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review 2018-09-22 00:17
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to The All Souls Trilogy
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life - Claire Baldwin,Colleen Madden,Deborah Harkness,Lisa Halttunen,Jill Hough

There are some here who know I'm an unapologetic fan of this series, but fan or not, I'm generally not the type to buy the "guides" the more popular series put out because in all truth, they feel like something that's been thrown together to squeeze just that much more money out of everyone; especially completists.  


But the cover of this one sucked me in at the Barnes and Noble and BN was the first bookshop stop on my Holiday of Book Buying Madness, so I caved.  


Yay to caving!  It ended up being really interesting, as evidenced by the fact that it took me three weeks to read the damn thing.  Harkness et al manage to weave an awful lot of historical facts into a book about books that are about vampires, witches and demons.  This is the place where Harkness gets to share all her historical knowledge, research and education that went into giving Matthew and Diana's adventures verisimilitude, as well as brilliantly weaving the lives of the vampires (and Diana to a lesser extent) into history.


She's really clever about this too; using real documents that have gone missing, or paintings done during the correct period that are of unknown subjects or known to have been destroyed over time, she's able to plausibly weave fact and fiction together without an abundance of anachronisms.  Little asides throughout the book in her own voice shares with the reader her inspirations for locations, homes, castles, even tea shops.


I had no problem seeing the delineation between the factual and the fictional, but in the section where the characters are outlined, a symbol is next to each name that does exist in the historical records, a touch I appreciated since Elizabethan history is something I'm hazy about, at best.


There are beautiful illustrations throughout, a couple of out-takes from two of the books, and a few full color illustrations from - I think - alchemical texts.  This was, in fact, my only complaint about the book - the full color inserts were not captioned - an odd oversight where everything else is clearly foot-noted and cited or explained within the narrative.  At one point Harkness' own historical research was used as a citation, leading me to believe the authors' were determined to be as clear and accurate as possible.  Perhaps this means the color inserts were the work of the illustrator for the book, and not historical, but it would be nice to know either way.


A fun and very informative read for those that enjoyed the trilogy; not sure how well it would work for those that didn't read it as it might be annoying to have fictional characters you know nothing about, or care nothing for, interwoven through all the historical goodies.


I read this for the New Release square of Halloween Bingo 2018.


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review 2018-09-17 18:39
The Never-Ending Wrong - Katherine Anne Porter

"THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG" is essentially Katherine Anne Porter's account of the experiences she had during the 1920s working with a group protesting the conviction of the shoemaker Nicola Sacco and the fishmonger Bartolomeo Vanzetti (both by political conviction, anarchists) on the charge of murder by a Massachusetts court. Porter focuses on what she observed and experienced during the final hours leading to the execution of both Sacco and Vanzetti in August 1927. In its time, the Sacco-Vanzetti case was a cause célèbre that garnered considerable support and attention - both nationally and internationally - among notable people like Porter who believed that both men had been wrongly convicted. This book, originally published in 1977 - 3 years before Porter's death at age 90 -- is also a retrospective for the author on the previous 5 decades.

"THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG" at 63 pages is a short book. But one rich in insights such as the following observation made by the author: "... the grim little person named Rosa Baron ... who was head of my particular group during the Sacco-Vanzetti demonstrations in Boston snapped at me when I expressed the wish that we might save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti: ' Alive --- what for? They are no earthly good to us alive.' These painful incidents illustrate at least four common perils in the legal handling that anyone faces when accused of a capital crime of which he is not guilty, especially if he has a dubious place in society, an unpopular nationality, erroneous political beliefs, the wrong religion socially, poverty, low social standing --- ... Both... Sacco and Vanzetti, suffered nearly all of these disadvantages."

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review 2018-09-15 22:54
Be Buried in the Rain
Be Buried in the Rain - Barbara Michaels

Boy, when Barbara Michaels got it right, she was one of the best.  I wouldn't go so far as to call Be Buried in the Rain one of her best, but it's definitely in the higher end of the scale.


