Welcome to my blog where I share book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, February 23, 2018

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood (the author of Handmaid's Tale) is a prolific writer and has an impressive list of novels and poetry.
Oryx and Crake is the beginning of a dark trilogy which shows a futuristic view of the downside to genetic modification both of plant life, and animals/humans. In an interview Ms. Atwood states that everything in her books is about something that has happened somewhere. I wonder about the creature developed that sports tentacles ending with chicken breasts and only a mouth to take in nourishment. As it has no eyes, no brain and feels no pain it is not protected by the animal cruelty laws. Then there are the pigoons that grow quickly and develop multitudes of internal organs that can be harvested. Yes, there are clinical trials for this!!

From the cover:
As the story begins Snowman, the narrator, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet and mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake. In a world in which science-based corporations have recently taken mankind on an uncontrolled genetic-engineering ride, he now searches for supplies in a wasteland. Insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the Pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. The narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly and why is Snowman left with nothing but his bizarre memories?

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is my favorite read so far this year. Lisa See takes us into a remote Chinese Mountain Village and shows us life of the Akha people living in a region amidst tea trees in southern China. But for Li-yan that life changes when a stranger appears, a tea buyer, who introduces them to a different way of life. Li-yan is herself already slowly rejecting the Akha customs by going to school and becoming educated. I won't spoil the story by adding any more details and I recommend that you don't read the cover blurb and let the story unravel as you read the novel.

Along with the story, Lisa See introduces the reader to Chinese customs, changes in government policy which affect Li-yan's family and spiritual rituals undertaken. Many of the laws were slow to reach rural mountain villages and it was 15 years before the Akha families found out about the Chinese one-child policy. But the Akha had their own barbaric rules and twins or children born less than perfect were considered rejects and were killed.
The Akha people are very spiritual and very superstitious. Their "week" is twelve days, each one named after an animal. The men must be able to recite their genealogy going back to the first man Sm Mi O (60 generations)

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Kate Moore has obviously spent a great deal of time researching the history of girls who used luminescent paint and her book The Radium Girls follows the story of several of the girls whose bodies were sadly destroyed by the radioactive component in the paint. While it is a dark story, it nevertheless shows the struggle they had against wealthy companies and despite earning a high salary, they were soon unable to work and any savings were used up by trying to find medical treatment in vain to alleviate their pain. (One girl was dismissed because her deteriorating bones caused her to limp and they thought it was discouraging for other girls employed there!)

The girls who painted luminescent numbers on clock dials and aircraft instrument panels during the early 1920s were called the shining women. It wasn't only the dials that shone in the night, the girls were speckled with radium powder and they loved how they lit up at night and when they went to dances. A new craze began after Marie Curie  discovered radium and it was used to destroy cancerous tumors/tissue, radioactive dressings and pills were sold to treat hay fever, gout, and constipation and radium health clinics and spas popped up all over America. Wealthy customers drank water from a radium lined jar as a tonic and it was dubbed liquid sunshine. Dr. Sabin Von Sochocky  had noted the luminescence of the radium and concocted a paint to use on clock and watch dials (the lighted dials helped pilots during WWI). His idea was originally to make money to fund his medical research and the lab workers and chemists who extracted the radium  and worked with it wore protective lead-lined aprons and other protective equipment. Unfortunately, despite warnings from Thomas Edison and Pierre Curie of dire results in the handling of radium, the teenage girl painters were offered no protection. They were told the radium in the paint was too minimal to hurt them. The company even sold the sand like residue to schools and playgrounds to use for children to play with touting it as hygienic for the children. The girls not only were speckled with the radium dust but to be more efficient painters they "pointed" the bristles of the brush with their mouth and lips in order to clump together any wayward bristles. Using water was considered a waste by the company as the precious paint was left behind in the water.
What resulted were teeth falling out, necrosis of the jaw bone and destruction of the bones (bone marrow was over stimulated and eventually destroyed red blood cells.)
But the company was making far too much money to worry about the health of their workers and denied any fault while their workers were dying - most of them in their early twenties.

It would be a good read for a book club.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith's  No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a delightful series set in Botswana. If you've watched the HBO series, it's easy to hear Jill Scott's accent through the written words and helps with the pronunciations. Precious and Grace is number 17 in the series and like a re-acquaintance with old friends.

Since the diamond on Meghan Markel's engagement ring came from the diamond mines of Botswana and Prince Harry often visits there, it might evoke new interest in the republic and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a great introduction to the area.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Saltaire, England

In this day, employees seem to be treated as an inconvenience, rather than a valued part of a company but one man, Sir Titus Salt, thought quite the reverse and built his employees a village - Saltaire (Yorkshire, England).
Titus Salt opened a mill in 1853 on his 50th birthday and unlike the pictures conjured up in a Dickens novel, he wanted a model village (designed by Lockwood and Mason) to house his workers. Saltaire, was a village  built on the proceeds of fabric produced from alpaca wool and consisted of the mill, 850 houses, 22 streets, 45 almshouses, 40 shops, a club and institute, a school, church, fire service, hospital and post office.

Friday, January 26, 2018

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton never disappoints, she is a gifted writer of mystery. Although the publication of her books have spanned over 30 years, she has continued to keep her mysteries in an 80s setting without technical gadgets and phones that we have today.

From the cover:
It's April 1988, a month before Kinsey Milhone's thirty-eighth birthday and she's alone in her office catching up on paperwork when a young man arrived unannounced - Michael Sutton. More than two decades ago, a four-year-old girl disappeared and a recent newspaper story about her kidnapping has triggered a flood of memories. Sutton now believes he stumbled on her lonely burial and could identify the killers if he saw them again. He wants Kinsey's help in locating the grave and finding the men. Reluctantly Kinsey agrees to give him one day of her time . . .

Sadly, Sue Grafton passed away at the end of last year. Y for Yesterday is her last book in the Kinsey Milhone series. Although she had begun writing Z for Zero she has always been against using a ghost writer or having her series made for television so the series has come to an end. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Swordfish and the Star by Gavin Knight

Cornwall, England's southwestern county, has a rugged coastline and is immersed in tales of pirates and smugglers. Dotted with quaint fishing villages, the peninsular is both picturesque and treacherous (and the setting for my Lowenna cozy mystery series). But it is the fishermen in those villages that Gavin Knight was most interested in and by interviewing locals (especially those who imbibe at The Swordfish and The Star pubs) he has put together stories of a Cornish fisherman's life, together with some tales, legends and history.

They complain of European Union regulations that limited how they could fish while allowing other countries to deplete the waters off the English coast. The pilchard industry suffered both because of depletion and regulations required that all salted fish had to be stored in a separate chill room which small, family run grocers could not afford. But the fish gradually returned and locals, rather than continuing the age old traditions, were able to sell the Cornish sardines in a decorated steel tin - an industry which grew. Gavin Knight also follows the story of Nutty Noah, a character well known around Newlyn and using Daniel Defoe's books The King of Pirates and Treasure Island  Nutty Noah surmised that Captain Avery and Captain Kidd may have been linked to local landmarks. He thought the Admiral Benbow Inn, Penzance may have been Cadgwith Cove Inn and Treasure Island may have been Kennack Sands. A local archaeologist pointed out that any treasure he found had to be taken to the district coroner within fourteen days (Treasure Act 1996). But Nutty Noah hasn't given up finding treasure.

Note: If you're ever in Cornwall, make The Admiral Benbow Inn, Penzance one of your stops. It's been decades since I visited there, but little seems to have changed and it is reported to have been there since the 17th century. It is also rumored to have a smugglers tunnel from the pub to the coast.