Friday, December 31, 2010

TOTALS FOR DECEMBER - Grand totals coming soon!

This is my best effort to show the totals from December.  Let me know if you have corrections.

Participant/Books /Pages

Patrick 23/7,868
Karen 15/2,508
Christa 11 /3,160
Susie 9 /2,174
Cindy 6 / 1,455
Annie 5 / 1,693
Linda 7/ 2,319
Eliana 1/
Kathleen 6/1,498
Andrew 2
TOTAL 90/ 23,702

The Man of Bronze / Kenneth Robeson

The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson (Doc Savage #1, March 1933). 135 p.

So my last post of the year will set up a project I'm beginning that will continue through next year and beyond: I intend to read all of the Doc Savage novels, in publication order, one per week. (The last time I tried to read all of them, I failed, but it's been about 15 years.) I'm reading the Bantam books reprints of the novels, which first appeared in Doc Savage Magazine in the 1930s and 1940s, so my page counts are taken from the reprints.

The Man of Bronze is of course one of Doc Savage's nicknames--his real name is Clark Savage Jr. His father raised him from birth to be a man who would use his extraordinary physical and intellectual talents to better mankind. In this first book, Doc's father has died under mysterious circumstances, so he gathers together five friends that he made during the Great War--all tops in their particular fields, all eager for adventure--and they go off to find out who is responsible. Not only do they do so (of course), they end up with a practically inexhaustible source of wealth, which will come in handy for fighting evil.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shades of Grey/Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde; science fiction, humor, mystery; 400 pages (about 11.5 hours on CD)

I loved Fforde's first Thursday Next novel, and the plot of this book intrigued me enough to pick it up. In this distant future, people only see one color--if they can see color at all. As a result, a whole hierarchy has risen from who can see what color, and how much. Edward Russet is a Red--pretty low ranking--but he has high hopes of advancing his state through marriage into the aristocratic Oxblood family. Before he can, however, he and his father are sent to the tiny village of East Carmine, where nothing is as it seems, or as Eddie expects it. As Eddie start investigating the numerous puzzles in the town, he also starts to fall for Jane, a belligerent Grey with a hidden agenda. I loved the way the mysteries played out here--I couldn't guess a single one, and there were so many red herrings that I was constantly thinking. Fforde's trademark humor was also present throughout, and the narrator's performance was spot-on. Fforde ties up the large plots neatly, but leaves enough loose ends that I can hope for a sequel.

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The Magician by Michael Scott

The Magician The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel book Two. by Michael Scott, juvenile fantasy, 464 pages.
Scott brings ancient myth and magic to life in this fast moving series.
Check the entry above for a more complete review.

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The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel book One. by Michael Scott, juvenile fantasy, 375 pages.
Scott brings ancient myth and magic to life in this fast moving series.
Check the entry above for a more complete review.

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The Murder of Abraham Lincoln

The Murder of Abraham Lincoln by Rick Geary  80 pp.

I think this is the last of the "Victorian Murder" graphic novel series that I had to finish. As the title says, it is a quite detailed account of John Wilkes Booth's failed conspiracy to kidnap President Lincoln and the assassination. Geary uses well placed full page and 2/3 page illustrations for emphasis of important details and smaller panels to incorporate more detail.. The full page drawing of the stricken Lincoln lying diagonally on a too short bed viewed from above is quite dramatic. And, as he did in other books of this series, Geary raises some unanswered (and unanswerable) questions regarding the crime.

Now I'll start the new year with "The Treasury of XXth Century Murder."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game by John Feinstein p. 266

I had not even finished Change-Up by Feinstein before I started The Rivalry. I have to admit that while I have seen a couple baseball games every year (and several world series baseball games on tv), I have never watched an Army-Navy football game. I don't, to be perfectly honest, really like football. I do, like Feinstein's writing and found myself speeding through the play by play description of The Rivalry to follow the storyline of Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson uncovering foul play on the football field. The plot is rather lame, not much of a mystery involving corruption, illegal betting, and the Secret Service. I won't give away the baddies in case you want to read this for yourself -- but I would recommend you read earlier books by Feinstein. I think that he might have felt a tad embarrassed, because he included a chapter with the history of the Army-Navy rivalry, stats, fun facts, Heisman Trophy player info etc.

Change Up: Mystery at the World Series by John Feinstein 307 pages

While the guys in my house are glued to the tv watching sports, I have been reading mysteries in sport settings. John Feinstein, sports reporter for Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and more has a nifty series featuring two eighth grade sports journalists. In the series, these teens have gained inside passes to world class athletic competitions across the country. I enjoy the mystery and learn a little about the featured sport. In this episode, Steve and Susan Carol score an in-depth interview with the newest pitcher for the underdog team competing in the World Series. In their meeting with the widower and his two teenage twins, they discover that there may be a bigger story under the glossy exterior of this quiet athlete. The dialogue and sports banter is very natural as is the easy going relationship between the young sleuths and their mentors (who are well known sports reporters). Parents are off stage -- isn't that how it usually is in most kid mysteries?

The cookbook collector, by Allegra Goodman

The actual collector in the title is dead, and his unique collection of rare and valuable cookbooks, interleaved with his own notes, sensuous drawings of a woman, and menus, has passed to a niece who seeks an antiquarian book dealer to purchase them. This leads her to George, a 40ish millionaire, who has retired from Microsoft and runs Yorick's Books. Jess, a 25-year-old philosophy graduate student, floundering a bit in finding her way in life, takes a job assisting him. Her more successful sister, Emily, is engaged to Jonathan -- both, on opposite coasts, are heading up start-up software companies and have just become fabulously wealthy, on paper, from their companies' IPOs. The boom and bust of the bubble; 9/11; the birth of surveillance software and death of personal privacy; environmental activism; and the lives of these characters and others are intermingled like the collector's notes in the cookbook collection. As are the secrets from the past -- the identity of the mysterious woman in the lovingly drawn nudes; the family and background of Emily and Jess's mother, who died when they were 10 and 5 years old. Lovely writing in spots, particularly the descriptions of food and recipes. Delicious. 394 pp.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Sherlockian / Graham Moore

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore. 351 p.

The book begins with Arthur Conan Doyle killing off his famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. In the second narrative strand of this book, we're introduced to a Harold, a proud new member of the Baker Street Irregulars--an exclusive Sherlock Holmes fan club, essentially. A prominent member of the Irregulars claims to have found Conan Doyle's long-missing diary and will present it at a meeting, but he's found dead in his hotel room, and the diary is not. Harold decides to find the killer--and the diary, of course. The chapters alternate between Conan Doyle living the events during the time period covered by the diary, and modern-day Harold on his quest. I found the character of Harold to be incredibly annoying, though I can't put my finger on exactly why he irritated me so much. The fact remains that by the end of the book I just wanted it to be over, but I couldn't quit reading because I wanted to find out what happened.

Ape House

Ape House by Sara Gruen  306 pp.

I don't know that I have anything to add about this book that Linda hasn't already said here. I also loved Gruen's previous book Water for Elephants and this one doesn't compare. It is a good story and bonobos are fascinating but it seems to be a little too "issue driven" for my taste. That said, I will still probably read whatever this author comes out with next.

And do I get a prize for being the 1000th post?

The Borden Tragedy

The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary  80 pp.

In the tale of this infamous murder, Geary relied on information found in a manuscript written by an unknown lady of Fall River, Mass. who knew the Bordens at the time of the crime. The manuscript was not discovered until an estate sale in 1990 and its provenance has been established. There are a few details in this version that make it appear that perhaps Lizzie did not kill her parents after all even though it is generally thought that she committed the crime. And the old rhyme about giving her mother 40 whacks etc. is a gross exaggeration. Her stepmother suffered 19 blows and her father 11.

The Case of Madeleine Smith

The Case of Madeleine Smith by Rick Geary  80 pp.

This "Victorian Murder" is one I'd never heard of. With the subtitle "A True Account of the Respectable Young Glasgow Lady Brought to Trial for the Murder by Poison of her Secret Paramour," you pretty much have the whole story. Madeleine Smith was the very sheltered daughter of a wealthy family who entered into an illicit love affair with Emile L'anglier, a young clerk. She is accused of poisoning him with arsenic to get rid of him so she could marry the well-to-do merchant her parents approved of. She goes to trial and is found not guilty on one account of attempted murder but on the second account of attempted murder and murder charge the verdict is "not proven"--evidently something that only existed in the Scottish courts.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper by Rick Geary  64 pp.

