Tuesday, October 19, 2010

September Reading Round up with some October mixed in!

The Einstein girl / Philip Sington.
"Two months before Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, a beautiful young woman is found half naked and near death in the woods outside Berlin. When she finally emerges from a coma, she can remember nothing, not even her own name. The only clue to her identity is a handbill found nearby, advertising a public lecture by Albert Einstein: 'On the Present State of Quantum Theory'. Psychiatrist Martin Kirsch little knows that this will be his last case. Searching for the truth about his celebrated patient, he finds professional fascination turning to love. His investigations lead him to a remote corner of Serbia via a psychiatric hospital in Zürich, where the inheritor of Einstein’s genius – his youngest son, Eduard – is writing a book that will destroy his illustrious father and, in the process, change the world."--Publisher description.
Interesting story in an era when mental illness was treated inhumanely and the threat of the Nazi thought coming into play.  It has a sad but ultimately satisfying ending.

Sweetwater Creek : a novel / Anne Rivers Siddons.
At twelve, Emily Parmenter knows alone all too well. Left mostly to herself after her beautiful young mother disappeared and her beloved older brother died, Emily is keenly aware of yearning and loss. Rather than be consumed by sadness, she has built a life around the faded plantation where her remote father and hunting obsessed brothers raise the legendary Lowcountry Boykin hunting spaniels. It is a meager, narrow, masculine world, but to Emily it has magic: the storied deepsea dolphins who come regularly to play in Sweetwater Creek; her extraordinary bond with the beautiful dogs she trains; her almost mystic communion with her own spaniel, Elvis; the dreaming old Lowcountry itself. Emily hides from the dreaded world here. It is enough. And then comes Lulu Foxworth, troubled daughter of a truly grand plantation, who has run away from her hectic Charleston debutante season to spend a healing summer with the quiet marshes and river, and the lifegiving dogs. Where Emily’s father sees their guest as an entrée to a society he thought forever out of reach, Emily is at once threatened and mystified. Lulu has a powerful enchantment of her own, and this, along with the dark, crippling secret she brings with her, will inevitably blow Emily’s magical water world apart and let the real one in - but at a terrible price. ~blurb
This one felt a little contrived in that most college age girls wouldn't be interested in playing friends with 12 year olds and vise versa.  I also found the relationship between Emily, her brother and Lulu's grandmother to be rather deus ex machina.

Last rituals : an Icelandic novel of secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder / Yrsa Sigurdardottir ; translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder.
A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police's belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his mother to find out the truth, with the help - and hindrance - of boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich. Their investigations into his research take them deep into a grisly world of torture and witchcraft both past and present, as they draw ever closer to a killer gripped by a dangerous obsession.~blurb
This is the first book in a series, I read the sequel last month.  I really enjoyed it - another neat crime writer to add to my list.  The writing style and setting of the book is well done.

Martyr / Rory Clements.
England is close to war. Within days the axe could fall on the neck of Mary Queen of Scots, and Spain is already gathering a battle fleet to avenge her. Tensions in Elizabeth I's government are at breaking point. At the eye of the storm is John Shakespeare, chief intelligencer in the secret service of Sir Francis Walsingham. When an intercept reveals a plot to assassinate Francis Drake, Shakespeare is ordered to protect him. With Drake on land fitting out his ships, he is frighteningly vulnerable. If he dies, England will be open to invasion. When a high-born young woman is found mutilated and murdered at an illicit printing house, it is political gunpowder - and Shakespeare has no option but to investigate. But why is he shadowed at every turn by the brutal Richard Topcliffe, the blood-drenched priest-hunter who claims intimacy with Queen Elizabeth herself? What is Topcliffe's interest in a housemaid, whose baby has been stolen? And where do two fugitive Jesuit priests fit into the puzzle, one happy to die for God, the other to kill for Him? ~blurb
My usual favourite genre (historical fiction) with a mystery story thrown in... it's full of win!  Some desperate scenes including some rather gruesome torture stuff.  It was quite a twisty story.

Empress Orchid / Anchee Min.
A fictional portrait of the last empress of China follows Orchid, a beautiful teenager from an aristocratic family, who is chosen to become a low-ranking concubine of the emperor and rises to a position of power in the Chinese court.~blurb
This one was okay.  Found the writing to be a bit slow.

Day after night : a novel / Anita Diamant.
Four young women haunted by unspeakable memories and losses, afraid to begin to hope, find salvation in the bonds of friendship and shared experience even as they confront the challenge of re-creating themselves in a strange new country. Based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than two hundred Jewish prisoners from the Atlit internment camp outside Haifa.~blurb
I've had a hold on this book for quite a while so I was pleased when it finally became available for me.  This is one of those books that give a flavour for a particular place and time.  I enjoyed the stories, the struggles and conflicts portrayed in the book.

My stroke of insight : a brain scientist's personal journey / Jill Bolte Taylor.
Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained and published brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious neuroanatomist, she watched her mind completely deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered her mind and body. In this book, Jill shares with us her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained from having this ironic and unusual voyage into, and back out of, the silent abyss of a wounded brain.~blurb
I found this biography an incredibly interesting insight into the brain.  I placed a hold on it after watching her TED talk which I found very moving.  One of her points she brings out so beautifully is the positive effect gratitude has on us on a entirely biological level.  Her website has more information about her.

September's Blogosphere Book Circle Choice
The lacuna : a novel / Barbara Kingsolver. 
New York : Harper, c2009.
ISBN: 9780060852573
"The story of Harrison William Shepherd, a man caught between two worlds -- Mexico and the United States in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s -- and whose search for identity takes readers to the heart of the twentieth century's most tumultuous events"--Provided by publisher.

I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect with this story.  I haven't read any of Kingsolver's other fiction, only her non-fiction stuff.  The story begins with Harrison's childhood and moves into his adulthood.  Over the period of the story he comes into contact with some significant historical figures which later on impact upon his life and success.

It took a little while for me to get into the story but it gradually drew me in.  The portrait of McCarthyism in the US is particularly well done.  It interests me that this is one of the themes in the book and I wonder what prompted (if anything) Kingsolver to write about it in this particular generation.  It seems to me that it could be a revolt against some of the thoughts and social mores happening today in that part of the world.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Digital storytelling: Week 1 #Octshowntell

As part of a learning challenge Ruth has initiated, I am taking part in a digital story telling project during October.  This is my first attempt.  I've used Pixton which is a free comic making tool.  Well, it's free sort of.  You can use the free parts quite reasonably, and there are bits you can pay for or earn "credits" for.  It's actually rather fun.

In any case, at least I will post 4 times this month!