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review 2018-10-04 23:59
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield  for Deadlands
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

[10/05/18  Edited to add: I managed to upload a bad picture of my bingo card.]

 

This is such a good book I want to be a better writer to do it justice in my review. Waiting longer for inspiration is just not on though: my memory will let the details blur and the experience fade. 

 

Setterfield is a writer who's greatest flaw is not being prolific. Actually, that may be the only flaw. She has once again crafted a work of fiction that has a convincing Victorian setting with a modern sensibility directing the reader's attention to characters and incidents that a true Victorian wouldn't, but logic suggests that they are all valid. She manages to tell quite a few stories and examples of the craft of storytelling within a greater story of amazing events. While many writers succeed at making a house a character within their fiction, Setterfield has made part of the Thames a character, nor was she stinting in permitting this character moods. Okay, on the winter solstice the usual group are sitting around drinking in the Swan, an inn distinguished by the storytelling within. The door opens, a man, his face a bloody mess staggers in clutching a large doll in his hands.

 

Over the course of one year we watch the repercussions of that moment: how it affects characters major and minor and also, this is the tricksy bit, we watch how those events become stories. Yes, many stories dependent on point of view, and skill, stories becoming more stories as that one event is observed (or not), in light of new events, and then, still later developments. The metaphor is well served: there is an attempt to trace the roots of the story back to the beginning, which you can't do any more than you can trace a river back, fractally there are always more branches feeding in.

 

There is so much: there are clever half-starved orphans, prosperous farmers, the family of innkeepers, the town midwife, the minister, servants and animals, wealthy distillery owners, thieves and blackguards, despite the extensive cast one never feels that the author is coasting by with stereotypes or with every character having the same voice. There is plot and pathos enough for Dickens, and despite the 21st century sensibility there's none of that business of giving a character clearly modern ideas.

 

There is, of course, a supernatural element as well as a few mysteries, dreadful crimes and moments of grace. Everything is here, told my a humanist in the Pratchett vein, but without the jokes and footnotes. It is a lovely, suspenseful book that I couldn't bear to put down in order to post updates. Read it soon: give it to yourself or someone you really like as a gift for one of the several solstice-adjacent holidays. Just the thing for long winter nights by the fire.

 

ARC from publisher

 

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review 2018-09-13 00:01
Sleeping Beauties: A Novel - Stephen King, Owen King for Modern Masters of Horror
Sleeping Beauties: A Novel - Stephen King,Owen King

  I enjoyed this enormously. There were some surprises and some poor reading on my part (my earlier race comment was wrongish, because of my failure to notice and/or remember the race of characters, but also kind of accurate given later developments - it's complicated). Anyway, nice work with archetypes and fairy tales and a premise that is clearly fantasy, but also very grounded and concrete. There's a large cast and lots of plot. But also really nuanced and generous, kind even. Stephen has always showed an understanding of and sympathy with abused women, so a whole lot of compassion towards the inmates of a women's prison is no surprise. But there is also a lot of anger, some of it directed at people behaving badly and some of it directed at society for creating and exacerbating iniquity. Dickensian.

 

Good on these two for writing a book that is absolutely entertaining, but more than just entertaining.

 

Good for many squares, and recommended to those who don't care for horror in general.

 

 

Library copy

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review 2018-09-09 16:36
The Lorax
The Lorax - Dr. Seuss

This is my ALL-TIME-FAVORITE Dr. Seuss book! It's definitely in my top-5-favorite of ALL TIE! This is a story about the Lorax, about tree, about nature, and about caring for the world around us. It teaches children many valuable lessons. I would put it at a Level M in the Fountas & Pinnell scale because it is pretty difficult language for young kids to read and comprehend by themselves.

As an activity, I would have students choose their favorite quotes from the book and decode the or explain them. I observed this being done when I was observing in a 5th grade classroom and the kids loved it! Then they got to watch the movie to enhance understanding and they loved it. I was in 9th grade the first time I saw the movie and I thought it was hilarious, so it's really great for all ages.

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review 2018-09-09 16:29
Sneetches
The Sneetches and Other Stories - Dr. Seuss

This book would be a PERFECT segway into teaching about diversity! This is the story about sneetches - some have stars on their bellies and some don't. This causes a divide between the two groups. I would read this aloud to my class because it is very long for a picture book and there are many made-up nonsense words that may confuse children if they are reading it alone. I could read it aloud to any grade level and I believe it could be easily understood, but if it were assigned a level for INDEPENDENT reading, I would categorize it as an M using Fountas & Pinnell's levels.

As an activity, I would incorporate some sort of diversity lesson. I may put the children into pairs to discuss how they are different, how they are similar, and how this makes them great friends! Perhaps a Venn Diagram would help facilitate learning and understanding of this concept.

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review 2018-09-02 14:10
The Last Hours - Minette Walters 
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

The first outbreaks of the Black Death in Dorset. There is crime and secrets and lies, but this is counterbalanced by great kindness and cooperation and thought. You wouldn't think it could be a hopeful kind of book, but even as the plague strikes so swiftly with such high mortality, it does free up all the wealth and power that was gathered into so few hands.

 

Now I just have to wait for the story to be continued.

 

It's situations like this that make me reluctant to start a series until it's all written

 

Library copy

 

Edited to add, 9/2/18:  I often give authors of fiction about plagues a hard time for giving their imagined diseases an easy transmission, an incredibly high mortality rate, and a very brief latency: these three ratios all being very high means an infection will burn out in a population too quickly to spread. Even the worst plagues in naive populations don't score high on all three. They also tend to avoid people getting ill and recovering, which some portion of the population usually does. Most fiction wrlters avoid the importance of hygiene and sanitation and supportive care: they have everyone dying from the primary disease directly rather than address indirect mortality. I've encountered more than a few books that use 99.99% in order to decrease the surplus population. I mention this because I can only think of two writers who don't cheat that way: Connie Willis and now Minette Walters. If you want realistic plagues, these are the women to read.

 

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