Thursday, March 31, 2011

Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn

Title: Across the Nightingale Floor
Author: Lian Hearn
287 pages
Publication Date: 2002 
FTC: borrowed from a co-worker

I have to say that while working at a cafe in a bookstore isn't my dream job (unless I owned the cafe and bookstore), I do enjoy finding out about new-to-me books from browsing, seeing what people buy, and talking to co-workers.  This is one of those books.  I noticed a co-worker reading Heaven's Net is Wide, a prequel to the Tales of Otori series.  We got to talking and she lent me the three books in the series.  So I delved right in.

LOVED it.  Have you heard of this series??  How have I missed it?  Apparently people have because it's a New York Times notable book, one of Book Magazine's Best Novels of the Year, and one of the School Library Journal's Best Adult Books for High School Readers.  I got all that from the back of the book.

Book Summary

Setting:  Feudal Japan (exact time/era unknown) in a fictional region

The story starts out with a country boy, Tomasu, who lives in a remote mountain village called Mino.  He is of The Hidden, a people who are devoutly religious and peaceful but have to hide from main society.  Within the first few pages, Mino is invaded, burned and destroyed by a warlord named Lord Iida.  Tomasu is playing out in the woods when this happens and is thus saved from being killed and while being chased by Lord Iida's men, is further saved by Otori Shigeru, who happens to be in the region.  He becomes Tomasu's protector and renames him Takeo.  From then on he is Lord Shigeru's heir.

Takeo's is not only the remaining Mino survivor but he is found to have special skills.  He learns that his father was a famed assassin with extremely rare skills and comes from a hidden sect called The Tribe.  Takeo and Shigeru strive to destroy Lord Iida and seek revenge.

There are also a couple of love interests as side notes.  Most of the story is told from Takeo's perspective, but we also hear from his love interest, Shirakawa Kaede.  Honestly, I'm not sure who I enjoyed more narrating, Takeo or Shirakawa but the combination of perspectives is perfect.


If you've ever watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or movies like that, you'll understand what I mean.  Those movies have a beautiful combination of music and cinematography that is moving.  I felt that when reading this book.  Just beautifully written.  While it is not a YA book, I felt that it would be a good fit for a YA reader, boy or girl, since the book has the two different gender perspectives. And there are so many great themes in this book that makes it addicting: a young orphan dealing with his special powers and gifts, revenge (I love a good revenge story), love (the hopeless romeo/juliet kind), and loyalty (he was born religious with The Hidden, is beholden to Shigeru as his heir, and beholden to The Tribe by birth).

The only thing that was difficult with this book is the all the Japanese names.  Fortunately there is a good map at the beginning of the book along with a list of Characters just in case you get confused or lost.  I was surprise how little I used the character glossary.

This book is listed in the Fantasy section of the bookstore and while I can understand why, don't let that dissuade you from reading it.  Takeo's gifts are what make it fantasy BUT other than that, it is just a wonderful tale.  I just picked up the second book and am fifty pages or so into it and am sucked in.

Have you read this book??  Yay! Some of you have.

Also Reviewed by:

Fashion Piranha
Fyrefly's Book Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blood Work - Holly Tucker

Title: Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution
Author: Holly Tucker
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publication Date: March 21, 2011
FTC: Won in contest from Holly Tucker

I originally heard of Holly Tucker from her awesome website Wonders and Marvels.   If you love history, historical fiction or non-fiction...just head over there.  I thoroughly enjoy reading all the articles, guest author posts, and there are tons of giveaways.  I also found her on Facebook and followed her progress as she worked on and published her book.

Anyway, I was super excited when I found out I won a copy of her book!  My bachelor's degree is in history and I adore all types of historical fiction and non-fiction.  Since the publication date was coming up I wanted to read it as soon as possible and post a review for her.  It's always a little nerve wracking because, what if I don't like it? Thank goodness I became thoroughly engrossed in it.

Blood Work is a non-fictional account of the first blood transfusions which took place in England and France during Scientific Revolution in the 1600s.  If you've ever read any historical fiction or non-fiction from this period and onwards through the 1800s, you'll notice odd medical practices like blood-letting for illnesses.  Leeches, draining, and more were done to bring the body back into balance through the humors.  If you've never heard of this practice, I think it's mentioned in at least one of Jane Austen's novels.  Holly Tucker also notes that George Washington had this practice done.  Wow.  Never knew that.

When blood transfusions were first thought up and carried out by the curious and educated, I find it odd that they didn't see it as a way to make up for lost blood, but as another way of treating an illness of the body or mind.  I loved how these men pursued the quest for knowledge and how England and France kind were in kind of a scientific war over this.  Quiet fascinating and at times very disgusting.  I have to admit that I felt so sorry for all the animals that were worked on during their practices.   But they eventually moved on to humans and this is where most of the drama unfolds.  Blood transfusion became a religious, moral, and national problem.  Transferring blood between human and animal or even human and human might possible interfere with a person's soul and even worse turn someone into a hybrid with animal and human characteristics!  Or so they believed.

History books like these are the type I adore.  It's well research and jammed packed with all sorts of interesting characters and aspects of life during this period.  We get a glimpse into the court life of the Sun King, Louis XIV, as his Academy of Sciences opposes blood transfusion.  We get a vibrant look at people like Jean-Baptiste Denis who try to make a name for himself by becoming successful at blood transfusion almost at all cost.  Henry Oldenburg, a German-born philosopher working in England who is imprisoned because he is a foreigner and therefore suspicious.  And one of my favorites, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, who ran away from home as a young boy, became a pirate then physician.  I'd love to read more about him.  As for the murder...well you'll just have to read the book for that one.