Once again Geary does an excellent job of telling the story of an infamous series of murders. This time he based the graphic novel on the journals (24 volumes worth) of "an unknown British gentleman" who followed the murders intently and played armchair detective. As in other volumes of this series, Geary packs a lot into the slim book. The artwork, all pen & ink, has a dark quality without being gory. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy this series?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Virals by Kathy Reichs 454 pages

Although I enjoy watching Bones on TV, I have not read many of the Temperance Brennan novels. I was intrigued when I heard that Reichs had written her first novel for teens with a connection to Temperance Brennan. I was expecting a teen CSI / forensic mystery novel and while this has some of those elements it requires a rather large leap of the imagination. Temperance's 14 year old niece, Tory Brennan, and gang of bright misfit geeks stumble into a weird "mad scientist" plot on an island near Charlotte, South Carolina when trying to rescue a wolfdog pup. They become infected with a mysterious disease with bizarre side effects. Tory has only recently moved to the area since her mother's death to live with the father she has never known. She doesn't know who to trust -- especially since she doesn't really connect to the rich, snobby kids at the private school she is now attending. This has an interesting mix of science, mystery and adventure but I don't know if Reichs is hoping to spin this into a series.

Gertrude and Claudius / John Updike 212p.

This is the only Updike I've ever read, so I can't comment on how well this fits in with the rest of his writing. This is an imagined prequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Updike shows us Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, as a girl, and follows her life as wife to Old King Hamlet of Denmark. How she then came to be the wife of Claudius, Old King Hamlet's younger brother, is the heart of this story. Young Hamlet only appears 'offstage' in this novel, an interesting trick. Gertrude is vivid and sympathetic here, while the motives of all the other characters remain murky. A fast, smart read, but I didn't love it, perhaps because I've always found the original Hamlet unsatisfying. I'd like to read a Macbeth prequel, though. Wouldn't Lady M. as a hell-on-wheels girl be fun to read about?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol 3

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol 3/Philip K. Dick 144 pgs.

The third volume of the graphic novelization of this great work does not disappoint. Deckerd has his confrontation with the opera singer Luba Luft and discovers an alternate police department in San Fransisco that seems to be staffed by androids. For the first time, it seems like Deckerd is wondering about his own origins. Great stuff. - Christa


Griftopia: Bubble machines, vampire squids an the long con that is breaking America by Matt Taibbi 250 pgs.

Matt Taibbi has become one of those authors I will not miss. This is his take on the economic collapse and a little bit more. I've read enough on this topic that most of the revelations aren't that new to me but wonder how things could just get so out of hand. Matt has a theory and a chapter entitled "the biggest asshole in the universe" which is about Alan Greenspan. I certainly see his point but the universe is really so large...that is probably the only part that he has exaggerated a tad. Anyway, this is another book that should make you angry and make you wonder if there is any chance that we the people are ever going to be represented in Washington D.C. again. I mean we the people who are not the heads of huge banking firms or billionaires or all about ripping off the taxpayers. Anger inducing indeed. - Christa

Man in the high castle

Man in the high castle/Philip K. Dick 249 pg.

This book won the Hugo award in 1963 and I'm sure it is great. However, I confess, that I really didn't get it. The alternative history thing was hard for me to follow...knowing some of the actual history is about all I can manage. Then the story within the story (I had to read the wikipedia entry to even figure out that was going on) was beyond my reach. I enjoyed several of the characters and their part of the story but never really got the big picture. I may have to try this again in the future. - Christa

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum

A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum, 246 pgs

This was a page-turning mystery from beginning to end. Once again, I've found another really great mystery to read for the holiday season. It's the latest book of the Seaside Knitters Mystery Series. If you love yarn, or just want a great coastal read for the holidays, this one is awesome. The Seaside Knitters meet weekly at their favorite yarn shop to knit their holiday gifts, have a traditional cookie exchange, and plan holiday gatherings all while trying to solve the murder of the cousin of a fellow Seaside Knitter Mary Pisano. The story centers around Mary's historical home which is in the final renovations to open as a new local Bed & Breakfast in town. Fingers point from person to person as the story twists and turns, and an additional murder happens in the process. You'll have to read the book to find out about that one.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack / Mark Hodder

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. 371 p.

A pretty interesting alternate history setting, featuring Captain Richard Burton as an investigator chosen by the Crown to figure out why wolf-featured men are stalking the streets of London. Features steampunk-type technology in what we would call the Victorian age--but Victoria was assassinated before the birth of her first child. I thought the explanation of the Spring Heeled Jack legend was a lot of fun. It looks like Hodder is setting this up as a series of books featuring investigations by Burton and Algernon Swinburne (the poet). If so, I'll definitely check out the next one.

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

After your first glance at the book flap you might assume that this book is a heart warming and mentally stimulating tale of an academic and an animal, a sort of Marley & Me me with extra intellectual horsepower. This is, unfortunately, not the case. The book recounts the sad and misanthropic adventures of its author, Mark Rowland, which can be summarized thusly: See Mark come to America. See Mark objectify women. Objectify, Mark, objectify! See Mark wax philosophical in the most soul-crushing and anti-social manner possible thus driving himself into an alcoholic stupor. Wax, Mark, wax! And there's some stuff about a wolf in there too. Bottom line: Unless you're sitting on a sizable stockpile of Zoloft, avoid this book like the spiritual and emotional poison it is.

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter

This book offers stunning insight into the lives of two of the 20th century's most powerful monarchs...and the King of England! Detailing the shockingly poor education all three royals received, their unimaginably opulent (and lonely) lifestyles, and the juicy details of their psychological hangups, Miranda Carter's work paints an engaging picture not just of the roles these men played in history but also of the world they lived in. Bottom line: If you want to know how kings and emperors lived in the twilight years of empire, this is the book for you.

Prairie Tale

Prairie Tale/Melissa Gilbert 267 pg.

I chose this because I watched Little House on the Prairie and I always liked Melissa Gilbert. I learned facts about her and I didn't know. - Susie

7th Heaven

7th Heaven / James Patterson 276 pg.

I chose this to continue the women's murder club series. - Susie

The Fatal Bullet

The Fatal Bullet by Rick Geary  80 pp.

One more "Victorian Murder". This tells the story of the assassination of President James A Garfield by Charles Guiteau. The author points out many of the parallels in the two men's lives and how they each turned out so differently. I knew little about Guiteau before reading this and was surprised to discover that the two men had met when Guiteau was trying to get political jobs after Garfield's election as President. Also, depicted in the book is the pain and suffering Garfield experienced during the 2-1/2 months between getting shot and his death. Unfortunately it took the assassination of one more President, William McKinley, before the Secret Service was assigned to presidential protection duty.

The Beast of Chicago

The Beast of Chicago by Rick Geary  80 pp.

I am well and truly hooked on this "Victorian Murder" graphic novel series. This one is about the serial killer Herman Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, who is called "America's First Serial Killer". In truth, he is the first one to be caught and convicted. Holmes story was featured in the book The Devil in the White City which I read a few years ago. He had a large building constructed in Chicago which housed businesses on the first floor and rooms to rent in the upper floors. The building also had secret rooms and staircases, gas jets to air tight rooms that he could control from his personal residence, an oversized furnace for disposing of bodies, and an "autopsy" room where he dismemberd bodies. During the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 he had a brisk business in boarders and many of them never left alive. In addition to the murders he committed in Chicago, Mudgett/Holmes was also a bigamist with wives and children scattered around the country, committed life insurance fraud, and murders in other parts of the country. It's a creepy story about a creepy, evil man.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Worth Dying For by Lee Child, 384 pages, thriller.
I always like a good Reacher novel, and this was that, most of the way through. The end had a bit more of the ickyness factor than one usually encounters in one of Child's books. While there never seems to be a problem that cannot simply be beaten into submission by the 6'5", 250lb ex-military policeman, the effects of what Reacher finds out in the middle of Nebraska are sure to linger after he is gone. This book also attempts to explain what happened at the end of the last book, and I, for one, was not convinced, after having thought that 61 Hours would have had to be the end of Reacher. I am not unhappy that he's back, it just takes the series more into the realm of the goofy, pulp sort of fiction.

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The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel, 287 pages, Iraq War.
Finkel's Pulitzer-Prize winning account of his time in Iraq with Col. Ralph Kauzlarich and the 2-16 battalio,n during 2007 and 2008. It is a very moving account of the war, with horrible things happening to very brave people, to our soldiers, the people working with them, civilians, and the forces fighting against them. Soldiers are wounded, some are killed and all of them seem irrevocably changed by the cataclysm in which they fine themselves.
This was our October 2010 book discussion choice.

