Friday, July 22, 2016

Come Hell or Highball

Come hell of highball / Maia Chance 307 pgs.

Lola Woodby is newly widowed but isn't TOO sad about it.  Her cheating husband Alfie wasn't a catch...aside from the fact that he was rich.  The rich part turns out not to be true.  He was being supported by his rich family and leaves Lola penniless.  Unaccustomed to doing without her highballs and gin, Lola and the cook Berta leave together with beloved Pomeranian Cedric and try to figure out how to make it.  They get an offer they can't refuse...steal a film back for a $3,000 reward.  This is prohibition era so that money will keep them quite well for quite awhile.  But they have to find the film.

Written as an almost screwball comedy, Lola and Berta are modern day heroines...they have guts and charisma and Berta makes divine cinnamon rolls.  Their task is difficult and they really don't know who they are dealing with but start finding out when people end up murdered.  Not the smoothest investigators around, these two keep it together and make a memorable duo.


Heartburn / Nora Ephron 179 pgs.

Mark and Rachel are so happy together.  They have one child and one on the way. They have successful careers, many friends and oh, the one bad thing...Mark is having an affair.  The affair is so intense, he is planning to leave Rachel as soon as she gives birth.  Rachel finds out.  She is devastated but Mark tells her it is a mistake...he won't see the other woman again...he doesn't exactly say he is sorry.  Rachel soon finds out, it is because he is NOT sorry. And, he is still seeing the other woman.  Rachel still loves him but sees this just isn't going to work out.  She steels herself and sells a ring he gave her so she has the money to walk out.

This best selling novel is based on Nora's real life marriage to Carl Bernstein and was also made into a movie.

Ms. Marvel: Super Famous

Ms. Marvel, vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, art by Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Nico Leon, 144 pages

This series just keeps knocking it out of the park. In the fifth volume, Kamala is struggling to balance her duties to her family with her work as Ms. Marvel while still keeping up with her schoolwork and social life. But guess what: it's not working. While there are plenty of smash-em-up sequences, that's not even close to the heart of this superhero story. The focus, instead, is on Kamala's failing attempt to be a good hero/daughter/friend, with plenty of social commentary on diversity thrown in, and it's all so relatable. A great, great series.

The View from the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman, 522 pages

Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known for his magical, yet somehow incredibly realistic, fiction writing, and his phenomenal graphic novel collaborations. Yet this book is neither of those. The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of more than 60 of his nonfiction writings, everything from speeches he's given to magazine articles he's written to the short essays he's penned as introductions for books or liner notes for albums. While it's definitely not a memoir, I feel like this book gives us a greater insight into Gaiman's life, primarily into those things and people who have influenced his writing career, as well as his methodology. That said, we also get insights into the worlds of people as varied as Lou Reed, Stephen King, and Syrian refugees.

While some may quibble with the topical organization of the book (yes, it does get a bit repetitive when you're four comics speeches into that section), it's still a great collection, and well worth reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry  281 pp.

I chose this book about a man and his truck - a 1951 International Harvester pickup - solely for sentimental reasons. My husband had an old truck - a Chevy - that I nicknamed "His Mistress" because during the time he owned it he spent more time and money on it than he did me. Reading Perry's descriptions of the process of rebuilding his old IH brought back some memories. But this book is much more than that. It is not just about the truck. There are the author's gardening foibles, cooking, tales of his work as an EMT with the local volunteer fire department in his small Wisconsin hometown, descriptions of the locals, his brothers and mother, and small town life in general. Then there is the love story part involving a young woman he meets on a book tour and manages to woo and eventually marry in spite of his history of disastrous relationships for which he mostly blames himself and perhaps on his "crush" on the fictional "Irma Harding", the face of International Harvester's home appliance advertisements and classic series of cookbooks. Perry's writing is funny, touching, and philosophical. The man is a master of hilarious similes and metaphors and I frequently laughed out loud while listening to the audiobook read by the author.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

God is Round

God is Round: Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World's Favorite Game by Juan Villoro, translated by Thomas Bunstead, 255 pages

If you're looking for a truly universal talking point anywhere in the world, try starting up a conversation about soccer (or, as the rest of the world calls it, football). While it hasn't really truly caught on in the U.S., the rest of the world lives and breathes by it. In this collection (of essays? of articles? it's never really clear), Villoro talks soccer in both broad strokes--fans, the mentality of the game--and in narrow discussions about specific players and their styles.

