Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right/Atul Gawande 209 pg.

This book kind of blew me away. I've been a list person for years and felt like I needed them to make up for something lacking in my brain cells. Now I find out it is all for the good. The idea that highly trained professionals in areas like medicine, pilots, and construction all improve their outcomes with checklists is good to know. We are talking about minimizing errors in the simple ways because you follow the accepted and prescribed procedures. This book also makes a case for teamwork which is quite different than committee work. Results are just better when the group is clear about goals and communication. I think there is a lot to be learned here. - Christa

The Slippery Slope/Lemony Snicket

Mountains! Mysteries! Mottos! Moral dilemmas! Messages decoded! Siblings separated and siblings found! Dastardly villains perhaps even more dastardly than Olaf himself! Carmelita Spats! Ecosystems disrupted by horrible fires! Charles Algernon Swinburne!
Plot and adventure and drama and sadness are jam-packed into this installment of the Baudelaires' saga, which gives us more of a look at what the V.F.D. is or was. Still, no answers to the bigger questions here, despite some tantalizing clues involving a sugar bowl. Other developments: Violet gets some privacy, Klaus gets a notebook, and Sunny continues to develop her cooking skills. This actually might have been my favorite book yet in the series. 337 pp.

On the Divinity of Second Chances

On the Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya McLaren  322 pp.

I selected this book on a whim and ended up liking it a lot. Anna and Paul have been married for 35 years and can barely tolerate each other. Anna is suffering the effects of menopause, spends her time painting pictures of raisins, and sleeps outside in a lawn chair. Paul is doesn’t know what to do with himself since he retired so he begins to take bagpipe lessons. Anna’s mother lives on a farm where she raises sunflowers, tap dances with a bunch of other old women and takes pot shots at a neighbor she doesn’t get along with. Anna’s daughter, Jade, believes she is really a black woman and spends her time talking to her imaginary friend/spirit guide, Grace. Another daughter, Olive, has broken up with her boyfriend because she refused to live in a tipi with him while they save on rent to buy a house. And the son, Forrest, lives in self-imposed exile in the woods because of a horrible crime he committed at age 14. Everything comes to head when Olive quits her job and announces that she is pregnant, Jade’s beloved dog disappears, and Anna & Paul get marriage counseling from a Brazilian dancer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba  273 pp.

This is the amazing and inspiring true story. William Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school after one year of high school due to his family's poverty and famine conditions in Malawi. He teaches himself basic electricity from books he studied in the local 3-shelf library. Using junk parts from bicycles, radios, tractors and other scrap he built a windmill that generated electricity. Eventually the world learned of this feat and he has traveled the world and is furthering his education in hopes of finding new ways to better the lives of people in living in poverty in Africa.

Battle Royale by Koshun Takami

Battle Royale 617 pages
I wanted to read this for a long time since I had heard, somewhere, this book compared favorably to The Hunger Games. There is just the one copy in our consortium, it always had requests and I kept putting off reading it when I did get to check it out.
So, finally I read it. I wouldn't say that it is as good as the Collins book, but it did stick with me. In a vastly different Japan, one class of 7th graders (more like 14-15 year-olds) is hijacked by the government each year, taken to a remote location, and forced to fight each other to the death. It is a quick read, but the characters are a bit flat and the action is repetitive. Pretty good.

Silver Borne / Patricia Briggs

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs. 342 pp.

Mercy Thompson is a coyote shapeshifter, a mechanic who owns her own garage. She's a fairly low-powered supernatural type, but she keeps getting involved with more high-powered beings around her. In this one (fifth in the series) she makes progress in her relationship with Adam, the local werewolves' Alpha, and his pack, and deals with a nasty fae. Unlike a lot of urban fantasy novels, Mercy isn't one of the heavy hitters in the setting, and while events that happen to her are connected to events that happened earlier, there's no overarching plot going on in the background, which is a nice change. I enjoyed this book a lot.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The River Cottage Meat Book/Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

The other of Hugh's massive food philosophy cookbooks that we own, this one deals solely with meat, which, if you're going organic/local/foodie, is something you're going to have to deal with. When so much of the animal products available in the country are unhealthy and produced in conditions that amount to torture (see Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Kenneth Midkiff's The Meat You Eat), anyone who wants to take control over their food back from industrial "farms" will have to change the way they look at meat, either limiting their consumption of it, purchasing only meat that can be humanely sourced, or giving it up altogether. There's a number of problems with this idea that I won't get into here, but they mainly revolve around class problems in the US and the fact that there simply aren't resources for clean food available in poorer areas.
Anyway! to return from that tangent and get off my soapbox, somewhat, the RC Meat Book makes it impossible to ignore the meat issue. Right in the very first pages is a montage of photographs detailing the slaughter and butchering of one of the author's cows at an abattoir. If you can't handle this, Hugh is saying, this is not the cookbook for you. Indeed, I'd imagine that after reading this manifesto (with recipes!) one would either turn vegetarian or take to their backyard with and air rifle to bag some squirrels and rabbits for the stew pot. I don't own an air rifle, but I admit the idea is tempting. In the meantime, farmers' markets will have to do, and veggies are taking center stage. When I do run across some really great free-range chicken or pork, I'll know which book to turn to for recipes.
544 pp.

Unfinished Desires, by Gail Godwin

Events from the founding and early years of a mountain-top Catholic private school in North Carolina echo down the years in this multi-generational novel. Founded by two British nuns in the early part of the 20th century, the story of Mt. St. Gabriel’s is told in a memoir being written in 2001 by one of its most dynamic headmistresses, Mother Ravenel. She was first a student, later a teacher, and finally head of the school. Mother Ravenel is particularly troubled by recounting what happened in 1952, after which she needed to take a year off to recover. Told in a non-linear form from several perspectives besides the nun's, as a tale of adolescent girls’ rivalries, friendships, and cliques, it is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s superb Cat’s Eye. Most survive these intense teenage years, some better, however, than others. 396 pp.

