Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Darwin's Ghosts

Written by Rebecca Stott
Spiegel & Grau, 2012; 410 pages

Publisher's Description:
Darwin’s Ghosts tells the story of the collective discovery of evolution, from Aristotle, walking the shores of Lesbos with his pupils, to Al-Jahiz, an Arab writer in the first century, from Leonardo da Vinci, searching for fossils in the mine shafts of the Tuscan hills, to Denis Diderot in Paris, exploring the origins of species while under the surveillance of the secret police.... Evolution was not discovered single-handedly, Rebecca Stott argues, contrary to what has become standard lore, but is an idea that emerged over many centuries, advanced by daring individuals across the globe who had the imagination to speculate on nature’s extraordinary ways and who had the courage to articulate such speculations at a time when to do so was often considered heresy.

With each chapter focusing on an early evolutionary thinker, Darwin’s Ghosts is a fascinating account of a diverse group of individuals who, despite the very real dangers of challenging a system in which everything was presumed to have been created perfectly by God, felt compelled to understand where we came from. Ultimately, Stott demonstrates, ideas -- including evolution itself -- evolve just as animals and plants do, by intermingling, toppling weaker notions, and developing over stretches of time. Darwin’s Ghosts presents a groundbreaking new theory of an idea that has changed our very understanding of who we are.
In 1859, around Christmas time and only a month after the publication of his earth-shaking work On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin received a letter accusing him of failing to acknowledge his predecessors in the study of evolution.  Deeply disturbed by the letter, Darwin set about trying to trace all those individuals who had laid the groundwork for his new theory.  The list of names he eventually came up with was to expand and change over time, and proved more frustrating than he imagined when he began.  In Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution Rebecca Stott tells the story of Darwin's research and traces the histories of some of those forerunners. 

What an interesting book this was. I was familiar with the basics of Darwin's work, of course, but really didn't know much about his precursors -- or that there were so many of them! As a non-scientist, I found the information fascinating; and I loved that Stott was able to fit so much data into such (relatively) short and readable sketches.  She also includes a substantial section of notes, and and a wonderful bibliography for further study.

I was a bit bothered at first by her habit of portraying Darwin (and her other subjects as well) actually "thinking" or "imagining" or "feeling" one thing or another -- a little bit too much of the omniscient narrator, for nonfiction, I thought.  I suppose it was an attempt to add some immediacy to the work by "getting inside their heads" -- if so, I don't think it was really necessary. But even with that one problem, I still enjoyed the book even more than I expected I would. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in the history of science, although probably more appealing to the non-specialist.

Disclaimer: My copy of this book was furnished free of charge, by the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one attempted to influence my opinion of the book.

Review: The Lost Symbol

Written by Dan Brown
Doubleday, 2009; 509 pages

Publisher's Description:
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object -- artfully encoded with five symbols -- is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. 

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason and philanthropist -- is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations -- all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

I love Dan Brown.  There. I've said it.  His books are so wonderfully exciting, and beautifully implausible -- such absolutely perfect guilty pleasures!

This is Brown's third book about Harvard professor Robert Langdon, so I guess that's enough to call it a series now.  Langdon is still the same likable, self-effacing, modest-though-brilliant guy we got to know in the previous two books.  Still getting into incredible amounts of trouble through no fault of his own.  Still out there saving civilization as we know it, clad in Harris tweed and cordovan loafers, and with only his intellect as weapon.  What a guy.

I picked this novel to start the year with because I figured it would be something I could stick with and get through quickly.  And that was all true.  Even though it's a bit of a chunkster (well, for me 500 pages is a lot), it was a very fast read.  And informative, too: Brown always includes lots of nice detail for Langdon and all the other characters to pass along -- this time all about the Masons, our nation's Founding Fathers, and Washington DC.  (Thrilling and educational! Can't beat that.)

I love the cinematic style of Brown's thrillers -- short, succinct chapters that keep you right there on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what's going to happen in the next scene.  With each vignette, Brown grabs your attention and then rapidly pulls the ground out from under your feet, dumping you into the next bit of the story.  And before you can get bored with that bit, the whole process repeats itself.  Very like a movie, and very effective for this sort of tale.  In this book, all of the action (500+ pages of it) takes place over just one day and night! And what a 24-hour roller-coaster ride it is!

