Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Last Stop in Brooklyn

Title:  Last Stop in Brooklyn:  A Mary Handley Mystery
Author:  Lawrence H. Levy
Publication Information:  Broadway Books. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0451498445 / 978-0451498441

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On December 4, 1891, Russell Sage had a hunch."

Favorite Quote:  "Change has to start somewhere ... Who knows? Maybe honesty and fairness will catch on and push aside the greed and violence that have gripped our country."

This book is the third in the series of Mary Handley mysteries. All are set in the 1890s in Brooklyn, New York. Interestingly, for all its layers, the one thing the book does not bring to life in detail is the place. A lot of the book is set in and around Coney Island - the last stop in Brooklyn. At this time in history, Coney Island was one of the larges amusement parks in the country. Millions of visitors flocked to Coney Island every year. This book is more about New York political history than about Coney Island, however.

Mary Handley is Brooklyn's first female private detective. As such, she fights social norms with her profession and her independence. While Mary does not work for the New York Police Department (NYPD), she is connected in positive and negative ways with the work of the police. Some try and use her skill in solving crimes; some would rather not have her investigate where they feel she does not belong.

The books are also connected to the history of Brooklyn and New York. Real historical figures feature in the books. In this book, that translates to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. Interestingly, about a decade before he became President, Mr. Roosevelt served as the President of the New York Board of Police Commissioners. In that position, he was responsible for introducing significant reforms to address the corruption within the Police Department. In this work, Mr. Roosevelt was assisted by journalist and photographer Jacob Riis who also makes an appearance in this book along side of some of New aristocracy.

The plot of the book has many layers of mystery. Mary starts off investigating what seems like a relatively straight forward adultery case. From that, she get involved in a cold case about the murder of a prostitute. A man was sent to jail, but was it the right man? From that comes a pattern of similar murders all the way to a relatively recent one. That leads Mary much deeper into a plot that suggests corruption at the highest level of the Police Department. In the background is Mary's family and personal life and the historical prejudices and divides of the time.

The focal point of the story is clearly the history of corruption and prejudice. The solution to the prostitute murders, when finally revealed, seems almost tangential. To me, the different story lines do not tie together into a cohesive whole although the story lines do stem from the same set of murders. However, one - the identity of the murderer - goes very personal, and the other - the police handling of the cases - goes very societal. As such, they seem independent of each other.

What is eerie about this book is how current it sounds. The setting is Brooklyn in the 1890s, but so many of the conversations could be and are taking place today. Part of the reason is that the tone of the book is very modern compared to the time period. Part of it is the fact that the issues remain relevant today. Race relations. Immigration. Corruption. Prejudice. Women's equality. The names and the faces have changed, but sadly, many of the conversations remain.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Music Shop

Title:  The Music Shop
Author:  Rachel Joyce
Publication Information:  Random House. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0812996682 / 978-0812996685

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There was once a music shop."

Favorite Quote:  "Helping someone is entirely different from being involved. Helping is all on your own terms."

This book picks up on a formula often used in books. A bookseller, a dressmaker, a musician, and so on has a special ability to find just the right book, dress, music, etc. to meet the needs of their customer. The customer most often does not even realize their own needs. Of course, the bookseller, dressmaker, musician, etc. has his or her own needs and angst. Slowly, in solving the concerns of other, he or she manages to find their own path forward.

The books have the potential to be sweet and uplifting. They call for a belief in that ability or the "magic" of the book. Call it magic, call it serendipity, call it grace. Whatever the name, we all have that need to believe. Overall, the stories are feel good reads. The biggest "if" of the stories is the reader's ability to believe.

The time period is the 1980s London. The setting is a run-down neighborhood of London. The significance of time to this book is because of the technology of music. The early 1980s were when music compact discs (CDs) came our commercially. They could store more music. They did not have to be rewound like cassettes tapes. They eliminated some of the scratch and interference of records. They introduced an entirely new way of sharing and listening to music.

Most people made the switch, but not Frank, the operator of a small music shop. He is older, set in his ways, and quirky as such characters are likely to be. His biggest stand is that he refuses to embrace CDs and is insistent on selling only vinyl records. Why? It's never quite clear. It is interesting as currently, vinyl is making a comeback in music. Unfortunately, for Frank at that time, vinyl records are a losing proposition.

