The Hidden Life of Trees // by Peter Wohlleben

//published 2015//

Do you ever read a book that you really, really want to like… but just can’t?  That’s where I ended up with The Hidden Life of Trees, a book whose premise really intrigued me, but the follow-through just wasn’t all that great.  This book had been on my TBR for a while, and I was pretty stoked when I received it as my second book from Mr. B’s Emporium.

Wohlleben manages a forest in Germany, and so spends a great deal of time with trees.  His book sets forth the case that trees can communicate with one another, and can work together as a social network to support and care for one another as well.  And I actually agree with all of those things.  Forests are magical, and it’s obvious when you spend time just quietly sitting in one that there is a great deal going on.

However, there were a couple of things about the book that just didn’t resonate with me.  The first was simply the lack of orderly progression through the book.  Each chapter just felt like a random essay.  The chapters didn’t really build together, and he references things both before and after his point of writing.  While it makes sense to direct readers back to something we’ve already covered, or even to mention that something may be covered more in-depth in a future chapter, Wohlleben does this in a way that sometimes left me confused – why is he talking about this if we haven’t actually read the section that’s two chapters ahead?  Why didn’t he mention this back three chapters ago when we were already talking about this topic?  The whole book felt rather choppy and disorganized, rather than flowing together as a whole.

The second thing that began to get on my nerves after a while was Wohlleben’s tendency to make leaps in logic.  He presents a situation, and then explains ‘why’ this is – as though there are no other options.  Such as this:

And how do trees register that the warmer days are because of spring and not late summer?  The appropriate reaction is triggered by a combination of day length and temperature.  Rising temperatures mean it’s spring.  Falling temperatures mean it’s fall.  …  And what this proves as well, by the way, is that trees must have a memory.  How else could they inwardly compare day lengths or count warm days?

I mean, really?  Trees having memory is only way that they could respond to day length/temperature fluctuations?  It isn’t even that I agree or disagree about trees having memory.  It’s the way that it’s presented as conclusive fact, with no science or study behind it: “What this proves…”  But does it?

There are also moments when it feels like Wohlleben has no idea what he is doing or talking about.  My mind was absolutely blown by this paragraph, where he is talking about the dangers of invasive diseases and insects:

In connection with this, I sometimes wonder if foresters don’t play a role in the spread of the disease. I visited damaged forests in southern Germany, and then afterward, I was out and about in the forest I manage – wearing the same shoes!  Might there have been tiny fungal spores on my soles that traveled into the Eifel mountains as stowaways?

You think!?  I think we can mark page 216 as the point where I lost all respect for Wohlleben as a forester.  It’s pretty basic management technique when caring for any living thing, from dairy cattle to corn to trees to disinfect your clothing and shoes (and in many cases, things like the tires on your car as well) when going from unhealthy, diseased creatures to the healthy ones.  He goes on to say, “Whatever the case may be, since then, the first ash trees in Hummel have also been struck with the disease.”  !??!!?!?!?

There was also a definite attitude that only ancient forests really have this art of communication going on.  Young forests, or ones that have been planted, lack the true connection of the ancient forests.  And while this does seem true at some level… I also think that there is still communication and feeling within younger forests – and even artificial ones.  I’ve walked through many stands of planted pine, like the ones Wohlleben dismisses, and they still possess that sense of communion.  According to Wohlleben’s logic, virtually no stand of trees in the United States is really worth bothering about, as most of them are only a few hundred years old…

All in all, I was just rather put off by Wohlleben’s condescending tone throughout.  He would say things like, “Statistically speaking, each tree raises exactly one adult offspring to take its place.”  So… forests never get larger when left to their own devices?  And how can you make such a sweeping statement, anyway?  How can you say that, across the literally billions of trees on the entire planet, there is always a stagnant number of trees, because each adult tree is producing exactly one offspring?  I mean really.

I wanted this book to be magical, because trees are magical.  I’m honestly quite passionate about trees and forests; my sisters thinks that I may be a misplaced dryad.  (My tree is a birch, if you’re interested.)  But Wohlleben took all the magic out of the whole conversation.  His writing was rather dry and, as I said, condescending.  He used just enough science to make himself sound important, but not enough to make this a legitimate scientific book.  While there were bits and pieces that were interesting, Wohlleben himself aggravated me too much for me to really love this book.

A 3/5 for an interesting concept for some chapters that were decent to read, but overall not particularly recommended.

