Thursday, August 27, 2015

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Ex-spy James Asher comes home one evening to find his entire household asleep and a foreign gentleman standing over his wife Lydia. The stranger, Don Simon Ysidro, claims to be a vampire interested in hiring Asher to solve a serial murder case - someone has been killing the vampires of Victorian London, and if Asher manages to discover whodunnit, Ysidro (probably) won't kill Lydia.

What I Thought: This book was the first in an ongoing series about Asher, his wife Lydia, and their relationship to the vampire Ysidro; the series at large stands out for being intelligent, thoughtfully-written vampire fiction, and this first novel is no exception. Hambly's vampires have a clearly-defined set of strengths and weaknesses that feels completely "believable" - no turning into mist or sparkling in sunlight here - and she's put a lot of thought into what might happen to a person's personality after spending hundreds of years as a nocturnal predator (Ysidro, for instance, barely ever seems to exert effort or express emotion- he simply does not care after hundreds of years in undeath). Her vampires therefore become both sympathetic - being a vampire sounds horrible - and genuinely creepy. Even their pathos might be a trap.

The humans hold their own pretty well, however. Asher has seen his share of horrors himself - he quit working as a spy after becoming disillusioned - and he's refreshingly forthright with Lydia about Ysidro's request. Lydia is a treat: she went to medical school at a time in which ladies simply Did Not Do such things, so her first reaction to learning that the undead exist is a desire to dissect one. She's also brilliant and an excellent researcher whose contributions solve the case. There's an ongoing current of unease as Europe prepares for World War I; the evils men can do even without turning into vampires is a constant theme and threat throughout the series.

Oddly enough, Hambly's plots suffer because her leads are so intelligent and methodical: she's admitted herself in interviews that she has to keep having unexpected issues pop up out of nowhere since otherwise Asher and Lydia would see every threat coming. The result can feel disjointed, and Those Who Hunt the Night's "big reveal" disappointed me: yes, Hambly'd alluded to the characters responsible, but not in any context that would give a hint they were connected to the case. The murderer in a mystery novel should be unexpected, but having them seem completely peripheral until the climax felt unfair to the reader.

Plotting difficulties aside, however, Those Who Hunt the Night is highly recommended to anyone who likes spooky, threatening vampires - or who wants intelligence from their speculative fiction. World War I is looming in the story's timeline, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series to see whether that shoe has dropped yet, and how Asher, Lydia, and Ysidro become involved when it does.

Readalikes: Bram Stoker's Dracula, for the classic vampire story (and one with which Hambly's characters are familiar); Gail Carriger's Soulless, for another original (if far more humorous) take on vampires.

Or look this book up on NoveList!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Sherri Levek

What I Read: A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Author and biologist Dave Goulson purchased a farm in the French countryside in order to create a wildflower meadow to attract all sorts of wildlife, but his main interest is insects, bumblebees in particular.  This is the story of his observations of the myriad ways in which nature is connected.

What I Thought: Goulson’s insights into the natural world are inspiring and often humorous.  I spent many hours in the backyard and on walks observing the often overlooked life of insects and plants while reading this book.  Each chapter is dedicated to a particular insect or plant.  The chapter on flies is especially engrossing (with “gross” being the dominant theme!).  Goulson also explains the many ways humans are affecting the environment, with helpful suggestions that aren’t preachy or condemning.  Goulson ends the book with this bit of inspiration:  “This book is intended to inspire, to encourage everyone to cherish what we have, and to illustrate what wonders we stand to lose if we do not change our ways” (Goulson 251).

Readalikes: Attracting Native Pollinators:  Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies:  The Xerces Society Guide by Eric Lee-Mader, Seeing Trees:  Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy R. Hugo, The Bees by Laline Paull, and The Sixth Extinction:  An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Or look this book up on NoveList!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Book That Changed My Life by Roxanne J. Coady & Joy Johannesson, eds.

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: José Beltrán

What I Read: The Book That Changed My Life by Roxanne J. Coady & Joy Johannesson, eds.

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What it’s About: The editors selected 72 authors' short essays about what book they themselves love that changed their lives and ultimately inspired them to become famous authors in their own right. The editors' Read to Grow Foundation is a 100% donor-supported nonprofit organization that distributes free books through volunteers to the needy. Roxanne J. Coady won the Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year Award in 1995.

What I Thought: These essays cover the gamut of book publishing. There are so many quotable passages in these essays from all walks of life. You should read it just to select your own favorite quotes. Not only did I come away with many quotes, but a large list of books to read, both by these authors, and yes, from their favorite authors too.

The touching, moving “I Think I Can” about The Little Engine That Could: Jeff Benedict recalls the many lessons his single mom taught him from the stories she read to him each night.

Robert Ballard, deep-sea explorer and bestselling author on the Titanic: the reason for being, raison d’être, is not the view at the end, but the act of becoming. “Life is the act of becoming.” He is the founder of the Jason Project to mentor middle school students by scientists from NASA, NOAA, DOE, and the National Geographic Society.

“You could read the same text repeatedly over time, and something fresh and new would declare itself with each reading”: Nichikas A. Basbanes on Shakespeare.

Chris Bhojalian: “I learned the comfort that can be taken from the pages of a book, and the friendship that can be found in a story.”

Da Chen, Chinese peasant to Wall Street Investment Banker, wrote “I write because my heart demands so.”

Patricia Cornwell wrote on her ancestor Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “The original sin: the abuse of power, the ultimate result which is enslavement, impoverishment, suffering, and death."

Cuban exile Carlos Eire wrote: “Books have made me who I am". Carlos recommends three Spanish books: Tres tristes tigresCien años de soledad, and Imitación De Cristo.

Robert Kurson wrote of Denial of Death by Ernest Becker: "…started reading. By the time I got up, I viewed the world differently, by the time I got up, I was a different person."

Yes, politicians do read! Senator Joe Lieberman: “Every time you read and learn …your life is changed dramatically over time as you continue learning and thinking." Senator John McCain wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls is full of adventure, and fighting and romance…"

Sherwin B. Nuland: “Books are actually the stuff of which dreams are made.”

Frenchman, Jacques Pepin wrote of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus:  “We must be responsible for our actions.”

Ian Rankin:  “There was no rating on books, anybody could read anything.”

Lisa Scottoline: “Every book I read changes me in some way… and that’s why books matter. Lisa on “Angela’s Ashes” It breaks your heart and puts it back together again, but better”

Liz Smith on Voltaire: "I began to question and seek".

Michael Stern as a country boy was transported to unknown worlds by the Sears catalogue.

Frank McCourt tastes the words from Shakespeare's Henry VIII:  "It's like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words."

Readalikes: You've Got To Read This Book! by Jack Canfield, ed.

Or look this book up on NoveList!