Thursday, January 19, 2017

708 (2017 #6). The After Party

by Anton DiSclafani


I put this book on my wishlist because I'd seen it touted as historical fiction set in 1950s Houston.

It's set in 1950s Houston, but there's very little historical information in it.  Yeah, the main characters spend a lot of time at the Shamrock Hotel (although by 1957, it was the Shamrock Hilton), and they live in tony River Oaks, and they are filthy rich (in most cases from oil), but that's about it for historical context.  The setting really could have been anywhere.

This is the story of a dysfunctional relationship between two women who are 25 when most of the story takes place, in 1957.  Joan Fortier is beautiful, popular (especially with men), and mysterious.  Cece Buchanan (also named Joan, but never called that around her more illustrious friend), has a mother who dies when she is 15 and a father who moves away and marries his mistress.  She's taken in by the Fortiers, but the unspoken assumption of Cece and Joan's mother  is that Cece will "take care" of Joan.

Joan is a narcissistic b***h.  Cece is pathetic, obsessing about her.  I wanted to strangle both women.

Not recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

707 (2017 #5). Anatomy of a Song

by Marc Myers,
read by Jonathan Yen

I received the CD version of this audiobook to review from the publisher, HighBridge Audio.  As others who also received review copies via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program experienced, there are numerous skips in the first disc, about halfway through it all the way to the end.  The second through fifth discs worked fine, but problems reoccurred on the sixth disc.  By this point, I was fed up - and not all that impressed with what I'd heard so far - so I skipped to the last disc (number 8) just to see how the book ended. (Answer:  abruptly, after the column on song #45 was read.)

Needless to say, the poor quality of the discs greatly detracted from my understanding and enjoyment of the book.  I was also hoping to hear at least some excerpts from the songs, but that did not happen either.  That was a great disappointment, and to my mind, a lack of imagination or initiative on the part of the audiobook publisher to not include them. Jonathan Yen's reading was not particularly inspired, and I have to wonder if he was chosen for the audiobook due to the similarities between his voice and that of Casey Kasem, the longtime (1970-1988) host of the "America's Top 40" radio show I listened to frequently.

Author Marc Myers wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal with the same title as this book, and this is a compilation of some of those articles (with some updating), arranged chronologically by the date the song was released by the artist performing it.  Myers gives a little background for each song, and then interviews at least one person associated with it - often the songwriter and/or performer, but sometimes the producer and/or other members of the band.  The interviews that delve into *why* a particular song was written, what inspired it, were of the most interest to me.

I recognize over half the titles of the songs in the book (there's no table of contents in the audiobook, but I found a list of the songs in a review online.  I'd probably recognize more if I could hear snippets from all of them).  For that reason, I'd say this book is probably aimed at my generation, but the subtitle, "The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop," is misleading when it comes to iconic.  I did like the "oral history" part, the interviews with those actually involved in making the song being the best part.

If you are a big music fan, and understand terms like "overdub" and "reverb," you may like this book.  I wouldn't recommend the audiobook, though.  Instead, read the print or e-book version (where you can get pop-up definitions!), and listen to each song as you read about it.  I *may* try to borrow a copy and do that with the parts I missed on the defective audiobook.  The operative word being "may."

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this audiobook from the publisher via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program,  As two discs are apparently damaged, I will have to throw it away.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

706 (2017 #4). Hidden Figures

by Margot Lee Shetterly

The movie based on this book was released a week before I went on a cruise, so I borrowed it to read.  It's an interesting nonfiction account of the human "computers," primarily female mathematicians, who took the formulas from the engineers, plugged in the data, and did the calculations in the early days of aeronautics.  Many of the computers  - even in Hampton, Virginia, home of the Langley Research Center - were black.

Like many industries, Langley first started employing women during World War II.  Its work ramped up as the home of NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.  That organization morphed into NASA as defense work slowed but the Space Race began in the late 1950s.

This nonfiction work focuses on the lives and careers of three black women - Dorothy Johnson VaughanKatherine Coleman Goble Johnson, and Mary Winston Jackson.  All three women started in the West Area Computing Unit (albeit at different times), a segregated work group. Other women are discussed in the book as well, and at times it becomes hard to keep track of them.