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November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

Heavier Than Heaven // by Charles Cross

//published 2001//

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t really like knowing all that much about the personal lives of artists whose work I enjoy.  Almost invariably, they turn out to be kind of sucky people, which in turn means I don’t actually enjoy their music/writing/artwork as much as I did back when I was ignorant about who they were as people.  There are, of course, exceptions – Agatha Christie’s autobiography was a delight that made me cherish her writing even more, and reading the collection of Wodehouse’s letters/biography was completely fascinating.

But in this case, I felt comfortable picking up this biography of Kurt Cobain because I already knew that Cobain was kind of a dreadful person, plus I’m really not that huge of a fan of Nirvana.  So why even bother, you may ask?  First off, because I am still working on my quest to read all of my own books – this is one that Tom had from before we were married, but it’s on my bookshelves, so it is on the list!  Secondly, even though I’m not a gigantic fan of Nirvana, I can still appreciate the fact that they are a band that changed the course of musical history.  Most of the time, if a certain band never appeared on the scene, we would miss that band’s music – but the course of music itself would be virtually unchanged.  But Nirvana created something that was different and set its own course, and I felt like that piece of history was worth exploring.

There is no doubt that Cobain was Nirvana.  It’s always interesting to me to see how some bands revolve around an individual, while others are comprised of a group.  For instance, Led Zeppelin was four guys – and once one of those guys was no longer in the band, Zeppelin ceased to exist.  They could never be the same band, because each of them contributed his own completely unique piece to the whole.  But other bands, like Nirvana, are really about the one guy.  The others can come and go (and the drummers certainly did), but at the end of the day, as long as the one guy is there, you still have the band.

I really felt like Cross did a great job with this biography.  It can be difficult to write about someone who is a cultural icon to many, especially what that person isn’t actually that awesome.  But Cross manages to present Cobain’s life in a way that was sympathetic, that explained a lot of his actions and attitudes, but didn’t necessarily excuse them.  He didn’t try to gloss over the way that Cobain was a liar, a drug abuser, and pretty arrogant.  Yet he still managed to make me see how people could come under his spell and still love and indulge him despite his difficult personality.

It’s pretty obvious that Cobain had some serious mental health issues.  Someone close to me is bipolar, and there was a dark time in our lives when this person was coming to grips with this and was unwilling to seek/accept treatment.  It’s so hard to know how to handle someone in that situation, whether to give into their whims or to stand up to them, because they are such a loose cannon – they aren’t going to respond like a ‘normal’ person, and you have no idea if telling them ‘no’ is going to make them say, ‘oh, okay,’ or will make them go off and cut themselves or worse.  It’s terrifying.

All that to say, I was in sympathy with a lot of the people in Cobain’s life, and I was also aware of how, someone like that, when the times are good – they’re really good.  During those highs, that person is the funniest, friendliest, most affectionate person you could imagine.  I could totally see how people in Cobain’s life would stay loyal to him even through the times that he treated them like trash.

Anyway, Cross takes Cobain’s life chronologically.  He spent years doing interviews, reading journals, doing research, etc., and this really comes through.  This isn’t a trashy piece of gossip, it’s a thoughtful and insightful piece of literature.  Cross talks a lot about Cobain’s childhood, I think in part because Cobain, in later years, created a sort of mythological/alternative childhood that never actually happened.  He tended to take something that really did happen, and then exaggerate it.  (E.g., left home in late teens and lived out of a car – becomes – had to live under a bridge for months because his parents refused to take care of him.)  Cross carefully presents the reality of these events based on numerous other eyewitnesses.  It’s also another interesting perspective of Cobain’s mental state – because in many of these cases, he himself now believed the alternate reality.  Cross points out multiple times where Cobain would tell a story so often, that it became truth in his mind.  It’s genuinely fascinating to me that sometimes liars don’t even realize/they forget that they are lying.

Cobain was an avid writer who journaled throughout his life.  These are a large part of what give a glimpse into what was a very disturbed mind, as Cobain was always rather obsessed with the crude and dark.  Cross does, at times, quote directly from these sources, and other times paraphrases them.  Among other things, Cobain frequently wrote letters that he never mailed, and liner notes that were never published.  At one point he was writing multiple drafts of a bio for the band when they were sending around their first demo tape.  My personal favorite included the explanation that, “Nirvana is a trio who play heavy rock with punk overtones.  They usually don’t have jobs.  So they can tour anytime.”

