Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comic Art Propaganda / Fredrik Stromberg

Comic Art Propaganda: a graphic history by Fredrik Stromberg. 176 p.

The author spends a little too much time discussing whether particular comics can be counted as successful examples of propaganda, but he provides a broad array of comics, of many types and from many countries, that fit his basic categories of topics: war, religion, politics, etc. My favorite was probably the social engineering section--which, as the author points out, is a type of propaganda that almost never succeeds because it's usually deadly dull: Don't smoke! Stay in school! An example I really liked uses the character of Popeye the Sailor Man to give speeches to children about the different types of jobs available, although of course they had to change the character's iconic manner of speaking, so what was the point of using him in the first place? Using Bugs Bunny to lecture about automotive safety is also pretty weird--somehow, "responsible" is not the first word I'd associate with Bugs--but that book has the title "It's Fun to Stay Alive!" so it gets extra points.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The sound of a wild snail eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Literally flattened by a mysterious illness, the author of this short and beautiful memoir is confined for months at a time to her bed, almost unable to lift her head. She is being cared for away from her own warm farmhouse home and is isolated most of the day in a rather sterile room. During one of her darkest periods, a friend digs up a wild spring violet and brings it to her -- with a inch long snail in the pot as well. This scrap of life, silently going about its mostly nocturnal business of exploring and eating whatever it finds that might be edible, engages her interest. Eventually the snail is moved to a bigger terrarium and she continues to observe her snail and learns more about its kin. Although the author will never regain her full health, she does improve. The company of her snail gives her solace and insights that will help her cope with whatever comes. There is an old Anderson fairytale, "The Pea Blossom," about a bedridden girl who watch a tiny pea shoot growing in a bit of soil in her window -- and as the pea plant matures and flowers, she gains her health again. This was a real-life version of this old story. 186 pp.

The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer

In the late 1920's, newlyweds Liesl and Viktor Landauer commission a modern home to be designed and built in their native Czechoslovakia by a German modernist architect, Rainer von Abt, who they meet while honeymooning in magical Venice. They reject the old, worn, ornate culture of the past and long for space, light and air -- architecture for a new century. Set on a hill above the old town, the construction is a stunning structure entirely of glass and steel. Ten years later, they are forced to flee to Switzerland and then the United States since Viktor is Jewish. During the war, the house is used as a genetic research lab, where researchers seek to find exact measurements that will define racial types. By the 1990's countries and lives have all been rearranged and the house is becoming a museum. The intertwined lives of those that inhabit it over the years are both deeply realized as very human characters as well as emblematic of the troubled twentieth century. Marred slightly by an almost Dickensian reliance on coincidence, it is nevertheless a very affecting novel of ideas. The Landauer house is based on the real Turgendhat house by Mies van der Rohe in Brno -- now the Czech Republic. The actual "onyx wall," that glowing, changing divide of stone between the areas of the "Glasraum"is just as stunning in pictures as I imagined it while reading the book. 405 pp.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee, humor, 242 pages. Check our Catalog!
Writer and commentator for The Daily Show, Samantha Bee, weaves a humorous story of her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. An odd book, maybe an odd life, depending on how reliable the narrator is. It left me wondering how true the stories were of accompanying her parents' friends on their honeymoon, watching porn with her mom's friends, and helping her first boyfriend launch his life of crime. It is flat in spots but overall it is funny. I may skip the next several books from people associated with televised comedy.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue, 321 pages, Fiction. Check our Catalog!
Jack and his mother "Ma" have been in "Room" for all of Jack's life, kept there by the seldom seen "Old Nick." And, as the small room is Jack's whole world, he has become the whole world for his mother, and she will do anything to protect him. As he turns five and changes loom, Jack must learn to cope with what the world really is in his once unchanging world. Thanks to Jack's five-year-old inevitability, this is not completely depressing and is a great book.

The Botany of Desire: A Plants' Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire: A Plants' Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan, Botany, 271 pages. Check our Catalog!
Downloadable Audio.
Pollan's classic book from several years ago takes a look at the effect four plants have had on people throughout time and the effect that people have had on these plants. He covers apples through the story of Johnny Appleseed, and points out what has, I believe, become common knowledge because of this book, that Appleseed's efforts were aimed at cider production for that common frontier alcoholic beverage and not at healthy eating. He also tells the stories of tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. All the stories have great anecdotes and are informative. Maybe it was the smug narration on the audio version of this book, or maybe it's that thing where you have been hearing for so long about how great a book is, but despite the interesting stories, the smug tone of the book left me a little cold.