Of course, Frank is surrounded by a cast of other quirky characters. The retired priest who runs a gift shop. The tattoo artist who likes Frank but who Frank never quite sees. Frank's assistant who has the best intentions to help but that often leads to disaster. Finally, Ilse Brauchmann who mysteriously arrives on Frank's doorstep and changes everything.

In addition to the characters, the book has a lot of story lines. Periodically, chapters reveal Frank's eccentric childhood and the love and the scars it leaves behind. Frank makes certain choices about his music business which have implications for the store. The run-down little street is threatened by building code violations and developers looking to take over. Frank and Ilse Brauchmann develop an instant connection, providing the love story in the book. There is a story of unrequited love. After all that, a fire is thrown in for good measure.

One reason for picking this book is the fact that I do believe in the impact of music. I have different pieces I turn to based on what emotional need I have at a particular moment in time. In this day of digital music, that constitute that I have a play list for every mood.

Unfortunately for me, this book becomes about something different than the power of music. I never quite buy into the characters or the story. I cannot quite identify why, but I don't. Perhaps, it is the multiple story lines. Perhaps, it is the insta-love story of Frank and Ilse. Perhaps, it's a lot of characters, dispersing the focal point of the book. Somewhat, it never quite becomes real for, which is sad because a sweet, feel good story about the power of music would be a welcome one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, February 23, 2018


Title:  Green
Author:  Sam Graham-Felsen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0399591141 / 978-0399591143

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I am the white boy at the Martin Luther King Middle."

Favorite Quote:  "What I'm trying to say is that best - the only - way to think about things is systemically. That's a big, scary word, so I'll say it again. Sys-tem-ic-ally. I know you came here to ask, 'How did Skip make it?' But I'd rather you ask, 'How come hardly anyone else is making it?' What's the system doing to hold so many of us back?"

I so want to love this book. The discussion of racial and economic inequality is such an important one in our society. Any attempt to add to that conversation in a positive meaningful way are welcome. What makes this book even more intriguing is the fact that it present a different perspective on the conversation. The narrator is David Greenfeld, a middle school student who is one of the few white students at Martin Luther King Jr Middle School in Boston in 1992. He experiences life as a minority in his school.

Interestingly, there is actually a Martin Luther King K-8 school in Boston. I don't know if the reference in the book is to that school, or if the name in the book is given for other, more obvious reasons. It really does not matter to the story; I just like to see if the connections exist in real life.

Another historical note is the fact that the book is set in 1992 around the time of the Rodney King trial. That verdict of the trial led to violent riots in Los Angeles and repercussions on race relations that were felt throughout the country if not the world. This context seems a deliberate choice to add another layer to the story.

The book seeks to the tell the story of a friendship, of boys growing up, and of a realization that inequality exists. David Greenfeld finds that even growing up in an environment where he feels a minority, his race and his parent's socio-economic backgrounds provides him with privileges and opportunities that do not exist for many around him. A powerful lesson.

Because of the topics it discusses and the lesson it intends, I want to love this book. The intention is clearly there. Unfortunately, for me, those points get lost in the telling of this story. The narrator is a middle school boy. If you know middle school boys, you know that that age at times has a language of its own, and at most times, that age is a mix of immaturity and hormones.

It is these factors that make this book a challenge for me. In an attempt to bring to life middle school, the book speaks in slang. Unfortunately, the slang is at times difficult to understand and at times just too much. For me, the language steps over the story and becomes a focal point because I find myself spending more time to understand the words than to capture the meaning.

The other undeniable aspect of that age is puberty and an interest in sexual exploration. Unfortunately, I find much of the repeated sexual references and the slang terminology to describe those interactions off putting. For this reason, while the book has a middle school narrator, parents and educators should preview the book to ensure its appropriateness for their audience. Also, this aspect of growing up is not the intended focus of this book. Unfortunately, for me, it becomes a focal point, taking away from the main story.

