Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, by Stephen Puleo

Beacon Press, November 2010 (original publication 2003)

In January 1919, an enormous molasses tank on the Boston waterfront burst, and unleashed a flood of molasses on one of the most congested sections of the city.

"Molasses flood" sounds like a joke. It sounds funny. It was January. We all know the expression, "as slow as cold molasses."

Twenty-one people died. 150 were injured, many of them very seriously, resulting in life-long crippling problems that either ended or seriously hampered their ability to work. Also, hundreds of working horses were killed by the molasses flood--some directly, some shot afterwards, because there was no way to extract them from the molasses before they would be suffocated by the weight of it.

Children died. Workers died. Houses, businesses, and the local fire station were crushed, shattered, knocked off their foundations and nearly swept into the harbor.

It was an enormous tragedy.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Face in the Frost, by John Bellairs (author), Eric Michael Summerer (narrator)

Tantor Audio, March 2019 (original publication 1969)

Bellairs is best known for his children's books, with an added boost recently from The House With a Clock in Its Walls being  released as a movie.

This isn't a kids' book. Not that it contains any inappropriate content, and there are undoubtedly kids who would enjoy it.

This book, though, is aimed at adults who will enjoy the wordplay, the humor that rests on familiarity with things kids the age of Bellairs' usual readers haven't read yet, being aware of who the "other" Prospero is and recognizing the name of Roger Bacon, and...but no. Wait. Kids would enjoy the transition from the comic beginnings to the terrifying opponent.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, by Anissa Gray

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9781984802439, February 2019

The Butler sisters--Althea, Viola, and Lillian--had a difficult childhood. Their mother died when Lillian was a baby. Their father was--difficult--and often absent on preaching missions. Althea became a substitute mother for the younger girls.

The only boy, Joe, was his own kind of problem.

Now they're all adults. Althea married Proctor, and they started a restaurant and had twin daughters, Kim and Baby Vi. Althea and Proctor became pillars of the community. Viola went to Chicago, became a psychologist, and married Eva. Lillian moved to New York, became an an interior designer, married Sam. And then she and Sam divorced, and she returned to Michigan. When Sam died, she took in his aged grandmother, Nai Nai, and as unlikely as it might be, they became a family.

And now everything is coming apart. Our first hint of this is that Althea and Proctor are in jail, awaiting sentencing, and the twins, Kim and Baby Vi, are staying with Lillian, in the home the Butler siblings grew up in.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, by Christopher L. Hayes (author, narrator)

Random House Audio, June 2012

America from our beginnings as a nation has always inclined toward what we now call meritocracy--the idea that talent rather than birth should be the major determinant of gets the jobs and positions that make society, business, and government run. It's an inarguable idea; no one wants their surgeon to be selected on the basis wealth and connections, or by the superficial "fairness" of a lottery. That would be foolish. And since the word was invented, and the formal tools started to develop, in the early part of the last century, the USA, more than any other major country, has fully committed to an utterly uncompromising version of meritocracy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell #4), by Deanna Raybourn

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780451490711, arch 2019

Veronica Speedwell and Revelstoke Templeton-Vane have come to an impasse in their relationship--each realizing their feelings for the other, and each believing the other is still too grieving and damaged by past events to act on such feelings. Hence Veronica heads for Madeira with Lady Cordelia for several months while Stoker continues cataloging and restoring the taxidermied creatures of Lord Rosemorran's proposed museum. When she returns, she finds she's still not ready to return to her previous, comfortable relationship with Stoker, and she leaps at the chance to go off with Stoker's elder brother, Tiberius, a.k.a. Viscount Templeton-Vane, to visit an old friend of his and acquire larvae of the rare Romilly glasswing butterfly.

While the butterflies and the offer of larvae is real, it's really just bait to get Veronica to accompany him, and to lure Stoker to follow them, thinking he's defying rather than accommodating his older brother.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal

Ballantine Books, January 2019

This is Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice through Pakistani eyes, and it's not just a simple copy with names of people and places changed.

Soniah Kamal is a Pakistani writer, who grew up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, received part of her education in the USA. Jane Austen was one favorite author, and she was stuck by the ways that these very English novels, written two centuries ago, reflected the core daily concerns of modern Pakistani life, and in many ways universal concerns: family, love, success, happiness, respectability, security.

Alysba Binat is like and not like Elizabeth Bennet, and while if you've read Pride & Prejudice, you know the basic outlines of her story, she's well worth getting to know in her own right. The other Binats and their friends and neighbors are also alike and not like, and the similarities and differences are both reasons this book is worth reading.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines #1), by Marko Kloos (author), Luke Daniels (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, January 2014 (original publication March 2013)

I really, really enjoyed this one.

Andrew Grayson is eighteen years old, living in public housing with his mom, and eating the reconstituted protein that is food aid in this future. He wants out, and the only real option is enlistment in armed forces of the North American Confederacy. Five years of service will get him five years of banked pay at the end of it, and might get him a shot at a berth on a ship to an offworld colony. So he signs up.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wise Guy: Lessons from A Life, by Guy Kawasaki

Penguin Group Portfolio, ISBN 9780525538615, February 2019

This is Guy Kawasaki's fifteenth book, and this one is about his life--from Hawaii to California to Apple, to his own software company, other companies, back to Apple for a while. It's not a straightforward autobiography; he's conveying the lessons he's learned in an active life that has gone in many different directions.

For instance, before he connected with Apple, he had worked in the diamond industry. Sorting diamonds, and selling them.

Which makes a certain kind of sense.

A lot of what he has to say is, on the surface, basic. Work hard, pay attention to details, pay attention to people. Make connections. Follow your passions.

His telling of it is a lot better than mine, and comes to life in his stories of his life.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Hot Shots (The Scotland Yard Exchange Program #2), by Stephanie Queen (author), Meghan Lewis (narrator)

Stephanie Queen, May 2013

This is a fun little story. It really is. It's too bad that it's set in a Boston that doesn't exist, with major action--several sequences of major action--taking place in a Massachusetts Governor's Mansion that doesn't exist. Yes, that's right, Massachusetts is one of five US states that doesn't have an official residence for our Governor. This is trivially easy to find out.

Also, sorry, Ms. Queen, British knights are addressed as Sir Firstname, not Sir Lastname. Chauncey's father is Sir Bradley, not Sir Miller.

Yes, I am cranky about getting repeatedly kicked out of a fun story by the writer so insistently getting such simple things wrong.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

A Mind of Her Own, by Paula McLain (author), Hillary Huber (narrator)

Audible Studios, February 2019

In 1893, Marie Sklodowska, twenty-five years old, is studying science at the Sorbonne, one of the few universities in the world admitting women. Even Paris isn't especially friendly to women pursuing careers in science, and Marie is completely focused on her studies, convinced, with some justification, that romance can only be a roadblock.

Then she meets Pierre Curie, thirty-five, a physicist, with major accomplishments and possibly heading toward greatness. He offers assistance--better equipment so that she can work more efficiently.

And, soon, he wants to court her. He sees her as the partner he's dreamed of, a woman who can share his scientific work as well as family life.