Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a very short book - effectively only thirteen pages - aimed at a children's audience, to introduce them to a true diva, but for me it missed the mark. I don't lower my expectations for children's literature, but this book seemed to, and the ebook version - which as an amateur reviewer was the only one I had access to - was missing text on at least two pages as far as I could tell. Hopefully the print version is complete!

Ella Fitzgerald was known for her singing talent and in her earlier years for her love of dancing, but I didn't get any of that feeling for her out of this book which seemed more like it was interested in telling the tale of a struggling artist than telling that and the much more joyous success story - with a huge love of singing - that she became. Her career began when she wanted to enter amateur night at the Apollo theater, but was intimidated with regard to her dancing, so she chose to sing instead. She won first prize.

That pivotal moment was completely bypassed in this book, which began when she was already a mature performer. The first two pages which were, I assume, double-page spreads in the print version, simply showed her singing, with neither words nor descriptive text. The pages were not numbered, but the e-numbering at the bottom of the screen showed the first text appearing on page 'seven' where it began, "Before long, Ella was taking her music up and down the country" - so, story already in progress. It was a bit of a sour note for me.

While the illustrations were colorful if nothing extraordinary, and the text did tell her career story in brief, nowhere was there a song lyric. I know to quote whole lyrics demands all kinds of permissions, but to fail to quote even a line here and there, which is entirely permissible, was unconscionable for a story about someone of Fitzgerald's pedigree and contribution to music. We learned nothing of her childhood or influences, but first encounter her on the road, running from one gig to another.

There's a brief mention of how Marilyn Monroe helped her get a gig at a venue where 'coloreds' were typically not welcomed, and this boosted her career too, but then the story is pretty much over. On the 'Marilyn' page there were two speech balloons which contained no text. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but after the obviously missing text earlier in the book, it was irritating to be left in the dark about whether this was purposeful or not. Keeping Marilyn's name secret for a couple of pages previously seemed fatuous. I don't imagine for a minute than any child reading this has a clue who Marilyn Monroe was. Well, she was Norma Jean Baker! But kids today won't know that either so the reason that this section was written this way was obscure.

I felt this was a chance to really talk about a powerful and influential woman of color, and it was lost. I know for a book for young children, you can't go into huge amounts of detail and technical matters, but for a book for children, it helps to connect to them by showing that Ella was herself a young child at one point who came from poor circumstances, but who loved music and dance, and who overcame setbacks to reach success on her own merit. It could have been so inspirational, but to me it did neither her nor the young reader any favors. It essentially told a rather plodding story of how a white woman 'saved' a 'helpless' black woman, and it felt patronizing. Consequently I'm not able to commend this as a worthy read.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Egypt Magnified by David Long


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Technically this is Ancient Egypt Magnified, but I'll let that slide! I have no idea how much work it took to create this picture book for children (and even a few adults, I'll be bound!), but I will testify from my own experience that it had to be a heck of a lot.

The patience involved in this kind of detailed work is stunning. In a small way, it's reminiscent of the Where's Waldo books, but other than a superficial resemblance, it's a very different book. It does involve some spotting of people among a crowd of similar-looking people, but the underlying power of this book is educational, and in that as well as in visual appeal, it runs like an Egyptian Mau (which in case you don't know, is a very sleek and fast domestic cat and a descendent of African wild cats).

Each double-page covers an aspect of ancient life or history in a country which is replete with historical depth. The pages show hundreds of ancient Egyptians living, moving and having their being, involved in all kinds of activities from farming, to pyramid construction, to parades, to mining, and on and on. I don't think there's anything that isn't covered.

Note that this is designed as a print book so even on a tablet computer, the text is very small. You'll need to stretch it to read it, or buy the print version. It's not designed to be an ebook, unless you own one of those television-sized super pad devices, but the ebook is the only version I had access to for this review.

Note also that the author encourages the use of a magnifying glass (hence the title!) to spy-out the 'search' items on each page, which sounds like fun for a young kid. On a tablet, you really don't need one, since you can splay your fingers and enlarge the image, but if your kid isn't up to that, a magnifying glass would work too. The images in the ebook version were a bit blurry when enlarged. I assume that's because the images were low-resololution to keep the file size down, and that the print version will be sharper, but this is only a guess on my part.

Each page contains a couple of short, but information-packed paragraphs about life, as well as a key to ten things or people you can find in the picture, and what those particular things and people represent. There's also a quiz at the end to see if you recall where you saw certain images. On top of that's a primer on hieroglyphics, a glossary of terms, and a timeline of Egyptian history, highlighting the highlights! In short, it's perfect.

I had to do some research on Egyptian ancient history for a section of my novel Tears in Time and also for the more recently released Cleoprankster so I know without even having to look anything up that this author knows what he's talking about.

There are some areas of Egyptian history that are obscure - such as exactly how those huge stones were hauled up those even huger pyramids. I can pretty much promise you it wasn't up a long straight ramp like the one depicted in the fanciful movie 10,000 BC! Such a ramp would require hauling more material than the pyramid itself! Whether it was by an encircling ramp as is depicted here or some other method, such as levering the stones up the stepped outside of the pyramid, or by my personal favorite of maneuvering them up an internal ramp (at least in the later, larger pyramids) is hard to say without further research or discovery.

There's no de-Nile - everything a kid could ever want to know about ancient Egypt is most certainly here for their enjoyment, from ankh to Zoser (okay, Djoser, gimme a break!), and from mummy (which is a bit graphic be warned!) to sun worship, and everything in between. I commend this as a fun and education read for children of all ages.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

March of the Suffragettes by Zach Jack


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks my 2,800 book review! Yeay me!

A century ago this year, in Britain, Parliament granted the right to vote to women, but only if they were homeowners over the age of thirty! This purported enfranchisement still very effectively disenfranchised the majority of women. Thankfully that has changed now, inevitably for the better, but there was a fight on both sides of the Atlantic for a woman's right to have a say in the largely old white male government which dictated how she should live her day-to-day life.