Heresy by S.J. Parris  435 pp.

This mystery-thriller takes an actual  person, the excommunicated ex-monk Girodano Bruno, as it's main character. As in his real life, Bruno spends much of his life on the run from the Inquisition and eventually lands in England to work for Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I. In the novel Bruno is sent to Lincoln College, Oxford to snoop out a Catholic plot against Elizabeth's rule and ends up investigating three murders within the College. He ultimately finds his life once again in danger from the militant Catholics. This book has a good blend of history and fiction in a riveting story.


Boom by Mark Haddon  194 pp.

Jimbo and Charlie bug the school teacher's lounge to find out if Jimbo is going to be expelled. What they discover is two teacher's speaking a bizarre language. Soon they are being chased by alien agents and transported to another planet via a "passageway".at a remote location on the Isle of Skye. With the help of Jimbo's sister they destroy the passageway and save the planet. Haddon originally published this juvenile fiction book under the title "Gridzbi Spudvetch" back in '92 with little success. The title change seems to have helped its popularity.

The King of Attolia/Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia (Queen's Thief, book 3), by Megan Whalen Turner; young adult, fantasy; 387 pages

Patrick already beat me to posting about this book, but I'll expand a little on what he wrote. While The Queen of Attolia was a fairly political novel, this one is more focused on the characters, which I loved. The point of view this time is from Costis, a palace guard in Attolia. Having read the first two books, we know that Gen is more than he appears, so the fun is in waiting to see when the other characters (our narrator included) will figure it out. Lots of fun--I wish it had been longer! I listened to the audio version of this and, like the other entries in this series, it was great.

Confessions of an economic hit man

Confessions of an economic hit man/John Perkins 250 pg.

I am not surprised by much in this book that discusses the evils of corporations and modern imperialism. I did like most of what the author had to say but he is a little too focused on his own personal story that lends almost nothing to the larger narrative of the actions of our government and corporations. He spent 30 years making a good living off of keeping other people poor but now he feels guilty about it. Eh, maybe if it had taken you less than 30 years I could appreciate your personal drama a little more. Still, a good overview of some of the bad things going on and why. - Christa

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler, 247 pages, Humor
I had stopped reading books by comedians because the books all seemed flat and unfunny lately. I'm talking about stand up comedians, and not humor writers, people who regardless of how funny they are in front of an audience, seem to lose their way on the printed page. Chelsea Handler is saved from this, I guess, by basing her stories on her own life and making it funnier by lying. She tells outrageous stories to everyone she lives and works with, and I imagine, to the readers of her books. It works, her stories are often hilarious. This is Handler's third book, though the first that I have read.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner, 316 pages, YA Fantasy
The fourth book in the series. This one is from the point of view of a character whe had met in the first book, Sophos. He is a less engaging narrator and to me, a less engaging character than Eugenidies had been in the previous books. All of the characters still hold their cards close, not letting the reader or the other characters know their true intentions until the end. The books starts with Sophos realizing that he is about to become King of Sounis, and then everything goes horribly wrong, with kidnappings, escapes, treachery and looming war. Eugenidies, Attolia and Eddis all join in the plotting and the fun. It is a good book, but not the best of the series.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, 387 pages, YA Fantasy
The third book following Eugenidies and, I think, the best one so far. Knowing what the title of this book was should have clued me in to how the third one ended, but luckily I wasn't paying that much attention. Eugenidies, now King, continues to let everyone underestimate him in order to get things to go his way. I found myself thinking that he let it all go on too long, but the ending made it all worthwhile.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, 287 pages, YA Fantasy
Eugenidies returns, this time showing his true colors as the Thief of Eddis. He wandering into the kingdom of Attolia, brings him face to face with the Queen, seemingly fierce and remorseless. Eugenides has but always with the confidence that the gods are on his side. What will he do if they turn away though? A very well-written and exciting read, though somewhat darker in tone than the first book.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, 280 pages, YA Fantasy
A young braggart, going by the name of Gen, released from the dungeons of the King of Sounis is forced to join an expedition to steal the Hamiathie's Gift. This is a stone, reputedly given by one of the gods that when given, confers the right to rule the neighboring kingdom of Eddis. It seems that the King of Sounis has designs on both the kingdom of Eddis and on its queen. A well-written story with plenty of duplicity on the part of the characters, and clever plot twists on the part of the author. Set in a fictional late-medieval Mediterranean area, this is the first book in an award winning YA series.- Patrick

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hawk and the Dove

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the history of the Cold War/Nicholas Thompson 401 pg.