I applaud the intent and the effort although the end result is not for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Death Below Stairs

Title:  Death Below Stairs
Author:  Jennifer Ashley
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399585516/978-0399585517

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I had not been long at my post in Mount Street, Mayfair when my employer's sister came to some calamity."

Favorite Quote:  "I was an arrogant woman, telling others about the moral virtue of hard work, when I only performed it for one end - the well-being of my daughter. Without that to drive me, what I did was empty."

A death amongst your staff is not an auspicious beginning to a new job. Yet, that is exactly what happens to Kat Holloway. A murder no less. A young maid is found dead in the pantry shortly after Kat takes a job as the cook for the household of Lord Rankin in Victorian London. Is it a romance gone bad? Is the murderer a member of the household? Is it a mystery that extends beyond Lord Rankin's household? No matter what the reason, Kat feels responsible for the young woman, and so begins the adventure to solve a murder.

The mystery of this book has all the makings of a political espionage novel, set in a very proper English nobility setting of course. What starts as the death of a maid leads all the way to a plot against Queen Victoria herself. The royalty, however, does not quite make an appearance in this book; the book remains clearly focused on the main characters.

This book reminds me somewhat of Deanne Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell mysteries. The English setting, the strong female lead, the connection to royalty, and the relationship between Kat Holloway and Daniel McAdam all create a similar reading experience. Death Below Stairs is the first in a new series; however, the book clearly implies a back story for both characters in a ways that makes them more rounded characters.

Kat Holloway's back story is developed more than Daniel McAdam's. He remains a mystery which I am sure will be explored in subsequent books. The nature and origin of their relationship is also not yet explained; that too may come in subsequent books. I believe there is a prequel that may provide some of that background. I have not read it, and it really does not impact my enjoyment of the book. At the moment, it is sweet enough and mysterious enough to make me say I would like to know more.

What makes this book for me is the characters. Kat Holloway, by profession, is a cook and a good one. She is well composed, articulate, strong, and independent. Best of all, she is not afraid to speak her mind and takes no nonsense from anyone - her employer, her staff, or her friends. On the other hand, the book also develops a non-romantic storyline which bring our her worries and her vulnerabilities. This makes her all the more likable.

Daniel McAdam is the handsome but mysterious hero. He seems to be chameleon-like, fitting in to whatever role he takes on at a particular moment. He fits in with equal ease all the ranks of this Victorian society. He seems knowledgeable about a vast array of topics and professions. How and why remains to be told in subsequent books. He seems almost perfect, but it works especially paired with Kat. They are a good match.

Even the household of Lord Rankin is not without its cast of characters. They are all developed with a skilled hand to play a role - sometimes surprising - in this mystery. That is what keeps the mystery a mystery until the very end. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Maze at Windermere

Title:  The Maze at Windermere
Author:  Gregory Blake Smith
Publication Information:  Viking. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0735221928 / 978-0735221925

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "He was trying to explain to her how he'd gotten to be where he was."

Favorite Quote:  "Here's a budding novelist's question:  Can the appearance of people suggest their reality?"

It takes a while for the realization to hit in this book. It is not about the characters or the times. This book's main feature is its location of Newport, Rhode Island, a playground of the super wealthy. Located in Narragansett Bay, Newport is a seaside community probably best known for its now historical mansions, the summer "cottages" of the wealthy including the Vanderbilts and the Astors.

Currently, Newport has three areas, including Bellevue Avenue with its many mansions, on the National Historical Landmark Districts. Many of the homes are also individually listed as Nationally Historical Landmarks and are at times open as museums to the public. The book also features Newport Casino, which is not a gambling establishment but an athletic complex now home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The book brings this environment to life through five different time periods and five different characters from 1692 to 2011. The voices the author chooses are of characters that are at the periphery of the social elite that make up Newport society. An orphan Quaker girl. A aging tennis pro. A handsome man wanting to secure his place before age overtakes. An author at the beginning of his career.

Through the individual stories, the book reaches into conversations about race, gender equality, the taboos on sexual orientation through time, economic disparity. The book makes a great effort to present the views held at the time period relevant to each story - not an easy feat. Underlying all of that is the place which endures. It changes shapes and appearance, but it endures.