While in Britain the fight got quite brutal, in the US it was rather more gentile, and a leading light in this 'fight' was a woman in her late twenties from a privileged background, who led a march from New York to Albany to present a request to the newly-elected governor in New York state.

Somewhat misleadingly subtitled "Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights" this library print book aimed at younger readers, began as a real disappointment because the male author seemed like he was far more interested in talking about press coverage of the march by the male reporters than ever he was about the women enduring the march. Since it seems like he took his entire story from newspaper reports I guess this isn't surprising, but it makes for a disappointingly thin story.

Thankfully this approach seemed to change about halfway through and the story became much more palatable. Even then though, we got to learn very little about the women involved. I am far from a Stephen King fan so I do not demand the entire life history of a character back through three generations. I can do very well without that, but a little bit of background in this case would have been nice.

This highlights the weakness of the author's approach because investigative reporting wasn't a thing back then. The old boys reporters club was more interested in pointing out the cute women marchers and the hiccups along the route than in actually doing any real stories on the marchers, and I'm guessing that's why the author offers no background. There was none in the newspaper sources he used and he was too lazy to do any digging of his own.

Another weakness at times was his style. At one point when he was talking about a rousing speech delivered by Jessie Stubbs, he said, "Here was a woman who would not be slowed by excessive baggage or supposed burdens of her sex," but this was right after he had, in two different successive paragraphs, loaded her with precisely that baggage by describing what she was wearing. This is a typical journalistic approach to describing women subjects of a news report, but not when describing men! So please, journalists do not burden your female subjects with this excessive baggage and burden of her sex! Good lord!

Rosalie Gardiner Jones was a remarkable young woman who was influenced by the Pankhursts in Britain (Emmeline nee Goulden, and her daughter Christabel), although the book won't tell you this. In late 1912 when this march took place - just months after the Titanic sank with 1500 people preserved in icepick. Rosalie was just 27 when she led her group of varying size (sometimes it was down to only the three core marchers) over a hundred-fifty miles due north. They walked all the way, blisters and all, through fog, rain, and snow.

Many towns along the way took the opportunity to hold fetes and welcome the visitors. The support they had was surprisingly diverse and commonly to be found. The coverage they got was international. The march really was a game-changer. Sometimes men would march with them. They were kindly treated by police it would seem. Some senior police officials would come out from their towns and walk or ride along with the march as they entered their domain. One factory owner apparently supported the march and allowed his female employees an afternoon off (without pay of course) to march with the group. This was interesting because at the same point in the journey, the marchers were joined by female students from Vassar college who, the author tells us refused to associate with the factory girls, so not all rights were being represented here.

The press coverage though was a part of the problem because in the first half of the book we learned very little about Rosalie and her marching partners Sibyl Wilbur, Ida Craft and the feisty Lavinia Dock who was in her fifties at the time of the march). The even more feisty Inez Craven, who seems to have been lost to history was also on and off the march, somewhat scandalously so at times. She was of the more proactive British origins. Jessie Stubbs was also there from time to time but she commuted back and forth delivering press reports. Jesse made an important speech along the route and was known for urging women to refuse to bear children until war was abolished. She died apparently by suicidal drowning less than a decade after the march and only a year after the nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Later in the book, we did learn a little about Rosalie's mother. The young marcher spent a part of the trip fearing her wealthy upper-class helicopter mom would come down there and wrench her wayward daughter away from this folly! The author won't tell you this (at least I don't recall reading it), but her mother was a member of the anti-suffrage league! There were a couple of other issues with this author's habit of omitting or worse, inventing information. The first of these is that while the author does reference certain material (references are pretty much always to newspaper articles), he makes up an entire story about how Christmas was spent and offers no references at all.

There's a huge difference between telling a story based on historical fact, and fabricating one, and that latter is what would seem to be happening there. There's also an outright fabrication, when the author mentions suffragette Gretchen Langley rowing away from the sinking Titanic in rough seas! No, she did not. If there is one consistent agreement among all Titanic survivors, it's how mirror-calm the sea was that night. The ocean was like glass, and that's what Langley would have rowed in. The next day as dawn broke and rescue finally seemed a hope, the seas did kick up more roughly, but by then the Titanic was some two thousand fathoms down, and no one was rowing away from it. On the contrary. Through the night and as daylight dawned, they would have been rowing toward one another to secure the lifeboats to each other for safety.

How times have changed, and how times haven't. It was a sixty-year battle to get to the 19th amendment to the US constitution adopted and even then women were far, far from equality. This same battle goes on today albeit in different arenas. I commend this not because it's a great book, but because it does cover, albeit in amateur fashion, an important step on a too-long road to equality, but if you can find something better, then please read that instead.


Polaris by Michael Northrop


Rating: WARTY!

This sounds like a sci-fi novel from the title, but it isn't. It's a middle-grade scare novel a la Goosebumps, but not. I picked it up because I thought it was sci-fi, but even when I realized it wasn't, it still sounded like an interesting premise when I first looked at it at the library: "The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist's assistant, and a handful of deckhands -- none of them older than twelve."

I think as a writer you need to bring your reader in pretty quickly (of course this rule doesn't apply to established writers how seem to think they can ramble on endlessly and still keep all their readers entranced. Stephen King I'm looking at you...). The problem is that for different readers this type of entrance means different things. It's hard to write a generic opening that will draw everyone in, and in this case, the writing just did not welcome me at all. Right from when I first started listening to it, I couldn't get into it at all and I DNF'd it pretty quickly.

I think the problem was the mesmerizingly rapid, if not rabid switch of viewpoints as the story opened so I wasn't ever quite sure where the hell I was. Maybe if I'd been sitting in a room listening to this it would have been different, but I listen to audiobooks pretty much exclusively when I'm driving, and when I am driving, I'm all about driving, and will ditch attention to a novel rapidly if something demands extra attention on the other side of the windshield. That's not to say I ignore traffic if a story is really engrossing, by any means, but I know that if my mind is wandering onto other matters - such as my own writing, then the audiobook just ain't cutting it. So, other than that, I don't have anything to add about this except that based on my experience I can't commend it.


