Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Burning Page

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman, 356 pages

(Rather than writing a typical blog entry here, I'm going to use this space to appeal directly to the author. I hope nobody minds.)

Dear Ms. Cogman,

Please tell me that this isn't the last of the Invisible Library books! You got our heroine, Librarian-extraordinaire Irene, out of immediate trouble yet again, and may have averted disaster for the Library once again, but there are so many questions I have! The world(s) you have created is(are) so wonderful and multifaceted, and there is so much more I want to see! You are probably aware of the questions I have regarding Alberich, and Irene's parents, and Kai's abilities, and Vale's future (and in any case, I don't want to spoil these fantastic books for others who may be reading this plea), but I'd like to ask you to swear, in the Language, that more Invisible Library books will be published.

Thank you!
Your loyal reader,


Mangaman by Barry Lyga, art by Colleen Doran, 112 pages

In this fun, genre-bending graphic novel, the titular Mangaman is Ryoko, a hero from Japanese comics that is blasted into a typical American comic (except that the residents of the American comic don't realize they're comic characters). Despite dealing (hilariously) with the common features of manga, Ryoko manages to fall in love with all-American girl Marissa. It's a typical plot, but the mash-up of manga and western comics styles is brilliant. High five to Lyga for his fantastic idea, and a million high fives to Doran for her excellent artwork. I had a blast reading this!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Crossing the Horiozon

Crossing the Horizon / Laurie Notaro, 455 pgs.

This is a novelization of real events that happened soon after Lindbergh's famous flight in 1927, the race was on to break other flying records.  This book recounts the efforts of three women, Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder and Mabel Boll, all who wanted to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.  Mackay was an accomplished pilot, actress and businesswoman.  She financed her efforts with her own money.  Ruth Elder, also a pilot, made it part-way although her plane ditched in the ocean. She was rescued at sea and became "Miss America of Aviation."  Mabel Boll was a spitfire who wanted to go as a passenger only and drove away several teams with her intense demands and crazy behavior. It is interesting to read about the intense competition that was going on with these women and many others who were competing for prize money, glory and fame.  Although this book was a slow starter for me, it was great to read about these adventurous women.

Six and a Half Deadly Sins

Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill  242 pp.

This is the tenth book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. As always, Dr. Siri goes off on an unofficial investigation (he is now the Retired National Coroner of Laos) this time into the mysterious package he receives containing a hand woven pha sin, a traditional Laos skirt (the "sin" in the title). Sewn in the hem of the sin is a human finger. Since Siri and his wife have been forced to live in Siri's old house with the collection of crazies that inhabit it, they are glad for a reason to go on the road and solve a mystery which takes them north to the Laos-China border in a kind of scavenger hunt for other sin. Siri's old friend Civilai appears, having been sent on a diplomatic mission to negotiate with the Chinese. When they end up with a stash of heroin instead of another skirt, things get dangerous. Inspector Phosy has also been sent to the same area to investigate some killings and is captured and presumably killed. Then the Chinese invade Vietnam and chaos reigns. While the others are "enjoying" their trip to the north, Nurse Dtui discovers that an old nemesis of Siri's was not actually executed as they thought and is once again out to kill him. All the chaos comes to a conclusion at a funeral for a main character, but I'm not giving away who the funeral is for.

Absolutely on Music

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa by Haruki Murakami  325 pp.

I'm going to start this off with a warning: This is not a book for your "average" Murakami reader or even the casual lover of classical music. I would not recommend it unless you are very well versed in classical music, music conductors, and recordings of classical music. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about classical music but the transcripts of the Murakami-Ozawa interviews frequently left me lost. I am a fan of Maestro Ozawa and have always enjoyed various television performances he conducted. He was an oddity in the music world being the only Asian conductor working in the west studying with Herbert von Karajan and later picked by Leonard Bernstein to be Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic even though he spoke little English at the time. Ozawa is one of those hard-working non-stop people who at the age of 81 is still at it even after taking a little time off for a bought of esophageal cancer. What was surprising to me is Murakami's extensive knowledge of the genre including the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in recordings of major works conducted by various of the world's greatest conductors. (The list of recordings is so extensive they were not listed in the book but are available on Murakami's website.) But it is clear that Murakami's questions for the Maestro were sincere and in the interest of gaining further knowledge. This is an excellent book for a very select audience.

