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10th-Mar-2017 10:55 pm - Book recommendation - essential oils?
birds, peaceful
Hi peeps, I'm kind of curious about essential oils and I was wondering if anyone could suggest a practical book on how to use them. I'm mostly look for a book that is low on woo and doesn't make any oddball or miracle health claims.
10th-Mar-2017 07:59 pm - Any Volunteers?
Poll #2064457 Any volunteers?

About Eugene Uttley

I know him for a published author
I enjoy his #stigmafree weeditty.wordpress.com
I follow @uttleysz on twitter
I have liked seveneff on facebook
I visit quidproquoreviews.blogspot.com

About You: blog URL? twittter handle? facebook page?

headshot 01/18/07

"At first glance Israeli novelist David Grossman’s new novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar, which as the title suggests recounts a stand-up comedian’s performance one evening at a night club in the coastal city Netanya, appears to be a complete change in tone and direction from his previous two fiction books To the End of the Land and Falling Out of Time (the latter reviewed on NYJB), emotionally heavy works that either indirectly or directly deal with parental grief.

"But initial appearances can be deceiving, and though the new novel is seasoned with jokes it is a serious work that addresses emotional pain as a source of all art, even a genre as coarse and vulgar as stand-up comedy." -- from my review in New York Journal of Books

"Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s (One Night, Markovitch) second novel Waking Lions starts as a moral drama in its first 14 chapters and becomes a suspenseful crime thriller in its final 11. Its strength lies in its third person narration’s shifting perspectives that develop its characters’ backstories and dramatic situations in the first part and its page turning pacing in the second part, in which the novel’s unanswered questions are resolved." -- from my review in New York Journal of Books
17th-Feb-2017 11:39 pm - List of Historical Fiction Series


Here is a LIST of popular historical novels that are a part of a series.
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"With its universal themes of healing, recovery, creativity, and finding one’s vocation The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping should engage the wide readership Appelfeld’s prose deserves. Readers may want to buy extra copies and donate them to VA hospitals." -- from my review inNew York Journal of Books.

"ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787" (1945) Book Review

I wrote this REVIEW of Winston Graham's 1945 novel, "ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787".
25th-Jan-2017 08:02 pm - Book review: Recitation by Bae Suah
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"...  a challenging yet cognitively engaging and rewarding read.

"... This is not a book for lazy readers; Bae expects us to show up ready to work. Her handsome prose, however, is never an obstacle.

"... Recitation will make Bae’s anglophone readers and other fans of post-modern fiction eagerly await the publication of more of her novels in English."
-- from my review in New York Journal of Books
24th-Jan-2017 06:04 pm - The Girl Mechanic
birds, peaceful
Every now and then I find this book on my book shelf and every time it feels like the moment I found it at the bookstore back in 2009. This sturdy, pocket sized manual is many things - how to book, pattern book and a peek into people's lives and hobbies from the pages of Popular Mechanics. In some ways it's not a proper "craft book" as the patterns are quite small, but the ideas are often sound. As with many vintage craft and recipe books, the materials may have been renamed or are not as readily available today. You might have guessed that there is a "boy edition" but I'd be willing to bet that it is as gender neutral as this book.

I was surprised to see that the text invited girls to saw and craft with their parents help. The variety of crafts, toys and games is pretty astounding and I wish my parents had been more the maker type to build a few things from this book like the basement golf course or weaving loom. From braiding to mold casting, doll houses to a full size backyard merry go round, I can only imagine how many hours of fun these plans provided.

x-posted to craftgrrl and bookish
Hey I can do book reviews, promos, and giveaways at http://www.weeditty.wordpress.com so if you have (or know of anybody who has) a book to promote, hop on over and have a look or contact me directly at mruttleysz at gmail dot com!
6th-Nov-2016 08:15 pm - The Case of Jennie Brice
Wow, I have not read a book in ages! I just couldn't get started on any books I already had, so I downloaded some Mary Roberts Rinehart titles from Project Gutenberg.

The Case of Jennie Brice was quick to read, but I sense that it was also quickly written. It felt like it wasn't a cohesive story but more like a collection of events with a few pieces forgotten :) But, I also suspect that Rinehart took "write what you know" to heart and just added a murder or two. In this case , busybody landlady Mrs. Pittman suddenly finds herself intrigued with the possible murder of one of her tenants during Pittsburgh's flood season. I had no idea flooding was so bad back then.

