Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Environmental News Notes 6

Item #1 - 
An article published recently in Science might prove to be of interest for some ...

A. McGarr, B. Bekins, N. Burkardt, J. Dewey, P. Earle, W. Ellsworth, S. Ge, S. Hickman, A. Holland, E. Majer, J. Rubinstein, and A. Sheehan
Coping with earthquakes induced by fluid injection
Science 20 February 2015: Vol. 347 no. 6224 pp. 830-831 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0494   link to the original paper (the full article is behind a paywall - use the library to access a copy)

According to a USGS Press Release:

A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States.  

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.
My bolding in the quote from the press release.  The USGS goes on to call for more transparency in reporting and research in order to "provide the timely guidance needed to reduce the hazard and consequences of induced earthquakes."

Item #2 -
If you remember, there was a pipeline break back in January (Environmental News 4) where some 50,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Yellowstone River. Well, it turns out that detectable levels of petroleum are still showing up in fish. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department issued a statement on 02/20 wherein they "advised fishermen to use caution when deciding whether to eat fish caught in the area affected by the oil spill." They are awaiting the results of additional testing. According to the statement ...

"Published research indicates that petroleum compounds can accumulate in fish for 40 or more days after a spill. FWP will resume catching fish after the ice leaves the river and test tissues for PAH accumulation. Petroleum compounds can also be passed on to fish through the food chain when micro-organisms, insects, worms, crustaceans and other aquatic animals absorb petroleum compounds then are eaten by fish.

Until all of the tests are complete and the data is analyzed, Selch advised anglers to continue to use caution when deciding whether to eat fish." 

attribution: Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

Use caution to decide ... I am trying to work that one out ... Don't eat the fish if it ignites when you try to cook it?

Item #3 -

Feb. 17, 2015 - Aerial file photo photo made available by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, W Va.
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steven Wayne Rotsch

Think Progress has an interesting article about the issue of rail transport of crude oil ...

After a CSX Corp. train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia last week, the company is quietly rerouting its volatile cargo through 16 Virginia cities and counties, according to Reuters.
Among those is Pembroke, a riverside town with a population of about 1,128. After visiting Pembroke and speaking with store owners and town officials, Reuters reporter Edward McAllister said “barely anyone” aside from the 35-member fire department was aware that large oil trains would be hugging the nearby New River and briefly traveling through town limits.
This is an issue that’s been largely overlooked in the debate about the safety of oil trains: secrecy. Many people who live near railroad lines across the country want to know what trains are carrying, where they’re going, and when they’re coming through. But railroads argue that is a security hazard, and that only emergency services agencies, like fire departments, need to know that information. Federal right-to-know laws exempt CSX and other shipping companies from having to disclose it.

Again, my bolding - I had no idea that these shipping companies were exempt from right-to-know laws (provided for under SARA, as we discussed in class). Holy cow!

Item #4 -

So, there is big money in climate change science - for people who systematically distort the science and are climate change deniers!  This is from Think Progress again ...

Wei-Hock Soon (known mainly as “Willie”) is aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and has written papers on how the sun’s role in the Earth’s climate outshines the warming impact of humans burning fossil fuels. His papers have cast doubt on how hot the last century really was, whether polar bears are negatively impacted by a warming Arctic, and concluded the sun plays a larger role in climate change than greenhouse gas emissions. He has said that mainstream climate scientists and those concerned by the causes and impacts of human-caused climate change are “out of their minds.”
Soon received hundreds of thousands of dollars each from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, coal utility Southern Company, the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and other conservative groups, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, and spotlighted by the New York Times on Saturday. Over the last decade, Soon failed to disclose this funding in at least 11 of his scientific papers, likely violating ethical guidelines in eight of those cases .
In many cases he referred to scientific papers or congressional testimony as “deliverables” in correspondence with his funders.

Yep - my bold. Just, GRRRRRROWWWWWWWWLLLLLLLL !  Deliverables for #$*&%*$&=#'s sake!

Item #5 -

President Obama just vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline extension. (via NPR)
Updated at 3:34 p.m. ET
The White House has notified the Senate that President Obama has, as promised, vetoed congressional legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.
"Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama said in the notification to the Senate.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde - eek!

