Review: Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles

This is a much-talked-about and much-reviewed book, but I still am going to go about my review the way I ordinarily do. This is the story of sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a high school student who struggles with multiple anxiety disorders as she attempts to lead, as far as she can, a “normal” life. Her best friend is Dairy Ramirez, who writes Star Wars fan fiction, and whose family isn’t financially all that well off, which means she works long shifts at Chuck E Cheese to save up for college. When millionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, and a hundred-thousand-dollar award is offered for finding him, the two girls decide to get on the case as Aza who has lost her father doesn’t have very much of a college fund either. This brings them into contact with Pickett’s son Davis who Aza used to once go to camp with, and his younger son Noah, struggling to cope with what has happened.

 

This was my first John Green, and I liked it very much indeed. The book as a GR friend also mentions in her review covers a range of subjects (astronomy, history, poetry, science, and so much more) which I enjoyed, and a range of personal issues as well, Aza’s anxieties, and the teens (Aza and Davis, particularly) dealing with loss, relationships with each other, and with their families, nothing easy, everything raising more questions than giving any answers. I did connect to an extent with some of what Aza was going through, getting stuck in a chain of thoughts, or thought spiral which doesn’t let you take that step forward, that makes you doubt doubt doubt and question question question, but never leave the issue aside even though you know you there’s really nothing in it or you can do nothing about it. Green (I read that this is based on his own experiences) I felt really succeeded in making the reader feel what it is like to be trapped in a mind like Aza’s, to be battling demons from which there will really be no escape, or at least from which you can’t know whether there will ever be any escape. The other issue that stood out to me through the book was the question of what makes us us—is it just our physical selves or are we something apart from that, what about those microbes that are in us and part of us, what about those thoughts that don’t seem to come from us and are yet from us? Are we just one entity or a multiplicity of us-es? Again a question that doesn’t have a definite answer but one that makes you think, a lot. I liked the characters, Aza, Daisy (I could get her viewpoint though one thing she did I didn’t like her for), and Davis. Mychal I felt I didn’t really get to know very deeply, and with Daisy, like Rincey (@rinceya) said in her view, I agreed there was a lot of scope to explore her character more. Also loved the explanation of the title and illustrations which emerged after reading. Overall, I really liked the book and look forward to picking up more by Green.

Author Profile: Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel is a writer of popular science books, and also play/s as well. I first came across her work, believe it or not, through TV. Some years ago, I came across a TV movie/drama called Longitude, starring Sir Micheal Gambon (Dumbledore the second 🙂 ) and Jeremy Irons, based on the development of the marine chronometer, which revolutionised navigation on the seas, since for the first time, sailors could calculate the longitude with some degree of certainty. I really enjoyed the programme (the subject and how it was made), and looking it up, I realised this was a book (based on one, that is). And some time later, when I bought the book and read it, I loved it.

Longitude.jpg

The book tells us the story of John Harrison, a self-educated carpenter and clock-maker who invented the marine chronometer. Apart from the struggles that Harrison faced in perfecting his instrument, a process that took him many years, the book also tells of how he had to also struggle with the Board of Longitude, particularly Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, astronomer royal, to prove the merit of his invention and claim the prize offered for the resolution of the problem. This of course, did leave me with a fairly negative opinion about Rev. Nevil Makelyne, which only changed to something more positive when I read The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

John Harrison and Rev. Nevil Maskelyne

Source: (Harrison) By Philippe Joseph Tassaert (1732-1803)After Thomas King († circa 1796 date QS:P,+1796-00-00T00:00:00Z/9,P1480,Q5727902) [1767 painting] ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; (Maskelyne)By Edward Scriven, 1775-1841, printer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, having liked the book so much, I began to look into the author and her other works. Born in 1947, Sobel was a freelance science writer and columnist with several publications (including Harvard Magazine, Science Digest, and the New Yorker) for over two decades, and turned full time author of books after the publication and success of Longitude. To date, she has authored seven books (plus the Illustrated Longitude), of which I’ve read two and have a third waiting on my TBR. All her books deal with science or science-related themes, exploring them from the point of view of people connected with it (or people connected with people connected with it), and sometimes particular incidents/events that influenced in a sense, history (not just of science).

Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel

Source: https://dava-sobel-twf5.squarespace.com/549

And that brings me to the book by her I picked up next, A More Perfect Heaven. This one is all about Nicholas Copernicus and his theory that revolutionised our understanding of the universe, that is heliocentrism or that it is the sun that is the centre of our planetary system. This book doesn’t as such deal with how he came to his finding, but instead with the German mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus who travelled to Poland, met Copernicus and somehow convinced him to publish his theory. The book is also different from Longitude in the sense that it is written in three parts, the second of which is in the form of a play in two acts that tries to imagine the time the Rheticus spent there, before taking us back into discussing the aftermath of this event, the publication of Copernicus’ book, its different versions, and impact. The play I think has also been published separately but I’m not sure whether this has anything in addition to what appears in the book.