Prophecy by SJ Parris


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those bloated historical novels which place important people at the author's beck and call, and which consists of name-dropping and the most sluggish pace imaginable. I was hoping for better. Once again it's a series - the Giordano Bruno mysteries, in which this Catholic monk becomes a detective. Seriously? He's also helping the Elizabethan government stave off encroachment by the Catholic church? No! He was a devout Catholic himself. Why would he help a fight against it? All that crap alone should have warned me off it. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, he's in England - which he was at the time this story is set - and a ritualistic murder is committed inside the palace grounds. Sir Francis Walsingham is seeking to solve it and calls on Bruno to help him. No! Someone of Walsingham's ability needs outside help? Not going to happen.

I don't hold authors responsible for book blurbs, which they typically have nothing to do with unless they self-publish, but this one claims "It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another." This is patent horseshit. The last such conjunction was in May, 2000, and the next will be around Christmas or New Year's of 2020. My math sucks, but even I can distinguish between 5x22 and 5x200! Elizabeth was queen for some forty years so her lifetime would have seen at least two of these conjunctions.

So it really didn't get me interested which is the first mistake a book can make, but worse than that, it didn't evoke Elizabethan times at all. The author made the common mistake of putting it into first person voice from Bruno's perspective. I typically do not like 1PoV, and in this case it was glaring because Bruno's thought processes were entirely modern. It kept kicking me out of suspension of disbelief pretty much every time he thought something.

When Bruno was in England, he was writing a bunch of stuff that he couldn't get done in Europe for persecution by the idiot church. All he was trying to do was tell the truth, but brain-dead church dogma wouldn't let him. This is why we must never let blind faith control our lives again; it is universally disastrous. But the point here is that given how busy he was, he would hardly have had the time to swan around solving murders and spying for the protestants, so the very basis of this novel is nonsensical prima facie, and the author never gave me writing of sufficient quality to make me willing to overlook these shortcomings for the sake of the story. For these reasons, I can't commend it.


Friday, November 2, 2018

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

Read charmingly and beautifully by Frankie Corzo, this was a very short audiobook (written by the author of Bridge to Terabithia) that I picked up on a whim at the local library. It turned out to be an inspired whim because I really enjoyed it. It tells an interesting story based on actual Cuban history.

Evidently at Ernesto Guevara's suggestion, Fidel Castro launched the Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización en Cuba, known as a year of education, which occupied almost the entire length of 1961. Literacy brigades (the Brigadistas of the title) were trained and then sent out into the countryside to build schools, train new teachers, and teach the illiterate to read and write. The campaign taught almost three-quarters of a million farmers and their families, and succeeded in raising the national literacy rate from around seventy percent to almost one hundred. There's a short documentary titled Maestra about the campaign, but I have not yet seen that.

This novel tells a fictional story of one such teacher named Lora, a girl in her mid-teens, who lived on a small farm while teaching the family and nearby families the alphabet and reading and writing skills. It was at no small risk to her life, since there was an orchestrated campaign against the literacy project because it was viewed as a political effort to indoctrinate those people, and there were attacks on the Brigadistas, including murders.

The story is told very actively, always moving forward, with little time for reflection, but which is nonetheless included in appropriately brief and organic moments. There is tragedy and joy and humor and moving times, and there were times I laughed out loud at the Brigadista's observations particularly towards the end about her friend's poetry (how many times can you write in the same poem that your heart was broken into a million tiny pieces?!). I commend this novel as a worthy, educational, and fun read.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Simone de Beauvoir by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Christine Roussey


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French author and philosopher, and very close companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. She lived through most of the twentieth century, and left a strong legacy of feminism. She wrote novels, biographies and an autobiography, and she made a lasting impression on literature.

Illustrated simply but colorfully by Roussey, this book tells a concise and easy-to-read story of her impressive life from her well-to-do origins, through her family's loss of fortune, to a decent education, to a life spent as a single woman, giving birth to literature instead of children, by her own choice. She pretty much became a feminist before there were women recognized as such (back then they were called trouble-makers!), and a philosopher long before earning any academic credentials. It just goes to show that girl-power isn't a modern invention!

She lived a long and productive life and while I would not agree with the assertion that she "was the first person to write about women making their own choices" (has the author not heard of female authors such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Mary Wollstonecraft and even earlier, women such as Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu?!), she definitely made substantive contributions to what was known back then as emancipation.

I think books like this - part of a series of strong females of history - are highly important for young children - male and female - to read, and this is one more in a series I have been happy to support (with one exception!). I commend this one as a worthy read.


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence


Rating: WORTHY!

I negatively reviewed a book called The Key to Lawrence many years ago and the idiot author came after me like his being a complete dick and calling me names would somehow change my review of his and his wife's crappy novel! For all I know he's the one who went around adding an anonymous negative two-line non-review to some of my books on line, but unlike him, I write for myself and I don't care what reviewers say. As it happens, I was right about that novel which has since evidently gone out of print. At that point I had never read TE Lawrence's memoir, but I had seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia (and watched it again recently). It was a good movie, but quite inaccurate in many particulars, but that's movies for you - always over-dramatizing. I'd always intended to read the book which underlay it.

So...I recently picked up the audiobook of The Seven Pillars from the library and it wasn't bad. It was hardly a ripping yarn, but was interesting to me because I like to read historical books which were actually written during the time being described. It's really useful if you intended on writing a book set in that period (which I'm not - not yet anyway!). The odd thing about this book is that the seven pillars go completely un-iterated and Wikipedia provides the reason for that.

I discovered that the title of the book apparently came from the Biblical book of Proverbs, and Lawrence was writing a book about seven great cities of the Middle East, but he abandoned that when war broke out, and he destroyed the manuscript afterwards. He wrote a memoir instead, but retained the title because he liked it so much. Wikipedia reports that he had to write the manuscript for it three times, once because he left the original on a train and it disappeared. What would that be worth now if anyone has it?