The Eye of Zoltar 
The Chronicles of Kazam, Book 3

by Jasper Fforde

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
Copyright: 2014
Format: hardback 
Pages: 405 

Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: own book

From the cover:
Although she’s an orphan in indentured servitude, sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is pretty good at her job of managing the unpredictable crew at Kazam Mystical Arts Management. She already solved the Dragon Problem, avoided mass destruction by Quarkbeast, and helped save magic in the Ununited Kingdoms. Yet even Jennifer may be defeated when the long-absent Mighty Shandar makes an astonishing appearance and commands her to find the Eye of Zoltar—proclaiming that if she fails, he will eliminate the only two dragons left on earth.
How can a teenage non-magician outdo the greatest sorcerer the world has ever known? But failure is unacceptable, so Jennifer must set off for the mysterious Cadir Idris in the deadly Cambrian Empire—a destination with a fatality index of fifty percent. With the odds against them, will Jennifer and her traveling companions ever return to the Kingdom of Snodd? 

I have no idea what to do with this one. This is the third book in the series, and it won't make the slightest bit of sense if you haven't read the first two: The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast. If you have read the first two, and liked them, you need to read this one too. However - I found it way, way bleaker and darker than the previous two. The events were pretty heavy and the, um, callous way things were presented and handled made me pretty unhappy. I was going to be pretty ticked with then book overall and was planning to say simply ugh - and then we came to the end - which I can't discuss at all because a) total spoilers and b) Holy Cliffhanger!!!  but wow - I NEED THE NEXT BOOK NOW! And there isn't any sign of it on-line - like a projected publication date or tentative title - anything to demonstrate that it will even exist other than the way that this book ended 

   The Chronicles of Kazan will continue ...

They bloody well better, 'cause Holy Cow!  

I am still not particularly happy with events in story and really disliked one aspect that, again, I can't mention because it would be a massive spoiler. ARGH!  Suffice it to say that this book does not end with a traditional HEA. OTOH, the story certainly avoids the problem of being a torturous placeholder, like the recent Finishing School book.

I have no idea what else to say about any of this, so I am going to give up now.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wondrous Words Wednesday 40

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

Man, I have been so busy that I haven't been able to play for weeks now. Not the best 'words', but hopefully of some interest ...

From The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

rose sinking bit  - the book makes rather a big deal out of the fact that the thief dropped a rose bit. I wanted to figure out what it was. (this was a pain since these search terms give you about a bazillion pages about the movie Titanic.)

A rose sinking bit or rosehead countersink is a type of drill bit used to recess screw-heads into wood or metal so that the top of the screw is flush with the surface. Rose head bits have multiple straight cutting surfaces (originally 9?) that radiate out from a point. They can be used for both metal or wood.

Well, that was a pain in the tush, and I still have no idea why this was such a big deal in the book.  It doesn't appear that they are at all rare or unusual. Sounds like the kind of bit you would expect a thief to have if they planned on drilling into metal bars.  Odd.

The titular Secret Rooms are not actually secret at all (this isn't a spoiler, you figure it out pretty quickly since they are labeled on the map provided in the first few pages of the book). They are more properly called the Muniment Rooms - a term that I had to look up.

muniment \ˈmyü-nə-mənt\
1 : the evidence (as documents) that enables one to defend the title to an estate or a claim to rights and privileges —usually used in plural 
2 : A document or record, especially one kept in an archive.
3 archaic :  a means of defense

Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin munimentum, from Latin, defense, safeguard, from munire to fortify
First Known Use: 15th century

From Black's Law Dictionary via wikipedia - Muniment or Muniment of Title is a legal term for a document, or other evidence, that indicates ownership of an asset. The word is derived from munimentum, the Latin word for a defensive fortification. In other words, "muniments of title" means the written evidence which a land owner can use to defend title to his estate

I still had the archaic means of defense/fortification idea stuck in my head, which wasn't really making sense.

