May 13th, 2016

kitty, reading

Books #19-20

Book #19 was "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" by Mary Roach (as an audiobook). I've read "Stiff" and "Packing for Mars" by the same author, and I love the sense of humor and curiosity Roach brings to every subject she writes about. This book was just as fun as the other two, but it will implant DEEPLY weird images in your head... for instance, lab rats wearing polyester pants. As with her other areas of interest, she doesn't try to be encyclopedic about covering the topic. She divides the book up into chapters that are really almost stand-alone essays on particular sub topics. She could have gone into more detail about the history of sex research but she tends to focus most heavily on more recent findings and studies, which was fine by me. I found this book highly enjoyable, and I like the reader they used for both this book and "Packing for Mars" quite a bit. Highly recommended!

Book #20 was "The Likeness" by Tana French. I'd read her first novel, "In the Woods" and loved it, so I wanted to see what the rest of the series was like. I think it's a clever idea that she takes a secondary character from the first novel and makes her the main character in the second. From what I've read, sh=he continues in this way, with a minor character from "The Likeness" becoming the main character in the third novel (which is also on my "to read" list). The books take place in and around Dublin. In this novel, detective Cassie Maddox is called in on a special homicide case - the Murder Squad has found a dead woman who looks just like Cassie, and she is living under a pseudonym, Lexie Madison, that Cassie once used on an undercover case. The detectives decide to lie to the dead woman's housemates and friends and say she "nearly" died but recovered and send Cassie in undercover to find out who killed Lexie. The premise -- that someone unrelated just happens to look just like you -- is a bit tough to swallow, but once you do, the novel is just dripping with suspense. Is Cassie living with four nice college buddies, or is one of them a murderer? The storyline has built-in tension, and French does a fine job with it. Her prose is beautiful and character development is really well done. I love her writing and hope I like the next one in the series too!
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Book 46

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah Dirk, #1)Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I spotted Delilah Dirk at a bookstore roaming around at the author's fair (see, brick and mortars do more to get books under my gaze than anything else). If you're looking for a strong female lead, you've found her. It's regency period and opens in Constantinople and actually tells the story from the view point of Erdemoglu Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant.

Selim wants nothing more than to have a few good friends, a comfy bed and to make tea. He is a fine tea brewer. The mogul who employs him is erratic to say the least, nearly ready to kill because he thinks Selim is stealing tea leaves and has the army fight for coins for the amusement of the aristocrats. Still, Selim is relatively content. But unlucky for him Delilah Dirk ends up in his mogul's prison. Delilah, as Selim learns, is a child of English privilege but has askewed that life for one of adventure. She quickly breaks out of prison and the mogul blames Selim. Delilah saves his life and Selim is swept up in her crazy life.

And crazy it is. Delilah globetrots always after the next big adventure. The staid aristocratic life she ran from bores her (and one assumes the traditional female role would have killed her). Selim feels he owes her a debt for saving her life though Delilah wants none of that. She wants a true companion not one who feels he's only there because he owes her. Still, Selim hangs on even when her flying ship (yes, it really flies) seems to actively hate him and he it.

They steal from pirates. They run from pirates. Selim has to choose between Delilah's hard life and one of comfort. He might even surprise himself.

Delilah and Selim are both very likeable characters. The art is a little odd and I loathe Delilah's outfit. It takes an otherwise empowering female lead, in the early 1800s, and puts her in what seems to be a billowing skirt, pirate boots, a keyhole boob-showing halter and a shit-ton of swaddling bandages (is this where Rey got her fashion advice? what is up with bandages as clothing?). Sigh.

Fashion aside, this is a fun graphic novel with a couple of fun characters. It's worth checking out.



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Book #19: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo



Number of pages: 1,463

I put off reading this epic novel for years, because I didn't think I would enjoy it. It turned out, I was very wrong - after a slow start, I found myself enjoying it a lot and caring immensely for its three main characters, Jean Valjean, Cossette and Marius.

Jean Valjean is introduced as a petty criminal, and at the start of his storyline, he is (to his amazement) given shelter by a bishop, after most of the town has shunned him because of his criminal tendencies. Although he seems like he should not be a sympathetic character, he immediately becomes a loveable rogue, even when - unable to suppress his kleptomaniac tendencies - he steals the Bishop's silverware. He ends up as a character who seems to be trying to prove that he is no longer a criminal, and can be seen as a valued member of society, although he has to constantly change his identity. Every time that he seems to have vanished completely, he shows up again, and on some occasions I didn't realise a new character was in fact Jean Valjean again until the book made it really obvious.

At the start of her story, Cossette ends up being sent away to a cruel foster family, headed by the main antagonist, Thenardier. His treatment of her is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the story, particularly the portrayal of how Thenarier's daughters are spoiled, and won't even let Cossette play with their dolls.

This book is very long, and is partially padded out by diversions from the author, who sets the scene largely through essays regarding the real-life events and places that influence the plot line, from the Napoleonic wars, to the Parisian sewer system (actually more interesting than it sounds). Victor Hugo also takes a somewhat roundabout way of introducing characters; the entire first chapter is about the Bishop who takes in Jean Valjean, describing his entire life; the bishop only appears right at the start. Likewise, to introduce Cossette, the book first of all includes a chapter about four female characters who arrive in town, one of whom is Fantine, later Cossette's mother. Later in the book, Thenardier saves the life of a soldier, who later on turns out to be Marius' father.

Although the breaks in the narrative got a bit annoying at times, I found that when the main plot was moving forward, it was actually very enjoyable, very exciting at times (mostly seeing Jean Valjean escaping the clutches of his erstwhile nemesis, Javert, who starts off as a dislikeable character, before ending up as someone who I felt surprisingly sympathetic for). There were a lot of bits that were very sad, and moving, particularly towards the book's denouement.

Overall, I was glad I did take the trouble to read this novel, and may well give the musical and/or the recent movie a go as well.

Next book: A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)