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review 2018-04-18 15:52
Just One Damned Thing After Another / Jodi Taylor
Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake....

 

This is the most enjoyable time-travel romp that I’ve ever read! I had great fun following the boisterous and sometimes explosive adventures of Madeleine Maxwell, as she joins the St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The book ends up being something that is hard to categorize, although I’m pretty sure that stores will stick it firmly on the Fantasy shelf. But there is mystery, intrigue, romance—you name the genre.

I am always delighted with fiction that includes dinosaurs, so the time travel to the Cretaceous was absolutely perfect for my tastes. As Miss Maxwell says, “You put dinosaurs and people together, you always get screaming.” Apparently she has seen at least one of the Jurassic Park movies!

I chose this as my time travel selection for my 2018 PopSugar challenge, but I will definitely be continuing on with the series. I love the patchwork of genres, the British sense of humour, and the adventure.

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review 2018-04-18 15:40
Corvus / Harold Johnson
Corvus - Harold Johnson

Eighty years have passed since flash floods, droughts, and tornadoes ravaged the North American landscape and mass migrations to the north led to decade-long wars. In the thriving city of La Ronge, George Taylor and Lenore Hanson are lawyers who rarely interact with members of the lower classes from the impoverished suburb of Regis and the independently thriving Ashram outside the city. They live in a world of personalized Platforms, self-driving cars, and cutting edge Organic Recreational Vehicles (ORVs), where gamers need never leave their virtual realities.

When Lenore befriends political dissenter and fellow war veteran Richard Warner, and George accidentally crash-lands his ORV near the mountain-sheltered haven of a First Nations community, they become exposed to new ways of thinking. As the lives of these near-strangers become intertwined, each is forced to confront the past before their relationships and lives unravel.

 

The author of this book will be coming to the annual When Words Collide conference here in Calgary in August. I try to read at least one book by each of the guests of honour before the conference and since I am a birder, how could I resist a book called Corvus?

I really enjoyed the book—Mr. Johnson is a talented writer. I loved how many threads he managed to weave into this story, everything from Aboriginal issues to climate change to poverty issues. He also painted an intriguing and rather grim view of the future. I loved his Organic Recreational Vehicles, developed from birds—swans, ravens, hawks, etc. One of the main characters, George Taylor, purchases a Raven ORV and true to Raven’s mischievous nature in Aboriginal tradition, George is taken on some unexpected adventures.

Some of Johnson’s themes are really overt—there are a couple of places where I was dismayed with the bludgeoning of the reader with his opinions (even though I agree with them). That prevented this from being a higher rated read for me—your mileage may vary.

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review 2018-04-16 17:17
Unbuttoned / Christopher Dummit
Unbuttoned : a History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life - Christopher Dummitt

When Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King died in 1950, the public knew little about his eccentric private life. In his final will King ordered the destruction of his private diaries, seemingly securing his privacy for good. Yet twenty-five years after King’s death, the public was bombarded with stories about "Weird Willie," the prime minister who communed with ghosts and cavorted with prostitutes. Unbuttoned traces the transformation of the public’s knowledge and opinion of King’s character, offering a compelling look at the changing way Canadians saw themselves and measured the importance of their leaders’ personal lives.

Christopher Dummitt relates the strange posthumous tale of King’s diary and details the specific decisions of King’s literary executors. Along the way we learn about a thief in the public archives, stolen copies of King’s diaries being sold on the black market, and an RCMP hunt for a missing diary linked to the search for Russian spies at the highest levels of the Canadian government. Analyzing writing and reporting about King, Dummitt concludes that the increasingly irreverent views of King can be explained by a fundamental historical transformation that occurred in the era in which King’s diaries were released, when the rights revolution, Freud, 1960s activism, and investigative journalism were making self-revelation a cultural preoccupation.

 

If you are picking up this book to read the salacious details of the private life of William Lyon Mackenzie King, set it back on the shelf. There are precious few details about our 10th Prime Minister’s dabbling in spiritualism or his probable visits to prostitutes. Instead, this is an analysis of the way Canadians have viewed/judged/responded to these revelations about WLMK.

It’s an examination of our changing attitudes towards politicians, about the limitations of privacy, and what is acceptable behavior in Canadian society. Basically, the psychological changes as we moved from Victorian to modern sensibilities. Much of the text deals with the history of the voluminous diaries kept by WLMK and how they were a thorn in the side of his executors. King was notorious for doing just enough to get through a crisis and not another thing more—so of course he had wanted certain excerpts of his diary available to historians and the rest destroyed. However, he never got around to specifying which parts were which. The upshot is that all of his diary is now available for perusal and today you can search them online through Library and Archives Canada. His executors only destroyed the binders which detailed séances WLMK attended.