One of the great tragedies of Cobain’s life was that he was never really satisfied.  Even when he would attain a dream – his happiness was such a brief blip.  This was definitely due in part to his horrific drug addiction.  One which, even more tragically, he entered purposefully, planning to become addicted.  Addiction is a truly terrifying thing, and to read about how this became the single defining, controlling factor in his life was very sobering.

I was genuinely shocked, however, by reading about how dirty he was!  This seems to be a consistent theme from everyone who knew him – that he would legit just live in filth unless someone else came by to clean it up: unwashed dishes and clothes, not even a basic cleaning, filthy bathroom, pets that were allowed to be loose and left their feces around the house, etc.  ICK  I’m not going to pretend that my house is always ready for a photo shoot for Cottage Living, but at least I don’t leave animal waste sitting on the living room rug for days on end.

Something that really struck me was how Cobain let difficult times in his life win.  The biggest one is the divorce of his parents when he was young – an event that really traumatized Cobain and, in many ways, laid a foundation for all the mental illness to follow.  Cobain never got over this.  He never reached a point of peace with this event.  Instead, he let it control and embitter him for his entire life.  And this was a pattern he followed consistently.  When something difficult would come into his life, he never overcame it – he internalized it and let it eat him from the inside out.  I’m no expert, but I can see this leading to his eventual drug addiction as well – in his mind, the only way to escape the struggles of his life.

Cross follows Cobain slow descent into the darkness that would eventually cause him to take his own life.  It was hard to read, honestly – just so completely, unnecessarily tragic.  And, let’s be frank, incredibly selfish.  Even this, his final act on earth, was all about himself.  I will say that this was the only section of the book that didn’t really ring true for me, just because Cross describes in detail exactly the steps Cobain took to kill himself – when most of that time Cobain was completely alone and left no record, so really Cross is just making an educated guess as to what occurred.  My understanding is that everything that went into this book had to be cleared by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love (who is also kind of a jerk and definitely was not universally liked by everyone else in Cobain’s life), so I’m sure that she preferred to have a detailed, step-by-step explanation of Cobain’s suicide, considering that there are still a lot of conspiracy theories that he was murdered, and that Love was the one who arranged for the murder to occur.  (Cross doesn’t mention this theory even in passing; suicide is presented as unquestionable fact.  I have done virtually zero research into this conspiracy theory and have no idea if it holds even a drop of water or not.  I will say that suicide definitely fits the overall mental attitude of Cobain’s life; I’ll also say that I can totally see Love having him knocked off because she really is a dreadful sort of woman.)

This book didn’t particularly make me want to listen to more Nirvana.  I did listen through Nevermind and In Utero while I was reading it, and maintained my opinion that, overall, this music is just wayyyy to angsty for my tastes, but it was fun to hear the songs while I was learning about their contexts.

While Heavier Than Heaven was not an easy, or particularly fun, read, it was still worthwhile.  This is a biography that is well-researched and thoughtfully written, leaving me with a picture of a man who was not a hero or a god, nor a villain or a devil – just simply a man, haunted by his own decisions and demons.  Whether you think Nirvan’s music is inspired or trash (or, like me, hit and miss), there is no doubt that the man behind the band was complicated and layered.  Setting aside his musical legacy, this biography was still a worthwhile read as an examination of what mental illness and drug addiction can do to a life.  If you love Nirvana and their music really speaks to you and you prefer to think of Cobain as a sort of saint or inspiration, you may not want to read this biography, as it doesn’t hesitate to point out Cobain’s flaws as well as his good points.

The advent of Nirvana was genuinely a musical epoch, a band that set the tone for a generation.  Reading the story behind their creator was quite fascinating and well worth the effort.

Lodestars Anthology: New Zealand

Last year, I subscribed to a readers’ quarterly called Slightly Foxedwhich I love.  It’s just so delightful to read about books people love, not necessarily books that are ‘in’ or best sellers.  It’s a very friendly publication, and when they include an advertisement for another publication, Lodestars AnthologyI decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I knew it was a travelers’ magazine of sorts, with lots of pictures.  But when I received my first issue, I was blown away by the amazing quality of this publication.  It’s half an inch thick, printed on matte (rather than glossy) paper, and it loaded with fantastic photography and artwork, plus tons of well-written and engaging articles.

Each issue focuses on a different country, and this – Issue 8 – stars New Zealand, which happens to be a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting.  And after reading LA, I want to go even more.  The publication does a really fantastic job of exploring all sorts of different aspects of the country – outdoor pursuits, out-of-the-way curiosities, restaurants, and town cultures.  I thoroughly enjoyed every page, and still find myself flipping through it.  It’s like a colorful reference book.