The River Cottage Cookbook/Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

In addition to having perhaps the most English name in the history of names, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is, it seems, the Michael Pollan of Britain, with a cottage (pun intended) industry of books, television series/specials, and also a restaurant, all based on the philosophy that the best food is that which is safe, humanely raised, local, and cooked yourself. I've jumped on this bandwagon at the right time, obviously, because there's a crazy food revolution going on. In the UK it's apparently been going on for a good while, and this cookbook-slash-manifesto is ridiculously inspiring. I'm quite sad that we don't have the quality control and labeling standards for organic and locally-grown food in this country that exists in the UK, and a lot of the River Cottage Cookbook simply fills me with envy. Where am I supposed to find nettles to make nettle soup? Why does the US have a million different contradictory labels for eggs? Thankfully, there's a massive section of notes for the US publication that list some similar resources and outline policy differences, so all hope is not lost. Also, the recipes are very inspiring. I haven't tried anything specifically from this book yet, but we did make a fish pie highlighted in an episode of The River Cottage Treatment, and it was amaaaaaazing. so delicious. This guy knows his stuff. In the meantime, I will be searching the backyard for chives and dandelions.
447 pp.

Flirt/Laurell K. Hamilton

Flirt (Anita Blake, book 18), by Laurell K. Hamilton; horror; 192 pages

To call this a whole "novel" might be pushing it--once you take out the extraneous spacing, the author's introduction, the nonfiction essay at the end of the book, and the several pages of comic strips after the essay, we're left with a little over 100 pages of actual story. The story is good--much closer to the early Anita Blake novels I know and love than the more recent entries in the series. It features Anita doing her day job (which, to be honest, I had kind of forgotten she still had), and she's alone for most of the book, which was quite refreshing. Overall, it reminded me strongly of The Laughing Corpse, one of the better books in the series. Still, this book ends with yet another new character attached to Anita, and one more name and face to keep straight in the crowded cast.

The Great Fables Crossover/Bill Willingham, et al.

This 13th volume of the Fables saga takes an absurdist metafictional turn as the story intersects with that of the series' own spinoff, Jack of Fables. I haven't read Jack, so come of the backstory was quite confusing at first, but thankfully the exposition is handled well enough that the plot is understandable. It's a nice enough adventure/quest/save the entire universe from imminent destruction idea, but on the whole it feels like a bizarre vacation from the main Fables plot, which was getting quite dire by the end of the last volume. I like this series, it's a great concept and wonderfully realized and the art is usually fantastic, but the pacing is so uneven. I feel like it's been this way ever since the big showdown with the Adversary, like the series could have wrapped up there but it's still being strung along and Willingham doesn't quite know how to present this next arc. We'll see! 
224 pp.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter/Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith; horror; 352 pages

I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to pieces, so I was really excited about this book. The concept is great, and the photoshopped images (many of which are viewable on the book's Amazon page) add a lot to the story. While I enjoyed the book a lot, I felt like the author could have committed more to this "nonfiction" account with some dates, or more citations, but that could just be my inner nerd rearing its head. Very fun, and a fast read, but not as funny as PPZ.

Wolf Speaker/Tamora Pierce

Wolf Speaker (The Immortals, book 2), by Tamora Pierce; young adult, fantasy, audiobook; 344 pages, about 8 hours listening

I think I expected this book to get a little cheesy, especially given the huge stretches where Daine is the only human character, and the rest of the book is populated by talking animals. Pierce kept things from getting hokey, however, and this turned out to be a really enjoyable book. Daine travels to the northernmost holding in Tortall at the request of a wolf pack, and finds the humans there are plotting treason. She gets trapped in the valley, and has to use her wits and her magic to keep herself alive, and save the kingdom at the same time.

The prosecution of George W. Bush for murder

The prosecution of George W. Bush for murder 249 pgs.

I chose this to see why the author wants George W. Bush tried for murder. This is a very disturbing and interesting book. Bush may be guilty but a trial will never happen. - Susie

The Tragedy of Richard the Third

The Tragedy of Richard the Third/Wm Shakespeare 140 pg.

I chose this because it's one of Shakespeare's history plays and I've always been interested in English history. - Susie


Crisis/Robin Cook 559 pgs.

I chose this because I've finished several Robin Cook novels and hadn't read this one yet. - Susie

Burt Lancaster: an American life

Burt Lancaster: an American life 359 pg.

I chose this because I wanted to learn more about the actor's life - Susie

Henry VI

Henry VI part III/Wm Shakespeare 113 pg.

I chose this to continue reading Henry VI. - Susie

The Hits, the flops - the summer that ate Hollywood

The Hits, the flops - the summer that ate Hollywood 311 pgs.

I chose this because it gives an inside view of how movies get made and the effect they have on the business of entertainment. - Susie

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to Sew a Button

How to Sew a Button and other nifty things your grandmother knew by Erin Bried 278 pp.

Christa posted about this one earlier. It's a great book of simple instructions for all kinds of things. Many of them I already knew but some were new to me. This would be a great gift for newlyweds or someone moving into their own place for the first time.  In fact, I just realized I needed a housewarming gift for a friend who bought her first home.

The reader

The Reader/Bernard Schlink 218 pgs.

I always try to read the book before I see the movie so now I'll give the movie a try. I think most people know the premise of this book. I didn't think it would be the kind of story for me but I found the writing to be quite beautiful and the story made me think. If people are so ashamed of something about themselves that they are unable or unwilling to defend themselves for fear of discovery, that is a very powerful force. Now I'll have to see if Kate Winslet deserved that Oscar. - Christa

Back when we were grownups

Back when we were grownups/Anne Tyler 281 pg

Rebecca is 53 and just deciding that she is living a life that is not her own. As a college student she was conservative and predictable. SHe studied hard and everyone knew she was destined to marry her kindergarten sweetheart. Then Joe enters her life in a chance meeting and he is everything she isn't...he is fun and silly and much older than her. He pursues her and to everyone's surprise (including her own) she ends up marrying him and becoming a mother to his 3 small children.