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, historical fiction, 333 pages.
This is the first book in Cornwell's "Saxon" series. The book takes place in the late 800s as the raiders from the north are slowly taking control of great swathes of what will someday be England. Uhtred, son of Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg, lives in the kingdom of Northumbria. When the Danes (Cornwell points out that these folks were not called vikings, that viking was something they did, but it is late and I am tired and I will probably still call them Vikings) come and his father is killed in battle, young Uhtred is taken captive and raised by Earl Ragnar the Fearless. Uhtred adjusts well, and learns to love his Viking family. As the wars continue across the land, and after Ragnar is betrayed, Uhtred finds himself having to decide at whose side he will stand in the coming battles. Cornwell always does a good job with his characters and with his settings. The books ring true. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

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In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana French, Mystery, 429 pages.
This was our November book discussion book. The first in French's popular Dublin Murder Squad series, this introduces Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. They are two of the newer members of the squad, and while they have proved themselves to be good detectives, their newest case could be too much for them. A twelve-year-old girl has been found murdered in the woods in Knockaree, outside of Dublin. What no one else besides Cassie knows is that Twenty years ago, Rob, known as Adam Ryan then, was the twelve-year-old survivor of a gruesome crime in those same woods. His memories of that crime and his reactions to this, threaten to disrupt the carefully re-built life he has made for himself and threaten the careers of both officers. The ending, told from a particular point of view, left some of the book group members dissatisfied, but we had a good discussion.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Squirrel seeks chipmunk, by David Sedaris

Sort of Aesop's fables for the 21st century. Cleverly written (this is David Sedaris after all), but strangely affecting and thoughtful too. A mouse keeps a pet snake ("A rescue snake," she'd be quick to inform you); migrating warblers discuss the natives ("My family's been wintering in Guatemala for as long as I can remember....Every year like clockwork, here we come by the tens of thousands -- but do you think any of the those Spanish-speaking birds have bothered to learn English?); storks worry about how to respond when their kids ask about the facts of life ("babies are brought by mice..."). 159 pp.

Plain Kate/Erin Bow

Plain Kate by Erin Bow; young adult, fantasy; 336 pages

This surprisingly dark book is the story of Kate Carver, a young orphan whose gift for carving brings accusations of witchcraft from her superstitious neighbors. Driven from home, Kate falls in with a band of travelers, and seeks to earn enough money to join the carving guild--all while a mysterious illness sweeps across the land. There's much more to the story, of course: stolen shadows, talking cats, ghostly music, actual ghosts, and summonings from beyond the grave. Through it all, Kate struggles to find a place to call home. The whimsical, once-upon-a-time tone of the book, combined with these darker elements, left me reminded of The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti. Knowing how much I enjoyed that book should give you an idea of what I thought of this one. The book is full of unexpected turns and bittersweet closures that make it memorable, and I feel like this one will stick with me.

The Mystery of Mary Rogers

The Mystery of Mary Rogers by Rick Geary  80 pp.

Another in the "Treasury of Victorian Murder" graphic novel series. This one involves the body of a young woman from New York whose body washes up on the beach across the river in Hoboken, N.J.  The subsequent investigation into the death of the beautiful young tobacco store clerk yields lots of suspects but no perpetrator. Was she killed by a group of gang thugs, one of her suitors, her boss, or did she die as a result of a botched abortion? The mystery was never solved. Her death was the basis for Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Mystery of Mary Roget".

Monday, December 20, 2010


Spooner/Pete Dexter 469 pg.

Patrick and Tim kept talking about this book but I had so many others on my list it took me awhile to get to this one. I'm certainly glad I did...this is an excellent book, wonderfully written with characters I really like. Spooner's stepdad Calmer is the kind of person I would like to be...industrious, smart, fair, nonjudgmental and hopeful. Geez, if I could do better on even one of those traits it would be a positive move. Even as Spooner gets into more bizarre situations and trouble, Calmer is always there for him and never questions or lectures. Spooner goes through a "loser" period but then sort of gets his act together. In one of my favorite parts, the Spooner and his brothers are thinking about how to get back at someone who was mean to Calmer. The plan was for Spooner to throw eggs at the house to lure the neighbor over and then his brother Darrow was to make him feel academically inadequate. Oh boy, that is a plan good enough to make me laugh out loud. - Christa

And the pursuit of happiness, by Maira Kalman

I occasionally enjoyed one of these pieces, which ran in the online version of The New York Times, and was delighted to find all twelve collected in this volume soI could catch up with the many I had missed. It is a love song to America, without overlooking its many faults. Ms Kalman's charming illustrations and witty commentary make this overview of 275+ years of American history, society, and culture an idiosyncratic and enlightening read. And there's food. As she maintains, "history makes you hungry." 471 pp. (So this is how all you graphic novel people pile up the page count!)

Ape House, by Sara Gruen

Bonobos are the nicer cousins of chimpanzees, which they resemble. But where chimps by nature are altogether too much like humans, engaging in war-like behavior and infanticide, the bonobos are peaceful primates who bond with their tribe through sex, lots and lots of undifferentiated sexual contact. Like many great apes, they have been used for research, sometimes horrific medical research. But the research Isabel Duncan does at the Great Ape Language Lab is more benign, focusing on language acquisition -- they understand human speech and respond in sign language -- and they have become the lonely scientist's family. When animal rights extremists kidnap the apes, severely injuring Isabel in the process, the bonobos are sold to a entrepreneur who turns their natural sexual proclivities into a for-pay reality TV show. Although I enjoyed the book, it pales in comparison to her earlier Water for Elephants, which I loved. Although there is a lot of humor, and a pretty fast-paced plot, Gruen's is perhaps too dedicated to making the case for great apes to have written a really fine novel. 306 pp.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flying Too High / Kerry Greenwood

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood (a Phryne Fisher mystery, #2). 156 p.

The other book I bought at Murder By the Book (local mystery bookstore). In this one Phryne shows off her ability to pilot an airplane (and wing-walk), obtains her own house and staff, proves a man innocent of patricide, and rescues a kidnapped child. Oh, and takes a couple of casual lovers. Just another week for the Honorable Phryne Fisher, confidential investigator. I had forgotten that she deliberately bought a house numbered 221 and appended a "B" to the address as her own little joke on being a consulting detective.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami, Memoir, 180 pages.

Murakami talks about his life, his writing, and his decades-long dedication to running. He makes no argument in favor of being a novelist, a marathoner, or even a casual runner, he simply points out how this all came to be part of his life and how he does what he has to do. Murakami is a great writer and this, the only book I have read that is about, at least in a large part, running, is a quirky and enjoyable book.

xkcd voume 0 by Randall Munroe

xkcd voume 0 by Randall Munroe, 120 pages, graphic novels.

I have seen the reviews of this book by several of my co-workers, and I agree with all of the nice things that they have said about this book, the web-comic on which it is based, and stick figure art work about physics, the internet, and human-relations. Munroe is almost always funny and insightful in his spare, lean, work . . . 'nuff said, it is late December and I have some blogging to do.

The Saga of the Bloody Benders

The Saga of the Bloody Benders by Rick Geary  80 pp.

This is one of the "Treasury of Victorian Murder" graphic novels. It is the creepy true story of the Bender family of southeastern Kansas. Subtitled "The Infamous Homicidal Family of LaBette County, Kansas," it tells the story of John, Ma, John Jr., and Kate Bender who settle along the Osage Trail and build an inn and grocery. The business is a front for their murderous occupation of killing travelers along the trail and taking their money. Eventually suspicion for the mysterious disappearances falls on them but before they can be apprehended they escape. What happened to them remains a mystery.

A Murderous Procession

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin  337 pp.

The fourth installment in the "Mistress of the Art of Death" series. This time Adelia Aguilar and her manservent the Saracen eunuch, Mansur, are ordered by King Henry II to accompany the entourage of his youngest daughter Joanna as they travel to Sicily where she is to marry the king. To guarantee Adelia's return to England after the year long trek, Henry orders Adelia's young daughter to remain at the castle of Sarum with Queen Eleanor. Included in the entourage are Bishop Rowley, Adelia's lover and father of her daughter, Ulf, the grandson of her beloved servant Gyltha, and Scarry, a murderous villain from the previous book. Ulf carries a rough wooden cross which holds within it Excalibur, the famed sword of King Arthur, which will be presented to King William as a wedding gift. Scarry is determined to steal the sword and murder Adelia in revenge for her use of the sword to kill his partner in crime in the previous book. I'm a big fan of this well written series and now must wait for the next volume to be published.

