Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nevermore: Nature of Fragile Things, Little, Thirteenth Tale, Secret Lives of Color, Study in Emerald



Reported by Garry

Our first book reviewed was The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner.  This historical novel takes place in San Francisco in 1906, and focusses on the story of Sophie Whalen, a young Irish immigrant who, desperate to get out of the slums of New York, answers a mail order bride advertisement from a widower in San Francisco.   Sophie quickly develops a deep connection with Kat, the five year old daughter of her new husband, but her husband remains an aloof enigma, until two other women show up and a devastating earthquake splits the city, and Sophie’s life, wide open.  Our reader loved this book and highly recommends it.   Susan Meissner is the author of multiple other books including As Bright as Heaven, A Fall of Marigolds, and A Window to the World, amongst others. 



Our next book was described as “Weird, but I loved it” by our reviewer.  Little by Edward Carey is about a tiny orphan, Marie, who is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor after the death of her parents.   The man creates wax body parts for use in medical schools and Marie quickly shows a talent and aptitude for the macabre profession.  Invited to the palace at Versailles, Marie tutors a princess and is accepted in to the inner circles of the royal family – a family that will soon face a revolution, one that Marie herself must somehow survive.  This historical fiction is very loosely based on the true history of Marie Tussaud founder of the now world-famous wax museums. 




Next up was The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield.  This gothic fiction novel tells the story of two writers:  Vita Winter is an enigmatic, reclusive writer whose most famous work is “The 13 Tales”, a book that only contains 12 tales.  After spending her entire life burying the truth of her history (to the point of telling every singer interviewer a different life story), Vita hires Margaret Lea, a young biographer, to write the story of her life.  Digging into Vida’s gothic, strange past, the two women come to terms with their, own past ghosts – real and perceived, and together write the 13th, final tale.  Our reviewer loved this book, and thought that it was extremely well written, creepy (in a good way), and enthralling.


And now for something completely different: The Secret Lives of Colors by Kassia St. Clair.  This meticulously researched non-fiction book contains the histories of many of the colors that we now take for granted, and how society uses and changes the use of, colors.  For example, it was not until the 1920’s that pink became associated with girls and femininity, and blue with boys and masculinity.  For generations previous, it was the opposite – pink was ONLY for boys and blue was nearly the exclusive realm of girls.   The effects of colors on our psyche are also examined, particularly the effect of Baker-Miller Pink on levels of aggression.  Who would have thought that being in a room the color of Pepto-Bismol would have a noted, strong, effect of calming down agitated, aggressive people?!  Fascinating book – highly recommended. 



The color theme continues with Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque.  Our reader was intrigued by the description of “Lovecraft meets Sherlock Holmes."  In this graphic novel, a member of the British Royal Family has been murdered, and Sherlock is called in to investigate, but in this version of Victorian England, the Royal Family are Lovecraftian Elder Gods.  How do you murder a god, and who could do that?  Gaiman’s Hugo award winning short story is brought to life in this beautiful, creepy, enthralling graphic novel.  Our reader highly recommends this book.



Also Mentioned:

Caste:  The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party by Julian Zelizer

Hiding in Plain Sight:  The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior

Riding on the Red Rooster by Paul Theroux

Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

New York by Edward Rutherford

276 Edible Wild Plants by Caleb Warnock

Come Fly The World by Julia Cooke 

The Unidentified by Colin Dickey


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