Saturday, November 28, 2015

Was Hinduism Invented?

Cover image for Was Hinduism Invented?  Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion by Brian K Pennington, 189 pages

There have been extensive debates amongst scholars as to whether the religion known as "Hinduism" exists in continuity with precolonial Indian religion or whether it is an ahistorical construct built by imperialist action and colonial reaction.  According to the latter account, British governors, ethnographers, and missionaries opposed an ideal philosophical, spiritual, "pure" Hinduism to an existent superstitious, worldly, "corrupt" complex of indigenous sects and beliefs.  This concept was seized upon and internalized by Indian modernizers and nationalists.  Pennington rejects this narrative out of hand, noting that it does not do justice to the sincere beliefs of Hindus past and present who maintain that their beliefs and practices are continuous with the precolonial era, and fails to appreciate the extent of discontinuity and development present in every religious tradition.

The bulk of the book is taken up by a discussion of three journalistic sources.  The first is a British missionary publication and the second a British scientific journal, both concentrating on the subcontinent.  Pennington attempts to use these to show how British perceptions of Hinduism were shaped by domestic attitudes, particularly concerning class and Catholicism, and how the encounter with Hinduism affected those attitudes in turn.  The third source is a traditionalist Hindu newspaper from 19th century Calcutta, which he uses to demonstrate how Indians reacted to British criticism of their religion, particularly in the strong assertion of Hindu identity.  He also attempts to use these discussions to contribute to the ongoing debate concerning the nature of the relationship between scholarship, the religions it studies, and the practitioners of those faiths.

Pennington's own preconceptions sometimes creep in at the sides, as when he declares that Willliam Wilberforce could not have genuinely cared about the British lower classes because his politics were insufficiently progressive.  At times it appears that traditionalist and modernist might be better descriptors than the progressive and conservative labels he uses, which have political meanings that do not necessarily overlap with their theological meanings, creating confusion he is obviously aware of but seems unable to escape.  Then there is the epilogue, when in a desperate bid for moral equivalency he conjoins the murder of a missionary by Hindu nationalists to the publication of an insensitive anti-Hindu tract by the Southern Baptists, an offense compounded rather than excused by his immediate denial of any such equivalence.  Still, all in all, the worst thing about the book is its length, far too short for an adequate treatment of such a fascinating subject.

Friday, November 27, 2015

You're Making me Hate You

Cover image for You're Making me Hate You by Corey Taylor, 243 pages

What you see above is only the shortened, for everyday use title. The full title is:
You're making me hate you : a cantankerous look at the common misconception that humans have any common sense left. In its extended form you get a pretty good idea what the book is about. For those that do not know, Corey is the lead singer in the band Slipknot and also Stone Sour. He apparently is also a novelist, seeing as how this is his third book.
When I picked up this book I did not make the connection that this was the same Corey Taylor from Slipknot. I blame it on the lack of a mask/makeup rather than my ignorance. It wasn't till he mentioned his time with the band that I made the connection. Not that it matters much. I certainly am not more inclined to read books by famous people, but I do tend to avoid them slightly more than normal. I blame it on how awful some are.
I tend enjoy books that rant about life. Books that make you take a hard look at society and think how the heck did we end up like this. I especially like them if they can do it in a humorous way. You're Making me Hate You manages to do just that. I mean he certainly hit on some of my pet peeves with humanity: walking next to someone so you block the path and do not move so people can go around you, check. Sauntering across the street and blocking traffic as the light changes, check. Thinking the world revolves around you, check. I could go on, but it is just easier to tell you to go read the book. So go read the book.
 Parental advisory note: there is a fair amount of cussing in this book.

Girl in the Spider's Web

Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz, 400 pages

Cover image for Girl in the Spider's Web is listed as the fourth book or the continuation of the "Millennium" series, you know the one with Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was, when picking up this book very leery about reading it. To often I have see series destroyed and made unreadable with a change of authors, Yes I am looking at you Lustbader. But that is not the case here. Lagercrantz beautifully continued not only the characters that we know and love, but his writing style is so similar to Larsson's that at times I forgot that this was not by Stieg.

Girl in the Spider's Web like the rest of the series focuses on Lisbeth and Mikael. Mikael has been living off the fame generated by the events previously, but Millennium, his newspaper company, is slowly sinking. So when a person calls with a story of vital importance Mikael jumps at the chance. He soon learns that Lisbeth has been investigating the same story and turns to her for help. But what they uncover are secrets that people are willing to kill to protect.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the previous volumes in the Millennium series. I would, however, caution that this book does not work as a stand alone, it needs the series and the backstory to fill out the plot.