Rinehart launches into great detail about life when your main floor is flooded, including tying up a boat to your banister! Suspicion is cast everywhere but mainly on Jennie's husband. While the police search for Jennie, who might be still alive, a subplot involving Mrs. Pittman's niece and her beau unfolds.

x-posted to bookish
26th-Oct-2016 06:49 pm - The Essential John James Audubon
birds, peaceful
I decided to clear some books out and try my luck at the second hand store for a buck or two - and decided to let go of a little square book by Annette Blaugrund, The Essential John James Audubon. Like many pre-Internet book purchases, this one was a must have for all the colour pictures. The amount of text is very small and is about Wikipedia article sized in length. Audubon's famous pictures are definitely what this book is about! I'm hoping I didn't pay the suggested $18.95 for this book, but I'm sure it can find a new home with another bird lover.

x-posted to bookish
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"Bae’s prose alternates between detailed descriptions of everyday life and ruminative passages on music, ideas, and her character’s mental state. The late American poet William Matthews once described his taste in literature as a preference for prosy poetry and poetic prose. A Greater Music exemplifies the latter category; it requires and amply rewards rereading." -- from my review in New York Journal of Books 


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"On the surface the new novel is about feminism and the right of women to choose not to bear children. But an underlying theme is whether liberal nationalism is an oxymoron, whether the rights of the individual (the essence of liberalism) can be reconciled with the needs of the nation." -- from my New York Journal of Books review of The Extra by Abraham B. Yehoshua. For an excerpt from the novel see my examiner article.

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"Max’s Diamonds, Jay Greenfield’s debut novel published last week by New York publisher Chickadee Prince Books, is a guilty pleasure, a book I enjoyed and could barely put down for its suspenseful serpentine plot despite its pedestrian and occasionally heavy-handed prose." -- From my examiner article. Also see my New York Journal of Books review, which concludes "with Max's Diamonds readers are rewarded with a fun and absorbing read whose fortuitous May publication date makes it a felicitous beach or airplane book."
13th-May-2016 08:55 pm - Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I put off reading this epic novel for years, because I didn't think I would enjoy it. It turned out, I was very wrong - after a slow start, I found myself enjoying it a lot and caring immensely for its three main characters, Jean Valjean, Cossette and Marius.

Jean Valjean is introduced as a petty criminal, and at the start of his storyline, he is (to his amazement) given shelter by a bishop, after most of the town has shunned him because of his criminal tendencies. Although he seems like he should not be a sympathetic character, he immediately becomes a loveable rogue, even when - unable to suppress his kleptomaniac tendencies - he steals the Bishop's silverware. He ends up as a character who seems to be trying to prove that he is no longer a criminal, and can be seen as a valued member of society, although he has to constantly change his identity. Every time that he seems to have vanished completely, he shows up again, and on some occasions I didn't realise a new character was in fact Jean Valjean again until the book made it really obvious.

At the start of her story, Cossette ends up being sent away to a cruel foster family, headed by the main antagonist, Thenardier. His treatment of her is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the story, particularly the portrayal of how Thenarier's daughters are spoiled, and won't even let Cossette play with their dolls.

This book is very long, and is partially padded out by diversions from the author, who sets the scene largely through essays regarding the real-life events and places that influence the plot line, from the Napoleonic wars, to the Parisian sewer system (actually more interesting than it sounds). Victor Hugo also takes a somewhat roundabout way of introducing characters; the entire first chapter is about the Bishop who takes in Jean Valjean, describing his entire life; the bishop only appears right at the start. Likewise, to introduce Cossette, the book first of all includes a chapter about four female characters who arrive in town, one of whom is Fantine, later Cossette's mother. Later in the book, Thenardier saves the life of a soldier, who later on turns out to be Marius' father.

Although the breaks in the narrative got a bit annoying at times, I found that when the main plot was moving forward, it was actually very enjoyable, very exciting at times (mostly seeing Jean Valjean escaping the clutches of his erstwhile nemesis, Javert, who starts off as a dislikeable character, before ending up as someone who I felt surprisingly sympathetic for). There were a lot of bits that were very sad, and moving, particularly towards the book's denouement.