Review: Cat on the Scent

Written by Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown)
Bantam Books, 1999; 320 pages

Publisher's Description:
Things have been pretty exciting lately in Crozet, Virginia -- a little too exciting if you ask resident feline investigator Mrs. Murphy. Just as the town starts to buzz over its Civil War reenactment, a popular local man disappears. No one’s seen Tommy Van Allen’s single-engine plane, either -- except for Mrs. Murphy, who spotted it during a foggy evening’s mousing. Even Mrs. Murphy’s favorite human, postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, can sense that something is amiss. But things really take an ugly turn when the town reenacts the battle of Oak Ridge -- and a participant ends up with three very real bullets in his back. While the clever tiger cat and her friends sift through clues that just don’t fit together, more than a few locals fear that the scandal will force well-hidden town secrets into the harsh light of day. And when Mrs. Murphy’s relentless tracking places loved ones in danger, it takes more than a canny kitty and her team of animal sleuths to set things right again.

I always enjoy the Mrs. Murphy series, and this is one of the best of the lot. Rita Mae Brown (or is it maybe Sneaky Pie?) has a tendency to become a bit preachy at times, making conversations among her characters seem stilted and less real.  But there's very little of that in this book, I'm happy to say.

There's also a lot more action involving Mrs. Murphy and her critter cohorts -- another plus.  Of course, when a cat, a Corgi, and a mixed bag of kitties, birdies, and other pets and domestic animals are the lead investigators in a crime story, there's an awful lot of disbelief to be suspended.  Which I love, but others might find hard.  In this novel, there's one especially wonderful (and totally not believable) episode where Murphy, along with her pals Tucker the Corgi and Pewter (another cat), manage to save the day by actually driving a vehicle.  And without a license, too!

My one real quibble with the book was the ending -- everything was wrapped up, but just not as neatly as I would have liked.  I won't say any more -- don't want to give too much away, but I would have ended it a bit differently.  Still, a fast, entertaining read.  Definitely recommended if you like cozy mysteries.

Booking Through Thursday: On Loan

This week, BTT asks: "Do you lend your books? Are any out on loan right now? Do you have any that have been loaned to you? Do you put a time limit on these? Do you think people should make an effort to read the loaned book quickly?"

And I must say those questions are sending shivers down my spine. Lend my precious treasures?  Are you mad?

OK, just joking. Sort of.  Let me answer the last question first: Yes, of course, when you've borrowed a book (whether from a library or from another human entity), you should definitely make an effort to read the book quickly and return it as soon as possible.  That's only good manners, isn't it?

Do I lend books?  Yes, I do lend books, although there are some books I probably would think twice about handing over.  And there are some people I'd lend to more readily than others.  Don't think I'd ever try to enforce time limits, though -- that seems a little extreme (especially as I'm such a slow reader myself).

At the moment I don't have any books "out on loan," and I don't have any I've borrowed.  All the books around here belong to me (and the hubby, of course).  All mine, do you hear?  MINE!!!!

Not really related -- but this all reminds me a little of my childhood when I used to play librarian and lend out my books to my little cousin MB-B (she now has her very own blog) and force her to read them and return them on time.  And she really had to read them, too, because there was definitely going to be a quiz when she brought them back!

See -- I always had the soul of a librarian.

And maybe some wicked KGB genes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This week my teaser lines come from one of the books I'm reading for the Pre-1960 Classic Children's Book Reading Challenge.  It's L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900.  Don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to this one -- especially since I love the movie so much. This snippet comes from Chapter 6 ("The Cowardly Lion"), right at the end:
The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.
"You people with  hearts," he said, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong...."
Yes, that sounds right, but oh, if it were just that simple!

Cover of the First Edition. Image by Wikipedia.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Winter

This week, BTT asks about seasonal reading: "It’s the depth of winter here where I live right now … what books do you like to read when it’s snowy and white? What books do you read to evoke a real feeling of winter (good or bad)?"

Well, it's winter where I live right now, too.  Fortunately, though, here in Central Texas winter doesn't involve all those depths that other parts of the world suffer through. (Soooo glad to be done with all those depths!)