I do love the cold war stuff and this book is a great overview of how it all started and how it all continued for so long. The 2 main subjects, Nitze and Kennan are an interesting study of opposites who maintained a long friendship and intense respect for each other despite their opposing viewpoints (note to all modern day pols...maybe you can read this book and see how that is possible). There are some stories of the personal lives of the subjects but more about the times they lived in. Also a good reminder that behind the presidents and political appointees are people who actually WORK on issues and are often around much longer. - Christa

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, 184 pages.
This year's Freshman Read for Washington University tells the tale of Changez, a young Pakistani Princeton graduate and the disintegration of his successful life in New York following 9/11.
The book led to a wonderful discussion. Thanks to Washington University, Cheryl Adelstein, and to Professor Mary Laurita.

An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy

An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy, Thriller-278 pages
An ex-con, with a violent past, who is trying to go straight and make a life for himself with his wife and child, is drawn back into a world of violence when he kills three men in self-defense. The main character's comfort with mayhem and his cold calculating demeanor are reminiscent of characters out of novels by Lee Child, Richard Stark, or Josh Bazell. A pretty good read with a somewhat too sunny ending.-Patrick

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell -500 pages, Mystery.
The third Wallender mystery follows assassins and their handlers from South Africa, to Sweden and back again. Wallender and his colleagues struggle to make sense of the murder of a young real-estate agent and the bizzare clues that surround the crime. Kurt finds his life and his career spinnning out of control as he gets closer to the criminals and tries to understand what exactly is going on.-Patrick

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lord of the White Hell, book 1/Ginn Hale

Lord of the White Hell, book 1, by Ginn Hale; dark fantasy; 362 pages

I loved Hale's first book, Wicked Gentlemen, but while I read this quickly, I was a little disappointed. It's clear that Hale hasn't written anything of this length before, and I felt like the editor should have been able to clean up some of the more awkward phrases, or help establish the world in which this story is set. The setting was only vaguely sketched out, and the map at the beginning of the book was no help in differentiating a country from a city. There's a lot of potential here (steampunk-y hints throughout, madness, curses, forbidden love, etc.), and I hope that some of it will be more thoroughly developed in the second installment.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rex Libris: Book of Monsters

Rex Libris: Book of Monsters/James Turner 240 pgs.

Librarians fighting monsters...what is not to like? Rex, Circe and Hypatia do a lot of physical activity in this book but at one point Rex asks Hypatia to "use your librarian training and concentrate.." I was trying to reflect back on my librarian training to see if it included anything like that. I also enjoyed when the evil guy is trying to kill Rex and asks if he has any last words and he decides this is a good time to recite an epic poem (24 books). Be careful what you offer the librarian! Oh, one other good moment when Rex is in another "situation" and decides it might be a good time to offer some readers advisory services and tell his would-be murderer that he should consider reading some specific books. Ok, enough librarian humor but that is what keeps me coming back! - Christa

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum  319 pp.

This book tells the story of the creation of the "modern" Medical Examiner's Office in New York City during the days of Prohibition and the Great Depression. Chief Medical Examiner, Charles Norris, and chemist, Alexander Gettler, find ways to trace what were once untraceable poisons in human tissue so that the evidence could be used in court to prove guilt or innocence. In the process they must fight the political machine, nonbelievers in their science, bootleggers selling deadly forms of alcohol, and the practice of selling deadly poisons openly on store shelves. In the process they discover the causes of horrifying and unusual deaths, including those of a mother who poisoned her children and her own mother, the tragic young women who died of Radium poison after working in a factory painting luminous watch dials, and other odd and/or all to common causes of death in that era.

This book is very interesting. However, I listened to the audiobook of it and it left much to be desired. I was frequently annoyed by mispronunciations ("infant-esimal" for infinitesimal, "acidic acid" instead of acetic acid--aren't all acids acidic?--among other glaring mistakes) There was also the complete misstatement about Dr. Norris sending a "one letter sentence" which should have been a "one sentence letter". The worst part, however, was the narrator's use of a voice more suited to a stereotypical Brooklyn cab driver whenever she was quoting Dr. Gettler. Fortunately the story was interesting enough for me to continue listening in spite of the problems with the audiobook version.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 6

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley   234 pp.