In some ways, the book reminds me of David Mitchell's work. The story lines spread over time gradually imploding onto to a central theme. However, for me, this book does not reach the same level of intensity or connection as Mr. Mitchell's work.

The "maze" of title is a literal and figurative one. One of the mansions has a hedge maze leading to the ocean. The structure of the book itself resembles a maze. From chapter to chapter, the books moves between the time periods and the characters with no visible connection. However, name and places recur, creating a sense of connection. Eventually, the books seems to fold on itself, somewhat reaching the heart of the maze.

It is this very construct that is the strength and weakness of the book. I started it and put it down. I picked it up, found myself lost, and started reading from the beginning. I put it down. I picked it up, found myself lost, and started reading from the beginning again. Finally, I went back, read the book description again and more carefully, started paying attention to the time period in the chapter titles, and began again.

After a while, two things happen. Each character and time period acquires its own unique tone, and I realize that the book is more about the place. Finally, I settle into and finish the story, but it takes work. The format is a challenge.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Drinking Food of Thailand

Title:  The Drinking Food of Thailand
Author:  Andy Ricker, JJ  Goode, and Austin Bush (photographer)
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1607747731 / 978-1607747734

Book Source:  I received this book through Blogging for Books free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Long before I opened Pok Pok, before I even knew there was such a thing as 'Norther Thai food,' I learned a lesson about drinking in Thailand."

Favorite Quote:  "It also deserves note that the title of teh book is The Drinking Food of Thailand, not Thai Drinking Food. This might seems like a minor distinction, but it's an important one. It's meant to emphasize that the dishes eaten in Thailand have points of origin as diverse as the people and ethnicities - Thai, Tai Yai, Chinese, Burmese, Lao, among others - who make up the population of the country."

What, you might ask, is drinking food and why would a non-drinker like myself explore drinking food? The author sets the expectation. Drinking food is:
  • "to be snacked on while you make merry"
  • "defined as much as by what they are as by whether they're eaten with rice, or at least enough to fill you up" 
  • "typically eaten from a communal plate"
This definition conjures up an image of foods I am familiar with as every culture has its compendium of snack foods. My interest in food and culture draws me to this book even as a non-drinker. It is a different look than can be seen in other Thai food cookbooks. So, there are two ways to look at this book - as a cookbook and as a travelogue into a food culture. I choose it for the latter, but let's look at it as a cookbook first.

Some recipes in this book meet the image I conjure up of bar food, and some definitely do not. That is where the cultural education comes in. "Thais have a particular roster - and a particularly vast and exciting one - of dishes that are closely associated with drinking that I've seen again and again ... Often insistently spicy, salty, chewy, and/or sour, they're meant ... to keep the night going."

The book categorizes the recipes as follows:  snacks, soup, chile dips, fried foods, grilled foods, salads, stir fries, and late-night/morning food. Some like snacks, dips, and fried foods I expect. Other such as soup, salads, and stir-fries I don't expect on a bar food menu. As a reference, the book also includes a section on staple recipes such as spices mixes and sauces.

Delving deeper into the book furthers the cultural education for some of the ingredients are new to me, and the combination of the ingredients is new to my cooking. The book contains recipes for only about 50 dishes plus a handful of staple recipes. Some like fried cashews are relatively simple and self explanatory. Others, however, have much more complex with a much longer list of ingredients. (I counted 30 for one recipe!)

The author does note that no ingredient substitutions are noted unless they absolutely won't impact flavor of the dish, and that shopping at an online source or a Asian grocery story will be necessary to find the ingredients. Interestingly, the author also notes, "for the most part, the recipes in this book will be easier to cook ... This is not because I've dumbed them down, but rather because drinking food tends to require less work than other culinary categories." 

The relatively short list of recipes and the specialized ingredients means this will not likely be a cookbook I turn to often. And that's okay because this is one I pick and enjoy for the cultural introduction. I have never traveled to Thailand; nor am I likely to experience this drinking aspect of Thai culture. This book provides that arm chair travel.