The Gravedigger / Rob Magnuson Smith 235 p.

When I pick up a first-time novelist's book I always hope to uncover a treasure, that great book that no one's talking about yet. I imagine the author, pouring his heart into a work for little encouragement and no money, yearning to be discovered by a sensitive and discerning reader. (That would be me!)
No such luck here. Henry Bale is a 40-ish gravedigger in the small village of Chalk, England, an unmarried almost-hermit. He's handsome, though, and clearly muscular from all that digging. Along comes Caroline, a schoolteacher from somewhere more sophisticated, beautiful and 27. Henry must overcome his fear of death in order to allow himself to become close
to her.
I will now close this review in as abrupt a fashion as the book in question ended, with a GIGANTIC SPOILER ALERT:
If I read one more book in which the main female character is crushed by a bus, trolley, truck, car, or oak tree trunk, I'm taking up watercolors. My count is 4 smashed females in 2010. That's at least 3 too many, at least if you're not reading thrillers, mysteries, or horror titles.

Genius on the Edge: the Bizarre Double Life of William Stewart Halsted / Gerald Imber 400 p.

Halsted is considered the father of modern American surgery and was one of the major figures in the founding of the Johns Hopkins school of medicine. He was also a life-long cocaine and morphine addict. Surely the grounds for a fascinating story and yet, Imber fumbles his way through Halsted's life, managing to drain it of much of its drama.

Leaving aside the writing style and organization, both of which hampered this book, Halsted's story begs some important questions which Imber seems not to have considered answering: What impact does current research show Halsted's decades-long addiction would have had on his cognition and physiological function? And what safeguards has the medical profession put in place for the Halsteds of today?

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures / Vincent Lam 353 p.

Lam is a Canadian medical doctor and, apparently, a fine writer, too. This is a collection of interwoven short stories which provide snapshots of 4 young people, Ming, Chen, Sri, and Fitz, as they make their way from medical school admissions to established careers. A nice balance of medical detail and personal drama makes this a fast, engaging read. An especially impressive story outlines the outbreak of SARS (remember that?) in Toronto. When the book ends, you want to know far more about these 4 characters than Lam tells us, which is frustrating, but also a measure of his skill.

Cocaine Blues / Kerry Greenwood

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood (a Phryne Fisher mystery, #1). 175 p.

I wanted to go back to the beginning of this series, since I just read the newest volume (#18) in November.* I had forgotten, for instance, the very striking way in which Phryne meets her long-suffering maid Dot. I had not forgotten the communist cab-drivers, though. The late '20s-in-Australia setting is also really interesting, and one I've not run into except in these books. The mystery in this one is not terribly mysterious, but the action is fun to watch.

*Also, I was visiting a rather famous mystery bookstore here in Houston, and someone my friend knows was working when we were in the store, so I felt obliged to buy something.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Remember Nothing

I Remember Nothing (and other reflections) by Nora Ephron  137 pp.

This book is a collection of essays that cover everything from the author's journalism career to meatloaf. Ephron can take everyday things and see the quirky and humorous side of it. Some of them hit a little close to home, like her computer game addiction and dealing with email. Others contain interesting tidbits of history like her friendship with Lillian Hellman. Maybe someday I can have a meatloaf named after me and if I ever end up with a small bald spot when I'm old, I will call it "my Aruba".

Friday, December 17, 2010

Library Wars, Love & War, 2

Library Wars, Love & War, 2/Kiiro Yumi 191 pgs.

The Library Wars continue. A traitor is discovered in the library but the troops save the books that were destined to be destroyed. The romantic subplot continues although it is mostly confusion on the part of our heroine. I'm not familiar enough with manga to know if this is a good representation of the genre but I certainly enjoy the library related story and the art in these books. - Christa

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cook the Books by Jesssica Conant-Park

A really great mystery read especially for the holiday season. I found it on our display on the first floor. It is part of the Gourmet Girl Mystery series, and this is the fifth book in the series. I haven't read the others, but I enjoyed this one so much that I am tempted to read the others in order. Chloe Carter the main character is a real hoot as she tries to solve the mystery of who killed a popular chef in town. This is the season for food and cooking and this book fits right in.

Rocket surgery made easy

Rocket surgery made easy: The do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems 161 pg.

Website usability again. Here's hoping we get our website redesign grant so some of these great suggestions can get put into action on our web site. Steve Krug has been testing usability for over 20 years and he has figured out quite a bit. This book is easy to read and full of great common sense. - Christa

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Grand Design-Stephen Hawking

Oh, yeah. That's right. I divide my time between college classes and reading complex physics book ;) Just kidding! I have this weird interest in comparing physics and religion, so I like checking out books like this. It was really good! If you know anything about contemporary theories of physics, Chapters 1-5 will kind of be a review for you. However, it's definitely a great read with a lot of humor added in (Hawking co-authored the book with another comical physicist from Caltech). I sort of had the same feeling upon finishing it that I felt when I finished the Chronicles of's like you have to read the whole thing in order to get to that great part at the end.

XKCD Volume 0/Randall Munroe

XKCD Volume 0 by Randall Munroe; comic strip; 120 pages

Enough other people have blogged about this that I feel repetitive if I go into too much detail. If you like The Big Bang Theory, you'll probably love this humor. It's nerdy, geeky, and every other adjective out there for "intelligent and quirk." If you want a preview, check out the comic's website (where the complete run of the strip is available online). The book, though, has enough extras thrown in to make it worth checking out, even if you've been following the comic for a while.

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Oh no, she didn't: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them , by Clinton Kelly

200 pages of advice to women on what, for heaven's sake!!, not to wear. The snarky prose, hilarious pictures of awful hair, worse fingernails, and truly appalling clothing choices make this a fun, quick read. Underneath it all is some good advice and one gets the idea that Kelly really does care about women. With luck, you'll only recognize yourself on a couple of pages..... 200 pp.

The lonely polygamist, by Brady Udall

Once you accept the main premise of the book, that it is about a family with difficulties, just like most other families, but it consists of four wives, twenty-eight children, and one husband, you get pulled into this engaging and long novel. Golden Richards has problems. Brought up by a lonely and abandoned mother, he has had little contact with the outside world until his wandering father, suddenly financially successful, summons him to the polygamist society he has fallen into. Golden makes an impression on the elders as a rising figure in the sect and is expected to take a series of wives. A couple decades later, he has three houses, four bickering wives, 28 kids, suffers from the grief of losing a special needs daughter due to his own negligence, and the collapsing economy makes finding work as a contractor difficult. What work he does find, and conceals the true nature of from the extended family, consists of building an addition to a legal brothel across the state line in Nevada. There he falls in love with the immigrant wife of the owner and sets in motion the main plot of the story. At times hilarious, at times very moving, it is a big, sprawling book, much like the family, that I enjoyed a great deal. 549 pp.

Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

I picked this donated paperback up as a "travel book" (small, light, and not a big deal if it falls into the lake or gets left behind in the hotel) and took it to a recent conference. An "Oprah Book Club" choice, it has the requisite domestic angst that seems to be a constant in her selections. When James loses his job, he and Ellen and their two young children move back to their hometown of Holly's Field WI, and in with his truly troubling German-speaking family. The father is contemptuous of his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He favored the deceased son Mitch. The mother dotes on "Jimmy" and hates everyone else. There's a maiden lady aunt. And secrets. Lots of secrets. About the only good thing about the book is that ultimately Ellen does manage to escape with the children. Vinegar indeed. 240 pp.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Kill Artist

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva   428 pp.

I'm definitely hooked on this series about art restorer/Israeli agent, Gabriel Allon. In this episode, Gabriel has been called away from a major art restoration job and back into service to assassinate the Palestinian assassin responsible for the car bombing that killed his family. As part of the assignment, former agent & French model, Jacqueline, has also been recalled to duty with her former lover, Allon. What is intriguing and heartwrenching in this book is the backstory of character including the horrendous deaths of their family members whether at the hands of Nazis, terrorists, or the Israeli secret service.Even though it is fiction, it gives view of the Middle East conflicts from different viewpoints and shows that all sides are victims and perpetrators of the violence.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan, 279 pages, Juvenile fiction.

Percy must team up with Annabeth again on a quest to save Grover and all of camp Half-Blood. They travel to Sea of Monsters (it is near Miami) and fight Polyphemus, Scylla and Charybdis, and others on their own little Odyssey. Once again the humor, the snappy dialogue, and the characters themselves make Percy's tale fun to read. This time Percy gets to meet his half-brother as well.

