2.5 Stars
A Bride for All Seasons
A Bride for All Seasons - Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Robin Lee Hatcher, Mary Connealy

Four short stories, each set in a different season of the year, featuring the mail order bride trope. The common thread between the stories is each story's couple had sought a partner through the Hitching Post catalog where the interfering editor rewrote letters between couples to play matchmaker. They inevitably discover the deception early in the story, but of course the marriage (or some kind of chaste partnership) must continue and eventually feelings develop.


Each couple has a different backstory and set of circumstances which was interesting. It is all terribly cliche, of course, but in a nice cotton candy sort of way. Happy endings all around. I believe this is technically under the Christian romance sub-genre and there are no sex scenes in any of the stories - although there are a few saucy sentences!


It was a cute and comfortable dozing-off-in-bed kind of read.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4.5 Stars
River of Teeth / Taste of Marrow
River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey Taste of Marrow (Kindle Single) (River of Teeth) - Sarah Gailey

Basically, if hippos had been imported into America in the 1800s as a potential livestock animal, what would it have been like? This is based on an actual proposal that didn't quite take off as well as it does in this alternative history series. The characters are unique and not the usual "straight (implied) white cis-gender protagonist" cast. I found the second book, Taste of Marrow, to have a bit of a plot hole or perhaps I just missed a bit somewhere, but otherwise great series so far. Hoping for more!


From Taste of Marrow:


"Alone and lonely ain't the same thing at all... You of all people should know that. And even if they were the same - you would think that being alone and retired would be no different from feeling alone in your job. But you'd be wrong."


"You kill the first one, and it's not as bad as you thought it would be. You kill the second one, and it's not better, not exactly. But it's more not-so-bad. You kill the third one and you realize that you're good at it... You start to get a reputation, and you realize that people think you're great at it. You start to take real pride in your work. You start to make real damn money... You dream about contracts and you start tasting your own poisons to get a feel for how they land in the gut, and you love it. And then you're doing it because you love it, and you think you've really found your calling. You're so fucking good at this... So you keep on mixing poisons and blasting vault doors open until you could do it in your sleep. And then one day, some kid shows up at your door and says that they've heard you're the best in the business, and you think -  am I? ...You realize... that you're only doing the job because you're good at it. That you only love it because you're good at it. You realize that somewhere along the way, you forgot that you're killing people. You don't feel a goddamn ounce of the remorse that your mother's preacher said you'd feel if you ever took another life - you just feel bored... You feel bored by the murders. And you wonder who you are, that you can say that about yourself - that you're bored by the murders."

4.5 Stars
How to Get Dressed
How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing - Alison Freer

I cannot sum up how much I love this book in its practicality and snappy one-liners. More of the latter in the first half of the book and more of the former in the second half. If you are not concerned about dry cleaning hacks or suit tailoring, the second half of the book would be useless to you. I still recommend the first half though (ch 1 - Movie Magic: or, Why Movie Stars Look like Movie Stars, ch 2 - Fit: The True Enemy of Great Style, ch 3- Alter your Clothes, Alter your Life, ch 4: Be your Own Costume Designer being my favorites). I am personally putting this on my "To Buy a Hard Copy Of" list this year which is rare since I joined the Kindle society of readers.


One quote included from a reader in the personal style section that resonated with me after the past couple weeks:


"Austere Glam, Jackie, Fifty Years Old: Growing up in Sweden, I was exposed to lots of sleek, sharp, severe clothing design. It's what I've always worn, and it matches my no-nonsense personality perfectly. But upon moving to the States, I developed a serious obsession with 1970s glitter rock and all the glam it entails. I never seriously thought about the fact that I could express this in my personal style until I wrote it down on my list of things I love - and as a result, I've started working some luxe, metallic accessories into my everyday look. In the middle of a stressful day, those bright and shiny pieces remind me of who I am - and that there's more to life than whatever troubles I'm dealing with at the moment."

When we met again after so many years, there was a great deal of 'do you remember?' We talked of many things; of a life that seems now so remote and alien it is as though it never existed.

Powell, Margaret. Servants hall: a real life Upstairs, downstairs romance. St. Martins Griffin, 2014.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
The Genius Plague
The Genius Plague - David Walton

I was not impressed with the protagonist at first. Actually, I didn't like him at all throughout the story. I am biased against first person POV to begin with and it doesn't help that the protagonist is even called out by secondary characters for being a bit of a jerk, yet this adds to his charm overall, just like oh yeah, I speak a foreign a language and I grew up BFFs with politically strategic figures in this suddenly plot relevant country but, uh, I didn't think that was important enough to mention conversations happen at just the right moment.


Sometimes I read a book and know that it would make a great summer movie starring a famous white actor. And I would totally go see it because it would be thrilling and action-packed.


But in written form - it hurt to read sometimes. Not that the science bits weren't interesting, and I did appreciate that the author remembered his characters have to eat at some point to stay alive, but it still felt like a cliche fest. A well-written cliche fest, to be fair.



