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review 2018-04-18 15:52
Just One Damned Thing After Another / Jodi Taylor
Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake....

 

This is the most enjoyable time-travel romp that I’ve ever read! I had great fun following the boisterous and sometimes explosive adventures of Madeleine Maxwell, as she joins the St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The book ends up being something that is hard to categorize, although I’m pretty sure that stores will stick it firmly on the Fantasy shelf. But there is mystery, intrigue, romance—you name the genre.

I am always delighted with fiction that includes dinosaurs, so the time travel to the Cretaceous was absolutely perfect for my tastes. As Miss Maxwell says, “You put dinosaurs and people together, you always get screaming.” Apparently she has seen at least one of the Jurassic Park movies!

I chose this as my time travel selection for my 2018 PopSugar challenge, but I will definitely be continuing on with the series. I love the patchwork of genres, the British sense of humour, and the adventure.

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review 2018-04-05 19:11
The Amber Spyglass / Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman

Will is the bearer of the knife. Now, accompanied by angels, his task is to deliver that powerful, dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel - by the command of his dying father.

But how can he go looking for Lord Asriel when Lyra is gone? Only with her help can he fathom the myriad plots and and intrigues that beset him.

The two great powers of the many worlds are lining up for war, and Will must find Lyra, for together they are on their way to battle, an inevitable journey that will even take them to the world of the dead...

 

I’m rating this at 4 stars, but really I feel like it should be 4.25 or 4.3 or something like that.  Although I didn’t love it as much as the first two books, I found it to be a realistic and satisfying ending to the trilogy.

 

It was great to see Iorek Byrnison, the armoured, talking polar bear, again.  He gets to be the voice of the natural world, warning against doing something “just because you can” and about unknown consequences of actions.  Pullman had managed to include so many interesting creatures to inhabit all of his parallel universes!  Witches, dæmons, angels, spectres, gyptians, ghosts, just to mention a few.

 

Lyra & Will are on the cusp of adulthood in this book, but have already taken on adult-level responsibilities.  They handle them much better than I would have at the same age!  But didn’t we all feel “all grown up” at that stage?  I couldn’t understand why adults didn’t see me the same way!  Their reluctance to trust me with any kind of burden seemed very insulting to me at 17 or 18 years.

 

I can also see why very religious people wouldn’t care for Pullman’s worldview, but since I’m not a religious person, I was perfectly comfortable with it.  A recommended series.

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review 2018-03-19 17:45
My Brief History / Stephen Hawking
My Brief History - Stephen Hawking

My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty, and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him Einstein; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a particular black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of physics and cosmology.

Writing with characteristic humility and humor, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS at age twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time—one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.

 

With the passing of the great cosmologist last week, it seemed fitting to read his autobiography as a way of appreciating the man a bit more. It’s a very compact account of Hawking’s life, hitting the high spots without going into great detail. One of the more charming aspects for me was the inclusion of a fair number of personal photographs, many supplied by Hawking himself and his sister.

Numerous tributes to Hawking last week referred to his sense of humour. Unfortunately, that didn’t really come through to me in this volume. I can also appreciate that he wanted to be known for more than his ALS, but I thought that a little more detail about the disease would have been appropriate. It seemed to me that his family, especially his children, got extremely little page-time. I didn’t require a tell-all or anything too detailed, but knowing how the children turned out and what they chose to do with their lives would have been interesting. I also wonder if they worry that they may have a predisposition to getting ALS themselves.

To be fair, each person gets to be the star of their own autobiography. Hawking concentrates on what he obviously deemed the most important part of his life—his research. Many of the details that I’m interested in, he probably decided were not his to tell.

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review 2018-03-12 14:28
Dunbar / Edward St. Aubyn
Dunbar - Edward St. Aubyn

‘I really did have an empire, you know,’ said Dunbar. ‘Have I ever told you the story of how it was stolen from me?

Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he handed over care of the family firm to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan. But relations quickly soured, leaving him doubting the wisdom of past decisions...

Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?

 

This is the Hogath Shakespeare’s version of King Lear, a play that I have seen performed at least twice in the last couple of years. It’s a powerful story and I would imagine that it would be a daunting piece to take on in a retelling such as this one, but Edward St. Aubyn was certainly up to the task!

I picked it up Sunday morning, meaning to just get a start on it. After all, I already knew the inevitable ending—everybody dies, right? But St. Aubyn’s creation grabbed me and would not let go! He made it fresh with Henry Dunbar, the media mogul, whose hubris has brought him low. I read the entire thing before lunch!

I was impressed by both performances of Lear that I’ve seen, but they both played up Lear as suffering from dementia, as that’s one of the concerns of modern society. But St. Aubyn returned to Shakespeare’s original intention, I think, that Dunbar is brought low by his desire to have privilege without responsibility. Like Lear in the play, Dunbar regains his wits just long enough to realize all that he has lost, a truly tragic ending.

I really loved the drunken comedian, Peter Walker, in his role as the fool. That was an inspired bit of casting on the author’s part.

How have I not read any of St. Aubyn’s work before? That mistake must be corrected!

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review 2018-03-09 16:13
The Inimitable Jeeves / P.G. Wodehouse
The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

A classic collection of stories featuring some of the funniest episodes in the life of Bertie Wooster, gentleman, and Jeeves, his gentleman's gentleman--in which Bertie's terrifying Aunt Agatha stalks the pages, seeking whom she may devour, while Bertie's friend Bingo Little falls in love with seven different girls in succession (including the bestselling romantic novelist Rosie M. Banks). And Bertie, with Jeeves's help, hopes to evade the clutches of the terrifying Honoria Glossop... At its heart is one of Wodehouse's most delicious stories, 'The Great Sermon Handicap.'

 

At last, I have met Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves. They are an amusing pair. Wodehouse’s writing is a pleasure to read, although I don’t think I’m up to plunging into the next book right away. For me, it will be most effective in smaller doses.

I have to wonder if this was where the Monty Python group got their first ideas for the Upper Class Twit of the Year sketches? The dim-witted Bertie and the lovelorn Bingo would be helpless without the well-informed Jeeves, who sorts out their various problems.

I loved Bertie’s penchant for purple socks and red cummerbunds, not to mention Eton spats! All of which Jeeves manages to dispense with to return Bertie to his bland, proper best. I also enjoyed Aunt Agatha’s determined meddling and Bertie’s reluctant involvement in the family battles.

My enjoyment of Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series inspired me to give Wodehouse a try—the two authors were contemporaries, and I suspected that the relationship between Lord Peter and his butler Bunter might be a nod to Wooster & Jeeves. Lord Peter may have started out a bit more like Bertie in the first book, but he quickly became a sleuth to be reckoned with; however the relationship between Lord and butler has definite similarities, confirming my hypothesis.

I’m delighted to have made their acquaintance and shall continue on with their adventures in the near future!

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