The book describes his experiences fighting against the Turks alongside the Arabs during World War One. It is heartfelt. Lawrence really respected and connected with those people. He spoke the language (he'd learned it long before the war began and traveled extensively in Syria, which the French were claiming as a colony - we know how well that worked out for them in Vietnam) and he learned to dress in Arab garb because it worked! In an amused anecdote (it was amusing to him) at the end of this book, he describes how he was mistaken for an Arab while working to improve conditions in a hospital, and he was abused as an Arab by a complete dick of a British officer who clearly had no idea who he was or what he'd done.

After the war, Lawrence, under an assumed name, applied to join the Royal Air Force, but was rejected when the officer interviewing him deemed he was actually applying under an assumed name! That officer was W. E. Johns, who later went on to write the successful 'Biggles' series of novels about an adventurous aviator. Lawrence was successful in joining the RAF, but his tenure was short. When the air force realized who he really was, they kicked him out and instead he joined the tank corps under another assumed name! Eventually he went back to the RAF under his real name. He really wanted to be a soldier, didn't he?!

It was hardly fitting for such a man, and neither was his death. Lawrence was killed at the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, when he swerved his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike to avoid two boys on bicycles. His head injuries resulted in his death six days later. The doctor who treated him was instrumental in promoting the use of helmets for motorbike riders. The accident is how the movie begins.

With a colleague, Lawrence had prepared fresh maps of the Negev desert in 1914 since it was considered to be of strategic importance in wartime. He joined in many Arab raids against the Ottomans, attacking cities and sabotaging railroads, and at one point the Turks offered a substantial reward for his capture (some two million dollars at today's prices). No Arab betrayed him. The Sharif of Mecca had given him the status (and thereby protection) of a son. It was Lawrence's idea to bring down Aqaba from the landward side rather than seaward, and he was successful. After that he could pretty much do no wrong in Arab or British eyes.

It's a pity we don't have that kind of cooperation and understanding with the peoples of the Middle East today, isn't it? I commend this book as a worthy read especially if you've seen the movie and want to get the real skinny.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Beats by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, and others


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a graphic novel about the so-called Beat Generation, although 'Beat-up Generation' might be a better term. I've never been a fan of Jack Kerouac or William Seward Burroughs, or had any interest in anything those two jerks had to say, and I only consider this a worthy read because it pulls no punches in exposing what these poseurs and losers were, warts and all. And there are many warts.

Of the main three depicted here, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, only the middle one comes through with any decent sort of character intact. Kerouac was a racist and a bigot who thought the world owed him a living, and misogynist Burroughs got away with murder - literally - in a case that would not be equalled until OJ Simpson came along. It was not the only murder one of this group would get away with. Lucien Carr was aided in a half-assed cover up by Burroughs and Kerouac, of a murder he perpetrated. He served only two years for it relying on an early version of the so-called 'homosexual panic defense'.

Kerouac denied his daughter was his until a blood test proved what a lying cheapskate he was; only then did he oh-so-kindly allow that she might use his last name if she published anything. Jerk. Burroughs shot his wife in a drunken recreation of William Tell's supposed feat, but whereas Tell shot the apple on his son's head, Burroughs shot his wife through the forehead killing her instantly and got away with it. Alcoholism seemed to be an integral and significant part of the Beat Movement and more than one of them had done time in prison and shown no real improvement for it afterwards!

These were not nice people, yet such as these are worshipped by the pretentious and clueless alike, and were the main - or perhaps more accurately the most celebrated - founders of the Beat Generation which was supposedly known for spiritual values inter alia. According to Wikipedia the hallmarks of the Beat Generation were: "rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quest, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration."

It made for an interesting read, but there was no rejection of materialism or any sort of values in evidence here. There was lots of drugs and irresponsible and unsafe sex, and denial of responsibility or their actions. After the main three were given their own mini-stories, a lot of lesser-known people in or tied to this group are also mentioned. I read about half of those supplementary materials. It's notable that there is only one person of color mentioned and very few women at all except insofar as the women were involved (usually to their detriment) with the men, or were offspring of the men.

So, while it was worth reading to learn all of this, it's not worth reading for any sense of spiritual enlightenment or literary enrichment.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hild by Nicola Griffith


Rating: WARTY!

This is a tome! A five-hundred page novel which I normally avoid like the plague for the very reasons which led me to DNF-ing this one.

I normally do not trust a book by its cover, because covers are so misleading. Experience has taught me that they're all too often created by someone who has no idea what's in the book, and so the cover has nothing to do either with the author or the novel. This is why I laugh out loud when I learn of some idiot author hosting a big "cover reveal" like it's some spectacular event. I ahve no time for that. I'm much more interested in what you wrote, not how pretty your cover is.

The cover of this novel shows a young woman in armor à la Jeanne d'Arc, and it;s entirely misleading. The woman in the novel - at least as far as I read - is no warrior woman; she's a mystic. Even that would have been fine by me if the novel had gone anywhere, but it never did - not through the first thirds or so of it, which is when I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious to read and literally nothing was happening.

If I had wanted to learn about the dark ages, I would have read a scholarly book about it instead of this one. I don't mind some atmospheric scene setting, but when it hampers the story, it's too much. I don't want to spend my reading time learning how much research the author did! I want to spend it seeing the characters do interesting things, have meaningful interactions, and go to fascinating places. There was none of that here. This character, Hild, was one of the most passive and tedious characters I've ever read of in a book. I'm sorry but no!


Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman


Rating: WARTY!

I've typically liked stories by Philip Pullman with a few exceptions such as Clockwork, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and Tiger in the Well. I have to add this audiobook to that small group, I'm sorry to report. It wasn't engaging me at all, wasn't interesting, offered nothing of value, and I DNF'd it.

The story isn't aimed at me, yet while I've enjoyed many middle-grade stories, I found this one tedious and the character names trite. For a parody, they might have been amusing, but for a story like this, they seemed a bit like profiling! Arturo Snivelwurst? Signor Rolipolio? Really? If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews (who apparently never met a novel they didn't like) had boasted of its "whirlwind plotting, manipulated into a pulsing tale of darkened hearts, treachery, and at long last, redemption" I would have avoided it like the plague. If all of your reviews are positive, then what's the point?