Looking backward from the 21st century, King’s foibles seem pretty tame, but they caused a sensation when they were first revealed to the public after King’s death. With no social media to out him, he was able to conduct his psychic research without penalty during his time in office. I’m not sure that Canadians are interested in more than the broad strokes of their politicians’ lives and beliefs even yet. We are much more likely to leave them alone when we encounter them in the community, because we respect private life, even if we don’t respect the politician his/her self.

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review 2018-04-16 16:55
Heir to the Empire / Timothy Zahn
Heir to the Empire - Timothy Zahn

Five years after the Death Star was destroyed and Darth Vader and the Emperor were defeated, the galaxy is struggling to heal the wounds of war, Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting twins, and Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of new Jedi Knights.

But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords—the brilliant and deadly Grand Admiral Thrawn—has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to create.

 

Dare I admit that I’ve never seen the Star Wars movies? And despite that gap in my experience, I still know enough of the plot lines and character details to be able to appreciate this book.

Thrawn is a great foe—alien, cool under fire, an intellect to be reckoned with, and a planning mastermind. It’s difficult to stay one step ahead of him, but somehow Luke, Han and Leia manage to do so.

My sense is that it would be best suited to a younger audience. Like the movies, things are not very nuanced, there are definite good guys & bad guys. The vocabulary and the sentence structure are uncomplicated and the plot is straight forward.

I can see the appeal to those devoted to the franchise.

Book number 280 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2018-04-15 04:43
Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
Books Can Be Deceiving - Jenn McKinlay

Lindsey used to be an archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale until about six months ago, when she was laid off. She's now the director of the Briar Creek Library. She's just starting to feel more comfortable with small town life and her new position. It helps that one of her employees, Beth, is also her friend from back when they were both getting their library science degrees.

Beth is a children's librarian who's been working on a children's book of her own for several years. Lindsey thinks Beth should show her work to a New York editor who's vacationing in Briar Creek, but Beth is hesitant - her horrible boyfriend, Rick, keeps telling her it isn't good enough and needs a lot more work. Since he's a famous author whose first book won the Caldecott Medal, he'd know, right? When Beth tells Rick about her plans to meet with the editor, things rapidly sour between them. They break up, but the situation only gets worse after Beth hears what the editor has to say. She attempts to go to Rick's island and give him a piece of her mind, only to discover that he's been murdered. Unfortunately, Chief Daniels seems to consider Beth his top suspect.

A coworker of mine highly recommend this series to me. She basically inhaled what's been published in the series so far. She enjoyed the library aspects, the romance with Sully (she mentioned the love triangle that pops up in a later book, so I already know to expect that), and the fact that Lindsey is fairly similar in age to her (and me, too!).

My feelings about this book are more measured, but I enjoyed it too. The library aspects were great, even though there were a few things that made me raise an eyebrow. The odds of Lindsey getting an archivist job at Yale right out of library school seemed incredibly slim, based on what my job hunt 9 or 10 years ago was like. Then again, this was published in 2011, so maybe such a thing would have been more likely in the early 2000s. I also raised an eyebrow at the way Lindsey handled Beth's situation. I couldn't help but wonder if she'd have been as quick to promise Ms. Cole, aka "the lemon," she wouldn't suspend her if she had been the one accused of murder. Having your best friend as one of your employees can mess with your judgment.

That said, most of the details were great, like the random phone call from a vendor selling a database the library neither needed nor could afford, the couple arguing over which movie to check out right before closing time, and Lindsey's "crafternoons" idea. I can add this to my short list of books that star librarians who actually do occasional on-page library work.

The mystery itself was good, with a few twists I absolutely did not expect. I did wonder about the bit where Lindsey and Beth left town to do some investigating on their own. Would Beth have been allowed to leave like that?  Detective Trimble seemed more open to other possibilities, but Chief Daniels certainly considered her a suspect.

I'm looking forward to more developments in the romance between Lindsey and Sully, although I'm already dreading the love triangle. Sully seems like a great guy, and I could think of a lot of things that could complicate his and Lindsey's relationship without a love triangle being added to the mix. For example, Lindsey is still dealing with the hurt and betrayal of discovering that her fiance was cheating on her, which unfortunately happened at around the same time she was laid off.

All in all, this was an enjoyable and quick read. I definitely plan on reading the next book. In fact, I already have a copy in via interlibrary loan.

Extras:

At the end of the book there are several extras, including "The Briar Creek Library Guide to Crafternoons," a reader's guide for The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene, a knitting pattern for the rolled hat Lindsey made (which was originally supposed to be a sock), a recipe for Sully's hot chocolate, and a recipe for Mary's clam chowder. The crafternoons guide could come in handy for public librarians looking for adult programming ideas.

For my part, the only extra I've used is the recipe for Sully's hot chocolate, which I've now made several times (with powdered cinnamon instead of sticks, and no nutmeg). I disagree with Lindsey's assessment that it isn't too sweet - after my first time making it, I cut the sugar back by half. I suggest halving the recipe if you just want to make enough hot chocolate for yourself. It's a very rich drink, and halving it makes enough for one good-sized mug.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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