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John C. Wiegard "Virginia Librarian" RSS Feed (Chester, VA USA)
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Long Man: A novel
Long Man: A novel
by Amy Greene
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.90
79 used & new from $3.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical fiction on Depression-era Appalachia., March 2, 2014
This review is from: Long Man: A novel (Hardcover)
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Amy Greene's debut novel "Bloodroot" showed her potential as a crafter of fiction that explored the experience of the southern Appalachian region. Her second novel "Long man" might be better. Set in the year 1936, this tale is based on the real historical event of a government dam project in the Tennessee valley authority flooding out the residents of a hardscrabble community along a river in the hills of East Tennessee. Greene sets up a group of memorable characters with the tension rising with the waters- and a 3 year old girl goes missing while a mysterious one eyed vagrant seems to harbor a violent plot against the men in charge of the evacuation. This engrossing picture of a vanished community caught up in the rush to modernity lingers in the reader's mind. But keep in mind that it is not an action novel- it is character and atmosphere driven.


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.96
78 used & new from $13.90

101 of 116 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars insightful exploration of human-driven extinction, February 2, 2014
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Elizabeth Kolbert's globe-trotting effort to probe the concept of Extinction covers all the angles. In the first half of her book she explains the complex process by which scientists such as Lyell and Cuvier pieced together an understanding that large extinction events have occurred several times in our planet's history. The most notable of these was the case of the Yucatan meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, an amazing episode of mass-extinction that has only been understood over the past thirty years. In the second half, she branches out into the anthrocene era, with the terrifying prospect of ocean acidification, alien species introductions, and the gradual isolation and disappearance of tropical plants. Kolbert's perspectives reveal that humans have driven extinctions not just today, and not just with the nineteenth century eradication of the Great Auk, but back to the end of the ice age with our hunting of the Mastodons and Giant Sloths. For Kolbert, it does not mean that humans are inherently vicious- but it does mean that our drive to change our environment to suit our needs is a dangerous drive- because it risks sawing off the branch on which we are perched.

Kolbert is studiously non-political in this effort, which may frustrate environmentalist readers seeking a red-meat endorsement of change in human society. But her thoughtful and wide ranging analysis is extremely informative on a topic that is not well understood by all. A careful reading will leave the reader disturbed and frightened, despite her matter-of-fact tone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2014 8:42 AM PST


Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity
Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity
by David J. Kent
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from $8.36

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well formatted and objective treatment of a key scientist and engineer., December 7, 2013
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This is a comprehensive and fascinating treatment of one of the most compelling yet enigmatic figures in American history, the brilliant but highly unusual inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla. Tesla's realization of the potential of alternating current is the basis of the modern electrical grid, and he was on his way to inventing radio as well when a lab fire put him behind Marconi in that race.

This book is formatted as a documentary history, with original documents reproduced on its pages along with the author's commentary to add perspective and immediacy. Kent does an excellent job of sifting through the many earlier works on Tesla and presenting a focused and objective overview. He distinguishes between fact and opinion, and devotes a few pages to recounting and exploding conspiracy theories surrounding the subject. Kent does not avoid Tesla's later life, filled with disappointments- but he is right to credit him with key achievements, as well as visionary energy ideas that he never managed to bring to fruition, but which are only now reaching the real world in the form of solar and wind power.

This inspirational work may not be the final word on Tesla, but it is state-of-the-art. Best for high-school and up readers.


Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
by McKenzie Funk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
114 used & new from $5.93

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the weird but real world of global warming profiteering., December 6, 2013
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This book adds a great deal to our understanding of climate change. Author McKenzie Funk focuses not on atmospheric science, which has been adequately covered before, but rather on the complex human economic reaction to it, which has not. This exploration is replete with ironies. 

Funk divides his book into three sections: the Melt, the Drought, and the Deluge- in other words, the arctic, the dry regions, and the threatened coasts and islands. He travels widely and interviews many- in fact the amount of work he put into this over six years is intimidating. A fascinating pattern emerges: while humans collectively talk a good line about fixing global warming, as individuals or members of families or nations we focus more on ways to survive it or to thrive despite it. This realization echoes Jared Diamond's statement in his book "Collapse"- that the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree there probably did so because someone else would get the wood if he were to leave the tree standing.  In other words, the "tragedy of the commons" dictates that the human race will indulge in a race to the bottom on climate change if we cannot forge a planetary agreement to combat it. 

An entertaining and insightful look at human nature, this certainly gives the lie to those on the right wing who argue that global warming is a hoax designed to make scientists rich. Funk makes it clear that the world of economics has come to accept that global warming is quite real. Instead of working to fix it, however, that world is now focusing on how to turn a profit while letting it happen. Warning, there is a great deal of information this book even though it is under 300 pages in length. It is slow going at times! The effort bogs down under sheer detail in the middle: insulation blankets to protect ski slopes in the Alps, fences around Bangladesh to wall in climate refugees, get rich quick schemes based on selling rights to diminishing water sources or to protect insured homes from wildfires while letting uninsured homes burn. What keeps the reader going is a simple feeling of amazement at the crazy, scary, but basically logical world that Funk uncovers. His final chapter is on the weirdest and most ironic topic, geoengineering. He follows it with an epilogue to establish his own personal viewpoint.

