Sunday, January 21, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Our history/historical fiction book group is reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. It’s a remarkably detailed biography/analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings (surprisingly few) and notebooks (a treasure trove.) I learned a great deal about the artist/engineer/architect–you name it–but the book was on the slow side. The author got a bit repetitive in making his points.

Da Vinci was undeniably a genius. His artwork revolutionized understanding of perspective and three-dimensionality. But painting was just one of his many talents. Everyone who reads this book will likely find a favorite facet of his skill–one they find most impressive. I was particularly intrigued by his anatomical studies and drawings. These were not simply done to inform his painting. It seems that he dissected human and animal bodies, documenting his findings in numerous drawings, because he was insatiably curious.

The author touches very lightly on Da Vinci’s personal life. The book does give a basic chronology but primarily as a framework for highlighting the interests and accomplishments of different time periods in the artist’s life. We meet some of the important historical figures of the day. Da Vinci was able to slip from patron to patron, avoiding political entanglements even when he acted as a military engineer or consultant.

One of the nicest things about the book is its physical quality. I bought the hardcover as a Christmas present for my husband and myself. The illustrations scattered throughout are beautifully crisp and large enough to see. They aren’t all grouped in one spot (which would made it difficult to flip back and forth to see what the author was talking about), but are present in the context of the narrative. And they are plentiful.

I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I do recommend this one for anyone curious about the reasons Leonardo da Vinci achieved such lasting fame. It isn’t only the Mona Lisa!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor

It’s been too long since I visited Ballybucklebo to spend time with Drs. Barry Laverty and Finnegan O’Reilly. The books are sweet, entertaining reads that show slices of daily life and medical practice in rural Ireland in the 1960s. (I’ve decided that the timing counts for historical fiction.)

An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor picks up where An Irish Country Christmas left off. Dr. Laverty is continuing as assistant to general practitioner Dr. O’Reilly. But he’s having doubts about staying on. Although he enjoys working with and being mentored by Dr. O’Reilly, and likes the small town and its people, he wants a domestic life with a wife and family. He is in love with Patricia Spence who has gone off to school to become an engineer. While he was originally supportive of her goals, it seems he only will support her so far. He’s willing to wait for her to get her education, but then he expects her to come live in Balleybucklebo and keep house for him. Patricia has given him multiple clues that she wants different things out of life. At the beginning of this novel, she breaks the news to him that she cannot envision a small town life. Moreover, she’s met someone else. It’s over.

Laverty is heartbroken, wondering what he might have done differently, and wondering if he is really cut out for small town doctoring. Will he get bored? Will he grow increasingly frustrated when all the difficult cases have to be referred out? Should he pursue his interest in and talent for OB/GYN?

Dr. O’Reilly, on the other hand, is moving full-steam ahead with his romance with nurse Kitty O’Hallorhan. The only problem is that his long-time housekeeper and cook, Kinky, is getting nervous about being replaced.

The gentle progress of Laverty’s healing and O’Reilly’s courtship make for a pleasant plot arc. The medical emergencies and non-emergencies that they deal with along the way keep the book interesting. And, of course, their "arch-enemy", Councilor Bishop, is still up to no good and needs thwarting.

While the novels follow a pattern, they have some surprises and I’m sure I’ll keep following the developments. I’d like to see less of Laverty’s friend, Jack, who is a skirt-chasing surgeon who is getting more and more annoying, but the other characters are lots of fun.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I really enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, so I was happy to receive her latest, The Music Shop, from Netgalley to review.

This is another sweet story about a lonely man with some endearing quirks who overcomes a painful past to find love.

Frank owns a music shop on a dead-end street in a not very fashionable corner of London. He was brought up by an unconventional mother who was obsessed with music and men, but not so much with being a mother. She raises Frank to distrust relationships both by example and by instruction. From his mother, he has learned to appreciate any kind of music so long as it is played on vinyl. He believes CDs are a fad and refuses to stock them. What keeps customers coming back is the service. Frank has a sixth sense for what customers need. He listens to their stories, learns what they think they want which usually isn’t really what they want, then plucks out just the right record to heal their souls.

One day, a slight, pretty woman faints in front of his store. Frank and his employee bring her in and revive her. She (Ilse Brauchmann) has a German accent and mysterious ways. She and Frank gaze into each other’s eyes and something happens. But they are both wounded and frightened. She disappears then returns with a "thank you" plant, disappears again but "forgets" her purse. Before long, she and Frank are meeting on Tuesday evenings for music lessons. He enthusiastically teaches her about all sorts of music, giving her records and instructing her to listen.

There are complications. She has a fiancee, so Frank won’t confide how he feels. Frank is so stand-offish that she won’t confide anything.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood is going downhill fast and record suppliers are pressuring Frank to sell CDs or else they will cut him off.

The story is sweet; however, it was an average read. The over-the-top quirkiness was a bit too much. The lack of communication between the characters was necessary and understandable, but it got to the point where I no longer cared if they got together. Frank, in particular, took so long to get over himself that I started to think Ilse was better off looking elsewhere–even if he was generally kind. Still, I think I would have enjoyed this more if it didn’t seem like I’d already read variations of the story. I’ve read a few books where bookshop owners had the unique gift of knowing just what book to put in the hands of characters drifting into their shops with various emotional needs, so it felt as though Joyce simply exchanged records for books. I am impressed, however, with the detailed knowledge of music and musicians Joyce was able to express through Frank.

For music lovers looking for a sweet love story, The Music Shop is a good bet. But for those who haven’t read Rachel Joyce yet, I’d recommend starting with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


The first challenge I'm signing up for this year is in my favorite genre.  If I read nothing else, I'm sure to read historical fiction.  I'm going to go with the "Ancient History" level of 25 books or more. And I'm looking forward to checking out the reviews of other participants!

Sign up at Passages to the Past.

Links to my reviews will be listed below:

1. An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor
2. Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
3. The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith
4. The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg
5. Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson
6. Dying for Rome by Elisabeth Storrs
7. A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber
8. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
9. Bump in the Night by Colin Watson
10. The English Air by D.E. Stevenson
11. Hopjoy Was Here by Colin Watson
12. Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen
13. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
14. Lonelyheart 4122 by Colin Watson
15. Charity Ends at Home by Colin Watson
16. Someone to Care by Mary Balogh
17. The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis
18. Dear Mrs.Bird by A.J. Pearce
19. Pandora's Boy by Lindsey Davis
20. Blue Murder by Colin Watson
21. Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford
22. Summer by Edith Wharton
23. In the Presence of Evil by Tania Bayard
24. Whatever's Been Going On at Mumblesby? by Colin Watson
25. 1876 by Gore Vidal

Monday, January 1, 2018


2017 wasn't a great year for reading and blogging. There was a lot going on. The only challenge I signed up for was the Goodreads challenge and I didn't even complete that.

So, I'm going to pick a couple of my old favorite challenges and sign up for them. And my New Years resolution (one of them anyway) is to read more and blog more.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. Let's hope 2018 is a good year!