meghan rose allen

Review of The Voynich Manuscript by Whoever Wrote It with intros and background by some other people

Posted by in netgalley copy

Well, that was a bit of an anti-climax, although I'm not quite sure what I was expecting -- a sudden, complete translation, that I'd look at it and my background in mathematics and cryptography would just reveal everything to me, even though clever mathematicians and cryptographers than myself have tried? I guess, yes, a little. In any case, my copy from Netgalley was fairly pixelated and impossible to make out the individual "letters", so even if I'd been visited by an expected bit of genius, it wouldn't have mattered much. So yeah, I did not crack the code.

There's an intro and historical overview, not going as in depth into the math and statistical analysis as I would have liked. It was interesting, but didn't tell me much more than I already knew. The pictograms on the bottoms of the pages in the actual manuscript, telling you where in each folio each page went, or how it was laid out on the fold-out pages, was helpful. But, in the end, like in my last book review, I wanted this to be a coffee-table book, not a blurry collection of squiggles on my ipad.

The Voynich Manuscript by ? went on sale August 15, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

(I have put that I want to connect with the author on Netgalley, who has yet to set up any seances for me with regards to dead authors.)

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Review of 150 Fascinating Facts About Canadian Women

Posted by in netgalley copy

Firstly, the book is published today and I'm writing the review on the day of publication, so I think there should be a netgalley badge for that -- not writing the review way after the publication date or way before and then scheduling it to post. Maybe I'll make one in Paint later today (gotta keep up the pressure) and post it.

So I read this little listicle of book celebrating (a) Canadian women and (b) 150 of them because of Canada 150. A little proviso in the opening credits about the problematic taking of one hundred and fifty as the "age" of Canada, then right on into the facts.

Which I read.

All of them.

And other than the ones I already knew, mainly due to Heritage Minutes, I can't recall any of them. Wait, there was a Sarah Polley quote about working hard.

Maybe it's not a format that lends itself well to ebooks. Maybe a paper copy would have stuck in my mind more. Maybe it needs to be more like 50 Women In Science, with longer bios so that I have more for my memory to cling to.

In any case, yay Canadian women! I wish I could cram more of you into my brain.

150 Fascinating Facts About Canadian Women by Margie Wolfe went on sale August 15, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

Posted by in netgalley copy

I don't know. I kind of just want to say that and be done with it. I don't know.

The White Hare is like walking into a movie part-way through. You know you missed something, and you spend more time deciding if it's worth it than in actually following along to what little you have left. It isn't as if I necessarily dislike books that start with a sink-or-swim attitude (see The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet for example); I just floundered through this one.

Oooh -- I figured it out. It isn't like a half-way done movie. It's like those magic eye posters. I never ever ever saw anything in those, but other people said they did, and the most I ever saw was a wiggle, maybe, before giving myself a massive headache. I feel something must be there, so I keep looking. But how much work should a book be? Maybe if I was more tied to the land in the novel (somewhere in England, I'm not sure where), to the mythos of the white hare, to why these people believe in it, I would see what Fishwick portrays. But all I see are squiggles of arson, parental death, blended families, suicide, stalking, magical bunny rabbits (yes, I know bunny rabbits are not hares, but I like typing bunny rabbits more than I like typing hares), corrupt local raffle draws. Simultaneously overcrowded, yet at the same time, sparse.

I can't say it was worth the effort on my part. But I'm still staring at that rotten magic eye, making myself sick.

The White Hare by Michael Fishwick went on sale March 9, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The Daisy Rock by Eva Hanagan

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Quietly affecting, but ultimately unsatisfying, likely because any book about elderly UK people brings Staying On to my mind, and then I end up thinking about that instead of the book I'm reading. The Daisy Rock does have its moments and the small affections/annoyances between a long married couple come through, but the time jumps -- not even drastic ones, usually only a few days or a few hours -- are like being jarred awake by a phone call when you're almost asleep. The periphery characters are superfluous, an unnecessary widening of perspective. The whole thing could be tightened right into only the main characters, which is where the heart of this short novel is anyways.

Still, these faults are few, and while I wish Flora had a bit more self-awareness or introspection for what she ultimately decides (placing herself in a role that she disdained another woman being in earlier in the novel), The Daisy Rock is still a very genteel and moving story.

