Katharine McMahon's The Alchemist's Daughter was an immensely satisfying read, or in this case I should say listen, as I downloaded the audio book onto my MP3 player. I eagerly looked forward to my daily walks in order to listen to another installment of the story, which is set in the early 18th century during England's Age of Reason. The woman who read the book had an excellent voice for narrating this story, which is told from the point of view of a young woman raised in the countryside by her father, a natural philosopher and alchemist.
An only child, Emilie Selden, had a solitary upbringing. She yearns to know more about her French mother, who died in childbirth, but her father, John, was always rather secretive to her on that subject. Instead he raises her to be a scientist in her own right. Not entirely devoid of affection, she's more of an assistant and student to her father however. It comes as a shock to him then, when she first meets two eligible young men. He doesn't expect her to be quite so tempted by the opposite sex.
The first, Reverend Shales, also a natural philosopher, though one who has serious doubts about alchemy, is welcomed into the Selden home. When a spark flies between the two Emilie's father puts a stop to Shales's visits. Being an honorable man, Shales leaves well enough alone and returns to his work in the village. Robert Aislabie, however, sweeps in bringing with him the exoticism of London, which Emilie dreams of. Aislabie has come as a businessman and would-be novice scientist. He's hoping to discover safer ways to transport materials in his ships and he's heard of John Selden's famous experiments with fire and air (and perhaps also of his lovely daughter). What he comes away with is Emilie's heart.
When Emilie becomes pregnant with Aislabie's baby, she shocks her father by returning to London with Aislabie and thereby breaking his heart. Aislabie is not at all what he seems, and despite Emilie's intellectual prowess, she is lacking in most social skills when it comes to proper society and men in general. Although she doesn't yet know it, Emilie is also not at all what she seems to be either. And the story is in good part about Emilie's education of the broader world, and not just scientific.
The story moves along at a nice pace and the characters are well developed, especially Emilie Selden. McMahon describes the period lavishly from Society's upper crust parlors to the stinking, dirty streets of London and all the characters that populate them. It's not just the picturesque details that make the story colorful, but the scientific ideas and the social turmoil that swirled about in people's thoughts and actions. I'm looking forward to reading (or maybe even listening) to more of McMahon's work. I even mooched a copy of The Alchemist's Daughter to read later.
I chose something completely different to listen to next, Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know a contemporary thriller of sorts, a story of two young girls who went to the mall one afternoon, both disappearing. Many years later one of them turns up with a false identity and closed lips about what happened that day many years ago. The story is engrossing, though I'm finding that some of the voices the narrator uses can be a little grating. I'm far enough into the story, however, to want to find out just what happened that fateful day!
On a side note, I have finally gotten my new computer up and running.
The good: I now have a nice large flat screen monitor. I can actually see full web pages instead of having to scroll to the right to finish reading something! I've loaded almost all my old programs and I think everything is working. And pages are loading much faster and I feel like I can have multiple things going at once. I'm a very good multitasker given the chance. I also have IE6 again (though I had gotten very used to and liked those tabs on IE7), which means I can once again use the HP photo software that I loved and had to uninstall as it did Not get along with IE7.
The bad: Some of my documents that I've saved I cannot open now because I have Office 2007 (and they were created on Office 2003), though I should be able to get those worked out. I'm not sure about the documents (cross stitch charts!) that were created on an older version of Adobe Acrobat. I now have version 9, which might be the newest version? That is going to take some finagling. And I've discovered that the set of speakers that I had planned to use from my old computer are not adequate for the my new one. Even turning up every sound control to the limit, I can barely get anything to come out of the speakers. So I had to go and order a speaker to attach to my monitor after all. Live and learn.
The Ugly: I have this great new computer with a dual quad core, and lots of space and memory that runs nice and fast yet I still cannot open those little streaming videos. One of the things I was so looking forward to was being able to watch videos online. One part of the equation is good hardware, the other I thought I already had--Broadband internet. It seems I only have sort of fast internet (256 Kbps) and I need something faster to stream videos. Sigh. Can you watch videos? I can generally see them, but they pause constantly to load, which totally breaks up the flow. To watch a Netflix video I had to let it load for about half an hour and then thought I could watch it straight through, but it only played for a while then kept stopping telling me my internet connection had slowed or stopped. Very disappointing. So now do I go up the scale a notch and pay for slightly faster internet (even though you are paying for a certain speed it may be 15% slower due to other reasons beyond your control, which seems like a rip off to me). I don't want to pay really. I've lived this long without all the extra bells and whistles, maybe I should just content myself with fast surfing. I probably wouldn't have gotten quite such a fancy computer then. But I still want to watch videos. For the time being I will just wait and see how it goes and enjoy everything else I can do.