Friday, February 20, 2015

Books and More Books - 2015

Some years I have written about books read by month or by count. Thus far in 2015 I have read 19. I am just going to dig in and get the books blogged!

I have started using Good Reads to track the books (rather than Paperback Swap) and I like the site fine but it is really slow-loading. I think they need a new server or something. But on to books!

  • The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig
    • I found this book fascinating. It is rather amazing that a birth control pill ever came to be given the circumstances surrounding its creation. Apparently, because many religions say so, sex is ONLY for procreation and nothing more. The problem was that men liked to "procreate" a LOT and their wives were left with the burden of the childcare and the health risks of multiple pregnancies. (In the 1950s Lucy Ricardo could not say "pregnant" on TV even though she was. Did people go into the vapors on hearing the word?) There could be no joy in sex if all you kept thinking was, "I hope I don't get pregnant" every time your husband wanted to "procreate".
    • A pill to keep ovulation from occurring would allow women control of their own bodies and allow them to manage family sizes. Wealthier women were able to keep their family sizes smaller but poorer women had no options.
    • Margaret Sanger and the rest needed to couch birth control as population control to get it by the protestors. They also tested the drug on poor women in Puerto Rico in drug trials that were ethically suspect but proved the effectiveness of the drug.
    • Women had difficulty remembering to take their daily dose and a husband invented the dial pack we associate with the Pill today.
    • I could go on and on about it (ask CPA Boy) but suffice to say, I highly recommend this book!
  • Great Maps by Jerry Brotton
    • A giant picture book of famous maps and detailing their significance. Quite interesting if you love maps.
  • So, Anyway... by John Cleese
    • A memoir by one of the members of Monty Python, Mr. Cleese shares the story of his life up until the Python years. He covers his education through grade school and college (experiences that formed his view on life) and how he got into the performing arts rather than become a lawyer. Very amusing and touching.
  • Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye
    • I am a firm believer in evolution (and all things science) so I guess this was more of a "preaching to the choir" book. I feel this is one of those topics that you can't change people's minds about. You need to educate children in school about the scientific method as well as evolution and all science theories, not what the local school board's church thinks is science. (Separation of church and state: it's Constitutional!)
      • Remember, pretty much everything is called a "theory" in science, even gravity, plate tectonics, the oxygen theory of combustion, and so on. Calling it the "theory of evolution" does not mean it's untrue. Some theories are eventually proved untrue, however. An Earth-centered solar system has been replaced with a heliocentric version. Creationism has been replaced by evolution. And theories don't come back once they have been disproved and discounted.
  • Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    • By the authors of Freakonomics, this was a fun read. You find out why soccer players make penalty kicks in a certain way, why Van Halen banned brown M&Ms in their dressing rooms,and other, interesting stories.
  • Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik
    • In chapters about steel, chocolate, foam, glass, graphite, porcelain, paper, concrete and plastic you learn a lot about these substances down to the atomic level. I quizzed The Boy about carbon atoms while I was reading this book (he is majoring in chemistry) and he sprouted all the same information as the author. Fun read for science geeks!
  • Nerve by Jeanne Ryan
    •  An online-based game of dares, broadcast live, ensnares a 17-year-old named Vee. The game starts out with silly, easy dares (promising fabulous prizes on completion) and escalates from there. Can Vee escape the game? Does she want to?
    • All things considered, not bad. It would be possible for sequels given the ending but this book is complete on its own. I liked it just for that reason: I was not tied into two or more follow-up books to finish the story.
  • Lark Rise by Flora Thompson
  • Over to Candleford by Flora Thompson
  • Candleford Green by Flora Thompson
    • There is a TV show from England called Lark Rise to Candleford. I watch the first few seasons of it and decided to read the books it was based on. It turns out that the series really takes the characters and creates its own world. The books are very different.
      • The first, Lark Rise, has no story to speak of in that it's more of a documentary about life in the 1880s England, a life that was disappearing as modernity crept in. Farm laborers would be replaced by mechanical means, for example.
      • The second book had a bit of a story but it was more that the main character Laura is growing up and seeing the larger world. She contrasts her visits with her better off cousins with her life in poor Lark Rise.
      • Laura goes to work at age 14 in the nearby town of Candleford. She still notices and describes everything so the book is still closer to non-fiction than a novel.
      • The author based the books on her own life (Laura is Flora). Interesting if you want to know what life was like in mid-England in the 1880s and 1890s. If you prefer more plot than description then I highly recommend the TV series.
  • The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser
    • In 1978 Shay looks into an antique mirror and wakes up in her grandmother's body in 1900 while Brandy, the grandmother who looked into the same mirror, wakes up as Shay.
    • I thought it was interesting that the writer defied conventions with Shay in the past. Normally, based on other fish-out-of-water stories, I would expect the 1978 Shay to refuse to adapt to her new life. Instead she learns how to do the hard work she never needed to do before in modern times. She still tries to return to her own time but she assimilates into life fairly easily. Her grandmother, however, doesn't adapt at all and her character is much more of a cypher. 
    • I really liked this book a lot (it was recommended by Francine Bear, my sis-in-law) but the first half is definitely the more interesting half. But all questions are answered except for why the mirror is so magical in the first place.
  • The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
    • The first book of a 3-book series, with the final book coming out this June, I had it on my Kindle because I got it for free. I thought I would see if it was good enough to bother with the other 2.
    • It takes place around the turn of the 20th century and involves magicians whose powers are tied to only one type of magic (paper, glass, metal, flesh, etc...). I liked it and will definitely read the next two books.
  • Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
    • Another start to a 3-book series but my library only has the first two in the system. I don't want to buy the 3rd book to read it so I feel satisfied with this volume. 
    • Kat, only 12-years-old, has inherited her late mother's magic. It takes place in Regency England (1810s). Since the book is supposed to be for middle school readers I would expect some cutesy stuff throughout but the book turns a bit more serious once the story gets going. I think it might have been better to make Kat a few years older. A 12-year-old against the much older men (in their 30s) who want to stifle her powers makes it a bit creepy.
  • Nurse Matilda by Christianna Brand
  • Nurse Matilda Goes to Town by Christianna Brand
  • Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital by Christianna Brand
    • Last year I watched Nanny McPhee and decided to read the books Emma Thompson based the story on. Some things are the same but others are completely different. The story is cute: notoriously bad children run through a bunch of nannies until Matilda arrives and straightens them up. Happy ending occurs and all is well.
    • The second and third books are basically the same as the first. Nurse Matilda leaves, the children revert to horribleness, she returns and straightens things up and then leaves again, and so on. I skim read the final book.
    • The movie is great! Angela Lansbury's reading of the line, "InCEST?!" is worth the price of admission! Plus Emma Thompson and Colin Firth!
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
    • Lady Chardonnay read this book last year and said, "I was completely engaged, and the BIG TWIST ending worked for me. But what was the significance of the "liars," and how come nobody is talking about this???" 
    • Well, I'm gonna talk about it! The book is about a bunch of cousins (with annoying names like Cadence and Mirren, with poor family friend Gat, and...Johnny!) who summer every year on their grandfather's private island. One line in the book goes something like this: "We were cousins. They called us The Liars." And Lady C is absolutely correct! This is a point that is never made clear or even mentioned again. Did the parents call them liars because they lied?! Who knows? But everyone in the story is lying to some degree, especially our heroine, Cadence.
    • I have noticed a tiny trend in young adult novels where the main girl isn't just going through tough times: she is having a psychotic break from reality! Cadence is another one of these characters and all the other characters enable it. During the last few pages there's a breakthrough and the psychosis is explained and excused. Ugh.
    • Lady C is right that the big twist works (she was on a psychotic break!) but I caught on fairly early so I wasn't surprised by it. I really loved E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver books but I didn't love this one.
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
    • There really were orphan trains from the big cities out into the heartland of the country. This is the fictional story of Vivian, an elderly woman who was on one of the orphan trains and Molly, a foster care child who helps Vivian clean out her attic.
    • I thought Vivian's story was fascinating and I liked Molly too, but her story just sort of ends. I guess we have to assume that Vivian will help her face her future.
    • Good book but I really would have liked another chapter or two to really finish things up.
  • Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
    • This is the 4th of the 8 Outlander books (so far) and a really good place to stop until the TV series catches up to the next batch. I have already read this book a couple of times so I obviously like it. I was amazed at how many things happened and how much time passes in the first 4 books (years! decades!) when it seems to me that lots of things happen in books 5-8 but barely any time passes on the calendar (days! months!).


