Saturday, May 26, 2018

An American Marriage

An American Marriage / Tayari Jones, 308 pgs.

Roy and Celestial are newlyweds and mostly on the same page but still fight quite a bit.  Roy is going down the path of a success in business and Celestial is becoming a respected artist.  They have only been married for a year when the unthinkable happens.  Roy is accused of a crime and ends up in prison.  Celestial knows he is innocent and the system is broken.  They are looking at twelve years apart.  This book follows their relationship as Roy begins serving time and Celestial is trying to get it together on her own.  Several years into his sentence, Celestial moves on and finds comfort with Andre, her childhood friend and literally the boy next door.  Andre originally introduced Roy and Celestial so he is also dealing with a lot of baggage.  After five years in the slammer, and two years after Celestial renounces their marriage (but never divorces him) Roy wins his appeal and is released.  Can Roy win Celestial back?  Can Andre keep her?  An interesting tale of how life can be unfair.  Although I'm inclined to point out the societal issue of falsely accusing a black man, the real story here is the interaction of the characters, major and minor and learning about their thoughts.

Down the river unto the sea

Down the river unto the sea / Walter Mosley, read by Dion Graham, 322 pgs.

Joe King Oliver is a PI who used to be a cop.  He was setup on a bogus charge that landed him at Rikers Island where he was put in solitary to prevent other prisoners from killing him.  90 days later, charges were dropped but he could not go back to the force and his wife, who didn't stand by him, is out.  Ten years later, he is a private investigator but still a broken man.  He lives for his teen daughter and is doing an ok job of keeping it together.  When a young attorney comes to him for help, he sees a way to discover who set him up while helping another with a "bad cop" problem.  With a cast of interesting supporting characters, this is standard for Mosley which means better than most others.  Dion Graham's narration adds a lot to the story.

Ether

Ether: the death of the last golden blaze / Matt Kindt, art by David Rubin, 136 pgs.

Scientist Boone Dias travels through a portal to a fantasy land of Ether.  He does not believe in magic and struggles to find fact based answers to all the fantastic experiences he has including solving a murder.  Ether is where he spends most of his time but we get a glimpse of his earth life when he heads home for nourishment and is basically a crazed homeless guy when viewed through the eyes of his fellow humans.  Fabulous art and a story that will be resolved in future volumes.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, 521 pages.
Zelie lost her mother during the Raid, when all of the practicing maji, the wielders of magic, in Orisha were killed by King Saran's men. The maji, their powers signified by their white hair, had been the rulers of Orisha throughout history and Saran feared them and their power. His quest to completely eliminate the maji threatens Zelie, her brother and her father. As Saran's plans unfold, his daughter Amari and his son Inan must decide where their loyalties lie. Overall, a great YA adventure story.

Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir

Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir by H. Jon Benjamin, pages.
Books by comedians are a weakness for me. If I enjoy the author's other work, ususally stand-up or comedic acting, then I want to read their funny little memoir even though I know that I am likely to be disappointed. This time I was pleasantly suprised. Benjamin, the voice of the title characters in both Archer and Bob's Burgers, is a clever and competent writer. He is very funny too. in this attempt at a memoir, Benjamin chooses to work thematically, linking episodes and milestones in his life to specific failures on his part; flaws in his character. He is, as I have mentioned, funny about this. He's not apologetic, and often offers bits of his philosophy of failure to encourage in others. He says early on, "this is a polemic in favor of failure. It's an assertion that failure is an option, and even, at times, a viable prescription for a better life".
Like many comedic memoirs, we're not getting a whole lot of personal details, unless they're funny bits of failure; there are (I presume) bunches of lies. But it is all funny. Benjamn's tales of failing at every aspect of life, from abandoning a sleepover during childhood, to watching tv at his neighbor's while the house was being robbed, to curling up in a ball instead of participating in a three-way while at college are all hilarious.

Void Moon

Void Moon by Michael Connelly, 391 pages.
Connelly, best known for his police thrillers featuring Detective Harry Bosch, and his legal thrillers featuring attorney Mickey Haller, put together this intriguing and entertaining heist novel back in the waning years of the last century. Cassie Black, on parole from a Los Vegas casino job that went horribly wrong, is working at a Hollywood Porsche while trying to get her life back together. A sudden change in a secret (not that secret, it's telegraphed, but not talked about in the beginning of the book) from her old life threatens her long-range plans, and forces her back to a life of crime. She's trusting people from her past, people who know how much she lost. Some of them are on her side and some not so much.
A well-thought out plot, interesting characters, and great storytelling make this an enjoyable read. Michael Connelly, who writes a couple of excellent Bosch and / or Haller novels a year, could have been right up there with Elmore Leonard if he had the time and inclination.

Jewish Comedy: A Serious History

Jewish Comedy: A Serious History by Jeremy Dauber, 364 pages.

Dauber's history of Jewish Comedy has some hilarious moments in the first third of the book, and the author tells some hilarious jokes, but it is, as the title indicates, a little more serious than that and slows down and sobers up. An interesting read.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Mousy Cats and Sheepish Coyotes: The Science of Animal Personalities

Mousy Cats and Sheepish Coyotes: The Science of Animal Personalities by John A. Shivik, 2017, 190 pages

Author/biologist John Shivik writes animatedly (pun intended), beginning with animals he has known and characteristics that made them special to him. He also informs us that animal research was set back 100 years because of a biologist, C. Lloyd Morgan, who decreed in 1896 that studying animal personalities was plain wrong. Until recently, researchers who indicated that animals had personalities would be considered to be "unscientific, wishy-washy, and subjective sentimentalists" (p 11). That attitude has now shifted. Shivik's book compiles recent studies, some quite impressive, based on their length of time and the number of animals studied, about how animals can be categorized into Myers-Briggs personality groups and then followed to learn more about them. Just a small sampling of animals studied this way: spiders, bees, fish, bats, dolphins, cougars, elephants, monkeys.

Not only do animals have varying characteristics that comprise personality, but different personality traits provide diversity to their populations, which in turn help species survive.

This very readable book has a useful index and is extensively foot-noted in case one wants to know more about the studies Shivik describes.


Barracoon

Barracoon: the story of the last "Black Cargo"/ Zora Neale Hurston, read by Robin Miles, 196 pgs.

Cudjo Lewis was interviewed by Zora Neale Hurston in 1927.  Lewis was the last living African who had been brought to America as a slave.  Born in 1841, around 1860, he was brought to America many years after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was legally abolished.  Lewis lived as a slave until emancipation following the Civil War but had no money for a return trip to Africa.  Hurston returned many times to continue her conversations with Lewis.  He told her of life in Africa, life as a slave and live after slavery.  This is a remarkable account of an amazing life.  Narrator Robin Miles does a wonderful job with the audio book.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Bridesmaid's Daughter

The Bridesmaid's Daughter: From Grace Kelly's Wedding to a Women's Shelter -- Searching for the Truth about My Mother by Nina Gyles  and Eve Claxton  265 pp.

Carolyn Scott was one of the early models with the famous Eileen Ford Agency in the 1950s. While living in the Barbazon Women's Hotel in NYC she met and became friends with budding actress and model, Grace Kelly who would become Princess Grace of Monaco. In this book her daughter chronicles Carolyn's life which went from Steubenville, Ohio to a successful career, a marriage and motherhood, to mental illness that rendered her homeless in spite of those who tried to help her. As these types of stories go, it is tragic. As these type of books go, this one was underwhelming.