Friday, July 13, 2018

So close to being the sh*t, y'all don't even know

So close to being the sh*t, y'all don't even know / Retta, read by the author, 262 pgs.

You may know Retta from Parks and Recreation, Good Girls, from her stand-up or as Twitter royalty.  No matter, you will learn new things about her obsession for the LA Kings (yes the hockey team), Hamilton, and expensive purses.  This book is funny and the narration is wonderfully done as only the author can do.  Fans will love this and newcomers will find something to laugh at too.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Possession: a Romance, by A. S. Byatt


I first read Possession when it came out in 1990, then again for my book club a few years later.  Now, a quarter of a century later still, I have revisited this favorite book in order to discuss it with a much younger, but much more erudite, friend.  The rewards of rereading it were substantial.  The basic plot is that two contemporary scholars, working independently, discover a possible very personal connection between two famous Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.  Within the framework of the 1980s story, we learn through the poets’ letters, poems, and fairy tales, as well as others’ diaries and modern-day scholarly research– all written by Byatt and all excellent – how their connection developed, how in influenced their work, and what the startling outcome of their relationship was.  Soon other scholars and interested parties begin to get wind of this possible discovery, which will change everything they believed they knew about these writers.  And a chase is on.  Weaving together mythology, spiritualism, Victorian sensibility, Pre-Raphaelitism, natural history, and modern-day scholarship and feminism, Byatt skillfully keeps all these balls in the air while at the same time creating an engaging love story and convoluted mystery.  You do have to have a certain tolerance for a lot of long poetry and flowery letters – I loved them all.  To get the most out of the novel, don’t skip anything!  Just ravishing!  555 pp.

Speak no evil

Speak no evil / Uzodinma Iweala, read by Prentice Onayemi & Julia Whelan, 214 pgs.

In many ways, Niru leads a charmed life.  Bound for Harvard and finishing up his senior year, he is a top student, a track star and has a best friend, Meredith.  But he also has a secret, he is gay.  When his very conservative Nigerian parents get a hint of this, they send him to Nigeria and employ a religious "fix" for this problem.  When he returns home, he and Meredith don't seem to have time for each other.  He tries to be the son his parents want him to be but he can't.  He embarks on a relationship with a man he meets at the shoe store.  He bristles at all the restrictions in his life. Then he and Meredith reconnect.  What happens next is tragic and the books shifts to Meredith's point of view.  Prentice Onayemi & Julia Whelan do a great job narrating this modern tale of identity and struggle.

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham, 402 pages. Narrated by Fred Sanders.

Meacham shows how American history has been hijacked by partisan, racist, hateful asshole-ness before,and how it has recovered before, giving us a measure of hope for the future. Chapters on Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt show their flaws, their racist views, their shortcomings, but also show how they tried to change things, how they grew at least a little bit.
A nice overview of some parts of American history.
Sanders does a very good job on the narration.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, edited by Stephen Emerson, 403 pages. Audio is read by multiple narrators.

Christa and another coworker, Kathleen, maybe, had spoken well of this book back when it came out, in 2015. It took me a while to read it, or rather to listen to it and read it, but I am glad I did.

The writing is beautiful and the arc of the book is amazing. The characters are so present, so clear. Sad, but not asking for pity. Aware of what a mess their lives are, but also aware of the circumstances that got them here. Really an amazing book.
It took me far to long to realize that these were the same characters appearing again and again. I never read forewords or introductions to works of fiction (unless we're going to discuss the book), but since I listened to the first half of this book, I kind of had to. It was only because of Lydia Davis's foreword that I was aware of the parallels between the stories and the author's life; Davis quoting the author, "I exaggerate a lot and I get fiction and reality mixed up, but I don't actually ever lie."
Very glad I read this.

Echo: The Complete Edition

Echo: The Complete Edition, by Terry Moore, 590 pages.

 Julie is going to be divorced soon and wanders out into the wilderness around Moon Lake to get some peace and take some photos. It turns out that she is in the wrong place at the wrong time as a disagreement between Foster, the evil head of a nanotechnology / weapons research group,  and Annie, the non-evil inventor of the tech, leads to a nuclear explosion. Julie is transformed by the event, as is a nearby crazed drifter. Annie's boyfriend, Dillon, eventually joins forces with Julie, maybe-not-quite-dead Annie, and Ivy, a freelance operative, to try and stop Foster from misusing the new tech and ending the world. It's a relatively long and complicated graphic novel, but the story is well told and the art supports the story. A good read.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Victor LaValle's Destroyer

Victor LaValle's Destroyer by Victor LaValle, art by Dietrich Smith, 160 pages

As a brilliant scientist and descendant of Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Josephine Baker has a bit of a legacy. Fortunately for her, she's chosen to embrace her ancestor's ideas, and use nanobots to expand upon his vision of creating immortality through scientific advances. And it seems that she has, at least to a degree, succeeded where Dr. Frankenstein failed, reanimating the body of her young son. This is a powerful and wonderful graphic novel that, yes, builds on the story of Frankenstein and his monster, but uses it to shine a light on the spate of young black men who have been (and continue to be) killed by police officers. This was a truly excellent book, and I highly recommend it, particularly to those it will rankle.

Cosmos

Cosmos by Carl Sagan  365 pp.

I read this book back when the PBS series was a thing. Last year an audiobook version was produced with LeVar (Reading Rainbow / Geordi La Forge) Burton as the main narrator along with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Seth MacFarlane, and Ann Druyan, Sagan's collaborator on the television series. Burton does an excellent job of narration although I couldn't help but think of all the episodes of "Reading Rainbow" I watched with my kids. It was nice to revisit this book from long ago. And yes, the word 'billions" is very noticeably used frequently but Burton doesn't give it that distinctive Sagan style. The only downside to this audio version was the introduction by Ann Druyan because I found her voice not particularly pleasant.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, 531 pages

Eleven years ago, King Saran ordered the mass murder of the maji of Orisha in retaliation for an uprising against him, leaving behind orphaned diviners — white-haired children with magical potential that will never be reached (well, not if King Saran has anything to say about it). Now, 17-year-old diviner Zelie and Saran's daughter Amari have been thrown together in a quest to bring magic back to Orisha, with the king's ruthless guards hot on their tail.

For a long book, this reads incredibly quickly, with plenty of page-turning action. That said, the characters are nothing to sneeze at. I particularly like the internal conflicts of Amari's brother Inan, who is also captain of King Saran's guards. I don't know that this is quite the "next Harry Potter" as it's been called, but it is a good YA fantasy, and I look forward to seeing what Adeyemi has planned for the rest of the series.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Monk of Mokha

The Monk of Mokha / Dave Eggers, read by Dion Graham, 336 pgs.

In interesting story of an intrepid entrepreneur who decides to elevate his culture by importing coffee from its origin, Yemen.  Of course there are a few stumbling blocks.  Mokhtar is 25 years old and drifting between sales jobs starting at Banana Republic and at the start of this journey, he is a door man.  Also, he has never tasted coffee...but why should this impinge on his plans to learn a LOT about coffee, become a Q taster (the highest level of coffee expert) and importer?  Well, Yemen is also in the midst of a civil war so that also isn't helping.  Against all odds, Mokhtar just keeps pushing forward, not sure what he is doing but confident he will figure it out.  An engaging story of someone with a classic American Dream who is dedicated to pulling it off.  Dion Graham's narration adds plenty to the story and it is nice to hear all of the places and people's name with correct pronunciation.