Okay I'm done with this series. In spite of people trying to convince me otherwise I'm still sticking with my opinion that it is 'okay'. Not fabulous, not awful but just okay. This sixth book didn't grab me like I'd hoped. I was expecting some amazingly phenomenal ending and it just wasn't there. So I'm done now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maybe This Time / Jennifer Crusie

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie. 342 p.

Ten years after their divorce, Andie visits her ex-husband North to return all of his unpaid alimony checks. She's moving on with her life, getting engaged to another man and starting over. But North asks for a favor first: could Andie spend a month downstate with North's wards, two orphaned children who refuse to leave their house and who've frightened off their last few of whom swears the house is haunted. Andie, a sensible woman who does not believe in ghosts, plans to get the kids out of there and then move on to her new life with Will. But the house, and the kids, are weirder than she expected. And then one of the ghosts starts talking to her....Fast-moving, funny, and warm, featuring a classic Crusie heroine intent on fixing what's wrong with her family--not her birth family, but the family she has constructed for herself.

Crusie was inspired by Turn of the Screw--here's what she says about it: It was Henry James’s fault. I loved The Turn of the Screw, taught it over and over again, but I always wanted to give his governess a name and a second chance. So in the back of my mind, there was this nagging idea that I should do my version of the story, not because James’s version isn’t wonderful, but because I wanted a crack at it. I was fixated on the governess, but you get the ghosts as a package deal so about a quarter of the way through, I thought, Oh, damn, now I have to write ghosts, and went for it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I know I am, but what are you?

I know I am, but what are you?/Samantha Bee 242 pg.

Samantha Bee is the most senior correspondent on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This book recounting stories from her childhood through adulthood and talks about her "interesting" family. Some of the stories kind of missed with me but many of them made me laugh out loud (you know who you are Penis Envy). This is certainly one of the better books by hilarious comedians that can't seem to get it right on paper. - Christa

Deep Secret / Diana Wynne Jones

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. 383 p.

Rupert Venables is a computer programmer in his regular life. But he's also a Magid, a powerful magician with responsibilities to some of Earth's parallel worlds. He becomes embroiled in the succession question of an empire on a world he is responsible for--the Emperor is assassinated, along with much of his court, and all of his heirs have been hidden away. He also has to find the next candidate for Magid training on Earth, because his mentor Stan has just died. Of course, these two problems end up entertwined, and Rupert's not having much fun. The plot resolves satisfactorily, although I didn't buy the romance at the end--much of the book is told from Rupert's perspective, and the sudden appearance of "feelings" didn't work for me at all.

I've always heard that Diana Wynne Jones was a really good fantasy writer, so I wanted to try one of her books. I wasn't bowled over or anything. so I'm not running out to look for another of her books, but I'd certainly read another if it was recommended to me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman  117 pp.

I don't know how I managed to miss this Neil Gaiman book.  With the exception of a large portion of Sandman, I thought I'd read all his books. This is a children's book based in Norse mythology. Young Odd has been very unlucky in his short life. His father died in a Viking expedition, his leg was shattered by a falling tree and now winter has grown dangerously long and cold. In the forest Odd meets Odin, Thor, & Loki who have been changed into animals: an eagle, a bear, & a fox, respectively. The frost giants have stolen Mjollnir, Thor's hammer and are causing the endless winter.  Odd must find a way to help the Gods of Asgard defeat the Frost Giants by outwitting them.

What could be better: Norse mythology AND Neil Gaiman? I enjoyed this book. 

This Time Together

This Time Together by Carol Burnett  267 pp.

This book is a series of anecdotes from the life and career of Carol Burnett. It covers events from her early life and the start of her career up to the death of her daughter, Carrie and the Broadway show they wrote together. Many of the memories are laugh-out-loud funny, especially when they involve tales of the old "Carol Burnett Show" and the antics of Tim Conway & Harvey Korman. Now I have to go back and watch the movie "Annie" just to see the difference in the scenes pre- and post- chin implant.

