The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
(Grand Central Publishing, 2012, 288 pages)
The Middlesteins revolves around the family matriarch, Edie, and how her passion for food has affected her whole family. Edie has always loved food, it offered her a comfort she couldn’t get elsewhere. But food has played such a central role in her life that she has grown large enough that her health is affected. She is killing herself with food. Her husband leaves her, unable to take anymore. Her children are doing what they can to be supportive while also encouraging their mother to make lifestyle changes. Edie is loved and she loves her family, but she sees no reason to change what makes her happy…
This book was interesting. It was a quick read and the character development was certainly there. Overall I enjoyed it. This would be perfect travel reading. And it’ll certainly make you think about your relationship with food.
A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
(Del Ray, 2013, 352 pages)
Elle Chance is one of the few airship-pilots in 1903 so she takes any work that she can get, even if it means doing work for the Shadow. But the job that is given to her by her friend Patrice and his companion Marsh really gets her into trouble. Elle’s father is kidnapped by the Alchemists and Elle and Marsh must try and track the Alchemists down and save Professor Chance. Along the way, they run into trouble with different creatures of the Shadow and learn she might have a powerful gift herself.
Now this was a Steampunk book I could get into. I loved the story and how Schwarz stuck with one main conflict while slowly introducing complications and advancing the story. Her fantasy characters are ones I don’t get to read about very often like alchemists, warlocks, absinthe fairies, nightwalkers (which are really just vampires) and even sky pirates. The world is split into two groups, the Light and the Shadow. The Light is filled with non-magical creatures while the Shadow is just the opposite. This could be a stand-alone book if it wasn’t for the small epilogue at the end which continues the series and the mystery. I’ll be looking forward to the second book in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow series coming out in August.
Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher
(Tor Science Fiction, 2012, 352 pages)
Elizabeth Cole has just landed on a new planet to start her new life and job. She’s prepared to be permanently attached to the ghost of a loved one as a side effect of the planet. Residents of the planet are strictly forbidden to interact with their assigned ghost as the ghosts might try to harm or trick them. Once Elizabeth arrives, she is greeted by Murphy, her new supervisor, who looks slightly familiar. Murphy is charming and a gentlemen until they find out Elizabeth died in a transport crash from Earth and she is actually Murphy’s new ghost on the planet. Now Elizabeth is shunned and must find a way to be accepted by the planet and find her independence.
It has been awhile since I read any Science Fiction and this was a great book to reintroduce me to the genre. The first chapter was really strong because it showed the difference with how Elizabeth was treated before and after Murphy found out she was a ghost. It just really grabbed me and I remember finishing the first chapter and telling my mom that this was going to be a good read. Elizabeth as a heroine was great. She was strong and independent even though she basically couldn’t leave Murphy’s side. I wish that I hadn’t been on such a time crunch to read this for class because I would have liked to spend more time with the characters.
Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar
(W.W. Norton, 2010, 448 pages)
What an intense, rich and satisfying read! It’s like eating a piece of dark chocolate cheesecake. You savor each bite slowly while appreciating the layers of the crust, the cheesecake and a chocolate mousse topping (if you are lucky!). That’s my experience of reading this book. I didn’t want the book to end. Manjit Kumar is a trained physicist and a writer with a matter-of-fact and engaging writing style. The amount of research Kumar did for this book was mind-boggling. Kumar draws on primary and second sources to piece together the history of the development of quantum theory. The book covers the personal lives of the most influential physicists in the early 20th century. It’s full of colorful characters and amazingly detailed stories. Although the book is centered on the great debate between Bohr and Einstein, Kumar features some not-so-famous scientists who made important contributions. I enjoyed these chapters too.
Kumar does a great job balancing biographical details of the scientists and brilliant interpretations of their ideas and achievements. Some of the science was over my head. It may require a basic understanding of differential equations and linear algebra. Still, I adored the book and appreciated the occasional humor. Ludwig Boltzmann was an Austrian physicist who made fundamental contributions to the kinetic theory of gases. Kumar describes him as “short and stout with an impressive late 19th-century beard,” and “a better physicist than a pianist.” I was surprised to find out that Erwin Planck, Former Undersecretary of State, a resistance fighter in the Third Reich, was the youngest son of Nobel Laureate Max Planck (the originator of the quantum theory). Erwin was one of the key plotters in 1944’s “20 July Plot,” an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Erwin was arrested and hanged in Berlin. Max Planck wrote: “He was a precious part of my being. He was my sunshine, my pride, my hope. No words can describe what I have lost with him.” Based on what I learned about Erwin Planck, I plan to watch the 2008 film “Valkyrie.” You may have heard a more popular story involving Einstein as a tobacco thief. Einstein’s doctor had banned him from buying any tobacco. Instead, Einstein often helped himself to Bohr’s tobacco pot. The story was quite funny. It’s on page 325, or you could Google the story.