The story is of two young girls (Lucy and Charlotte) whom their evil eponymous uncle is going to offer up as sacrifices to appease Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, who has granted Karlstein his riches. How exactly that worked remains unexplored - at least in the bits I listened to. Set in Switzerland in 1816, the story relates how the count's scheme is derailed by the actions of Hildi Kelmar, a servant at the castle where the count lives.

Hildi helps Lucy and Charlotte escape (at least temporarily), and later becomes attached to an amusing shyster named Doctor Cadaverezzi, an illusionist. The ending (part of which I listened to, the rest of which I read of in Wikipedia) is so irrepressibly happy that it's nauseating. I advise having insulin on standby if you plan to read the ending.

The book featured an ensemble cast featuring three of the four Strallen sisters: Zizi, Saskia, and Scarlett. I assume it was recorded in winter because Summer didn't take part.... There was also someone by the name of Schrapnell! The reading of the various parts which wasn't too bad, it has to be said. I loved the English accents (despite these girls supposedly being Swiss!), but was bemused by the differing accents among other characters, and also by some of the pronunciations.

In German, 'stein' for reasons which escape me, who speaks no German to speak of, is pronounced like 'schtine', but with less spittle than you might expect(orate!), yet the pronunciations of Karlstein's name were all over the place and actually seemed out of place given that most accents were English! It's a pity the content of the book wasn't as entertaining as the accents, so all I can do is paraphrase Much Ado About Noting's Benedick, even if it means being a dick: in faith, I consider it too low for a high praise, too simple for an intricate praise, and too little for a long praise; only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it were unappealing, and being no other but as it is, I do not like it.


The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey


Rating: WORTHY!

It's appropriate I should start listening to this audiobook the day after Indian Independence Day (August 15th). It's first person voice, but listenable for once, especially since it was read very well by Sneha Mathan. I could listen to an Indian woman talk until the Brahma bulls come home, their voice is usually so mellifluous.

There was a film released in 2003, which I haven't seen, about this same topic and with the same title. The two aren't connected, and the book is supposedly different and was published in 2013. The story begins in 1930 and is about a girl whose entire family is wiped out in a tsunami, but who then goes on to be a force in the fight for Indian independence. I have to say that I felt let down by the ending, which could have been a lot better, but I'm not going to let that trip up the earlier story which was engaging and captivating.

As far as I know, this is not true, but the term 'sleeping dictionary' is supposed to refer to the mistresses that the English male occupiers of India took to bed with them and from whom they learned some language and some culture. Perhaps many people today do not realize just how many words came to England from Indian back then. Words like Bungalow (for a Bengali style house - single storey with a low roof). Cot is another one. Avatar; bandanna; bangle; calico; cheetah; chintz; chutney; cummerbund; cushy; dinghy; dungarees; gymkhana; guru; jungle; loot; mantra; mogul; nirvana; pajamas; pundit; shampoo; thug; typhoon; veranda.

Juggernaut comes from the Indian god Jagganath and the unstoppable cart upon which the god's effigy was placed for transportation during ceremonies. A word for crazy, known in England, but not in US English is doolally, which refers to Deolai, and Indian town which had a sanatorium. Another English word is pukka, meaning a stand-up guy (or girl!). The Brits often referred to England as Blighty, which is another Indian word, although not one which means Britain. Some Brits refer to jail as chokey; another word by way of India. A Brit might say, "Let's have a dekko" meaning "let's take a look." Again it's an Indian term.

Even the word 'punch' comes from Hindi. Punch has five constituents and in Hindi the count to five goes; ek, do, teen, char, panch. Char is also a word for tea in England, so the English often talk about a cup of char even though in Hindi it's actually chai or chaay, and nothing to do with the word for four, although four o'clock is teatime!

But I digress! This book tells the story of someone whose name we never know, although we have a plethora of pseudonyms. We first meet her as Pom, a young girl who is about to lose her family to a tsunami. From that point onwards, her existence become precarious at best. She manages by accident to secure a place for herself as a janitor at a Catholic school where she's arbitrarily renamed Sarah. Because of the kindness of a teacher, discovers she has a facility with languages. She learns English, and emulates the refined teacher's 'BBC English' pronunciation and accent effortlessly, and she learns to read, write, and type, and starts to pick up a smattering of other languages.

Although despised as an untouchable by other Indians, and bullied by the snobbish English schoolgirls, she is befriended by a fellow Bengali named Vidushi (sp? This was an audiobook! I'd originally thought the name was Bidushi). The two become very close, especially since it is Sarah who actually writes Vidushi's letters to her lawyer fiancé, Pankaj, in Britain. but when Vidushi unexpectedly dies and a necklace goes missing, Sarah is automatically blamed for it.

Knowing she can never find justice, she goes on the run, aided by a Muslim cart driver who worked at the school and whom she has befriended. This means forsaking all the money (a pittance, but a lot to Sarah) she earned at the school, and talk of 'out of the frying pan into the fire', her plan to go to Kolkata (aka Calcutta) to try and link up with Pankaj is derailed when she gets off the train at the wrong stop and cannot afford another ticket.

Sarah is 'befriended' by a young woman named Bonney, who is actually a recruiter for a local brothel. Young and naïve, Sarah, now with a new name Pamela (a misunderstanding of 'Pom'), is slowly sucked into the life and spends the next three or four years there until she is raped and becomes pregnant.

Realizing that her baby, if it's a girl, will be kept in disgusting conditions and raised to be a whore, Pamela flees the place with her newborn, again leaving her accumulated earnings (five hundred rupees - a substantial amount this time), and leaving her child Cabeta (again, sp?), with the Muslim driver, she finally makes it to Kolkata where she's unsuccessful finding work or finding Pankaj.

