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review 2017-12-11 05:44
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History
It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History - Jennifer Wright

This was good!  I wasn't sure at the start, because it's pretty clear the author geared her narrative towards women (or men, but really, women) who were battling their way through breakups while reading this book.  But it's easy to get past that and just enjoy the history and the wry humour.  And omg were these people awful.  You expect Nero to be horrible, but - and maybe it's just my general ignorance of Roman history, but not this weirdly horrible.  And Oskar Kokoschka... holy cheese whiz weird, although I think I found it even more bizarre that everybody let him get away with his flavour of weird without seemingly batting an eye.  By the time you get to Norman Mailer, his horribleness almost seems bland by comparison.  Almost.  

 

This is popular history in its purest form, but it's lively and entertaining while it's being informative.  The source list at the end is a little web-link heavy for my taste, but I'm going with it; I learned a lot and little of it had to do with how these people broke up with their exes. 

 

I have this in print, but borrowed the audio from the library and while I was a bit hesitant about the narrator at the beginning, I soon changed my mind.  Hillary Huber's performance starts off sounding a bit monotone, but I soon found it works really well with Wright's wry humour and occasional sass.  I particularly enjoyed her narration in the car as it was both calming and often hilarious.

 

I definitely recommend this (in audio or print) if you're looking for light, breezy and educational.

 

Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book whose cover is primarily red, green or black.

 

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review 2017-12-01 23:21
Twilight of the Belle Epoque
Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends Through the Great War - Mary McAuliffe

This is the continuation of Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends and takes the reader through the end of WWI in Paris.

 

I don't think I have much to say about it beyond it's excellent.  If you're new to McAuliffe's books, think of her style as a narrative timeline; she goes through the year and in a very accessibly style leads the reader through the lives of each the artists, politicians, writers and actors that brought the age to life.  You don't need to read the first one, although she does make references to the events she covered in it.

 

My only complaint is the same as I remember having in the first book: it's a bit clunky to start - it takes a chapter to get into the swing of things.  But once it does, it reads so well, it's kind of hard to put down.

 

Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in history as long as it isn't dry.

 

Book themes for Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day: Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction). 

 

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review 2017-10-14 01:23
The Golden Age of Murder
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

What started out strong for the first couple of parts, started struggling towards the middle and by the end it strongly resembled the book that was soon to follow it: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books; with paragraphs and chapters stuffed with titles and authors.

 

Still, it's all relative, because The Golden Age of Murder remains very readable and very interesting from start to finish.  It just wasn't as strong at the end as it was at the beginning and as a result, my 4 star rating of what I thought was going to be a 5 star read.

 

A few minor things did bother me though, in no particular order:

 

- Edwards assumes the reader knows their dates.  This reader is crap with dates, but excellent at reading comprehension, so usually an author gives a date and I can infer the dates of later events.  BUT Edwards bounces back and forth on the timeline, so he'll give a date, but then refer back to earlier events for a few paragraphs, then bounce ahead to future events, never stating any additional dates.  This became painfully irritating when he started discussing King Edward's abdication, as he bounced between events that happened before his coronation, after his abdication, during his reign, etc.  

 

I should not need supplementary reading in order to make Edwards' narrative flow correctly.

 

- Edwards' bias for some authors over others is pretty obvious.  Which is ok - although I question how ok when someone is aiming to write an authoritative historical text.  His contempt for Christianna Brand is glaring and he's outright snarky about the Coles' political beliefs, coming just short of calling them hypocrites.  He seems to start out liking Anthony Berkeley, but by the end it's all pity, and perhaps a polite disgust (to be fair, I'm not sure there's much else to feel about Berkeley by the end, it sounds like his was a life wasted for want of a good psychiatrist).  

 

He treated Christie the most objectively, and towards the end goes so far as to offer up some very rational theories for her 11 day disappearance, but at all times it's clear he has a lot of respect and admiration for her.  But Edwards saves the most blatant bias for Dorothy L. Sayers; I'd go so far as to speculate that he crushes on Sayers.  He's downright romantic about her throughout the book, constantly reminding the reader about her deep, dark secret and the heavy burden of guilt and responsibility she always carried with her, not to mention that drunken lout of a husband she had strung 'round her neck her whole life.  And that leads me to my last gripe:

 

 - Towards the end, Edwards does that thing that drives me insane: he speculates ahead of the facts and presents it as truth.  It's not often (maybe he just rushed the end?), but several times he presents his interpretation of a book's themes, or an author's motivation, as truth without providing evidence.  