The Millennium series, often called the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, ranks among my all-time favorite books/series, and I think is the only series of which I have a complete set. I look forward to eventually adding Girl in the Spider's Web to my shelves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Secondhand Souls

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
335 Pages

"It seems like only yesterday that Charlie Asher took on a very dirty job--collecting souls and keeping the Forces of Darkness at bay. The new gig came with the Big Book of the Dead and a host of other oddities: creatures under the streets, an evil trinity of ravenlike Celtic death goddesses, and one very bad Underworld dude attempting to conquer humanity. Along with a cohort of other oddballs, Charlie faced off against these denizens of darkness--and met his own end. But thanks to Audrey, his Buddhist-nun boo, his soul is still alive . . . inside a fourteen-inch-high body made from lunchmeat and spare animal parts. Waiting for Audrey to find him a suitable new body to play host, Charlie has squirreled himself away from everyone, including his adorable seven-year-old daughter, Sophie, who enjoys dressing up like a princess, playing with her glitter ponies, and--being the Luminatus--spouting off about her power over the Underworld and her dominion over Death. Just when Charlie and company thought the world was safe, some really freaky stuff hits San Francisco. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone--or something--is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Then there's the Taser-wielding banshee keening about doom who's suddenly appeared while Sophie's guardian hellhounds, Alvin and Mohammed, have mysteriously vanished. Charlie is just as flummoxed as everyone else. To get to the bottom of this abomination, he and a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall, two-hundred-and-seventy-five-pounds-of-lean-heartache Death Merchant Minty Fresh; the retired policeman-turned-bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the lunatic Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; Mike Sullivan, a bridge painter in love with a ghost; a gentle French-speaking janitor named Jean-Pierre Baptiste; and former Goth girl Lily Darquewillow Elventhing Severo, now a part-time suicide hotline counselor. With little Sophie babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind, time is definitely not on their side. . . . Irresistibly zany, rich in humor, heart, and spirit, Secondhand Souls is vintage Christopher Moore. "

It was Moore's first book  of the Grim Reaper series "A Dirty Job" that made me read other books by him.  This entry continue the irrelevancy he embraced in the first book, with a little girl who is the Ultimate Death.  I enjoyed this novel much more than Moore's previous 2 books.  


Updraft by Fran Wilde
364 Pages

 "Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage. Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wing test and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City. As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn't destroyed outright."

An original fantasy novel, Wilde creates a world where we never really learn the back story of the civilization that is being portrayed.   I did enjoy the book. 

Try Not to Breathe

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
368 Pages
Out February 2016

"Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.

Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.

Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.

The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.

In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy.

Told in the present by an increasingly fragile Alex and in dream-like flashbacks by Amy as she floats in a fog of memories, dreams, and music from 1995, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer to a breathtaking conclusion."

I liked how the narrative switched among the characters without losing the reader and maintains the mystery through at least half the book for me.  

House of Thieves

The House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure
 412 Pages

"In 1886 New York, a respectable architect shouldn't have any connection to the notorious gang of thieves and killers that rules the underbelly of the city. But when John Cross's son racks up an unfathomable gambling debt to Kent's Gents, Cross must pay it back himself. All he has to do is use his inside knowledge of high society mansions and museums to craft a robbery even the smartest detectives won't solve. The take better include some cash too --the bigger the payout, the faster this will be over.
With a newfound talent for sniffing out vulnerable and lucrative targets, Cross becomes invaluable to the gang. But Cross's entire life has become a balancing act, and it will only take one mistake for it all to come crashing down --and for his family to go down too."

The historical parts of this book are very interesting and Belfoure sprinkles architectural information throughout the novel.  It is a little farfetched to think an entire family will readily turn to a life of crime because they are bored.   

The Knockoff

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
338 Pages

"An outrageously stylish, wickedly funny novel of fashion in the digital age, The Knockoff is the story of Imogen Tate, editor in chief of Glossy magazine, who finds her twentysomething former assistant Eve Morton plotting to knock Imogen off her pedestal, take over her job, and reduce the magazine, famous for its lavish 768-page September issue, into an app. When Imogen returns to work at Glossy after six months away, she can barely recognize her own magazine. Eve, fresh out of Harvard Business School, has fired "the gray hairs," put the managing editor in a supply closet, stopped using the landlines, and hired a bevy of manicured and questionably attired underlings who text and tweet their way through meetings. Imogen, darling of the fashion world, may have Alexander Wang and Diane von Furstenberg on speed dial, but she can't tell Facebook from Foursquare and once got her iPhone stuck in Japanese for two days. Under Eve's reign, Glossy is rapidly becoming a digital sweatshop--hackathons rage all night, girls who sleep get fired, and "fun" means mandatory, company-wide coordinated dances to Beyoncé. Wildly out of her depth, Imogen faces a choice--pack up her Smythson notebooks and quit, or channel her inner geek and take on Eve to save both the magazine and her career. A glittering, uproarious, sharply drawn story filled with thinly veiled fashion personalities, The Knockoff is an insider's look at the ever-changing world of fashion and a fabulous romp for our Internet-addicted age."

