Monday, November 11, 2019

Eyes to the wind

Eyes to the wind: a memoir of love and death, hope and resistance / Ady Barkan, read by Bradley Whitford, 281 pages

I picked this up not realizing that Ady Barkan is a well known political activist and social justice warrior.  Diagnosed with ALS at age 32, this is also a memoir of dealing with the physical issues related to the disease that is incurable.  Not wanting to give up on the work he was doing, he expanded his scope to include healthcare initiatives and the importance of continuing many of the provisions of Obamacare.  I enjoyed hearing about Fed-up, a campaign to reform the Federal Reserve.  Bradley Whitford narrates and does a good job.  Recommended to anyone interested in political resistance or even just finding meaning in life.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Brutal Telling

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (2009) 372 pages

A hermit living in a simple log cabin in the Canadian woods near the village of Three Pines is visited regularly by Olivier Brulé, who runs the local bistro. When the hermit ends up dead, found in Olivier's bistro, no one else knows who he was, and Olivier doesn't tell anyone that he knew the man. This is just the start of the lies and secrets that Chief Inspector Gamache and his team need to work through to solve this murder. They learn that the man hadn't been killed in the bistro. When they finally find the crime scene, they discover that the hermit had been using priceless crystal and china for his meals, he played a valuable violin, he read books that were valuable first editions, and he'd stuffed money in the cracks between the logs to keep out drafts. Where did he get his money and treasures? Some intriguing carvings depicting people on a journey, made by the hermit, tell parts of a story that sends Gamache on a journey to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia to learn more about totem poles and cabin-building.

There is much acrimony between Olivier and a married couple who have moved to Three Pines to open a hotel/spa. Chief Inspector Gamache delves into whether their ill-will somehow factors into the murder.

As always in the village of Three Pines, there are additional storylines that add fullness to Penny's work, including ones with Clara, a middle-aged artist ready for her break-out moment and crotchety old Ruth, a renowned poet with a horrible attitude. The Brutal Telling is the 5th book in this series.


Bad Unicorn

Bad Unicorn, Platte F. Clark, 423 pages

Bad Unicorn, written by Platte F. Clark, is an uproarious good time. It follows Max Spencer and his friends as they are flung forward in time by a magical book that only Max can read, a future in which robots rule the world, and a carnivorous unicorn named Princess the Destroyer is hunting them down. It has a dual plot line set up, with chapter alternating between Max's story and Princess's rise to power and hunt for Max. It's hilarious, full of warped fantasy tropes and clever word play. Max is also really easy to root for, as he's a lovable, awkward kid who really is unsure of what he is supposed to be doing, but keeps trying his hardest to keep everyone safe and alive. This is also the first in a completed series, and would be a definite interest to those young readers that are pushing the skill level between juvenile chapter books and young adult.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson  308 pp.

During the Great Depression the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project was created to bring books to the poor mountain people of the state. In this novel Cussy Mary Carter is one of a group of women who rode from shack to shack delivering books, magazines, newspapers, and human contact. Cussy is also one of the "Blue People" of Kentucky, suffering from the recessive gene disorder methemoglobinemia. Because of their skin color the "Blues" were discriminated against and viewed with suspicion the same as the African-Americans in the region. Cussy and her father live a life of poverty even though he works hard as a coal miner. Cussy is proud of her work and does her best for the people she serves often going above and beyond her duties by bringing food to the starving, medical aid to the ill, and providing companionship to the lonely in spite of her personal hardships. It's a nice story of some little known topics with a little romance on the side. Incidentally the area around Troublesome Creek is where many of the real "Blue People" lived.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

What if this were enough?

What if this were enough?: essays / Heather Havrilesky, 228 pgs.

At first I could not discern the link.  How does this collection relate?  Then I went back to the title and realized how it says it all.  Topics range from relationships to pop culture to family life.  Sometimes it is a matter of perspective.  Do we really need to spend a lot of our time every day being told that we need to change, improve, buy better stuff?  Sometimes we need to look around and at ourselves and be happy with what we see.  The author is an advice columnist so is well acquainted with human struggles.  I'm sure some of her comparisons and comments went over my head but lots of it strikes me as very wise. Interesting and relevant.

Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, 254 pages

When Lillian was a teenager, she received a scholarship to attend a boarding school. There she quickly became best friends with Madison, her beautiful, talented, and equally weird roommate. But then Madison got caught with drugs, and Madison's rich dad paid off Lillian to take the fall and get expelled instead. Somehow, the two girls managed to stay friends, writing letter to one another over the next 20 years as Madison became the third wife of a senator and Lillian lived with her mom and worked one short-term job after another. But then Madison asked Lillian to come be the governess for her step-children, a task made all the more challenging by the fact that the two kids burst into flames whenever they get riled up. But Lillian goes.

This is a fantastic story of friendship, of self-doubt, and of found family. And it's funny as hell. Highly recommended.

Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big

Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed (2000) 39 pages

This is the final of the three picture books I read by a favorite cartoonist. When Edwurd Fudwupper lies about an item he broke, he blames it on aliens. A nosey neighbor hears his claims and spreads the rumor until an alien finally shows up to find out who started the lie. Edwurd's sister Fannie tries to save him, even though he never really appreciated her. The pictures are so cartoonishly funny.

Mars Needs Moms!

Mars Needs Moms! by Berkeley Breathed (2007) 44 pages


Another picture book by one of my favorite cartoonists. Milo is a boy who doesn't appreciate his mother. When she sends him to bed without his supper for dyeing his sister fuchsia, as well as for sassing off at her, he's wakes up in the night and sees his mother being kidnapped by Martians. He follows along to see why the Martians would need her. The pictures are filled with charming details.

Pete & Pickles

Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed (2008) 48 pages


Somehow I had missed the fact that a favorite cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County fame, had also created picture books for children. Pictures with exquisite details depict Pete, a pig with a very routine life and Pickles, a circus elephant who escapes the sad conditions of her confinement by hiding out at Pete's home. Pickles is quickly recaptured, but Pete finds her. The sweet story includes hints that Pete is still grieving the loss of his spouse, Paprika, but a crisis shows him how much he has come to love Pickles.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Olive, Again

Olive, Again: a Novel / Elizabeth Strout, 289 p.

She's back!  Olive is, of course, Olive Kitteridge, the main character (and title) of Strout's Pulitzer-winning book.  Strout is also the author of the wonderful My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible.

Structured similarly to the earlier work, this latest is a collection of loosely interlinked stories set in coastal Crosby, Maine.  While Olive is frequently only peripheral to a story, her narrative is advanced throughout the course of the book, from her widowhood from Henry, her first husband, to - well, you'll have to read it to see where life takes Olive.

I think of Strout as the master of that weird spot in human life that might be called the fulcrum: that place where we wobble and balance between loving and hating, between wisdom and foolishness, between disappointment and hope.  The stories are immediately absorbing, and realistically depict characters from across the class spectrum.  I love her writing, and while Olive, Again is not quite as strong as her earlier novel, it's still a great pleasure.