The Daisy Rock by Eva Hanagan went on sale March 17, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Why? by Mario Levi

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So I found this book about curiosity to be dull, which seems to me antithetical to a book on curiosity (also, I keep typing curiousity because the English language and I are having issues today). Even as the book traveled between psychology, neuroscience, and history, all subjects I have levels of curiosity about, I just did not care. Maybe it was the writing style, which is neither dry and scientific nor really pop-science chummy, but somewhere in between (I really didn't need to know, for instance, that the author skyped with certain interviewees in the book)? Maybe it was the lack of narrative, since I'm a sucker for narrative and reading non-fiction books that don't have a story-line is often difficult for me? Maybe there was too much talking about Feynman in the book, who while brilliant, always makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just plain incurious about curiosity? I can't say. But the book left me not wanting more, so I can't say that, in the realms of curiosity, it was a success.

Also, if anyone can explain to me why we don't spell it curiousity, it would be greatly appreciated.

Addendum: Levi is a physicist. Every other book I've reviewed by a physicist, said physicist has contacted me to point out flaws and/or disagree with my review. So I have that to look forward to, I suppose :p

Why? by Mario Levi went on sale July 11, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Messages from a Lost World by Stefan Zweig

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Once upon a time, Netgalley gave me The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig, which I read, deemed acceptable, and then, somehow, decided I liked a lot more than it turns out I did, based on my review at the time. Basically, my entire interest in Zweig is rooted in the fact that he killed himself in Brazil, in part as a reaction to the Second World War. It just seems simultaneously so ballsy and yet so futile and stupid an action (it's hardly like Zweig killing himself in 1942 would have been as war-disrupting as Hitler or Goebbels or Hirohito doing the same). Still, my mind has Alien-facehuggered onto this sole fact, i.e. Stefan Zweig killed himself in Brazil!!!!!! ..... (also he wrote some things, I guess, maybe, whatever). But obviously, before he killed himself in Brazil, he wrote, amongst other things, the essays contained in Messages from a Lost World, which I read, while thinking of Austrian authors who killed themselves in Brazil. Did you know that Stefan Zweig was an Austrian author who killed himself in Brazil in 1942? You didn't? Well, let me tell you about Stefan Zweig who killed himself in Brazil in 1942...

Messages from a Lost World's essays (all of which were written prior to Zweig killing himself in Brazil in 1942) manage to be both dated and relevant at the same time. There's a lot of talk of men only, side-by-side with worries about ultra-nationalism and exceptionalism that seem written in reaction to Brexit and Trump. But then what? The struggle to override nationalism is continual, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with the fact that Zweig was warning about this during fascism's thrall. I can't imagine Steve Bannon and Nigel Farange being like Hey, I should totally read these essays from 1920s to the 1940s by a dead Jewish Austrian man and then Oh my goodness, I now see the error of my ways regarding the dangers of nationalism, unless they too are somewhat obsessed with the fact that Zweig killed himself in Brazil in 1942 as a reaction to the Second World War. Do you think they are? Because I could tell you some things about an Austrian writer who killed himself in Brazil in 1942.

Messages from a Lost World by Stefan Zweig went on sale March 28, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

(Again, I checked the Are you interested in connecting with this author checkbox on Netgalley, but Stefan Zweig's ghost has yet to appear to me.
Boo.)

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Review of By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun

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If ever there was a story that needed no introduction, here it is: By Fire, which actually comprises the back third of this slim volume. So let's talk about that story, a fictional rendering of Mohamed Bouazizi's last few days of life. And yes, usually when something needs no introduction it doesn't need me to wikipedia link to it, but the reason that By Fire needs no introduction is because, by itself, it is a stand-alone, super-good, well-written novella. It is literature, in all the universal definitions that I'm sure someone taught me in high school but that I didn't pay attention to.

Of course, because that's the way my life works, there is an introduction: a meandering, fan-girl (which I totally understand: Tahar Ben Jelloun seems like a freakin' amazing author) all-over-the-place discussion of how the translator literally found the story (in a bookshop, in France), Tunisian history, reading her translation at SUNY Buffalo, her students reactions, why the story is meaningful, Ben Jelloun's life, etc. Basically, the book starts with a whole slew of disorganized thoughts that I suppose are relevant, but why not let the story tell them first? Why not put By Fire at the beginning and the Translator's Thoughts at the end, a digestif rather than apéritif?