The women tell stories of a "Colored Computers" table in the lunchroom and separate bathrooms, common in a state that was one of the last to desegregate.  Margot Lee Shetterly, who grew up in the area with a Hampton University English professor mother and a NASA research scientist father who began working at Langley in the early 1960s, points out that America's discrimination at home did not sit well with the minority-dominated nations they were trying to win over from Soviet influence to democracy.

Shetterly provides end notes, a bibliography, and index, although unfortunately the e-book does not take advantage of linking technology with them.  I also would have liked to see some photographs of the women in the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Monday, January 16, 2017

705 (2017 #3). A Wedding for Christmas

by Lori Wilde

A little over a year ago, I read I'll Be Home for Christmas, Lori Wilde's previous book in her romance series set in mythical Twilight, Texas (aka Granbury, my current home town).  I predicted that Lori's next Twilight novel would be about a character in that book, Katie Cheek - and I was right!

This novel starts with a flashback to the time of the previous one.  Katie has traded her home in Twilight for that of Gabi Preston in Los Angeles for the Christmas season (like in the movie The Holiday - which I have not seen).  Both women are looking for a change in pace.  In Katie's case, she is ready to move on after the death of her fiance over a year earlier.

While attending a charity event in L.A. in a hot red dress borrowed from Gabi's closet, Katie is bowled over - literally - by her old crush from Twilight - Ryder Southerland, her brother Joe's best friend.  Hot sex ensues.  But Katie sneaks out without saying goodbye and goes back home, with the courage now to change her life.

Flash-forward one year, and Gabi and Joe are getting married.  Yup, you guessed it - Katie is the maid of honor, and Ryder is the best man.  The story from then on is pretty predictable, except for one interesting twist.  Katie's OCD tendencies have led to her operating an organizing business.  She's called in to clean up the home of a recently deceased hoarder so the widower owner will be allowed to return there after hospitalization.  That owner turns out to be Ryder's father.  More interesting to me, though, was a hypothesis Wilde shared about reasons for hoarding and compulsive buying, including attempts to fill emotional voids in life.

It was fun to see references to couples from other books in the series besides Gabi and Joe:  Emma and Sam, Sesty and Josh, Meredith and Hutch, Sarah and Travis, and Caitlyn and Gideon.   This was an easy, light read, perfect for the holiday season.

Mbr /> © Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

704 (2017 #2). News of The World

 by Paulette Jiles

I was intrigued by this book both because it was a National Book Award Finalist for 2016, and because it is historical fiction set in Texas.

It's 1870, Reconstruction in Texas, and widower Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who fought in two wars, now earns his living by reading news from faraway places in small towns in north Texas.  In Wichita Falls, he is hired to return ten-year-old  Johanna Leonberger to her German immigrant relatives in Castroville.  Johanna was captured by the Kiowa tribe at age six, when her parents and sister were killed, and remembers nothing of her earlier life.

Like many former Indian captives, Johanna is not eager to go "home."  The captain, now in his 70s with two grown daughters, is very patient with her.  As they make their 400-mile journey southward by wagon, their relationship develops.  Johanna's eventual chattering in broken English (with a bit of German mixed in) is especially amusing.

Author Paulette Jiles came to Texas late in life, but obviously appreciates the state.  She based Kidd on a real news reader, a friend's ancestor named Caesar Adolphus Kydd.  He, along with the real Britt Johnson, come from Jiles' novel about Britt, The Color of Lightning, which of course I now have to read - along with most everything else Jiles has written.  Her prose is spare but beautiful - she began her writing career as a poet.

