Today's Grateful List/25 July 2015

  • Finished a long book!
  • Relaxing days
  • Healthy children
  • Mom's good eye doctor
  • Fishing at Mom's

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sad Tale of Typhoid Mary

We've probably all heard someone use the term "Typhoid Mary", but many of us likely don't know the truth behind the words. Typhoid Mary was a real person, a cook in the early 1900s, who was accused of spreading typhoid to many through her skills as a cook; she was tracked down, harassed, and imprisoned until the end of her life, though others with similar issues were allowed to remain free. Susan Campbell Bartoletti brings the story of Mary Mallon to life in her children's book on the subject.

I've read a bit about Mary Mallon in the past, and I have to say that Bartoletti's story is well researched and well written; the author doesn't shy away from the more upsetting facts (Mary was demanded to give all sorts of bodily samples, even being locked away in a room until she could no longer wait) and she gives us as much background on the situation as is known. It's very clear that Mary was oppressed by those who should have been in the business of helping her, including the New York Department of Health, and it's also clear that Mary wasn't going down without a fight. Bartoletti provides a balanced view of a horrible situation, with an objective hindsight that gives the reader a sense of the times and a feeling for Mary's personality and circumstances. Well done.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Rat Pack Mystery...Again!

Before I go any further, I have to admit that I absolutely adore the Rat Pack Mysteries: They sweep me away into the Vegas era of the 1960s, with the Rat Pack and various mobsters front and center.  And Eddie G.! What a guy. Okay, I'm done now.

This installment features Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra's ex-wife. Somehow, Ava turns up after a 40 hour drunken binge, covered in blood with somebody dead. She goes to Frank, but since he's with his children, she tries to quietly slip out of town, but since she's Ava Gardner, that doesn't go quite as planned. Of course our Eddie G is called in to find out what's going on, so he tracks her down in LA, only to find himself in danger now as well. Enter our friend Jerry Epstein, always ready to protect and eat, and soon the trio is traveling around looking for places to hide Ava from whomever is following her while Eddie tries to find out what took place in those missing hours.

This is standard fare for our hero, Eddie, and his pals, and throw in appearances from Frank, Dino, and Sammy, and you've got the perfect mix for a mystery. Randisi name-drops with the best of them, and it's easy to envision strolling through a Beverly Hills Hotel and encountering all the performers of the 60s. The mystery itself develops nicely and involves all our favorites with a couple of interesting surprises thrown in. Definitely another winning entry in this series that has me fully engaged.


A Little Bit of Nightfall

Fourteen years of Day, followed by fourteen years of Night...that's how the inhabitants of Martin's Island have lived for ages. They stay on the island in homes built by someone else, for fourteen years of Day, but as twilight falls, they prepare to leave to travel to the Desert Lands to live. Before they leave, however, they must go through some rather odd preparations, including "leaving the houses without stain." No one questions it; it's just what they do.

Marin and her twin Kana have lived their entire lives on Martin's Island, knowing they would leave at the next Nightfall. Kana's always been slight and blind, but with the oncoming Night, his vision begins to clear and he can feel himself  growing stronger. As they prepare to leave on the few boats coming to take them away, their friend Line disappears, in danger of being left behind. The twins set out on a search and rescue that ultimately leads to all three missing the boats...and being left alone. It doesn't take long for them to realize that something is out there, and something does not want them on their island.

This book has a great premise, and at times is very creepy indeed, especially when the teens are left behind and it becomes increasingly obvious that something is stalking them--and there's no waiting for daylight for things to get better. While I enjoyed it overall, I was left with some big questions, including....spoilers've been warned....what precisely the things are, where they came from, and why anyone would want to live on an island for fourteen years, just to move back and forth as the world changes. I didn't like what was going on with Kana, and found that no matter what, he was the least likable of the three. In fact, none of the teens were particularly engaging. I also felt there were too many coincidences that made things right; these youngsters were remarkably lucky throughout, even though they'd somehow managed to get themselves left behind. Mostly however, my biggest issue is the rather simplistic writing style. This is not a book older teens will get lost inside; sentences like "Line was very sick" seemed out of place and juvenile.