I suspect that the publishers didn't think the book would sell as well if it were titled The Muniment Rooms which I can understand. I still think they should have called it the Secrets (plural) Room(s) (the five rooms held secrets buried in all those documents.)

Finally - I just have time to sneak in sybaritic. 

syb·a·rit·ic /'sibəˈritik/
adjective: sybaritic
fond of sensuous luxury or pleasure; self-indulgent.
"their opulent and sybaritic lifestyle"

syb·a·rite \ˈsi-bə-ˌrīt\
1 : [from the notorious luxury of the Sybarites] :  voluptuary, sensualist
2 : capitalized :  a native or resident of the ancient city of Sybaris

From Wikipedia:
Sybaris (Ancient Greek: Σύβαρις; Italian: Sibari) was an important city of Magna Graecia. It was situated on the Gulf of Taranto between two rivers, the Crathis (Crati) and the Sybaris (Coscile).

The city was founded in 720 BC by Achaean and Troezenian settlers. Sybaris amassed great wealth thanks to its fertile land and busy port. Its inhabitants became famous among the Greeks for their hedonism, feasts, and excesses, to the extent that "sybarite" and "sybaritic" have become bywords for opulent luxury and outrageous pleasure-seeking. 

So - interesting term to apply to a chunk of the British aristocracy during WWI. Yuck.  

Um, usually I try to include pictures/illustrations/photos for my stuff but since I am trying to keep this website mostly PG, I think I have to skip it this time. 

How about the ancient ruins of Sybaris instead ... 

Source http://www.viaggiart.com/it/place/4914/parco-archeologico-di-sibari

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Environmental News Notes 5

On Monday a train owned by CSX Corp. derailed between 1:20-1:30pm in Fayette County, West Virginia. "Nearly" 30 of the trains 100 cars left the track (the quotes are because I don't know what they mean - 29 1/2, 27, what?) - okay that was CNN. According to Business Insider "As many as 15 of the 109 train cars derailed, and at least one tanker jumped the tracks and fell into the river, West Virginia Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said."  That's okay, another source just says "The train was carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil from the Bakken shale"

Okay - I give - this was supposed to be a quick news update but the stories are all over the place in terms of basic stats.

The Dr. Seuss treatment - big train, off tracks, spills oil and explodes massively (have you ever noticed that of these explosions are either minor or massive.)

I think I got that out of my system. 

Right, so a CSX train transporting crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia, somehow derailed (no reported cause yet) and exploded. Fourteen or fifteen of the tanker cars were involved in the fire, which as of 9pm last night was still burning. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency at approximately 5:40pm last night. According to news reports, response efforts have been hampered by heavy snow and the area was under a winter storm warning, according to the Associated Press, and expected to get anywhere from 5 to 10 inches of snow. I guess this is why they can't even tell exactly how many train cars are involved in this. 

One home has been confirmed destroyed due to the fire, but so far there is only one reported injury - a person sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. There might be more reports of injury, but thus far no fatalities have been reported. At least 1,000 people have been evacuated.

The train car that fell into the Kanawha River now now leaking crude oil, raising concerns over the potential contamination of the local water treatment facilities. The Montgomery water treatment plant has been shut down because it gets water from the area near the accident.

 This area is located about 30 miles from last years MCHM Chemical Spill in West Virginia.

I will update this when I get a chance.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 2-16-15

It's Monday! What are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts.

And surprise, it's the middle of February ... oops. I am going to cheat a little here, since I am pretty sure that last week lasted around 14 days or so.
Friday the 6th I complained about the weather This is what is outside my office window !
I also posted  A peak into Fairest and Brown Girl Dreaming for Book Beginnings and the Friday 56

Then on Sunday the 8th I posted a review of The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey - hurray, I finally finished it! 

On Wednesday I posted a review/rant about Fairest by Marissa Meyer - mini rant! probably not much of a spoiler to admit that I was less than pleased. It should have been so cool and given us an in-depth peak into Lunar culture! ARGH!  Oh - warning, spoilers - they are marked so you can skip them if you wish.   