The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough  320 pp.

As in his other books David McCullough does a meticulous job of chronicling the lives and achievements of Orville and Wilbur Wright and their accomplishments and failures while keeping it interesting and readable. The nearly inseparable brothers, both with a incredible sense of focus, used their talents to create a successful bicycle business in the days when bicycles were become more popular and useful. Every cent they made was put back into the business or used for their other venture: trying to build a flying machine that actually worked. Many others were also pursuing that goal and most were failing, some fatally so. Their dogged persistence finally carries them to success despite their detractors. The friendships and battles between the Wrights and their competitors and supporters include two others important in aviation history, Samuel Langley, who at that time was in charge of the Smithsonian, and glider pioneer, Octave Chanute. I enjoyed this book as I have others by McCullough. However, the description of the Wrights' rustic outpost at Kitty Hawk at Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina made me wonder what they would think of it now with multi story vacation condos built right up to the edge of the  property housing the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Museum.

The Fun Family

The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch, 236 pages

Robert Fun is a comic strip creator, famous for a wholesome, single-circle strip. But after his mother dies and his wife leaves him for their marriage counselor, oldest child Robby takes over the strip... and the management of the family finances. It's an obvious twist on Family Circus (and touches on all of the tropes of the newspaper staple), but in my mind such a twist is well overdue. This graphic novel is perfect for those who are annoyed by the saccharine Family Circus and have always wanted to see it sour. I loved it!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cat Castles

Cat Castles: 20 cardboard habitats you can build yourself / Carin Oliver, 96 pgs.

This is an absolutely ridiculous book that encourages you to decorate cardboard projects for your cat to sit, lay, sleep, play in.  No cat has a need for anything this fancy and I deem this a great book for someone who has too much time on their hands.  Now excuse me while I start on my first project.  P.S.  Also contains fabulous photos of projects in use.


Gumption: relighting the torch of freedom with America's gutsiest troublemakers / Nick Offerman, 387 pgs.

Offerman's collection of Americans who personify "gumption" is kind of fun.  Some of his subjects are obvious, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and some are more personal choices, Carol Burnett, Jeff Tweedy, Conan O'Brien.  We get it that these essays will be unrelentingly positive about the subjects and that these people have made a mark on Offerman's life.  But at times, there is a turn of a phrase or a way of looking at something that is just perfect.  For example when writing about James Madison and his participation in the Constitutional Convention, Offerman writes "Even Thomas Jefferson knew which tiny horse to bet on."  I admit, that line just slayed me.  But I have to agree with Kara who also reviewed this book, Offerman bloviates like few others.  It is good in short spurts but can get tedious.  The author reads the audio version and that is worth while, I think, because the emphasis is in all the right places.

The impossible exile

The impossible exile: Stefan Zweig at the end of the world / George Prochnik, 390 pgs.

One of Europe's best know authors fled with the rise of Hitler but never managed to find a place where he felt at home.  The author handles his subject with care and does a good job of making the reader understand the idea of exile.  Yes, there were many others with worse situations,  Zweig had the means to move many times, to Paris, England, New York, Ossining, NY, and Brazil but that didn't mean he could find what he left in Vienna.  Interestingly, this is an author that was so popular in his time that we know almost nothing about.  I freely admit I had never heard his name.  Now I will have to read some of his works.  How does fame work like that?  Possibly that is the part of the story that is the lease interesting.  Zweig as a character with loves and friends and feelings is the most interesting.  His life was beautiful and it was tragic.