If there is a sequel to this book--and the jury is still out, based on the ending--I'm not positive I'd read it. Though I liked the general plot and the premise, there was just something vital missing in the execution and style of writing that kept me from feeling fully engaged. It's not a bad book, but it's not one I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone over age fourteen or so. I really wish I'd like the main characters more, but it is what it is.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles)

Having finished Fairest, a novella of the Lunar Chronicles, I do feel as though I have more insight into Lunar Queen Levana's behavior as we see it in the other books. Fairest follows her from the time she's sixteen and has just lost her parents to assassins; her sister Channary has been named queen. That's less problematic to Levana than the fact that her crush, palace guard Evret Hayle, is married and unavailable. When his wife dies, Levana uses her gifts to ensnare him, but obviously that's not the way to make a happy relationship. The relationship between the two is the main focus of Fairest; the way Levana chooses to ensure that she becomes queen and remains that way is the second, lesser sub-plot. In a short novel, it's easy to see where the plot is going but it's the insight into Levana's thoughts that make this more than just a throwaway story.

All that said, I really wasn't all that thrilled with Fairest. Levana is, of course, the villain in the Lunar Chronicles, but her own self-delusion is really pitiful and her mistreatment of others places her on the same level as the sister she dislikes. I'm aware that I'm not supposed to like her (and I don't) but there was almost a time when I felt sorry for her. It seems whatever she wants, she cannot have, and she takes all this out on the situations and people around her. By the time I was done with the book, I definitely wanted to see her destroyed, not just redeemed (not that I think that's possible). This is a fast read, but not really one that made me think, "Wow, so there's a whole, well-rounded backstory to Levana." I wish it had given me a more multi-dimensional feeling for Levana, because that would certainly have made for a conflicted, exciting next installment.  Instead, it simply reinforces my low opinion and makes me ready to get to Winter...which, I suppose, was the author's intent all along.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Anya's Ghost--A Graphic Novel Adventure

Anya's Ghost is a good graphic novel that pulls the reader into the story quickly, and keeps you turning the pages to find out just what is up with this ghost...Is she really just a friendly ghost who wants out of the well where she's been stuck for nearly a hundred years? Or is there something slightly more sinister going on? 

Built around Anya, a teenager whose mother emigrated from Russia to America when Anya was a child, we follow her through a normal, teen-angsty type day, wherein the boy she likes has no clue she's alive and school is such a bore. Then she trips and falls into an old well, and unable to make herself heard, she realizes she's not alone--there's a skeleton in there, with its ghost still attached. Turns out the ghost belongs to Emily, who died nearly a century ago, and now wants to experience more than her hole in the ground. When Anya is rescued, she finds that somehow she's brought Emily's finger bone home with her, thus enabling Emily to leave the well. The thing is, Emily is pretty handy, helping out in school and giving advice on how to make Sean take notice. But Anya wants to help solve the mystery of Emily's murder, and it's this fact that changes everything.

The story itself is good, and the characterizations are spot on. I really enjoyed the artwork; Emily's pupil-less eyes give a definite creepiness to her appearance, and the black and white theme adds to the ambiance. This graphic novel would most definitely appeal to teens who feel isolated in social situations, and it's got enough depth to the story to make even a reluctant reader want to keep going. I wasn't such a fan of Anya's friend Siobahn (still not really sure what her purpose was, to be truthful), but I loved the way Anya's confidence grew over the course of the story, and I liked the idea that she had difficulty fitting in because she came from another country.  This is one graphic novel with a good story that can easily be recommended to anyone who wants to escape for a bit.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is really two stories, something I didn't realize when I initially began reading. Not that that turned out to be a bad thing, but going in I thought I was just getting the story of Ann Eliza Young and I ended up with that and more. I'm still not sure the present-day story was needed, or even all that good, really. But interesting? Yes, indeed.