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Downloadable Audiobook.

When the Game Was Ours by Earvin "Magic"Johnson and Larry Bird

When the Game Was Ours by Earvin "Magic"Johnson and Larry Bird, 340 pages, sports.

Two of the best NBA players of all time recount their time playing basketball against each other. The book traces the relationship between the two fierce competitiors from the 1979 NCAA championship game when Johnson's Michigan State team played Bird's Indiana State, through their storied professional careers and each man's induction into the Hall of Fame. A story of friendship and a great account of 1980's basketball.

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The Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius by Judd Winik

Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius by Judd Winik, 367 pages, Graphic novel.
Barry, only ten years old and the smartest person in the world, doesn't take any crap from anyone. Along with his best friend Jeremy, Barry fights against parents, classmates, generals, secret government agents and an alien disguised as gorilla. Unrelentingly hilarious.

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Simple times: crafts for poor people

Simple times: crafts for poor people by Amy Sedaris & Paul Dinello 304 pg.

I don't know what happened to Amy Sedaris that made her the way she is but the world is certainly a better place because of it. This book is so informative, I never knew, for example that you should stretch before and after your crafting experience. Amy has given us a full photo tutorial in the book to help us stay loose and avoid injury. Of course injury is always a possibility if you rush and try to craft too fast. Several common injuries are depicted in the book including burns and tacks in your feet. All this on top of the wonderful ideas for gifts and decorations. I'll tell you, this woman has talent! For all you creative people out there, don't miss this one. - Christa

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, 159 pages, humor.

The stories in Sedaris's latest books will have a familiar tone and feel to readers of his previous books, but this time all the stories feature animals as the characters. Nothing really new though. Fans of Sedaris will enjoy it.

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Downloadable Audiobook.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell, 479 pages, fition.
One of my favorite books in a year of good reads. Jacob de Zoet had hoped to earn enough money to to marry the woman he loved back in Holland. He signed up to work as a clerk for the Dutch East India Company for five years. The story is set at the turn of the 18th century with most of the story taking place on and around Dejima, an island near Nagasaki. de Zoet fights corruption among his co-workers, and for the love of a Japanese woman. He must give up much that he held dear to save a partof what he loves. This is beautifully written. Mitchell's last book "Cloud Atlas" was a finalist for the Booker Prize, though this one surprisingly only made it to the long list.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, fanatasy, 416 pages.

This steampunk novel set in an alternate-past Seattle that has been ruined when a heavy gas is released that zombifies all who are exposed to it, made several best-of-the-year lists for 2009. Priest has followed this up with Clementine and Dreadnought.

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Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance Too by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance Tooby Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner, 270 pages, economics.
Similar in many ways to their previous book, this one explores the economics of some of life's less traveled and less heralded paths. Amusing stories about the topics mentioned in the subtitle, and others make this a quick, fun read.

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Downloadable Audio.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher, Fantasy, 378 pages.
The Dresden Files, vol. 3.
This third book in this series finds Harry, Chicago's most prominent wizard and member of the White Council, battling a malevolent spirit that is bent on destroying everyone he cares about. In his efforts to discover how to destroy the spirit, Harry must also battle angry vampires and other denizens of the spirit world. The Dresden series books are quite popular, and the audio series is very well read by James Marsters (Spike in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but I don't find myself becoming a big fan. In the couple of Dresden books I have read, Harry always seems to be faced by unbeatable odds that he then defeats at the very last second, thanks to some rather clumsy plot device, or previously unexplained magical rule.

Downloadable Audio.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, 299 pages, literary fiction.
Early on we made the rule that you cannot count having read a book in this competition unless you blogged about it. I regret agreeing to that ruling now that it is mid-December and I am some fifty books behind in my blogging. Even if I had blogged regularly, I would still be in about fourth or fifth place, at least in total books. I think I might be in better shape for total pages, page average and sheer charisma. We will see. A High Wind in Jamaica is Hughes's 1929 novel of children, the high seas, and semi-competent, semi-committed pirates. When a hurricane devastates their Jamaican home, the Bas-Thorton and Fernandez families send their children back to the safety of England. The ship they are on is set upon by pirates at the beginning of the voyage and the children are accidentally taken captive. The adjustments made by the children and the pirates run the range from comic to disturbing.

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Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson, Juvenile Fiction, 299 pages.
I enjoyed the first of this series, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians quite a bit, and this third in the series still has much of the wit and charm that Sanderson does so well, but the story itself of Alcatraz Smedley and his royal family in the land of Crystallia, standing up against the evil librarians who secretly rule the rest of the world, is wearing a bit thin. My nephew still enjoys these books and is looking forward to the next in the series, but I might skip it.

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Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright, 594 pages, literary fiction.
Wright's story of Bigger Thomas, a young black man with no prospects, set in 1930's Chicago really stands the test of time. Bigger commits a crime in the heat of the moment, and this crime, and his attempts to extricate himself from the situation, lead to his downfall. We had a great discussion about this iconic work for our February book group meeting.

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Sleepless by Charlie Huston

Sleepless by Charlie Huston, 355 pages, thriller.
I am a big fan of Charlie Huston, and even if this is not my favorite of his novels, it is still better than most other thrillers out there. The main character in this post-apocalyptic novel, Park, is a cop in Los Angeles. His wife is sleepless, that is she suffers from a type of plague that keeps its victims awake, losing their minds from exhaustion, until they wither and die. Their baby is in danger every time Park leaves her alone with her increasingly erratic mother, as he goes out to work in an increasingly chaotic world. Jasper is perhaps the best character in the book, he is a shadowy assassin, a hired gun, who changes his mind, as the story progresses, as to what role he will play in its outcome. Throw in a gaming sub-culture, a possible cure for the plague, and a few of Huston's quirky-mad supporting characters and you have a story. A compelling read, great for fans of the post-apocalyptic and for fans of smart character filled thrillers.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Photographer / Guibert et al.

The Photographer: into war-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, and Frederic Lemercier. 267 p.

In 1986, Didier Lefevre, a French photographer, accompanied a Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) group on one of their missions into Afghanistan. This book is a record of his journey, combining some of his photos with more traditional graphic art by Guibert to tell the story. The situations the group endures just to get where they're needed, and then the conditions under which they practice medicine, are fascinating and quite moving. However, the last third of the book covers Lefevre striking out on his own because he's in too much of a hurry to return home and doesn't want to wait for the carefully planned trip accompanying the others. He can't really speak the language (he does have a phrase book), and bad things happen to him on this leg of the trip; but it was hard for me to feel much sympathy for him at this point, because he brought the trouble on directly on himself. Definitely a worthwhile read though, especially the MSF parts.

Killing Floor

Killing Floor/Lee Child 536 pgs.

The first Jack Reacher novel, I figure if I'm going to see what all the fuss is about, I should start at the beginning. This is definitely a thriller. Reacher is ready to kill, ready to fall into bed with a woman, and seemingly unwilling to think anything too much about either activity. The plot is at least a bit ridiculous and Reacher is superhuman in most situations. But is he a lover or a fighter? Well, why can't you be both? If you are Jack Reacher, nothing is out of your reach. - Christa

The Replacement/Brenna Yovanoff

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff; young adult, dark fantasy; 352 pages

I picked this up because the cover caught my eye; happily, this is one of those books where the cover really captures the tone of the book: bleak, ominous, and eerie. The story is an old one, with a twist: Mackie Doyle vanished when he was a baby, only to be replaced with a changeling. But the changeling didn't sicken and die--it survived, and grew to be the Mackie Doyle of our story. Mackie knows he's not human, but he's never known another life, and he's not so sure that his own people are any better than the people of his town (what do they do with all those stolen children, anyway?). I loved Mackie's voice, and the grimy, decaying industrial town in which the story is set. The constant rain and barren gravel pits, combined with ancient superstition, gives the book a very surreal feel. I have to recommend this to fans of Holly Black's Tithe and Keith Donohue's Stolen Child.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Most Beautiful Book in the World: 8 Novellas/ Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt 181 p.

Similar in tone to The Woman with the Bouquet , another of Schmitt's story collections which revolve around the longings of women, for lack of a fresher way to put it. Again, lots of sadness but very little despair, and a few surprise endings.

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran, & Oscar and the Lady in Pink / Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt 117 p.

