Book Review: Periodic Tales

periodic talesPeriodic Tales: a Cultural History of the Elements, From Arsenic to Zinc
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Nonfiction / Scientific History
428 pages
Published 2011

I’ve always been more interested in people than science, so I like coming at science from the side, through the stories of scientists. It’s why I ADORED Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and giggled my way through Mary Roach’s Bonk. Periodic Tales was billed as a very similar book, but focused on the chemicals that make up the Period Table.

It does tell the stories of the elements and their discoveries. It is quite good. But it has neither the feeling of close friends gossiping that characterizes Mary Roach’s book, or the enthralling storytelling of Bill Bryson. It took me nearly a month to read, a few pages at a time while I ate my breakfast or lunch, whereas I could barely put down either of the other two.

The author tends to rhapsodize about the cultural significance of some of the elements to a rather boring degree, honestly. This was especially evident – and uncomfortable – in the section on calcium. Aldersey-Williams goes on quite the tangent about how calcium/lime is used to make things white, and white is the color of purity, and so calcium is linked with purity, and quotes Melville’s Moby Dick, saying “whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls.” This goes on for two entire pages, and nowhere in this sermon on the purity and superiority of whiteness is race mentioned. Anywhere. On one hand, you could say since race is never mentioned, it’s not a screed on white superiority, on the other hand, it’s not denied, either. How did this get past an editor? None of the rest of the book implies racial discrimination, but that section had me side-eyeing the book hard.

It’s a good book for what it is, though a little long-winded. Between the weird section on calcium and the general boring-ness of the writing, I don’t think I can recommend it. Though it does have me thinking I should re-read A Short History of Nearly Everything.

From the cover of Periodic Tales:

Like the alphabet, the calendar, or the zodiac, the periodic table of the chemical elements has a permanent place in our imagination. But aside from the handful of common ones (iron, carbon, copper, gold), the elements themselves remain wrapped in mystery. We do not know what most of them look like, how they exist in nature, how they got their names, or of what use they are to us. Welcome to a dazzling tour through history and literature, science and art. In Periodic Tales, you’ll meet iron that rains from the heavens and neon as it lights its way to vice. You’ll learn how lead can tell your future and why zinc may one day line your coffin. You’ll discover what connects the bones in your body with the White House in Washington, the glow of a streetlight with the salt on your dinner table.

From ancient civilizations to contemporary couture, from the oxygen of publicity to the phosphorous in your pee, the elements are near and far and all around us. Unlocking their astonishing secrets and colorful pasts, Periodic Tales is a passionate journey through mines and artists’ studios, to factories and cathedrals, into the woods and to the sea to discover the true stories of these fascinating but mysterious building blocks of the universe.

Book Review: Anna Dressed In Blood

anna dressed in bloodAnna Dressed In Blood
by Kendare Blake
Young Adult / Horror
316 pages
Published 2011

Another spooky story for October! On first glance, this one is very similar to Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From The Well, but the plot is actually quite different. It’s still human boy, murderous ghost girl, but here the girl is bound to her house and forced to murder whoever comes inside. Unraveling the WHY is a major part of the plot.

I’d say this one is actually less creepy than The Girl From The Well, though one of the evil things Cas encounters is VERY creepy. Both of these were just about the right amount of spooky for me. I’m actually REALLY disappointed that the sequel is proving very difficult to get my hands on! I had to request it through Marina, my statewide lending program, so I’m not sure when it will arrive. But I NEEEEEEED to know what happens to Cas and Anna after this book ends!

I think I liked the relationship between boy and ghost better in Girl From The Well; you could clearly see the draw for the ghost, and the connection between them. Not so much here; Cas is trying to kill Anna, but then they become fascinated with each other for…some reason? Anna isn’t compelled to kill Cas, and that’s never explained, and seems to be her main source of fascination with the boy.

Another major difference is that while Tark in Girl From The Well is rather isolationist and creeps out his peers, Cas seems to attract his peers, and quickly finds friends wherever he goes. He’s typically used them as contacts in the past, not really valuing them as friends, but that changes with the events of this book, as he actually comes to know a couple of the kids at his new school and value their friendship. He even puts up with their jokes about being Ghostbusters and who would be which character, which is kind of hilarious.

Both stories are great; I’d say this one is slightly more light-hearted than Girl From The Well, but only slightly. There’s still lots of creepy ghosts, life-or-death situations, gory deaths of side characters, and curses. It’s another great spooky October book for scaredy-cats like me!