As a side note: I was reading this the other day when I had a doctor's appointment.  As I was getting some blood taken, the nurse noticed the book title and asked what it was about.  When I told her she looked a little shocked and then asked why I was reading it.  That actually made me think.  While I totally enjoyed it, it does seem like an odd book to just pick up.  Then I read Holly's epilogue and I came to understand what it was.  She wrote, "early animal-to-human transfusions were a case study for larger political struggles, religious controversies, and cutthroat ambitions during the late seventeenth century." And it doesn't stop there.  She wrote that she became aware that she needed to write this book when she heard President Bush's speech in 2006 wanting to prohibit animal-human embryonic stem cell research.  Wow.  Is history trying to repeat itself? And that's why I was reading it and enjoying it.  It's a fascinating historical tale that provides a new outlook on modern controversies.  Thanks Holly!

Also Reviewed by:
The Economist
The Boston Globe
The Atantic

Questions and Answers with Holly Tucker
PLoS Blogs
Chapter 16

Guest Post
Jenn's Bookshelves

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Irish Country Girl - Patrick Taylor

Title: An Irish Country Girl
Author: Patrick Taylor
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publication Date: January 2010
FTC: Received from Forge Books for review

A while back I was asked if I wanted to read Patrick Taylor's latest book, An Irish Country Girl.  I have to say that I love all things Irish.  I even took an Irish history class in college.  I wish I had some smidgen of Irish in me, but no.  That's ok.  I've been to Dublin and can't wait to visit more of Ireland someday.  After all that, of course I had to say yes!

Patrick Taylor's series starts off with An Irish Country Doctor and I believe revolves around the doctor in the series.  You can check out his website for a complete listing of his books.  I was going to start of with An Irish Country Doctor and go through the series, but then I heard that An Irish Country Girl is sort of a stand alone book.  So I just started with this one.

I LOVED it.  Beautiful! 

Here's the story:

Kinky Kincaid is the housekeeper of two country doctors in the fictional Irish village of Ballybucklebo.  I'm thinking the main series takes place in Ireland in the 1960s.  But you know, I don't really think the time period is really important.  Anyway, as she's entertaining some young village children during Christmas, she tells them the tale of the Saint Stephen's Day Ghost.

What entails is Kinky's remembrance of her days as a young girl in County Cork, when she was known as Maureen O'Hanlon.  It's a beautiful and often bittersweet reminiscence of her sister's first true love who decided to not obey the warnings of her mother who had "the sight" and cut down a Blackthorn tree on November the eleventh.  The tale is full of spirits, Dubh Sidhe (doov shee or dark faeries), and even a Banshee.  The story goes on to tell of her own gift for with the sight and the story of her first love and her struggle over mysterious visions and wanting to be a teacher (something that didn't always sit well with being a married woman in those days).

I thought Patrick Taylor did an amazing job with Kinky's voice and depicting the beauty of the Irish country life.  I can't wait to read his other books in the series and am a bit disappointed that Kinky's tale is over and she'll be just a side character.  Or is she?  I'm just going to have to read the other books to find out.

Which brings me to the loveliness of the book itself.  Isn't the cover just gorgeous!  All the covers are like that.  I'd love a painting like these in my house.  Seriously, check out his website and look at the other covers.  There's also just awesome extras in the book.  Like the maps in the beginning.  He has them on his website as well.  There's also an large Glossary of Irish terms in the back which I loved.  Although really, he does such a great job of giving context that for a lot of them I didn't really need a glossary.  Also, the Afterward has some great books listed for more information on Irish mythology AND includes some of Kinky's recipes, like Potato Apple Fadge.  I love love when recipes are included.

Anyway, this was the perfect book to read around St Patrick's Day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you read any of Patrick Taylor's books?

Also Reviewed by:

Pudgy Penguin Perusals

Random Jottings

Happy St Patrick's Day!!!

I love this holiday.  Everyone is just happy.  I am a little sad that I am unable to drink my favorite beer Guinness.  Bailey's sounds absolutely delicious but that's ok.  I am about to post about a book I just finished, An Irish Country Girl.  I adore this book and can't wait to read the rest of the books in the series.

What else.  I'm almost 30 weeks pregnant and can't believe time is flying by so fast! I just realized that I hadn't posted for a MONTH.  What??  Since then I've entered my third trimester AND turned 30.  Gasp! Or as my friend told me, I celebrated my first anniversary of my 29th year.   Hehe.

I realized that I need to come back to this blog more and use it as my outlet.  We all need something or someplace to be and I think that with all these changes I've really missed just blabbing on here.  I think I got a bit nervous about writing now knowing that people actually read this!  I've also been frustrated with posting photos on here.  My husband pointed me to an article online (I don't want to link just in case) that mentions a law firm in Vegas who is suing bloggers who are using copyrighted photos.  Wow.  Now I'm all nervous about what I post.  So I'm going to attempt to only use my photos or at least photos I know I won't get sued over.  Yikes.  On top of that, my blogger limit on photos is up so I'm trying to transition to Flickr and haven't really figured it all out yet.  My first mistake was logging in with a google account different from this blog which kicks me out of my posting.  But I think I'm figuring it out.  Here's my link:

There's not much on there yet but hopefully in the future there will be.  Just because I love posts with photos, here's a photo I had my husband take a little while ago when Vegas got some rare snow.   These are some mountains just a block from our house.

Ok.  I'm off to post a new review.  Hope you had a wonderful St. Patrick's Day!