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review 2017-07-26 08:42
Reshaping the environment to suit our needs
The Draining of the Fens: Projectors, Popular Politics, and State Building in Early Modern England (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology) - Eric H. Ash

Today The Fens is largely a misnomer, as the region of East Anglia is a flat, dry land studded with farms. Yet a few centuries ago it was a name that referred to the marshland environment of the area, one often inundated with water from the sea or from the rivers that fed into it. While these conditions was hardly conducive for growing crops, the grasses that flourished in the wetlands were ideal for animal husbandry, which was practiced as far back as the Roman occupation. During the 17th century, however, a number of parties began a decades-long project to drain The Fens that turned it into the environment which we know it as today.

 

Eric Ash's book describes how this occurred. He traces the beginnings of the project to the 1570s, when environmental changes that worsened the flooding convinced some in the royal government of the need to intervene. Until then flood management was the responsibility of sewer commissioners, prominent locals who sat on boards that were empowered to maintain flood control measures but whose resources and remit were limited to maintaining existing conditions. Now, however, the crown began to consider ambitious projects designed to drain The Fens and convert the pasture land to more desirable farmland.

 

The inhabitants of the Fens quickly objected to the government's proposal. Ash spends a good part of his book describing the various challenges to the projectors, which included political pressure, legal challenges, and even violence against the "projectors" and their employees. While efforts by the crown to secure a consensus proved elusive, it was not until first James I and then Charles I took the throne that the state grew more aggressive in its approach. Nevertheless, one of the virtues of the area of the first major drainage project, the Hatfield Level, was that the crown controlled most of the land in the area, thus forestalling much of the opposition encountered elsewhere. Work on the even larger Great Level drainage began soon afterward, and while it was disrupted by the civil war that broke out in 1641, the work continued intermittently until it was complete by the 1670s.

 

Synthesizing political, social, technological, and environmental history, Ash's book provides an excellent account of the efforts to drain The Fens in the 16th and 17th centuries. From it emerges an account of greed, environmental change, government power, and local resistance that has echoes in some of the debates over public projects and environmental regulation in our own time. Perhaps the most salient point to emerge from the book is how the efforts by people to utilize and shape their environment have long reflected their views of their relationship to it. This is true even today, for while the ongoing effort to restore The Fens embodies a very different set of assumptions and goals, they share with the drainage projects of the 17th century the idea that it is our goals which should determine its condition, even if our objectives today have brought us full circle to embracing the wetlands role The Fens had served for so long in the past.

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text 2017-07-11 22:05
The Spinster and the Rake by Anne Stuart $1.99
The Spinster and the Rake - Anne Stuart

The Spinster: As a maiden aunt, Gillian Redfern lives as an unpaid servant to her demanding family. Little wonder she finds the attentions of a rake distracting, and even less wonder that her usual good sense begins to unravel when Lord Marlow takes her in his arms.

The Rake: Ronan Patrick Blakely, Lord Marlow, is a man of great charm and little moral character, a gambler, a womanizer, and handsome as sin to boot. He has no qualms about placing a wager on the virtue of one small, shy spinster.

But Lord Marlow is about to discover that Miss Redfern is more siren than spinster. She amuses him, arouses him, and, much to his dismay, makes him a better man. Gillian will discover, in turn, that Lord Marlow possesses the power to turn her into a very wicked woman. The rake and the spinster are poised to find a love that neither could have imagined.

If only someone weren't out to destroy them both . . .

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review 2017-07-02 17:12
A Rustle of Silk
Rustle of Silk, A: A new forensic mystery series set in Stuart England (A Gabriel Taverner Mystery) - Alys Clare

A Rustle of Silk is ... OK, I guess.

 

It's 1603, Elizabeth I is dead and England awaits the arrival of their new king, James VI of Scotland, who will be James I of England.  Meanwhile, Gabriel Taverner, a former sailor in the Royal Navy, and now a doctor (he claims to be a physician, but knows more about surgery), is trying to set up a practice in his old home town.  Someone's leaving him vile little "presents" of dead animals on his doorstep, and they don't suspect a cat.

 

And then a man is found dead.  It turns out to be his brother-in-law, a silk merchant.  Was it suicide, or murder?

 

The prose style and characterization were good. 