Now going as Camilla, she happens into a job organizing the substantial personal library of an English government official, Simon, who pays well. Finally she feels like she can settle and put her past behind her. She can send gifts and money to the family taking care of her daughter, and be stress-free. But that's not going to happen! She ends up spying on her employer and reporting back to Indian freedom movements, but she also finds herself falling for him.

And that's enough spoilers! I really enjoyed this book up until the last ten percent or so. The ending felt a little bit too trite in some ways and amateurish in others. Both Camilla and Simon suffer Harry Potter syndrome - failure to talk and share things, even when there was no reason not to. Obviously Camilla had some deep secrets, but there were ways she could have sidled into those if she had been as smart as she was portrayed as being later in the book.

But overall, I consider this a worthy read and commend it for those who enjoy a good historical story that involves romance, yet isn't sappy, and who are sick of endless cookie-cutter stories about the US civil war and the antebellum south and want to branch out - out of the country and into something that feels more real and less derivative.


Lucy Maud Montgomery by Isabel Sanchez Vegara


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This one covers the author of Anne of Green Gables who also authored many, many other books including sequels. Montgomery had a rather troubled childhood in that her mother died before Montgomery turned two, and her father felt incapable of raising a child. He immediately put her into the care of her maternal grandparents, who were rather cool towards Lucy. When she was seven, her father left to work elsewhere, making Lucy a very lonely child, so she made up imaginary friends and had a rich fantasy life to go with them.

It's this imagination which led her into writing, something she was very interested in from a young age despite some setbacks. When she had Anne of Green Gables published it was such a roaring success that she never looked back, focusing on fulltime writing, at which she was very prolific. This book does an admirable, if slightly fanciful job of depicting this writer's childhood and her determination to succeed, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children. We need serious writers and if this inspires more of them it can only be a good thing.


The Journey of York by Hassan Davis, Alleanna Harris


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a short (~40pps) young children's illustrated book depicting the role played by a slave named York during the May, 1804 through September, 1806 expedition of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. While the expedition is well-known, the contributions made by the Lemhi Shoshone woman known as Sacajawea (meaning 'bird woman'), and by Clark's personal slave, known as York, are less well publicized.

Sacajawea's contribution to the success of the expedition is no less valuable than York's so it's a pity she gets such short shrift in this story, especially since she did it while pregnant, giving birth, and successfully raising the infant during the trip! On the other hand, it is about York so it's understandable that he's center stage.

Very little is known about York, about what he did on the expedition, or about what became of him afterwards, and there are differing stories on this. It would appear that he was treated differently during the expedition than he was before or after it, when Clark seemed to revert to treating him exactly like a slave, whereas during the trip he was treated more like an expedition member than anything else. The fact is though, that while we know he was on the expedition and obviously contributed to the effort, and while he was rewarded by having a couple of places named after him (one of which was later renamed after someone else!) we know nothing about the day-to-day inner life of this man.

We do know that Sacajawea and York made history by being (as far as is known) the first woman and the first black man ever to vote in the USA! Again, not that Sacajawea is mentioned as voting in this story, only York. This wasn't a vote for political office, merely a vote on where to build a winter fort, but nonetheless, these two were included - again confirming that they were treated as full members of the expedition rather than anything else.

That aside though, everything in this story is necessarily conjecture. We don't know exactly what happened or exactly how relationships were, or what either York or Sacajawea felt or thought. They were never asked to contribute in that regard, so the book is really more about the trip than it is about York. It's a story that needs to be told, but I cannot support a story that seeks to raise up one people by downgrading another.

People do need to understand that African Americans, American Indians, and many other minority groups were involved in important events in USA from before the start, throughout history, and continue to be so nowadays, and this book could have been an important contribution to that. The story is simple and easy to follow, and the artwork by Alleanna Harris is excellent, but I cannot condone a book which, under the guise of seeking to set right the appalling wrongs of slavery and racism, ends up devaluing half the population - that is the female half.

I have to say that the unsupported assertion wherein York vows to protect Sacajawea in recognition of their supposedly common bond in slavery of one sort or another was disingenuous. Sacajawea was in no need to of anyone's protection. She was as tough as they come, and for York to be depicted as patronizing her by vowing to protect her (and then never even so much as mentioning it again) devalues both people and treats Sacajawea just as much as a possession as the very thing York was supposedly railing against: the fact that Sacajawea was bought by her 'husband' Charbonneau. I thought that this was disgraceful and inappropriate and for this reason I cannot commend this book.


Earthrise by James Gladstone, Christy Lundy


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Although I disagree with the author's thesis that the Apollo 8 photo of the Earth rising above the Moon taken on Christmas Eve of 1968 was "the photo that changed the world," I do consider this young children's book a worthy read. 1968 had not been a good year for the USA. It was the year that North Vietnam, breaking a truce for the end-of-January Tet holiday, showed the USA what they were truly capable of and what they were willing to sacrifice to unite their country. 1968 was a leap year, but the US took far too long to make that leap. It was also the year of the Prague Spring and Earthquakes in Sicily and the Philippines.

It was the year of the Olympics, and the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both shot and killed. It was the unfortunate year that that idiot Pope Paul tried to tell women that he, and not they, owned their bodies. It was the year that France detonated its first hydrogen bomb. It was the year that 150 members of New York Radical Women protested about the 'bombshells' being exploited in the Miss America 'Pageant', which no matter how they try to tart it up by labeling it a pageant and not a beauty contest, is still about shallow skin-depth looks.

It was the year the Boeing 747 jumbo jet was unveiled, a plane that allowed terrorists to kill more people at one time in an air crash than ever before. It was the year the Beatles released the White album and United Artists banned the 'Censored Eleven' - eleven cartoons deemed to be racist. And it was capped when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders looped in a figure of eight around the Moon becoming the first humans to see the far side of it as well as traveling further away from Earth than any humans ever had before. The photos they took showed how tiny and undivided Earth is in terms of political boundaries: it's a planet we all have to share because there is nowhere else to go.