The Serpent's Tale

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin  371 pp

This is the second book in the "Mistress of the Art of Death" series. This time Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno (known as Adelia) is sent to investigate the death of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of Henry II. Things are complicated by the fact that she now has her infant daughter, fathered by Rowley Picot-now a bishop, in tow along with her faithful servants, Mansur the Saracen and Glytha, who cares for the baby and Adelia as if they were her own family. Adelia's mission is complicated by her capture by Henry's wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is a prime suspect in Rosamund death. Adelia must prove that Eleanor did not commit the crime to prevent a war between Henry's supporters and Eleanor's.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Charlie Chan / Yunte Huang

Charlie Chan: the untold story of the honorable detective and his rendezvous with American history by Yunte Huang. 355 p.

This fascinating book covers four "stories" of Charlie Chan, as the author describes it: first, the bullwhip-toting Cantonese detective in Hawaii, Chang Apana, on which the character was based; second, the story of Earl Derr Biggers, the novelist who created the character of Charlie Chan; third, the translation of that character to the silver screen; and fourth, the character's influence on popular culture from the perspective of Asian Americans. Along the way we get a lot of history about Hawaii to help frame the discussion, including a whole chapter on the infamous Massie case in the early 1930s that really displays the racism that existed in Hawaii (and the mainland states too, of course) at the time, and a fair amount about immigration limitations. I'd like to have read even more about Chang Apana, but the whole book was really interesting. Did you know that Stepin Fetchit appeared in one of the Charlie Chan movies?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern  158 pp.

What started out on Twitter has been turned into a book. Halpern started a Twitter account of "Sh*t My Dad Says" to post some of the outrageous and amusing things his father, a doctor of nuclear medicine, said over the course of many years. The senior Halpern is brutally honest, usually with four-letter words. The results are comments that are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. And the stories of the author's growing up with this man are alternately hilarious and heartwarming. Most of Dr. Halpern's harsher comments are directed at his son but no matter how harsh he sounds, it is obvious he loves his kids very much.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Manhunting / Jennifer Crusie

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie. 216 p.

I forgot to take a book to my aunt's house while catsitting, so I reread one by one of my favorite authors. Kate's a goal-oriented, successful businesswoman whose life is missing...something. Her friend Jessie thinks Kate needs a husband, so she sends Kate to a golf resort in Kentucky to meet successful businessmen and find the man of her dreams amongst them. She meets Jake, who gave up his successful business career to be a groundskeeper at the resort; his life is missing something too. His brother Will thinks that Jake needs a wife. Naturally, after snapping at each other for 2/3 of the book, Kate & Jake realize that they need each other. Now if they could just figure out how to solve their conflicting ideas about how and where to live their lives. This is Crusie's first book, and it's not her best, but it still features plenty of her hilarious dialogue.

Locke & Key vol. 3/Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key, vol 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist); graphic novel, horror; 154 pages

Ever since I stumbled across this series, I've been eagerly awaiting each new volume. The story is simple, but creepy: a family still reeling from a terrible tragedy moves into a huge old house in a small, insular town. The children continuously discover old keys on the grounds, each of which does something otherworldly. Of course, there's another, malevolent being after the keys as well, and this volume shows its first overt attack on the family. Rodriguez's art is amazing, and this may be the only comic I've read where I've been truly scared while reading. Everyone should check this out!

Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok  293 pp.

Kimberly Chang & her mother arrive in New York from Hong Kong totally indebted to Mrs. Chang's bitter older sister. They end up in a vermin-ridden apartment in a condemned building and work in the sister's sweatshop, paid only for piecework. Kimberly is a brilliant student who conquers her language difficulties in public school to gain admittance to an exclusive private school. She manages to keep her factory life hidden from her fellow students. In spite of the long day at school and long hours in the factory, she struggles to help her mother pull them up from extreme poverty. Occasionally predictable, but a good story.

Notorious Royal Marriages

Notorious Royal Marriages: a juicy journey through nine centuries of dynasty, destiny,  & desire by Leslie Carroll  507 pp.

Starting with Eleanor of Aquitaine and her first husband Louis VII through Charles & Camilla, this book gives some of the back story behind many famous and infamous royal pairings. Of course, a large section of the book covers Henry VIII and the six women unfortunate to be his wives but many of the couples I knew nothing about. Most of the partnerships were for purely political reasons and they just had to make the best of it. Some were just awful people. And still others had serious mental deficiencies. Interesting reading that did not improve my opinion of royals and the inbreeding that caused a lot of their problems.

Anything Goes / John Barrowman

Anything Goes : the autobiography by John Barrowman with Carole E. Barrowman. 256 p.