The recipes in the book are punctuated by images and stories from the author's travels in Thailand. Andy Ricker is an American restaurateur who has spent over two decades traveling through and studying Northern Thai food. He brings that knowledge back to an American audience through his restaurants and now his books. For that look into culture and foods and ingredients different than those familiar to me, I truly appreciate this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Title:  Gnomon
Author:  Nick Harkaway
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2018. 688 pages.
ISBN:  1524732087 / 978-1524732080

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'The death of a suspect in custody,' says Inspector Neith of the Witness, 'is a very serious matter.'"

Favorite Quote:  "Little by little, though, the sense of crisis is fading, as the twin businesses of living and deciding a way forward takes precedence over the assignment of historical blame."

Gnomon. With a title like that, my first step is to look up the word. Is it a real word or a made up names? Turns out, the word "gnomon" comes from Greek and is the name for the portion of a sundial that creates a shadow. Knowing that, the cover takes on a different meaning. The word has taken on different interpretations in mathematics with implications of angles, shapes, and relationships between shapes. In particular, a geometrical definition was the part of a parallelogram that remains after a similar parallelogram has been taken away from one of its corners.

A Greek mathematical reference. What Gnomon translates to in the story is part of the mystery of this book. Now, I am intrigued.

The book description presents a dystopian world in which everything is monitored, in the name of maintaining transparency, safety, and peace. Every citizen, every thought, and every memory. Periodically, random citizens are subject to testing. It is in fact advised as a health enhancing exercise. An official "clearing of your head" if you will.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this approach. The story begins when a dissendent, Diana Hunter dies while in custody of the System. That never happens until, of course, it does. It appears the System is not as perfect as it seems.

Inspector Mielikki Neith is assigned to investigate. With a name like that, I look it up. "Mielikki" in Finnish mythology is the goddess of the hunt, an appropriate epithet. "Neith" is the name of an Egyptian goddess, also known as the creator. Inspector Neith is literally given Diana Hunter's mind to study. What she finds is the adventure of this book.

A dystopian world. A mystery. An investigation. References to mythology. Now, I am even more intrigued.

I don't know if the connections are intended or it's my imagination. It doesn't matter because I jump in, ready for a story of adventure for the book description lists Athens, Carthage, London, and journeys within the mind and memories of the characters. I love the premise the book establishes.

This is where, unfortunately, I get stuck. The expression goes that I cannot see the forest for the trees. That about sums up my reaction to this book. I love the premise. However, the writing - the words, the language, the constructions - seems to be at the forefront of this book. I find myself more focused on how something is said rather than on what is being said. In other words, the writing takes over the reading experience rather than the story. The entire book - regardless of the narrator - has a sameness of tone and language making it even harder.

What makes this an even bigger challenge is the length of the book. At almost 700 pages, the book calls for a compelling story to hold me to the story. The compelling premise is there, but the telling of the story does not live up to the premise. I pull myself back to the story time and again, but it is difficult to do so for that long a period of time. The story is lost in the words.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Story of Arthur Truluv

Title:  The Story of Arthur Truluv
Author:  Elizabeth Berg
Publication Information:  Random House. 2017. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1400069904 / 978-1400069903

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the six months since the November day that his wife, Nola, was buried, Arthur Moses has been having lunch with her every day."

Favorite Quote:  "I suppose we might be old-fashioned, but I don't think love is. Who doesn't need it? We all of us need it, especially those who say they don't. It's like oil in the crankcase, we can't run without it."

The story of Arthur Truluv is a story about loneliness and about friendship that can be found in the unlikeliest of places and about the family we create. For that, it is a sweet, sentimental, and heart warming story.

Arthur Moses (no, his name is not really Truluv) is a widower. His life consists primarily of visiting the graveyard and having lunch by his wife's side daily. Maddy is a teenager with her own sorrows. She lost her mother, and her father has not recovered from that grief enough to be there for his daughter as she needs him. Lucille is Arthur's irascible neighbor; she too is alone, and she too dreams of more.

Arthur and Lucille are quirky and older, a character type that has featured in many books recently. However, this book is not really about the quirks or even the old part. It is about how this unlikely trio bands together. In that, the book also gets at the friendship and the bond that can exist between generations. Arthur is in his eighties, and Maddy is seventeen. Yet, both share that feeling of being alone and abandoned, and both respond to that in the other.