While it's obvious that Villoro has a deep love of the game at all levels of play, he has a tendency to write without giving a frame of reference for those of us who aren't as familiar with global soccer's intricacies (read: Americans). This could be more the fault of the translator, however, who must have known that this version would be marketed to the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, which are little discussed in the book. That said, I enjoyed Villoro's discussions of Cristiano Ronaldo (who he can't stand) and Lionel Messi (who he loves), as well as his ruminations about left-footedness and his scathing takedown of FIFA. I also love the sometimes-hilarious ways he describes players, which completely illustrate the players' style that, even though I'm not familiar with them, I feel like I've seen them play (for example, "When Maradona doesn't have the ball, he's as lonely as Adam on Mother's Day.")

If you're a fan of soccer only when the World Cup rolls around every four years, feel free to pick and choose; I'd only recommend reading the whole thing if you're a diehard fan of soccer in the Spanish-speaking world.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki  422 pp.

This is an intricate story within a story. Sixteen year old Nao is horribly bullied at her school in Japan. Her father is has been out of work since the dot com bust and has unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Nao has decided she will commit suicide also because her life is so horrible. She wants to first write about the life of her 104 year great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Nao's story is discovered by Ruth who lives on Canadian island on the Pacific Coast. She finds the "Hello Kitty" lunchbox containing Nao's writings and an vintage wristwatch on the beach after the devastating 2011 tsunami hit Japan. Debris from the Japan is turning up on west coast beaches. Ruth and her husband get caught up in Nao's story which includes elements of Buddhism, visits from spirits, World War II, and teen-age angst. This is a novel that sucks you in and you don't want to put it down because there are so many mysteries to figure out.  

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, 652 pages

My son and I have made it through Book 6 in the series. We had many discussions along the way, including why soul-encapsulating things are scarier than reanimated corpses, why he didn't like this one as much as Chamber of Secrets (his favorite because of all the action at the end), and what exactly a spoiler is and how rude it would be for him to tell his little sister about *spoilery thing at the end of the book.* We've already dived into Deathly Hallows with gusto, and I think the kiddo will be pleasantly surprised by the shocking amount of action in Book 7.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, 470 pages.

Alexievich, the winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, talked to people  all over Russia and in the former Soviet republics and recorded their stories. The stories come quickly, with the shifting of voice indicated sometimes with a simple dash. Everyone is upset about the changes in their lives, and how one feels about the changes in the availability of salami is a indicator of their level of hope for the future.
There are a host of grim stories here; reminiscences from the times of Stalin and the Gulag, as well as more recent accounts of rape, murder, and beatings during the wars, armed conflicts, uprisings, massacres, and other violent interactions in Chechnya, Armenia, Azerbijan, Georgia, Belarus, and other regions.
People tell Aexievich of their loss of identity, their economic dislocation, and the trauma they have experienced during the end of the Soviet era and into the present. A surprising number of people tell of their wish that communism, especially that strain found during the era of Stalin would return. Knowing that there was only one set of truths, believing that your country was great (and single-handedly defeated Hitler), and knowing that your neighbors suffering was on par with your own seems worth the price of freedom and possible failure. Everywhere the men drink and lash out at strangers, the vulnerable, and their families. The women and children, the elderly, and anyone living in a land not decidedly their own suffers horribly.
Fascinating, grim, and sad.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson, 380 pages.

Bryson reflects on and follows his classic 1993 Notes from a Small Island with an updated tour of Great Britain. I've read several of Bryson's books before, A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Home, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, but I haven't read any of his other travel books, and I don't remember him being this funny. He is really funny in The Road, in an updated, profane, Andy Rooney sort of way. His imagined dialogues with shop clerks, barkeeps and hoteliers are evil and sharp and funny. Sometimes he seems a little whiny, or self-indulgent, but then he realizes it and makes fun of that too, and it's all better.
He rips into the English (or at least certain English) for their peculiarities, their foibles, and their lack of a sense of humor (though his family and the staff of at least one McDonalds don't seem to get him either), but he does proclaim his love for his adopted home and its inhabitants. Published a year or so before the Brexit vote, it will be interesting to read his take on that, and see his adjustment on his take on the xenophobia of the English. A very fun read, and the audio is well read and features a bonus song, "The Bryson Line," which includes the line, "Great Britain is great, let's not be pedantic, the North Sea's in the east, the Irish Sea's the Atlantic".