Saturday, August 30, 2014

Remember me like this, by Bret Anthony Johnston

Those of us in St. Louis particularly remember when a young Shawn Hornbeck, who disappeared without a trace as a child, was miraculously found in Kirkwood, the victim of a local pizza delivery man.  In many ways, this could be his story, and that of his family.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare.  Justin disappears at 11, leaving his mother Laura, father Eric, and younger brother Griffin devastated.  About half of the novel deals with the strains on the family during his four year absence.  When he is found nearby and returns home, different tensions inevitably arise as both he and each of his family members struggle to walk a careful line between knowing exactly what happened to him and reintegrating him into their lives.  One of the many strengths of the book is that the only real description of what went on during the four years he lived with Dwight Buford is given in a single line of dialog.  It doesn’t dwell on the horror but leaves it to the reader’s imagination.  Well done.  361 pp.

The invention of exile, by Vanessa Manko

A quiet but affecting novel based on the author’s family history.  Austin, born Ustin Alexandrovich Voronkov, arrives in the United States in 1913.   When he moves to a boardinghouse, he meets Julia, one of two daughters of the owner, and they fall in love. Although Austin is apolitical, if anything anti-political, hunger for Russian companionship leads him to associate with a group that has anarchist leanings.  Caught up in a raid against of the group, he and his new wife, who weds him on Ellis Island, are deported to Russia, which is in the throes of revolution.  Not much of the story is about their years there or their years after they escape to the continent.  Ultimately they go to Mexico, where the young family, now including three children, hope to be able to petition to return to the United States.  Julia is repatriated not long afterwards, along with the children, but for the next decades, Austin is stuck in in Mexico where he works at low-level jobs.  An engineer by training, he spends his free time inventing devices and sending his plans off to the U. S. Patent Office, convinced that this will help his case to return to the US and his family.  In interesting depiction of what it is like to be stranded in exile by the larger forces at work in the world, but only Austin is a fully realized character.  291 pp.

Friday, August 29, 2014

I Knead My Mommy

I Knead My Mommy and other poems by kittens / Francesco Marcioliano 112 pgs.

The follow up to "I could pee on this" includes some great kitten poetry like this:

My First Toy

My first toy
Has wood for me to claw
My first toy
Has string for me to bite
My first toy
Has a hole for me to hide in
My first toy
Is called "Oh dear God, no! My Guitar!"
My first toy
Is the best toy of them all.
Another marvelous book by Francisco Marcioliano!

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

10% happier : how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works : a true story

10% happier : how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works : a true story / Dan Harris 237 pgs.

Dan Harris is a real skeptic when it comes to religion, self-help, touchy feely ideas of all types until he really needs some help.  As a national news correspondent, he has a panic attack that leads to him freezing up on the air.  This will never do.  He starts researching ways to get past this debilitating problem that will clearly negatively affect his career.  He discovers meditation and decides to try it.  This is Dan's story.  The ultimate skeptic becomes pretty devoted to the practice.  It makes him happier.  This is his story and it is fun to read.  Maybe we should all be meditating.  You might decide to try after reading this book.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass  267 pp.

I read this as a possibility for use with my kids book club. It didn't make the cut. It's an okay story but I had to keep reminding myself it was written for kids when I found problems in the story. Essentially it's about two kids, Amanda & Leo, who were born on the same day and who celebrate every birthday together until their 11th because of something that happened on their 10th birthday. Their 11th birthday keeps repeating (like the movie "Groundhog Day") while they try to figure out how to stop it. Of course, there is a mysterious old woman and an old family feud causing all this. As I said, it's an okay book, but just okay.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, 771 pages.
Tartt's epic, sprawling (and at times, seemingly-endless) novel follows Theo Decker from the time his mother is killed in a terrorist attack on a New York art museum. He stays with his friend Andy's family through his time in middle-school. then he's on to high-school in Vegas, living with his prone-to-violence father, an obsessed gambler and his brash, drug-dealing girlfriend. He meets and befriends Boris while in Vegas, and for a while it seems that the story is about them, but then Theo is off again. He wanders back to New York and reconnects with Hobie and Pippa. Pippa was also injured in the explosion years ago, and Hobie was the partner of her Uncle.
It's convoluted, with lots of blind alleys and sub-plots that fade away.
Interesting characters, fun plot, but overlong.
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The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain: A Tale of Travel with Pictures of All Kinds by Neil Gaiman

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain: A Tale of Travel with Pictures of All Kinds by Neil Gaiman, 73 pages.
One of Gaiman's classic stories beautifully illustrated by Eddie Campbell. The tale of revenge, betrayal, and loss is wonderfully told.
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The Graveyard Book, volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, and P. Craig Russell

The Graveyard Book, volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, and P. Craig Russell, 188 pages.

Neil Gaiman's excellent book about Nobody Owens, the Jacks who killed his family and "the living and the dead. There are the day-folk and the night-folk. There are ghouls and mist-walkers. There are the high-hunters and the hounds of God. Also there are the solitary types." Each chapter of the the first volume is illustrated by a different artist, with Eisner award winner, P. Craig Russell overseeing the project.

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 312 pages

Neil Gaiman's excellent account of Nobody Owens, "Bod," and the life he leads with the denizens of the local graveyard, after his parents' murders.
Those who call the graveyard home raise and care for Bod and keep him safe from the Jacks.
It's scary, original and fun, and it's made better when you can listen to the author reading it on the audio.

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Masaryk Station by David Downing

Masaryk Station by David Downing, 330 pages.

The final book in Downing's excellent John Russell series takes place after the war and as the Cold War is starting. All of the decisions that Russell made during the war, helping the British, the Americans and, when he had to, the Russians come back to him as he and Effie try to survive in 1948 Berlin. All sides think that Russell is their man, working as a double-agent. Russell must find a way out of the web he has found himself in as the city must deal with the looming blockade.
Excellent ending to a very well done series. Highly recommended for fans of well-written thrillers and fans of WWII and espionage ficiton.

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