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review 2016-11-29 22:00
The Vanishing Valazquez - A Review

THE VANISHING VALAZQUEZ by Laura Cumming

 
John Snare purchases a portrait of Prince Charles with the suspicion that the artist is Diego Valazquez.  As the subtitle of this book suggests that painting became his lifelong obsession and ultimately his ruin. 
 
This book has three main themes; John Snare’s obsession with the painting and the impact it has on his life, art history featuring the times and works of Valazquez and the history between England and Spain.  All of them interesting in their own right and the research Ms. Cumming did is obviously extensive.  She goes into great detail for all three of the themes.  I found each interesting and enjoyed Ms. Cumming’s writing. 
 
The flow of this book is where I had some issues.  It jumped around a little too much.  I understand wanting to intersperse the history of the painting with Snare’s story but often the information didn’t quite mesh coherently.
 
That aside it was an interesting read and anyone interested in Diego Valazquez and his works will enjoy this book.  I would highly recommend purchasing a physical copy of the book because it does include photographic reproductions of the paintings that an eReader does not do justice.  (I ending up reading the book and googling the paintings)
 
I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Scribner 
via Netgalley in the hopes of an honest review.
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (her Simon and Schuster author page)
 
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of the Observer since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of the New Statesman magazine, literary editor of the Listener, and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for the Herald and has contributed to the London Evening Standard, the Guardian, L’Express and Vogue. Her book A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits was widely reviewed to critical acclaim.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
29/30
 
 
 
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review 2016-11-26 15:00
The Other Einstein - A Review

THE OTHER EINSTEIN by Marie Benedict

 
Mitza Maric was an anomaly in her hometown.  She was a young woman with a handicap that made her “not marriage material” in everyone’s eyes and she was intelligent, which in her time period also seemed to be a strike against her.  She was, however, fortunate enough to have a father who not only adored her but nurtured and applauded her intelligence.  So, when other young girls her age were marrying and starting families Mitza was moving to Zurich to attend the University to study physics.
 
While it took her a long time to fit in with most of her fellow (all male) students she did find kindred spirits in the other girls residing at her boarding house, other females also pursuing an education.  Her professor continued to single her out and often ridicule her but the other students begin to understand her intelligence and reluctantly accept her … particularly one young man name Albert Einstein.
 
Friendship soon turned to more and after many obstacles to their relationship they married.  With two such brilliant minds the physics theories couldn’t help but flow freely.  But were the ideas all Albert’s or did Mitza have a significant contribution to his brilliance?  That is the question Ms. Benedict poses in this work of historical fiction.
 
As is expected much is known about Albert Einsten, but Mitza seems to have been ignored by history books in favor of her husband and his second wife.  Ms. Benedict writes a very believable and entertaining story based on the supposition that Mitza not only contributed to Albert’s genius but also may have come up with some of the theories always accredited to him.  She also gives plausible explanations as to how this may have come about.  All these things combined made for a very interesting read.
 
Historical fiction is by its very description supposition involving dialogue that no one could have recorded and private moments that can only be guessed at.  Ms. Benedict seamlessly blends these fiction aspects into the time period and what is known about Einstein.  While reading “The Other Einstein” I never once shook my head with the thought “no way!”  In fact, often the opposite was true and I found myself getting angry at the circumstance Mitza endured.  Much in the same way one cannot imagine one’s parents as young lovers, where I had to suspend disbelief, the most was with the descriptions of the wild haired genius as a young man passionately pursuing the woman he loved.  Of course, given his history with women Ms. Benedict did an admirable job of that side of Einstein as well.
 
Science was a major part of their early relationship and commonality, but Ms Benedict approached that aspect in a very readable manner.  Sometimes the theories were out of my grasp but that in no way bogged down the story instead only served to emphasize just how brilliant Mitza was.
 
Good historical fiction read. I would certainly not hesitate to seek out another of her books.
 
“I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, via Netgalley in the hope of receiving an honest review.”
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from www.authormariebenedict.com)
 
Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years' experience as a litigator at two of the country's premier law firms. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law.
 
While practicing as a lawyer, Marie dreamed of a fantastical job unearthing the hidden historical stories of women -- and finally found it when she tried her hand at writing. She embarked on a new, narratively connected series of historical novels with THE OTHER EINSTEIN, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein's first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The ChrysalisThe Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.
 
 
 
 
26/30
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review 2016-11-25 21:59
Underground Airlines - A Review

UNDERGROUND AIRLINES by Ben H. Winters

 
The “Underground Airline” is the present day version of the “Underground Railway”.  Why would this be necessary?  In this alternative representation of present day the Civil War never happened.  Most states banned slavery on their own, except for four states calling themselves the “hard four”.  With Slavery still in place of course there are runaway slaves which necessitates the existence of bounty hunters to return slaves to their owners.  With cell phones, computers, the internet and modern transportation the occupation of capturing runaway slaves bears a much different description than in the past.
 
