All posts by rgray

HRCN: Tropical Setting

I just finished the audiobook Pirate Latitudes by  Michael Crichton for my tropical setting book. I’d listened to this book a couple of years ago, but didn’t remember it very well. I have the feeling that I could do the same in a couple more years and still not remember it clearly. I enjoyed it, but unlike most of Crichton’s other books, this one was a lot less based in reality and much more just a swashbuckling ramble.

Captain Hunter owns and captains the Cassandra, a small ship with a big goal – to plunder and steal a Spanish treasure ship from under the nose of the most ruthless commander in the whole of the Spanish colonies. Of course they succeed, but only after a huge struggle. Oh, and a whole lot of bloodshed and killing. That is actually the thing that I think will stick with me longest from this book – the blood and gore and its pretty gruesome descriptions at times. I can honestly say I’ve never read a book before that described cannibals preparing their meal of seaman before…

I’ve read online that this book was discovered on Crichton’s computer after he passed away in 2008. It does appear a bit more unfinished and unpolished than the other books I’ve read by him, and the characters are a bit less developed than I’m accustomed to as well. But if you put all that aside and just read it for fun, I think you’ll enjoy the swashbuckling and the drama of the high seas on 1655 Jamaica and its environs.


HRCN: Book with a Pretty Cover

Clara & Mr Tiffany coverClara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland is the book with a pretty cover that I chose for this year’s Hot Reads for Cold Nights entry. I’ve loved stained glass and reading books (both fiction and nonfiction) about art for a long time, so I was happy to put these two together! The beautiful window behind Clara’s silhouette on the cover pulled me right in and really set the stage for the story inside.

Clara was the head of the Women’s Department for Mr. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass company in New York City. Mr. Tiffany believed that women were better with the various shades of color, and he employed them at the turn of the 20th century for some of his most important windows and other pieces of glass art. This book follows Clara’s personal and professional lives from 1892-1908.

I loved learning more about stained glass and even catching a glimpse at how it is made. I certainly did not know that Tiffany developed specialty glasses like iridescent for the first time. I was also enthralled by the descriptions of how a window was put together and the many layers of glass that are needed for many of the deep colors I associate with Tiffany windows. To say I learned a lot about this kind of art is an understatement.

I was less enthusiastic about Clara’s personal life with all its trials and tribulations. They got overwrought and soap operatic at times which detracted from the overall story. And while she was friends with some very interesting characters, I was more interested in learning about the lives of the girls who worked with and for her. And this interest was in vain as Vreeland chose to have them be mostly one dimensional and their  spunk and individuality was only briefly highlighted.

This book could have also been edited with more of a heavy hand – it got sidetracked more than once and  if these had been cut out, I would have enjoyed it even more.



HRCN: Something Recommended

Yesterday I started and finished the audiobook of Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve and I enjoyed almost every one of  the 125 minutes of it!  The version I listened to was preformed by Betty Buckley, Mandy Patinkin with an introduction and conclusion by Walter Cronkite.

This short book is actually two of Twain’s short stories that were married together as a kind of dialog. Both Adam and Eve follow the gender stereotypes of Twain’s era (Eve is a chatterbox in need of companionship while Adam is more aloof and likes to build shelters), but they are definitely three dimensional characters who just happen to start with these stereotypes. Eve is curious, caring and smart. Adam is not quite as smart as Eve, but he tries to put order to his world and the things in it.

Their story starts at the beginning and really the first half of the book is the funniest and best as Eve stalks Adam, scares him up a couple of trees and names all the creatures before he has a chance to since he was going to name the dodo a wildcat. The second half has its moments too. It takes place after the fall and it is especially entertaining to see Adam try to figure out what Cain exactly IS since he was gone when the baby was born and he’d never seen an animal like it before.

This book was recommended by my dad and I recommend it to you – especially the audio version I got through MNLink.


HRCN: Graphic Novel

I just checked off my Graphic Novel box with Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, adapted by Nancy Butler & Hugo Petrus for Marvel comics. I am not sure I should have done so, as I know the story so well in the book and movie forms that I had a hard time to slow down and actually read it. The story still pulled me in, and I delighted in my favorite scenes in this image-led story. The writing wasn’t Pulitzer worthy, but I appreciate how challenging it is to reimagine a beloved classic.

That said, the main reason behind this book, the graphics and drawings, was the biggest thing I disliked about it. I was unable to find any beauty in the illustrations, and didn’t think they did justice to the story. I was very hopeful for it upon seeing the cover art. Pride & Prejudice coverThese covers are fun and whimsical and a good way to draw the target audience of teen girls into the comic store to buy them. Unfortunately, the interior art offers characters with little or no spark, they appear grumpy and depressed.

Deadpan Lizzy

It appears to me that Marvel had artist Hugo Petrus on staff and waiting for an assignment, so they thrust this upon him, even though he was unable to do it justice.

I was dissatisfied with this one of my favorite novels and I think I’ll rush home & put on the BBC miniseries tonight to rediscover the fun and frolic behind Jane Austen.


