deliabarry: (red)
No matter what happens in the next four years, at least I can feel confident that our president is at least as smart as I am, and maybe a little bit smarter. I've missed that feeling over the last eight years.

Gorgon

Dec. 23rd, 2008 02:27 pm
deliabarry: (creationist)
Gorgon: The Monsters That Ruled the Planet Before Dinosaurs and How They Died in the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History
by Peter D. Ward

For more than a decade Peter Ward, his colleagues, and his students tried to determine the cause of the mass extinction marking the end of the Permian by studying the fossils in the Karoo Desert of South Africa. This book is the record of that work.

This book was not at all what I expected when I bought it. From the title and the descriptive blurb on the back, I thought I was buying the popular science version of a paper on gorgonopsians, the lizard-like predator of the upper Permian. Instead, what I got was a memoir covering the ten years of Ward's life he spent working in the Karoo trying to unravel the mystery of the Permian Extinction.

It doesn't matter. This book was a real page turner – I couldn't put it down, and stayed up much later that I should have several nights in a row to read it. The ins and outs of doing field work under such difficult conditions, both natural and political – the Karoo is located largely in South Africa – was fascinating. During the decade of work, friendships began, matured and ended, babies were born and grew, governments rose and fell. Cape Town and Johannesburg became dangerous places to be a white man, and then went back to being no more dangerous than any other major city.

Ward is quite candid about the missteps and dead ends that litter any scientific investigation and which are particularly common in paleontology. The Permian extinction, in which 90-95% of the then-existing life forms perished, is particularly difficult to interpret, due in no small part to the fact that it happened nearly 250 million years ago. His excitement when he writes about finding a well-preserved complete gorgon skeleton is palpable … and contagious.

It isn't until the last chapter that Ward discusses his hypothesis about the end of the Permian, and by that time I was as anxious to hear his hypothesis as I would have been to find out who committed the murder in a novel. Ward's hypothesis is that the Permian extinction was not a single event resulting from a single cause, but from a combination of things: a world-wide drop in sea level, a precipitous drop in the oxygen content of the atmosphere as a result of the oxidation of organic sediments exposed when sea level dropped, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the inevitable temperature increase. In other words, the Gorgon and most other creatures of the late Permian asphyxiated in the heat. Not a pretty picture.

This book is written in a very accessible manner, with little or no jargon, and the human story is just as compelling as the scientific mystery. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in science, even if they are not professionals in the field.
deliabarry: (girls)
The Smart One and the Pretty One
by Claire LaZebnik

Ava and Lauren Nickerson are about as different as two sisters can be. Attorney Ava is smart, level-headed, and hasn't had a date in a year. Fashion buyer Lauren is flighty, in debt up to her ears, and unemployed. When their mother has a brush with breast cancer, they find themselves living in the same city in the same apartment for the first time in years, and Lauren finds an old engagement contract that sets life-changing events in motion.

I enjoyed this book, even though there was absolutely nothing new or innovative about it. The main plot point – a workaholic career woman just needs to get laid to be happy – is obnoxious and sexist, and yet it didn't bother me at all while I was reading. I think it was because the author did a good job of making her admittedly stock characters seem like a real family of real people who genuinely love and care about each other.

In a clever bit of marketing, the author lists her five favorite groups of sisters in an endnote. Since I plan to recycle this book for its paper (it's really not a keeper), I'm going to list them here:
1. the March sisters
2. the Bouvier sisters (No, not them. The other Bouvier sisters – Marge, Patty, and Selma.)
3. the Bronte sisters
4. the Bennet sisters
5. the Gorgon sisters
deliabarry: (books)
Careless in Red
by Elizabeth George

Thomas Lynley is doing the coastal walk through Cornwall as a way to avoid thinking about the murders of his wife and their unborn son. In a small village by the sea, he finds the dead body of a teenaged boy at the foot of a cliff. This ends up plunging him into the ensuing murder investigation, and when New Scotland Yard sends DS Barbara Havers to aid the local constabulary, he's reunited with his former partner.

