Friday, May 24, 2019

Bull by David Elliott

Reviewed by Jeanne

As we all keep saying, we love book bingo! It encourages us to read a bit more widely.  This time around, I had a square for “Read a Book Based on Mythology”—in fact, I picked that sheet especially because I had been wanting to read Joanne Harris’ The Testament of Loki, which is the follow up to The Gospel of Loki, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

Slight problem: Testament was checked out and not due until after bingo was over. 

This sent me to the card catalog in search of another book with a mythological theme, which is where I came across Bull by David Elliott.  It’s a retelling of the story of the Minotaur done in verse.  After regarding it dubiously for a minute or two, I decided to give it a try.

At first I was a little put off by the voice of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, whose first line is “Whaddup, bitches?” But I persevered, and was rewarded with what turned out to be a gem of a book.  While Poseidon speaks in modern slang, it only serves to highlight his contempt for mortals and his harsh judgments.  He doesn’t forgive and he certainly doesn’t forget. A god of mercy, he ain’t.

Each character in the story, from Daedalus to Ariadne and even Asterion the Minotaur speaks in a distinct voice.  In the afterword, Elliott explains how he chose different poetic forms in order to reflect character, modifying them as required. The result is unexpectedly moving in places, but Poseidon keeps the action moving along with his acerbic commentary.

Like Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, this is a memorable little book I would never have picked up on my own. It’s a quick read—less than an hour, certainly, and that was with me pausing to read some sections aloud, just to hear them—but it packs a punch. I’ll never think of the Minotaur in quite the same way from now on.

(And a new round of Book Bingo will be starting soon! Watch our Facebook Page for more information!)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Nevermore: Le Carre, Gonzalez, Miller, Towles, Trevanian, Jennings

Reported by Jeanne

Nevermore opened with a re-reading of a John Le Carre book, The Russia House. Published in 1989, the plot has a Russian physicist smuggling out his manuscript proving that the Russian missile system is unworkable.  He wants it to go to a minor British publisher, but it ends up in the hands of MI5 and the CIA, who then recruit the publisher to go to Russia in order to get more information.  Our reader said she remembered liking it very much, but this time—not so much.

However, she was thoroughly enjoying the next book, Remnants of America’s Southeast Aboriginals:  Paleo to Mississippian by Maury E. Miller.  The book is archaeological finds in the Southeast United States, including a number of sites in Middle Tennessee.  There are some excellent photos of implements such as axes, scrapers, spear points, etc.  The reader’s grandfather was from the same area as some of the excavations, and she had photos of some of his discoveries that were quite similar to those in the book.  It’s an excellent book for anyone interested in the earliest inhabitants of the region.

Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez begins with the European exploration of the continent. The Spanish traveled vast distances through South, Central, and North America, encountering numerous indigenous tribes.  Gonzalez examines how the Europeans influenced the regions socially, politically, and economically from first contact, and how that influence has created problems today.  Our reader praised the book highly for looking at each country and culture individually, instead of lumping all together as is often done, and it includes Cuba and Puerto Rico along with the South and Central American countries. She says that the author points out the different waves of immigrants were determined by the circumstances in the individual countries, and that most such were those who were industrious and hardworking, willing to brave hardships to find freedom and a better life.  She hadn’t yet finished the book, but recommended it highly for anyone who wants a better understanding of situation.

Amor Towles’ novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, drew rave reviews from our next member. The story begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov is put under house arrest in a hotel across from the Kremlin. He spends the next 30 years there, watching as history unfolds, meeting a diverse group of people who come to the hotel. The Count is a cultured man, forced to live in an attic room, but he finds life in the marvelously depicted characters.   Our reader said the book was “very clever, very interesting, very wonderful” and that it is seriously recommended.

Spy fiction returned with Shibumi by Trevanian, a pen name for Rodney William Whitaker, an American author who wrote in a number of genres.  The plot revolves around Nicolai Hel, the son of a Russian aristocrat who grew up in Japan and who learned not only numerous languages but martial arts techniques. Hel had hoped to live the rest of his life in peace, having achieved “shibumi”—the art of effortless perfection-- but is drawn into a conflict when an international conglomerate known as the Mother Company.  Our reader said it that while it was written in 1979, it almost felt contemporary, with the way that giant corporations influence the world politically, socially, culturally, and economically.

Finally, No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings is the second in the Killing Eve series.  British agent Eve is hot on the trail of her arch-rival Villanelle, the assassin whose existence she discerned in the first novel.  There is a lot of action, international travel and intrigue, and –as our reviewer put it—“less sex, which is a plus.”