Overall, I was glad I did take the trouble to read this novel, and may well give the musical and/or the recent movie a go as well.
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In my New York Journal of Books review of Youval Shimoni's A Room I write: "A Room is strongly recommended to readers of post-modern and experimental fiction who enjoy stream of consciousness narratives and who are willing to delve deeper than a thin plot’s surface level."

See my examiner article for additional excerpts from the novel.

"SHADOW OF THE MOON" (1957/1979) Book Review

I wrote a REVIEW of "SHADOW OF THE MOON", M.M. Kaye's bestseller about the Sepoy Rebellion. First published in 1957, the novel was re-issued in 1979.
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Eyes by William Gass book cover

My review of William Gass' new book of short fiction appears in New York Journal of Books. For a longer excerpt from the book and additional biographical info about Gass see my examiner.com article.


a book review by David Cooper: Eyes: Novellas and Storie...
Eyes: Novellas and Stories by William H. Gaas book review. Click to read the full review of Eyes: Novellas and Stories in New York Journal of Books. Review written ...


91 year old William Gass' prose is still gorgeous in Eye...
“The brown paper wall bore tears and peels and spots made by drops of who knew what — expectorations past.



Here is a LIST of my favorite novels set during the Antebellum Era.
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"A fictional and more literary tale of an Egyptian Jewish family’s diminished circumstances after immigrating to Israel is The Sound of Our Steps by Ronit Matalon, a novel published today in Dalya Bilu’s English translation by Metropolitan Books. In my New York Journal of Books review I praise it as a 'beautifully written and skillfully translated book that rewards rereading.'” -- from my examiner article Israeli Books: Ronit Matalon's autobiographic novel The Sound of Our Steps
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What happens when a down on his luck luddite novelist is hired to ghostwrite a memoir by a math whiz tech mogul who shares his (and the author of this novel’s) name? ...At close to 600 pages of dense prose Book of Numbers is not light reading. I close my NYJB review by recommending it to “readers as ambitious as it is.” -- from Jewish books: Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers is a high tech epic Also see my New York Journal of Books review. A challenging but fun and rewarding read!
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"Looking for a brainy yet breezy novel that addresses gender, race, and class issues with levity and has a happy ending? Try Nell Zink’s Mislaid, her second published novel following her critically well-received debut The Wallcreeper in 2014." -- from my New York Journal of Books book review: Mislaid: A Novel by Nell Zink

"To sum up, Mislaid is an entertaining book worth reading on a plane or train ride to a vacation destination or on a poolside chaise lounge when you get there." -- from my examiner article, Books: Nell Zink's 2nd novel Mislaid is smart and witty

William Makepeace Thackeray's darkly comic novel is mostly about the anti-heroine Becky Sharp and her efforts to climb the social ladder. Becky is very different from most female lead characters in classic novels in that she really is quite selfish, and I got the impression at times that she wasn't meant to be a likeable character. The book also revolves around various other characters, such as Amelia, Captain Dobbin and the vile Marquis of Steyne.

Most of my knowledge of the book came from the 1998 BBC adaptation, and I found the book quite hard going at times, mostly because it was a bit long-winded, with a lot of long sections without dialogue. However, I found myself liking Thackeray's quirky writing style, particularly the way that he constantly addresses the reader. While sometimes it was hard to engage with what was happening, some of the chapters were very enjoyable, particularly the vivid portrayal of the battle of Waterloo.

The book was a mixture of comedy, romance and tragedy, and it seemed to get a good balance between the three. It is quite a long book, but at the end I was satisfied and glad that I had kept going with it.
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What does fiction about art forgery have to do with Jewish identity?

In my New York Journal of Books review I praise Perec’s first novel as “a fully realized and mature work of fiction.” For a fuller discussion of Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere read my New York Journal of Books review

Portrait of a Man (The Condottiero) by Antonello da Messina (1475,Venice, Italy), Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
audiobook coverPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up is an account of the 2000 murder of 21-year-old British national Lucie Blackman, who had been working as a hostess in the Roppongi area of Tokyo when she disappeared. I got this one on audiobook, on a two-for-one sale I believe, and figured a true-crime book would be a respite from my mega-depressing listen at the time, Douglas A. Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name. Not by much, as it turned out.