4.5 Stars
The Black Count
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom Reiss

So the cover picture is quite dashing and despite the fact that I listened to it in audiobook format, Scribd displayed the picture quite prominently on my screen... which resulted in an amusing moment where another person caught a glimpse of it before I could hide the window and I am sure they thought I was reading some trashy romance because their face scrunched up and they started laughing. Whoops! (^_^)


In reality, this is about the father of French author Alexandre Dumas, père (AKA that guy that wrote all those books they make movies based on). It encompassed his entire life from his childhood in the Caribbean to his death in semi-exile in France. The family's ancestry is discussed along with the complex sociocultural issues of the time in relation to attitudes about slavery, the effect of the American Revolution, the Napoleonic wars... Honestly, it is so fact-heavy that it was mind-boggling at times as my personal knowledge of history had to be rearranged in my head to make new connections with somewhat obscure topics like the French founding of Egyptology or Parisian theatre traditions in former French colony islands, etc.


As for the audiobook: male narrator, neutral tone with just enough inflection on the ironic points but not particular stand-out in any other way.


(I listened to this months ago and wrote up this review in June and it's been languishing in my drafts till now, but I stand by the 4.5 star rating.)

3 Stars
The American Plate
The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites - Libby H. O'connell

A collection of "bites" about significant foods in American history, sometimes including recipes. I enjoyed this book at first and read half of it right away and then it took me a year and a half to read the second half. :(


What I liked: the historical trivia, the recipes that included the author's suggestions for contemporary or portion variations, and the broad selection of foods discussed. (Although honestly, I would not have minded not knowing about Kraft cheese. My childhood is ruined.)


What I didn't like: the soapbox politics that took up page space that could have been used to tell me more about the food. It seemed to get worse in the second half as the "bites" approached 20th century food culture.


As the title states, this book is also American-centric. YMMV on that bit.

3.5 Stars
The Magnolia Story
The Magnolia Story - Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines

My parent has been bugging me to read this since it came out. In short, it is a written version of what seems to have been a long autobiographical interview with Chip and Joanna Gaines, the couple made famous for their reality design show Fixer Upper. I must admit that I am also a fan of the show so I was not exactly unfamiliar with their backstory to begin with. There were some cute anecdotes and overall it is a charming read, but it's not exactly requiring deep-thinking here.


The couple's courtship and their childhood backgrounds are covered. They talk a lot about how they built up their businesses before even beginning the TV show and how the ups and downs of those experiences made their family and marriage stronger. They are both faith-based individuals and a lot of (well-deserved, I feel) credit is given to God for getting them through some sticky times that they detail in the book. Although they each narrate their own histories, most of the remaining story is told by Jo. Their sections are differentiated by different fonts and line breaks.


Quick read, about 184 pages in the hardcover copy that I had. I would not necessarily pay full retail price for it unless you want a coffee table book, but it could be worth picking up if you are even passingly familiar with the couple and their show.

4.5 Stars
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

Listened to the audiobook version.


The book itself: do not listen or read it on a full stomach. Do not listen or read it when you are about to eat. Just... do not. There were times when some of the details had me staring in horror at my audio device. A few times I felt my stomach turn. It is like a train wreck that you can't stop watching, you just plow onward through the chapters because each chapter is more horrifyingly interesting than the last. Part of this mind boggling need to press on is probably due in part to the author's wry comments that make the book more, dare I say, palatable. There is a strong moral bent towards body/organ donation, but otherwise it is pretty fair in leveling cultural perceptions from both sides of the field on various touchy subjects related to (the use of) dead bodies.


The audiobook: narration was excellent. I think Shelly Frasier was the narrator of my copy and her voice was very soothing but wondrously inflective* on those small bits of humor I mentioned above that really helps drag you through this crazy book. I think I would listen to just about anything she read regardless of topic.


*Shut up, spellcheck. I can make "inflective" a word! English language +1.

Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.

Odede, Kennedy, and Jessica Posner. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. N.p.: Ecco, 2015. 13 Oct. 2015. Web.

2 Stars
Hitler's Scientists
Hitler's Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil's Pact - John Cornwell

This was a random pick to listen to while gaming. I mainlined it over a few sessions back in April and started a draft of this post but I never seemed to have finished and posted it. Alas.


Anyway, it is pretty dry. Interesting, though, in the way that complex historical subject documentaries are interesting, but I doubt this would appeal to the casual historian. Some of the reviews of this book note that several passages are repetitive and that is true. As I read this via audiobook, I would also like to comment on how comfortable I remember the speaker's voice to be. Not too monotonous, comfortably paced without excessively unnecessary emotional inflections and, perhaps stereotypically, a male speaker. Overall, a good filler for spare time, not worth a re-read.

4.5 Stars
Pride and Prejudice
Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice Softcover - Jane Austen

This is so pretty. It is in the Asian manga style, not strictly the Japanese manga style, so if that kind of art is not appealing to you, then you will hate this book. But otherwise it is very nicely drawn, focusing on the romantic themes in the panels with a lot of flower symbolism. It is not a strictly serious comic either with frequent appearances of chibi-Mrs. Bennett and chibi-Mr. Collins. I find it to be hilarious, but some other reviewers hated it.


