Book Review: Word by Word

I get it, I have an odd reading penchant. Word by Word, the Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper is an excellent example of my need to know something about everything. Oooh a book on lexicography, I know jack all about lexicography, I should read that.

Basic Summary(Courtesy of Amazon):

Many of us take dictionaries for granted, and few may realize that the process of writing dictionaries is, in fact, as lively and dynamic as language itself. With sharp wit and irreverence, Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why small words are the most difficult to define, how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language and pronunciation can have tremendous social influence. And along the way, she reveals little-known surprises—for example, the fact that “OMG” was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.

Word by Word brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a startlingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. Certain to be a delight for all lovers of words, Stamper’s debut will make you laugh as much as it makes you appreciate the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.

My thoughts:

It’s been a while since I read a book that had me laughing so hard I cried, gasping for breath. I’m being totally serious here. This book was hysterical.

It’s a lot of detail about words and how they come to be defined. Some of that is more interesting than other parts, but you can skim pretty easy over the too much sections and still laugh your a** off in the funny parts, which are numerous.

This is a great book if you like to learn about new things in a way that won’t make you want to gouge your own eyes out.

Side note to help the lexicographers out: Dictionaries to do not make words, they are not the arbiters of how words should be used, they record how a word is already used in written context. As Stamper points out, removing or adding a word does not actually change society. If it did, don’t you think they would have removed the word murder years ago?

Book Review: Murder on Millionaire’s Row

I thought I was grabbing another cozy. One set in Gilded Age New York, but a cozy none the less and I expected it to suck. I don’t know why I expected it to suck but I did. I was wrong. On all accounts about Murder on Millionaire’s Row by Erin Lindsey.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Rose Gallagher might dream of bigger things, but she’s content enough with her life as a housemaid. After all, it’s not every girl from Five Points who gets to spend her days in a posh Fifth Avenue brownstone, even if only to sweep its floors. But all that changes on the day her boss, Mr. Thomas Wiltshire, disappears. Rose is certain Mr. Wiltshire is in trouble, but the police treat his disappearance as nothing more than the whims of a rich young man behaving badly. Meanwhile, the friend who reported him missing is suspiciously unhelpful. With nowhere left to turn, Rose takes it upon herself to find her handsome young employer.

The investigation takes her from the marble palaces of Fifth Avenue to the sordid streets of Five Points. When a ghostly apparition accosts her on the street, Rose begins to realize that the world around her isn’t at all as it seems―and her place in it is about to change forever.

My Thoughts:

This is a fantasy mystery with all the trimmings. And I loved it.

Rose is fun, flat out amusing. She has great adventures, thinks about things in unusual ways, and generally shows the reader a darn good time, even if it is at her own expense.

I have to admire a woman who handles herself in a time where that alone could get you in trouble and this book has more than one such woman. Nicely balanced with men who mostly appreciate them. So the historian in me is suspending her disbelief at that because it made for good reading.

I am vastly impressed by Erin Lindsey and I can’t wait for the next one.

Book Review: The Radical Element

Still on the hunt for short stories for my creative writing kids, I have breezed through a lot of anthologies lately. The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood is the only one in the first batch of 8, I actually finished.

Basic Summary (courtesy of Amazon):

In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself, should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced when you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs — whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

My thoughts:

I liked this anthology tremendously.  From the very first story I knew I would be reading it from cover to cover rather than scanning for something that didn’t make me want to poke my eye out.

Again I don’t want to give away too much. But who hasn’t thought about running away with the circus?

I did use one of the shorts for my class, in our segment on comedy. I wanted to show them that comedic writing didn’t have to be just fart jokes. That you could wrap something ugly and complicated like racism in comedy and make your point.  Stacey Lee did so quite well in the Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave.


Book Review: Twisted

I am almost positive I’ve read Twisted by Jeffrey Deaver before. I love his books and do tend to read them all. But recently I picked it up again when looking for short stories for my creative writing class to dissect this year. It was fun to reread and enjoy the twist.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver delivers an electrifying collection of sixteen award-winning stories that will widen your eyes and stretch your imagination. Diverse and provocative, Twisted showcases Deaver’s amazing range and signature plot twists: a beautiful woman goes to extremes to rid herself of her stalker; a contemporary of William Shakespeare vows to avenge his family’s ruin; and Deaver’s most beloved character, brilliant criminalist Lincoln Rhyme, is back to solve a chilling Christmastime disappearance.

My thoughts:

I love the introduction to this book where Deaver talks about how when you write a novel, you can’t simply twist it at the end or your reader, feeling cheated, will hate you forever. But in a short story, the investment is much less, you can play with the reader without irritating them.

