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review 2017-07-04 22:23
The Essex Serpent / Sarah Perry
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

 

Being a fan of Mary Anning, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the story of Cora Seaborne, a fellow admirer of the female fossil finder. Perry manages to illustrate the debate between the scientific and the spiritual as Cora debates these matters with the local vicar, Will Ransome. They especially clash over the issue of the Essex Serpent, possibly a relic of the Cretaceous haunting the Essex shoreline. Which beliefs are true? When is belief harmful?

Released from a brutal marriage by her husband’s sudden death, Cora gets to indulge her inner naturalist and spend time wandering the trails, forests and shores of Essex. She finds freedom in dressing like a man and trying to forget the societal limitations on her gender. Her son, obviously depicted as somewhere on the autism spectrum, is a cause for concern.

A parallel story is that of Cora’s secretary/companion, Martha, who is a socialist and passionately interested in social justice issues. When a man of means fancies her, Martha uses that interest to point him and his fortune towards housing issues in the East End of London.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, but Perry manages to keep all the balls in the air and the plot ticking along quickly. Recommended for those who enjoy reading about the Victorian time period, albeit with a very modern view point.

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review 2017-07-04 22:06
Down Among the Sticks and Bones / Seanan McGuire
Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

 

A dark fairy tale, told in Seanan McGuire style.

This is a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway and although I think I liked that book just a titch more than this one, this is still an excellent book. It follows Jack (Jacqueline) and Jill (Jillian) through their childhood and the experience of finding “their door,” the portal to The Moors, another world where fictional people and beasts roam. Up to this point, Jack has been sculpted by her mother into a perfect, clean, nearly-immobile little princess and Jill has been encouraged by her father to be the tomboy, almost-son that he desires. On the Moors, the tables are turned—Jack gets to be active & competent, Jill gets to try out her ultra-feminine side. Each of them explores both extremes of femininity.

Even with the role reversal, they still struggle to understand one another and care for one another. Just as family members do. There are many ways to be a girl (and a boy) and there are many ways to deal with family. This is an interesting exploration of both of those issues.

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review 2017-07-04 18:09
How Not To Die / Michael Greger
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease - Michael Greger,Gene Stone

The vast majority of premature deaths can be prevented through simple changes in diet and lifestyle. In How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger, the internationally-renowned nutrition expert, physician, and founder of NutritionFacts.org, examines the fifteen top causes of premature death in America -- heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson's, high blood pressure, and more -- and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to live healthier lives.

 

Well this was a very interesting read! Since I have been contemplating changes to my diet, it arrived on hold for me at the public library at an opportune moment. I went shopping yesterday for esoteric items like hibiscus tea and ground flax seed and some less unusual items like more walnuts, fruit & vegetables.

I’m a believer in evidence and Dr. Greger provides boat-loads of that. Now my task is to test these ideas with myself as guinea pig and see if they actually work for me. I’ve been controlling my blood pressure with medication for many years now and just got the warning from my doc that my blood sugars are creeping upwards. The time for action is now!

However, there is a lot of repetition in this book. It got to the point where I wanted to skip entire chapters because I knew that I was just going to get more of the same. It gets almost to the point of being preachy, something that I detest. I also wish that he had dealt with the issue of the title at the beginning, rather than right at the end. Properly, the book should be called How Not To Die Prematurely and he admits this in the final paragraphs. It is not a prescription for immortality.

Meat-eaters (and I am one of them) will find this challenging. However, I keep my own notebook of recipes that I went through this weekend & I made notes. I certainly have enough vegetarian recipes that I enjoy to keep myself well fed while I try out this regime. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I will definitely be adding more fruits, vegetables, and nuts even while I try to wean myself off of too much meat. I don’t know whether I will ever be a vegan—I’m not sure I have enough self-righteousness for that—but a dietary improvement is in order.

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text 2017-07-04 18:07
I Contain Multitudes / Ed Yong
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery.

 

First of all, kudos for an excellent title, referencing the poetry of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. It is not the only literary reference and I truly appreciate that in a science writer.

Yong gives the feeling of being on a safari, observing exotic wildlife. He makes single-celled organisms as interesting as wildebeest and lions. We have come a long way in understanding this part of the ecosystem, and we have miles to go before we perfect that knowledge.

The microorganisms were here first. All of the multicellular animals & plants have evolved in concert with them and it should come as no surprise that we have vast colonies of microbes on us & in us. In fact, they are essential to our proper function—witness the microbe-free mice that researchers have created to experiment with these ideas. Their guts and immune systems don’t function properly and the animals don’t behave like normal animals either.

Before reading this book, I had a much too simplistic view of the human microbiome. Now I know a number of the factors that can influence it (diet & antibiotics are only two of a long list) and that “good” bacteria can do bad things if the system is out of whack (dysbiosis, my new word for the month).

Not to mention cool things like using bacterial infections to control mosquito-bourne diseases!

Recommended reading.

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review 2017-07-04 18:05
Third Grave Dead Ahead / Darynda Jones
Third Grave Dead Ahead - Darynda Jones

Paranormal private eye. Grim reaper extraordinaire. Whatever. Charley Davidson is back! And she's drinking copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake because, every time she closes her eyes, she sees him: Reyes Farrow, the part-human, part-supermodel son of Satan. Yes, she did imprison him for all eternity, but come on. How is she supposed to solve a missing persons case, deal with an ego-driven doctor, calm her curmudgeonly dad, and take on a motorcycle gang hellbent on murder when the devil's son just won't give up?

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

Some light-hearted fluff to follow an interesting non-fiction book.

I’m tiring of Charley & Reyes, since they seem to make very little progress on their relationship from book to book. In this one, he kidnaps her at knife-point, but that it somehow okay because she “knows that he cares about her.” And although I appreciate her friendship with Cookie, it really seems like both of them are way too focused on “finding a man” and not paying enough attention to their families, their careers, and all the myriads of others things that life consists of. I want to give both of them Penelope Russianoff’s book Why Do I Think I Am Nothing Without A Man?.

Having little luck with Reyes, Charley is throwing herself at two other guys, without really considering the consequences and the thought of the entanglements to come wearies me already. Needless to say, if I continue reading this series, I will be in no hurry to pick of the next volume.

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