 

On the other hand, the mystery didn't make much sense at a certain level, and we had a villain with talking disease.  (No cat in his lap this time, though!)  Taverner seemingly can't decide if he's a physician or a surgeon, which were two very different jobs in the period, performed by different people of different experiences and social ranks.  (A physician learned his craft at a university, and observed clients and made prescriptions.  He might inspect their urine, but physical interaction with patients' bodies was usually limited to bleeding them due to an "inbalance in the humors."  A surgeon, on the other hand, was of a lower class in society, did not need to go to a university, and had the practical experience of removing limbs, with more or less success.  Physicians were far more respected than surgeons, who often did double duty as barbers.)

 

Also, the occasional word choice struck me as non-period ("opportunist" would not be in use for some 200 or 250 years after this is set), and in the understandable desire to avoid info dumping, Clare has Taverner unaware of some things he really should have known, despite having been 15 years at sea.  (In particular, that suicides could not receive a decent Christian burial in a churchyard.)

 

I might read another in the series, but I doubt I'd go out looking for one in particular.

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review 2017-06-30 23:05
Falling Angel (Harlequin American Romance) - Anne Stuart

I was moved to hunt down a pair of Levis to see where that silly tag is located - inner right cheek pocket. Artist put it on the outside of the left cheek pocket. Also, based on this story, I doubt the h would have owned a pair of Levis - too expensive.

 

I actually read this one three times - once out of curiosity when I pulled it from the bin to the anticipation spot, once when I deliberately left the book I'd started in the living room so I wouldn't be tempted to read and stay up too late (so much for that, huh?) and finally, when I actually read it.

 

So why the 3 stars? Let's just say that in a less capable author's hand, it likely would have been DNFed.

 

Ok.
The H is dead - no really - and is in what amounts to purgatory, waiting for...something. It was unclear but I guess he needed to give them a reason to move him on. He gets sent back into a new body, and I have this mental image of the NSA going apeshit about a truck magically appearing in the middle of nowhere (ALIENS!!). It's either that or he's possessing someone else's body. He's charged with fixing 3 lives he ruined in his previous existence. The h is obvious, the family who he ends up boarding with is the second, and there's some kid whose issues are indirectly his fault. It's odd that he never really goes back to his old habits. His new body is preprogrammed to be a carpenter...from Boston...that finds itself in bumblefartnowhereville Minnesota

 

The h wears a hairshirt made of...I dunno...porcupine quills, poison ivy, and doghair from some wirecoated critter. She got on my nerves so bad... See, she was a dancer, went to college and studied dance (uh...that's all?), took off to NY - as you do - to show off her talents, only to fail miserably and rather than come home, get a job as a secretary...with the H as her employer. She falls for him because she's sure she can fix him (uh oh), and because she's naive and has no clue what he really does, offers up the one company in her home town for his expertise. Then she catches him drunk, sleeps with him, discovers the next day that he'd closed the company after gutting it for its equipment, also discovers she's fired (because he doesn't sleep with the help - one point in his favor I suppose) and storms out in front of a taxi. Now she's running herself into the ground, in penance, refusing help. Because it's all her fault you see. Too wrapped up in her martyrdom to see that her behavior is causing her friends and neighbors distress. Oh, she's aware of it, but if anything, frustrated because they keep worrying. Well dear, if you don't want them worrying about you, make an effort to take care of yourself.

 

Things that bug me - and this isn't unique to this book - why does everyone with a bit of talent run off to NY in hopes of being discovered? All larger cities, and quite a few smaller ones, have centers for performing arts.

 

Why, upon discovering you aren't as good as you thought you were, would you remain in a city like that? See above - smaller pond = greater chance of success.

 

Secretary? Really?! Doesn't that require at least some clerical skills? Typing at the very least. He thought of her as incompetent. Was she hunting and pecking? She said she'd focussed so much on her dancing she hadn't learned any other skills. Uh...

 

And yet, she sells quilts. That's a skill. Why, with that in mind, didn't she apply at an alteration shop? Or as a waitress or sales clerk...see, these sorts of jobs would make sense. A secretary, not so much.

 

And yet, it was very readable, mostly because we were in his mixed up noggin most of the time.

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review 2017-06-15 19:11
Survivors
The Far Out Cafe - Stuart Chambers

 

Can you ever heal from war, or will you always be searching for another battle?
Is peace really what you want in your life, or do you need to find a new reason to fight for something?
Stuart Chambers goes deep inside his characters, to find out each one's answers to these and other questions.
You'll want to keep reading this book until you have the answers to all the questions.

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