“Windfall” is virtually certain to be the most important book on the topic of global warming to be published in 2014, even though we have not even gotten to 2014 yet as I write this.


Longbourn
Longbourn
by Jo Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
164 used & new from $3.71

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars perceptive new take on the Pride and Prejudice story, September 8, 2013
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
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It is important to understand Baker's approach here, as there have been countless re-dos of Pride and Prejudice in recent years. What sets this effort apart is that she respects the original story, but stands it on its head by turning Lizzie Bennett and company into bit players in the drama of the servants at Longbourn. This allows her to explore threads of class differences, the realities of early 18th century life (chamber pots and endless back breaking work), and other areas of the human condition and attitudes. Most of this is very interesting and well researched, though a few bits may to some readers seem too modern.

It is well written, very readable, and contains a servant romance which is just as compelling as the Darcy/Bennett original. Reviewers who complain of the graphic nature of some details of the story are off base- because these wee daily staples of the servant class in England at the time. Pride and Prejudice is the realistic story of a family desperate to marry girls off to rich "gentlemen" so that none of them will have to work a day in the rest of their lives. Longbourn tells the other half of the story, a realistic story of what life and love were like for the people who did all the work for,the people who did nothing but talk and dance and read books and play the piano. This novel would work well in a book group setting, and a Film version is apparently being planned.


The Lowland
The Lowland
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.76
226 used & new from $3.19

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful and poignant treatment of family tragedy and survival, September 1, 2013
This review is from: The Lowland (Hardcover)
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Lahiri already had a Pulitzer, but this could be her best yet. Subhash and Udayan are very close growing up as brothers in India, until Subhash moves to the USA to study and Udayan becomes radicalized and joins an organization seeking violent overthrow of India's government. The tragic tale unfolds in ways that may remind the reader of Steinbeck's East of Eden. Lahiri's writing reaches deep into characters, and produces moments of shocking emotional intensity. Unforgettable.


Powering Planet Earth: Energy Solutions for the Future
Powering Planet Earth: Energy Solutions for the Future
by Nicola Armaroli
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.07
52 used & new from $23.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and fair, August 29, 2013
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This is an informative exploration of the challenge to provide adequate energy supplies to the human race in the face of global warming. The three Italian authors hope we may thread this needle by presenting the case for the transition to renewables. The English translation is not perfect but is understandable. The presentation is logical, compelling, to-the-point, and consistent with climate science. Their rejection of nuclear energy as a means of replacing fossil fuels may be controversial, but they marshall supporting facts. A high school graduate could perhaps handle the content, but college graduates will find it more accessible.


Blood & Beauty: The Borgias; A Novel
Blood & Beauty: The Borgias; A Novel
by Sarah Dunant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.79
125 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars excellent history, but I miss the invented characters, June 25, 2013
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Dunant chooses to explore the true story of the Borgia family in her latest: a family which exemplified all that was corrupt and power hungry in the Italian Renaissance. Once more, she shows her command of the historical period. Most of the characters however are not sympathetic- we only care about poor Lucrezia who is treated as a beautiful chess piece in her father's games of political alliance, and is never allowed to love.
Excellent historical fiction, but not as engaging as my favorite Dunant novel, "In the company of the Courtesan.". Unlike "Blood and Beauty", that novel mixes invented characters with real historical figures.


Life After Life: A Novel
Life After Life: A Novel
by Jill McCorkle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.78
227 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very fine work from little known novelist, April 9, 2013
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Jill McCorkle's new novel may be her best work ever. This critically acclaimed North Carolina writer has chosen the odd setting of a retirement home for her first novel in 17 years. The character of Joanna, a troubled woman who has lost her parents and helps out as a hospice worker, leads us into the community of aging persons, plus a few other characters who visit them or serve them. One might think that the book must be about the process of dying- but this guess turns out to be wrong.
Mysteriously, McCorkle changes the subject. Through the interactions of her memorable characters, we come to see that our mistake is not to die- that is a given- our mistake is when we waste what we have. This novel is so hard to categorize or to review! But it is my favorite novel of 2013 so far, because of the deep compassion and wisdom that the author shows, just behind the curtain, through her storytelling, dialogue, humor, and characters.
Note: "Life after Life" is also the title of Kate Atkinson's new novel, which is about a girl who dies and is reincarnated several times through the 20th century.


Secret
Secret
by L. Marie Adeline
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.04
180 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars male viewpoint? 4 stars, March 15, 2013
This review is from: Secret (Paperback)
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S.E.C.R.E.T. Is an erotic novel, targeted at female readers. The basic plot concept involves a woman in her thirties who has lost touch with her sexuality amd her self image, following the death of the husband who treated her poorly. Through the intervention of a secret club of women, she is able to experience several sexual encounters with males, which enable her to come out of her loneliness. The sex is fairly hot, and the author avoids kinky or exploitive situations, preferring consensual acts that empower the lead character. it is refreshing that BDSM and orgies are not present.
the character development is not great, but at least the basic message is positive.


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