Years later, she is a widow and center of the family she married into. Her daughters and grandchildren all depend on her and she is running the family business. It is now that she has an interesting dream that makes her think what her life could have been. She becomes reacquainted with her old boyfriend and re-examines her family.

I really enjoyed this book and think the question of identity is something a lot of people deal with at some point in their lives. - Christa


Disgrace/J.M. Coetzee 220 pgs.

A professor in his 50's has a life changing affair with a student. The change is not one of those romantic fairy tales but ends with an "inquiry" after a complaint. He ends up jobless and shunned. He moves to the "country" to live with his daughter Lucy where he has plenty of time to reflect upon his mediocre parenting and his new life. Then tragedy strikes and he and Lucy are victims of a brutal home invasion. He is bent on extracting justice and is further alienated from Lucy when she insists on focusing on getting along and putting the event in the past.

This book deals with "big" issues but I had a hard time getting past my dislike of the main character. -Christa

The Poisoner's Handbook / Deborah Blum

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. 311 pp.

My history teachers were always obsessed with the Civil War and Reconstruction, so we'd get to the last week of class and still have the entire 20th century left to cover. So I don't know a lot about the time period this book discusses, from just before Prohibition to when it ends. It focuses on the changeover from New York City having politically appointed coroners to having trained medical examiners; the head chemist's experiments to detect various poisons with scientific precision; and Prohibition's effects, social and legal. (I had no idea, for example, that the U.S. goverment tried to make illegal alcohol more poisonous because Prohibition didn't stop people from drinking.) Several actual murder cases are discussed too. I thought the mix of topics was great and kept the pace of this book moving. I may have to read more about Prohibition now though.

Small Favor / Jim Butcher

Small Favor by Jim Butcher. 420 pp.

The next Dresden Files book is due out in 2 weeks, so I wanted a quick refresher. This is one of my favorites from the series--the fae Gruffs (source of the Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale) are fabulous, I like Ivy/The Archive a lot (and Harry's relationship with her foreshadows what's going to happen in the new book, I bet), and Michael Carpenter gets to be awesome, as usual. Harry even manages to survive paying off one of the favors he owes the Queen of Air and Darkness without ending up more in her debt than when he started. This volume is a fun carnival ride with a happy ending; I have a feeling the new book won't end so well.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Wife's Tale, by Lori Larsens

This new novel by Lori Larsens starts out rather slowly but picks up momentum, as does the main character, Mary Gooch, when it moves from the house in small town Ontario, where she has “worn a groove between the bed and the refrigerator,” to California. Abandoned by her handsome husband on the eve of their 25th anniversary, she travels, for the first time in her life, outside of the narrow sphere where her ever-heavier body has wedged her. What she finds (ultimately, not her husband) surprises both her and the reader. Like Larsens’ The Girls, a story about conjoined twins which is set in Mary Gooch’s neighborhood, this book takes unlikely characters and makes you really care about them. 365 pp.

Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler

Liam Pennywell is let go from his job teaching in an undistinguished private school at the age of 61 and decides to retire -- moving to a smaller apartment and downsizing his life from its already pretty minimalist point. Hit over the head in an attempted burglary the first night in his new place, he is not badly injured but becomes obsessed with recalling that event, which is completely gone from his mind. He gets involved with a much younger woman, who is a "rememberer" for an aging businessman with beginning dementia, which sets his quiet life on a new course, at least temporarily. Like Liam, this is a quiet, unassuming book, but resonates. 277 pp.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Calamity Jack / Shannon Hale et al.

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale. 144 pp.

A follow-up to the charming Rapunzel's Revenge. This one is from the pov of Jack, Rapunzel's sidekick, and is slightly more emotionally complex. Jack's a lot more conflicted than Rapunzel was; we get his backstory, and he's been a con man and thief most of his life. He's going back to his home city to try to fix the problems he caused when he ran away one step ahead of the law, and he's also trying to impress Rapunzel with his city sophistication. Quite a lot of fun; although I enjoyed Rapunzel as narrator, her worldview is entirely black and white, whereas Jack's has many more shades of gray in it.
Have you been posting this month? Christa's at PLA this week, but she'll be returning with even MORE prizes for March posts. There's still a few days (and a weekend!) left of the month, if you want to slip a few more books in!

Making Rounds with Oscar

Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa, M.D.  225 pp.

This is a true story about a not particularly friendly nursing home cat who has the uncanny ability to know when a patient is dying and then lays with the person until the body is removed from the room. The doctor who wrote it was highly skeptical about Oscar's 'talent' but when he investigated further, by talking to the nursing home staff and the family members of the former patients, he gradually comes to believe in Oscar and is grateful for what he does for the families who are losing their loved ones (mostly Alzheimer's/dementia patients). Oscar is only one of the cats residing at that particular home but he is the only one who performs his particular duty. This is one of the few books I've read straight through in one sitting...well almost...I fell asleep in the wee hours and then finished it this morning. While it sounds like a depressing book, I was only brought to tears once.

Oscar's actions reminded me very much of my own cats when I was going through cancer treatment many years ago (13-1/2 but who's counting). Every afternoon I would lay down to rest/nap and/or watch Jeopardy on t.v. My two cats, Jazz the Siamese, and Maddie the 6 month old would both join me on the bed--one on each side of me. At the time the two did not get along very well and only chose to share the bed when I was there in the afternoon. My husband would come home from work to find "his girls" on the bed and would ask the cats "Are you taking good care of Mom?" He was convinced that was what they were doing. I guess I am too. 

The Paid Companion / Amanda Quick

The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick. 388 pp.

