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review 2017-03-15 22:36
The Book of God and Physics
The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery - Enrique Joven,Delores M. Koch

I loved every single thing about this book.  Except the writing.  Or maybe the translation.  Probably the translation.  Either way, what could have been a story to blow The DaVinci Code out of the water, was instead a worthy read for only those that are interested in the Voynich Manuscript, astronomy, and/or the intersection of faith and science.


I am incredibly fascinated with all of those things - except astronomy, of course - so I couldn't give up on the book.  For those unaware of the Voynich Manuscript, it is a real, illustrated manuscript believed to be about 500 years old.  It's full of beautiful ink and watercolour drawings that encompass chemistry/alchemy, botanicals, and astronomy, and it's written in a language that doesn't exist anywhere else.  It remains to this day undecipherable.  The manuscript currently resides at the Beinecke Library of Yale University and they have it online here.


Anything that has remained untranslatable for over 500 years becomes an unavoidable conspiracy theorist magnet, but the author of this book includes an introduction, where he makes it clear that other than the creation of the MC and his two friends, everything else in the book is historically accurate; all the other characters are real and their back-stories were kept intact without creative license.  Knowing this also kept me glued to the book when the prose would have sent me fleeing long before chapter 2.


The book is heavily centered in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  (They owned the Voynich Manuscript until 1912 when Voynich secretly bought it from them.)  My gender aside, the Jesuits are my people.  I make no secret of my faith in God and my faith in science; a stance that neatly pisses off everyone in one go: atheists because I believe in God, and those calling themselves Christians because I'm a heretic for accepting the Big Bang (first hypothesised by a Belgian priest*, btw) and evolution. The Jesuits also find no contradiction between God and science and in fact, most of the major contributions to science - experimental physics, specifically - in the 17th century were made by Jesuits. They weren't slackers in the 18th century either.


So, a story about a real coded manuscript, in its historically accurate setting, involving science and theology, taking place in a Jesuit school in Castile.  And I haven't even mentioned the secret tunnels, hidden passages and coded messages, or the major supporting characters that include Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Dee, Kelly, Galileo and Cassini.


Unfortunately, as I've already said, the writing translation is the major sticking point. The narrative was choppy and there was a general abuse of pronouns, leaving the reader sometimes wondering who was being talked about at any given time.  Dialogue jumped around too so that there were a few leaps of logic I couldn't follow because I couldn't parse the writing.  The ultimate care the author takes to make sure the history and the science are explained carefully (and sometimes repetitively), inclines me to fault the translation.  The author's love and knowledge of the subject matter screams from the page, as does his concern that the reader understand as much of the hard stuff as is possible, so it doesn't make sense that the story itself was written with so little care.


If I were only rating the writing, this would be 1 star.  But the subject matter and the plot were 5 stars, so in the end I split the difference and went with 3.  Don't bother with this one if you're only looking for a thriller or adventure, but if you're fascinated by the other stuff, maybe see if your library has this one and give is a go.  It'll be work, but it'll be fascinating too.


(* Georges Lemaître was the first to formally propose his hypothesis of the primeval atom, which became known as the Big Bang Theory, first published in 1931 in Nature.  He was a Jesuit priest and professor of physics.  He was also the first to note the expansion of the universe, and the first to derive Hubble's law and made the first estimation of what is called Hubble's constant - all misattributed to Hubble, at least in name.)

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review 2017-02-21 09:21
An Academic Question
An Academic Question - Barbara Pym,Kate Saunders

Pym is widely regarded as an Important Author in her time and genre, and as I've never read her I grabbed this at a library sale.  I knew going into it that it wasn't considered 'major Pym' but is was a dollar and I figured it would give me a general idea of what to expect from her other works, one of which is on the TBR cliff.


All I can say is I think I missed something.  Possibly, I missed everything.  The cover's pull quotes all talk about the comedy and the introduction, written by Kate Saunders, refers to it as a 'comic novel'.  I didn't see it.  It's not a cultural thing either, I don't think; I generally find the British sense of humour incredibly funny.  


Caro is the wife of an academic, in what I think must be somewhere around mid-century?  70's maybe?, who is bored, dissatisfied with her life and disinclined to do anything about it (or maybe feels helpless to do anything about it - it's unclear).  She starts reading to a blind academic at the local old folks home, who happens to have a trunk full of papers that will advance her husband's career, so he visits with her one day and steals it.  And lets her bear the burden of the guilt. Apparently a comedy of errors ensues; apparently so subtly that it flew right past me without notice.


I thought about going 2.5 stars, because honestly nothing ever happens, but in spite of its unfinished feel, I didn't mind the writing.  I wasn't bored when I was reading it, and that has to be worth something, I guess.

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review 2017-01-26 09:54
A Certain Age
A Certain Age - Lynne Truss

I've been a fan of Lynn Truss since I stumbled on Making the Cat Laugh over a decade ago, while on a trip in the UK.  I've since read a number of her non-fiction titles, but A Certain Age was my first experience with her fiction writing.  


