Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  529 pp.

I don't know what to say about this book that hasn't already been said by Linda, Christa, and Kathleen. Ursula Todd is born and dies multiple times but manages to live through many of the important events of the 20th century. the story is engrossing but somewhat confusing. Characters, including Ursula, live or die depending on the circumstances of the next incarnation. Is it really happening or all in her head? Who knows. In all the episodes of her life she has the same family and grows up in the same home but the characters don't always act the same. This is a novel you keep reading because you want to see where the characters end up next.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Batman: Death of the Family

Batman:  Death of the Family (New 52 Batman vol. 3), by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo; graphic novel; 176 pages.

In the first major Joker story since the major DCU reboot, the Joker returns with a new approach to waging his war on Batman.

I'm of two minds about this arc (which, I admit, would be a better pun if this was a Two-Face story).  The Joker is absolutely terrifying in this volume--a homicidal maniac who spouts gruesome threats where he may (or may not) be bluffing.  His goal of attacking Batman through his support network (Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, etc.) is pretty genius, and his claim to have figured out the identities of the whole Bat-Family is pretty great.  The Joker here is a genius at psychological manipulation who knows just which buttons to push for maximum terror (and believe me, some of the things he says/implies are REALLY terrifying).  But while the Joker was one of his scariest incarnations yet (just look at the cover, where his face has been crudely reattached with wires--he sports that look for the whole book!), I admit there were a few places where the story fell a little flat--or at least had me asking "why?" to my faithful comics reading companion, my dog.

One of the things that I both loved and didn't love were the references to past famous Joker stories.  Since this story draws in a lot of Batman's supporting cast, it makes sense to reference the Joker's past violence to both Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd (though it feels like Barbara Gordon's case gets more air time; Todd is barely mentioned, which is odd considering that he actually died from what the Joker did to him).  However, the Joker's m.o.of systematically reenacting his earliest crimes is strange.  It makes sense to the reader (this is his "rebirth" in the New 52, after all), but makes less sense within the context of the DCU.  The Joker hasn't really been "reborn" at this point, so why do that?  I was also confused about the Joker's whereabouts for the last year.  At the end of Faces of Death (Joker's last appearance) the Joker has vanished completely, and people comment throughout this book that they haven't seen him for a year.  But later on we learn that he's been in Arkham for the past year--as a patient?  Then didn't we know where he was?  Or was he just hanging out there, since it seems to be his home away from home?

Overall, I enjoyed this collection, as long as I don't think too hard about the plot.  I'll be interested to see where Snyder takes this in the Zero Year arc. 

What Nora knew

What Nora knew / Linda Yellin 304 pgs.

Molly Hallberg is a features writer for the on-line magazine MyEye.  She ends up doing some crazy things for a story...but she is stumped when assigned a story about romance.  Molly divorced her cheating husband five years ago and is a stable relationship with Russel, a stable chiropractor.  They are happy together, aren't' they? No drama but that is what she wants.  After failing so miserably with the romance assignment, Molly starts thinking something is missing from her life.  Sure, no drama with Russel but also no sparks...but do you really need sparks?

This is chick-lit for the more mature set. Molly is turning 40 after all and thinks she understands a lot about life and what she wants but can't resist the pull of a man who shows interest in her for what she considers her better parts.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to fail at almost everything and still win big

How to fail at almost everything and still win big: Kind of the story of my life / Scott Adams 248 pgs.

Scott Adams has a system for many things and not goals.  This is something that works for him.  Simplify as many things as you can and observe and learn from the stuff that is going on around you.  Pay attention and you may find a system that works for you.  This book covers a lot of ground about success, business, psychology, health - including diet and exercise, and happiness.  Happiness should be the only goal and the only reason to do things.  Not surprisingly, Adams is analytic and willing to examine his failures for the worthwhile parts.  I guess it helps if you are an optimist or at least it certainly seems to have helped him.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

John Adams

John Adams / David McCullough 752 pgs.