Sometimes I want a comfort read--I don't want to worry that horrible things will happen to good people at the end, or work too hard at absorbing a new setting, or wrestling with any deep ideas. Either I'll re-read an old favorite, or I'll read a book like this one: a romance, where I know the basic setup going in and know the outcome--an HEA, "happily ever after," or something very like it--and just enjoy the comfortable ride. With an Amanda Quick book I get a 19th-century-England setting, an eccentric but socially well-off man, an eccentric but sensible woman, a mystery that one of them is trying to solve, and an HEA. Despite the lame title this one fit the bill exactly for me, and the ride was quite enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Calligrapher's Daughter

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim  386 pp.

This story takes place during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century. Najin is raised in a family steeped in the traditional Confucian ways but encouraged by her Christian mother to pursue an education and better life. She and her family cope with the loss of the family status and wealth, imprisonment, near starvation and extreme hardship at the hands of the Japanese who did their best to obliterate the Korean culture. It's an interesting story that ties up a little too neatly at the end. The additional material about Korean history & culture at the end of the book is fascinating.  

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fables vol. 13 / Bill Willingham et al.

Fables vol. 13. The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham, et al. 231 pp.

Not my favorite volume of this series. The "crossover" of the title is with Jack of Fables, a title I also read but don't like as much. Unfortunately much of the plot in this volume has to do with the Literals, characters introduced in the JoF books. The wacky slapstick stuff didn't really work for me, and a lot of the focus was on characters that I found tremendously annoying. Oh well. Maybe the next volume will give us some movement on the Mr. Dark subplot.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma (young reader's edition) adapted by Richie Chevat pp. 298

Wow! What an eyeopener!

Author covers agribusiness, organic food, sustainable farms, and hunting/gathering, plus further reading and websites.

Anyone who eats should read this book.

The Motel Life

The Motel Life/Willy Vlautin 228 pg.

This book is about a couple of brothers that really have some tough luck. Some of it may be tied to their enormous alcohol consumption but that certainly wasn't responsible for their mother's cancer. In fact, before the cancer, they really didn't drink that much. I enjoyed the writing but the story is not exactly uplifting. - Christa

Ignore Everybody

Ignore Everybody: and 39 other keys to creativity/Hugh MacLeod 159 pg.

As advertised, here are 40 "keys" to creativity. There are several here that seem important and relevant but many more that seem a little too obvious or just kind of silly. I do like the cartoons sprinkled throughout. Not sure if this will lead to a burst in creativity for me but I guess there is always that chance. - Christa

Friday, March 19, 2010

Million Dollar Website

Million Dollar Website/Lori Culwell pg.256

Maybe I can incorporate some of the suggestions from this book into our website. This covers a lot of details that I had not considered before about website design and marketing. Some of the marking won't be a concern for UCPL but the design stuff is key for all websites. - Christa

Shalador's Lady/Anne Bishop

Shalador's Lady by Anne Bishop (sequel to The Shadow Queen); dark fantasy, romance; 496 pages

While the last book wasn't Bishop's best work, this volume went a long way towards fixing that. The romance that was so prevalent takes a backseat to the politics of the world, and much of the book hangs on the question of whether or not the country will face a civil war. I think Bishop was also a little more relaxed when writing this, since she seems much less concerned about making sure we know every minute detail of every character's past (or maybe she just got that out of her system by the time she got here). Overall, this was a good read, though I would suggest people new to Bishop's unique writing style start with her first trilogy, which introduces this world.


Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon  148 pp.

Danny Dragonbreath is a young dragon who has not quite learned to breathe fire. He is also the only mythical creature in his school for reptiles & amphibians where he is tormented daily by Big Eddy, a Komodo Dragon bully who steals Danny's lunch. While doing 'ocean research' with his friend, Wendell, an iguana, and his cousin, Edward the Sea Serpent, Danny shows his bravery when it counts.

I read this because I love the author's quirky artwork and her sense of humor: Predatory Potato Salad that lives in the sewers, "breath mints" that let you breathe under water (now in wintergreen!), dragons breathing fire to cook bacon.... Her artwork can be found at

Rapunzel's Revenge / Shannon Hale et al

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale ; illustrated by Nathan Hale. 144 pp.

A charming take on the Rapunzel story. This Rapunzel is the star of her own story, though; she gets herself out of the tower and takes action on her own to defeat the nasty witch. The setting is Wild West-influence, so she braids her hair and uses her braids as lassos. The Hales drop in another fairy tale (well, Americana folk tale) character as well, and the crossover works just fine.

Making toast

Making toast: a family story/Roger Rosenblatt pg167

An asymptomatic heart condition kills Amy one day while she exercises. She leaves behind a loving family including her husband and 3 young children. Her parents end up moving in with her family to help them manage. This is the observations from Boppo, (Grandpa) as everyone gets on with their lives. I loved the sweet stories about the grandkids and Amy's brothers, husband and mother. A real testament to the strength of families in painful situations. - Christa

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Ice Queen / Alice Hoffman 211 p.

I chose this because I thought I might add it to this month's Staff Picks (Nature in a Starring Role...), but I can't recommend it. It has some appealing elements - the main character is a librarian who has a lot of very hot sex - but it felt like this was written in haste. The main character (whose name I've already forgotten...oops) and her partner in sizzle are both lightning strike survivors. The book is full of anecdotes on the many bizarre ways in which a person can be affected by lightning strike, and if half of them are true, I think I'd rather read a non-fiction account of these phenomena. Wonder if one exists?

The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves / Siri Hustvedt 199 p.

I was intrigued by the title, and not disappointed. Half memoir, half overview of the history of thought on the relationship between mind and body (yes, it's very dense reading), Hustvedt's main purpose is to understand the cause of a bizarre epilepsy-like disorder which defies classification and treatment. Her personal history includes intense, sometimes year-long migraines, and various unexplained 'seizures' during which she can still speak and think. She assembles a mind-boggling amount of research into epilepsy, neuroscience, psychiatry and philosophy but keeps it oddly readable. I am generally memoir-averse; the navel gazing makes me queasy, but this was worthwhile. If you enjoy Oliver Sacks, pick this one up.