 

The most egregious example was in the last chapter when he (again) tells the reader how big a burden Sayers carried with her throughout her life. I'm going to put the rest of it in a spoiler tag; skip the spoiler if you know nothing at all about Sayers and would like to find out for yourself, or if you just don't care that much about the whole thing, because I do go on and on.

 

 

He addresses the question: Why, after Mac finally adopted John Anthony, did she not bring John Anthony home to live with them?  He tells the reader it is her guilt and fear of public shame over her youthful indiscretion that prohibited her from doing so.  

 

Nobody knows why she didn't bring him home, because she never once wrote about John Anthony or discussed John Anthony with anybody.  Ever.  Not even John Anthony.

 

But if I were in Sayers shoes, shame/guilt/embarrassment might have had a place in my reasoning, but they would be dwarfed by the fact that I was married to a great big alcoholic who suffered from great big mood swings and PTSD, and I was never home.  Edwards' romantic notions of self-flagellation via guilt and shame is nonsense.  A much more rational theory is that Sayers didn't want to pull John Anthony out of a happy home environment he was born into so she could stuff him in a house as dysfunctional and unhappy as the one she was living in, just so she could come out of the closet as a mom.

 

I don't doubt for a second that Martin Edwards knows his stuff - far, far better than I know it, but he's trying to make Sayers into a tragic, romantic heroine that frankly from what he's told me about her personality in this book, would sicken her if she heard it.  It's not logical to think that someone who was as pragmatic as Sayers was would suddenly go all romantic about her son.  By the time Mac stepped up, there was no chance of righting history, so why try?  Pragmatically, she did everything she legally could to legitimise John Anthony, and the best decision for John Anthony by that point was to let him keep the happy home he already had.  But that's just my opinion; for all anyone knows she might just have liked not having to be a mom in more than name.  We'll never know and it irritates me that Edwards claims he does.   ::end of rant::

(spoiler show)

 

 

Overall, an excellent book for anyone interested in the Golden Age of crime fiction, even if it does lose a bit of steam towards the end.  I'd unhesitatingly recommend it to mystery lovers who want to know more.  Or to those I think have TBRs that need beefing up!  ;-)

 

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review 2017-10-09 04:16
The Blitzed Brits
The Blitzed Brits - Terry Deary,Tracey West

I knew what these were when I bought them (I bought three) – written for a much younger audience – but given the woefully little I know about world history, I figured anything was better than nothing and as I tend to think straight history texts rather dull, ultimately, I probably wasn't that far outside its target audience after all, in terms of attention span.

 

I started with this one as it was the thinnest, and thankfully, I knew most of it already - I'm not that ignorant after all! - but there were a lot of details I didn't know.  The obliteration of everything that indicated a location, for example.  Business signs that indicated the town/village/city name had that name painted over; public transit station names were removed.  I also didn't know there was such a time gap between the first blitz and the second.  And I will always know that in a stream of terrible years, 1942 was by far the worst for the homefront in terms of legislated deprivation.

 

Some of the stories were funny, of course.  The one about the girl who, listening to her mum about strange men approaching her during the blackout, accidentally put her own father head first into a pig scrap bin had both MT and I giggling.

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review 2017-08-11 12:59
The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science
The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science - Sandra Hempel

Overall, this was good.  Hempel frames the rudimentary beginnings of forensic science - specifically toxicology - within the narrative of a famous poisoning case of the time, that of the Bodle family, which resulted in the death of George Bodle, the rather wealthy patriarch.  

 

She sets up a rather thrilling beginning; I was at once riveted to the story as we're walked through the morning of the poisoning.  I very much wanted to know what was going to happen next. 

 

And this is where Hempel falters.  Because just when you're on the edge of your seat, she launches into the science, the scientists and the research of the time, which leads her into side avenues of other contemporary cases. These are also interesting, but she throws so many names and events at the reader in these side alleys to her narrative, that by the time she wends her way back to the Bodles, I've lost track of who everybody was.  

 

This becomes slightly less of a problem in the second half of the book, as things become too exciting for Hempel to get sidetracked, but it's still a regular occurrence.  And the thing is, these deviations are the part where all the interesting science-y bits are; about all the attempts at trying to detect arsenic definitively; how Marsh was inspired to create his game-changing test, and how it wasn't *quite* the game-changer so many pinned their hopes on.  And it's all good stuff.  But Hempel is a victim of her own success at spinning a gripping narrative; I started out wanting the science-y bits but ended up just wanting to know who killed George Bodle.

 

Worth reading, definitely.  But it's not necessarily an easy read for unexpected reasons.

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