From the cover of Anna Dressed In Blood:

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story . . . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead – keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

Sunday Stuff

Today is the LAST DAY of the Maryland Renaissance Festival for 2019! It’s unofficially known as The Day of Wrong, and a lot of patrons and participants will do something subtly or overtly -wrong- with their garb to celebrate. For instance, this year, I’m going as a blonde! I’m naturally a brunette, and the last few years I’ve been dying my hair crazy colors. Since I work at a booth, I need to have natural color in my hair, so I let the phoenix colors fade and haven’t redyed my hair recently. I bleached it last week in preparation for re-dyeing it this week, so it’s currently blonde! Which is a weird look on me, and one I don’t really care for, but it works for The Day of Wrong!

This also means things around here will be getting somewhat less stressful soon, since we have our weekends back. We’re having a Halloween party next weekend, and The Baltimore Book Festival is the weekend after that, so we’re still going to be busy for a while. My husband’s other partner will also being staying with us for a couple of weeks, starting next weekend, because they’re starting a new job here in Baltimore. So that will be added stress, but hopefully they will find other housing quickly.

I’m so excited about the Baltimore Book Festival! I’ve been poring through the schedule of events, and there’s even a blogger panel happening on the Romance Writers’ stage! I’m going to have to make a personal schedule of where I need to be when!

That’s about all that’s going on here – the temperature is finally starting to drop. Fall will be here for a couple of weeks and then we’ll quickly be plunged into winter. I can’t wait to see our new house in the snow.

Book Review: Serpent & Dove

serpent & doveSerpent & Dove
by Shelby Mahurin
Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance
519 pages
Published September 2019

This was Barnes & Noble’s Young Adult book club book for October, so I read it because I was planning to go. I ended up feeling particularly introverted that entire week, so I stayed home, but I’d read the book anyway, so here we are!

So first off, there’s some debate over whether the book is young adult or new adult. Lou, the heroine, is 18, and Reid is a little older, but it still feels very young adult-ish. There is one sex scene which, while explicit, is still fairly tame as sex scenes go. So I’m calling it young adult, but it’s definitely right on the line where it could go either way.

The book begins with an example of why witches are so reviled in this land, but quickly segues into an entirely unlikely sequence of events that ends with Lou, our witch, married to Reid, our witch hunter, to save face for the witch hunting society known as the Chasseurs. Reid doesn’t know she’s a witch, and she has to keep that hidden while living with her mortal enemies. We soon learn that Lou has enemies of her own, and living with witch hunters might actually be the safest place for her, if she can keep her own secrets.

Lou is not the only one that knows her secrets, however, and the war between witches and the Church soon heats up with Lou and Reid caught in the crossfire.

There are twists and turns aplenty in this plot, and reveals that I did not see coming. It definitely keeps you on your toes. I’m not completely sold on the romance between Lou and Reid. It seemed a little contrived, to me, but the rest of the plot was interesting.

Magic in this world has a very literal cost that the witch must pay if she wants the spell to work. Sometimes it’s fairly small – a broken finger for a broken lock – sometimes it’s bigger – all your fond memories of a person, for example. Someone’s life. If you’re willing to pay the price, the magic lets you do extraordinary things. At least it shows you the cost first, instead of simply taking it after the fact. You’re given the choice.

Blood & Honey is the sequel, due out this summer, and I think I’ll probably pick it up and give Reid and Lou another shot at convincing me their love is real. I do want to know how the rest of the story plays out, their relationship aside!

From the cover of Serpent & Dove:

BOUND AS ONE TO LOVE, HONOR, OR BURN

Two years ago, LOUISE LE BLANC fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the church as a Chasseur, REID DIGGORY has lived his life by one principle: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union – holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

AND LOVE MAKES FOOLS OF US ALL.

A witch and a witch hunter bound in holy matrimony.

There was only one way such a story could end – 

A STAKE & A MATCH.

Friday 56 – Serpent & Dove

serpent & doveThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin, an enemies-to-lovers young adult fantasy romance about a witch and a witch hunter.

Bas was already moving, slamming the safe shut and hauling the portrait back into place. “Can you get us out?” His eyes were still wide with panic – desperate. We could both hear the constables and Chasseurs surrounding the manor. All the exits would soon be blocked.

I glanced down at my hands. They were shaking, and not just because of the broken fingers. I was weak, too weak, from the exertion of the evening. How had I let myself become so inept? The risk of discovery, I reminded myself. The risk had been too great –

“Lou!” Bas grabbed my shoulders and shook me slightly. “Can you get us out?”

Tears welled in my eyes. “No,” I breathed. “I can’t.”