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Despite the disturbing subject matter, People Who Eat Darkness is a well-written and enjoyable book. Parry brings his subjects out in wonderful detail without sensationalizing or stereotyping. He depicts Lucie Blackman as a full human being who had a life outside of the way it ended, with family and friends who are also complex people in their own right. The author also does a good job with the social nuances including the complexities of the hostess' trade and the proceedings of Japanese law enforcement.

The book was also refreshingly free of victim-blaming and moralizing--it was easy to see why Lucie Blackman's family gave Parry the kind of access that made much of the book possible. I admire the exhaustive research, balanced morality, and skilled writing that went into Darkness, and I am glad to have read it. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

Livejournal crosspost: http://ljlee.livejournal.com/57945.html
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"Alexis Landau’s cinematically descriptive, character-driven debut novel explores ethnic identity via an intermarried family in WWI and Weimar era Germany, i.e. before anti-Semitism became official state policy legally codifying ethnic definitions." -- from my New York Journal of Books review in which I praise the book as “handsomely written” as well as a “powerful and compelling novel.” My additional remarks and excerpts from the book appear in examiner.com.
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“...recommended to readers who enjoy interior prose and psychological literary fiction.” -- from my review of Five Selves by Emanuela Barasch Rubinstein in New York Journal of Books. My additional remarks and excerpts from the book appear in examiner.com.
10th-Mar-2015 09:36 pm - The Hunger Gsmes: Mockingjay part one
I'm re-reading Mockingjay before I rent the movie. I think I know when to stop reading, where part one of the movie ends. Can someone who has seen the movie confirm for me when it ends. Don't worry about spoiling, I already know the story.
13th-Feb-2015 11:32 pm - Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

This is a book that I was keen to read for a while after I read about it.

To explain this one, I have to give some background, regarding the character of Professor James Moriarty, regarded as the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. For the benefit of any Sherlock Holmes newbies who might wish to read the books without being spoiled, I'll put this behind a spoiler cut, although what it reveals is quite well known. This is just a fail safe to make sure I don't get complaints.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes books, he decided to kill off his main character in a story called "The Final Problem". This story introduced Professor Moriarty, and ended with the apparent death of Holmes, plunging down the Reichenbach Falls in a struggle with Moriarty.

Following the public outcry, Doyle eventually resurrected Holmes, with the story "The Empty House". This book fills in some of the gap between the two adventures.

The story is certainly set within the canon of the Sherlock Holmes novels, only here the main characters are Frederick Chase and Athelnay Jones. Moriarty is apparently dead, which might make it seem strange that the book is named after him (you'll have to wait and see - it all becomes clear).

Following the discovery of a body believed to be that of Moriarty, Chase and Jones are required to track down a new criminal mastermind, who is now replacing Moriarty in his arch-villain role.

Right from the start, I found this book to be gripping, with sharp dialogue and well-rounded characters. I enjoyed the writing style, told in first person by Chase, and it gives a good sense of his personality right from the start. It also made the story feel very true to the original stories, which were mostly narrated in first person by Doctor Watson.

I enjoy reading any story of Sherlock Holmes, including versions by modern-day writers (Stephen King has also written a Sherlock short story, "The Doctor's Case"), and I loved the way that Anthony Horowitz made reference to other stories in the series (word of warning: there are a lot of spoilery references to "The Sign of Four"). I also loved the gritty way that London in the 1800s was portrayed.

I also loved the fact that, when it looked like things could go nowhere, the ending took me completely by surprise and also felt completely right and satisfying. It really is something you won't see coming.

The main story was followed up by a short story narrated by Doctor Watson, involving him and Holmes, which was loosely connected to the main story, and felt just as authentic.