But whatever the weather, I really don't think my reading habits are much affected by seasons of the year.  I read pretty much the same sorts of thing year-round.  With the possible exception of those summer "beach reads," mostly I stick to the same genres and types of books, whether it's cold, warm, rainy or dry outside.  And I would never, never try to evoke a feeling of winter "(good or bad)" through my reading because....

I HATE WINTER!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Cat on the Scent

This week my teaser lines come from Cat on the Scent, one of the Mrs. Murphy mystery series written by Rita Mae Brown (and co-authored by her pet cat Sneaky Pie Brown). In this snippet from page 121 of the paperback edition, Mrs. Murphy the pet tiger-striped cat belonging to Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen is talking with her friend Pewter (also a cat). The two are watching their human and, as usual, trying to figure out why she's doing what she's doing:
"How often do humans climb trees?" Pewter watched Harry swing her legs as she sat on the low, wide branch.
"Not very often. As they get older they don't do it at all, I think," Mrs. Murphy answered. "You see so much more from up here. You'd think they'd want to keep doing it."
"No claws. Must be hard for them." Pewter kept her claws dangerously sharp.
"Everything's hard for them. That's why all their religions are full of fear. You know, hellfire and damnation, that sort of thing."
Well, they're sort of right about that, aren't they?  Actually, I have a hard time understanding humans, myself.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, Monday again.  That week disappeared awfully fast!  Still reading The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown's third Robert Langdon adventure).  Like the other Langdon tales, it moves really quickly; but it's also something of a chunkster, so it's going to take me another day or two to finish.

I've put aside the other books I started with the new year because I was seduced by another Mrs. Murphy mystery by Rita Mae Brown -- Cat on the Scent, number 7 in the long-running series.  Not sure why I picked that one up just now -- I think it must have jumped off the shelf all by itself and landed in my lap. Well, cats will do that sort of thing.

Also signed up for two more reading challenges last week -- the Books in Translation Reading Challenge and the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, both hosted by The Introverted Reader.  That brings my total up to (I think) sixteen new challenges for 2013.  Probably madness, but at this point, I figure a couple more can't really make much difference.

Now I just need to STOP playing around with my other blogs (Supply Cabinet Chronicles and Joysweb), and get back to my reading!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Gifts

This week Booking Through Thursday asks: "do you like to give books as gifts?"

I've always thought that books make wonderful gifts, but there are just so many problems involved:  Will the giftee have already read this one?  Is it the right genre?  Do they prefer fiction?  Nonfiction?  Paperbacks?  Hardcover?  Have they sworn off print-on-paper in favor of all e-books all the time?

I do give gift cards for books: from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or local book shops (or Borders before they went boom).  Especially for the children on my gift lists -- I think it's really more fun to let them choose the books for themselves, anyway.

So, while I do like to give books as gifts, I hardly ever do it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

2013 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by: The Introverted Reader
Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2013
See the challenge announcement/sign-up page here

As the challenge host says:
Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult. That's it. You can choose anything. Memoirs? Yes. History? Yes. Travel? Yes. You get the idea? Absolutely anything that is classified as non-fiction counts for this challenge.
I generally read at least a few nonfiction books each year, and there are several on my "must read" list for this year.  So this challenge sounds perfect for me.  But I'm playing it safe and signing up at the "Dilettante" level (1-5 books) -- I think that should be very doable.  Tracking my progress on my challenge blog (HERE).

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

2013 Books in Translation Reading Challenge

Hosted by: The Introverted Reader
Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2013
See the challenge announcement/sign-up page here

This one should fit right in with a few of the other challenges I've signed up for -- like the European Challenge and the Middle East Challenge.  Fortunately, crossovers are allowed in all of them. 

For the Books in Translation Reading Challenge, any genre or format is acceptable and the books can be translated from any language into the language you're comfortable reading.  I'll be going for the "Beginner" level (1-3 books), but would really love to move up to "Conversationalist" (4-6 books).  Just have to see how things go.  During the year, I'll be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog (HERE). 

Teaser Tuesday: The Lost Symbol

This week my teaser lines come from The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.  In this snippet from page 48 we're in Washington DC, with a tour group visiting the Capitol Rotunda:
As the bald man hurried off, disappearing through the east portico, a little boy nearby could be heard saying, "Mommy, that man dropped something." The boy drifted toward the object but suddenly stopped short.  After a long, motionless beat, he pointed and let out a deafening scream.
In all my years of working in Washington, I never visited the Rotunda.  But there were plenty of other things about DC that made me want to scream!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, January 07, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I know I'm getting this up a little late, but it's still Monday (at least around here), so here goes....

I'm still trying to get back on some sort of regular reading schedule, after a huge slump that lasted most of the fall and all through the holidays.  I spent part of last week and pretty much all of the weekend playing around with new reading challenges for 2013.  So far, I've signed up for 14 new challenges, including the two I've got going over at Library Thing (see the list here).  I know that sounds like a lot, but I've found that the challenges do help keep me reading, even if I don't manage to read all the books I commit to.  So I might actually sign up for a couple more that look really tempting.

I'm starting off the new year with a couple of new reads:

The Burning Court, by John Dickson Carr 

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

and one that I started last month but never really got into:

The Heat of the Sun, by David Rain

They all seem like they'll be quick reads, even for a slowpoke reader such as moi.  I really should try to finish up the David Rain book first, since it was an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing, and I'm extremely late in getting around to it.  But The Lost Symbol has really sucked me in, and I'll probably stick with that one for now.

So, that's it.  Hope everybody has a great week of reading! Now, back to the books....

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, January 04, 2013

2013 Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge

What, another one???!!!

I know I said "not so many this year" -- well, I say that every year, but this year I really meant it.  (Do you sense a big HOWEVER coming?)

However, after I signed up for the Chunkster Challenge earlier today, that made thirteen challenges for this year, and I've always been very superstitious about the number 13.  Sooooo, it was absolutely necessary to sign up for one more, just to feel safe. I mean, you can see that, can't you?

So, necessity is the mother of insanity here. 

And this is one I had my eye on, anyway.  The 2013 Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge is hosted by Jennifer at Reading with Tequila, and runs from January to December 2013.  The idea is to read books from a master list of books recommended by a dozen book bloggers (see the list here), and there are five different levels of participation to choose from.  I'll be signing up at Level I, so I'll be reading five books from the list.  An advance list isn't required, but right now I'm thinking about:
  1. The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath
  2. In Cold Blood. Truman Capote
  3. The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern
  4. The Nine Billion Names of God. Arthur C. Clarke
  5. The Prestige. Christopher Priest
But that could change.  I'll be keeping track of all my challenge reading over on my challenge blog, HERE

Chunkster Reading Challenge 2013

One more challenge I just couldn't pass up.  (You knew there'd be more.)

Haven't taken part in the Chunkster Challenge for the last couple of years, but I have several big books on my TBR list this year and I'm hoping this challenge will help me remember to read them.  The Chunkster Challenge is hosted by Caribousmom and Vasilly, and runs through December 2013.  There's a dedicated blog HERE, and a sign-up page HERE with all the details.

I'll be joining in at the "Chubby Chunkster" level, so I'll be reading four books of at least 450 pages each.  I'll probably change my mind several times, but I have a long line of chunky tomes on my Possibilities List for this year.  These are just some of them:
  • Angle of Repose. Wallace Stegner
  • Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy
  • The Book Thief. Marcus Zusak
  • Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann
  • The Children's Book. A.S. Byatt 
  • The City of Dreaming Books. Walter Moers 
  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. Nicholas A. Basbanes
  • Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte
  • Labyrinth. Kate Mosse
  • The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown
  • The Mists of Avalon. Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins
  • North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell
  • The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Megan Marshall
  • The Perpetual Curate. Margaret Oliphant
  • The Secret History. Donna Tartt
  • The Secret Keeper. Kate Morton
  • The Technologists. Matthew Pearl
  • Texas. James A. Michener
  • 11/22/63. Stephen King
And the list goes on and on.... Whatever I end up reading, I'll be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog HERE

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Books Read in 2013

Cumulative Reading List

Here I go again.  Trying to get to that elusive 50-book-per-year goal.  In 2012 I didn't even make it to 40!  Hoping to do much better THIS year.

Haven't I heard that before?

Anyway, this is my page for keeping track of the books as I read them.

