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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Under the Wide and Starry SkyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for this review.

It's always a challenge to write historical fiction, especially when you're centered on 1 person or 1 family. This is historical fiction based on the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, through their courtship, marriage, and his eventual death. Stevenson wrote such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was from Scotland, she was from America, and several years older than he was. He was in poor health, suffering from a variety of lung ailments. (Note: these aren't spoiler alerts; this information is all available on Wikipedia.) The book follows them as they travel from France, where they met, to Scotland, California, Hawaii, Sydney, and Samoa, where Stevenson lived the rest of his life. Reading the book, you can feel how Stevenson's illness affected him. You also feel sympathy for Fanny, who wound up being his nurse for most of his life, and later suffered bouts of mental illness. The book dramatizes the writing of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It discusses the origins of Long John Silver (no, he didn't start out owning a restaurant chain), as well as phrases such as "Shiver me timbers!" It also shows how Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and some of the underlying meanings that people even at the time it was written were reading into it. The title comes from a poem that Stevenson wrote to his wife. I almost wonder what would have happened if Stevenson had been in better health, would he have written more. Even though it is not a factual biography, the author uses quite a bit of source material to make it sound as authentic as possible. Obviously, sections where she discusses what the characters are thinking, as well as some of the conversations, are fictionalized for dramatic effect. One thing I noticed was that some chapters had the year on top, to indicate when time moved ahead, especially by a few years. I would have liked to see that on all the chapters. I only received an ARC, so I'm not sure if this was in the final copy, but I would have liked to see pictures in the book, to know what some of the people looked like. All in all, though, a good book. Also, this would be a good introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson, and those who think pirate adventures begin and end with Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Carribean movies. I'll have to start reading Treasure Island again.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Fabric of the Cosmos

The Fabric of the Cosmos (Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality)The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is his second book. I finished this book around the same time I was watching the new Cosmos series on Fox. (It's hard to believe that Seth McFarlane, the man behind Family Guy, is one of the producers of the new Cosmos. I'm still waiting for Stewie to show up, or for a Cosmos parody on Family Guy. But I digress.) Like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson on Cosmos, Brian Greene is attempting to make science understandable to those of us who don't have advanced science degrees. Dr Greene uses a lot of pop culture references to illustrate his points. He seems to have a special fondness for the Simpsons. It's a little more complex, though. He's trying to explain the basics of string theory, with its theories of 10-dimensional space and quantum lengths. It can be a little slow going at times. He saves most of the mathematical equations for the footnotes. I'm not sure it's fully understandable to everyone. I had trouble with it myself. Some updates from the text. The large Hadron collider was finished, and the Higgs particle was discovered. Also, scientists recently discovered ripples from the original big bang. Dr Greene knows about pop culture. (He's appeared on the TV show The Big Bang Theory making fun of himself.) He does well in this book. It's just the subject matter that can be daunting.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

A Foolish Plucking

A Foolish PluckingA Foolish Plucking by Dee Wilbur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the authors in exchange for this review.

This book came across as a cross between Law & Order and Perry Mason. It starts with an argument at the country club, where the wife leaves her drunk husband. The next morning, the husband finds himself at home, but his wife is missing. Soon, he is arrested for her murder, even though his wife's body is nowhere to be found. To add to all of this, his mistress tells him she's pregnant. It's up to the lawyers and the investigators to sort this all out. I won't give away too much of the rest of the plot. Too many spoilers. I did get lost sometimes. I couldn't figure out how a certain situation related to the original murder case. The authors do wrap it all up, though. They did leave room at the end for a sequel. All in all, a good book.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Early Decision

Early Decision: Based on a True FrenzyEarly Decision: Based on a True Frenzy by Lacy Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this free in a radio station giveaway.

This brought back some memories. I thought back to my application, trying to write the right essay to get in. Of course, that was 30 years ago, before the Common Application. Unlike the students in this book, my parents never paid for me to have someone help me. They did it themselves, or had some relatives help. The book reads like a fictionalization of real events. You feel for the students. In the book, they have so much pressure placed on the students to get into the right school. Most of this is from the parents, where it's an Ivy League school, their alma mater, or nothing. The author used to counsel students in real life, so she knows from experience. As far as Anne is concerned (the counselor in the book), I wonder how much of her character was bssed on the author's personal life. I know it was nerve-wracking waiting for the final decision. Back then, you knew by the size of the envelope. If it was a fat envelope, you were in. If it was a thin envelope, you were either waitlisted or rejected. I could at some level feel with the students as they heard whether they got in or not. It also shows the pressure Anne was under, on the one hand wanting the students to explore, but on the other realizing that the parents signed her paychecks. Overall, a good book. FYI, I took a big chance. I only applied to one school--Notre Dame. I graduated in 1986. GO IRISH!

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Winona, Minnesota on the Mississippi

Winona: Minnesota on the MississippiWinona: Minnesota on the Mississippi by Chris Livingston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book with great pictures of Winona. I received a free copy from HBC. It's a nice coffee table book, and would make a great souvenir for any visitors. There's no spoilers in this book. There isn't a lot of narration in this book. It just focuses on the pictures. Great book. Available at

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Saturday, May 3, 2014


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