That's what this book is about, and it is well illustrated by Christy Lundy (and I have to add, commendably showcasing human diversity), and bright and colorful. I must say that the pages were sometimes awfully slow to load on my iPad. At first I thought this was because it was relatively old, but my wife's new iPad also took the same time to load, give or take, so it's the book's pages or it's the app (Bluefire Reader), not the iPad.

Anyway, the book tells the astronaut's story from liftoff on the venerable Saturn 5 rocket through their trip to the Moon (where we apparently leave them stranded because there's no return to Earth or splashdown!). Mostly it's about this one photograph that Bill Anders took, first of a black and white Earth on the way there, and then in color, of Earthrise, with the Earth half-illuminated by sunlight, the other half in darkness, creeping up above the bleak, gray, inhospitable Moon.

This wasn't actually the first Earthrise photograph taken! The first was taken by a robot in 1966 and showed much the same image, but the color image taken by humans is the one remembered. It was photographer Galen Rowell who made those hyperbolic claims for it being such a crucial image, but when you look at the actual Earth and how it progressed into 1969 and beyond, it's quite clear that this photograph ultimately influenced nothing.

There was no sea-change, only more of the same, so like I said, I do disagree with the author's assessment, but it does no harm to expose children to stirring imagery like this, and hopefully, in the long term, their astonishment and love of such imagery really will lead to an improvement among humanity in time! We can hope! I therefore commend this book as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Day One Before Hiroshima and After by Peter Wyden


Rating: WARTY!

If you love Tom Clancy, then you may well like this: it's full of tedious detail. The book was two-thirds rather boring and one third distressing. I took a long time reading it because I was constantly interrupting it to read library books which unlike my own book, had a return date on them. The most recent time I got back to it, I realized how boring it was with a host of unnecessary detail about people.

You can tell it was written by a journalist: always going for the so-called 'human interest' angle, boring the pants off the reader rather than telling the story. Do we really care what kind of a side-arm a general carries or what kind of a drink a scientist likes? I don't, so I skimmed a lot of the middle third. The last third, about the dropping of the bombs and the aftermath, I read thoroughly, but this book could have been less than half its length and told a better story. I feel bad for the trees which gave their lives for this ungainly tome.

Did the book offer anything no other book has offered? Nope. Unless you count the oodles of extraneous personal details. For those interested in the real human interest - what it was like for those how were bombed, it doesn't actually get to that until it's almost over. The descriptions of what happened are horrible to read, but should be required reading. Nagasaki, the almost forgotten bomb victim, is mentioned, but it gets nowhere near the coverage Hiroshima does.

Nagasaki wasn't even a target to begin with. The beautiful Japanese city of Kyoto was a primary target, but was cancelled for religious reasons, and Nagasaki added. In the end, it came down to Kokura and Nagasaki and the weather decided on the latter. They didn't bomb Tokyo because it had been so badly damaged by conventional bombing that it was considered redundant to go after it again.

The military-science complex was interested in how a plutonium bomb would stack up against the uranium bomb they'd just dropped, so this was as much of a consideration as anything else. As it happened, the damage was far less at Nagasaki despite the bomb being more powerful, because there were not the raging fires that Hiroshima had suffered, and the terrain confined the bomb's effects to a limited area which consisted of many waterways.

Conversely, Hiroshima burned fiercely, and the book describes depressingly how hot it was because of the fires, and how people were desperately thirsty. They were also short of food to the extent they would eat dead irradiated fish floating in the river which wasn't wise, but there was very little food to be had. The fact that the bomb had been exploded well above ground (around two thousand feet) meant that the ground was not irradiated to a significant degree, which in turn meant that the city was habitable afterwards, and after the winter was over, plants grew, whereas it would not have been endurable had the bomb exploded significantly lower than it did.

The Hiroshima bomb killed an estimated 80,000 outright. They were the lucky ones. Another 40,000 died subsequently from burns and radiation poisoning. The grand total included an estimated 20,000 Korean slave laborers along with other non-Japanese in lesser numbers. Many survived and lived long lives. These were known as the Hibakusha and included a Navajo who was imprisoned in Nagasaki who was apparently protected by the concrete walls of his cell.

It turns out that there were some 165 people who survived both bombs. The book mentions this group of about nine guys who were in the military and were sent from Nagasaki to Hiroshima to do some work. After the bombing at Hiroshima, they returned to Nagasaki in time for the bombing there. Talk about bad luck, but they survived both bombings! That's pretty impressive, being nuked twice and living! The first of these double-survivors to be recognized was, according to Wikipedia:

Tsutomu Yamaguchi [who] was confirmed to be 3 kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when the bomb was detonated. He was seriously burned on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He got back to his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, a day before the bomb in Nagasaki was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings. Tsutomu Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 on January 4, 2010, of stomach cancer.

There were some lucky escapes, too: people who had been disturbingly close to the epicenter, but who happened to have been behind concrete walls or in basements when the bomb detonated. There was a school teacher who was about six hundred yards from the epicenter who survived it because she was in a concrete basement of the school where she taught, She'd gone in early that morning otherwise she would have been killed on the way in as many of her colleagues were.

The thing most people there didn't get about the bomb was that the shockwave traveled faster than sound, so that hit them before the sound of the bomb did, which is why, I guess, many people said they never heard a bomb go off. That's pretty bizarre in itself. The guys in the airplane that dropped the bomb were turning and flying away before it went off because it had a delay of about 45 seconds before it detonated. They felt a double shockwave because after the initial one of the bomb going off, they felt the rebound of the wave that hit the ground and bounced back to them. That's pretty weird to think of, too.

Americans were in denial about the effects of radiation poisoning, but the Japanese doctors, most of whom had no idea what this was, were seeing people die from it daily. It was a long time before many people realized exactly what the bomb had been, and even longer before Americans realized what they had really done. But the bomb ended the war; at least it came a sudden conclusion after Nagasaki bomb.

Was it worth those civilian lives to save allied soldier's lives? Those were the lives they thought it would cost the allies in an invasion of Japan, but was an invasion of Japan necessary? Was it necessary to take every single island one by one on the way to Japan? Would a fleet of warships showing up off Japan's coast have triggered a surrender without the bomb? Would a test of the bomb off the coast of Japan have ended the war without erasing two Japanese cities? These are questions this book doesn't address. Perhaps they never can be addressed.