  1. Hee! You can skip two paragraphs in your birthday letter now, the one where I urge you to read John Cleese's book and the one where I ask, "So what did you think of We Were Liars?" My mom owns "The Mirror" so I've been reading it since I was a kid but only a year or so ago did it occur to me to check out other books by Marlys Milhiser. In general: don't bother, though I did enjoy one of them, I think.

    I'm reading "From Little House to Little Women," but I have a stack of magazines to finish first. Off to do just that!


    1. I really liked John Cleese's book. It was so heartfelt and endearing, and I really enjoyed his insights on his education.

      My library does not have that book! I can see why you'd want to read it. I am working on my magazine pile too! I am also reading books on British history and a cookbook while thinking about re-reading Forever Amber (potboiler of the highest degree!). We shall see.

    2. My library didn't have it either. I e-mailed them and asked if they had any kind of wish list where I could request this book, and they replied, "Oh, we'll just order it for you -- you should be able to request it in two weeks." !!!!!!! And that is just what happened. I'm only a few chapters in (and, oh dear, I wrote the name wrong: it's "from Little HOUSES to Little Women") and I've already taken umbrage with the author's characterization of "What's for Lunch, Charley?" but hey. It's a very entertaining read so far!

      "Forever Amber," ooh la la! Fifty shades of Linda Darnell!! Enjoy, you trollop.