Category Archives: Books & Reading

Review: A Well Behaved Woman

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

Title:  A Well-Behaved Woman
Author:  Therese Anne Fowler
Twitter:  ThereseFowler
Published:  2018
ISBN-13:  978-1250095473
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publisher’s Blurb:   The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family in as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Nancy Pearl has a the rule of 50.  I have the rule of 100.  Especially when a publisher is gracious enough to give me a free copy to read.  I just couldn’t make it past 115.

Any sympathy I might have had for Alva Vanderbilt, and the plight of women in the Gilded age just went out the window.  We are supposed to sympathize with this girl from the South whose family has fallen onto hard times so she marries into the Vanderbilts.

I tried, really I did.  As a historian, I know it’s unfair to impose contemporary standards onto ages long gone.  And i do sympathize that for women there was so little agency that marrying into a wealthy family, and gaining social status, was of the difference between a death from poverty, or living.

But honestly, Alva was so dull.  And everyone in society so mean and cruel.  And William was just one-dimensional.  And the descriptions of the unseemly wealth and how it was spent ….

I am sorry Therese Anne Fowler, St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley that I can’t give a better review of this book.  Thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to try.

 

Review: Where Wizards Stay Up Late

Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon

Title: Where Wizards Stay Up Late
Author: Katie Hafner & Matthew Lyon
Twitter: @KatieHafner
Published: 1996
ISBN-13: 9780684832678
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publisher’s Blurb: Twenty five years ago, it didn’t exist.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

DARPA had set out to link the core processing capabilities in America’s top computer science research centers … (p. 232)

The romance of the Net came not from how it was built or how it worked but from how it was used.  (p. 218)

You know I’m old when I say there was a time in my life when I didn’t know what a computer really was, and I’d never heard of the internet or the World Wide Web.  Really.  Phones were attached to walls then too.

In 1984 I moved from Texas to Silicon Valley with my then boyfriend who had a newly minted degree in Computer Science and a job at a company which made disc duplicators.

I had no idea what I was in for.  The Selectric III was the height of fashion for secretaries at the time, and I loved mine.   But because I lived with a geek, the culture seeped in.  We had multiple phone lines, various computers and modems, and … well, the rest is history, so to speak.

As I write this, I work at the Computer History Museum and am surrounded by the internet.  It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.

Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon’s book Where Wizards Stay Up Late takes the reader through the history of the Internet.  From the wild and wooly days of ARPA, whose IPTO  was charged with developing a way for academic computers to link together allowing for sharing of information over AT&T’s phone line.

The birth of what because the internet was four enormous computers in Santa Barbara, Menlo Park, CA, Boston, and Salt Lake City, Utah.  And what an effort it took to figure out how to do that.  No one knew what they were doing, it had to be developed from scratch.

While Hafner & Lyon lay out the history, this book is not highly readable for someone who isn’t either a history nut (me) or a computer geek (partly me).  It gets technical, which is fascinating if you’re someone whose been around the lingo for almost 30 years (also me).  It reads a lot like a text book.

One of the oddities was the condescending manner in which things like “kludge” were explained, but more technical terms and phrases were often unexplained.  It was like reading a book for adults, and then finding something directed at children randomly inserted.

I like my reading to be aimed at intelligent adults, not someone who hasn’t learned to tie their shoes yet.

The end felt rushed, as though the authors realized they were running out of time and needed to pick up the pace.  As with all things computer history related, there’s a complex story to tell.  In trying to simplify the story enough to tell in one short book, Hafner and Lyon shortchanged their readers.

In other words, it’s an okay book.  But just okay.

Review: The Inkblots

The Inkblots
by
Damion Searls

Title: The Inkblots
Author:  Damion Searls
Published: 2017
ISBN-13: 9780804136563
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

[Rorschach] wanted to do more than treat patients:  he wanted to bring culture and psychology together to explore the nature and meaning of individual and communal belief. (p. 91)

Ten inkblots.  That’s all there are.  Just ten cards with carefully thought out art in which can be found the meaning of the innermost workings of a human mind.  There’s no right, or wrong, answer.  Merely interpretation.

Rorschach’s carefully developed test remains controversial, its use hotly debated in psychology circles.  Interpretation is key, but which method?  Its usefulness as diagnostic tool is not without debate as well.

Hermann Rorschach was working towards a tool which would help psychiatrists know how to help their patients get better.  Unfortunately, Rorschach died at the age of 37, not quite convinced his test was as finely tuned as it should be.

Damion Searls tells the story of this remarkable Swiss doctor/artist who yearned for a more holistic approach to patient care at the sanitarium for which he worked and did research.  It was his hope that his inkblots, with careful diagnostics, would be one of the tools used for better care.

As someone who worked in the Ph.D. program for psychology at a small university, I’ve been exposed to the foibles of both students and faculty who think they have much to prove.  Both to themselves and to each other.  I can now be amused at the memories, at the time it was just downright painful to be in the middle of it.