This book is the sequel to With No One as Witness that I'd been waiting for, and I was very pleased with it. Despite himself, Lynley can't help but be pulled into a murder investigation, and it's always fun to watch how he puts together the pieces to come up with the correct answer to the problem at hand; in this case the contrast between his style and that of the officer who is actually in charge is most interesting. But since this is the first we've seen of him since Helen's death, there is more here than just the mystery. George does an excellent job of charting his healing process and path back to life among the living. One particularly moving moment is when Tommy is unpleasantly surprised to find himself singing in the shower and realizes that life does go on after a tragedy whether we want it to or not. He's not a hundred percent by the end of the book, but he's on his way, and that's what really matters to fans of the series.

I have only one complaint. Twice in the course of this book, characters question the nature of the relationship between Lynley and Havers; one of them goes so far as to ask Barbara point-blank if she's in love with him. Havers is appropriately surprised and gives a definite no answer, but this makes me nervous. I certainly hope that George isn't planning to take the characters in that direction, because that would be an entire universe of wrong.
deliabarry: (summer reading)
What on Earth could they have in common? They are the authors of the three books on CD I listened to on my recently-ended vacation. Candace Bushnell, of course, is the author of Sex and the City. I've never read the book, and found it interesting. It's a series of vignettes and clearly a number of them were the basis for SatC episodes. But there are a more than a few differences from the TV show. In the book, Carrie is not the central character, but is just one among many. Several of the characters who show up repeatedly in the book are people whom we've never seen in the series. Most surprisingly, there's no Miranda. This audio version is read by Cynthia Nixon, and she was marvelous. She totally nailed both Kim Cattrall's and Chris Noth's inflections. It was a bit spooky, in a good way.

The Danielle Steele book is called Bittersweet. It's an entertaining enough story about a housewife who sheds her domineering husband, reinstates her career as an award-winning news photographer, and finds the love of her life. However, it was the most poorly-written, verbose mess I've ever experienced, and this was an abridged version; I shudder to think what the original is like. It boggles the mind to think that this woman has legions of fans and has sold millions of books.

The Jane Austen book was Pride and Prejudice. I listened to it immediately after the Danielle Steele book, which was supremely unfair to Ms. Steele. It just doesn't get any better than this.
deliabarry: (Default)
All You Need to be Impossibly French
Helena Frith Powell

Helena Frith Powell is an English expatriate living with her family in France. Intrigued by the allure possessed by French women, she decides to investigate and discover the source of it. This book is the result of her research.

Not surprisingly, this book was an entertaining piece of fluff. We're all aware of the stereotype of a French woman: trés thin, trés chic, and un peu aloof; apparently this is pretty accurate, and not just in Paris. However, I was a bit surprised to learn how insecure and jealous so many of these women are. And despite being a big Francophile, I don't think I could ever live in a place where friendships between women are so rare and insubstantial.

But the book was most educational in unexpected ways. For example, I learned a sentence that I never heard in Sister Jamesella's French I class: Ca c'est les sex toys. I must confess that my first reaction was surprise that L'Academie Français allowed "les sex toys" to get by them. ;)
deliabarry: (Grissom)
The Creation
E. O. Wilson

Wilson is a well-known biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner. This book, which is one long argument for the preservation of biodiversity, is written in the form of letters to a Baptist minister in which he argues for science and religion to work together to achieve this goal.

I started reading this to see if it would work as supplemental reading for one of my undergraduate classes, but I quickly got involved in the book on its own merits. Biology is far and away my weakest of the sciences, so I was pleased to learn a lot. I found Wilson's arguments compelling, but that's not much of a surprise; I've long been of the opinion that the Christian scriptures, if properly read, require environmentalism.