Mind you, suspend your disbelief and check any analytical tendencies before reading this book. The plot itself is a contrived set of circumstances. Arthur and Maddy meet by chance at the cemetery. Arthur manages to pierce Maddy's shell where either other adults have not tried or tried and failed. Maddy gives Arthur the very corny nickname of Truluv, and he likes it. Lucille's entire story of love found and lost is a far reach and stands apart from the rest of the plot. The fact that Maddy's father is not really part of the story given the circumstances seems unlikely. The situation in which Maddy finds herself feels designed to make a point. The sorrow at home, the bullying at school, and the self-serving boyfriend all create more and more burdens for this young woman, and then all of a sudden, things turn around. The neat, packaged ending to this book can be seen coming, and, of course, there is the obligatory cat.

The characters also embody a "character." Arthur is the lonely, kind, and wise old man. Maddy is the scared but oh-I-got-this teenager looking for security and love. Lucille is the cantankerous old biddy with a heart of gold. The characters neither evolve nor really change in the book. They remain as I envision and behave in ways I expect.

Interestingly, most of this does not matter. The book is not really about the specific plot line or even the development of the characters. It is about the emotion. The book captures loneliness and loss as well as the joy that comes forth in caring and being cared for. It is that feeling which draws me in and keeps me reading, and even the neat, packaged ending leaves me hoping that things will work out for all the characters. Perfect for when I need a sweet, feel good story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Enchantress of Numbers

Title:  Enchantress of Numbers:  A Novel of Ada Lovelace
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2017. 444 pages.
ISBN:  1101985208 / 978-1101985205

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A piteous mewling jolts Lady Anabella Byron from her melancholy contemplation of the fire fading to embers though the evening is still young."

Favorite Quote:  "Passion fades where once it burned brightly, but love, real love, can grow where only friendship was before."

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countless of Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of poet and nobleman Lord Byron. She was, in fact, his only legitimate child born out a marriage that lasted only until Ada was a few months old. Her parents separated shortly after her birth, and Ada Lovelace never had a chance to know her father.

Ada Lovelace's disputed claim to fame is her contribution to the filed of mathematics and computer science. Some credit her with being the world's first computer programmer; others discount her contribution to the work of Charles Babbage and his analytical engine.

Clearly, two stories are at play here. One is the story of the Byron's doomed marriage and its impact on the entire life of Ada Lovelace. The other is the story of Ada Lovelace, a pioneer as a female scientist and mathematician in a 1800s England.

I begin the book expecting the second story. Based on the title, I expect to the read the story of the woman of science and her pioneering accomplishments in the sciences. Quickly, I am disabused of this notion for the first part of the book is before Ada's birth; it is the story of her mother Annabelle and how she comes to marry and then separate from Lord Byron. It sets the foundation for Ada's upbringing.

This book is very clearly the first storyline. It is the story of Ada's family life, in particular her relationship with her mother. At first, this is disappointing for the book is not the story I am expecting. However, I decide to let go of preconceptions and attempt to appreciate the story for what it is - family, relationships, a child growing up, and a woman coming of age.

For that story, though, the book is too detailed and at times seemingly repetitive. In a nutshell, Ada's mother seeks to ensure that Ada will not fall prey to the madness she feels Lord Byron suffers from. Yet, at the same time, she is content to leave Ada in the care of her grandparents and various governesses. Ada has a rather lonely and sad childhood. That is the story that is told in various instances and various iterations through more than half of the book. I feel for Ada the child but don't need a couple of hundred pages to get there.

The second half of the book correspondingly feels rushed and not completely developed. For example, Ada makes a comment at one point of marriage being as constraining as her mother's control. However, that is never explored. At point, it seems Ada struggles with post-partum depression, but that too seems told in passing. The scientific contributions of Ada's life almost becomes incidental to the story.

What makes the book even more challenging is after the first section about the Byron's marriage, the book switches to a first person narrative from Ada's perspective. Mind you, the "perspective" begins with her infancy. The book addresses the fact that these are collected memories, but at the same time, it is just an odd construct. The first person narrative does not quite work in this situation. Regardless, the book is an interesting tale of a poet's daughter who grew up to be a mathematician.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.