 

 

The Bloomsbury ed (that I have) and a Close-up of Copernicus

Source for the Portrait: By Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

sun stood still.jpg

This was another book that I really enjoyed so I decided to look up yet another of her books, published before this one, Galileo’s Daughter. This one is all about Galileo of course, but also about his relationship with his daughter, Maria Celeste who has taken the veil, based in the over a hundred surviving letters that Maria Celeste wrote to her father (which were published separately in Letters to Father, translated and annotated by Sobel). The book takes us between their two contrasting lives and the world that they lived in. This one I only acquired a copy of sometime ago and it is waiting to be read. Complete with pictures and diagrams, this is looking to be a fascinating read, as Longitude was, and as was A More Perfect Heaven.

Image source (Maria Celeste): Wellcome Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Her other books include The Planets (2006), which paints a portrait of the solar system using various sources, from mythology to history, fiction, and poetry. This covers all “nine” planets, before poor Pluto got the axe. And her latest work, The Glass Universe (2016),somewhat on the lines of Hidden Figures, tells of the women who worked in Harvard College Observatory between the late 1800s and early 1900s, taken on for their ability to work carefully, and at lower pay than their male counterparts.

 

While I haven’t read very many of Sobel’s books so far, I have really enjoyed the ones that I did read, and am  really looking forward to reading more. For any reader who enjoys history, history of science, or popular science, you are sure to enjoy one or more of her writings.

Have you read any of her books? Which one/ones and what did you think of them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

 

Sources: Goodreads/ book blurbs

Dava Sobel’s site: http://www.davasobel.com/

 

Review: The Elf and the Amulet by Chris Africa

elf and the amulet.jpg

My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for a review copy of this book.

 

This is the first of a series, the Deathsworn series (not sure how many books in total), and is essentially a fantasy adventure. The book opens with sixteen-year-old Chassy and his friend Nita, who live in Waet Tree village, the former an adventurous type who wants to see the world, and Nita who wants to stay home and eventually take over the Two Pumpkin Inn which her parents run. Their decision to eavesdrop on a conversation between two mysterious guests at the Two Pumpkin however turns their plans upside down, and they, along with Nita’s brother Andrev must set out on an adventure to track down an elf, and recover a stolen amulet with magical powers. On their journey, they must travel through the Blackwood, and face several other dangers. They team up with a band of travelling merchants led by the handsome William, who have secrets of their own. The three adventurers must come to terms with their quest that none of them are particularly willing to undertake, the world outside their little village, so different from their own, and things about themselves that they didn’t ever know or expect.

 

The book has the usual/typical set-up of a teens’/children’s/YA fantasy adventure—three teen protagonists (one of course being a bookish one—in this case Andrev) thrown into adventure all of a sudden with a prophecy surrounding them (and a not very positive one for one of the three), here very sudden because as soon as we open the first few pages the adventure begins. The author definitely gets points for imagination, thinking up creatures, places, and worlds that we have just begun to be introduced to, and which promise to grow more detailed and richer as the series progresses. The plot itself is fairly enjoyable, again nothing out of the ordinary, but one that one enjoys following. For me specifically, the initial parts were readable but they didn’t prevent me from taking breaks in between (that’s partly why it took me longer than usual to read the book), but once some secrets about our protagonists start to come forth, it gripped me a little more. The protagonists themselves—Chassy, Nita, and Andrev are fairly well drawn out, have the characters of typical teens (somewhat petulant, a touch arrogant), and also perspectives and fears that are to do with their upbringing in a sheltered environment with little contact with the outside world. But still somehow, I didn’t really take to them at the start, and found them somewhat annoying (even lacking in common sense). Nita improved a little for me on moving on, but I don’t know about the others though I wasn’t finding them as annoying later on as I did at the start. I wouldn’t mind reading on to see how the series progresses in the second book, but this one was pleasant, and enjoyable even but nothing extraordinary/standout for me. Three and a half stars.

Shelf Control #11

Shelf Control

Resuming this feature after a two week “break”. This feature, all about celebrating the books already on your TBR, is one I’ve borrowed  from Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies. To participate, one simply picks one of the books on one’s TBR every Wednesday, and writes a post about it (usually what it’s all about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, and such).

 

Today’s pick, Listen O King! Five-and-Twenty Tales of Vikram and the Vetal.