I loved Schmitt's The Woman with the Bouquet, liked The Most Beautiful Book in the World, but was ultimately disappointed in this one, which I gather is one of Schmitt's better known works. Monsieur Ibrahim is an elderly Arab shopkeeper in a dingy street in Paris, who befriends a nearly-orphaned Jewish boy and changes both their lives forever. The dialogue between the two characters retains the same flavor of sweet magic that is part of Schmitt's other stories. The problem, I think, is that 'sweet magic' isn't a strong enough framework for a story with obvious geo-political echoes like this one.

Oscar and his pink lady have a similar problem; in this case, a twelve-year-old leukemia patient, his candy-striper, and letters to God are far too much weight for the style to bear. Really, I can't imagine many authors who could handle that set-up. As Marsha once said about an author who shall remain nameless, "Reading that is like pouring Karo syrup down your throat."

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Riordan, Rick

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.377 pages juv fiction
In which young Percy Jackson, delinquent, dyslexic, smart-mouthed, and somewhat angry New York City School child must do his best to not get expelled from another school. This becomes harder when his math teacher, who has already warned him about fighting, transforms into a winged fury seeking to kill him, and he is left to defend himself with a ball-point pen. Percy must flee the scene and seek protection at camp half-blood and live among the demi-gods. It is an interesting story, and Percy, Grover, Chiron, Annabeth, and Luke are all well drawn characters. And the story moves along nicely, with mythical creatures popping up everywhere, even here in St Louis, as they go on quest. We finished the second volume last night and bought vols 4 and 5. Yay. This Mark Twain award winner is now a movie and available on DVD.

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Downloadable Audiobooks.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Oceanby Susan Casey, Waves and Oceans, 326 pages.
I am declaring this my favorite work of nonfiction for 2010. It is going on my staff picks. Packed full of stormy seas with hundred-foot waves, seas so rough with waves so high that giant container ships are routinely disappearing in them, going under every week, and then of course there are the surfers trying to ride these same waves. Casey does an excellent job introducing us to the people tow-surfing these giant waves, the problem of shipping in dangerous seas, and the maddeningly complex science of giant waves. Tow-surfing, it turns out, is when a jet ski is needed to deposit a surfer on a wave that is too large and is moving too fast for the surfer to paddle to. The surfer often needs to be quickly extricated as well, before the next giant wave takes him to the bottom and holds him there, or dashes and crashes him on the rocks. So the jet ski becomes the rescue ski and has to pull the surfer out before both surfer and skier die. It all sounds a little crazy, and since I have heard almost nothing about any of this before, I'm going to be pissed if it turns out that this was all made up and Susan Casey is really James Frey.
Casey wrote an even-handed, informative and fun-to-read book.
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Downloadable audio

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Green Angel

Green Angel by Alice Hoffmann  116 pp.

There is a lot packed into this slim book. Fifteen year old Green stays home on the day her parents and sister go to sell produce at the market in the city across the river. A disaster destroys the city, killing Green's family and most of the city's residents and spreading a thick layer of ash over everything. With her family dead and her beloved garden destroyed, Green retreats into herself, changes her name to Ash, and struggles with her grief, guilt, and survival alone in the post-apocalyptic world that surrounds her.  

Famous Players

Famous Players: the Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor  76 pp.

This graphic novel explores the unsolved murder of silent movie director William Desmond Taylor in 1922. The artwork has a film noir feel. The story unveils some of the secrets surrounding Taylor's life including the revelation that he was not who he claimed to be. The cast of characters and suspects includes many of the most famous Hollywood names of the era. This is part of the "Treasury of XXth Century Murder" series. There are more of these books in my future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Running the books

Running the books: the adventures of an accidental prison librarian by Avi Steinberg 404 pgs.

I'm sure to no surprise, I'm a sucker for librarian books and this one delivered for me. First, I was totally taken by the cover...a portrait made up of due date stamps. Early on we learn that Avi might be a bit confused about his future and unsure of how he should proceed. He kind of falls into a prison librarian job. Although he is seriously out of his element working there, he quickly becomes interested in helping his patrons and in some of their situations. In addition to the library job, he teaches creative writing classes. Even though he is highly educated and Jewish, he sees the many ways he is like his co-workers and patrons. I think he does a good job teaching and also a good job learning. This book is really more about his own self discovery than his accomplishments. - Christa

Friday, December 3, 2010


Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido 176 pgs.

John Blacksad is a tough guy private investigator (are there any other kind?) featured in 3 stories with such topics as racial discrimination, murder, kidnapping, and the trading of state other words, a little light reading. The characters in the book are depicted as human animals. Blacksad has the face of a cat and one of my other favorites is a doe teacher. The art is fabulous and the stories are very good. Can't say enough good about this interesting graphic novel. - Christa

Home: a memoir of my early years

Home: a memoir of my early years/Julie Andrews 324 pg.

I chose this because I didn't know much about the author's childhood.  This was very interesting. - Susie

The Rembrandt Affair

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva  484 pp.

This was my first experience with Silva's work and it won't be my last. Gabriel Allon, art restorer and former Mossad operative, is investigating the murder of another art restorer and the theft of the little known Rembrandt portrait. What he uncovers connects property stolen from the Jews by the Nazis, Swiss bank accounts, crooked businessmen, and Iranian nuclear weapons. This is a real page turner.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin 274 pg.

Larry and Silas were boyhood friends now out of touch. Larry is an isolated man who was mostly an isolated boy. Now he is suspected in the disappearance of a local girl which is a little too similar to the disappearance of a girl he took on a date in high school. This is a book where the obvious isn't always correct. I at first thought it was taking awhile to get to the action but I realize now that I didn't recognize what the action was. Getting to know the characters, we think we understand who is good and who is evil but maybe there is just a lot more gray than we originally think. - Christa

Behemoth/Scott Westerfeld

Behemoth (Leviathan, book 2), by Scott Westerfeld; young adult, steampunk; 485 pages

This one started off a little slow, but quickly pulled me into the story. In case you missed the first book last year, Westerfeld's world is an alternate 20th century, where great powers in Europe are divided by their allegiance to pure mechanics ("Clankers") or genetic engineering ("Darwinists"). World War I has officially begun here, with the Allies favoring Darwinist philosophies, and the Germans dominating the Clanker side. In the midst of it all, you have our two heroes: Deryn (aka, Dylan), a girl disguised as a boy to serve on a living British airship, and Alek, secret heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, but now on the run from his own people. Much of the action here takes place off the airship Leviathan, and on the ground in the exotic setting of 1914 Istanbul. It's a fast read, with plenty of action, and a really fascinating world that I would love to learn more about. We get to see the characters growing more here--both learning to be leaders of their respective factions--and we're left with a great premise for the third book. I can't wait to read the next installment!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, Fiction, 358 pages.
Major Pettigrew, a widower for many years now, must decide whether or not he will defy small-town convention and declare his loves the widowed immigrant (though long-time resident) shop keeper, Mrs Ali. Pettigrew also attempts to deal with his son, and his son's upwardly mobile desires over the course of the story. It is a good book, one to recommend to fans of of the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," though it is not quite as good as that one. My only problem with the book was Pettigrew, who is at times a somewhat whiny character and refuses to grow and accept that he has to do what you know he is going to do. He does grow, but not until long past the time he should have done so.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells, 355 pages,
Cindy recommended this to me and I really enjoyed it. Maskelle is wandering her world accompanied by a swordsman she rescued from marauders, a troop of actors, and a man-sized puppet in need of an exorcism. Once, she was the sure and certain Voice of the Adversary, second highest in the religious hierarchy of her kingdom, now she wanders the world trying to figure out what caused her to misunderstand her vision, alienate the emperor, and cast herself into doubt and confusion years ago. She speaks for the power that, unlike the other prominent spirits, the Ancestors, was never human. It always spoke to her truly until her false vision. Since then, she has wandered in exile, but now she has been called back to the capital city of Duvalpore. The yearly Rite of the Wheel of the Infinite has been disrupted. The sand map of the world, carefully remade annually, and bound to the real world is being destroyed as it is being remade. Maskelle and all around her must find and fight those who seek to destroy her world. The book seems to take some odd turns towards the end. but the explanations for the course change ring true and the story rights itself and ends well. Great for fans of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, and Joe Abercrombie or Megan Whalen Turner's books.
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By Nightfall by Micheal Cunningham

By Nightfall by Micheal Cunningham, 238 pages, downloadable audio-7 hours 27 minutes
Peter Harris's solid, satisfying marriage to Rebecca, and his Manhattan gallery, also solid, but not first rate are buffeted by the winds of change around them as family matters interfere, colleagues sicken, and beauty remains elusive. Peter is not young anymore, he cannot see where his gallery, and his career are going and the marketing of art wears on him. He is estranged from his daughter Bea, but doesn't really understand why. When his wife's youngest brother Ethan, called Mizzie (the mistake), comes to stay with them, Peter's equilibrium is thrown off still further. Mizzie, his family's bright star, has been promising everyone that he is no longer using. Rebecca urges Peter to let Mizzie come and work at the gallery and the circumstances leave Peter seeing his life unwind. A beautifully written book whose author cares deeply for, and forgives his characters. One of the year's best. Audio read by Hugh Dancy.

