Monthly Archives: August 2018

** That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother starts beautifully, with a description of the fog of early motherhood that’s so strikingly accurate I had to double-check that the author is, indeed, a man. Then, the mother acquires a nanny, and again the author captures the funny dance of working mother versus nanny roles. But when the nanny dies giving birth, and the mother, unexpectedly, decides to adopt the infant, and the story weakens and eventually peters out. Why? The white mother seems utterly deaf to the challenges her black adopted son is facing, and resists any help his step-sister, a grown woman and mother herself, offers her. I suppose it could be a great story of misunderstanding but it just came across to me as impossible to swallow.

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Filed under New fiction

*** The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

Gaston Leroux, of Phantom of the Opera fame, wrote many other books including a series about a detective called Rouletabille, the first installment of which is The Mystery of the Yellow Room, in which a young woman scientist  is savagely attacked in the yellow room of the title, a room that’s locked and at the door of which her father sat. Rouletabille, a young journalist, sets out to uncover the truth and finds that many actors in the French castle where the attack took place had secrets, some related to the crime and most not, and has to travel all the way to America to untangle the complicated motives and the shadowy author of the attack.

The book is over a century old, and moves at a very leisurely pace compared to modern mysteries — and most of the action takes place through deduction rather than direct investigation. It also appears that the next book in the series (which I will read soon!) is so heavily foreshadowed in this one that we already know its outcome. Still, a very enjoyable historical tromp.

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** In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott

The author of In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult grew up in an evangelical cult that kept its members separate from the world, which they saw as controlled by Satan and harshly shunned anyone who broke rules that became more and more restrictive. Her father eventually left the cult and the book reflects on a child’s experience of living in a closed community and then breaking out of it. It’s a very hopeful book, since the author was able to build a successful life and even reconcile with her father, but a great reminder of the danger of communities where absolute power is held by a handful of men.

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Filed under True story

*** Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

In the opening scene of Something in the Water, the heroine is burying her new husband in a shallow grave, so clearly something went wrong — and that’s the story that will unspool over the course of the book, from the unexpected discovery of a fortune to the grave. Without giving away the plot, there are several spots where you need to just believe in the unbelievable, but the pace is swift and the pithy observations of the narrator as the sometimes compliant, sometimes fearless wife are right on point. Fun!

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*** The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

The long subtitle of The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife is truth-in advertising for this hilarious, delightful, entertaining, and instructive compendium about all sorts of animals, starting with the sloth. The author is, really, the founder of The Sloth Appreciation Society, and manages to make the reader admire the slow everything of sloths, including very slow bathroom habits — which seem to play an essential role in their not-so-slow love lives.

We also learn about Peruvian pick-me-up smoothies made of pulverized frogs, a slew of amazing scientific errors including fantastical theories about disappearing birds since no one could quite grasp, or observe, bird migration until the 20th century (until a clever man invented the bird tag), the eating habits of vultures, who are so specialized that they need to work together to properly devour a dead animal, and how castoreum is the polite way to talk about beavers’ anal secretions, and is often noted as “natural vanilla flavor” on prepared foods. Yuck!

My favorite story of the book is probably that of the hippos imported by Pablo Escobar (yes, the drug lord) into Columbia, who have since thrived and now terrorize the locals. Apparently they run quite fast. (They also manufacture their own sunblock, fun fact.) A treat for any nature lover.

 

 

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Filed under Non fiction

* The Stars in Our Eyes by Julie Klam

Do you watch Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood? Read Celebitchy? Apparently lots of people do, and I bet they also recognize the names and faces of “famous” people. I don’t, so The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, The Infamous, and Why We Care Way too Much About Them was a total loss for me, as I could not follow most of the stories, and certainly felt pity, rather than envy, at the various stories relating glimpses and accidental meetings with stars (PSA: they are just like us, but often more demanding and arrogant, what a surprise!)

There was just one section I thought was very interesting, in which the author interviewed a successful actor who explained just how disorienting it is to be famous, or not, amongst other famous people.

I remain as befuddled and uninterested in the business of fame as ever.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Milk by Mark Kurlansky

Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas is full of interesting tidbits that would make a great trivia quiz: why Icelandic yogurt is so delicious (and is not yogurt at all!); that 14th Century Arabs made a milk and colostrum (!) mixture; that 18th century French physicians recommended ice cream as health food (I’m in!); that cows produce four times as much milk today than in 1942; and that Tibetan yaks serve as snow plows as much as milk producers.

The stories are often interesting, but they seem to be stitched together one after the other, logically perhaps, but in the dry style of a thousand index cards filled in by research assistants. Do research assistants still use index cards? Probably not, but that’s what the book feels like, and the recipes that are interleaved with the text do not dismiss that impression.

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Filed under Non fiction