As a bit of a palate cleanser I read Jill Mansell's Walk in the Park which was generally enjoyable, though not as much as others of Mansell's that I have liked. The end was messy and trite at the same time. Still, fun overall.
And bringing it full circle - I complained about the temperature on Friday Too d**m cold around here only for it to get  even colder today. 

I started reading The Eye of Zoltar by Japer Fforde yesterday. Much more fun. I think I am going to buzz though some middle grade stuff for fun this week. 

Also - I am still working on learning Japanese. My notebooks look like this now ... 

Sigh, its gotten even colder ...

Getting really tired of this. Negative 11 (yes, -11) at 8:00 o'clock this morning. The truck didn't even want to start. I am somewhat amazed that it did.

And it's official too ... not just me having Marvin as a weather station. This is what I got when I checked this morning ...

Feels like -28° - so cold it hurts to breathe and the wind strips your body warmth in subseconds. Cleaning the truck off was a ton of fun. :-( Our weather station isn't registering wind chill appropriately because the anemometer is basically frozen so it can't spin freely. We trudge over and free it up so that it works for a while, then it slowly locks up again.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Too d**m cold around here

I guess complaining about the weather can be dangerously similar to arguing with the narrator.  The actual temperature, not wind chill but temperature, was -6°F. Yep, negative six at 8 o'clock in the morning on a sunny day. The snow outside is so cold it crunches and snaps as you walk on it. The cushion in the seat my car was hard as a rock and made a crack sound when I sat on it. EEK!

The actual temperature has now risen to -1°F but the windchill has now dropped to -17°. YUCK!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fairest by Marissa Meyer - mini rant!

by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Copyright: January 27, 2015
Format: hardback 
Pages: 272 BUT only around 200 are actually the story!

Genre: YA SciFi/Fantasy; The Lunar Chronicles book 3.5 - i.e. book lets milk this thing for all it's worth
Source: own book

From Amazon:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
Who is the Fairest of them all?

Pure evil has a name, hides behind a mask of deceit, and uses her "glamour" to gain power. But who is Queen Levana? Long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress in The Lunar Chronicles, Levana lived a very different story—a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Sigh.  As you might already guess - I am a bit cranky about this entry into the series - scratch that - I am seriously displeased.

A) it was way too short for a hardback with a $17.99 price point. Seriously, only around 200 well spaced pages are the story and you are paying for the pleasure of previewing the first bit of Winter. If the words were appropriately white-spaced this would be considered a novella.

B) it reads like the character outline notes that an author jots down to flesh out a character in their own mind. The stuff that helps the author sort out motivations for a character but that never appears verbatim in a good book. Here it was barely fleshed out. The story skips the events that might have actually proved interesting. There are giant time gaps where everything blurs past and you find yourself flipping backwards to see if you somehow missed a page. Seriously, anything that would actually have provided tension or drama was over in less than half a page and then referred to as something in the past. Any actual action happened firmly off page. [I take that back - one event happened on page and it was the only one with any real impact].

C) The "evilest one of all" should not be a terminal sad-sack for most of her book. For a book theoretically about Levana and how she got to where she is, it really does nothing to further her as a character than what anyone would have gathered/assumed from simply reading the first three books in the series. Worse actually, because it steals away some of her agency. This would have been better if the story simply went for full-bore crazy or steely focus on her goals at the expense of everything else - though I think we are supposed to believe that happens by the end. (And I don't get people saying that she was "an entitled brat" or some variation of that 'cause, um, nope - brat is temporary and for kids, her behavior even at 16 was seriously off kilter, even at the start - the problem is that it wasn't consistent.) Also Levana could still believe that she is the hero of her own story, but others around her should have been reacting to something - that is how you make reader understand how the characters behavior fits into the world of the story. As it was the whole thing reads as beige monotone.

D) The lack of serious Lunar world-building is a huge flaw now.  World-building has always been a problem with this series but there was usually enough going on to carry the story through. Here the lack of clarity makes the whole short story a blurry mess with only - what 5? 6? - named characters.  The whole d*man Lunar court and the book treats them as basically invisible. What the heck?

E) Goes into some seriously questionable territory - I am not sure it is appropriate for this series considering the age range of some of the readers of the previous three book.