Victor is a very clever and extremely resourceful black man working for an anonymous voice at the other end of his cell phone, trying to infiltrate an abolitionist cell.  His case is to track and apprehend Jackdaw, a man someone desperately wants to capture.  Along the way he happens across a young woman and her son, who may be able to help Victor in his pursuit.  But something is wrong … why is Jackdaw so important and what is the government’s stake not only in this pursuit but in maintaining the “hard four”.
 
As a rule I do not normally read “alternative history” but the description of this book proved too hard for me to resist.  Interestingly, where I normally read this type of book and enjoy the story despite the alterations to history, in this book Mr. Winters intrigued me with his imaginative version of America.  He gave an interesting “alternative” reality – a United States that left the United Nations because of the constant pressure to outlaw slavery resulting in many countries placing trade embargoes against the U.S.  Interesting scenarios about what would happen to the U.S. when it slips from being a world leader. 
 
The thriller/story part of “Underground Airline” is where I felt a little let down.  The first part of the book left me confused.  It took me a while to sort out who the good guys were.  Then my interest picked up when Victor met an unusual young woman and her son in a hotel lobby.  The middle pages turned quickly as I became immersed in the story and then … what happened? 
 
I got a feeling that there might be a sequel in the works but the ending cannot even be described as a cliff hanger … it just wrapped up quickly and in a rather disappointing manner.  I know others raved about this book and while the writing was good and the premise intriguing I’m not convinced I would visit Mr. Winter’s version of the United States again if a sequel were published.
 
"I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Mulholland Books, via Netgalley in the hopes of an honest review."
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from www.benhwinters.com)
 
Ben H. Winters is the author of nine novels, including most recently the New York Times bestselling Underground Airlines (Mulholland Books). His other work includes the award-winning Last Policeman trilogy, which concluded in 2014 with World of Trouble (Quirk), a nominee for an Anthony Award and an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Countdown City was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award, and it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.
Ben’s other books Literally Disturbed (Price Stern Sloan), a book of scary poems for kids; the New York Times bestselling parody novel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk) and a novel for young readers, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (HarperCollins), which was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2011 as well as an Edgar Nominee in the juvenile category.
Ben has also written extensively for the theater, and was a 2009-2010 Fellow of the Dramatists Guild; his plays for young audiences include The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere , A (Tooth) Fairy Tale and Uncle Pirate, and his plays for not-young audiences include the 2008 Off-Broadway musical Slut and the “jukebox musical” Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, which is produced frequently across the country and around the world.  Ben’s journalism has appeared in The Chicago Reader, The Nation, In These Times, USA Today, the Huffington Post, and lots of other places.
Ben grew up in suburban Maryland, went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and has subsequently lived in six different cities—seven if you count Brooklyn twice for two different times. Presently he lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Diana, a law professor, and their three children.
 
 
 
 
25/30
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text 2016-11-23 22:35
An Evening with Kathy Reichs

Kudos to KPL for always bringing in great authors.

 
Last evening I was lucky enough to attend “An Evening with Kathy Reichs” at my local library.    I have to start off this post by saying I am not really a Kathy Reichs fan – okay, that’s a bit cold – let’s say I do not read Kathy Reichs.  I went to this event because my BFF is a fan (of both the books and the television series) and since she had never been to an author event (shocking – I know) she asked if I would accompany her to this one.  It didn’t take much arm-twisting since these library events are always free of charge and, I know from previous experience, always interesting and entertaining.  Ms. Reichs was no exception.
 
Ms. Reichs is a wonderful speaker. 
 
She began the evening but explaining to her audience a little bit about what a “forensic anthropologist” actually does for a living.  Given her many work obligations, her numerous humanitarian efforts, her charitable work, being a producer on “Bones” and enjoying her six grandchildren I am surprised she has any time left to write her popular books at all.  Now, I must say that the topic of forensic anthropology, especially accompanied by graphic slides, could be a little tummy-churning but Ms. Reichs handled it gently and with a sense of humor that, for some reason, I was not expecting.  I’m sure had a been one of her readers I would not have been as surprised because, as she explained, she does try to incorporate humor into both her books and television series to lighten things up once in a while.  I couldn’t help but notice that each of her slides during the presentation had a little skeleton somewhere on the screen doing somersaults, dancing, or just walking back and forth.  I tried to capture him in a picture but failed.  The image will give you the idea though.
 
Ms. Reichs also admitted to frequently thinking “That sooo cool!” when other folks not in her line of work might be thinking “Ewwww!”  She did try to convince the audience, while explaining the importance of entomology to her line of work, that maggots were cute.  She even brought a slide of a maggot magnified under a powerful microscope.  Yeah … I wasn’t buying into that one!
 
I am sure that I was the only person in the audience that was not familiar with every one of her books but she went through a few of them, starting with “Deja Dead” and explained which of her real-life cases the idea for the book came from.  Often it was a compilation of two cases or a “what-if” thought she had when puzzling out a forensic problem.  Even with authors whose works I do read I find the back-story of where the idea was born is always fascinating.  Ms. Reichs, taking the time to explain where the ideas for the books came from may have earned you a new fan … it definitely made me want to go out and pick up a copy.
 
