Friday, March 16, 2018

This is what happened

This is what happened / Mick Herron, 261 pgs.

Maggie gets recruited to be an informant for the MI5.  She is in the middle of a mission installing software on a machine at a company controlled by Chinese interests.  She is caught by a security guard and detained.  She pulls the fire alarm and escapes but on the way out kills the guard. Mi5 puts her in a safe house.  But time passes and the world changes.  What is going to happen to Maggie?  The story shifts to her "handler" and we find out things aren't actually what they seem.  The story shifts again.  In the end, it is all revealed but along the way you just have to follow along as best you can.  A lot of questions are raised by a story like this.  A decent thriller.

Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, 477 pages

Editor Susan Ryeland has just been given the latest Atticus Pünd whodunnit by her cash-cow author Alan Conway, and immediately settles in to read the book. But just before the killer is revealed, the manuscript ends. When she tries to find the missing pages, she learns that Conway has died suddenly, thrusting her into a mystery of her own.

In Magpie Murders, Horowitz has created a book-within-a-book, a mystery-within-a-mystery, each as compelling as the other. I feel like I'd just read two books when I closed this one: the Agatha Christie-esque Atticus Pünd, and the more modern "real" mystery of Alan Conway's death and missing chapters. In doing so, Horowitz manages to both poke fun at and pay homage to whodunnits. I had a great time with both of these stories, and I highly recommend it to mystery readers.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meditation for fidgety skeptics

Meditation for fidgety skeptics a 10% happier how-to book / Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlye Adler, 287 pgs.

A follow up to Harris' book "10% Happier" that recounted his adoption of a meditation practice after he had an on-air panic attack.  This book answers a lot more questions about how to go about making meditation a "thing" in your own life.  Jeff Warren is the master meditation teacher and Dan is still a hard charging news anchor who doesn't want stuff to get too treacly.  Put them together with a team on a rock and roll rental bus and see what happens!  They travel across the country trying to introduce meditation to the masses.  Part bromance, part science project, part travel memoir, this book will really make you feel like you should give meditation a chance.  I enjoyed listening to the audio book that is read by Dan and Jeff.

So much blue

So much blue / Percival Everett, 242 pgs.

Kevin is an artist who has been working on a painting for a long time that he won't let anyone see.  He wants to be sure nobody EVER sees it and tries to arrange a system by which it will be destroyed when he dies.  In this "present day" scenario, Kevin lives with his wife Linda and their two kids in what seems like an overall happy family existence.  Another part of the book follows a 1979 visit by Kevin and his friend to El Salvador in search of the friend's brother.  The country is falling into civil war and the trip is engulfed in fear and tragedy.  They help dig a grave for a little girl who has been killed by the military.  The horror of what they witness affects Kevin and the trip also leaves him with another personal secret that makes him question the very basic of his personality.  In a third time, 10 years prior to the "present day," Kevin is in Paris for an art opening and has a brief affair with a much younger woman.  He admits to himself during this fling that he has never loved his wife Linda but instead was looking for a place to exist when they married.  He believes he loves this young French woman and at the same time, Linda is in the States worrying that Kevin has started drinking again.  I've done a mediocre job here of summarizing the book but I enjoyed it very much.  Everett has a way of making us feel we really understand Kevin's inner workings.  I'm inclined to praise Everett's writing and ability to make us want everything to be all right with Kevin while we satisfy our voyeuristic tendencies while watching him veer towards becoming a train wreck.

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Dear Fahrenheit 451: love and heartbreak in the stacks: a librarian's love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life / Annie Spence, 244 pgs.

A librarian writes to books, books she loves and books she doesn't like so much.  Some are long term favorites, others have come and gone.  I like the way the author gives us a little insight into her thinking and a little view of her life.  I know it is the librarian in me who thinks this is a great book but it really is a great book.  I'm not going keep a list of her favorites and add them to my list because I plan to consult this book regularly in the future.

All for Nothing

All for Nothing / Walter Kempowski, trans. Anthea Bell, 343 p.

An elegant, intriguing chronicle of the flight of an aristocratic ethnic German family living in East Prussia in January 1945.  They live dreamily in the Georgenhof, the ancestral estate, meeting neighbors and hangers on, asking, "Do you think the Russians will really come?  What is to be done?"  Rapidly and yet subtly, their lazy upper-class idyll devolves into violence and terror, as hundreds of people begin to stream west in an attempt to make it back home to the Reich.  Kempowski in no way excuses these characters, who went along with the Nazi regime in an indifferent, almost dopey manner, but he humanizes them, a powerful and enlightening trick.  In its wide cast of eccentrics, thieves, and martyrs, portrayed in objective and frequently comical thumbnail sketches, the novel reminds me of the Canterbury Tales.  Lots of talking and very little progress.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 5: The Valley of Fear

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 5: The Valley of Fear read by Stephen Fry  320 pp.

The Valley of Fear was the last stand alone Sherlock Holmes novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this mystery Holmes received a coded message from an agent of the infamous Professor Moriarty. By the time he decodes the message and learns that he must go to Mr. John Douglas at Birlstone Manor House, Mr. Douglas has already been murdered by an unknown person with a shotgun blast to the face. The victim bears an unusual mark on his arm, branded there years before. Suspicion falls upon a house guest but there is not enough evidence to prove it. The twist at the end makes this one of the more enjoyable stories. 


Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less by C. Spike Trotman, art by Diana Nock, 166 pages

OK, I've found my new go-to graduation gift. This slim volume is chock full of money-saving tips on all aspects of life, from housing to health insurance to getting around town. There are even lists of the basic tools that should make up a toolbox and kitchen gear that's necessary to get cooking at home (and recipes!). Trotman packs a lot of text in, sometimes overpowering Nock's art, but really there's nothing that I would edit out. This is a reference that everyone who's starting out on their own should have on their bookshelf.

Modern Retro Home

Modern Retro Home : Tips and Inspiration for Creating Great Mid-Century Styles / Jason Grant, 255 p.

Gorgeous photos and some fun design ideas.  Can't really see putting much into practice, but fun to page through.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Start Without Me

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman (2017), 276 pages

Adam is a recovering alcoholic who was invited to his family's Thanksgiving gathering across the country eight months after going through rehab, and he thinks that his family expects him to fail. After arriving at his parents' home in the late evening, he flees from it in the early morning after accidentally breaking the coffee pot, expecting that they'll blame it on a relapse. He returns his rental car and is eating at a hotel restaurant near the airport, planning to skip Thanksgiving with his family after all.

Marissa, a fight attendant, has just finished working an overnight shift and is struggling with whether to secretly abort her fetus, the result of a fling with an ex-boyfriend, and pretend all is well with her husband, the son of an extremely wealthy senator and his antagonistic wife. She is expected to arrive at the in-laws' home in time for a photo shoot (for the senator's annual mailing) and Thanksgiving meal. Meanwhile, Marissa's been estranged from her own mother for 5 years in an attempt to escape the ravages of her mother's own alcoholism. She's at the same hotel restaurant as Adam, getting coffee to prepare for her long drive to her husband's family mansion.

Initially, I thought that the set-up for the novel took too long, but later I appreciated the care taken by the author. Over the course of a very long Thanksgiving day, Adam and Marissa travel together, learning about each other and buoying each other up, but also sometimes getting extremely annoyed by each other. When their respective family members make their appearances in the story, we get a better sense of the difficulties they've experienced and their need to figure out what comes next in their lives.