My biggest disappointment is that I can no longer purchase the first two issues, which are now out of stock – England and Scotland.

All in all, I’m quite looking forward to my next issue, and highly recommend checking out this delightful publication.

NB all pictures from LA’s website.

Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse // by James Breakwell

 

//published 2017//

Here’s the thing, I really don’t like zombie stuff; I think it’s stupid at best and disgusting at worst.  I’m also not a parent.  But I do follow James Breakwell on Twitter, and he consistently makes me giggle basically every day.  So when he said he was publishing a book, I felt like the least I could do was pay him $12 because even if the book was terrible, well, there are all those times he’s made me laugh without charging me a cent.

However, I needn’t have worried, because Only Dead on the Inside was actually quite funny.  It’s also full of poorly-drawn cartoons and lots of graphs and flowcharts, so there was plenty to keep me reading.  While the advice is generally ridiculous, the book itself is unique and entertaining.  And THEN I got to the chapter on minivans, and even if the entire rest of the book had been terrible, it all would have been worth it for that chapter.  Driving a van is kind of like joining a special club.  People who don’t drive vans just don’t get it.

If you’re a non-minivan driver, right now you’re shaking your head in confusion.  “But I test-drove a minivan once,” you say to yourself.  “It wasn’t that great.”  Wrong.  YOU weren’t that great.  The wand chooses the wizard, Harry.  If you drove a minivan and you didn’t enjoy it, you were not worthy.  You didn’t reject the minivan.  The minivan rejected you.  Have fun being a muggle.

Guys, I basically want to to quote the entire chapter to you.  I just reread it while looking for the perfect quote.  This chapter spoke to me.  Deeply.

Like I said, there are lots of charts and graphs, which I love.  Flow charts consistently make my life better (not sure what that says about me as a person), so I really enjoyed those a great deal.  I also appreciated Breakwell’s many pros/cons lists that can help you decide the best ways to transport your family, keep your kids together, or scavenge for supplies.

My advice?  Check out Breakwell’s Twitter account.  If it makes you tilt your head in confusion, don’t bother with this book.  But if you find yourself quietly snorting in laughter multiple times, you should definitely give this book a go, even if, like me, you don’t have kids or any interest in zombies.

 

October Minireviews // Part 2

In an attempt to get you all caught up on all the reading I’ve done this month, I’m cramming all of my reviews into minireviews…

Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak

//published 2015//

This was a freebie Kindle book that sounded fun.  Jill, aged 29, is confident that her life is going the right direction.  On the verge of becoming a partner in the law firm where she’s been working, and confident that her live-in boyfriend is going to propose any minute, Jill considers her life ‘together.’  Unfortunately, instead of getting promoted, she gets fired.  And when she comes home early, she finds out that her boyfriend is actually having an affair.  So Jill moves back home to the small town where she grew up, back into her old bedroom at her parents’ house.  There, she comes across a list she wrote in high school of 30 items she wanted to have done by the time she was 30 years old – and she has only done a couple of them.  With the help of her long-time best friend and high school boyfriend, Jill starts getting things done on her list, and of course discovers who she truly is and true happiness along the way.

I was hoping for just a kind of happy little chick lit sort of vibe, but this book was just too ridiculous and poorly written to deliver even that.  The whole thing is first person present tense, so that was already quite aggravating, and the further into the book I got, the worse the story was.  Jill doesn’t read as 29-year-old at all, as she was just so immature and ridiculous at times.  There were really stupid scenes, like her walking in on her parents “doing it” and then I had to go through like an entire chapter of her being “so grossed out” – like yes, that’s extremely uncomfortable, but you’re an adult now, so I really feel like you should be able to move on – like how exactly do you think you arrived in the world….???

But the worst part was that one of things on Jill’s list was something along the lines of “learn to live without a boyfriend” or something like that – and it’s the one thing she never does!  She realizes how she was depending on her old boyfriend so much that she never really was herself, but she launches straight into a relationship with her old high school boyfriend.  So even though I liked that guy just fine, I was never able to really get behind their romance because at the end of the day Jill still just felt like she “needed” a man to live her life.  So 2/5 for being boring, pointless, and having an overall rather negative life message.