Open: an autobiography

Open: an autobiography/Andre Agassi 388 pg.

Wow. I am not a real tennis fan or Agassi fan but I just kept hearing about this book. He sure does reveal a lot, I think. This is one of the most honest and emotional autobiographies I've ever read. If there are anymore deep feelings that Agassi doesn't reveal, I can't imagine what they might be. He really comes across like many of us...we struggle in life to decide who we are and what matters. As an athlete, a huge portion of your profession is over very young. It is funny to me how Agassi is like a grandpa on the tour when he hits 35. Sounds like he really has his act together and is doing great things. - Christa

The Passage/Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin; literary, post-apocalyptic; 704 pages.

This book is getting a lot of hype, and is predicted to be THE hot book for this summer (if you listen to Random House), so I was excited to dig into it. Also, it's got vampires, and a post-apocalyptic setting, so it should have been right up my alley. That said, I was disappointed with this book, and I'm not entirely sure why. Part of it may be that it just didn't live up to my expectations, but I also think Cronin's writing style isn't very well suited to this genre: there are vast stretches (100+ pages at a time) where nothing much happens, which should have made it a great character-driven story, but most of the characters remained pretty flat, and the relationships felt forced. There were also a lot of points where the plot would start to go one way, only have that storyline abruptly terminated; after a while, it felt kind of gimmicky. All of this could be chalked up to how long it took me to read this behemoth (two months!)--maybe it's better if it's read over a week? There's also the abrupt shift in style about 200 pages into the story: all the characters we've been getting to know disappear as the story jumps 100 years into the future. Cronin does bring this back together at the end (to a point), but the plotting very loose and not a great as it could have been.

My last beef was that Cronin's world building wasn't that original, at least not if you've read much of this genre. There were points where I could look at the story and list the movies or books that were being imitated. Overall, I think this story would be enjoyed more by literary fiction fans, rather than scifi or dystopia readers. Fans of biological thrillers would enjoy the first section of the book, but I'm not sure if the dramatic shift in tone and style would go over well. I'd be interested to hear other opinions on this if anyone else reads it.

(I read the advanced reader copy Patrick picked up at ALA; if anyone wants it next, let me know!)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wild Ride / Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. 351 pp.

This is the third collaboration between these authors, in which Crusie writes the female lead and Mayer writes the male lead. In the other two books, the leads would be developing a romantic relationship, so it was particularly interesting to see the different interpretations of it. This book is more plot-oriented, and each of the characters develops a romantic relationship, but not with each other, so I found it a little bit less fun than the others. Still, Crusie is one of my absolutely favorite authors--no one beats her snappy dialogue, as far as I'm concerned--so although it was slightly less magical than I was hoping, I still enjoyed it a lot. Oh, and they're chasing (literal) demons in a theme park in Ohio.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Swallowing Darkness / Laurell K. Hamilton

Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton. 365 pp.

This is the volume before Divine Misdemeanors, which I read a couple of weeks ago; I was fuzzy enough on some plot details that I went back to read this again. I said in my review of DM that I was glad to have the metaplot recede into the background somewhat, and that's true; but some of the stuff that happened in this book was pretty major, and it's odd that it didn't come up at all in DM.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

An unexpected delight, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with the added benefit that this first time author is still very much alive and may have more novels ahead of her. Although the setting is familiar from “cozy” mysteries set in an England that is passing, if it ever existed, and the characters could have been stock figures, somehow there is a richness and nuance in this book that raises it well above others. Yes, it’s a small village, and the main character is a widowed retired Major, but other characters reflect the changing times: the English-born Pakistani shopkeeper, who is still treated as an “immigrant;” her angry nephew, who has a secret; and the Major’s social-climbing materialistic son. It’s a love story, a novel of manners (or lack thereof), and an exploration of race relations in twenty-first century England. 358 pp.

King Henvry VI

King Henry VI/Shakespeare 220 pg.

I read King Henry VI Part 2 because I wanted to read Shakespeare's history plays. I've always been interested in English History. - Susie

The Shadow Queen/Anne Bishop

The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop; fantasy, romance; 448 pages

I gave this one a quick re-read this weekend before digging into the sequel, which I'm starting next. Bishop's writing is unique in that most of her books blend romance with dark fantasy that borders on horror. It's a strange combination, but one that works well. The latter element was less evident in this volume; most of the story is focused on the googly-eyed romance between a young queen trying to establish her authority, and one of the men in her household. I have a feeling that there will be more plot and fewer longing glances in the second volume (at least I hope so). This book is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but Bishop's writing is light enough to make this a very quick read.

Wild Magic/Tamora Pierce

Wild Magic (The Immortals, book 1), by Tamora Pierce; young adult, fantasy, audio; 384 pages (about 8 hours, listening)

Moving on to a new Tamora Pierce series, set about 10 years after the last one. There's a new set of main characters, but most of the cast of the Alanna books still make appearances. Basically, this series focuses on a young girl who can speak to animals, and her traveling across the country with a company of cavalry. I loved the characterization is this book, which was helped by the full cast recording for the audio book (the actress voicing the main character was especially good). The action here was mostly confined to the end of the story, but I didn't feel like it was boring in the least. I loved reading about Daine's magic, and her gradually learning to control it. Can't wait to get the next one in the series!

The Guinea Pig Diaries

The Guinea Pig diaries: my life as an experiment/A. J. Jacobs 237 pg.