However Wilson, like most biologists, has a rather shrill tone of panic in his voice when he talks about extinction. As a geologist, I take a somewhat longer view. Life has come very close to being wiped out several times in Earth's history and has always come back. When (not if) a major extinction happens again, life will find a way to return in one form or another. Personally, my money is on the insects. And the rocks will still be there.
deliabarry: (Default)
My Kindle arrived from Amazon yesterday and I can't put it down. It has immediately become my absolute favorite piece of electronics equipment. I can see that I'm definitely going to end up buying the additional memory. :)
deliabarry: (Will)
Happy birthday, Will! Long may you wave.

Decision

Apr. 1st, 2008 10:44 am
deliabarry: (Cat in the Hat)
I thought long and hard about this, and it was a difficult decision to make, but I finally had to admit defeat and go with the flow. I'm giving up reading. From now on, all my reviews will be of picture books only. It's a new day in Delia's world! Come join me!
deliabarry: (science fiction)
I am probably the last person in the US and on LJ to learn that Arthur C. Clark died Tuesday at the age of 90. This is a blow to his legions of fans around the world, and I'm no exception. Clark, along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, was my tutor in the fine art of science fiction all through junior high. I abandoned Heinlein at some point during high school when I finally figured out what a sexist old fart he was, and Asimov abandoned science fiction for science fact, but Clark was always there, a true master of the genre. Somehow he managed to keep a balance between the real science and the adventure, while creating characters who were real, believable people (with all that implies). I have no idea how he managed that, but I'm very grateful he did. Thank you, sir, from the nerdy young girl and the scientist she became.

I think it may be time to read Childhood's End again.
deliabarry: (rose-colored bifocals)
Corrupted Science
by John Grant

The subtitle of this book is "Fraud, ideology, and politics in science," which pretty much sums it up. It's a compilation of the worst in my field.

This is possibly the most depressing book I've read in several years. Like most of my colleagues, I tend to be fairly idealistic about the scientific community. From my earliest days, I was taught that scientists were seekers of the facts, that all they wanted to do was understand how the world around us works. I've always wanted that to be true, and I still think it is for most of us. But there are many for whom science is just another path to self-aggrandizement or the promotion of their cherished ideas, whether the data support them or not. Grim reading, indeed. I'm going to keep it on my bookshelf. If nothing else, it will serve as a reminder that we are merely human and subject to the same frailties as everyone else.
deliabarry: (tea)
The Uncommon Reader
by Alan Bennett

One afternoon, the corgis got out of their usual area on the palace grounds, and Elizabeth Windsor-Mountbatten went after to retrieve them. In the course of doing this, she discovered a mobile library, the existence of which she had never suspected, parked by the gate. Because she is possibly the most polite person on Earth, she borrowed a book and like so many before her discovered the joy of reading. The results were life-changing, for her, her family, and her country.

Back in January, [livejournal.com profile] read_warbler posted about this book, and I thought it sounded charming, so when I saw it in B&N a couple of weeks later, I grabbed it. Life being what it is at the start of a semester, I didn't get a chance to pick it up until last Friday when we had a snow day. (All hail the snow day!)

This is a delightful little book, and it's already comfortably ensconsed in its space on my "to re-read" bookshelf. It's a novella, so it's a pretty quick read. And there's the pleasure of seeing someone else get sucked in by books in the same way that you did at some earlier time in your life, as well as the shock of recognition at the mental gymnastics the process takes her through. Not being British, I'm sure there were some subtleties about the royal family in there that went right over my head, but it didn't diminish my pleasure in the least. I look forward to reading more by Bennett.

GIP

Feb. 8th, 2008 06:12 pm
deliabarry: (so many books)
I just couldn't resist this icon when I saw it! I have this same design on a tote bag I bought at the Edward Gorey House Museum last summer. It's so perfect for me, I've made it my new default. Sorry, Jane.
deliabarry: (Cat in the Hat)
The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)
His Dark Materials, Book 1
by Philip Pullman

Lyra Belacqua is a young girl being raised by the scholars of Jordan College in Oxford. One evening, she sneaks into the Scholars' retiring room to hear her uncle, Lord Asriel, tell of his explorations in the North. Soon, children begin disappearing, and Lyra's narrow world of Jordan College and the streets of Oxford has expanded to include the mysterious Mrs. Coulter, a Texan aeronaut, a witch queen, armored bears, and a perilous journey to the North.

