Tag: Books: Nonfiction


Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 11 October, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Probably the last batch of mini book reviews for this year? I read most of the following books months ago, but anyway…Included in this batch are:


Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti #1)
By: Donna Leon
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase

There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.

But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape–a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . .

I had been eyeing this series for such a long time, it always crops up whenever I’m looking up crime mystery series to check out. Well I finally picked it up as a book to read whenever I was on break at work and it certainly didn’t disappoint: Guido Brunetti is an interesting character, smart and good at what he does. A different side to Venice comes to life in this novel as Brunetti investigates the death of a well-known conductor, plunging the commissario into the world of music and art and the shadows of the Second World War. It was interesting to follow Brunetti in the case as he navigates through an intricate cast of characters from Wellauer’s life and work, figuring out who had the motive to kill the maestro. I don’t know if I’ll get around to read the rest of the books in this series (as it’s a bit of a long one), but this book was an excellent introduction to Guido Brunetti, his life, his Venice, and his mode of case-solving. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this the crime mystery genre and you like your mysteries set in Italy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: Just Send Me Word

Posted 26 September, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in a Gulag
By: Orlando Figes
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

“I went to get the letters for our friends, and couldn’t help but feel a little envious, I didn’t expect anything for myself. And suddenly—there was my name, and, as if it was alive, your handwriting.”

In 1946, after five years as a prisoner—first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps, then as a deportee (falsely accused of treason) in the Arctic Gulag—twenty-nine-year-old Lev Mishchenko unexpectedly received a letter from Sveta, the sweetheart he had hardly dared hope was still alive. Amazingly, over the next eight years the lovers managed to exchange more than 1,500 messages, and even to smuggle Sveta herself into the camp for secret meetings. Their recently discovered correspondence is the only known real-time record of life in Stalin’s Gulag, unmediated and uncensored.

I have a bit of a long history with Orlando Figes’ works. I was introduced to his work in undergrad when my undergraduate Soviet History supervisor recommended his book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia for my undergrad independent paper (for this interested, my thesis was on private life at the height of the Great Terror of the late 1930s). Not only was that book immensely useful for my research but it was one of my inspirations to continue my studies into Soviet Russian history at grad school. Another one of his books, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, was incredibly useful when I was working on my Master’s research. Suffice to say I highly recommend his books, the topics are fascinating but they are also quite accessible; you don’t have to be specialising in the field to understand what he’s writing about.

Anyway, I was greatly interesting in this book when it was released: much of it took place in the immediate postwar period (ka-ching! My area of study), it had to do with surviving the gulag (very tough subject) and the fact that it’s uncensored means we’re bound to get a very frank view of exactly what is happening there.

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Review: History’s People: Personalities and the Past

Posted 10 August, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

History’s People: Personalities and the Past (CBC Massey Lectures)
By: Margaret MacMillan
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

In History’s People internationally acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan gives her own personal selection of figures of the past, women and men, some famous and some little-known, who stand out for her. Some have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of their times. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers. She looks at the concept of leadership through Bismarck and the unification of Germany; William Lyon MacKenzie King and the preservation of the Canadian Federation; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War. She also notes how leaders can make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies. Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.

History’s People is about the important and complex relationship between biography and history, individuals and their times.

I’m a fan of the CBC Massey Lectures series, I think it’s a great series showcasing great thinkers, academics, and public figures discussing an array of topics that are interesting from an academic standpoint but also ties in well to our everyday lives and/or the world we live in. I’ve read and reviewed a few in the past (see shiny new tag; I’ve read 5 to date, but only reviewed 2 over here) but I was really excited when I heard last year that Margaret MacMillan was going to be the featured lecturer for the latest installment. You may have heard of Margaret MacMillan for her books like Paris 1919 and Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World. She’s a prominent historian too and was a lecturer when I was at UofT; alas I never got close to signing up for her class, it were pretty popular and hard to get into. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading Paris 1919 years ago and was looking forward to reading her take on prominent historical figures and their impact on history.

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Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 23 December, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Okay, here we are, last batch of mini book reviews for the year 🙂 Included in this batch of reviews are:



So without further ado…

The Complete Father Brown Stories
By: G.K. Chesterton
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

Father Brown, one of the most quirkily genial and lovable characters to emerge from English detective fiction, first made his appearance in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. That first collection of stories established G.K. Chesterton’s kindly cleric in the front rank of eccentric sleuths.

This complete collection contains all the favourite Father Brown stories, showing a quiet wit and compassion that has endeared him to many, whilst solving his mysteries by a mixture of imagination and a sympathetic worldliness in a totally believable manner.

Whoo, I finally got around to reading–and finishing–this book! I had long been intrigued by the Father Brown stories after seeing its recent adaptations here and there (haven’t watched them myself but my family has) and it has sat for an equally long time on my TBR pile. I started reading it over the summer and slowly made my way through it for a good part of the year. I admit, I found it a little harder to go through his stories compared to other short stories or novellas of such length; I don’t know if it was partly because the font in my edition was ridiculously tiny, but I find you really have to concentrate quite a bit with his stories, they’re not something you can pick up and read on a whim like contemporary mysteries. G.K. Chesterton crams quite a bit of background and detail into his stories, which I appreciate.

Which brings me to Father Brown himself. He’s quite the character, never quite in the forefront, his appearance rather average (short, homely-looking). But his remarks and observations were interesting and sometimes amusing, and I love the way he just shows up and solves things. His approach, his mix of Catholic teaching and insight on human behaviour, was wonderful, he really is quite a different “detective” from the likes of Sherlock Holmes.

I’m glad I finally read The Complete Father Brown Stories. Perhaps not the best choice if I wanted to unwind, but they’re an interesting set of stories with a lot of quirky mysteries and plenty of characters. Despite this collection containing all of the stories featuring the titular character, my favourite stories are still the first two, “The Blue Cross” and “The Secret Garden.” I also really liked “The Hammer of God”, “The Eye of Apollo,” and “The Oracle of the Dog.” Readers of classic mysteries who haven’t checked out Father Brown’s stories should!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 25 November, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Here we go, another set of mini-reviews that couldn’t possibly fit in review posts of their own xD Once again this batch of mini-reviews features mainly classics (especially from the Little Black Classics series–after oggling over them for a good chunk of the year, I finally got my hands on some of them! 🙂 ). Included in this batch of reviews are:

So without further ado…

How We Weep and Laught at the Same Thing
By: Michel de Montaigne
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

‘No one characteristic clasps us purely and universally in its embrace.’

A selection of charming essays from a master of the genre exploring the contradictions inherent to human thought, words and actions.

I first encountered Michel de Montaigne in my first year of undergrad. We had to read a selection of essays for World Literature class and absolutely fell in love with his stuff; he wrote about things that I often thought about, and I could totally emphasise where he was coming from with certain topics. I wish I had picked up his complete works when I was in undergrad instead of the required selected text, but whatever, every now and then I’d pick up a slim volume from Penguin Classics featuring a few of his essays. This is one of them, in which he contemplates on the nature of human thought, how we define ourselves, life, death, etc. I don’t know what else I could really say about it except that it’s worth checking out; a lot of his observations are still applicable today and to the human condition.

Rating: ★★★★★

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