 
Ms. Reichs also introduced the “Virals” series, YA books she writes with her son, Brendan Reichs.  Wow, that series sounded really good to me.
 
VIRALS (from her website)
 
Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage “sci-philes” who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.
 
As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot-if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer’s scent.
 
Fortunately, they are now more than friends- they’re a pack. They are Virals.
 
 
 
Ms. Reichs next segment was about “Bones” the television series.  She did touch slightly on the fact that the show doesn’t follow the books too closely.  I had been people watching and eavesdropping (as I am wont to do while standing in line) on the people waiting to go into the auditorium and one of the major things I noticed was the division between fans of the show and those of the books.  Only a slight few seemed to like both?  One group of fans enjoyed one or the other enough to make the 260-mile trek from Rochester, NY to attend the evening.  Ms. Reichs does write one show each season and I had no idea the amount of time, from idea inception to final production, went into getting just one episode on the air.
 
As her talk was wrapping up she did introduce two upcoming books.  One compilation brought to readers by the Mystery Writers of America in which she teamed up with Lee Child to write a story where the action features both Jack Reacher and Temperance Brennan.  Interesting!  Her next book (I didn’t catch the slide in time to show you the cover image) but it’s titled “Two Nights” and will NOT feature Temperance Brennan.  The only tidbit she would share was the main character’s name – Sunday Night.
 
The enjoyable evening ended with a Q&A from the audience where were learned that she enjoyed reading murder mysteries, those on the darker side, such as Jo Nesbo, Clive Cussler and, with a sly smile, she emphatically assured the audience that she had never heard of Patricia Cornwell.
 
A very well deserved round of applause ended the evening and we went out to meet Ms. Reichs in the lobby of the library to get our books signed.  Yes, I purchased her newest book “The Bone Collection” because Ms. Reichs won me over and this book is a composed of four novellas.  Ms. Reichs explained that they were intended to be short stories but she has a little problem with the “short” part of that description.  I thought this would be a good introduction to her characters for a newbie like me.  My BFF was quite excited to note that “First Bones”, included in this book and never published anywhere before, is a story that reveals how Tempe became a forensic anthropologist, leaving behind the world of academia and moving “into the grim but addictive world of criminal investigation”.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
23/30
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review 2016-11-22 20:21
Saving Houdini - A Review

SAVING HOUDINI by Michael Redhill

 
Bloom the Beguiler – that “great mystifier” – is performing at the Canon theater and Dashiel Woolfe is excited to be attending the show.  The show commemorates the 85th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death.  Dash was surprised that his mom managed to snag tickets since the show usually sold out a year in advance.  However, when it came time for the finale, “The Great Soap Bubble Vanish”, Dash was really hoping he would not be the one picked to go up on stage … of course, he was chosen.  Dashiel had his own reasons for not wanting to be up on stage but had he known the history of the “Soap Bubble Vanish” he would have been even more apprehensive.  It was only performed once before and that night was never spoken of again.  Dash soon enough found out why when the last thing he remembered was standing inside a giant soap bubble and now he was alone on the stage … in 1926.  The first thing he did was throw up!
 
How would he get back to 2011?
 
With the help of a new friend, a washed up magician and, maybe, Harry Houdini himself they may be able to recreate the trick and get him home.  Maybe?  To make that happen Dash and his friend Walter need to get from Toronto to Montreal, convince Houdini that his “time travel” story is true and build the machine for the soap bubble.  And, as only Dash knew, Houdini’s death loomed only a couple of days away.  Simple, right?  What if Dash could save Houdini too?  Quite the page turning adventure ensues.
 
Being a bit of a sucker for things “Houdini” I picked up this book in my recent “use up my gift card” book-shopping spree.  It’s written for young readers and I can certainly see them becoming quickly caught up in this well written and entertaining story.  I certainly was.  There is edge of your seat suspense, the conundrum of time travel, some breath stopping escapades, humor and of course, a little magic thrown in every now and then.
 
I think this book would definitely appeal to ‘tween readers of both genders but particularly boys.  The (mis)adventures that Dash and Walter get up to would certainly make a young man’s imagination run wild as well as tickle that pre-teen funny bone.  Mr. Redhill did an admirable job of describing the differences between 2011 Toronto and the same city in 1926.  “Saving Houdini” also contains a great message about friendship between it’s pages.
 
If you have a young (or young at heart) reader who likes adventure stories this would make a wonderful gift.
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the book jacket)
 
Michael Redhill is a fiction writer, playwright, and poet, and is the co-editor and former publisher of the literary magazine “Brick”.
 
His first novel, “Martin Sloane”, a finalist for the Giller Prize, won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Books in Canada First Novel Award.  His novel “Consolation” received the Toronto Book Award, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was the winner of the Keep Toronto Reading “One Book” campaign.
 
A father of two, Michael Redhill lives in Toronto.  Saving Houdini is his first book for young readers.
 
 
 
 22/30
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