Monday, November 20, 2017

Radio Free Vermont

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben, 224 pages

Vern Barclay is your average local talk radio host, discussing high school sports scores, the unseasonably warm weather, updates on the local news, you know the drill. But then his station (the last independent station in Vermont!) is purchased by an out-of-state conglomerate, he's forced to cover the opening of a Wal-mart, and the next thing you know, he's a fugitive from the law, spearheading the shop local movement to end all movements (and eventually a secession movement) through the website, podcasts, and occasional broadcast of Radio Free Vermont.

McKibben has given us a creative, fun way to look at resistance in the current political climate, and I thank him for that wholeheartedly. I loved the characters he created (particularly Perry? The computer whiz who ends each sentence with a question mark?), and the excellent ways they find to stick it to the man. One of my favorites of the year.

Lost City of the Monkey God

Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston  326  pp.

It's not often you find a nonfiction page turner but this one was for me. In 2012, Douglas Preston traveled to Honduras as part of expedition to search for the mysterious Ciudad Blanca "White City" the subject of legends of an ancient Mayan metropolis called the Lost City of the Monkey God, deep in the Central American rain forest. Preston was on the expedition to document it for National Geographic. The expedition was a treacherous one with torrential rains, waist deep mud, disease carrying biting insects, and the deadly fer-de-lance viper. With the help of advanced laser technology the city was located and secured against looters with the assistance of the new Honduran government. After returning and reporting their findings including some speculation on how and why the city was abandoned. After their return the scientists and archaeologists came under attack from a faction of their peers for a variety of mostly unfounded accusations. But the worst was yet to come when Preston and most of the expedition members are afflicted with leishmaniasis, an insect-born parasite that eats flesh. With varieties of treatments, most recovered and were able to return to the site in 2016. The scariest part of the whole book is the information that this once tropical disease is spreading northward with the assistance of Global Warming. Preston's descriptions of the treacherous journey and the its aftermath make this nonfiction book read like a novel but is factual and in no way related to the Pendergast series written by Preston and Lincoln Child.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Five-carat soul

Five-carat soul / James McBride, read by Arthur Morey, Nile Bullock, Prentice Onayemi and Dominic Hoffman, 308 pgs.

These short stories are really great.  I especially loved the ones set in the zoo that were narrated by a lion.  The animals are the "higher order" and people are "smelly ones."  There are a lot of rules among the higher orders and a communication among all called "thought speak."  But really, you can't go wrong with any of these fabulous stories.  I listened to the audio book which was worth the time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson  599 pp.

Walter Isaacson writes detailed biographies of highly intelligent people. I previously read/listened to his books on Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. While I enjoyed those two, this one on Leonardo is my favorite. What is obvious in the book is that Leonardo's entire life was focused by his curiosity. His works of art were preceded by detailed examinations of anatomy, light and shadow, and perspective. His insatiable curiosity often caused him to leave paintings incomplete or never get them to those who commissioned them because he continued to make changes based on his scientific investigations including his many autopsies of cadavers. While his procrastination frequently caused problems with the patrons who supported him, his talent and reputation meant he was never without a rich and powerful patron for long. Included with the audiobook is a .pdf of the illustrations in the book which are referred to by number in the text including paintings, sketches, and schematics made by Leonardo and others. There is so much information in this book but it is very accessible to readers without knowledge of art and engineering. This one is well worth the time to read and/or listen to it.


The end of the fucking world / Charles Forsman, 176 pgs.

James and Alyssa are two disgruntled teens.  They might be in love or maybe just hanging out because it is convenient.  James pretty quickly outs himself as a bit of a sociopath.  He is mean to animals, he sticks his hand down the garbage disposal, things continue to be more violent.  He is basically a person who does not feel.  Alyssa kind of ignores the signs and behavior but things eventually get out of hand.  There are no lovable characters here...heck, there aren't even any likable characters.  The art is simple so the violence isn't too graphic.  Not sure who I would recommend this book to but I don't regret reading it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Reincarnation Blues

Reincarnation Blues / Michael Poore, read by Mark Bramhall, 371 pgs.

Milo has been reincarnated 9,995 times when he finds out there is a hard limit on how many times one can live and he is closing in on it.  The pressure is on to achieve "perfection" and move onto post death status as "oversoul."  He starts being more serious about what he accomplishes in his remaining lives.  Will he achieve perfection?  This book is really interesting and we see Milo in many different incarnations, back in forth through time.  A fun story that is well read by Mark Bramhall.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn / Mark Twain, read by Robin Field,  336 p.

We all know the story of Huck, Jim, Tom, et al., and that great big brown river that rolls them south.  I was surprised at how engaging and funny the story remained.  It's great road trip material, and ably read by Robin Field.


LaRose: a Novel / Louise Erdrich,  read (gorgeously) by the author, 373 p.

A beautiful 'wow' of a novel from a writer fully in command of her craft.  LaRose is a 5 year old boy when a terrible accident occurs, linking two families straddling the border of the Ojibwe reservation and rural North Dakota. In an attempt to heal the rift created by the accident, a plan emerges: LaRose will become son to both families involved in the tragedy.  This seemingly impossible solution, rooted in old Ojibwe ways, plays out across several years and touches many lives: LaRose's two sets of parents, his many siblings, and their extended families.  Great storytelling and especially noteworthy for the pitch-perfect detail.  While listening I felt like I could smell the meat stews, see LaRose's sisters applying nail polish, and hear the thwack of the volleyball as his sisters play in a high-stakes tournament.  The author presents characters who are deeply flawed but never judged.

The misfortune of Marion Palm

The misfortune of Marion Palm / Emily Culliton, 283 pgs.

Marion Palm lives a pretty good life with her husband Nathan and their two daughters.  What isn't known to anyone but her is that she is financing this life by embezzling from the school where she works.  This also happens to be the school that her children attend.  When word comes down of an audit, Marion goes on the lam.  She leaves her husband and kids but doesn't go far...she ends up renting a room from a Russian woman who employs her to clean apartments.  Pretty soon, she is stealing again.  Meanwhile, life at her old home is kind of falling apart.  How are things going to turn out for this odd family?  An interesting debut novel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Kristin Lavransdatter 1, The Bridal Wreath

The Bridal Wreath / Sigrid Undset, trans. Charles Archer and J.S. Scott, 283 p.

The first novel in a trilogy by the 1928 winner of the Nobel Prize, in which the life of a medieval Norwegian woman is traced from birth to death.  The Bridal Wreath tells the story of Kristin's childhood to her marriage.  The novel is rich with detail of daily life on a Norwegian farm in the 14th century, and the landscape described is spectacular.  Readers who enjoy medieval historical fiction will almost certainly enjoy this; Undset's knowledge of the period seems so thorough that through descriptions of clothing, food, cooking, social events, and religious ritual, the reader is fully immersed.  But make no mistake: the Bridal Wreath is first and foremost a novel about sex.  Greed, hunger, fear, and faith drive the plots of many novels, but the arc of Kristin's adolescent life is directed by sexual drive, both her own and that of those around her.  The prose style as translated by Archer and Scott was a bit tough going; I'd really like to take a look at the new translation by Tiina Nunnally, translator of Camilla Lackberg, Mari Jungstedt, and other Scandinavian thriller writers.