I cannot commend this book unless you really, really, and I mean really enjoy reading excruciating detail. There are better sources for this material.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Anne Frank by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Sveta Dorosheva


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This tells a story everyone should know. Like Jane Austen, Anne Frank was a writer from a young age and she also died tragically young, thereby robbing the world of yet another worthy voice, but other than that, her story was radically different from that of Jane Austen.

Escaping Nazi Germany to live in Holland, the Franks thought they were safe, but they were not. They spent endless months in the middle of the war living hidden in a factory, but they were betrayed and split-up, and taken to concentration camps. Anne died just a few weeks before the camp was liberated. Her father was the only one of the family who survived those horrors. Her diary, mercifully, had not been destroyed and her father saw to it that it was published so that everyone might know her story. This book tells that story admirably, and I commend it.


Jane Austen by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Katie Wilson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another in a series aimed at making well-known historical people well-known to young children and as such is an admirable effort, if sometimes misguided as my previous review made clear. This one, however was a better offering. Austen needs no introduction which is presumably why this book gets right down to it!

It tells of her childhood (she was born only a hundred fifty miles or so from where I was born!), as a young girl in a large family of mostly boys, her listening in on her father's tutoring classes, and her love of reading. Jane Austen took up writing at an early age and made some interesting and amusing efforts at it. Her The History of England, which I read and reviewed last month as part of a review of her minor works, was hilarious.

The book, perhaps because it is aimed at children, mentions nothing of the tragedy of her death at such a young age (she had barely entered her forties), right in the middle of writing a new novel. But the story this does tell is positive, and empowering for your girls, and hopefully at least a few who read this will be moved to become writers themselves.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Behind Every Great Man by Marlene Wagman-Geller


Rating: WORTHY!

I did not expect great things from this book because of the nature of its construction: potted 'biographies' of women 'behind' much better known men (or behind a slightly better known woman in one instance), so I can honestly say it met my expectations. I felt it was worth reading though because whenever I read something I always have in mind whether it can be employed in some way to enhance my own writing, and histories and insights like the ones contained here are wonderful for that kind of thing - making characters more real and filling them out somewhat, or even for giving you an idea about a character you could make a novel out of.

Most of the forty stories here were interesting in their own right though, despite being so very brief, but I have to take issue with the word 'great' as used in the title. Some of these people weren't what any rational person would call great. Infamous was a better term when it came to historical characters like Hitler, the Rosenbergs, or Wagner (the racist German composer, not the actor).

The list was, as usual, heavily biased towards white couples (90%) and heterosexual couples (nearly 100%). On the other hand, these people are historical and many of the famous people that are typically recalled from history were white and cis, so maybe the problem was the available and already biased selection rather than selection bias.

Less understandable was the heavy bias toward the arts. Fifty five percent of these 'great men' were from such career pursuits as film, literature, stage, music, etc., with the vast bulk even of those from literature and to a lesser extent, music. Does this mean that those couples are more likely to have weird relationships or just that it was easier to dig dirt on those people without working too hard?

It certainly seemed like digging dirt was a major criterion for including a couple, since most were quite scandalous in various ways (although not by today's standards). Only two of these 'great' men were scientists and none engineers. There were no mathematicians, monarchy, biologists, inventors, astronomers, explorers, gymnasts, and only one each from the military, sports (surprisingly!), and from architecture. There were almost no really historical couples (most were from the last hundred years or so), and fifteen percent were in politics in one way or another.

The book didn't seem to have any sort of organization to it; it simply listed them out in apparently random order. Predictably, almost half of them were American, suggesting that half the great men in the world are necessarily born in the USA. I disagree. The next biggest chunk was from the UK, and the bulk of the rest European. This was a truly sorry bias.

The wives/partners covered were those of:

  • Karl Marx
  • Richard Wagner
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Albert Einstein
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Bill Wilson
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Simon Wiesenthal
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Salvador Dali
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Douglas McArthur
  • Julius Rosenberg
  • Ian Fleming
  • F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Billy Graham
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Gerald Ford
  • Aldous Huxley
  • CS Lewis
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Jim Henson
  • Malcolm X
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Arthur Miller
  • Timothy Leary
  • Jerry Garcia
  • Jim Morrison
  • Lech Walesa
  • Larry Flynt
  • Stieg Larsen
  • Gordon Sumner
  • Robin Gibb

Some of these men were truly despicable - and I am not necessarily referring to Hitler. Yes, Einstein, Hitchcock, Wagner, Wilson, and so on, I'm looking at you! Their wives put up with hell in many cases, although not in all. The story of Simon Wiesenthal and his wife was one of going through hell, but had a happy ending. Some of the other stories were equally fascinating. Some were boring, some a dismal mess. I only considered it a worthy read because I got it from the library. I wouldn't recommend buying it since you can probably get the same information from Wikipedia or elsewhere online if you wish to find it, but if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's worth a read.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Minor Works


Rating: WORTHY!

As I mentioned in the previous review, I checked this out of the library at the same time as the other, only to discover that they pretty much contain the same material, so you takes your library card and you pays your respects, I guess. These can probably be found online these days so maybe a trip to the bookstore or library isn't necessary.

This volume contains very much the same thing the other did, but in a different order, this one being more chronological, and largely in reverse order of the other, strangely enough. Up front is young Jane's 'juvenilia' so-called, which consists of literary efforts preserved (and thankfully so) from her childhood which are amusing and very interesting for Austen fans. This is followed by Lady Susan a very short epistolary story which may have been written as early as the mid 1790's when Jane wasn't even in her twenties, but which wasn't actually published until almost a century later. Lady Susan is quite different from her other work.

There is also The Watsons (rather a prototype of Pride and Prejudice) and Sanditon, aka The Brothers, which was uncompleted at the time of her death. This book also contains quite a few poems written by Austen which make for interesting reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.