This is a fun popular science read. If you are interested in the subject but want to read shorter books first, you may want to try Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert and In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbin.
Ironskin by Tina Connolly
(Tor Books, 2012, 304 pages)
Alright, try to stay with me for this synopsis.
It’s been 5 years since The Great War with the fey and Jane is continuing to struggle with her new life. After a fey bomb left her face scarred during one of the last battles, she must wear an iron mask over her face to prevent people from feeling her fey curse, which is rage. Jane answers a mysterious listing for a governess and arrives to find Dorie, who has some fey powers including moving things with only her mind and drawing in a blue light. Edward, Dorie’s father, explains that the fey captured Dorie’s mother while she was still pregnant and that is why Dorie is gifted. Jane must find a way stop Dorie from using her gift before she is deemed a social outcast while also fighting her feelings that are developing for Edward. Jane hardly sees the mysterious Edward as he is devoted to his work, but Jane can’t help but wonder how so many plain women go into his study and come out beautiful, almost fey beautiful.
I had high hopes for this book as it was a retelling of Jane Eyre in a steampunk version. This was my first try reading a steampunk novel but I just couldn’t get into the story. It almost seemed like Connolly was so busy trying to retell Jane Eyre that she left a lot of plot holes open and didn’t develop characters as well as they should be. For example, Edward is hardly ever seen but suddenly Jane is in love with him and I’m wondering if she remembers his first name. I’ll definitely give steampunk another try and hopefully have a better pick.
A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans
(Downtown Press, 2007, 531 pages)
Laura is the ultimate hopeless romantic. She falls in love over and over again, continuing to ignore the signs that the guy isn’t right for her. After her latest love interest almost destroys her career and her closest friendships, she takes a holiday with her parents to turn over a new leaf. While she is there, she meets Nick while visiting Chartley Hall, the home of a very wealthy Marquis. Laura assumes that Nick is the gardener but he later reveals that this could be her very own fairy tale. Laura wants to prove that she is not the same hopeless romantic as she was before; this time it has to be different.
This was a fun, easy read for me. The characters were well drawn out and I loved the witty humor that Evans put into the story. Evans is a British writer so there were a few times I got lost not knowing the British slang but it was never hard to find the meaning behind the phrases. Thanks Google! But I honestly didn’t mind having to look up the phrases I didn’t know because it felt like I was learning something fun. The only complaint I have about the book is that I wish Evans had Laura and Nick spend more time together. There were just too many scenes of them apart and not nearly enough of them together.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
(HarperCollins, 2001, 318 pages)
Bel Canto is one of Patchett’s better-known titles, but based on the book summary I wasn’t sure I was going to really get into it. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became invested in the story and the characters. Mr Hosakawa has ventured to an unnamed country in Latin America for a birthday celebration which has been organized in an attempt to get him to build a factory there. The only thing that could get him to come was by ensuring his favorite opera soprano, Roxane Coss, would be there to perform. There are numerous VIPs in attendance, visiting from other countries, and local area bigwigs – the president of the country was supposed to make an appearance, but he chose to stay home and watch his soap opera. The party turns into a hostage situation when a group of terrorists breaks in in an attempt to kidnap the absent president.
The hostage situation takes on an interesting dynamic as the terrorists agree to let a number of them go and hold on only to those they know they can make a statement with. As the situation drags on (from days, to weeks, to months) we see how the relationships between the hostages and their captors (and among the hostages themselves) changes over time. Given that there are so many people from other countries, language is something of an issue. Fortunately, Mr. Hosakawa travels with his interpreter, Gen, who is an incredibly proficient polyglot. Gen makes the rounds to ensure everyone is understood, but as time goes by his services seem to be required less and less by some as they find ways around their language barriers.
This was an interesting read and the ending really got me. I enjoyed Bel Canto and thought the audiobook version was well done.