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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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text 2018-09-17 21:43
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url 2018-09-14 12:50
2018 US National Books Award (non fiction)
One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy - Carol Anderson Ph.D.,Dick Durbin
The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation - Colin G. Calloway
Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016 - Steve Coll
Brothers Of The Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War - Marwan Hisham,Molly Crabapple,Molly Crabapple
American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic - Victoria Johnson
The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life - David Quammen

Noticeable books. Added and edit this post later.

 

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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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review 2018-08-11 12:59
Magic Medicine
Magic Medicine: A Trip Through the Intoxicating History and Modern-Day Use of Psychedelic Plants and Substances - Cody Johnson

by Cody Johnson

 

I have to say that this is a bold book for both the author and the publisher. Most of the substances covered are things that have never and would never enter my body, but I found it interesting to read about them in such a straightforward way.

 

It's divided into four sections. Classical Psychedelics has things like Peyote, DMT, LSD and a few less familiar substances. Empathogenics covers MDA and MDNA (Ecstasy). Dissociative Psychedelics includes Ketamine, Salvia and Nitrous Oxide as well as one I never heard of called DMX. Unique Psychedelics covers Cannabis, which I wouldn't class as a psychedelic at all, and a few weird things like fish and sea sponges and mad honey. It appears to be the miscellaneous chapter.

 

The Introduction on the future of psychedelic medicine points out that many of these substances were invented for medicinal use, or in the case of natural substances like Cannabis and Peyote, used historically by Shamen. I hadn't known there was actually an organization called MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, that advocates proper research on psychedelics and is pushing to have them accepted into mainstream medicine.

 

The author is undeniably pro-psychedelics and I think even glosses over some of the down sides, but he cites research I've read about elsewhere of substances like MDMA being used successfully to treat PTSD and some forms of depression. The overall tone of the book is mostly scientific.

 

The history of where each substance came from and chemical compound information is covered, followed by a relation of what the experience is like, keeping in mind that such experiences are subjective. Famous names like Timothy Leary crop up in appropriate places as well as some lesser known names of researchers like Sasha Shulgin, who may be well known among those who study this subject but new to people like myself.

 

Therapeutic use of some substances is also explained as well as follow-on recreational use. The refreshing, no holds barred approach allows complete information regardless of legal status or morality police opinion.

 

Extensive references and index are included. The book would be appropriate to a medical library, though I found it very interesting for personal reading.

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