 SPOILERS  - Look away if you don't want to know -

Apparently we are supposed to believe that Levana finally breaks goes all nuts and coldly vengeful because her love was unrequited. Not because her heart was actually broken or that some guy was bad to her (which was more or less the trope I was expecting). Nope - it was because the object of her obsession was nice to her but didn't love her. Poor Levana, terrible victim of her first crush not crushing back. Never-mind the whole jacked up mess that consisted of her family life and isolation in the court - apparently that wasn't enough to motivate her to do something and actually own her actions. I get that she is supposed to be unstable but this was just lame. Facing the fact that the "happy family" she created didn't really exist would only have had some weight if there was ever a feeling that it had existed at some point. But it never did. The whole thing was poorly constructed and doesn't work.

Sheesh - give me a villain that takes responsibility for their actions because they are sure that they are doing the right thing over a milquetoast poor me, it's not fault drippy villain any day.

She doesn't even get to be responsible for the grand plan to take over the Earth - her father actually started it all. That ticked me off. I don't remember any of the other three books indicating that someone else was responsible for kicking this off - I thought that the plague and antidote thing was Levana's master scheme. Now she doesn't even get to own that. Her big contribution was to really like the plan and keep it moving forward.

Finally, my huge issue is that the story basically hinges on use of mind control to exploit a non-consenting person for sex and eventually forced marriage. So basically rape, on an ongoing basis for years. That is just sick. But the way the story frames it, it seems we are supposed to feel sorry for Levana. Which is even sicker. The story hedges around dealing with the full horror of what Levana was doing to another person.

Is the book trying to use this to prove to us that not only is Levana evil, but pretty much the entire Lunar court is too? I mean, she couldn't have gotten away with this stuff if she didn't have support.  Which brings up the question, why does anyone support her ?  Seriously - if she had been seen as weak and ineffectually for the majority of her life, why would the court even give her the chance to find her bearings and start turning into a magnificent, powerful evil queen ?  We are beaten over the head with the fact that she is an outsider with no respect in the court. But suddenly everyone listens to her and respects her ? The book tries to convince us that this is because her sister delegates responsibility to her, but I don't buy it. If there was any chance that she would have power - there should have been plenty of people trying to curry favor, just in case. There should never have been the whole "my only present" thing. Seriously - you can't be a poor, pathetic little girl and the second most powerful person in the court at the same time. Levana could believe she was a poor little thing, but the actions of the people around her should have been wildly different. It just didn't make any sense. And I still don't get it - is the entire court supposed to be twisted and lacking any sense of morality or not? And the entire rest of the population puts up with this because mind control?

Speaking of things that don't make sense - we are basically told flat out that the members of the royal family and lunar royal court are highly promiscuous and that there is no stigma attached to being born out of wedlock - there should be tons of people with at least some royal blood running around. If the court was as twisted as it appears to be, someone should have offed Levana ages ago to take over the throne.  You can see her sister surviving because she was a full member of the bent and twisted club. Levana going through her poor me phase, she shouldn't have even survived.

I finished the book just not sure what the heck I was supposed to make of this stuff. It didn't do any world-building for the Lunar court. For the most part, it didn't add anything we didn't already know, other then building this GIANT out for Winter not being a horrible person (which I am assuming is being presented as at least semi-genetic?). And it didn't do anything much for Levana - there was just way too much emphasis on distancing her character from any sort of agency at all most of the time, in some sort of attempt to make her seem more sympathetic I guess. And yes, I get that this is being told from Levana's point of view - so she totally can see herself as a helpless victim, great hero, or poor-me if she wants - but the BOOK should be providing the external information that puts Levana's story into some broader perspective. Because of the lack of world-building, and the fact that key events are generally glossed over, you never really get the sense of perspective nor real growth or change for Levana. Instead of making Levana a more rounded character it undercut her completely. She is way less interesting to me now than she was at the end of Cress. 

   END SPOILERS  - Don't look up ! -

My sum up ...

