Vampire in Love (and other stories) by Enrique Vila-Matas

An unsuspecting man receives a mysterious phone call from a lonely doctor, and upon visiting his home becomes privy to a secret…

An effeminate barber on the verge of death sees Heaven and falls in love with an innocent choirboy…

For the first time, a collection of stories by the esteemed Enrique Vila-Matas is made available in English. These stories span his remarkable career and have been chosen as among his best. Translated from their native Spanish, these tales are filled with Vila-Matas signature erudition and wit. Their aim; to leave the reader questioning the interrelation of art and life.

It is rare, dear reader, that I find myself struggling to finish a book; any book. And yet I found myself doing just that with Vampire in Love. Despite how small this book is and the fact that it is a collection of short stories, it was a fight for me to finish this book to write this review.

While there are many who enjoy Vila-Matas’ work, I found this collection of stories rather boring. It was very staid and stale and did little to capture my imagination. As I said before, I found it difficult to finish this collection simply because I found it so bland.

The translation of the stories was smooth and very well done. That is about the only good thing I can find to say about this book.

Readers familiar with Vila-Matas and his work will likely enjoy this collection of stories. More casual readers will do better to look elsewhere.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Roughly one week ago, Astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on Mars.

Now he is sure he will be the first to die there.

When a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his fellow astronauts to leave the planet, and him, behind; Mark wakes to find himself completely alone. With damaged equipment, Mark has no way to signal that he is alive. He is stranded on an alien planet with faulty equipment and dwindling supplies. Even if he could get a message out, rescue would be years away.

Yet Mark isn’t willing to just lay down and die. He’s a survivor and he plans to stay that way. Using the equipment he has as well as his engineering and botany skills, he comes up with a plan. Not only to contact NASA but to keep himself alive until they can get him.

But they did not name Mars after the God of War for nothing, for all too soon Mark realizes he’s going to have to fight to survive.

A brief note: This review is for the BOOK. I have yet to see the movie, but I do plan to. Especially now after reading the book!

I don’t think there is a man or woman alive who didn’t entertain dreams of travelling in space. I know as a young girl I wanted to be an astronaut and often dreamed of going up in a spaceship. And while many of us look at space travel through rose colored glasses, for all the things that go well, there are just as many that can go wrong. And that is where books like The Martian come in.

The Martian is a story of survival in the most adverse of conditions. For Mark, this isn’t like being stuck somewhere on Earth; he is on a completely different planet. Rescue isn’t days away but years.

Told from three different perspectives, Mark’s, NASA’s, and his crew mates making their way back to Earth; I found¬†The Martian to be a riveting tale. From the first page I found it very hard to put down. I needed to know what happened next; to Mark, to the crew. This book held my attention from the start and did not let go.

Mark’s journal entries are quite science heavy; something not all readers will enjoy. This is tempered with his dry, gallows humor and his upbeat outlook on his situation. He is determined to survive, if he doesn’t accidentally blow himself up first.

Being a long time science nerd, I loved The Martian. Readers looking for a tense, edge of your seat thrill ride will love this book as well. I was enthralled from beginning to end and cannot recommend this book enough.

The Tudor Bride by Joanna Hickson

Catherine de Valois, King Henry V’s French bride, is a beautiful and intelligent woman and easily dazzles the English people. Yet life at court is often full of intrigue and conspiracies abound. However Catherine believes herself invincible as she gives Henry a son and heir, securing the family line.

When King Henry is stricken with fever and subsequently dies, Catherine finds herself adrift in a foreign land. The regency council takes her young son to raise him as befitting a king and forces her to retire from court. At the secluded manor of Hadham, Catherine surrounds herself with familiar faces from her life in the royal household. Among them is Owen Tudor who served with her husband Henry, and who now serves as chief Steward for her.

Away from prying eyes, Catherine and Owen become lovers; the love between them burning brightly. When someone from the regency council makes a bid for power and tries to seize the throne, Catherine – and those around her – face more than scathing gossip. They face mortal peril.

The truth surrounding Catherine de Valois is generally spotty at best. During this particular time, women weren’t held in the same regard as men and the records reflect that. What really happened to Catherine after Henry’s death is open to interpretation and it is something Hickson takes and runs with.