HRCN: Any Nonfiction

Review #3 is inspired by my love of the Middle Ages. I pulled Medieval Life and Leisure in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries by Linda Wooley off a shelf in my personal library. I have been meaning to read it for over a year, and am glad I took advantage of the Nonfiction box on my Hot Reads Bingo to do so!

Tapestries in medieval times were decorative draft barriers in the castles & manor houses of the royal and wealthy. The four that are known as the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries are no different. These very expensive and huge wool wallhangings are windows into the leisure lives of the richest of the rich. You can get a hint of the scale and complexity of them on the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) website.

I am in awe of the time and talent it took to create these tapestries. They show us a lot of detail of a 15th century royal court as they participate or observe in the hunt of Deer, Boar & Bear, Otter & Swan, and Falconry. In this book, Woolley lays out the history of these tapestries, both what is know and the conjecture behind their origins. They vary in age and quality, and appear to be from different tapestry workshops.

One of the best things about the book, is how it is laid out. There are five chapters in this book, and they cover not only the history of the tapestries themselves, but also the content of them. I learned a bit about how hunting in the 15th Century worked, courtly fashion and even a bit about the mores of the time (and I felt sorry for the Miller in the Deer Hunt). I also loved how many closeups there are – each page has one or more full color pictures of some piece of the wall hangings. The last four pages are pull-outs of each tapestry. The scale still boggles my mind!

One of the weakest things about this book is the lack of other material. The reader gets to see pretty much every square inch of these four tapestries in good detail, but there are very few pictures of anything else to compare them with. For example, the text mentions a different falconry tapestry held by the Minneapolis Institute of Art more than once, but it does not have any pictures of it. It would have been nice to have it for reference here instead of having to look for it on the MIA website.


HRCN: VHPL Book Club Book

I’ve read a handful of selections for our local book club now, & I want to tell you a bit about The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. (Incidently, this is the book for Wednesday’s meeting at Better Brew Coffeeshop – we’d love more people to come & talk books!)

This classic novel takes place during the French Revolution. An English nobleman is rescuing French aristocrats from the gallows under the noses of those who want to take them to the gallows. He is known for his realistic disguises and for the small red flower, a scarlet pimpernel, left as a signature after of his rescues. The Englishman behind the flower appears to all to be a fop, dandy and fool. His name is Sir Percy Blackeney. His wife, Marguerite, was a famous actress on the French stage. She is accosted by the French Envoy to help him unmask the Pimpernel – if she does not help him, her brother faces the guillotine. After doing so, she realizes who the Scarlet Pimpernel is, and she sails to France to warn Sir Percy before he is snared in a neck-severing trap.

I had never read this book before reading it for the Book Club. I really enjoyed the action, adventure and intrigue it provided. While The Scarlet Pimpernel is full of the twists and turns as you would expect a spy novel to have, it has wonderful character arcs. Most of the characters are fully formed and rounded – only the villian is not. My favorite thing about the book was Orczy’s descriptions – I could see the settings and costumes in my mind’s eye but she didn’t go on and on in them.


HRCN: One Word Title

To kick off Hot Reads for Cold Nights, today I am sharing my first book review. Over the weekend I read Dollhouse by Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé Kardashian to take care of the box “One Word Title”.

I ran across this book as I was cleaning shelves in the library last week, and was curious enough to bring it home & give it a shot over the weekend. It is the fictionalized story of a family similar enough to the Kardashians’ that even someone not very familiar with them could see bits of their public personas in it.  Kamille, Kass, and Kyle are all sisters who are dealing with the death of their father 5 years ago in very different ways. Kass copes by burying herself in her university studies and being the perfect daughter. Kyle, 16, is your stereotypical rebellious teen into drinking vodka, watching porn and going to parties and doing drugs. Kass attaches herself to whatever man she dates – she doesn’t listen when friends and family tell her that he is up to no good, instead it’s all roses and champagne in her mind.

These three girls’ lives change practically overnight when Kass, the pretty sister, is discovered at a coffee shop by a high power model agent. She is launched into the Hollywood celebrity scene and the book revolves around the way this fame impacts her whole family’s lives.

The most unfortunate thing about this book is the fact that it isn’t very long, only 288 pages, and it tries to have too much happening in it. There are a couple storylines that are simply dropped near the end of the book, leaving the reader just hanging there. Apparently, they were hoping for a sequel, but this hasn’t come to fruition.

The best thing about this book is the enjoyment factor in that it is 110% fluff. It doesn’t even try to pretend to be anything other an a retelling of the Kardashian’s lives through an only slightly fictional lens. It let me turn off my brain for a couple hours and relax.

There is nothing earthshattering about this book. It is not the next best thing, or even all that well written. It does make a good beach or airport read, as long as you’re not too embarrassed to be seen in public reading it.


Getting ready…

Hot Reads Bingo will be taking place from January 3 – March 2, 2017. Are you ready to run the gauntlet and read, read, read? Topics range from books with:

  • Tropical Setting
  • Award Winner
  • Book by an Author who Shares Your First Name.

There are cool prizes for the first five folks who register, biweekly random drawings and two grand prizes for those who turn in the most completed bingos. We hope you join us!