Middle-third: excerpts from some of Ben Jelloun's other writings (non-fiction) regarding the Arab Spring. It could stay in the middle, as long as the beginning (Translator's Note) and the ending (By Fire) switch places. But really, I would have been happy to just read By Fire, the story, and forget about the other critical-context bits. I can look those up on my own.

By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun went on sale June 15, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Tokyo Decadence by Ryu Murakami

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Many years ago, before going to Tokyo myself, a guide book told me about how little poverty there was in Japan. Unlike Western cities the book told me (I'm paraphrasing here, of course), Tokyo is free of the down-and-out. Oh is it? I thought, walking through a tent city around, if memory serves me correctly, Ueno Station. The guide book was only a year or two old, so unless sudden poverty struck, the guide book was either blind or just plain wrong.

I kept coming to that memory while reading Tokyo Decadence, fifteen stories of, as the back blurb says not-so-average Tokyoites. This isn't the Japan I saw on the news growing up, full of economic marvels and glossy apartment blocks and white-plated robots. This is the grittier part of Japan, the struggling to keep going Japan, the seedy bits that my guidebook chose to ignore. It shouldn't surprise me that this all exists; I mean, I was in Nagasaki when its mayor was shot by the yakuza. There's an underbelly everywhere, and Tokyo Decadence skims along it, going up into the lower working classes, down into drug dealers, around the love hotels and hostess bars. I can't really say that the collection is hopeful, but it isn't hopeless either. It's like a dark fantasy, except real, which I guess is what all gritty fiction should feel like.

Tokyo Decadence by Ryu Murakami went on sale March 15, 2016.

I received a copy free from Librarything in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen

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So, part way through the chapter I was thinking of as The Godfather chapter, I started to wonder if maybe I was reading a fiction book and not a memoir. I mean, book started out with an incubus, and I was cool with that as non-fiction, but the dappled Italian summers filled with olive trees and mafioso in-laws, my mind could not process that as anything other than fiction. Is that a failure as a memoir or a success for a creative non-fiction piece? We have a Woody-Allen-1970s-New-York childhood crisis, a Godfather quarter-life crisis, a Thelma-and-Louise roadtrip-type crisis, a Cormac McCarthy forties crisis, and a British stiff-upper-lip NHS healthcare crisis. And an incubus (we'll call that a pale Paranormal Activity crisis). And comics (Fun Home?). The whole book has a cinematic feel, a poor-little-rich-girl-wandering-to-try-and-find-herself feel that may not be relatable: I, for one, do not have a vacation house in Colorado and a non-vacation house in England; I've never tried to cross the Mexican-US border illegally for a magazine story; I'm not married to a prime minister's grandson, etc.

So something about Meet Me in the In-Between doesn't seem real. I'm guessing that's the point of meeting Pollen in the in-between. Real, not real, incubus, mafioso, Colorado, sharp, unexpected turns like in a dream. Off-putting but neither in a bad nor a good way.

Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen went on sale June 16, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

Posted by in netgalley copy

I never know what to write about books that are just meh. And The Things We Thought We Knew isn't even meh. It's definitely better than meh so why can't I find something to say about it other than I liked Swing Time more, which The Things We Thought We Knew is thematically similar to (although then, obviously, The Things We Thought We Knew is thematically similar to all British, female-narrator, multi-racial, coming-of-age, lower-class, novels since that is what The Things We Thought We Knew is).

So The Things We Thought We Knew is a first novel, with some first novel foibles: the voice getting clearer and stronger the further in we go, wishy-washy beginning, an open-ended ending, pull-the-heartstrings-plot lines to buttress up the organic story, secondary characters of more depth than the main ones. All that sounds bad, but it's a first novel and none of these quirks are too off-putting. I got into the story by the end, until the open-ended ending (blech -- start your story later and write a real ending instead), but it took me a while to get into the voice at the beginning. I always feel sort of awkward about recommending books by saying Stick with it but what else am I supposed to say? Throw your kobo across the room (I've only ever thrown one book across the room, and that was Mail Order Wings when I was a kid, and I threw the book because it freaked me out so much that I just wanted it gone)? Maybe skip the first twenty pages?

Decent book. Good first try.

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith went on sale June 15, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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