I did enjoy this book despite the unbelievable premise that Imogen Tate is so technologically backwards she can't even handle email at the grand old age of 42.    A modern retelling of "All About Eve"

Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything

Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything by Nancy Martin
307 Pages

"Rich and flamboyant Honeybelle Hensley, the most colorful character in Mule Stop, Texas, dies a suspicious death and enrages the whole town by leaving her worldly fortune to the most undeserving recipient-her dog. The incorrigible Miss Ruffles is a Texas Cattle Cur, not a cuddly lapdog, and when Honeybelle was alive, Miss Ruffles liked nothing better than digging up Honeybelle's famous rose garden after breakfast, chasing off the UPS man before lunch and terrorizing the many gentleman callerswho came knocking at cocktail hour. But now Miss Ruffles is in danger, and it's up to Sunny McKillip, the unwilling dogsitter, to keep her safe. Sunny is new to Texas, and sometimes she feels as if she's fallen into an alien world. If it isn't the pistol-packing football fans and the sweet-talking, yet ruthless ladies of the garden club who confound her, it's the rowdy rodeo hounds and the tobacco-spitting curmudgeon at Critter Control who have her buffaloed. With a killer on the loose and a cowboy lawyer keeping a suspicious eye on her every move, Sunny needs all the help she can get understanding how Texans think. There's more to Honeybelle's death than meets this Yankee's eye, and Sunny has Miss Ruffles to protect, too. It's a bucking bull ride of an adventure for Sunny, and if she's not careful she might just get killed . . . or her heart lassoed."

It was obvious by the cover that this was not going to be a deep book but I was disappointed that it wasn't more engaging.  I think Martin attempted to created too many colorful characters, so that no one character stood out and engaged the reader.  There were moments I really enjoyed but Martin had trouble with the overall plot moving along and presenting the reader with a mystery.  

Career of Evil

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
497 Pages

"When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible--and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them... Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives."

The series continues to develop the characters of Robin and Cormoran as well as tell a mystery story that is engaging.  I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next one.  

Resurrection Science

Resurrection Science: Conservation De-Extinction and the precarious future of wild things by M.R  O'Connor

266 Pages

" In a world dominated by people and rapid climate change, species large and small are increasingly vulnerable to extinction. In Resurrection Science , journalist M. R. O'Connor explores the extreme measures scientists are taking to try and save them, from captive breeding and genetic management to de-extinction. Paradoxically, the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become. In stories of sixteenth-century galleon excavations, panther-tracking in Florida swamps, ancient African rainforests, Neanderthal tool-making, and cryogenic DNA banks, O'Connor investigates the philosophical questions of an age in which we "play god" with earth's biodiversity. Each chapter in this beautifully written book focuses on a unique species--from the charismatic northern white rhinoceros to the infamous passenger pigeon--and the people entwined in the animals' fates. Incorporating natural history and evolutionary biology with conversations with eminent ethicists, O'Connor's narrative goes to the heart of the human enterprise: What should we preserve of wilderness as we hurtle toward a future in which technology is present in nearly every aspect of our lives? How can we co-exist with species when our existence and their survival appear to be pitted against one another?"

After reading this novel you can't help but have despair that mankind will ever be able to stop the mass extinction of all large mammals in the world with our impact on the environment.  Each chapter explores possible solutions and illustrates the drawbacks to each solution.  

Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
386 Pages

"Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons. When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly unravels the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she'd lost. After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother begins to learn the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since."

A captivating novel with a twist.  It certainly puts into perspective any desire to become a survivalist.  

Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
308 Pages

"Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around--and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes. At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled."

 As a whole I found this to be an odd novel.  I never got the sense of desperation implied in the description and instead found the end chapters to be almost comedic. 


Affinities by Robert C. Wilson, 304 pages

Cover image for The AffinitiesAffinities was recommended to me by our librarian in the Teen room, Carrie. While she hasn’t joined us in our blogging quest to reclaim a trophy, she does recommend good books. Affinities is about a futuristic society in which people, if they choose to, can get sorted into niche groups based on their personalities. It that regard it is very Divergent like, but a lot less strict.