Vikram Vetal.jpg

The Baital Pachisi or (twenty-five stories of the Vetal) is a collection of Indian legends/stories, many versions and translations of which were written, the earliest dating back to the Eleventh Century (though based on material which is even older). The two major versions available are by Sivadasa and Jambhaladatta (the eleventh century version by Somadeva is now lost). The basic story of a legendary king, Vikramaditya, who has promised a sorcerer that he will capture a celestial spirit, a Baital or Vetal who hangs upside down on a tree. On each attempt he makes at capturing Baital, the latter tells him a story ending with a riddle. If Vikramaditya cannot answer, Baital will remain his captive but if he knows the answer and keeps it quiet, his head will explode. And so each attempt continues on cyclically with Baital telling a story and posing a riddle and Vikram having to answer it since he always knows. This happens twenty-three times but the twenty fourth….

 

This edition: The edition I picked up (ordered online a few weeks ago) is a 2016 Puffin edition which though written as a version for children has a cover that I simply couldn’t resist. This version is based on both Sivadasa’s and Jambhaladatta’s works and has twenty-eight stories as a result.

The author: This version is adapted  by Deepa Agarwal, author, poet, and translator, who has written over fifty books, both children and adult (from the blurb).

Why I want to read this one: I am familiar with many of the Vikram and Baital stories having seen TV adaptations, animated and with ‘people’, and having read versions in the children’s magazine Chandamama, but I have never read a full version of these stories, so all I knew was the cyclical/loop in which the stories went. In fact, I don’t even know why Vikram had to capture a Baital in the first place. I will read a full version at some point, but I thought this a good place to start, and the cover…

320px-RF_Burton_Vikram_and_the_Vampire_(1870)_Illustrated_by_Ernest_Griset_page048.png

[From an 1870 translation of Baital Pachisi]

Source: Illustrations by Ernest Griset [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you enjoy reading old folk stories and legends? Do you prefer translations of original works or re-tellings? What are your favourites? Looking forward to hearing about them!

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (17)

Jane Eyre.jpg

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847)

[Image source: Jane Eyre Illustration, By F. H. Townsend, 1868-1920 (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1260/1260-h/images/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

July Reading Review and Plans for August

This one, if you notice, is simply title ‘July Reading Review’ and not ‘Theme Review’–because I didn’t end up reading or rather finishing even one single book from my theme reads (Doorstoppers) this month. So very very embarrassing. But I did read a total of 9 (8 and 1/2 to be honest, I finished book 9 only in August) books this month, so as a reading month, it wasn’t bad at all. Only the books I read turned out to be group reads and netgalley reads for the most part. So here’s a quick review of how this month went for me reading-wise.

Six wives

I kicked off the month with a non-fiction read which I had started in May but couldn’t pick up in June for one reason or other. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir takes us into the reign of Henry VIII, but told from the point of view of his six wives and their stories, and the parts of his life that were concerned with the women who became his wives. This is a long read so it did take me some time but it kept my attention throughout and I ended up learning a lot that I didn’t know about some of his wives and also about Henry himself, besides ‘meeting’ all six Tudor monarchs, who appear in the book. My review is on this page here.

Next were three very different titles, all of which I got through NetGalley. The first My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih is the heart-wrenching, and culturally rich story of a Jewish family in Ukraine, which must first put up with the hardships of Russian rule, but then, far worse, with the Nazi invasion. Told in the voice of fourteen-year-old Hanna Slivka, it tells of the family’s struggle living first in the woods and then in a cave for over two years, each day spent in perpetual fear of what if. A book I cannot recommend highly enough. My review is here.

Next up was another book I enjoyed very much, Isabella of Angouleme, part 2 by Erica Lane. This is the story of Isabella of Angoulême, second wife of the cruel King John (of the magna carta and Robin Hood fame), after his death. Her her son Henry III is now on the throne while she herself returns home to France to begin to achieve her own ambitions for power. This leads to a somewhat happier second marriage and the beginning of a career where her relationship with her children is tested, and she must make difficult choices (although she doesn’t have many qualms). An easy read, and about a time in history that I knew very little about so informative as well with plenty of details that I enjoyed. My review is here.

Then also from NetGalley I read my very first Manga comic, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol 1 by Akiko Hagashimura. I had a few minor struggles with reading when I started being unused to manga. Overall, the plot was something I liked the idea of but I couldn’t really connect with the main character so it was over all an ‘ok’ read. My review is here.

midsummer

In July I also wrapped up A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, which I have been reading act-wise and positing about on this blog as I went. In July I read Acts III (my post is here) and IV and V (my post is here). My review (of sorts) in on goodreads here.