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz

Reviewed by Christy

            Lindsay is a 33 year old magazine fact checker in New York City. She has a couple of close friends but her dating life is essentially non-existent (besides an occasional hook up with a commitment-phobe). She’s lost all contact with her friend group from her early 20s and since her current best friend is married with a baby on the way, Lindsay feels herself slipping further and further into isolation.
            Lindsay finds herself contacting one of her old friends Sarah from the early days in order to catch up and reconnect. They end up discussing Edie, Lindsay’s best friend when she was 23 who died by suicide 10 years ago. Sarah always felt suspicious about Edie’s death, the discussion of which sends Lindsay down an investigative rabbit hole that will threaten her own life. Unfortunately, there are big gaps in Lindsay’s memories thanks to her early 20s drinking binges. So she uses her fact checking expertise to dig deeper.
            The first half of Bartz’s novel is very, very slow. I understand that set up is important but it seemed to just drag a little too much, and I started to get restless. Fortunately, it does start to pick up and the last half is pretty enjoyable. Lindsay can sometimes be a mopey mess but I also sympathized with her. She feels like the pitied single friend and her old insecurities bubble up to the surface even though she thinks she’s too old for that. (Like a “thumb on a bruise” as Bartz describes it.) The mystery itself isn’t revolutionary but it’s entertaining and a little pulpy, and that’s just fine with me. It was also fun to read about someone exactly my own age.
            I enjoyed this novel for the most part. If you think you can handle the sluggish build up, the second half makes up for it and makes this ideal for a lazy, beach read.

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening: A Step-by Step Guide to Growing Beautiful & Long-Lasting Succulents by Taku Furuya

Guest reviewer Kevin Tipple is back with his review of a book on succulent gardening.  Check out his blog Kevin's Corner for more book reviews and book news, as well as links to topics of interest.
As we roll into spring, thoughts here in North Texas turn to planting as well as worries over baseball sized hail, tornadoes, and all matter of insect and bug many of which sting. Though the rains have been plentiful these last several months, drought is always a fear lurking just over the horizon. Cacti are always an answer to drought. Like cacti, though not thorny at all in many cases, are succulents. A solidly good resource on them is the new book from Tuttle Publishing, A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening: A Step-by Step Guide to Growing Beautiful & Long-Lasting Succulents by Taku Furuya.

The 100 page book is designed for the novice succulent gardener. It features twenty-one popular varieties with tons of information by way of color graphics of various types. Then there are the numerous pictures throughout the book showcasing various succulents and their possibilities.

After a little bit of general information including how to use the book, the book really gets going with opens with a section on “Spring/Fall Types” starting on page eight. In addition to the picture of the plants, there are several pages of information on how to pick a healthy one at the nursery, best soil, how to transplant from the store bought container, how to propagate (how to make more off that first plant), and various tips on growing them including a simple month by month chart. Along with pictures of the various versions of the particular type of succulent, there is clear and concise color coded information on when they flower, level of difficulty to grow, the origin of the plant, and more. Each section is setup the same way with a lot of information and plenty of pictures for the particular variety.

You may or may not know that cacti are a form of succulents. While you may think that Cacti always meant something with spikes or thorns, it does not always. In this case, most of the varieties depicted in these pages do not have spikes or thorns making them safe from children and pets. Obviously, you don’t want either one eating succulents, but you don’t have the thorn issue that you do with many cacti.

Though some do and if you have pets or children this is something to pay attention to so that one avoids injuries. The first selection in the Spring/Summer/Fall Types starting on Page 64 makes that very clear. “Moon Cactus” starts the section off and it should be a familiar one to anyone who spends time shopping towards Christmas as such items are always in the grocery stores. There is a lot of info including the fact that the native region for those is Japan. I now know my high school biology teacher was wrong about them and a certain test grade should be adjusted immediately. While many of the chosen varieties in the previous section did not have thorns or spikes, many in this section do and that may or may not be of concern depending on your personal environment.

Fall/Winter/Spring Types is the final section and starts on page 80. The very few listed here the more difficult ones to grow in the book. Nothing in this section is easy and all of them require significant amounts of care.

A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening: A Step-by Step Guide To Growing Beautiful & Long-Lasting Succulents by Taku Furuya closes with a couple of pages devoted to the growing fundamentals for all succulents, a glossary, and a short section how to combat diseases and pests.

This is a comprehensive book aimed at beginners that will also prove very helpful to experimental Gardner. Whether you want to grow just a couple inside the house or multiples ones outside in the yard, there are suggestions here for you. Something and quite possibly more than one will strike your fancy in the very good book, A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening: A Step-by Step Guide To Growing Beautiful & Long-Lasting Succulents by Taku Furuya.

A Beginner’s Guide to Succulent Gardening: A Step-by Step Guide to Growing Beautiful & Long-Lasting Succulents
Taku Furuya
Tuttle Publishing
March 2019
96 Pages

Material supplied by Twyla Marr, Publicist, Tuttle Publishing with no expectation of a review. 

The Bristol Public Library does own a copy of this book.  Check the new nonfiction shelves to see if it's available!  If not, you can put it on reserve.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019