Julie Newcomb is the family's sacrificial lamb, bribed to spend her summer vacation helping to nurse her dying grandmother, an evil witch of a woman, in the crumbling but historical old family manse in Virginia, place nature is slowly and inexorably reclaiming, and positively dripping with atmosphere.  Julie's been busy in med school, unaware of the two skeletons found on the family's property, left posed in the middle of the road, so doesn't find out about the drama and mystery swirling around until she arrives.  Efforts by her family to mitigate the scandal and gossip involve bringing in an archeologist who just happens to be Julie's ex; a relationship that imploded 5 years previously, thanks to the evil machinations of her grandmother.


The one thing that Michaels never seemed to get right, in my opinion, was romance; her characters almost always fell into the insta-love category.  Whether this is a reflection of the writing style in her time or not, I can't say, but it remains true with this book.  Yes, the relationship was one that had prior history, and no, they didn't just pick up where they left off in the first few chapters; Michael does at least get the bit right.  But once they do get back together (this is not a spoiler; they always get back together in her books), their future together is taken as a fait accompli - instant happily ever after.


What Michaels does get right though, is the slyly evil grandmother.  Her pure, almost supernatural ability to fight back through two strokes; her ability in spite of her obvious physical impairment, to continue to manipulate and control the people around her, and her diabolical ability to psychologically break her own grand children.


Her other talent is atmosphere; Maidenwood is positively Southern Gothic.  Her archeological background serves the story well too without sugar-coating the monotony of the profession at all.  Most of the book is nothing but frustrated attempts at finding the history buried beneath the soil.


Julie, today, dances the line of being TSTL.  Her ability to blithely ignore common sense is sometimes breathtaking, but this is a story from another age when this sort of heroic damsel was the last word in romantic suspense, so enjoying the story requires suspending disbelief a little further than usual in terms of what it means to be a strong, heroic female lead.


The mystery involved was more complex than it looked at the start, and I was left unsurprised by one of the culprits, but more than a tiny bit horrified by the skeletons' stories.  I might have to go back and re-read the very end, because I'm not sure that the full story behind who put the skeletons in the road was really explained, but I might have just failed to retain that part as the jet lag set in and my will to live drained out (I finished reading this on the plane home).


This definitely qualifies for Halloween Bingo, but I'm not sure yet what square I'm using it for.  I'm in catch-up mode at the moment, but will update this post when I get everything sorted out.

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review 2018-09-08 11:28
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes That Fought Them by Jennifer Wright
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright


I waited to write this review because I wanted to sit with this book and gather my thoughts (and take in others' thoughts about the book). I listened to the book and I have to say part of my enjoyment came from the tone/voice work of the narrator, Gabra Zackman. 


I began reading the book as if it was a historical look at different plagues and the science behind the disease/the spread/the cure or treatment. However, by the end of the first chapter I realized this was more of a historical/political science look at public health and uses times of plagues to show why public health matters and why a robust public knowledge of basic science is needed to address emergency outbreaks of disease as much as the laboratory and medicine side of science. It all comes together in the epilogue, where the lessons from the previous chapters are used to examine the AIDS epidemic.


I do have a small quibble with the book, as uses the term plague quite loosely. The Dancing Plague hit only a small part of Europe and lobotomies were a medical procedure that turned into a fad more than a disease that indiscriminately killed hundreds or thousands. 


Bottom line: this book is about the politics and policies of public health and public knowledge base of disease than about the diseases themselves or science. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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review 2018-09-08 07:14
Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History - Keith O'Brien

This book sheds light on the unsung contributions made by women pilots to aviation between 1927 and 1937, a time often referred to as the Golden Age of Aviation. Its focus is on 5 women aviators of the 1920s and 1930s (i.e., Louise Thaden, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Nichols, whose pilot license was signed by aviation pioneer Orville Wright himself) and their struggles to gain acceptance and respect in the field of aviation. Aviation in its early days was considered more of a "man's sport" and women were discouraged from being a part of it. But these women -- many of whom proved to be extraordinary fliers in their own right --- were made of sterner stuff. These 5 women persisted - and some of them paid the ultimate price for that. 

The only quibble I have with this book is the author's frequent use of the word 'airship' in place of 'airplane'. By common understanding in the aviation industry, 'airship' refers to a 'dirigible', a lighter-than air machine. For that reason, I've taken a star away from what otherwise would have been a 5-star rating.

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