A Certain Age is actually a collection of 12 monologues she wrote for BBC radio in 2002 and 2005.  I had only the vaguest notion of what a monologue was in this context, but she very helpfully explains in her introduction (a dramatic form developed in the early 80's that elevated the general idea of a traditional monologue to one that, with the addition of multiple scenes, adds a temporal dimension allowing them to stand on their own as a form of drama.  Or something like that.).


The collection is evenly divided, 6 female voices, 6 male.  Some of them are funny, some are confronting and some are tragic, but they are all outstanding.  I didn't like a couple of them, but they sucked me into their stories nonetheless, and held me entranced.


Far and away my favourite was The Son.  My least favourite was easily The Husband.


This was a bit of a departure for me, reading wise, so I admittedly don't have a lot to compare this to, but I'd highly recommend it.  I'm not sure I'll ever read her full length fiction, but as a short-form monologue writer, I think she's brilliant.

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review 2017-01-18 23:26
Woman in White
Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

As BrokenTune mentioned in her review here, this was a buddy read we did together after discovering we had each bought the exact same edition in charity shops on opposite sides of the world.  Thank goodness I had her to buddy read with, because I'm not sure I'd have finished it otherwise, and that would have been my loss.


This book was laborious.  There were moments when I would have believed the damn thing was continuing to add pages to itself as I read it.  The book switches POVs throughout, and that helps - I can't imagine it told from a single POV - but I still struggled to pick it back up.


I found the characters in the first epoch exasperating; Walter Hartwright was just so hopelessly romantic.  And by romantic I mean a melodramatic Byron wannabe.  Laura, the character the whole story revolves around, actually left very little impression on me at all, and her sister Marion, of whom I expected strong, rational sense from, let me down when the story's POV switched to hers.


The second epoch was the worst for me though. Marion becomes more the character I expected her to be and I really liked her, and Hartwright was thankfully absent, but the second epoch was all about winding up the tension; subtle, brilliantly done foreshadowing and a slow build up to the inevitable Terrible Event.  


Most people relish this part of the story – that sense of dread anticipation.  I am not most people.  The second epoch nearly killed me: I could recognise the brilliance of the writing and story telling but at the same time, just get it over with already!  I had prepared myself for Percival being a nasty piece of work; the more obsequious he became in the first epoch, the more obvious it was to me that he was going to be an ass.  Fosco though, Fosco was truly the villain in this tale.  The more he smiled and sided with the women, the diabolical he became.  This was the part I had to make myself read.


The third and final epoch was for me the best one because now things were getting done.  The climax of the story, the biggest plot twist (which I did guess before it was revealed) is over with and the third epoch is about fixing things; making the villains pay by searching out and revealing their secrets.  Hartwright's time away did him good and he's not nearly the twit he was in the first epoch; he becomes a believable hero.  Laura just got on my nerves; her special snowflake status from the start makes it hard to properly sympathise with her for her truly horrible experiences in epoch two.


Percival's comeuppance was all about the chase; lots of action, and a secret that when revealed didn't sound like it was worth all his efforts at concealment until the author makes us aware that at the time it was a capital crime.  His final confrontation was excellent though; I didn't see that coming.   But Fosco, Fosco is revealed to be the true threat, the real evil genius.  If Doyle's Moriarty wasn't strongly influenced by Collins' Fosco I'll eat my socks.  At the same time, I got the strong sense that Collins had the most fun in creating Fosco; I'd dearly love to know how much of himself he put into his mad creation.  Fosco's character was just so different in every way to all the others that by the end it felt like the rest of the story was created merely to give Fosco reason for existing.


Both final acts failed to surprise me:


too much attention was made of the scarred man for him to be background, and no way could any author from this time period walk away from a fortune and a title, even on behalf of their characters.


(spoiler show)


but it was a satisfying ending nonetheless.  A brilliant read that I'd recommend to anyone interested in a good story.  So many of the tropes and plot devices used today came from authors like Collins and it's worth reading if only to see them done by a master.  But it's definitely not a quick read.

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review 2017-01-15 05:45
Turbo Twenty-Three (Plum, #23)
Turbo Twenty-Three - Janet Evanovich

I've long ago stopped expecting anything different from these... I think the last really different plot was maybe 11?  But I still keep happily coming back for more because I'm hooked on the characters.  All of them: Connie, Ranger, Morelli, Grandma, Stephanie's mom, Vinnie... even LuLu (who's sometimes a bit too over the top).


Number 23 isn't any different.  Total formula, but Evanovich got an extra star out of me because she's pretty much ended the whole who-will-she-choose? charade (no, that's not a spoiler) and she adds some truly classic, rip-snorting, laugh out loud moments.  There's always at least one in every book, but this one had me laughing out loud at least 4 times.  That might be a new record for me.  She might churn these out in her sleep, but she still has the ability to set up the best comedic moments in just a sentence or three.  


As long as she keeps me laughing, I'll keep coming back.  

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