So...This is the story of Ann Eliza, who became the nineteenth wife of LDS leader Brigham Young and later divorced him amid much public turmoil and sensation in the 1870s. We follow the story of her mother, Elizabeth Webb, who was the first wife of Chauncey Webb, and whose faith is strongly shown in her life and the way she raised her children. Ann Eliza is very headstrong, however, and quickly marries James Dee once she's an adult; that marriage, though disastrous and ending in divorce, produces Ann Eliza's two sons. Interwoven with Ann Eliza's problems are those of her brother, Gideon, who ends up at the mercy of Brigham and convinces his sister to marry the leader, even when she does not want to. All of these stories are told from differing points of view, some in several chapters and some in only one, and we even have Brigham's voice telling us his doubts and desires. It's obvious Ebershoff did his research thoroughly and well in the way he illuminates the tenets of the LDS Church and the problems and interests of polygamy.

Bouncing in and out of this story is the present-day mystery of Jordan Scott, whose mother (Number Nineteen in her own marriage) is accused of the murder of her polygamous husband. Jordan doesn't buy this story because he knows his mom; she's not unhappy with her conservative, fundamentalist lot and there are other wives/people with more motive than she has. Jordan, traveling with his dog, Elektra, goes to the town of Mesaville to see what he can discover and finds out that not only is he unwelcome, he's not wrong, either. While he investigates, he also becomes involved with a new boyfriend, Tom, and a fellow runaway/former "First" child, Johnny.

The story of Ann Eliza is well done, and the focal point for most of the book. I loved how we moved among the important people in these events. Ebershoff uses a variety of methods, including newspaper clippings, narratives, and even a wikipedia entry to get his points across, all to good effect. He's brought Ann Eliza to life and given us a fairly accurate (or as accurate as can be) portrait of a woman who had finally had enough and wished to be more than just a number in her husband's harem. She wasn't always likable, and she had her own issues, to be sure, but without her interference, polygamy might have taken much longer to not be recognized in the LDS. 

The modern day story is good, in that it points out that there are still sects that practice polygamy and the subjugation of women, and the children of those unions often turn out disenfranchised and forsaken. I just never really liked Jordan all that much, and didn't get very involved in the overall story. There were too many characters I didn't really care about, and maybe the intention of alerting the  reader to the continuing problem should have been the focus rather than a murder story. It's not bad, and I did find myself trying to figure out what happened. I just don't think it was a necessary component to the overall success of the novel.

If you don't know much about the history of polygamy in the United States, this book will do a pretty fair turn at informing you in such a way as to give several sides to the story and making you think about how/why it happened. It's well written and engaging, and will probably have you looking up more information once you close the last page. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Another Day

I admit that I read and loved Every Day by David Levithan a couple of years ago, so when I learned there would be a companion book, I went on NetGalley and requested it. I was so excited when I was able to download it, but also a little know how it is when a book gets inside you and you're afraid the sequel won't live up to your expectations? Yep, I know you do. So let me set your fears at rest right now...Another Day is every bit as good as Every Day, and possibly even a bit better. Booyah!

I say sequel, but actually, Another Day is the same story as Every Day, except this time the story is not told from A's point of view, but instead from Rhiannon's. If you've read Every Day, you know the basics, and nothing is changed in this one; Rhiannon is still dating Justin, still blaming herself for every little problem, still looking for herself by trying to be everything to everyone. It's really illuminating being inside her thoughts as she tries to hang onto her relationship while realizing that perhaps A is really what he says he is. I absolutely loved how her character developed throughout the course of this book; she goes through so many stages of growth and it all feels realistic and complex. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Rhiannon's  transformation is both stunning and emotional, and having her as the main character sheds so much light on the whole experience. If it's possible, I liked this companion book even more than the original, and I'm excited to see where this story goes.