I had so much fun reading his second autobio the other week, I went back to read his first one. This one is *slightly* less fun because it's more linear and more concerned with his career, and I mostly enjoy the stories he tells about people he knows rather than shows he's been in. Still, I was looking for entertaining fluff, and that's what I got.


Savages/Don Winslow 302 pgs.

Ben and Chon are best friends who run a lucrative marijuana business that includes production and sales. When a Mexican cartel tries to take them over, they rebel and in response, their friend Ophelia is kidnapped. Ben and Chon aren't exactly cowed and start to take their revenge. This is a book of action that moves at a breakneck pace but it is more than that as we learn the lesson that if you categorize your enemy as savages, it is easy to justify your own actions towards them. - Christa

The 911 Report

The 911 Report 131 pgs.

I chose this book for a brief description of the events of 9/11/2001. - Susie

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waking the Witch/Kelley Armstrong

Waking the Witch (Otherworld series, vol 11), by Kelley Armstrong; mystery, urban fantasy; 320 pages

I've been following this series closely, and enjoying it, but I felt that the last few books had fallen short of the earlier volumes. This one, though, is probably one of the best series entries so far. The main character is Savannah Levine, a half witch/half sorcerer introduced as a 12-year-old in the second book. Here, she's grown into a 21-year-old who's eager to prove herself as a private investigator. The book is mostly a mystery novel with supernatural trappings (using a spell to remain unseen while eavesdropping on suspects, for example). There are a few romantic leads that don't really get resolved in this book, and some references to earlier books that might be confusing for people new to the series, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The last few pages of this book pretty clearly state the plot of the next volume, and I'll be interested to see what Armstrong does with her characters.

First Family

First Family/ Mike Dash 216 pgs.

I chose this to find out more about the Mafia. It is a very interesting book. - Susie

The Shadow

The Shadow/James Luceno 216 pgs.

I chose this because I knew about the old radio show and wanted to see what the show was like. - Susie

Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir/Ari Folman & David Polonsky 117 pg.

I chose this to learn more about problems in the middle east. - Susie

Too Late to Say Goodbye

Too Late to Say Goodbye/Ann Rule 425 pg.

I chose this book from the book sale cart because it is a true crime book. - Susie

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Queen of Attolia/Megan Whalen Turner

The Queen of Attolia (Queen's Thief, book 2), by Megan Whalen Turner; young adult, fantasy; 368 pages

I loved this book every bit as much as the first one, which comes as no surprise, given this series' reputation. I can't go into too many details about the plot here without giving away the twist at the end of the The Thief, so I'll settle for talking about the wonderful writing, the character drama, and the sort of intrigue and plotting one would expect in a book about a thief. This volume isn't narrated by Gen, but told from a third person point of view. At first, I missed Gen's voice, but I quickly realized that limiting the story to Gen's perspective would have kept us from knowing vital information. Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. I listened to it on CD in my car, which lead me to spend Saturday driving around on invented errands, just so I could find out what happened. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures/Kathryn & Stuart Immonen 136 pg.

This is a beautifully done little story about a museum curator who is trying to save as much art work from the Nazi invasion of France as she possibly can. The drawings are lovely and the story is sparse. - Christa

Friday, September 10, 2010

Madwomen-Gabriela Mistral

This is a book of poetry translated from Spanish to English.
The entire book is written from the perspective of various women: "The Abandoned Woman," "The Unburdened Woman," "The Happy Woman." I really enjoyed the language and the imagery of these poems. Mistral has a great deal of power and force behind her words, and even in translation, that holds true (I wouldn't know about in Spanish...I don't read Spanish).
I don't know if our library has this book since I bought it at a fancy bookstore here in Iowa City, which has every obscure poet in the world on its bookshelves. But yeah. If you can find it, you might like it.

Little Bee-Chris Cleave

This book was bad. I read it, and the plot kind of carried me along, but it was not good.
To add to the badness of this book, the back tells you that it's so amazing you shouldn't tell your friends the plot so as not to ruin it. False.
The story is about a Nigerian refugee and a British woman. The British woman vacations in Nigeria and runs into Little Bee, who is being chased by men who want to kill her. She cuts off her finger to save Little Bee. Later, Little Bee contacts her when she escapes to Britain.
This book was written by a British man. A British man. Trying to speak in the first person as a Nigerian teenage girl and a middle-aged British woman. What? Fail. Epic fail.
Yeah, don't read it.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist/Mohsin Hamid 194 pgs.