No, this book isn't about Perl and her adventures. A. J. Jacobs likes to throw himself wholeheartedly into experiments that he thinks might better his life. This book talks about 9 such "programs" including outsourcing his life to a service in India, living "rationally" for one month, and spending a month doing everything that his wife asks (lucky her). Jacobs has a light touch and his books are fun to read. Never any great philosophical revelations but that is really ok. - Christa

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I.O.U. Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay/John Lanchester 261 pg.

This is a very readable book about the global economic meltdown. I could really understand the basics behind mortgage CDO's and derivatives and why the phenomenal miscalculation of risk made it inevitable there would be a crash. I haven't read other books by this author but think I should since he seems to be able to use simple language to explain complicated financial issues. - Christa

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Carnivorous Carnival/Lemony Snicket

Okay, so book nine of A Series of Unfortunate Events is, if anything, more depressing than book ten, and this is an stunning accomplishment. The Baudelaires find themselves at a run-down carnival out in the hinterlands, run by a mysterious fortune-teller who's been supplying Count Olaf with information as to their whereabouts. In order to learn if one of their parents may still be alive, the children start down the morally ambiguous road of doing Olaf-like things to survive. They adopt disguises and are hired for the carnival's freak show, and it's all downhill from there. This book is a disturbing look at human cruelty, and the narrative keeps the plot rolling forward tidily. By the end, people are dead, fires have been set, and the children have to ask themselves if they're bad people. And I need to go have a good cry or eat a cookie or something. 286 pp.

Leviathan / Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. 440 pp.

Westerfeld's alternate history is set on the eve of World War I, with the European nations self-segregating into "Clanker" and "Darwinist" camps. Clankers use machinery, including giant mechanical walkers as war machines. Darwinists tweak animal DNA and use the resulting beasties rather than machinery, including giants leviathans to use as airships. I thought the Darwinist stuff was particularly cool and look forward to seeing more of it as the series progresses. The main characters were a bit younger than I was expecting, but I still enjoyed the book quite a bit.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The architecture of happiness

The architecture of happiness/Alain de Botton 280 pg.

This book covers some history of architecture but more importantly talks a lot about architecture affects our moods and feelings. I also liked the section that talks about urban planning and how opinions have changed over the years. Overall an entertaining book that never got too technical. -Christa

Interior Desecrations

Interior Desecrations/James Lileks 174 pgs.

This book makes me happy to have been a kid in the 70's. After all, if you see something in here that looked cool to you (at one time) were just a kid! Of course it was cool. But as a kid, you can't really be held responsible for how anything in your house looked. So, we are in the sweet spot, we can make fun and cannot be blamed. For you younger folks, I'm sure this book would just scare you...for older people, it might bring shame. Yeah for the 70's childhood! - Christa

Hitler's Henchmen

Hitler's Henchmen 325 pg.

I chose this to learn more about the men who supported Hitler and his so-called "government". - Susie

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s / James Lileks pages: not enough

Hooray! This guy can write as many books as he wants; I'll read them all. More than just a critique of decor, this is an indictment of an entire decade, and after the first few pages, it seems pretty justified. I tried to explain to my nine-year old just why the photographs were both hilarious and creepy at the same time; he just didn't get it. To him, a shag rug is just a shag rug, but to those of us who lived through those days it means so much more. (You can almost taste the Cheez Whiz and Jello just looking at these pictures.) On a laugh scale, this is a 9.5 to Regrettable Food's 10.0, but it's worth it all the same. Many thanks to Christa for calling it to my attention.

American Sketches

American Sketches: great leaders, creative thinkers, and heroes of a hurricane by Walter Isaacson 
285 pp.

I picked this one up because I enjoyed Isaacson's biography of Einstein. This book is a collection of essays & articles written by Isaacson over many years. Most were written for Time magazine where he served as managing editor. The people portrayed in these sketches range from Ben Franklin to Bill Gates to Woody Allen. I think my favorite is the one he wrote for the 100th anniversary of the grade school he attended in New Orleans in which he described the important lessons he learned while playing in the small grove of trees that was the school playground.

Fables vol 12: The Dark Ages/Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham

Our latest installment of the saga of displaced fairy tale characters living in Manhattan has the aftermath of the Fables' great war with the Adversary, aaand I agree with Annie, this volume seems a little off-kilter. The most compelling plot, I feel, is Boy Blue's continuing disability that gets more and more horrific, but this is overshadowed by Rose Red getting her mope on, and the introduction of Mr. Dark (and okay, so the events are related, but it wasn't a very smooth transition), who is supposed to be really super ominous but I didn't get enough of a feeling of suspense. Also, for the new villain, he certainly does a whole heck of a lot of exposition, walking around having conversations about himself with dead people. Not sure what to make of him yet. hmm. Wikipedia tells me he's supposed to be an amalgam of like, all the boogeyman characters. Hmmmmm. The other high point for me was a brief, tantalizing philosophical discussion between Frau Totenkinder, Ozma and the Badger about the nature of the Fables, the mundy world, and the possibility that there's an entity writing the people writing the stories. Overall this volume left me confused. But I look forward to seeing how this all plays out. 192 pp.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The long surrender

The long surrender 285 pgs.

I chose this to learn more about the end of the Civil War. History is on of my favorite topics. - Susie

Let's roll!

Let's roll! Ordinary people, extraordinary courage 317 pgs.

I chose this book for a more personal view of the events before and after 9/11. - Susie

Defending the devil

Defending the devil: my story as Ted Bundy's last lawyer 328 pgs.

I chose this to get an inside view of the Bundy case. I find true crime books interesting to see why the suspects commit crimes. - Susie

Just take my heart

Just take my heart. 322 pgs

I chose this because I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark books. - Susie

Hostage: a novel

Hostage: a novel 371 pgs.

I chose this to see how the hostage situation was resolved. - Susie

Murder at Buckingham Palace

Murder at Buckingham Palace/Thomas Clarke 158 pg.

I chose this book because it involves England and the royal family but the royals are aren't really that important to he plot. I've always been interested in England and the royal family. - Susie

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

by Cathleen Schine

292 p.