I don’t want to give away any of the endings. But there are one or two that are simply spectacular.  In my favorite, the twist is so artfully woven in, I immediately went back to reread it as soon as I finished it. Not a clue. Not a one. Out of nowhere, slam.

And he’s right, if I had invested 8 hours reading 400 plus pages, I would have been pissed. But 20 minutes of thinking, oh yeah I get whats going on here, only to find out I was sooo wrong, that was amusing.

Book Review: Radioactive

This year for history I am teaching Man’s Greatest Accomplishments. I had several things in mind I wanted to cover with the kids (organization/gov’t, domestication of plants and animals, epidemiology, writing) and then I asked them what they thought were man’s greatest accomplishments. This has led to me researching in depth a lot of things I only previously considered from other view points. Like the atomic bomb. Oh, sure I am all over the political, military, and cultural ramifications and even the consequences. But how the made it? Crud, I need a library. Radioactive by Winifred Conkling is one of the many books I read, and a well written one at that.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

The fascinating, little-known story of how two brilliant female physicists’ groundbreaking discoveries led to the creation of the atomic bomb.

In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.

Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.


My thoughts:

This book was a super intriguing read. Both a step by step process of how nuclear fission and the chain reaction occurred and the nasty way politics, war, and human frailty impacted the way the world at large viewed the process. Some were rewarded for their efforts. Others were denied credit or blamed. In one case, Lise Meitner, she was both denied credit and then blamed as “the little lady who start this whole mess” after the bombs were dropped. She was much more gracious in the situation than I would have been.

Whether you dig science or not, this is a good read. As always, I found a lot of the psychology of humans the most interesting portion.  And I got enough details to be able to answer my students complicated questions, which they always ask about every topic.

Book Review: Murder Beyond the Grave

I can’t remember what I was looking for in the non-fiction section, but this caught my eye. James Patterson, writing NON fiction? And only his name is on the cover? Murder Beyond the Grave came home with me.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

A wealthy kidnapped man fights for his life and a real estate deal turns deadly in these two true crime thrillers that inspired Discovery’s Murder is Forever TV series.

Murder Beyond the Grave (with Andrew Bourelle): Stephen Small has it all: a Ferrari, fancy house, loving wife, and three boys. But the only thing he needs right now is enough air to breathe. Kidnapped, buried in a box, and held for ransom, Stephen has forty-eight hours of oxygen. The clock is ticking . . .
Murder in Paradise (with Christopher Charles): High in the Sierra Nevada mountains, developers Jim and Bonnie Hood excitedly tour Camp Nelson Lodge. They intend to buy and modernize this beautiful rustic property, but the locals don’t like rich outsiders changing their way of life. After a grisly shooting, everybody will discover just how you can make a killing in real estate . . .
My thoughts:
Ah, of course, this is all to promote his TV show. sigh.
I brought the book on my 4 hour flight to Texas, thinking with a little nap, this should get me through.
Not even close. It’s a quick read, very quick read. Told in standard Patterson style of bold strokes, third person Omniscient. Not enough detail for me.
I ran through the book in 2 hours. Twiddling my thumbs for the remainder of the flight and mentally comparing this fluff piece to an Innocent Man by John Grisham, which I just watched. Patterson comes up short. Again. When will I learn?

Book Review: Jurassic Park

I know it’s an oldie but I never read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton back in the day.  Even when you google it, you get the movies first and then a bunch of questions about the movies. I had to scroll halfway down the page to get to the first listing for the book.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .

In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton taps all his mesmerizing talent and scientific brilliance to create his most electrifying technothriller.


My thoughts:

Okay so everyone knows this story. I didn’t even need the summary I am sure. Although it is interesting from a marketing point of view. That dangler…it once worked so well. LOL

The kiddo found the audio version on the shelf at one of our local libraries and begged me to get it. I warned him it wouldn’t be like the movies, although having never read it myself I could only guess on that. He wanted it anyway. Sure.

12 discs is a lot of dino attacks but the book is far more in depth than the movies. There is much more about people’s motivation and back story. The kiddo loved to point out all the things in the book that didn’t happen in movie one. And then argue about which of the other movies something like that happened in.

I was much more intrigued by the way Hollywood softened some aspects of the book and bloodied up others. For example,  in the movies, Hammond is the kind, benevolent old man who adores his grand children, really all children, and just wants an amazing experience for them, and if that makes him lots of money, well what’s wrong with that. In the book, he is a nasty lunatic. Flat out.

They flip the ages and genders of the children.

The dino attacks in the movies are way more gruesome. In the book, the images are painted in broad strokes with just a few, ickaroo moments and a lot of tension. I liked the balance. Liked it well enough I might start reading more Crichton.