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review 2018-02-24 04:23
If you know Michener, you know the drill
Caribbean - James A. Michener

This one is from late in Michener's career, 1989, when he had pretty much developed his historical fiction storytelling into the formula we all know, and for the most part love. 

 

He takes a region (the Caribbean, in this case), sets up the historical background with true-to-history real life characters in the background  (Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, various British governors of Jamaica and Barbados, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Victor Hugues, Bob Marley, etc) and then focuses stories on his fictional main characters, and follows their progeny or families through the generations. This particular book goes from around 1300 to the 1980's. 

 

As usual, the stories range from quite good (the cannibal invasion of the Antilles from mainland South America in the 1300's, most of the pirate adventures, the brothers who started a sugar plantation in Barbados, etc) to a bit contrived or tepid (the 1930's Detroit Times reporter who falls in love with an island girl).  BUT, this is a good way to learn the basics of history of a region in a short time.

 

If you've interested in history, and have never read anything by him before, I don't recommend this as your first book by him, unless the Caribbean holds some special interest for you. His Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, and Tales of the South Pacific are all much better than this. 

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review 2018-02-22 22:10
A great read, full of fascinating, curious, sad, and even horrifying stories.
A Secret History of Brands: The Dark and Twisted Beginnings of the Brand Names We Know and Love - Matt MacNabb

Thanks to Alex and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I would not class myself as particularly “brand-aware”. Although when I was younger I wanted to have the latest of everything, especially if all my friends had it (oh, the wonders of peer-pressure, even then), with time I’ve become quite skeptical about it, and I tend to avoid them if I can. (I understand the status thing, but I can’t see why I should have to pay and then, on top of that, be happy to advertise the product by making sure everybody knows what it is). Give me local craft any day! So, of course, I could not resist a book that promised to share with its readers ‘The Dark and Twisted Beginnings of the Brand Names We Know and Love’. And it delivers, for sure. I suspect if you are big authorities on the subject, you might already know a lot of the information contained in this book but if like me, you are just curious, this is a gem.

I’d never read anything by this author before, but his style is engaging and he pitches this volume at the right level for the subject: he includes the adequate amount of historical information about each one of the brands and characters (inventors, creators, public figures…) to make sure that the readers understand the context of each brand and its products, and then focuses on the more intriguing and less publicized aspects of their evolution. Some of them might be more familiar than others (I suspect a lot of readers will know about Coca-Cola and its early cocaine content), but even then, MacNabb manages to unearth elements of the story that are bizarre and less well-known (so Coca-Cola still contains extracts of coca leaves [no actual cocaine though, don’t worry!] supplied by the only lab in the US with a permit to import coca leaves).

While some of the chapters are curious and amusing (like the Coca-Cola one or the chapter on the Kellogg’s ‘war on sex’), some can be quite disturbing. There are many connections to Nazi Germany I was not aware of, like Hugo Boss’s manufacture of Nazi uniforms, Adidas & Puma’s Nazi connections (I had no idea the creators of these two brands were brothers, either), Chanel’s spying for the Germans (and the fact that the information was kept under wraps by the French government). For me, the most shocking were the chapters on Bayer (not so much the Heroin production, even if they seem to have become aware of its addicting properties quite early on, but its direct connection to slave labour and the production of Zyklon B, used in the gas chambers in the concentration camps), and Henry Ford and his anti-Semitic beliefs and writings (that seem to have inspired Hitler). The chapters on Winchester and Bakelite were intriguing (as I didn’t know anything at all about the history of the objects, other than some vague notion of the importance of the rifle) but sad, due to the personal tragedies behind the stories.

This book is a great read, a page-turner, and I suspect most readers will move on to read full accounts on some of the selected topics. Although the brands are chosen for their interesting stories, the author gives credit where credit is due and always tries to offer as balanced an account as possible of the people and the companies, making sure to emphasise how things have changed for most of them. It is a sobering thought to reflect upon the past of some of these household names, and it is important we don’t forget the lessons learned.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in brands, pop culture, history, and it will be a resource of interest to writers and researchers. (The notes contain bibliographical information for those interested in further reading). Another great addition to the publisher’s varied catalogue.