And yet, Searls’ story reminded me of what we’re all up against, psychologists and laypeople alike.  There’s a lot at stake for potential caregivers and their patients, and an overwhelming abundance of tools available.  It’s no surprise that passions flare and boil over.  Its understandable to some extent.  This is not to say egos don’t come into play.  I’ve encountered more than one “celebrity” psychologist who turned out to be a complete douche in need of some careful handling themselves.

Searls reminds me that despite all the posturing and arguing, there are people like Hermann Rorshach who are genuinely kind and caring, searching for ways to better help those under their care.  Inkblots gave me real insight into the struggle of early psychoanalysts to find footing in their new field.  Rorshach was among the pioneers, and his test has proven to be a useful tool for those who are careful with it.

Damion Searls has written the only biography of Hermann Rorschach and it’s worth reading if you’ve any interest in what makes people tick.

I received a free copy of The Inkblots as part of the Blogging for Books program.

Review: Second Street Station & Brooklyn on Fire

 

Second Street Station
by
Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on Fire
by
Lawrence H. Levy
Title: Second Street Station
Author: Lawrence H. Levy
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780553418927
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publisher’s Blurb
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Title: Brooklyn on Fire
Author: Lawrence H. Levy
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9780553418941
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publisher’s Blurb
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“She had a magnetic aura about her, fueled by her strong spirit and her unquenchable thirst for knowledge, that only those purely interested in the superficial could possibly miss. (p. 12)

 

I enjoyed the trilogy of Mary Handley books (Last Stop in Brooklyn being the third) as light afternoon reads, and recommend them to those looking for something slight to read.

Mary is meant to be a novelty, the tough and independent, outspoken women who dreams only of being a detective.  And she isnovel, but the constant bickering with her mother over getting married wears quickly.  Hopping into bed with men she’s romantically involved with may not be shocking to contemporary readers, but it doesn’t fit well with the character we are meant to admire.  The way Levy handles makes it seem forced.  As though this is how he proves to his readers Mary truly is a novelty in this era.

She can often be coarse, without needing to be.  And she almost always rubs men the wrong way, even those she winds up engaged to.  I often wonder what sort of research writers do to prepare themselves for writing protagonists of the opposite sex.  Mary Handley is Levy’s conception of what a smart, independent woman should be.  But he gives her traits which feel forced.

In Brooklyn on Fire, it’s her romance with George Vanderbilt which feels forced.  To me, all the romances in these books feel forced.  It’s like Levy wants her to be non-traditional, but not too non-traditional.  The text clunks a bit from one plot point to the next, often telegraphing what’s coming.

And yet, Mary is fun to follow.  As are the power mongers just waiting to get their comeuppance by the brains of this extraordinary woman.  The history is fun too.  Best not to take these books too seriously and just go along for the ride.

Review: Last Stop in Brooklyn

Last Stop in Brooklyn
by
Lawrence H. Levy

Title: Last Stop in Brooklyn
Author: Lawrence H. Levy
Published: 2017
ISBN-13: 9780451498441
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publisher’s Blurb
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Coney Island,” Lazlo remarked.  “It’s where intelligence and human decency go to die.”  (p30)

The third in the Mary Handley series.  By chapter 3 I knew I needed to get the first two, it’s that entertaining.  Fortunately, one doesn’t need to have read the first books to keep up with the plot of Last Stop in Brooklyn.

Mary Handley, Victorian era detective in Brooklyn, breaks all the stereotypical rules about how women should behave.  As her mother frequently reminds her, nice women get married and have a family.  They don’t traipse around Brooklyn as private detectives, solving crimes and speaking her mind to the Manhattan rich.

It starts simply as a case of possible adultery.  A friend of her mother’s son is concerned that his wife is cheating on him.  Using familial pressure, Elizabeth convinces Mary to take the case.  Which leads her to Coney Island, the last stop on the train in Brooklyn.

In her ten days of following Colleen Murphy, Mary notices that she too is being followed and confronts her tail.  Who, it turns out, is the brother of a man wrongly convicted of killing a prostitute in a similar fashion to Jack the Ripper.

Mary agrees to take on the case which leads her through New York police department corruption fed by money from the rich and powerful who run the stock market like Jay Gould, Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller.

Mary’s quest to prove Colleen’s infidelity (or not), and Ameer Ben Ali’s innocence takes her to the seedier part of Coney Island where racism, sexism, and violence live cheek by jowl, rarely noticed but ever-present.

My favorite kind of books are the kind which entwine history with fictive, but believable, history.  Levy does not disappoint in this regard.  However, I did find the plot wandered as though Levy were trying to get his bearings, or to fit too much in before then end.  And there were a few times when I was shocked out of the story by Mary’s profane language, and actions which didn’t seem to fit her character or the times.

Despite that, I’d gladly spend another day reading the further adventures of Mary Handley.

I received a free copy of Last Stop in Brooklyn as part of the Blogging for Books program.