Book Review Club: A Curious Beginning #amreading #review

Curious Beginning coverA Curious Beginning
(Veronica Speedwell Mystery Series Book 1)
by Deanna Raybourn

Veronica Speedwell is an English spinster of about 25 who makes her living as a lepidopterist, a collector of butterflies. When she has the money, she takes expeditions to different parts of the world to gather her specimens which she sells to collectors for money to go on her next expedition.

The book opens with Veronica at the funeral of her last remaining aunt. The two older ladies raised her from infancy and she believes she is a foundling. But strange events begin with the funeral and lead to her being whisked away to London by a German baron who tells her she’s in danger and claims to have known her mother.

In London, he leaves her with a grumpy natural historian who goes by the name of Mr. Stoker. (Not his real name.) After the baron is killed, the two of them go on the road and things get curiouser and curiouser. And more dangerous.

The book takes place in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s 50th year on the throne, but Veronica is not your typical Victorian lady. Like the butterflies she loves and kills, she’s a free spirit, though she keeps her more unconventional behaviors, like indulging in sexual liaisons with foreign gentlemen, to her travels.

Stoker is a man with a past, and it’s a while until we find out how he received the scar on his face and even longer until we learn his internal wounds. Veronica is a good match for him. She’s not the least sentimental and keeps him in line with her sharp tongue.

Along the way we visit behind the scenes of a traveling carnival with a group of odd and sometimes dangerous characters. The writing is often amusing, esp. Veronica and Stoker’s banter. They push each others’ buttons, but are able to work together as an effective team. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more of their adventures.

Click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.


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Book Review Club: Destined for War by Graham Allison

Destined For War coverDestined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
by Graham Allison (Adult Nonfiction)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

I bought this book in Kindle format last year after hearing about it on Fareed Zakaria GPS. In December, I decided to read it in preparation for a discussion on the Waning of Pax Americana for my AAUW International Interests group.

Allison examines the current rivalry between the US and China in light of what is called Thucydides Trap. Thucydides, an ancient Athenian historian, wrote the definitive history of the Peloponnesian War. “When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound: danger ahead. China and the United States are currently on a collision course for war—unless both parties take difficult and painful actions to avert it.”

As Thucydides put it, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

Allison set up the Thucydides Trap Project at Harvard, and after studying 500 years of recent history, “found sixteen cases in which a major nation’s rise has disrupted the position of a dominant state.” All but four of the cases ended in war. The odds are not in our favor. The events leading up to World War I were particularly interesting, as that war set the stage for the rest of the century and led us to where we are now.

The Pax Americana has been a rare “Long Peace,” but that peace is unraveling. By the day, or so it seems.

Allison gives historical background on some of the sixteen cases, but also spends a lot of time explaining China’s 100 Years of Humiliation and their rise to global prominence in the late 20th / early 21st century. He also goes into the policies and background of Xi Jinping, a man no one should underestimate. His life story is quite remarkable. His father was a high official in the Communist Party who became a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was sent to the countryside as a boy to do manual labor. He educated himself with books stolen from boarded up libraries, and as an adult orchestrated a remarkable rise to power and may soon have absolute power over China.

I found the book fascinating and disturbing. It wasn’t a quick read as there is a lot of depth to it and I would stop to ponder the material. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in history and/or international affairs.

Click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.


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