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Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P. G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P. G. Wodehouse, 231 pages, Downloadable Audio-5 hours 40 minutes, Humor.
Stilton Cheesewright believes that Bertie Wooster has grown a mustache as part of a plot to win the affections of Cheesewright's fiance, Florence Cray. And as Cheesewright is one of those largish, ex-policeman types who wants to beat Bertie senseless, and as Florence does seem strangely moved by the mustache, and as Bertie is busy trying to steal his Aunt Dahlia's pearl necklace (on Dahlia's behalf), there doesn't seem to be much for Bertie to do except drink a bit, try and find a cosh (that's a blackjack to the Yanks) and ask Jeeves for his advice. Read by Jonathan Cecil. One of Wodehouse's best.


This is my best effort to show the totals from November.  Let me know if you have corrections.

Participant/Books /Pages

Patrick 10/2,685
Karen 4/1,624
Christa 9 / 2,220
Susie 7 /1,532
Cindy 15 / 4,472
Annie 9 / 2,442
Linda 5/ 1,867
Eliana 3/
Kathleen 5/1,534
TOTAL 62/ 16,690

Side Jobs / Jim Butcher

Side jobs: stories from the Dresden files by Jim Butcher (Dresden files series). 418 p.

In addition to publishing a new novel in this series every year, Jim Butcher has been writing short stories that mostly appear in themed anthologies. This collection brings together all of the stories published to date, plus a new novella, "Aftermath," that follows this year's novel Changes. (Since Changes ended on an enormous cliffhanger, that's a big deal.) I had read some of the stories previously but not all of them, and of course I wanted to read the novella. "Aftermath" doesn't resolve the cliffhanger in any way, but managed to be satisfying nonetheless, and gives us the perspective of a long-running supporting character. That's something that you can see Butcher has gotten better at over the course of his writing career, as exemplified in these stories--learning to write from the perspective of a character who's not Harry Dresden. He's still not terribly good at differentiating character voice--all of the stories are in first person, and everyone's internal narration sounds pretty similar--but he's improved on character perspective. Still, these are short stories designed for enjoyment, and I had a good time with them, even the early ones.

Agnes and the Hitman / Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer 368 p.

I owe the recommendation for this highly entertaining tale to Cindy. Agnes, in addition to working frantically to get a new cookbook launched, has problems with the business of life in general. She's engaged to a loser, someone is trying to kill her dog, a handsome and highly skilled hitman shows up in her kitchen without warning, and she has a week to plan a flamingo-themed wedding for some old Mafioso friends. The outlandish events are anchored by realistic (and funny) dialogue and believable emotional responses.

Freakangels volume four by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Freakangels volume four by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield Graphic novel, 144 pages.
The story continues in volumes two, three, and four. We hear more about the banished member of the clan, Mark, and what he did to deserve this treatment. We also meet the remaining clan members, Miki, the doctor, and Kait, the cop (with a taste for minor torture). Luke, whom we met in volume one, seems to be following Mark's example of using normal people to do his bidding by controlling their thoughts. This is against their code. Shooting other people and random bits of mayhem are not against the code, so there is plenty of action in all three volumes. This is an ongoing web-based graphic novel and volume 5 is due out sometime soon. Good fun (in a violent, post-apocalyptic way).

Freakangels volume three by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Freakangels volume three by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield Graphic novel, 144 pages.
I'm going to cheat and review volumes 2, 3 and 4 together.

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Freakangels volume two by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Freakangels volume two by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield Graphic novel, 144 pages.
I'm going to cheat and review volumes 2, 3 and 4 together.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm with Fatty

I'm with Fatty: losing fifty pounds in fifty miserable weeks/Edward Ugel 244 pgs.

Fifty pounds in fifty weeks seems so doable if you break it down to 2.28 ounces a day which is how the author started his quest to bring himself back from the unhealthy weight that he had crept up to. Maybe a better description...a weight he had sprinted to after gaining 10 pounds in one month! Ugel has a way with a phrase and some funny stories about his efforts but mostly he talks about the work that went into it and how much easier it was to fall off the cart even as he was making progress. This is a guy with serious willpower in LACKING willpower and once he went off the path, he kept moving away from it for quite some time, or at least until his wife came back to town. Dude, all I can say is you better be nice to your wife and never get a divorce or there won't be anyone there to pull you back. - Christa

The Savior

The Savior/Eugene Drucker 208 pg.

I chose this because it is about WWII. - Susie

A secret in Salem

A secret in Salem/Sheri Anderson 308 pg.

I recommend this for Days of Our Lives fans. - Susie

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu 239 pp.

The main character of this story is Charles Yu who lives in Minor Universe 31 where he works as a time travel repair technician. He spends his non-working hours visiting his mother who lives in a time loop of endless Sunday dinners and searching for his lost father who is somewhere in time. His working hours are spent in his time travel vehicle with an operating system with low self-esteem and a "weird ontological entity" that looks and acts like a dog. He has job security because what people want to do is go back in time to their worst moment and with the idea that they can change it. The mostly sci-fi related amusing one-liners make this existential journey a fun read.

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf: a novel by Victor Pelevin 335 pp.

This is not your typical werewolf story. The main character A. Hu-li is, in fact, a 2000 year old Chinese werefox living in present day Russia and working as a 17 year old prostitute. She ends up in a relationship with Alexander, a Russian intelligence officer who just happens to be a werewolf. This book is part love story, part fantasy, part political/social commentary, and part eastern philosophy. Convoluted, interesting, somewhat confusing, intriguing and very hard to explain.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec / Jacques Tardi

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec. Vol. 1, Pterror over Paris and The Eiffel Tower demon by Jacques Tardi. 96 p.

Set in Paris in the 1910s, these serial Eurocomics feature bumbling policemen, convoluted criminal plots, and a cynical young adventuress named Adele. Oh, and at least one pterodactyl. Adele Blanc-Sec's adventures have been popular in Europe but barely released in the States; Fantagraphics is re-translating and re-releasing them in these handsome volumes. Tardi's style, at least in this story, is the distinctive "clear-line" style pioneered by Herge in his Tintin comics.

Illuminating Torchwood

Illuminating Torchwood: essays on narrative, character and sexuality in the BBC series (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, 21). 241 p.

Since I'm a big fan of the TV show Torchwood, as well as a former English major, I thought I'd enjoy these essays. A couple of them were quite good, and at least one of them was abysmally overblown--I'm sorry, but every time a male character disagrees with the female lead and doesn't do what she tells him, it's not symbolically rape--but many of the essays were either dull or arguing in bad faith, selectively ignoring text to make the argument work. I was particularly annoyed by one essay discussing the heroine's journey that acted as if team Torchwood had only one female member rather than two. Granted, the Gwen character gets a lot more screen time than the Toshiko character, but you don't get to pretend she doesn't exist if you're discussing women and their roles. The other thing that really bothered me is that a number of essays incorrectly quoted characters, got their names wrong, or mixed up the order in which actions occurred. That's just sloppy work, and if you're getting details wrong about the primary text you're discussing, I'm much less likely to believe you when you discuss other critical theories and such. Overall I was disappointed by this book.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Downloadable Audio,14 hours 19 minutes, read by Martin Jarvis.
Jarvis does a wonderful job of reading Dickens' classic tale of love and redemption during the time of the French Revolution. Doctor Manette, Lucie, Charles Darnay, the Defarges, and Sydney Carton all come vividly to life in this enjoyable edition. In London we have the tale of a man recalled to life after a long imprisonment for a crime he will not discuss, his long suffering daughter, and the two men who love her; the one whom she loves, who has a secret of his own, and the dissolute lawyer who would do almost anything to redeem himself in her eyes. Set against this we have the French side of the story with the soon-to-be-dead Marquis, and Monsieur Defarge and his friends the Jacques, and Madame Defarge, with her knitting, and with her followers, such as the Vengeance. A timeless classic.
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Freakangels volume one by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Freakangels volume one by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, 144 pages, Graphic Novel
There were twelve in the Freakangels clan, together since they were young, and they did a very bad thing and it brought about an end to the world, or at least an end to London. In this first volume we meet the remaining eleven Freakangels when the twelfth, now banished, sends someone back to kill them. Killing them isn't going to be an easy thing , since they all have great mental powers, and can communicate with each other over great distance, hearing each others thoughts. They can read the minds of others and move objects telekinetically. When they work together they have seem to have more power than they can control, and they are still picking up the pieces from the last time they tried. They live in Whitechapel now, growing their own food and helping a group of refugees find enough water and other supplies to survive, while fending off marauding neighbors. There are four volumes so far. It is a well drawn and interesting start to a series. Patrick.