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

//published 2010//

When I read a children’s biography of Patrick Henry a while back, I was really inspired to learn more about this particular founding father.  And while Lion of Liberty was interesting and had some more information about Henry, I overall felt more like I was reading a condensed history of the American Revolution/founding of Constitution, with a side focus on Henry rather than the other way around.  There is only one brief chapter on the first 24 years of Henry’s life, and throughout the rest of the book we are only given pieces of Henry’s personal life in very brief (and sometimes weirdly snide) asides.  Rather than making Henry more personable and accessible, Unger gives us a picture of a man’s accomplishments rather than the man himself.

In a weird way, I realized about halfway through the book that it just didn’t feel like Unger really liked Henry.  I felt rather like he was rolling his eyes at many of Henry’s dramatic speeches, and some of his comments about Henry’s personal life came across as downright uncomfortable.  E.g. – “…from then on, whenever Henry returned home he made certain that if his wife was not already pregnant from his last visit, she most certainly would be by the time he left.”   ???

Still, there was enough of Henry in this book to remind me why he was one of my childhood favorites.  His passion not just for freedom from Britain, but from big government in general, his love for everyday people and preserving their independence, his emphasis on the critical importance of strengthening small, localized governments – these are all themes that still resonate with me today.  I especially loved Henry’s passion for the Bill of Rights, and his strong stance against the Constitution without them.  Even more interesting is to see how so much of what Henry predicted has happened – in events that lead to the Civil War, and again today, with an ever-closing noose of interference and heavy taxation from a centralized government ever-distanced from the people it claims to serve.

For Lion, 3/5.  A decent read for the political overview of Henry, but I would still like to get a hold of a biography that focuses more on him as a person and less on him as a founding father, and preferably without the snide remarks about how much Henry liked his wife.

Indian Paint by Glenn Blach 

//published 1942//

In my effort to read/reread all the books I physically  own (and there are a lot), Indian Paint was next on the draw.  One of the Famous Horse Story series, this was a simple yet engaging tale of a young American Indian boy and the colt he has chosen for his own.  This wasn’t really a book that bowled me over with its intricate plotting, but I was surprised at how interested I became in the fate of Little Falcon and Shadow, especially since the fates seemed quite determined to keep them apart.  While there were points that were a bit overly dramatic, the story held together well and came to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have several of Balch’s books still on the shelf and am looking forward to tackling them at some point as well.

The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins

//published 2015//

So this is one of those books that I had heard SO much about that I actually braced myself for disappointment.  In the end, I was close to a 4/5, as it was a compulsively readable book that drew me in almost immediately.  I appreciated the fact that while Rachel wasn’t a reliable narrator, she was still likable.  I felt like the book was paced quite well.  Frequently, books that rely on date/time headings to let the reader know where we are quite annoy me, but it worked well in this instance, and I liked the way that we got the backstory from one narrator and the present story with another.  The ending came together well, leaving me overall satisfied.  While I didn’t find this to be an instantaneous classic that I would want to read again and again, I can still see why it has been a popular thriller since it was published.

I have read reviews of this book on multiple blogs that I follow (with a variety of views from “THIS WAS AMAZING!” to “eh”), including Reading, Writing & Riesling; The Literary Sisters; Rose Reads Novels; Chrissi Reads; Cleopatra Loves BooksBibliobeth; and probably others I’ve missed!

October Minireviews // Part 1

Well, here we are in the last week of October and not a single book review posted!  I’m going to try to catch up with some minireviews, but we will see what happens.  I’ve actually been reading some good books lately, but life has just been too busy to be conducive to review-writing!

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

//published 2015//

This book was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra, and I was immediately attracted the combination of a nonfiction book on a rather random topic, and learning more about the science behind Agatha Christie’s murders.  This book did not disappoint.  It was informative and engaging, full of fascinating information without becoming too lecture-y.

The format of each chapter made each poison accessible.  Each starts with an incident of Christie using the poison in a story, followed by the history of the poison, a scientific explanation of how the poison actually kills someone, the antidote (if any!), famous real-life cases of the poison being used, and then tying back in to Christie’s use of the poison in her stories.  Throughout, I was consistently impressed with the overall accuracy of Christie’s use of poisons and descriptions of their symptoms.

Although reading this book made my husband nervous, Harkup is quite clear that (in most cases), science has advanced enough to make it difficult to get away with poisoning, although I was genuinely quite astonished at the fact that ricin, found in castor bean plants, is so very poisonous.  I’ve always heard the old saying that if you don’t like someone you can make them some castor-bean tea, but after reading this book it does seem that these plants should come with a more thorough warning, especially for families with small children who like to play in the garden!