Overall, I loved this book and now want to read Horowitz's Sherlock novel, "The House of Silk".
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"There are books that make us feel intensely and others that make us think deeply; one that does both is Gail Hareven’s opalescent and psychologically complex eleventh novel Lies, First Person (in the original Hebrew Hashkarim Ha’aharonim Shel Hagoof which literally translates as The Body’s Last Lies), which is only the second (The Confessions of Noa Weber) of her 13 books for adults to be published in English in Dalya Bilu’s fine translation." - From my New York Journal of Books review

"Lies, First Person, Gail Hareven’s second novel to be translated into English (the eleventh of her thirteen adult books published in Hebrew), which is published today by Open Letter Books, is both an emotionally compelling narrative and a novel of ideas. Its characters find different ways of coping with the emotional aftermath of an unreported and unpunished crime, and the novel invites its readers to consider such questions as the nature of evil and the justification of vengeance and retribution." - From my examiner.com article
3rd-Feb-2015 02:49 am - Books
I just started reading for fun again and am wondering if there are any books you all could recommend for me :) Thanks!


I wrote this REVIEW of "HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS", the 2007 and last entry in J.K. Rowlings' HARRY POTTER book series.
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“. . . the novel’s epic sweep, engaging prose, suspenseful plot, sense of humor, and introduction to a fascinating subculture outweigh its flaws.” - from my New York Journal of Books review. For additional remarks also see my examiner article.
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The Betrayers succeeds by combining thought provoking ethical dilemmas with dramatic tension in an engaging prose style and is enthusiastically recommended.” - from my New York Journal of Books review (which includes spoilers). For additional remarks, excerpts, and an exploration of the novel as a roman a clef see my examiner article.

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19th-Aug-2014 11:05 am(no subject)
Has anyone read the uglies series by Scott westerfeld? What did you think? Would you recommend it?
14th-Aug-2014 12:06 pm(no subject)

Overview/ReviewCollapse )

x-posted to my journal

I was keen to read this book shortly after watching the second season of Game of Thrones, which is based on it.

Ned Stark and his fate are something that we are constantly reminded of throughout the book, and at times I thought maybe this was referenced a bit too much, although it
The title of this book comes from the main plot regarding the number of claimants to the iron throne of Westeros, following on from the first book:

[Spoiler for the first book]
In A Game of Thrones, King Robert Baratheon died, and asked his hand, Ned Stark, to be king until the heir, the obnoxious Prince Joffrey, was old enough to be king. Joffrey had other ideas, and became king anyway, having Ned Stark executed.
made sense for the story to look at the effect his death had on his widow, Catelyn Stark.

So, in this book, there is a sense that a large confrontation is going to take place, and that leads to the book’s climactic battle of Blackwater Bay, which described in vivid detail.

Like with the previous book, the story does not actually have a lot of fantasy elements, with the story focussing mainly on politics, which sets this apart from other fantasy series. The only supernatural elements here are Danaerys Targarean’s dragons and a chapter involving a supernatural shadow (and a mention of a ghost later on).

The one thing I noticed a lot more than with the first book, was that the TV series took some artistic license, mostly with the order of events, presumably for dramatic reasons and finding the best way to translate it into a ten-part serial.

In particular, I noticed that there wasn’t as much of Danaerys as I had expected, and that she hardly appeared in the first half of the book, whereas she seemed to take up a significant part of the TV show. Her dragons seemed to be less significant than they were on the show too, and her storyline (which doesn’t really seem to connect much with the others at this stage) seemed a bit harder to follow; the sequence where she enters the mysterious tower near to the end actually seemed a lot darker than it appeared on screen.

As for the other stories, I remember there was a good storyline towards the end involving Jon Snow and one of the Wildlings, which the TV series made a lot more of than it is portrayed in the book. I particularly enjoyed the sections involving Arya Stark, who spends her time pretending to be a boy and who ends up serving Tywin Lannister in Harrenhal.

Overall, I thought this book was an enjoyable sequel, which made me want to keep reading the series (as well as watching the TV show), despite the usual grittiness and unflinchingly violent scenes that make George R.R. Martin’s work a lot more adult in nature than other fantasy books I have read. The book has a good way of hinting at things that are to come, with references to “the dead walking” and one mention of the phrase, “White Walkers”. I noticed the concept of “Wargs” introduced here, which I initially found confusing, mainly because in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, a Warg is a wolf-like creature; I did find out from the DVD special features that this means a person who can spiritually inhabit the body of an animal, and from what I’ve seen of the third season so far, they play a greater part further on in the series.