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Life by Keith Richards

Life by Keith Richards-Memoir, 564 pages.
This much ballyhooed autobiography by one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones is as interesting as everyone is saying it is, but it is also a bit overlong and too forgiving of its subjects many faults and flaws. Keith Richards tells his own story, about his childhood, the forming of the band, about his friends, family, and drug problems. He gives his own, more prosaic versions of Rolling Stones mythology: the song "Angie" wasn't written about David Bowie's wife, and "Wild Horses" wasn't Mick's farewell song to Marianne Faithfull, they were just songs, and the words just sort of fit. And Keith never had a blood transfusion to remove traces of heroin so he could travel, he was just going into rehab and being glib with the press who were gullible enough to believe what he told them. Overall, Keith comes across as a good guy, funny, and not totally self-involved. But as the story goes on and on, I found it hard to overlook or forgive some things such as the way his kids were farmed out and ignored, and it was hard to take his word that once again some mishap on the road wasn't his fault (how many fires caused by "faulty wiring" should one man have in his lifetime?). A fun read, but in the end I found it all just a little too self-indulgent. Patrick

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Grave Goods / Ariana Franklin 336 p.

From the Mistress of the Art of Death series, in which Adelia Aguilar is medieval England's answer to Quincy, M.E. (OK, my TV references are a little dated.) Here Adelia is set the task of determining whether 2 skeletons buried deep under Glastonbury Abbey are the lost corpses of Arthur and Guinevere. In the course of the complex plot Adelia meets a German knight of superhuman skill, a band of thieves with hearts of gold, and a psychotic forest dweller and his truly bizarre ex-priest fellow savage. The story is completely improbable - could that really be Excalibur they've found in that mossy cave? - but the plot is carefully constructed and held my interest. The audio reader, Kate Reading, was especially good.

Cooking for Geeks / Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food / Jeff Potter 412 p.

Dedicated to the proposition that cooking is everybody's business, this fun and informative book looks at the underlying mechanisms that make good food. If understanding that different proteins change shape at different temperature will help you put more tender meat on the table, take a look at this title. Loaded with charts and graphs (it's for geeks, right?) and interviews with some famous foodies, as well as not-so-famous food scientists, this is an amusing read in or out of the kitchen.

Oh No She Didn't / Clinton Kelly 201 p.

Surprised to see this on a business list? Don't be! Clinton Kelly makes it clear that fashion disasters such as 'nipping out' (I'll leave the specifics to your imagination) can be very bad for business indeed. He warns 20-somethings new to the workforce to leave 'the girls' under cover, and advises that tatts at the office are a no-no. Pretty obvious stuff, but the photos and writing are great for a laugh. And no, I don't think there's anything wrong with my old striped turtlenecks. (Staff picks entry)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Castle Waiting / Linda Medley

Castle Waiting. Vols. 1 and 2 by Linda Medley. 457 p. and 375 p. respectively.

I was very excited to get Vol. 2 of this--it just came out last week--and after I read it I had to pull out vol. 1 again. Castle Waiting was the castle whose population slept for a hundred years during Sleeping Beauty's curse. When she awoke and ran off with her handsome prince, the castle was mostly abandoned. Now just a handful of people live there, and it's known as a place of refuge. The first volume follows Jain's travels to reach the castle and claim sanctuary for herself and her child, who is born shortly after their arrival; we get backstory on a couple of the other inhabitants. Volume two gives backstory on a few more, and visitors drop in for a while. I really enjoyed the visit by the hammerlings (dwarves) and how they shed new light on Henry, one of the long-term residents. These books are very domestic, with much of the action being the day-to-day lives and concerns of the people in the castle, and the stories they tell each other. Yet they are never dull.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hector and the search for happiness

Hector and the search for happiness/Francois Lelord 165 pages.

Hector is a young psychiatrist who takes a trip around the world looking for the secrets of happiness. During his various adventures, he develops about 20 observations that bring him closer to his quest. Then, he visits a professor who studies happiness and learns even more. This book is translated from French and written in simple parables. I enjoyed it but didn't need it to figure out what makes me happy. - Christa

POD/Stephen Wallenfels

POD, by Stephen Wallenfels; science fiction, survival, young adult; 214 pages

I picked this up because one review compared it to Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. That's one of my favorite books, so I was eager to read this one. The plot is pretty cool: one day, a group of strange spheres (one character calls them "pearls of death" or "PODs") appear all over the world, and anyone who is out of doors vanishes. For the next weeks, anyone who leaves the shelter of their home is taken or killed by the vessels, and those that are trapped inside are slowly dying of thirst and starvation. The story is told from two points of view: Josh, a teen trapped in his home with his increasingly compulsive father, and Megs, a 12-year-old hiding out in the parking garage of a hotel that's been taken over by a power-crazy security guard. It's a dark, suspenseful read (and it doesn't pull any punches), but it provides a lot to think about. There's an environmental message that runs throughout, but it's subtle enough that I didn't find it preachy or annoying (it's mostly coming from one character, and it fits with his personality). To top it off, my favorite character turned out to be a librarian! I recommend this to people who love a good post-apocalyptic story.

Dogs of Riga

Dogs of Riga: a Kurt Wallander Mystery/Henning Mankell 326 pg.

This book exposes Kurt Wallander to some political intrigue and some violent action as he travels to Latvia to help solve the murder of a Latvian police major. Of course there is a little time to fall for the major's widow even though the most "action" we get in that arena is a chaste kiss on the cheek. I do enjoy Kurt I guess because we are at similar stages in our lives and he is a bit cynical. I listened to this on audio and I'm glad to know the correct pronunciations of all the Latvian names. Looking forward to the next book in this series and thanks again to Kathleen for turning me onto it. - Christa

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Justice: What't the Right Thing to do by Michael J. Sandel

Justice: What's the Right Thing to do by Michael J. Sandel -308 pages, philosphy.
Sandel's book, like his PBS television show of the same name, presents us with moral dilemmas and and hot-button topics and asks us to think about the options. What would we do and what should we do? He then gives us several philosophical contexts in which to view the problems he presents, from gay marriage to government bailouts to affirmative action and he then asks us what the individual owes society and what society should leave to the individual. A clear and compelling read.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The blindness of the heart, by Julia Franck

So many Grimm fairy tales are just that, grim. The opening of this award-winning novel, translated from the German, is so reminiscent of one of those tales -- a confused young child is abandoned by a distant and seemingly uncaring parent -- not in the woods this time, but in a busy railroad station in post-WWII Germany where those trapped in the East are struggling to move to the West. But the real beginning is at the end of the first World War, when the mother's father returns home to die. Helene and her older sister Martha escape to Weimar Berlin from the small village of their birth, leaving behind their increasingly disturbed and disturbing Jewish mother. There Martha slips into a debauched and drug-addicted world while Helene studies to become a nurse like her sister had been. She meets Carl, a philosophy student, with whom she falls in love, but circumstances are against them and she ultimately ends up married to a self-centered civil engineer. By the end of the novel, one understands the act that began the book, but it doesn't make one feel any better, frankly. With some college background in German literature and this period in particular, I had hoped to like, and to understand, this book better than I did. 424 pp.

The Walking Dead 6/Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead volume 6, by Robert Kirkman; horror, graphic novel; 304 pages

The story of life after the zombie apocalypse continues in this new volume. Here, human beings continue to be far more dangerous monsters than the zombies, which our crew has gotten quite adept at killing. I would have thought that, after some of the previous volumes, that nothing else in these books could shock me, but I was wrong. This isn't something to be read while eating, and you don't want to think too hard about what's going on between the lines. The most chilling part of this book, for me, was the implication that our group of core characters are starting to become every bit as monstrous as those they face. This is going to stick with me, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume.