• Nonfiction November DNF: Primates of Park Avenue

    Author: Wednesday Martin

    Book Blurb: When Wednesday Martin first arrives on New York City’s Upper East Side, she’s clueless about the right addresses, the right wardrobe, and the right schools, and she’s taken aback by the glamorous, sharp-elbowed mommies around her. She feels hazed and unwelcome until she begins to look at her new niche through the lens of her academic background in anthropology. As she analyzes the tribe’s mating and migration patterns, childrearing practices, fetish objects, physical adornment practices, magical purifying rituals, bonding rites, and odd realities like sex segregation, she finds it easier to fit in and even enjoy her new life. Then one day, Wednesday’s world is turned upside down, and she finds out there’s much more to the women who she’s secretly been calling Manhattan Geishas.

    I got over 50% with this book before I just couldn’t do it anymore. I listened to it on audio and the narrator did a fine job, no complaints there. When this first started, this memoir was entertaining in that it felt like you were being let in on a world you had no access to. I empathized with the author on the “otherness” she felt while trying to be accepted in this ‘group’. As she began to change and conform to this new …society, I empathized less and less with each passing chapter. It felt more like a repeat of high school mean- girl dynamics and frankly, I’m too old for it.

    When faced with similar real life situations, I often ask the question of myself and my friends, why are you fighting so hard to belong to a group that is like…that. In this case mean, shallow, miserable, and condescending…

    I lost the desire to continue with the story, regardless of whatever epiphany the author comes to.

    Next!

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  • Nonfiction November Book Review: American Sherlock

    Author: Kate Winkler Dawson

    Rating: 3/5 stars

    Book Blurb: Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

    Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious–some would say fatal–flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

    Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon–as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

    This was an ok read.

    I did like how the different cases were broken down, explaining how Heinrich utilized new scientific methods to narrow down the suspects. These methods seem commonplace now, mentioned regularly on shows like Law and Order or CSI. Like anything new, it wasn’t a perfect science and sometimes he seemed to get it wrong. The use of real cases left you with that uneasy feeling, as real life is not as neatly tied up as fiction. Was Heinrich right? Did that guy really do it?

    I did like the backstory for Henrich – you came to find out what drove him and his own struggles with OCD, financial woes, and spoiled children. That gave a needed human element to a very focused and stubborn character.

    Recommend!

  • Book Review: A Long Way From Chicago

    Author: Richard Peck

    Rating: 4/5 stars

    Book Blurb: Each summer Joey and his sister, Mary Alice two city slickers from Chicago visit Grandma Dowdel’s seemingly sleepy Illinois town. Soon enough, they find that it’s far from sleepy, and Grandma is far from your typical grandmother. From seeing their first corpse (and he isn’t resting easy) to helping Grandma trespass, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry all in one day, Joey and Mary Alice have nine summers they’ll never forget!

    I really enjoyed this Newberry Honor Book. Starting in 1929, it tells the story of two kids who spend each summer with their grandmother in Illinois. It’s full of quirky characters and happenings and lessons, good lessons about caring for others, interdependence, not judging others just to name a few. I really liked it. Great slice of life stories with heart and a dash of historical fiction. The stories were funny and had some twists I didn’t see coming!

    Definitely recommend!

  • Nonfiction November Book Review: Stolen Focus

    Author: Johann Hari

    Rating: 4/5 stars

    Book Blurb: In the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only sixty-five seconds at a time, and office workers average only three minutes. Like so many of us, Johann Hari was finding that constantly switching from device to device and tab to tab was a diminishing and depressing way to live. He tried all sorts of self-help solutions—even abandoning his phone for three months—but nothing seemed to work. So Hari went on an epic journey across the world to interview the leading experts on human attention—and he discovered that everything we think we know about this crisis is wrong.
     
    We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit. Hari found that there are twelve deep causes of this crisis, from the decline of mind-wandering to rising pollution, all of which have robbed some of our attention. In Stolen Focus, he introduces readers to Silicon Valley dissidents who learned to hack human attention, and veterinarians who diagnose dogs with ADHD. He explores a favela in Rio de Janeiro where everyone lost their attention in a particularly surreal way, and an office in New Zealand that discovered a remarkable technique to restore workers’ productivity.
     
    Crucially, Hari learned how we can reclaim our focus—as individuals, and as a society—if we are determined to fight for it. Stolen Focus will transform the debate about attention and finally show us how to get it back.