One other thing I noticed was that compared to the TV series, the ending seemed a bit abrupt; it is actually a good chapter, following on from atrocities committed by the psychotic Theon Greyjoy, but I was expecting it to have the same ending as Season 2 of Game of Thrones, which was absolutely epic, and chilling. I am assuming this was more creative license on the part of the TV show, and that this was in fact from the next book: A Storm of Swords Part One: Steel and Snow.
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"Stephanie Feldman’s debut novel The Angel of Losses, which was published last week by New York-based HarperCollins imprint Ecco Press, is a welcome addition to the Jewish fantasy fiction genre." --examiner.com

In my New York Journal of Books review of the novel I write, “The Angel of Losses is recommended to nerdy (in the best sense of the word) secular Jewish and philo-Semitic readers whose genre interests include the confluence of contemporary and fantasy fiction.”

sbfeldman Stephanie Feldman
[thor] don't be afraid of the dark

Over at Bibliodaze I have reviews up for THIRD DAUGHTER by Susan Kaye Quinn and THE FALL OF LADY GRACE by Julia London!
18th-Jul-2014 10:22 am(no subject)

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x-posted to my journal
8th-Jul-2014 08:45 pm - Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

The book's narrator, John Ridd, falls in love with the eponymous Lorna Doone. However, things are complicated by the fact that one of Lorna's family killed John's father, stirring up bad blood between the two families, resulting in a romance story that almost feels like Romeo and Juliet.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect of this book, imagining it to be a gothing, Jane Eyre-type story, but for a while (except for the killing of John's father), this felt like a more gentle story regarding John and Lornas' feelings for each other, that made me wonder if they would manage to have a future together.

As I got further into the book, it felt a bit more like an adventure story at times, as it portrayed John and Lorna fleeing from the Doones, and later on there were also some exciting depictions of battles, some between John and the Doones and also an account of John's involvement in a historical rebellion. Although at times I felt that it got a bit long-winded, with John going on about his feelings for what seemed like several pages at some points, I liked the fact that the book had several plot twists that I did not see coming, some shocking. I wasn't surprised to find that the drama was not over until the story's main villain (in this case the obnoxious Carver Doone) was finally dispatched with, and I found the book's final confrontation to be very satisfying.

Overall, I was glad that I read this book; it was very enjoyable and compelling enough to keep reading to the end.
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My two part review begins with the poet's bio and backstory in New York Journal of Books and continues with a discussion of his poems in examiner:

"Anglophone readers (especially those who also read Hebrew) will find both this handsome book’s bilingual presentation of Ruebner’s selected poems, and his heart wrenching backstory described by translator Rachel Tzvia Back in her informative introduction and endnotes, compelling reading."

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2nd-Jul-2014 09:27 am - The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

This is a book about a book, De Rerum Natura or On the Nature of Things written by Titus Lucretius Carus over 2,000 years ago. Lucretius was born nearly a century before Christ and nothing much is known about him. He was an accomplished poet; he lived during the first century BC and he was devoted to the teachings of Epicurus all of which he wrote eloquently about in his magnificent poem, De Rerum Natura.

The Swerve is an account of the rediscovery of this poem after it had been forgotten for centuries after the birth of Christ and the revolutionary impact it had on the writers, artists and scientists of the time when it was discovered in a monastery in 1417. This epic poem is presented in six books and it undertakes a full and completely naturalistic explanation of the physical origin, structure, and destiny of the universe. Included in it are ideas such as the atomic structure of matter and the emergence and evolution of life forms over the millennia.

On the Nature of Things laid out what is a strikingly modern understanding of the world. Every page reflected a core scientific vision—a vision of atoms moving constantly in an infinite universe, coming together to form first one thing and then another. The poem claimed that atoms are at the core of everything in the universe, from the trees to the oceans to the animals to the stars to human beings. It claimed that there is no such thing as an afterlife, no heaven or hell and that it is foolish to believe in an all powerful, all seeing God who is so minutely concerned with human affairs that he sees everything we do and will eventually reward us or punish us for it.