I never enjoy Cathleen Schine as much as I think I will or should, but, having said that, this was probably one of my favorites. The novel parallels Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility but not annoyingly so. As in S & S, a mother and her daughters find themselves in dire financial straights, in need of relocating, and at the mercy of wealthier relatives and strangers. And as in most Austen stories, there is plenty of pride, prejudice, and ultimate realization that people and circumstances aren’t always the way we first judge them to be. But beyond that, Schine’s story takes its own original turns and develops its own lovely characters, in well-drawn settings that allow the reader to enjoy the book without prior knowledge of or expectations about Austen’s.

The Beast of Chicago, by Rick Geary

The Beast of Chicago (Treasury of Victorian Murder), by Rick Geary; nonfiction, graphic novel; 80 pages

Now this is the Geary I know and love. Like others in this series, Geary breaks down the crimes of the main character--here, H. H. Holmes, doctor, con artist, and possibly America's first serial killer. The murders center around a boarding house in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair, and I enjoyed this enough that I might actually finish reading Devil in the White City now. Unfortunately, this volume was shorter than is normal, due perhaps to the lack of information surrounding the crimes, and the conflicting stories, sometimes even from the killer himself. Still, a fascinating read, and I can only hope Geary picks up his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series again soon.

Lioness Rampant, by Tamora Pierce

Lioness Rampant (Song of the Lioness, book 4), by Tamora Pierce; young adult, fantasy; 400 pages

This final volume in the series took me much longer to finish than the last three, so I'm not sure if my disappointment with the book was due to that, or some other factor. The plotting seemed to be sloppier than in previous books, and for the main conflict to even exist the reader needed to suspend of lot of disbelief. Also, the main character's love interest in this volume didn't work for me, and I would up spending lots of time fuming over it. The ending also felt very rushed, with lots of things thrown in and never addressed. I felt like Pierce would have done better to have either pared this down and combined with the slower previous volume, or spread things out over five volumes so she could give more detail. I still have high hopes for her other series, and I'm told these characters all make cameos appearances in them, so I look forward to seeing them then.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth / Randi Hutter Epstein 249 p.

This is full of information but the presentation is a little incoherent (surprisingly). Randi H.E. has a column in the Tuesday Science Times section of the NYT which I generally enjoy. She concentrates primarily in late 20th century history here, and I would have preferred more early history as well as non-western cultural information. Still, it's engrossing and quick. (Unlike most delivery experiences - sorry, I couldn't resist!)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Stieg Larsson 590 p.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned (or just old), but this one didn't quite do it for me. The character of Lisbeth is certainly interesting, and, after about 300 pages, mildly sympathetic, but I really couldn't connect with Mikael Blomqvist at all. He seems to sleep with a different woman every 100 pages or so, and has a young daughter that he almost never thinks about. I guess I just kept comparing him to my favorite Swedish sleuth, Kurt Wallander, and he fell far short. (Although I imagine that he's better dressed.)

The mystery itself was quite good but I'm not sure it needed almost 600 pages. After reading the intro chapters to the next book in the series, I can say that if Stieg Larsson were still alive I'd be seriously worried about him. He seems to be profoundly obsessed with the torture of women to an unhealthy extent. I doubt I'll read the next ones.

The Rocketeer / Dave Stevens

The Rocketeer : the Complete Adventures by Dave Stevens. 148 pp.

I'd always heard that this comic had gorgeous visuals, but had never gotten around to reading any of it. The art *is* great, and it has a very pulp-adventure feel. I did not expect the inclusion of established pulp characters (Doc Savage and two of his assistants, The Shadow), and really enjoyed that. In fact, I like everything about these comics except for the main character and his girlfriend. Well, the main character was okay for all of the adventure parts, but I just wanted to slap him whenever he was talking about or to his girlfriend, or doing really moronic things because of her.

The Princess Bride / William Goldman

The Princess Bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventure, the "good parts" version, abridged by William Goldman. 30th anniversary edition. 469 pp.

I have always loved this movie but never gotten around to reading the book. I had a hard time getting into it, because of all of the stuff at the beginning about "William Goldman" and his life and his family, but once I got past that into the adventure story I really enjoyed it. Some of my favorite snappy dialogue ever. And, as a gamer, the Fire Swamp section is really a lot of fun for me.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women / Laurie R. King

A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. 336 pp.

The second in this series. One of the best things about this series is that the character of Mary Russell has a deep interest in theology. There's a lot of philosophical discussion of feminism (circa 1921) and theology in this volume, which I quite enjoyed, although of course I have no idea how accurate the ideas presented are. And the proposal scene at the end is one of my favorites; after Russell and Holmes negotiate their agreement to wed, they shake hands on it.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice / Laurie R. King

The Beekeeper's Apprentice, or, On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King. 405 pp.

I was frustrated by a book I was trying to plow through (The Princess Bride), so I decided to re-read this, especially since a new volume in this series is coming out soon. When someone first told me about a books featuring Sherlock Holmes' wife, I was completely uninterested--what a terrible concept. But they're actually quite good. This volume sets up their relationship, from their first meeting when Mary is 15 (and Holmes is 53) through their first case, when Mary has started university.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell --451 pages Historical fiction
This is the first book by Cornwell that I've read and I really enjoyed it. The characters were great, very believable, and the battles and personal conflicts felt true to the characters and to (what I know of) the times. Agincourt follows Nicholas Hook, a forester who becomes an outlaw when he tries to murder a man because of old family feud. Already an archer, with years of hunting behind him, Hook flees to France where he takes part (on the losing side) in the siege of Soissons. Escaping that carnage, he soon finds himself back in service, heading toward the battle that gives the book its title. An exciting read.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Harvard Psychedelic Club

The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin 241 pp.