Our second president is an impressive subject.  He didn't win the revolution but he did nominate George Washington to lead the troops.  He didn't write the Declaration of Independence but he had huge influence on the basic structure of our government and democracy.  He was instrumental in convincing foreign governments to support the new country during the revolution and served as the first vice president.  He was married to a woman whom he considered a partner.  She was impressive in her own right, extremely intelligent and level headed and always managed their finances because she was better at it than he was.  This book tells a lot about John Adams but also much about the founding fathers and the time of the revolution.  at 752 pages it will keep you busy for awhile but it is time well spent.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib by David J. Schwartz  416 pp.

In an alternate version of Earth, there exists magic and demons and parallel dimensions and colleges that teach magic and government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, among others. In this version of Earth the FBMA was started by Aleister Crowley. The heroine of the story is Joy Wilkins, an FBMA agent sent undercover as a professor at the community college to investigate the disappearance of a faculty member and a demon trafficking operation possibly connected to those committing terrorist attacks. Joy is a bit disabled in that she is face blind and has to rely on her ability to see auras to recognize people. But this doesn't always work because people's auras change. She finds herself in the midst of an ancient magical war and doesn't know who to trust; her agency boss, the members of the mysterious organization, The Thirteenth Rib, a trickster god who has taken the place of another professor, or any one of the many magical and possibly sinister people she encounters. This book has a variety of different characters, plenty of action, and intrigue. This book was originally published as a Kindle serial before coming out in paperback. I took a chance on it when the Kindle version was on sale for only a dollar or two because the title intrigued me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Divorce Papers

The Divorce Papers / Susan Rieger 461 pgs.

Anne Sophie Diehl is an up and coming criminal lawyer and an established firm and is happily dealing with her clients when a woman walks in needing a divorce and nobody else is there for the intake interview.  Of course Mia likes Sophie and wants her to handle the case even though she doesn't know anything about family law. Well, this walk in isn't just ANYBODY, she is the daughter of long-time client and local rich business man Mr. Meiklejohn.  Sophie gets roped into this case but learns a lot along the way as she and Mia build a relationship.  The novel is told in memos, emails and filings.  It is amusing in places and sad in others.  Jane, the 10 year old daughter of the soon to be uncoupled couple has a hard time understanding the situation while, at the same time, being wise beyond her years.  Many memories and still unresolved issues from her own parent's divorce decades ago resurface for Sophie as she deals with the legal issues as well as the emotional issues of her client's situation.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York / Liana Finck

A charming new graphic novel.  The narrator receives an old notebook full of newspaper clippings, from which emerges the ghost of Abraham Cahan, famous founder of the Yiddish paper the Forward.  (I wrote about an interesting Cahan bio recently.)  Together the narrator and Cahan look at letters from Cahan's 100-year-old advice column, The Bintel Brief.  Finck brings the stories to life with quietly effective drawing, and shares Cahan's response to each letter.  Alongside the letter stories, which evoke Lower East Side life at the turn of the last century, Cahan and the narrator carry on their own dialogue, and before he departs Cahan has advice for our author as well.  Moving but not sentimental, this would make a great gift.  Recommended. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Enon

Enon / Paul Harding 238 pgs.

Charlie Crosby had a pretty standard life until his 13 year old daughter Kate is killed on her bike after being hit by a car.  To say he falls apart does not really do justice to the bulk of this book that tells the tale of the year after Kate's death.   Turns our being Kate's father was really the only thing that gave Charlie any meaning in his life or satisfaction.  He tumbles into despair, drug addiction and a depression with magical elements.  It is sad.  Still, there is hope and despite this book centering on Charlie, you learn that the little town where he lives gives him the time and space to deal with his loss.

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The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones  421 pp.

This novel in verse is about the life of a woman at fifty with a daughter going off to college, a seriously ill mother living across the country, a looming book deadline, a husband she alternately adores and wants to strangle ("Being married makes me feel like a miner trapped in a shaft."), a changing body, and hot flashes ("I am the roar from the oven door that melts the glasses right off your face."). As she navigates her life the poems are touching, angry, funny, heartbreaking, sweet, and all have a wonderful ring of truth. This is a book that will be most appreciated by women who are in the late 40s-mid 50s. However, men should read it also since it may serve as an explanation/warning of what is going on with the women in their lives.