Unless you are a diehard fan, I suggest skipping this book.  If you are a diehard fan and just need to know, check it out from a library first to see if you really need it to complete your set, just so you don't end up getting ticked off at the amount of money you would have to spend for this little novella. I really think this entry does a disservice to the series and is better skipped.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of A Haunted Castle, A Plotting Duchess, & A Family Secret
by Catherine Bailey

Published by: Penguin Books
Copyright: December 31, 2013
Format: paperback 
Pages: 512

Genre: Nonfiction, WWI, British History
Source: own book

From the back of the book:
When the 9th Duke of Rutland died alone in the cramped family archives on April 21, 1940, his son and heir, Charles, ordered the room sealed. Sixty years later, Catherine Bailey became one of the first historians allowed inside. What she discovered when she began reading through the duke's letters was a mystery involving one of the most powerful families in British society in the turbulent days leading up to World War I. The 9th Duke, who had devoted his entire adult life to organizing and cataloging several hundred years' worth of family correspondence, had carefully erased three periods of his life from the record. But why? Filled with fascinating real-life characters, a mysterious death, family secrets and affairs aplenty, The Secret Rooms is an enthralling, page-turning true story that reads like an Agatha Christie novel.

First - I think they rather mis-marketed this book. The title of this book is horribly misleading. There is no haunted castle - just a couple of random stories like those you would hear associated with any house that old and that are only mentioned in passing - so if you are expecting a ghost story, you are going to be sadly disappointed. There is a plotting duchess and a family secret, but honestly - they were not what made the book interesting to me. Finally, the secret rooms were not, in any way, actually secret. Everyone knew precisely where they were (they are clearly marked on the map in the book). They were just off limits. A better title would have been Secrets Rooms - i.e. rooms that held secrets.

The book really is the story of the author, who was in the process of researching a book about WWI. She was one of the first historians allowed into the archives of Belvoir Castle. Once there, instead of getting the information she was looking for about the war, she ran into a very precise gap in the records. Instead of being able to pursue her original plan, she gets derailed into trying to figure out why the 9th Earl of Rutland spend the last days of his life carefully destroying all the letters he could find for three very specific ranges of dates.

The first part of the book jumps around a bit - with rather too much emphasis on the whole 'curse on first sons' and 'deep dark secrets' thing trying to evoke the feeling of a Gothic novel almost - but was still fun to read as you followed the author around in her attempt to fill in the gaps and figure out what happened to John Manners (who became the 9th Duke of Rutland) during those periods of time.

The second half of the book is a rather more straightforward narrative, where the author explains what she pieced together once she gets her hands on the few letters that survived. It gets a bit bogged down as the reader goes mentally back and forth trying to tie together the information fed out piecemeal in the first half of the book into the narrative in the second half of the book. On the whole, however, the book offers a fascinating (and in several ways appalling) view into WWI and the activities of one very influential family. 

However, I really hated the way the author chose to end the book. The current Duke and his wife were apparently very helpful in terms of giving the author access to the archives, and in giving her permission to publish something completely different than the WWI book she was originally proposing to write. The book certainly doesn't paint most of the Dukes ancestors in a positive light at all. The way the book ended, it felt like the author was still extremely mad at the 9th Duke for terminating her original line of research (she lists the names of all of the soldiers whose stories she could no longer follow in the book - though honestly, if she was depending on the letters home of a single ADC - their story still would have been pretty impossible to tell - what if John had only written home about personal stuff and not the war, or what if he was a lousy correspondent? The frustration of finding that John had initially kept a detailed and well written journal and then learn that the time period she was interested in either suddenly disconnected or had been destroyed must really have gotten under her skin.) The ending of the book was really abrupt, piecemeal and unsatisfying. Seriously - at that point, to heck with John and his lot - she gave them their piece. What about tying together the WWI story and bringing it forward to modern times?  That would have been much more satisfactory. Instead the end left me ticked off too. 

So - some mixed feeling about this one. Initially I was enjoying the book very much, not for the "secrets" but for the history and sociology - information about the activities of some of the British Aristocracy leading up to World War I and just how badly the war was being run initally. It is a fascinating portrait of a time and lifestyle completely alien to a modern American. I just wish it could have tied up better. I felt rather cheated and left with the sludge of some seriously nasty people. Blugh.

