Book Review: The Story of Mankind

I recently confronted the juggernaut of Newbery Medals, the very first winner from 1922 and a seriously massive piece of nonfiction: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon.  I actually got this out from the library months ago, was decidedly taken aback by how thick it was, and returned it unread for a later day.  This time I bought the audiobook on Audible (14 hours!)–and to my pleasant surprise, found it a quite engaging read.

The Story of Mankind promises to tell the history of the human race, starting from the formation of the Earth (literally), on up through the present day…of 1922, of course, just a few years beyond the Great War.  Along the way we go through the dinosaurs, primeval man, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation.  It’s not so much the story of mankind as it is the story of European male-kind, but I will say that for a 1922 book, it made some efforts to be broad-minded.

As long as this was, I found it engaging and interesting throughout.  Targeting children, the history is not too dense, for good or ill.  It made it easy to follow and simple to read (er, listen to) but don’t expect too much detail or advanced analysis.  I liked that it made an effort to pull the long centuries of history together into a coherent story, tracing the line from different eras and different countries to show how parts of history normally told separately connect to each other. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Of Mice and Mousepads

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Off the book topic…do you use a mouse pad? If so, what is on it?

Not only do I not use a mousepad, I don’t use a mouse!  I’ve been on a laptop since I started college, and while I think I probably had a mouse at first (maybe…?) I’ve done so much typing on my lap that I’m all about the trackpad now.

I do have a mouse at my job…that was a very secondary reflection, as I tend to think about my private life when I blog!  I don’t have a mousepad there either though.  People who have tried to use my computer say that the mouse moves pretty wildly…though it always looks to me like they’re swinging it about quite a lot.  My guess is the mousepad/no mousepad piece really makes a difference in how people move the mouse.

If I was going to have a mousepad, I’d probably go for something geeky, maybe Star Trek or Doctor Who-themed.

Where do you stand (or scroll)?  Mouse or no mouse?  Pad or no pad?

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Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

A good friend recently gave me a book for Christmas–always a chancy endeavor, as it can be hard to find just the right one.  She hit the mark beautifully though, as I loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.

The story begins as Mary Jekyll buries her mother.  Clearing up her mother’s affairs, Mary finds a regular payment being made for the care and keeping of “Hyde.”  Baffled by this apparent connection to her deceased father’s hideous, long-missing assistant, she follows the clues.  She finds Diana Hyde, and in the process winds up assisting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they investigate the Whitehall Murders.  Tracing clues to a secret alchemists’ society, Mary and Diana find Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein, all a different shade of monster.

This is one of those books that has such a wonderful premise it’s hard to dare hope it will live up to it–but it does!  This is a wonderful exploration into the world of Gothic, Victorian literature, but turned sideways and much more feminist.  Each woman (including Mary, though we don’t have full answers about her yet) has been shaped by her alchemist father (or creator), but this is very much the women’s story.  Each one is a fully-formed individual with agency, and the story is about them, not their fathers.

In some ways this reminds me of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, drawing greatly from classics of literature, while putting an entirely new angle on them–with an active, realistic heroine (or five). Continue reading

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Blog Hop: What Do Your Books Wear?

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you read hardcovers with the dust jacket on or off? Why or why not?

I feel like this question comes up for me on a strangely rare basis…but maybe it isn’t strange!  Most of my books come from the library, and if they’re hardback, they’re all taped and laminated and…well, those dust jackets are not coming off easily.  Of my own books, I mostly buy paperback so–no dust jacket.  Or I buy very old hardcovers that either never had a dust jacket or don’t anymore (and I tend to like how those look without jackets anyway).

If I buy a hardcover with a dust jacket I usually leave it on–because otherwise, what would I do with it?  I have no need for added clutter!  I will make an exception, however, if I really hate a cover image.  I recover paperbacks if I don’t like the cover, and I have at least one hardback that came with a since-discarded dust jacket.  I didn’t like the cover image, and it looks much better without it!

Do you prefer not to have dust jackets on your hardbacks when you read, or do you just leave them where they are?

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Classic Review: The Princess Bride

Valentine’s Day was last week, so perhaps it’s an appropriate day to revisit a favorite movie with a lovely romance.  I just finished saying I don’t revise Classic Posts, but this one does require mentioning one changing view.  I think I was too hard on Buttercup–she has her moments of strength as a heroine.  She actually has two different problems–she’s oddly impassive in some key moments and, as Cary Elwes pointed out in his memoir, in a movie full of funny lines, Buttercup gets none of them.

I rewatched this movie just recently at a Fathom Events showing, and I really tried to have a different view of Buttercup.  It was maybe a little better?  But I still don’t love her.  Ah well.  It’s still a nearly perfect movie.


I love fairy tales, and retold fairy tales, and fairy tale-inspired stories.  I have great success reading books like that, and sometimes I try a movie too.  More often those turn out to be very cheesy…but sometimes it works, as with one of my favorites, The Princess Bride.  It can be cheesy at times too, but in a good way, and all in all it’s a very nearly perfect movie.

There’s a book too, which I have read, and which is also truly excellent.  It’s been a long time since I read it, though, so that review will have to wait until I get a chance to re-read it.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the movie.  It’s at its twenty-fifth anniversary, so I’d like to assume everyone’s seen it…but I’ve learned not to assume that about any movie.  And I do have a friend who just saw it for the first time a month ago.

The Princess Bride starts with an adorable frame-story, about a grandfather reading the book The Princess Bride to his grandson, who had been ill.  The boy pretends indifference, but is drawn into the story.  It’s about the beautiful Buttercup, who is going to marry her beloved farmboy, Westley.  But Westley goes off to seek his fortune, is reportedly killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Buttercup ends up unwillingly engaged to the nasty Prince Humperdinck.  She’s kidnapped shortly before her wedding, carried off by mastermind Vizzini, slow-witted and good-natured giant Fezzik, and brilliant swordsman Inigo Montoya.  They’re pursued by a mysterious man in black (whose identity will probably not turn out to be all that much of a shock). Continue reading

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