 

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text 2018-02-22 19:20
TBR Thursday
A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel - Marlon James
Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill
An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson
Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood
The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse
The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman
Vlad: The Last Confession - C.C. Humphreys

So, I am home from a rather unpleasant trip to Taiwan.  The weather was unseasonably cold (yes, its winter, but it doesn't usually get so cold and wet and gray).  The birds were thin on the ground.  Most of Taiwan is not set up to deal with cold weather, so there was no heat on our bus, in our hotels or in the restaurants that we ate in.  My cold weather clothing got a lot of wear and could probably crawl to the washer itself at this point!

 

To make an unpleasant trip worse, I caught a nasty cold halfway through, complete with hacking cough.  Staying in cold, uncomfortable hotels did nothing to help.  Also, our ground agent (who ordered the food for us) didn't seem to care if we actually liked the food he was providing.  I can't tell you how many evenings at the end I just ate a couple of bowls of rice and decided I'd eat when I got home. 

 

So I've been under the weather for over a week even when I made it home to my nice soft bed in my warm house and where I get to choose the menu.  I've even been too groggy to have much interest in reading, something which is completely unlike myself.

 

So it is with great relief that I find myself feeling better and ready to tackle my stack of library books!  I'm going to hear Marlon James at a guest lecture next week, so I am plugging away at A Brief History of Seven Killings.  I'm finding it slow going, but I think I'm finding the rhythm and expect to make a dent on it this weekend.

 

Bellevue Square is not what I expected--I hope to finish it off tonight or tomorrow night.  I'm reading it for the B in my alphabetical title challenge.  Alias Grace will count toward both my Female Author A to Z challenge and my PopSugar challenge (a book about a villain or an anti-hero).

 

Then I get to treat myself to An Enchantment of Ravens and The Lost Plot, two books that I've really been looking forward to.  Plus get introduced to Wodehouse's Jeeves in The Inimitable Jeeves

 

And finally, Vlad : The Last Confession is by a new favourite author, Chris Humphreys, who I met at a convention last summer.  I recommended that our public library acquire the book and it has finally arrived!

 

Its still cold here in Calgary and we've had a pile of snow, so I will quite happily hide in my house this weekend, cuddled up with my books.

 

 

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text 2018-02-21 20:46
Modeling agencies
A Natural History of the Romance Novel - Pamela Regis

I could do this as a "currently reading" title with periodic updates, but too much is going on, so I'm just going to leave a few notes here and there.  You can follow, or not, as you choose.

 

 

Regis bases her analysis of the content of romance novels on the literary theories of mid-20th century critic Northrop Frye.  She seems, therefore, to be trying to fit the popular fiction form of the romance novel into the academic model of "literature," as though the two were almost entirely distinct.  Any prose narrative that has already been accepted as "literature" by the credentialed academic community -- such as Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre -- has been granted respect.  Regis seems to be attempting to squeeze romance novels into the same mold while at the same time insisting they are so different from literature that they cannot be considered literature, but if they can be seen to share some characteristics, then they might be worthy of some respect.

 

Yes, it's contorted logic.  But Regis never comes out and admits romance novels -- as they are written, published, read, and enjoyed today -- are essentially no different in content or form from "literature."  That would be academic sacrilege.  A kind of "separate, but sort of equal" compromise that would allow her to sell her book without losing her academic standing.

 

Jane Austen didn't write "literature."  Neither did Charles Dickens.  Neither did Wilkie Collins or Victor Hugo.  Maybe it's time to look at more than a few samples from "literature," samples which already have the stamp of "romance novel," and look at more than a few samples of real romance novels from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and compare them to a more neutral standard, and perhaps a more universal standard.  Then see how both of them stand up.

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text 2018-02-21 20:44
Very Little Reading...

is getting done this week and weekend around here, because this is one of those weeks where I am not destined to be at home much.

 

But there are very good reasons for it: A very short-notice work trip took me to London yesterday. Yay! And even better, the work commitments ended just after lunch, with my colleague asking if I had plans for the extra time before we had to catch our flight home. 

 

Me? Plans? Of course, I have plans! Apparently, he didn't but he was happy to tag along to see Charlie and the Whale...

 

 

I had not been back to the Natural History Museum for a couple of years, and this was the first time since they changed out the dinosaur for the blue whale in Hintze Hall. It is huge. What a great idea to feature it in the main hall. It really let you get a sense of scale and perspective to see it stretching almost all along the main entrance.

 

We didn't have a lot of time, certainly not enough to look at anything in detail or wonder off in many of the specialist areas, but I did make a point of us saying Hi to Pickwick's great-great-great-grandma/pa.

 

 

I love this place.

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