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August 04, 2007

June Book Reviews, Part One

2007 Finishes: Books

Okay, my reviews are going to be out of order, but oh well. I'll go back and fill in later. I'm going to post my June reviews, a few at a time, copy/pasted from my SRP Reviews page. I have July there too; I'll paste those when I finish June. Then later if I have time I'll go back and write up the pre-SRP ones that I haven't written yet. (I do have a list of all the books and when I finished them.)

Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber
Finished: June 2
Genre: Women's fiction
Pages: 393
Rating: 3.8
This is the third* in Macomber's series about a yarn store in an idyllic place called Blossom St. I actually liked it better than the second. Each book rotates in perspective between Lydia, the shop owner, and a few of the students in her current knitting class. (The pattern being used in the class is included, too. I knit the baby blanket from the first book; it was quite nice, if a bit boring.) Each woman is generally facing some sort of family or life crisis, and knitting brings them together across their disparate backgrounds. There are definitely Issues with a capital I, and some are resolved pretty heavyhandedly - there are definitely Lessons Macomber is trying to impart to her readers. And it's all a bit saccharine. If you can get past that, though, they're enjoyable in a Hallmark TV movie sort of way. Plus, there's knitting. That helps.
* Or maybe the fourth? Before this one came one called Susannah's Garden, about another shop on Blossom St., not the yarn store. I'm not sure whether it's considered one of the series.

Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer
Finished: June 5
Genre: Linguistics, history
Pages: 305
Rating: 4.5
This fascinating book provides an overview of the history of the English language, focusing on the way it changed over time and what caused these changes. It starts with Caedmon's Hymn (7th century) and goes up through e-mail and the Iraq war. Along the way, it touches on the Norman conquest, the Great Vowel Shift, attempts at standardization and dictionary-making, and authors from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Twain to Dickinson. I have to admit that I found the earliest parts of the book to be the most interesting (and I really want to learn Old English now), but that is likely due to my own interests and has nothing to do with the book itself. Lerer explains things remarkably clearly, and at times I was shocked at how much of his sometimes technical explanations I (with no formal linguistics training) could understand. I did have some trouble "hearing" some of the things he was trying to explain about pronunciation, but I don't think that took much away from my enjoyment of the book. My one caveat in recommending it is that I sometimes found myself having trouble keeping track of where he was when I tried to read too much of the book at a time; his chapters stand alone nicely, so make sure you take lots of breaks to process and mull over the wealth of information Lerer provides.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
Finished: June 8
Genre: Science fiction
Pages: 334
Rating: 3.6
An alien arrives at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and asks to speak with a paleontologist. That paleontologist happens to be dying of lung cancer. They become friends and share information and argue about the existence of God. For about 200 pages. And then, finally, something sort of happens. And then something big seems like it's happening, but then it doesn't. But at that point I didn't really care, because Sawyer had been telling me, not showing me, about these characters and ideas for 300 pages and I was sick of it. And I ended up being really disappointed, because it seemed like this book had a lot of potential; it kept being on the verge of being really good, but then it wasn't. Which was worse than if it had just been mediocre. And then the paleontologist makes a decision that infuriated me, so at that point I sort of just wanted him to die. And even though I was pretty annoyed at the whole thing by the end, the last chapter still almost made me cry. Which just made me hate the whole thing. So, basically, this book had me on an emotional rollercoaster, but not at all in the way the author intended. Don't bother.

Posted by Kat at August 4, 2007 10:57 AM

The Seth Lehrer books sounds REALLY good. It also sounds like a book I should have already had!

Posted by: Carrie K at August 6, 2007 06:41 PM

My kids ask me all the time about how different words evolved in the English language. I'm so pleased to have you recommend a book that might help me out! =) Thanks

Posted by: carrie at August 13, 2007 06:46 AM
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