Told from the point of view of her friend and nursemaid, Guillaumette, we are with Catherine from her marriage to Henry to her eventual illness and death. We are witness to the ups and downs in her short life; the happiness and the heartbreak.

Hickson builds a fascinating world based on what knowledge there is available. It is quite obvious she has done her research for the characters (a goodly number of them real people) seem to come alive on the page. She weaves a tale of mystery and intrigue that captures the imagination. Several times while reading I had to remind myself that much of what she was describing actually happened.

As there is so much of Catherine’s life that is unknown, Hickson does take some liberty with telling the young Queen’s story. This is understandable and is dealt with in quite a believable manner. Those readers who are real sticklers for true historical accuracy might have a few quibbles, but they would be few and far between.

While I am not the biggest fan of books set in this particular era, I enjoyed The Tudor Bride. Readers who enjoy Hickson’s other works as well as the myriad of books set in this time will enjoy this tale.

 

Two years already???

Oh my goodness, has it really been that long?

Two years ago I started this little blog to share my love of books. I never thought I would have so many wonderful followers or make so many good friends.

It is my hope to keep this site going for a good long time. For there are always new books to read and review!

Here is to another year and more!

The Ninja’s Daughter (Shinobi Mystery #4) by Susan Spann

It is autumn in Kyoto in the year 1565. When a young woman is found murdered on the shores of the Kamo River, the local police aren’t interested in investigating. The girl is an actor’s daughter, one of the many of low social status in the city.

Master Ninja Hiro Hattori learns the girl is the daughter of a fellow ninja and feels obligated to avenge her. He enlists his friend and charge, a Portuguese Jesuit named Father Mateo, and the two soon find themselves embroiled in a very dangerous plot. In the world of theater nothing and no one is as it seems and the only clue they have to help them is a single gold coin.

I generally don’t start a series in the middle but this was one of the times it couldn’t be helped. My library only had this part of the series and I was unable to find the earlier books. Considering how much I enjoyed this book, I am hoping to find the previous stories.

The Ninja’s Daughter is set in a time of change for Japan. Long isolated from the outside world, Japan was an insular society and viewed outsiders with distrust. This kind of culture clash is used to great effect in the story as what Hattori takes as normal, Father Mateo often finds puzzling or even unthinkable. For the police to not investigate the murder of a girl is horrifying to the priest.

Spann shows how good research can go a long way with a story by bringing 16th century Kyoto to life with her words. She shows how different cultures can clash but can also come together when the time is needed. As much as I enjoyed The Ninja’s Daughter, I likely would have enjoyed it more had I started with the first book.

While it does have potential to stand on its own, readers will likely want to start with the first book of the¬†Shinobi Mystery series. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye out for earlier books as well as later books of this series.

Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful by Teresa Riordan

“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” – Helena Rubenstein

In the battle of the sexes, women have employed any number of potions and contraptions to catch the eye and win the hand. From corsets and crinolines to lipstick and hair dye, shrewd and canny women (and sometimes men) have used every means at their disposal in the quest for feminine flawlessness.

New York Times columnist Teresa Riodran delves in to the history of many of these incredible inventions. She explores that strange yet interesting intersection of fashion, business, and science. Where social trends often fueled technological innovations. And where beauty inventions have sought to put the imaginative and resourceful woman on an even playing field with the conventionally beautiful.

As a woman rapidly approaching 40 (kicking and screaming), I have found the subject of beauty and self care more and more interesting over the years. As something of a history buff, the history behind the subject is equally fascinating. To find a book that combines the two made for me a delightful read.

What could easily have been something dry and boring is instead made quite interesting with Riordan’s well researched and often amusing writing. It is obvious she finds the subject of beauty and the history behind it fascinating and she brings that to her writing. Each chapter is devoted to one aspect of appearance that women have focused on; hair, skin, nails, etc. Chapters are even devoted to the bust and the behind!

I found Inventing Beauty to be an informative read. While she concentrated on mainly the American/English aspect of beauty inventions and focused on a mere 100 years, it is a well thought out and well executed tome. I would love to read more on the subject going back further and potentially focusing on other cultures, but that will likely be another book at another time.

This is not the book for every reader as not every person finds the history of beauty interesting. Those who do (like myself) would do well to pick this book up and give it a read. It casts new light on what we women have done in the name of style and shows how primping and preening never really go out of fashion.