The story follows one Adam Fisk. A man who can no longer afford college and is adrift in life. With nothing else to lose he takes the affinity test and gets matched with one in his area. Suddenly his life has meaning again, he is meeting new friends, has a steady job and everything is coming up roses. But a dark truth is lurking just under the surface that could bring everything he has come to know and love to a bitter end.
Affinities is very good and I really enjoyed it. I would have to go back and check copy write dates but I think this book came out before Divergent and in my opinion should be read instead. It doesn’t have the explosions and teenage love, but it has some crucial life lessons and a hard hitting message. I think everyone should read this book, as it might only be a matter of time before society heads this direction.

London Steampunk

Kiss of Steel, Heart of Iron, and My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster, 437, 423, and 425 pages

Cover image for Kiss of SteelAll three of these titles are part of McMaster’s “London Steampunk” series. The series was recommended by Goodreads based on the fact that I liked the “Parasol Protectorate” series by Gail Carriger. While I can certainly see some similarities, both being steampunk, taking place in London, and with supernatural elements like vampires and werewolves, there is none of the silliness and lightheartedness that I was initially expecting.

Cover image for Heart of IronHowever, this series was still worth reading on its own merits. I enjoyed the detailed portrayal of a subjugated human population always on the brink of a losing war with the vampires, the rich description of a Victorian London, and of course the fantastic steam inventions that somewhat define the steampunk genre.
Throughout the series we follow various people with the majority of them being strong willed women who are trying to make a better life for themselves without selling out their dignity or blood. Somewhat like a romance novel, they are always wooed by a strong vampiric figure who is not like the rest. Together they strive to change society’s ingrained mentality and struggle for equal rights. The books tend to contain wisps of erotica, and can get kind of heavy, but it is not as bad as Kenyon’s books.

Cover image for My Lady Quicksilver
I would encourage people who like the steampunk genre to give this series a try, but while it has those elements it is more of a supernatural/vampire series.
A quick after review note: My Lady Quicksilver was read online through Ovedrive, the page count was taken from Goodreads.

Enthusiasm and Divine Madness

Enthusiasm and Divine Madness: On the Platonic Dialogue Phaedrus by Joseph Pieper, 103 pages

It is true that Phaedrus is sometimes regarded as one of Plato's lesser dialogues, but Joseph Pieper (Leisure: The Basis of Culture) did not share in that view.  In Enthusiasm and Divine Madness he guides the reader through the dialogue step by step.

In Pieper's interpretation, the central theme of Phaedrus is in the conflict between a reductionist sophism which seeks to manage life according to purely rational principles and a recognition of the divine nature of some of the rapturous passions which transcend reason and rational control.  Beauty, even the imperfect beauty of the physical world, can draw the soul involuntarily upwards to higher realities.

Ironically, it is the superficial beauty of the sophists' rhetoric that sways the clever young men, while the deeper beauty of truth offered by Socrates can only be perceived by the wise.


Phaedrus by Plato, from The Dialogues of Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 96 pages

Phaedrus begins with the title character enthusiastically describing to Socrates a speech he has heard from a great rhetor, Lysias.  The speech was intended to persuade a young man to take a disinterested older man as his lover rather than a passionate suitor, denigrating romantic love as irrational and undependable.  Socrates responds with a speech of his own in the same vein, which leads into a dialogue on the nature of love, reincarnation, rhetoric, and the shortcomings of the written word.

This is sometimes regarded as one of Plato's lesser dialogues, and it is easy to see why.  It lacks a strong focus, and the great metaphor for the soul which Socrates presents is muddled and hard to grasp.  Phaedrus is not much of an interlocutor - after initiating the dialogue he does little except agree with Socrates or encourage him to continue.  Still, Plato is laying out great ideas here, from the explication of love as a madness given by the gods, akin to poetry and prophecy, to the fable of the judgement of Thamus.

This edition was translated with commentary by the great Oxford don Benjamin Jowett, the prime mover of the 19th century English Platonic revival.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Lake House

The Lake House by Kate Morton
495 Pages

 " Living on her family's idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure... One midsummer's eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined. Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo's case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather's house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate--now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever."

Kate Morton doesn't disappoint in her latest book.  The reader is transported between the past and present and it kept guessing at an ages old mystery.  Of course if you read a lot of Morton's book you would be led to believe that England is chock full of old, abandoned manor  houses (with all their furnishings of course).

Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
321 Pages

"In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family's Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family--like thousands of other Japanese Americans--are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world. Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco's charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years. "

Certainly a greatly hyped book, Allende fails to deliver memorable charactersThe quality of her writing is such that you will finish the book but it is definitely not something you would buy friends to read or make any best books ever list.