All of these ideas were of course, considered heresy back in the 15th century and the Church tried its best to denounce Lucretius and to prevent the circulation of his epic poem. But despite their best efforts the poem was copied again and again and it was circulated fairly widely. The ideas in the poem inspired the Renaissance. It influenced artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

That, briefly, is the story behind this book. It is interesting in itself, but it becomes more so in the hands of Stephen Greenblatt who takes a tremendous amount of information and brings it all together in a very engaging narrative. Despite the wealth of information here and the many different threads of the same story, the narrative never gets dense or heavy.

Greenblatt paints a vivid picture of pre-rennaisance Europe. There is a reason why that period is referred to as the dark ages. It was a time when every word and every thought had to be censored and where intellectual curiosity was deemed a crime...The author writes about it all very casually and that more than anything else, makes it a chilling portrait.

We all know that Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake and that Galileo was persecuted for stating that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. All of that is brought to life vividly here. And when taken against the thought of all the knowledge and wisdom of ancient Greece and Rome that was lost for over a thousand years and had to be painstakingly learned and rediscovered ...it is almost as if the world went backwards for a thousand years before it found its way again.

I knew all of this already, but Stephen Greenblatt paints such a vivid picture of the people and the time that I found myself feeling an acute sense of loss.

I took my time in reading this book, forcing myself to go slow because I didn't want to miss anything. But much as I learned, it made me want to learn more...both about ancient Greece and Rome and about the Renaissance. This is a wonderful book and must read for anyone interested in History.

27th-Jun-2014 08:26 am - Recently read
The last three science fiction books I read were all by Philip K. Dick, and I think I have read enough of his work to be considered a Dickhead :D I finished The Man in the High Castle (1962) most recently, and before that, The Zap Gun (1967) and The Penultimate Truth (1964). The Man in the High Castle was my favourite of the three.

All three have a lot in common - alternate post-WW2 outcomes are explored in each. The world has been divided up into various factions, each with its own mechanics for manipulating reality. Often times events are presented simultaneously where the characters don't realize that they are responsible, much like an artist doesn't realize how they can affect a viewer or a politician makes a decision that affects the outcome for citizens. I actually thought The Zap Gun and The Penultimate Truth were in the same universe, but a quick check proved that to not be true. The books were written co-currently and are very similar to each other. The Penultimate Truth was my least favourite, mostly because the last five or six chapters explain the plot and I found it too long and wordy. It shows signs of overwriting and once the plot twist comes, loses all momentum, and then ends on a cliffhanger.

Truth is based on some earlier short stories (especially "The Defenders") and feels cobbled together. What spoils a perfectly decent plot about a government conspiracy is the clunkiness of the way everything is named. Dick uses the same words across his works in a genius stroke of continuity, but they come across as not having been read out loud:

Artiforg (artificial organ)
Aud (short for audio)
Pac-Peop (Pack-Peep? Pee-op?)

The most aggravating word is the form of transportation called a flapple. I even noted the use of disemflappled, which sounds like what happens when an iPhone user switches to Android. I actually kept reading artiforg as artifrog, which started to make more sense. The technology in the book is also painfully clunky - predicting a far off future where robots and cable TV exist. It's hard to remember that the concept of cable was pretty futuristic at the time.

In comparison, The Zap Gun was much better, but the relationship between the main character, Lars, and a Russian love interest, Ms. Topchev, disappears shortly before the end of the book. This leaves the story feeling unresolved. Same with Truth and Castle - both just stop. Apparently there was going to be a sequel to Castle, but it never happened.

Back to Castle, the use of the I Ching as a plot device was really interesting and added a fortune telling quality that's usually filled by a piece of magical technology (an oracle appears in The Zap Gun as well, but it's a piece of technology). I liked the modes of deception in Castle (most of the characters have multiple realities as well). One of the characters, Frank Frink, has changed his name in order to escape persecution for being Jewish. His estranged wife, Juliana, experiences a transformation after giving a mysterious truck driver a ride, and even objects have multiple lives. Perhaps one of the reasons I liked Castle so much was the loving attention paid to material culture - the piece of paper that makes an object "authentic", the way clothing and gifts are used, interior design. If I had read Castle earlier, all this would have flown over my head.

Not so much with the other two books, but the world of Castle is an incredibly racially divided one (Germans and Japanese control the world, and each takes about a third of the US). Some characters spout some racial slurs that were popular, although probably still not socially acceptable back in the day. I don't believe it reflects on the attitude of the author though.
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