The Rat Pack Mystery That Features Marilyn

Okay, yes, I admit it:  I am addicted to these fun novels about the Rat Pack! This time, our Eddie G. is asked to help a friend of Dean' Marilyn Monroe. What red-blooded male of the early 60s would turn down such a gig? Not our favorite pit boss. Marilyn feels someone has been following her, so Eddie agrees to look into it. Unfortunately, he receives word of the passing of his mother back in New Jersey, so Eddie turns the job over temporarily to detective buddy, Danny Bardini. Things take a turn for the worse when the funeral doesn't go well and Danny disappears. Along with sidekick Jerry, Eddie becomes determined to discover what happened to his friend and also to keep Marilyn safe. Suffice it say, nothing goes as planned and someone ends up injured and someone ends up...dead.

The portrayal of Marilyn in this mystery is handled sensitively yet realistically; it's great to see Eddie react with care and concern for Marilyn's worries, and to see her portrayed as sexy yet vulnerable. Along with Marilyn, Frank comes off particularly well in this installment, agreeing to help Eddie G out more than once. I can feel the relationships developing here, deepening into true friendship. Jerry is a delight as usual, and it's great to see Eddie relying more on his friend, and realizing just how important Jerry is to him. The story does go off in an unexpected way, but more icons of the 60s are involved and it's easy to see how seamlessly Randisi weaves personalities into his story. Particularly poignant is the ending; you'll start to believe it all truly happened this way. And that is the true beauty and fun of this novel. So much fun!


Back With Mia

I love Princess Mia, and I've loved all the Princess Diaries books. Yes, I even love the movies though the changes didn't make me very happy. So, after years of having read all about Mia's insecurities and foibles, I was a little apprehensive to dive into this one. Was the magic still there? Could she possibly come across well as an adult? I'm very relieved to say YES, this is just as much fun as the other titles, and I'm just as happy with the story.

It's been five years since Mia last wrote, and in that time she's graduated college and moved into an apartment in the Genovian Consulate. She's still with Michael and still balancing her princess duties with her real life; she's involved in causes she's always espoused but is also waiting for Michael to pop the question (even though they'd agreed they'd wait until life calmed down for both). Mia has a stalker so it's even more important that she watches where she goes, and her grandmother is as obnoxious as ever. She keeps an eye on her Rate the Royals rating and the stress of her father running for office in Genovia has caused her eye to twitch. Just when she thinks she's going to lose it, Michael whisks her off to a private island and...well, you can guess the rest. Enter Grandmeré, who wants to take everything over, but also has a major announcement about Mia's father that will impact all their lives.

There's so much more--there always is with Mia--but it's so much fun to visit with her and hear her thoughts as her world goes haywire. I liked that while it's still basically the same Mia, there's a more adult edge to the story, in both situations and language. If there's some parts that work out a little too conveniently, that's all right because hey, it's Mia, and it's a fantasy. I love how it worked out and I'm hopeful we haven't seen or heard the last of the POG.  


A Little Outlander To Tide You Over

I'm a Lord John fan. I admit it and embrace it. So I was thrilled to find this novella about his adventures into the Canadian wilderness to stand up for his friend (but also to get out of England for a bit following a duel that went awry). It was nearly the perfect length for a recent flight, and took me right into the Outlander universe as well.

I won't waste time recounting the entire plot, other than to say Lord John finds it expedient to get out of town and when he's asked to stand up for his friend, he takes it. Once he's made it to Canada, however, he finds his cousin's husband has disappeared...after creating his own second family with a Native American woman. Lord John is nothing if not a beacon of integrity, and he does his best to set things right in this regard, and ends up taking part in a British raid on a French fort (which also involves Simon Fraser). If you are looking for a happy, upbeat slice of Lord John's life, this isn't it, but it is gritty and real.

There's a lot packed into the novella, and while it doesn't really illuminate more of the overall story, it's an excellent glimpse into what Lord John stands for and it strengthens the backstory of his life in general. I love how Gabaldon has given us a hero, although one with many secrets, who stays true to himself as best he can in any circumstance in which he finds himself. This novella will keep you engrossed with its wry humor and believable twists. Recommended.