed a dozen or so animals and plants that have gone extinct recently and the potential cures to disease that died with them. There is a distinct line when it comes to ethics and science and I think that “do no harm” is a good rule of thumb because for every harm we cause to the environment, we have had the potential to harm ourselves. We need to see things much more broadly than the “thintelligence” that Malcolm coined and we do have to admit the potential consequences of all of our actions and admit that there are dozens more that we could never dream of. But to stop all scientific advancement simply because it has a possibility of causing harm is also dangerous.

I consider myself an environmentalist. But I do not automatically oppose mining for natural resources or even pipelines for transporting them. But I approach these issues with a very specific set of questions. First and foremost is “What will you do WHEN said pipeline leaks?” Oil and gas companies and the governments that support them like to talk about “ifs” and “maybes” even though all the evidence points towards “whens” and “definitelys”. The Alaskan pipeline has been leaking since the day it was built. Offshore drilling platforms do blow up. We do everyone a disservice when we pretend that we can play God because then we’re not allowed to plan for the inevitabilities (anyone who does plan is laughed at for being paranoid).

Anyway, there were a few specific items within Jurassic Park that made me giggle or roll my eyes. The first giggle was the description of a CD-Rom as a laser disk run by a computer. I think that folks just a few years younger than me will read this and think “what the hell is a laser disk?!?”. ‘Course, I’m one of the few people my age who has actually met a real floppy disk (the one about 5 inches across that really did flop when you waved it). I eye-rolled every time someone “clicked off the radio”. Uh…that means the radio would no longer be able to send and receive transmissions because it’s OFF! Physically off–no juice flowing from the batteries, OFF. I was in a search and rescue group in college and learning how to use the radios was one of our lessons, jargon included. In our organization (a conference of 2 dozen groups across the state and surrounding states), we used the term “clear” to indicate that we were done with the conversation and were putting our radio away. “Out” meant we were going to turn our radio completely OFF. When we worked with law enforcement, we’d have to remember that they’d use “out” with a different meaning so base wouldn’t panic. Anyone who’s used a radio before knows that you don’t turn your radio off during an exercise. You’d turn the volume down to get relative silence, but you’d still keep it loud enough to hear when someone needs you. And with as often as you’ll read about the hiss of the radio being heard, you know that it was a writer error to say that they were turning their radios off.

There is one last poignant conversation within Jurassic Park that bares mentioning. When Wu and Hammond discuss the nature of the park and whether or not the dinosaurs are real and if they really “re-created the past”. One of the classes I took in college was on the history of museums and we discussed to what extent these creations were creations vs. reality. Colonial Williamsburg is an excellent example. I believe that just about every building there was built during the 20th century to try to re-create what it looked like during the 1700s. But, it can at best be nothing more than a snapshot. In fact, the way the park is run, the “date” that it on any given day changes depending on what the overall plan for the season is. One day they may be showing a world preparing for Revolution. On another, it’ll be acting as the national capital after the war. On another, it’s life under British rule. But in all cases, it’s constructed to be entertainment. The restaurants cater to modern tastes. The actors perform on schedule. Sure, they hold slave auctions, but only on proscribed days (this would be historically accurate), but true slavery would have been on display every day during the real days of Williamsburg in the real 1700s. Back then, you’d see slaves getting slapped in the streets probably daily. Now, you’d only see that during a scheduled event. “Attention guests: at 3pm please come to the main square to see William Turner get beat for dropping the gravy on the carpet in the Governor’s Palace”. Actually…change guests to citizens and under certain circumstances that announcement would also have been historically accurate.

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Northanger Abbey

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I’m very glad that I’ve decided to finally tackle the works of Jane Austen. The more I read of her, the more a fan I become.

Northanger Abbey started out kind of slow, which I expected when the introduction implied it was the first novel she’d written even though it was only published after her death. It starts out sounding very much like a rant against society, which I think is common amongst young writers. I know that my one attempt at writing a novel gets a C- from me simply because I spent too much time ranting. Of course, Ms. Austen had the skill that I lacked which is in her ability to reign it in, or at least when it’s viewed from 2015, these rants would have been shared by all of us modern women, so we sympathize instead of condemning her “youth”.

This is definitely a book that a lot of teenage girls today would still find relevant, especially when it comes to the “friends” who are self-centered and conniving. I could only groan at the comments that Catherine used to be so easy to persuade and that it’s her fault that their trip would be ruined because she has other plans. There are plenty of women in therapy now because of the guilt laid upon them by “friends” who are actually abusive users.

I also found the conversation between Catherine and Henry on the definition of matrimony as relative to a country dance. They end up with such a complex definition of what it means to be married, I’m surprised that just 2 weeks ago another debate was hashed out in our court system that a marriage can be so easily defined as “between a man and a woman”. Goodness: if that’s all it takes to make a marriage last, why on Earth does divorce exist?!? Of course, in today’s world, most people would agree that there is also more to a marriage than a man supporting his wife  and the wife making “an agreeable home”. ‘Course, I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable if they proscribed way to find a husband (a woman’s only duty, of course) was for her to hide every scrap of intelligence she has, or to not be intelligent to begin with.

“Yes, I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.” I’ve always been the “smart” one of the group, but I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been appreciated for not being pretentious. I do not like people using a “5 dollar word” as a measure of intelligence especially since many who do use such words incorrectly. I have had to say on a few occasions: “I’m not sure the word you just used means what you think it means” and I admit it’s difficult to do with a straight face. Luckily, most don’t mean any harm by it, they’re simply trying to sound smart, but I like to think that smart is something you do, not something you say.

I was listening to an interview on NPR with researchers who want to promote physical intelligence instead of merely mental intelligence in US society (the action of creating something rather than the mental processes of thinking about stuff). I disagreed with the whole notion that a single individual can excel at both ways of learning because I don’t think it’s probable for all humans to be geared towards the exact same way of learning: kinetic vs. listening vs. optical. Yes, US society looks down upon the individuals who lack “book knowledge”, but watching my BF load and unload a car Friday night shows me that there is a considerable amount of intelligence that goes into physical labor! My brother would also tell you that it IS a skill to be able to load a trailer properly–he’d been the unfortunate victim of one such person too many times when he quit his job loading them because the other person’s “walls” kept falling on him.

My only complaint is that when Catherine realized the error of her ways in making assumptions about the General based on her experience with romantic novels, she was only able to extend her miss-assumptions to those who live within her general area (or at least this is how I read this passage)–people in the far east and west would still be like the villains and heroes of her novels: either good or evil and nothing in between.

On that note, I anxiously await my next Blogging for Books request: Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and as Warning. I’ve heard that it relates to the xenophobia we’re now seeing with the refugee crisis in Europe. Something doesn’t sit right with me when doctors, lawyers, and teachers are treated like vermin simply because they’ve been forced to take sketchy boats, trucks or just walk to cross borders  just to get away from oppression in their home countries.

P.S. Does anyone know why this book was originally called “Susan” by Ms. Austen? I’m pretty sure that there is no one called by that name in this novel!