Book review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have never read anything by Sarah Maas before, but this book looked interesting and so I thought I’d give it a try. I am so glad I did! The book is best described as a romance tucked inside a fantasy novel. The world-building is convincing and interesting (there are a few new nouns for different types of creatures, but it is very manageable). The writing is confident and sure-handed. The author ran a bit of a risk with this book (will romance readers find it too much of a fantasy novel? will fantasy readers find it too much of a romance?), but the book is lengthy enough to satisfy both types of readers. (Unless you like short books, that is.)
The main character is in serious need of a good therapist, and while I’m a bit unenamored with angsty novels, it was never enough to discourage me from reading the book. The pace is excellently done, and the atmosphere the author creates is intense, and all of these factors combine to result in a well-written book that is a really fun and excellent read. (The only downside is that if you’re hooked, there are 2 more (lengthy) books in the trilogy and a 4th book that is a related spin-off.) 🙂
It will be worth it.

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Book review: The Feather Thief by Kirk Johnson

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of you who enjoy “Moby Dick” as a tale of obsession, welcome to a real-life version. This book takes you into the world of rare birds, their feathers, and the obsessive world of the Victorian era art of salmon fly-tying. Specifically, the book starts with a lengthy and detailed history of rare birds and their collectors. It then moves into the role of feathers in the salmon fly-tying. And, finally, it discusses the lengths to which salmon fly-tiers will go to obtain feathers from endangered birds for their flies, including stealing from the Tring Museum in Britain, resulting in an incalculable loss to ornithological history.
The book is both a history of rare birds and a biography of the twenty year old thief and what may (or may not) have led him to break into the Tring to steal hundreds of specimens. Unfortunately, there are no satisfactory answers–only a peek into the dark underworld of fly-tying and a young man’s obsession.

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Book review: A Great and Glorious Game by Bart Giamatti

A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti by A. Bartlett Giamatti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like baseball (a lot), but I don’t love baseball. (College basketball is my true obsession.) But Bart Giamatti’s essays about baseball makes me wish that I loved baseball as much as he did (if that is even possible). And his essays certainly make me appreciate baseball and its “deep, resonant pauses” more than I did before.
Even if you aren’t a fan of baseball or sports, in general, the author’s writing–deep, profound, yet accessible–makes this book worth reading. His love for baseball informs every sentence he writes, and his respect for the history and what the sport means to the fans–young and old, immigrant and 10th generation–is evident in his passion and his enthusiasm. I only wish I could write a tenth as well as he could.
From Yale professor to Yale president to National League president to baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti’s musings on baseball reflect the country as it is and the country as it would like to be. Never would I have thought that I would give 5 stars to a bunch of essays on baseball. Read this for yourself and see why it is beyond well-deserved.

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Book review: Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose

Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first novel in a mystery series with an interesting premise. The hero, Lord Wrexford, is a member of the aristocracy and very scientifically minded. The heroine, A.J. Quill, is a satirical artist, who seems to know facts about the murder before the police or Lord Wrexford discover them. The murder of a priest brings them together, working in tandem (kind of).
The plot is an intricate one and while I figured out the villain halfway through (which I try never to do when reading mysteries), I like the main characters, I like the plotting (and the plot), and I like the time period. I also tend to give authors the benefit of the doubt in the first of a mystery series, and this book is well written, which is promising.
I’ve already bought the second in the series! 🙂

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Book review: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You have to set your expectations when reading this book. First and foremost, the author is British, so, not surprisingly, Bletchley Park and the contributions by the British codebreakers in the European theatre is what he focuses on. Second, did I mention the author is British? So the extraordinary contributions of the Polish mathematicians and codebreakers to the Bletchley Park effort is limited to 7(!) pages. And, third, I don’t know if you know this, but the author is British, so he explores in detail the differences of British social classes and the effect that it may or may not have had on Bletchley Park’s successes.
In all seriousness, this is a well-researched book that uses anecdotes from many Bletchley Park veterans to describe how life was there. There is little discussion on codebreaking techniques (unlike, say, the book “Code Girls”) but, rather, the book mainly covers life at Bletchley Park and some of the squabbles between Bletchley Park and Whitehall.
There are some interesting peculiarities beyond what I mention above. For instance, Alan Turing’s death is referred to as a “premature tragedy” throughout the book. It is not until near the end that you discover that the author is unconvinced that he died by suicide. And the author firmly believes that the Turing machine would not have been built if it had not been for the efforts of a brilliant engineer named Tommy Flowers, who is unappreciated for his efforts.
Overall, it is an interesting read. The tone is chatty and informal, and the book reads easily. I would have given it 3.5 stars had Goodreads allowed for such a thing. If you’re interested in the period, it’s a nice add to your collection.