Men at arms

Then there were a couple of books that I read as group reads for different Goodreads groups. One was Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, the second of his City Watch series and number 17 of the Dicworld books. This one had humour, murder, a mystery, a werewolf and also reflected some issues that we face everyday in our lives–people not being able to along with other communities, those who are different from them, and I thought had a positive message to give about that. I enjoyed this, perhaps even more than Guards Guards (first of the City Watch books). My review is on goodreads here.

Up next was another mystery, but this time a mystery proper–The Mystery at Underwood House by Clara Benson. This is the second of her Angela Marchmont series set in the 1920s. In this one, Angela who has a more prominent role than she did in Book 1 is called by a friend to look into a series of mysterious deaths in her family, each taking place at a dinner/meeting that the patriarch had required his family to have as a condition in his will. An Agatha Christiesque atmosphere (though not as strong), and an interesting enough mystery where I didn’t guess whodunit. My review is here.

underwood.jpg

Finally, two more NetGalley reads. First was Illusion by Stephanie Elmas which tells the story of Tom Winter who’s friend Walter Balanchine has returned to England from the east after three years and involves Tom in performances of magic/illusion that he gives. When a young woman (whom Tom has fallen for) appeals to him for help in one of these performances, as she is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, Walter and Tom must come up with a plan to rescue her. My review is here.

Lastly, the book I finished only at the beginning of August, No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is another I recommend very highly. The story of twelve-and-three-quarters-year old Felix Knutsson, who is living with his mother Astrid in a van, circumstances having rendered them homeless,  Felix’s one hope lies in winning the junior edition of his favourite TV show. Cute, humorous, and heart-breaking, this was a wonderful read. My review is here.

In August what I basically plan to do, is clear the table. One read the few books I still need to read for different group reads: The Dancing Bear by Francis Faviell, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, and Death at the Bar and A Clutch of Constables, both by Ngaio Marsh. I shall also be reading my NetGalley books–currently The Elf and the Amulet by Chris Africa, and attempting to catch-up with my theme reads for last month, Don Quixote, Poland, and Syren.

What are your reading plans for August? Looking forward to hearing them. Happy reading month!

Review: No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

no fixed addess.jpg

NFA.png

 

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s Publishers for a review copy of this one.

 

This was such a wonderful wonderful read for me—heart-breaking, and cute, and making me smile a little all at the same time. The story is told in the voice of twelve-and-three-quarters-year-old Felix Knutsson, who lives with his single mother, Astrid (she insists he calls her by name) in a Westfalia van. They have seen a change in fortunes from a time when they were doing ok and had a home, to one where Astrid is more or less jobless, and almost penniless, and have to take the only option available to them, of living in a van. Felix had had to change schools and homes many times over the years as they moved around various parts of Vancouver but finds himself now back in school with one of the only friends he ever had, Dylan Brinkerhoff. Before long Winnie Wu, somewhat Hermione-Granger-like, and a bit over-enthusiastic about school joins their little group. But Felix has to navigate through all of this without ever letting slip his living arrangements as both Felix and his mother are terrified of falling into the ‘clutches’ of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which they are convinced will place him in foster care, and apart from his mother. Alongside, he must also deal with his mother, who isn’t exactly a bad mother but not a particularly good one either, with many facets to her character (specifics might be a spoiler), that are far from perfect. His only hope lies in participating in his favourite game show Who, What, Where, When, which is having a junior edition, through which he might win some prize money that can help tide them over.

 

I loved Felix—he was so sensible, mature for his age, able to face much more than anyone his age could and all without constantly whining or pitying himself. This is not to say that he doesn’t want life to get back to normal, or that he is a Pollyanna, but he takes things in his stride better than even a grown-up would. One can’t help but feel sorry for him having to not only present a brave face to the world but also to be the strong one in his family in some situations. Some of the situations they have to face are plain frightening at times, and others require Felix to accept things that he wouldn’t normally approve of (after all, he has to live). I also liked how the author conveyed so many things subtly capturing things in a way a child might perhaps see them, and not having to say things explicitly/directly all the time. Seeing Felix’s situation, one can’t help but think about people like him who have to live every day without the things we tend to take for granted—food to eat, a bed to sleep in, a toilet in one’s home—and realise the need to have more help at hand for people in such circumstances, and feel grateful in having those things, besides also realising, that a life with dignity which is a ‘basic’ human right remains a luxury for so many. At the same time, the book gives a positive and hopeful message about people themselves. I also liked that the book really reflected well how multicultural our world really is now. This may be classified as a YA book, but is one that can be appreciated by everyone, even adults (perhaps more so), and I highly recommend it. Simply wonderful read.  (p.s. of course, I loved the little illustrations!!!!)