So - the other bit of mismarketing was how promotional material related the book to Downtown Abbey. I can only assume they did that because someone decided that the only information Americans have about Great Britain in WWI is through the PBS series. They are not related. You do have intrigue and such, but it is not akin to watching Upstairs/Downstairs. If you were disappointed by how Downtown Abbey presented WWI and are interested in a more detailed description of the interactions of a Dukedom with the flow of historical events, this book might be of interest to you. If you are reading the book for a deep historical mystery with a dramatic reveal, you are going to be disappointed.

Mostly it is a serious history that got overlain by the machinations of a seriously dysfunctional family with too much power. If that interests you, it will be worth the 500+ pages.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A peak into Fairest and Brown Girl Dreaming

Second week of classes, still swamped and it just penetrated into my brain that if this is February, March is next month and there is a deadline that is about to crush me like a ton of bricks. EEK!

I am have managed to memorize most of basic 46 Japanese Hiragana, but haven't done much reading. Still, rather then contemplate my pile of grading for lunch, I am going to type up a quick post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday, here is the start of Fairest by Marissa Meyer (which honestly I found rather off-putting) ...

She was lying on a burning pyre, hot coals beneath her back. White sparks floated in her vision but the mercy of unconsciousness wouldn't come. Her throat was hoarse from screaming.   

Um - 'kay, gonna stop there. If you have been reading the Lunar Chronicles, you have some idea of what is going on - the wrong one probably - but still, in the neighborhood. If you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles, you can't start here.

For non-fiction, and due to the Newbery Honor announcement this week (not the medal winner but one of the runners up), here is the start of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ...

I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio, 
a country caught 

between Black and White. 

I am born not long from the time
or far away from the place
my great-great-grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn til dusk
drank cool water from scooped-out gourds
looked up and followed 
the sky's mirrored constellation 
to freedom. 

I am born as the South explodes, 


I read Brown Girl Dreaming when it was one of the original nominations to the Cybils Elementary/Middle-Grade Nonfiction category and absolutely adored it. I found it profoundly moving and spent a lot of time on my own reflections of family history and my lived experience. Substitute poor for brown and much of what Woodson says speaks directly to me. Then they took it out from our category and moved it to poetry (ARGH!). I have been enjoying watching it rack up awards.

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is a bit from around page 56 of Fairest...

A young woman stepped out of the line of thaumaturges, dressed in a maroon-red coat, with glossy raven's-wing hair falling down her back. She was beautiful in the way that all members of the queen's entourage were beautiful, but there was also something admirable in the way she held herself. A confidence that glimmered. Though her station was beneath the head thaumaturge, her posture and faint smile seemed to indicate that she didn't believe herself to be beneath anyone at all. 

Levana liked her immedately. 

And here is something from page 55 of  Brown Girl Dreaming (since page 56 is in the middle of the verse) ...

There is daywork for colored women. 
In the mornings their dark bodies
fill the crosstown buses, 
taking them away 
from Nicholtown
to the other side 
of Greenville
where the white people live. 
Our grandmother tells us this
as she sets a small hat with a topaz pin on her head, 
pulls on white gloves 
over her soft brown hands. 
Two days a week, she joins the women, 
taking on this second job now
that there are four more mouths to feed


And yes, I chose these two books intentionally for contrast. Make of that what you will.

Have a great weekend!

This is what is outside my office window !

Okay - ENOUGH! We have had enough snow. They only finally just cleaned the bl**dy sidewalks *yesterday* after we have gotten over 20 inches of snow this week. The only reason that I have been able to park at work is that I have a four wheel drive truck and can use it to flatten a spot in the parking lot - or more technically speaking - in one of the snowdrifts currently occupying the parking lot.  I should be taking more pictures out here there. 

This is the view out my window ...

Window on left looking left

Window on right looking right

This bears a striking resemblance to the parking lot and the sidewalks around here - at least until yesterday, when they finally started clearing some paths, ramps and stairs. Good Grief !