1. The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown (2009; 509 pages; fiction)
2. Cat on the Scent. Rita Mae Brown (1999; 319 pages; fiction)
3. Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution. Rebecca Stott (2012; 397 pages; non-fiction)

4. The Heat of the Sun. David Rain (2012; 286 pages ARC; fiction)

MARCH 2013
5. Farewell, Dorothy Parker. Ellen Meister (2013; 308 pages; fiction)
6. Guilt. Jonathan Kellerman (2013; 400 pages; fiction)
7. Cold Remains. Sally Spedding (2012; fiction)
8. The Happy Hollisters. Jerry West (1953; 184 pages; fiction)
9. Half Magic. Edward Eager (1954; 192 pages; fiction)

APRIL 2013
10. The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club. Duncan Whitehead (2012; 196 pages; fiction)
11. Clea. Lawrence Durrell (1960; 288 pages; fiction)

MAY 2013
12. Seduction. M.J. Rose (2013; 370 pages ARC; fiction)
13. Fer-de-Lance. Rex Stout (1934; 291 pages; fiction)
14. The Flamethrowers. Rachel Kushner (2013; 400 pages ARC; fiction)
15. & Sons: A Novel. David Gilbert (2013; 458 pages ARC; fiction)

JUNE 2013
16. A Fearful Madness. Julius Falconer (2013; 192 pages; fiction)
17. Inferno. Dan Brown (2013; 465 pages; fiction)
18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum (1899; fiction)
19. Death By A HoneyBee. Abigail Keam (2010; 236 pages; fiction)

JULY 2013
20. Is This Tomorrow. Caroline Leavitt (2013; 352 pages; fiction)
21. A Fatal Likeness. Lyn Shepherd (2013; 384 pages; fiction)
22. Pretty Polly Flinders. Mary Frances Blaisdell (1914; 188 pages; fiction)

23. The Good Luck of Right Now. Matthew Quick (2014; ARC; fiction)
24. The Buddhist Catechism. Henry Steel Olcott (1881; 64 pages; religion)

25. Bunnicula. James Howe & Deborah Howe (1979; 128 pages; fiction)
26. The Book of Secrets. Elizabeth Joy Arnold (2013; ARC 435 pages; fiction)

27. Night Film. Marisha Pessl (2013; 602 pages; fiction)
28. The Small Hand & Dolly. Susan Hill (2013; 288 pages; fiction)
29. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. H.P. Lovecraft (1927; 128 pages; fiction)

30. Ignorance. Milan Kundera (2000; 195 pages; fiction)
31. The Shooting Party. Isabel Colegate (1980; 190 pages; fiction)
32. Time Will Tell. Donald Greig (2012; 204 pages; fiction)
33. Heroic Measures. Jill Ciment (2009; 193 pages; fiction)

34. Invisible Cities. Italo Calvino (1972; 165 pages; fiction)
35. Double Indemnity. James M. Cain (1936; 115 pages; fiction)
36. Evil Under the Sun. Agatha Christie (1941; 200 pages; fiction)
37. The 13 Clocks. James Thurber (1950; 124 pages; fiction)
38. Chéri. Colette (1920; 136 pages; fiction)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading Challenge Addicts 2013

The 2013 edition of Reading Challenge Addicts started today!  And, of course, I just had to sign up.  Even though I'm trying very hard to cut back on challenges for this year -- so far, I've already gotten myself involved in twelve of them, with a couple more waiting in the wings.  Obviously, I need this group (if not an intervention).  So, I'm in for 2013. 

Here's my list of challenges:
  1. 50 Book Challenge (a Library Thing group)
  2. 2013 Category Challenge (another Library Thing group)
  3. European Reading Challenge
  4. Finishing the Series Reading Challenge
  5. Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge
  6. Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
  7. Middle East Reading Challenge
  8. Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge
  9. Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge
  10. Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge
  11. Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge
  12. What's in a Name Reading Challenge
Have I forgotten any?  Don't think so.  So I guess I'm in at the "In Flight" level of addiction (11-15 challenges entered). 

This year I'm going to make a real effort to do a better job of keeping track of my challenges -- maybe do a regular blog post about how I'm doing with each one.  I'll also be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog (HERE).  So now I really just need to GET READING!