This is book is subtitled "How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America." Saying they killed the fifties is an overstatement. However, the book is an interesting look at what went on during the LSD experiments that Leary began at Harvard and continued in various other locations after he was fired from the university. For me the only revelations were Huston Smith's connection to Leary and the story of how Dr. Andrew Weil brought about the firing of Leary & Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). I'm not sure who comes out looking the worst but my money is on Ram Dass.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography/Rick Geary

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography by Rick Geary; graphic novel, biography; 112 pages

I love all things Geary, and am making it a goal to read his entire body of work. This didn't grab me quite the same was the the Treasury of Victorian Murder, but it was an interesting look into the period in history I know very little about. I got a little bogged down in parts with the various political parties, but the Russian Revolution has never been an area of interest for me. As always, Geary's art is great, and the storytelling solid.


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

/Books /Pages
Patrick 9 /2,758
Karen 6 /1,934
Christa 13 / 3,430
Kathleen 7 / 2,028
Marilyn 5 / 1,473
Susie 6 / 2,736
Allison 3 / 1031
Cindy 26 / 6,508
Annie 18 / 4,496
Sally 4 / 1,591
Cynthia D. 4 / 863
Linda 4 / 1,512
Eliana 1 / 230
TOTAL 106 / 30,590


Hoot by Carl Hiaasen 292 pp.

This was another re-read for my Treehouse Book Club. A group of middle-school-age misfits in Florida take on a big restaurant chain to save tiny burrowing owls that nest on the lot where a new restaurant is to be built. It's full of fun, quirky characters and the methods they use to defeat the corporate bad guys are original & funny. But after reading it you'll be checking for alligators the next time you have to use a Porta-John.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Sign of Four/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 In this rollicking adventure Holmes and Watson solve a mysterious but not really all that mysterious case involving Watson's future wife, Mary Morstan, and of course they immediately fall in TWOO WUV and the prose gets all flowery and they're acting like schoolchildren (stalwart, mystery-solving schoolchildren) and it's actually pretty adorable, and meanwhile Holmes is having adventures on rooftops and climbing drainpipes and solving crimes. There's also a terribly funny bit with Toby the dog, who fans of Disney's The Great Mouse Detective will remember from that, um...fine animated film. The other high point is a thrilling steamboat chase along the Thames. Overall, this had a muuuuch better pace than A Study in Scarlet, and the characters are fully fleshed-out. good times! 171 pp
Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich

This new book by Erdich chronicles the disintegration of a family. Father Gil, alcoholic and occasionally violent, is a successful artist whose subject is always his wife, Irene. His paintings of her veer towards the pornographic and exploitive on occasion. Irene, also always with a glass of wine in her hand, is a writer working on a thesis on George Caitlin and his paintings of Native Americans. She begins keeping two diaries when she learns her husband is reading hers. She secretes her true diary in a bank’s safety deposit box and continues write in her false one and leaves it where Gil can find it. Through the diary he reads, she seeks to manipulate and hurt him, particularly by implying that all three of their bewildered children are fathered by different men. They include teenager Florian, a math genius; their eleven year old daughter, Riel, who tries to control the chaos around her by hoarding survival gear for the entire family in her closet; and five year old son, Stoney, whose birth Irene sees as participating her loss of affection for his father. The ending of the novel is even more shocking than what precedes it. Although it is beautifully written in places, perhaps my view of this book is colored by what I know of Louise Erdrich’s marriage to fellow writer Michael Dorris, who committed suicide after being accused of abusing their children. I found it way too close to that situation and very depressing. 255 pp.

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller (writer) and Nicolle Rager Fuller (art); graphic novel, nonfiction; 192 pages

I loved the cover of this, so I knew I had to read it. The book doesn't just cover On the Origin of Species, but also has chapters on Darwin's life and research, his writing process, the reception of the work by the world at large, and even a timeline of great landmarks in evolutionary biology since Darwin's time. While there were a few points where I got lost in the 19th century prose, for the most part I thought the authors did a great job of using the art to clarify Darwin's text. They use modern statistics and examples when they can, which helped to make it more relevant. I don't think I'll be tackling the original work any time soon, but I'm glad I read this.

Fables, vol 12: The Dark Ages

Fables, vol 12: The Dark Ages, by Bill Willingham (writer) and Mark Buckingham (art); graphic novel; 192 pages.

This is the epilogue to the battle waged in the last volume, giving us a bittersweet mix of victory and sadness for those lost. I felt like Willingham could have neatly ended the series here, and it would have been a good way to tie it up. In fact, I think that was what I was expecting. So I have mixed feelings about the introduction of a new Big Bad; only a minor subplot of this arc, but sure to be central later on. Also, I can't place the folktale that the new villain is meant to be from (if he's from a folktale at all), which is bugging me.

Fables, vol 11: War and Pieces

Fables, vol 11: War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham (writer) and Mark Buckingham(art); graphic novel; 192 pages

This arc is, to paraphrase the author's end note, what all the previous volumes have been building to. The Fables finally start a war with the Empire to reclaim the Homelands. The plotting was good, though at times it seemed like the war was a little too bloodless and easy (that may have also been the pace at which I read this). I thought the strategies were ingenious, and I really enjoyed seeing how fairy tale enchantments and curses can be used as large-scale weapons (or at least deterrents). Really interesting take on the the Fables concept, and an enjoyable read.

Soulless / Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger. 373 pp.

The tagline on this book is "A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols." How could I resist? Our heroine (the one with the parasol) is a strong-willed spinster of 25 in a Victorian society that integrates vampires and werewolves. It's a mashup of an historical romance novel, complete with silly societal rules, and supernatural world-building. The author's explanation of why the vampires and werewolves don't overwhelm the humans with sheer numbers is interesting, and one I've never seen before. The tone was off a bit; the book is humorous, but the narration is too arch or precious in some places. Still, it was fun, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series (Changeless)--maybe the author will have smoothed out her rougher edges by then.