I read the e-book and, honestly, did not notice the lack of quotation marks around dialogue.  So many authors do that nowadays that it no longer bothers me.  What *did* annoy me was not being able to see the detail in the map at the beginning of the book (a major flaw, in my opinion, with nearly all illustrations, maps, charts, etc. in e-books).  I did find a similar map at a website for the book, although the little wagons overprinted on it make it hard to see the detail underneath (click on the image to enlarge it):

Most of the places on the map (and that Kidd and Johanna visit; they aren't all on the map) are/were real places.  Some are not, though.  Some of the more significant scenes in the story occur in the mythical town of Durand, which is supposedly on the Bosque River in Erath County (misspelled as Earth county in the map).  The location almost sounds like Stephenville (also misspelled on the map), where I work.  It and the county both existed in 1870 - but the route on the map doesn't go anywhere near them.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this short, quick read.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-book was borrowed and returned to my university library.]

Saturday, January 14, 2017

703 (2017 #1). Queen of Swords

by Sara Donati

After finishing the fourth book in Sara Donati's Wilderness series, which ended with a cliffhanger, I couldn't wait to start the next book.

Fire Along the Sky ended with Jennet Scott Huntar, the Bonners' distant cousin from Scotland, being kidnapped near a British prison for Americans captured in the War of 1812 - just as Jennet's love, Luke Bonner, helps his younger half-brother Daniel Bonner escape the prison, with the help of his half-sister Hannah Bonner.  All Jennet is able to leave behind as clues are a couple of tarot cards, one of which is the Queen of Swords.  (It's never explained what message Jennet was trying to send, but it is pretty clear to me that Hannah is the Queen, and she is the major character in this book.)

Queen of Swords begins nearly a year later, with Jennet's rescue in the French Antilles in August 1814.  Jennet gave birth to Luke's son, Nathaniel, while in captivity, but sent him away, supposedly to safety, with a man called Honoré Poiterin.  Stopping first in Haiti and then in Pensacola, Florida, the Bonners learn Poiterin and his formidable grandmother are claiming Nathaniel as his own, and have taken him to New Orleans.  So of course the Bonners go there, setting up the story to intersect with the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

Other than a few letters, and an appearance by a couple at the end, the Bonner family back in Paradise, New York, and in Montreal play little part in this book.  Jennet and Hannah both endure assaults, and Hannah reunites with an old friend from her New York days, Dr. Paul Savard, and meets his half-brother Ben, of mixed race like herself.  You can probably predict where that goes.

Nevertheless, it's an exciting book, and I learned a little about the Battle of New Orleans and some of the real people connected with it, who appear as characters in this book:  Andrew Jackson, Edward Livingston and his wife Louise, and Jacques Villeré and his son Gabriel.

I'm looking forward to the final book in the series, and finding out what happens to the rest of the Bonner clan and their friends.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

702 (2016 #57). Fire Along the Sky

by Sara Donati,
read by Kate Reading

This is the fourth book in Sara Donati's Wilderness series, featuring the Bonner family (and their friends and kin) of New York.  This one takes place in 1812-1813, ten to eleven years after the previous book.

The original couple, Nathaniel and Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, are still a part of the story, but the focus is on their four adult children - particularly the girls, Hannah (28 when the book begins) and Lily (18).  Their distant cousin Jennet (also 28) comes from Scotland, looking to rekindle her love with the oldest son, Luke, after being widowed.  And Lily's twin Daniel goes off to fight in what we today call the War of 1812.

The author readily admits in a note at the end that "in pursuit of a good story, I have fiddled with the facts" (page 657).  I think she gets away with it because so little is taught (in American schools at least) about the War of 1812, the backdrop for this story - what she writes seems plausible.  Her depictions of city and frontier life in that era feel spot on.

I don't want to give too much of the complex plot away.  Besides Paradise, the fictional town in the real Adirondacks near Lake George and Saratoga (both of which I have visited), the book also has as settings Montreal (Luke's home, where Lily goes for a while to study art), and Île aux Noix, or Nut Island, in the middle of a river in Canada just north of the border.  Let's just say the story kept me engrossed.

It also ends with a major event that sets up the next book in the series.  It's so compelling that I had to go borrow the book today to start reading it - I'd planned to take a break in this series for a good month!  Oh well!  I will miss Kate Reading's excellent narration in the audiobook format.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This e-audiobook, along with print and electronic copies, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]