Somehow I missed reading this when it came out, and a number of people have told me I should read it because I would love it. I did buy a copy a couple of years ago but just couldn't get into it. I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, however, and picked up the trilogy right afterward.

There were many things I enjoyed about this book. Lyra's quest and adventures are in the classic tradition, and Pullman's writing brings them to life. His view of the world, both physically and culturally, is compelling. The major problems I had were with the Humans' external souls (exactly how does that work again?) and with Lyra. I found her to be an arrogant, insufferable little brat, and that cast a real pall over the book for me. I'm going to continue reading the rest of the trilogy, however. All those people who love love love it can't be wrong, can they?
deliabarry: (rose-colored bifocals)
The New York Times published their list of the 10 best books of 2007 this week. I haven't read any of them.

::hangs head in shame::
deliabarry: (no books?)
Wives Behaving Badly
by Elizabeth Buchan

This is a sequel to Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, which I read about a year ago. It takes place seven years after Minty stole Rose's job and husband Nathan from her. Nathan and Minty are now married with twin sons, a house that Minty has completely redecorated, strained relations with Nathan's adult children, and all the tedium that comes with daily life. Rose, on the other hand, is thinner and tanner, with a new and very successful career and a rekindled relationship with the man she loved before Nathan. And then an unexpected event throws all their lives into chaos.

I'll admit that I was more than a little happy to see that Minty's fortunes had taken a bit of a downturn from the last book while Rose's were on the upswing (which I'm sure had nothing to do with my age). Ultimately, the author is kind to her characters and gives them a better resolution than they perhaps deserved. Like the first one, there was nothing Earth-shattering about this book, but it was an enjoyable read.

Ta Da!

Sep. 17th, 2007 04:52 pm
deliabarry: (red)
So I took the plunge and turned this into a paid account, and immediately uploaded some new icons. ::grin:: I guess this means I have to be more rigorous about posting here. I'll work on that.
deliabarry: (le petit prince)
What Came Before He Shot Her
by Elizabeth George

This book is a prequel to With No One As Witness, and details the life of Joel, the boy who shot and killed Helen Lynley.

I tried, I really did, but I only got through 96 of this book's 699 pages before I gave up. It's not that the book is poorly written, I don't think Elizabeth George is capable of poor writing, it's just such a depressing book. Living in the slums of London, with a dead father, a mother in a mental hospital, abandoned by the grandmother who had been raising him, and finally living with a well-intentioned but clueless aunt, George piles on one disaster after another in this boy's life; it just seems he really didn't have a chance.

George's books are always engrossing, well written, and worth any effort. I may well come back to this in the future. But for now, I've had enough of it.
deliabarry: (Jane)
Mr. Darcy's Daughters
by Elizabeth Aston

Twenty years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, the Darcys have five daughters (and two young sons, finally) whom they have left at home while they go to Constantinople for a year on a diplomatic mission. In their parents' absence, sisters Letitia, Camilla, Georgina, Belle, and Alethea get in and out of situations almost guaranteed to drive their uncle, Mr. (formerly Colonel) Fitzwilliam to distraction.

Jane Austen has become something of a cottage industry in the last few years. It seems that every time I walk into a bookstore, someone has written yet another sequel to Pride and Prejudice. (Why oh why is it never Sense and Sensibility?) I picked this one up because it seemed as though it was likely to be the least offensive of the bunch. All in all, I think I chose well. This book was charming and enjoyable. The Darcy sisters have adventures and there's even a marriage at the end, which I'm sure would have pleased Austen. And even if none of these sisters have the intelligence, wit, and charm of Elizabeth and Jane Bennett, they were still fun to know for a while.

A final note: one character was absolutely perfect. Lady Caroline Warren, neé Bingley, was just as loathsome and obnoxious as she was in the original novel. It was a delight to sneer at her again.
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