    This was a great read. Some of this was not surprising and had already been well explained in books such as How to Break Up With Your Phone and Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World – both of which I highly recommend.

    This book, however, takes it a step further. While those mainly focus on technology’s role in our inability to focus, this book covers that subject as well as how diet, lack of sleep and even the modern change in children’s upbringing affect our ability to focus. The science was fascinating. I flew through this book- it’s very accessible.

    The author does not offer easy solutions. I found Deep Work by Cal Newport to give more hopeful and workable suggestions on how to reclaim your personal focus. But as far as explaining the whys of our loss of focus, the urgency needed to get it back, and why it is so very important – this book nails the landing.

    Recommend!

  • Nonfiction November Book Review: The Now Habit

    Author: Neil Fiore, PhD

    Rating: 3/5 stars

    Book Blurb: Featuring a new introduction and a new section providing strategies to understand and deal with the role technology plays in procrastination today, THE NOW HABIT offers a comprehensive plan to help readers lower their stress and increase their time to enjoy guilt-free play. Dr. Fiore’s techniques will help any busy person start tasks sooner and accomplish them more quickly, without the anxiety brought on by the negative habits of procrastination and perfectionism.

    To kick off Nonfiction November reading, I started with this book about overcoming procrastination. Overall it was good, I found a lot of the same principles from this book in the cognitive behavioral therapy books I have read. There is an emphasis on getting to the root of why you procrastinate, tapping into ways to make procrastination less rewarding for you by scheduling your guilt free play in a non-negotiable way. I liked some of what was said.

    There are sections of Feeling Good by David Burns that explained things similarly. If pressed I would recommend Feeling Good, because it covers a lot of the points here as well as other issues such as self- esteem, anger, and approval addiction. But this wasn’t a bad read as a supplement.

  • Book Review: Murder on St. Mark’s Place

    Author: Victoria Thompson

    Series: A Gaslight Mystery #2

    Rating: 4/5 stars

    Book Blurb:

    As a midwife in the turn-of-the-century tenements of New York City, Sarah Brandt has seen suffering and joy, birth and death — and even murder. And the crime-ridden streets of the teeming city offer little relief from either…

    Thinking she has been summoned by German immigrant Agnes Otto to usher a new life into the world, Sarah Brandt is greeted by the news of an untimely death instead. It seems that Agnes’s beautiful younger sister, Gerda, had fallen into the life of a “Charity Girl”. Caught up in the false glamour of the city’s nightlife, she would trade her company — and her favors — not for money, but for lavish gifts and an evening’s entertainment. And now she was dead, victim, no doubt, of one of her “gentlemen friends”.

    No one cares much about the fate of girls like Gerda; but Sarah does. And she vows to find her killer. To do so, she turns to Sergeant Frank Malloy. As the two pursue an investigation that leads from the bright lights of Coney Island to the stately homes of Fifth Avenue, they find that their shared passion for justice may cost them dearly…

    This was a good continuation of the series. I enjoyed getting to know our two main characters better. Sarah and Sergeant Malloy are beginning to grow on each other. Their relationship is well done, entertaining and one of the reasons I am continuing with this series.

    As with the first book, I liked the historical facts sprinkled in with the mystery. I learned quite a few things. I always appreciate when the author lives up to the “historical” aspect of a historical mystery. The mystery was a bit predictable, but an element of it had a good twist.

    Will definitely be continuing with this series.

    Recommend!

  • Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

    Author: Philippa Gregory

    Rating: 4.5/5 stars

    Book Blurb: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

    I got this book for 25 cents at a library sale a while ago. I bought it because I wanted to see what all the hype was about back in the day. Even if I didn’t read it, I figured someone I knew would enjoy reading it and I could gift it to them.

    Fast forward to me actually picking it up and reading it. I came in to this book knowing the ‘real’ story and having watched the movie. When I let go of fact checking, I have to admit how compulsively readable and riveting this book was. I was surprised at how I could not wait to get back to reading this book. I was even tense reading the last part of the book, and let’s face it, we all knew what was coming!

    I get why people do not like this book. Anne is awful in this. History is far more complicated, as it often is, than the black and white this book paints. The movie with Natalie Portman, which was based on this book and shares the same name, didn’t stick to the book’s interpretation because it would have made the movie unwatchable. But I will say this author did a good job at making you see WHY this version of Anne was the way she was, and how unfair society was towards women at the time. No excuse – but at least you get a why. I want to read Alison Weir’s historical fiction book on Anne Boleyn as I have been told that book is more accurate on the complicated person Anne Boleyn was.