Overall, this book was a surprisingly engaging read.  My only real complaint is that while Harkup did provide a interesting introduction, the book ended rather abruptly – a few closing comments would have been nice to sort of tie everything back together.  Still, with so much information presented in such an interesting manner, I really can’t complain too much.  Definitely recommended for people interested in bumping someone off or just learning more about the science behind Christie’s works.

Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

First off, I would have been quite annoyed if I had read these books in the order listed on Goodreads.  If you are interested in reading all of Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia, read the three Poison Study books, then the Glass books, and then the Soulfinders books.  I’m in the middle of the second Soulfinder book, and think that I would have been rather confused if I hadn’t received all the background from both the Glass trilogy and also a short story available on Snyder’s website, that really should be included as a prologue to the first Soulfinder book, as it has a lot of critical information.

ANYWAY the Glass trilogy itself was really good, but the main character/narrator, Opal, was just not as likable to me as the main character/narrator of the Poison Study books (Yelena).  Opal always felt like she was three steps behind and more worried about herself than anything else.  But by far the worst part about the trilogy were the love triangles, yes, plural, because the players switched about between different books, and none of the options were good.

Overall, I would give these three books 3/5, maybe 3.5.  The stories weren’t bad, it was just that I found Opal so annoying and felt like she consistently made the wrong/selfish choice.  I also felt like the conclusion to the love triangles was kind of weird and made me uncomfortable – more in the next paragraph, so skip it if you are worried about spoilers!

SPOILER PARAGRAPH FOR REAL: Opal is kidnapped/tortured by a guy in the beginning, and in the end, that’s the one she ends up with!  He goes through this huge change of heart, etc., but Opal’s attraction to him began before the change and before she knew he had changed.  The way that it was presented made me very uncomfortable.  The whole thing was really weird.

Dot Journaling: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

//published 2017//

If you’re like me and like to have things explained to you (thoroughly), instead of that artsy ‘just follow your heart and do what looks right to you’ nonsense, this book may be for you.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Dot/Bullet Journaling, because I am way into lists and also into journaling and I also actually have started making notebook inserts and selling them on Etsy, and most people are using them for this type of thing. Miller does a really nice job of explaining the concept of dot journaling, and then laying out some basic guidelines and ideas. She does emphasize that the entire point of this method is its flexibility and convenience of being able to make it your own, but also gives actual real examples and ideas.

My only personal issue with this book is that a lot of times the pictures were the explanation, which was totally fine, except sometimes the pictures also crossed the middle of the book, which meant that important parts of the pictures were tucked down inside the binding and were not readable. This seemed like a really obvious flaw that could have been fixed before printing, as it occurred on multiple occasions. It does make the book look nice, having the pictures cross both sides of the book, but then maybe a different binding should have been chosen, as this really aggravated me.

Overall, though, this was a friendly and accessible book that made me feel like it is possible to use a dot journal without having to be a really creative and artsy person.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

//published 2014//

This was my latest book from my Bethany Beach Box, which despite mostly 3/5 reads, I have been enjoying.  I actually really like children’s fiction, and it’s been interesting to see what books are considered worth promoting this way.  Turtle was another 3/5 read, honestly mostly because it was quite boring.  As an adult, it was rather obvious that Nye’s entire goal was to write a book that showed a Muslim family in a Muslim country in a positive light.  There is nothing wrong with that, but considering how people complain about books written in the 1950’s and how they’re “too sweet” and not at all “realistic”, it seems a little strange to turn around and praise a book that is basically sugar.

Aref and his parents are moving from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to Michigan, so that his parents can complete their doctorate degrees.  Aref isn’t happy about leaving, and most of the book are little adventures that he has with his grandpa as they visit all of their favorite places together.  I honestly ended the book feeling quite aggravated with Aref’s parents, who seemed to feel that their education and life was more important than Aref being close to his grandpa.

But what really  bogged this book down were the lists.  We’re told at the beginning that Aref and his family love learning new things, and then writing down what they have learned that day.  So throughout the book, whenever Nye wants her readers to learn something, we have to suffer through a list, in Aref’s handwriting, telling us about the habits of turtles or how awesome it is to live in Oman under the rule of a sultan, which really added to the boring factor in this tale.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, but even at the age of ten I don’t think that I would have enjoyed reading a bunch of lists.  All in all, this book came across as a book that practically screamed USE ME FOR A UNIT STUDY IN YOUR SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM, but in my mind didn’t have a lot to offer just simply as a story.