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Book review: The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden-Reid

The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden-Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author of this book has a definite viewpoint, which is that William Tecumseh Sherman got a bad rap and was not the savage butcher and scourge of the South that he has been portrayed to be. I don’t generally like biographies with a set agenda, but I was intrigued by the premise of this one. And, in the end, the author is persuasive. Sherman wasn’t a particularly competent line officer, but he was a brilliant strategic and operational officer, who understood the psychological impact that a march deep into the South would have on Confederate morale. The sheer complexity and scale of maintaining his supply lines in his march to the sea (from Vicksburg to Savannah) was quite a logistical and tactical feat, and his grasp of the importance of the mental aspect of war was equally impressive. In addition, he had a prolific writer, and his grasp of the deeper societal issues was well-articulated in his correspondence.
It is helpful when reading this book to have a basic understanding of the course of the Civil War, and the maps included in the book, while not always ideally placed, are key to helping to understand the complexities of Sherman’s accomplishments.
The author also covers Sherman’s childhood, personal life, and post-Civil War life, but the bulk of the book is devoted, as it should be, to his significant accomplishments during the Civil War. Any fan of the Civil War and anyone who is curious about the the military personalities will enjoy this book.

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Thanksgiving 2020

Relief is probably the thought uppermost in most people’s minds–relief that this year is finally drawing to a close. Relief and hope that 2021 will be an improvement. Thanksgiving for our family is always an opportunity to remember our many blessings (and to eat lots of food). We feel fortunate that our extended families are healthy <knock on wood!> and that we are weathering the shocks cheerfully and with resilience (mostly).

Thanksgiving was a quiet one for us this year, but that did not mean the meal was going to suffer in any way. Here is our menu for the evening:

With a menu like that, prep sheets are necessary:

The meal turned out well. The smoked turkey looked especially beautiful this year:

The deep-fried turkey is generally the most popular to eat:

The velociraptor (aka the son) is always a fan of the gougères:

And the spread looked impressive, even for a small group.

No Thanksgiving is complete without dessert. We went with our traditional desserts this year. A chocolate-pumpkin cheesecake, representing the traditional pumpkin requirement:

An apple pie

And a blackberry pie (the blackberries are from Lewis County, Washington)

We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive (in a pandemic, surreal kind of way). Happy Thanksgiving!

Book review: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book (the first in the series) has a very clever premise. Bookwanderers are those readers who have the ability to actually wander into a book and “live out” the book’s experiences. Tilly is one of those fortunate to have the ability to do so, and this is her first adventure in the discovery of her abilities. The adventure includes how to be a good friend, how to be true to herself, and the hunt to find out what really happened to her mother.
If either Anne of Green Gables or Alice in Wonderland is a favorite of yours, this book will be especially resonant. (And the Lord of the Rings gets a throwaway line shout out as well.)
The book is geared towards middle school readers and, therefore, is an easy and perhaps overly simplistic read for adults. That being said, it would make an excellent gift for a bookworm of any age who would enjoy actually having the ability to be a bookwanderer.

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Book review: Death in Focus by Anne Perry

Death in Focus by Anne Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Anne Perry’s for a long time, and I was delighted to see that she had a new series. This is the debut novel of the Elena Standish mystery series. And while the book is a debut novel of a new series, it doesn’t read like a typical debut novel, probably because the author is well-practiced in writing historical mysteries. The writing is sure and the world-building is seamless. This particular book takes place in between World War I and World War II in England as competing factions of government either conclude war is inevitable because of Hitler’s rise to power (see Team Winston Churchill) or those who never want to put the country through the suffering from World War I again (see Team Neville Chamberlain).
If I had a complaint, it is that the plot is a bit scattershot, but that’s a minor quibble. The book is an enjoyable read and the historical setting is an interesting one.
Fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series will also enjoy this one.
I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have loved almost everything I’ve read by Robin McKinley, and “Chalice” is no exception. On the surface, this is a conventional fantasy with magic and villains and heroes. The author lifts the book out of its conventional genre with lyrical–almost poetical–writing (as is typical of her work). She also defies the stereotypes of heroes and heroines by making both the hero and heroine of this novel people who are uncertain about their places in the world. There is no strong sense of destiny in the main characters, no inner conviction about the righteousness of their actions. Instead, they are two people who are lifted from their previous lives and thrust into a greater role. And neither one of them is certain that they are suited for those roles. It’s actually a refreshing change to watch main characters flounder and feel inadequate about their lives.
The author is skilled at world building without utilizing overly descriptive phrases. In a few austere strokes, she creates emotional resonance about the world she is building, and the reader follows. There are flamboyant extroverted fantasy novels, and then there is this one–a seemingly unobtrusive nugget that slowly reveals its hidden jeweled splendor as the novel progresses.
I highly recommend this book!

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