The story is condensed from the novel version to make it more suitable for comic format, and some events are elided together or rearranged in order for the same reasons, but it is overall coherent and keeps the most important parts necessary to the story's ending. Compared to a standard manga volume, however, it is double the length. It does not have the epilogue that most modern readers may be used to seeing at the end of a copy of P&P. Also, I would say it is more inspired by the 2005 film version aesthetically than any other adaptation that I am aware of at present.


Manga Classics has more adaptations of Jane Austen novels and other literary classics available on their website. I am currently on the hunt for Sense and Sensibility and the Count of Monte Cristo. <3

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
The Secret Rooms
The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery - Catherine Bailey

Alright, so this is odd - Goodreads and Booklikes and a few others list this book as "The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery" while Amazon and the library and other places list it as "The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret."


The story flips between, firstly, the author's experience navigating the Duke of Rutland's family archive of letters for a book about the effect of the Great War on the local population which quickly changes to uncovering why there are missing sections of documents in this reportedly perfect record?! and, secondly, the events that occurred within the Manners family during and around the missing periods of time. The main character of focus is the 9th Duke of Rutland, John Manners whom was responsible for creating the archive originally. The mystery is narrowed down by the author to three missing sections of time in the records and she eventually uncovers enough evidence to recreate what likely happened.


An interesting story, but the reprinting of letters in their entirety multiple times towards the end of the book to show how all the pieces come together became very tiresome, very quickly. Otherwise I quite liked it.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis - J.E. Vance

A bluntly honest reflection of the author's life and his family history dealing with being "hillbillies." The poverty and violence is not sugar-coated. He reflects on what is considered normal for their people and the change, generally for the worse, that has happened since his youth with the culture. There are some interesting observations about the middle-class white America attitudes in regards to contemporary policies under Obama, although it does not really touch on the results of the 2016 election as this was published in the middle of campaign season.


I thought it particularly interesting when he recapped what helped him succeed and it wasn't one or two people doing him a good turn, but several individuals closing gaps in his knowledge of social and life skills throughout his life. Although it is not discussed in depth except in regards to the small-town community lifestyle, the general message seems to be that in the absence of formally taught or available skills, the "it takes a village" method is the only way to succeed. It feeds into that line of thought that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" isn't enough, you need a bit of luck. Or a few well-placed friends that possess the know-how that you need.


Overall good. I hope there will be a follow-up in the future.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Arthur and Sherlock
Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes - Michael Sims

Interestingly informative book about Arthur Conan Doyle's creation of the Sherlock Holmes character, drawing from childhood inspirations (perhaps Dr. Watson was named after someone that had attended a school here or for the name of this other person there) and his adult life - specifically, the practice of doctors at the University of Edinburgh, notably, Dr. Joseph Bell, using physical clues to 'deduce' facts about their patients. A lot of comparisons are rightfully drawn between Dr. Bell and Sherlock Holmes, including the emphasis that while the 'science of deduction' seemed magical, "such assessments required educated scrutiny but not second sight."


The book also goes into the history and increasing popularity of the 'science of deduction' and pokes at the fact that deduction is the wrong word entirely for the line of logic that Sherlock Holmes uses. The history and influence of the crime genre in literature, going from sensationalism to thriller and eventually leading to series featured around singular detective characters, is also examined. A lot of name-dropping happens for books and authors that I had barely or never heard of, or the books that I knew them to be famous for were not the ones that the 19th century reader knew well.


Overall, it was well-researched, but the chronology was a bit skewed and the writing tended to end on a tangent and pick up on a completely different topic's tangent from a chapter ago. I did not read it all in one shot so it did not bother me.

4 Stars
Hamilton: The Revolution
Hamilton: The Revolution - Jeremy McCarter, Lin-Manuel Miranda

I am one of the lemmings obsessed with Hamilton these past few years. No shame.


Listened to this in audio format and it was narrated by the lovely Mariska Hargitay. Her voice is very nice to listen to, although I do wonder if the recording was her first time through (either an audiobook or this particular one) as there was at least one time where she distinctly starts to laugh mid-sentence. A pleasant sound, but distracting from the otherwise smooth cadence of narration. I also appreciated that there was no pretension wen she read the printed rap lyrics.


The book itself is the "behind the scenes" or the "making of" story of the (in)famous musical. It's amazing to learn how much of the success was due to luck and a long building process. What I thought was the "final" version of the musical that everyone has come to know is apparently not what the first audiences saw when it opened off Broadway. Then hearing about that process of refinement from the main contributors, Lin-Manuel Miranda featuring prominently, of course, is fascinating.


The end of the audio, at least via Audible, included Lin-Manuel Miranda reading the notes that were included on the annotated (PDF) copy of the musical's lyrics + promotional photos. It's gorgeous.

currently reading

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Cyrano de Bergerac - Evelyne Amon, Edmond Rostand
The Night Manager - John le Carré
The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim