User Reviews

Reviews by Ultra Violet
The Poe you never knew
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Historical fiction that reads like a romance novel (a good one) with a bit of suspense thrown in. Everyone has an image of Edgar Allan Poe from his work and from the stories of his poverty, alcoholism and instability. But not everyone knows that much of his negative image was constructed by a literary rival, Rufus Griswold, in a posthumous biography.

In Cullen's well-researched novel she shows us a softer side of Poe. Cullen built a story around the rumour of Poe's affair with poet, Frances Osgood. Their forbidden love-match makes their lives a roller coaster ride of exultation and torture. They risk ostracism from the oppressive nineteenth century New York society to be together. I had a hard time picturing him being called "Eddie" by his wife and mother-in-law, but as the book progresses, the character becomes quite believable. Throughout the tense, forbidden romance there are plenty of factual tidbits from the lives of Poe, Frances Osgood and others of New York intellectual society.

This is a great read for fans of historical fiction, poetry, and literary romances.
Fantasy and Memory
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Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade, The Buried Giant is a magical tale about memory, forgiveness and isolation. This is a fantasy story, but it is fantasy in the highest literary sense. The magical creatures and sense of otherworldliness serves to strengthen the very real issues Ishiguro addresses.

After devastating war, Britain has settled into a peaceful era, but at the cost of something very dear. A fog hangs over the country which robs the inhabitants of their long-term memories.  An old couple, Axl and Beatrice, suddenly remember that they have a son. They can’t remember his name or where he lives or even why he left, but they are determined to search for him.

Their strange, difficult journey tests their love and devotion to each other. Ishiguro’s masterful writing gives the reader the sense of soporific confusion that the people in the story are experiencing. But that is not to say it is an unpleasant read. At the heart of it, this story calls into question how long we should remember the anger and pain of war and loss. At what point do we forgive without reserve? If we could forget wars, whether national or personal, would we want to?

Ishiguro is also known for the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.
Exciting nonfiction
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One hundred thousand years ago, at least six distinct human species coexisted on this planet. So why has Homo sapiens come to be the sole heir of our biological heritage?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is an amazing undertaking, covering the entire history of humans on Earth. Harari starts with our earliest evolutions and poses some interesting questions about why we ended up dominating the evolutionary landscape. Examining biological changes, social changes and the advent of technology, he explains what makes us so good at surviving.

The part of the book that I found most compelling was his analysis of the role of story and religion in our civilization. The idea that money, nations, religion, law and, in fact, most things that drive our society, are “fictions” that we have collectively developed over time to maintain order was fascinating. Harari goes on to speculate about our future evolutions and how we will almost certainly have a role in determining those changes.

Sapiens combines anthropology, sociology, history, economics and science to explain where we came from and where we are possibly heading.

 

 


XKCD is 'a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language' that has grown in popularity even with non-science types. It is sometimes too technical for me, but the iconic stick-figure drawings are always a delight and creator, Randall Munroe, manages to throw in enough easy ones to keep me interested.

XKCD has a section called, “What If?” to address crazy wonder questions. This book is a compilation of some of those questions and Munroe’s perfectly scientific answers along with some adorable stick-figure comics. Some of the pressing questions answered by this book are:

If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?

What would happen if the moon went away?

What would happen if the Earth stopped turning but the atmosphere didn’t?

If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?

And my personal favorite:

What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface?

If you already follow “What If?” on the web, there are new questions in the book so it is still worth a read. It’s a fun one to read with curious older kids, too. They aren’t going to want to read the former NASA scientist’s answers in great detail, but they will enjoy the cartoons and a condensed version of the answer.


 



The Birds of Pandemonium is the story of the Pandemonium Aviaries in Northern California. The founder, Michele Raffin, started by one act of kindness to an injured dove and ended up becoming one of the world’s leading experts on aviculture and the care and breeding of rare and exotic bird species.

 

Throughout the narration, the personalities of the individual birds shine through. They are delightful “people” with rich relationships with each other and the humans in their lives. The tales of the challenges to the safety of birds caused by environmental issues, abuse, neglect and harm caused by human ignorance are eye-opening. I never thought about the fate of the white doves released at many wedding ceremonies. They are bred to be pure white, but that makes them more noticeable to predators, not to mention that they are not prepared for life in the wild.

 

Raffin’s enjoyable prose reads like a chat with a friend rather than a preachy book about the importance of protecting endangered species. The photos of the birds are fantastic. It makes it all come alive. This is a great choice for animal lovers and memoir readers.



 

 
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