    When I closed the book, I had to admit I read a good, entertaining book – so I gave it 4.5 stars. I had not been engaged with a book like that in a long time.

    Recommend if you can look past the historical inaccuracies.

  • Book Review: Murder on Astor Place: A Gaslight Mystery

    Author: Victoria Thompson

    Series: A Gaslight Mystery #1

    Rating: 4/5 stars

    Book Blurb: After a routine delivery, Sarah visits her patient in a rooming house–and discovers that another boarder, a young girl, has been killed. At the request of Sergeant Frank Malloy, she searches the girl’s room. She discovers that the victim is from one of the most prominent families in New York–and the sister of an old friend. The powerful family, fearful of scandal, refuses to permit an investigation. But with Malloy’s help, Sarah begins a dangerous quest to bring the killer to justice–before death claims another victim…

    This book has been sitting on my shelf for years. I am so glad I finally picked it up!

    A Murder on Astor Place is the beginning of the Gaslight Mystery series, a historical mystery series that runs 26 books deep with more being published every year.

    This was very good! Our two main characters were likable even though they didn’t get along with each other. Which is just fine, as it made for good and entertaining banter.

    The mystery was good and kept me guessing. There was some commentary on class distinction and I liked all interesting facts about midwives and police history in New York during the turn of the century.

    Recommend!

  • Furrowed Middlebrow Project Book Review: Smouldering Fire

    Author: D.E. Stevenson

    Rating: 4 stars

    Publication Date: 1935

    Book Blurb: Despite his passionate love for Ardfalloch, Iain has been driven to let his home and estate to Mr. Hetherington Smith, a wealthy London businessman, and his kindly wife (who was, truth be told, happier when they were poor).

    MacAslan stays on in a cottage by the loch, aided by his devoted keeper Donald and Donald’s wife Morag. But he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Linda Medworth and her young son, invited to Ardfalloch by Mrs Hetherington Smith. Lush Highland scenery and a ruined castle set the stage for a mystery, and tension builds to a shocking conclusion.

    This was an enjoyable read. It was almost, almost a 5-star read. Very atmospheric. The supporting characters were fleshed out so well. I didn’t realize how well writers did that back then. I find it lacking today – but it could just be the books I had been reading recently. I cared just as much about the outcomes of the supporting characters as I did for the main characters. Matter of fact, my favorite character was Mrs. Hetherington- Smith whose purpose in the book was twofold – to act as a catalyst for our two main characters to meet, and to address the farce that money= happiness.

    There are some statements in here about class, good and bad. You’re able to make an observation and draw your own conclusions on the matter so I was ok with how it was presented. Books written Pre- WWII are interesting to me cuz you know what is coming but the writer doesn’t. I find the dynamic and tones interesting – what is viewed as important to the book’s characters or the hope you know will be dashed soon.

    The romance was ok, but the “hero” was a little… quirky. I don’t know a better word. The contrast between city and Highland life felt like you were reading two books sometimes – and I mean that as a compliment. I will be reading more from this author.

    This book has a title that denotes a bodice ripper romance title to me. But it’s not. Recommend!

  • Project Updates – August 2022

    As August comes to a close, I wanted to give some updates on the projects I am working on:

    For my Short Classics Project I read 4 books/plays in August:

    The winner I would have to say is The Misanthrope which was clever and surprisingly relevant. And it made me laugh at times! The others were not as entertaining but definitely worth a read.

    I have decided I am going to read the Furrowed Middlebrow line by Dean Street Press. This is a line of vintage women’s fiction. I read one of the books in August and that was:

    That was a delightful read. I am currently reading:

    … so stay tuned for that review. Dean Street Press offers a free kindle book of the week from this line and I hope they keep this up.

    My last project is the British Library Crime Classics. This month and in the past I have read:

    I enjoyed The Cornish Coast Murder. But I remember I really enjoyed Murder in Piccadilly and so I do recommend that one as well.

    I’m enjoying my reading lately. Through my digging, I have discovered some other golden age mysteries and reads that I look forward to trying, so you will see them sampled in between my projects. Dean Street Press has some good series recommendations I had never heard of, such as this one by Vivian Francis. I have found I cannot read these books as quickly as I can some more modern ones as the reading is more…dense (?) I won’t rush or I will lose my joy. Going for quality over quantity.

    Happy reading!