There is a lot of symbolism in this book about a Pakistani student who come to the U.S. for college and stays for a few years pursuing his "American Dream" at least until 9/11 and its aftermath make him rethink his goals. This is the freshman read at Wash U. this semester and I attended our discussion last week before reading the book. I'm not sure if that was good or bad but I guess it doesn't matter. It does seem like a good choice for a larger discussion of a lot of issues. - Christa

The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver  507 pp.

Harrison Shephard is the son of an American father and Mexican mother. Except for a short time attending school in Washington, D.C., he spends most of his youth and young adulthood in Mexico. During his time in Washington he witnesses the attack of the WWI Bonus Marchers by the Cavalry led by Douglas MacArthur. Back in Mexico he spends most of he works for Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo which leads to a job as a secretary/typist with Leon Trotsky. After Trotsky's assassination he returns to the U.S., becomes a successful novelist and finds himself under investigation by HUAC for his connection to Trotsky. This is a bit of a slow starter but is well-worth the time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rex Libris: The Book of Monsters, by James Turner

Rex Libris vol 2: The Book of Monsters by James Turner; graphic novel; 240 pages

I adored the first volume in this series, but was disappointed by the second. Maybe my tastes have changed in the year between readings, but I felt like they were trying just a little too hard in this story. The story basically amounts to Rex fighting one bad guy or monster after another, for two hundred pages. The names and looks of the monsters get increasingly outrageous, until they just all sort of blur together. For me, the best parts were the scenes set in the library, but they were few and far between. As I did with the first volume, I started skipping the "editor's" comments at the beginning of each chapter, and I thought it improved the narrative. I'm sad to see this series go, but I can understand why it never found its audience.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

The hype around this book has been absolutely frenzied. They've just moved native son Frazen's appearance in the St. Louis area to Christ Church Cathedral to accommodate the mob they expect. Is it "The Great American Novel?" Well, at least a great novelistic overview of the past few decades of American cultural life and history. Since it has been almost a decade since his last novel, The Corrections, was published, I felt he must have literally written this novel, at least the more contemporary parts in the last 150 pages or so, just as real events were unfolding. It does give the work freshness. The opening chapter is great, the end was a surprise to me and I liked it. In between the book is a rich stew of memorable characters, social history, meditations on modern marriage and family life, and environmental politics. Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? A significant part of the book is set about ten miles from our cabin in northern Minnesota, which was a little eerie. Now I want to see a cerulean warbler. 562 pp.

The Bucolic Plague

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites became gentlemen farmers/Josh Kilmer-Purcell 305 pg.

After reading Linda's review, I could not resist this book. I can certainly understand the desire to "get away" from the big city and go back to nature, I'm just not sure this is how I would go about it. Let's face it, farming is a huge physical undertaking and being weekend farmers means you don't have a lot of spare time to lay about which is more my speed. Economically, these guys traded high pressure corporate jobs for an even higher pressured corporation that they developed to make a living from their farm and mansion. No wonder the stress did not exactly bring them together. After toughing it out for a year and losing their jobs in the economic melt-down, the post script seems to show them doing better and even landing their own tv show. Maybe this is the natural next step for your average drag queen. - Christa

Mr. Rosenblum dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons

Jack (the former Jakob) Rosenblum "aspired to be an Englishman from the very first moment he and his wife Sadie disembarked at Harwich in August 1937." After fifteen years, he is a successful businessman still intent on completely assimilating and becoming more English than the English. When he is thwarted in his attempts to join a golf club near London because he is a Jew, he buys a rundown house in Dorset on property he intends to turn into the finest golf course. His struggles with the local villagers, the local gentry, and the local mythical beast, the Woolly-Pig, lend a great deal of comedy to this bittersweet story. His wife Sadie is unable to share his desire to assimilate, mourns her lost family, victims of the Holocaust, and bakes Baumtorten, multi-layered cakes "to make you remember." Their daughter Elizabeth, only one year old when they arrive in England, completes the transition her father so desires by becoming plain Elizabeth Rose. What's more English than a rose? A charming and rather more serious story than the comic parts would at first suggest. If you liked Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," you'll also enjoy this. 355 pp.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cinderella : from Fabletown with love / Chris Roberson et al.

Cinderella. From Fabletown with Love by Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus (a Fables spinoff). 144 p.

Cindy's cover as a ditzy shoe-store owner and fashionista rich girl keeps people from figuring out that she's a clever, successful spy whose loyalty is to the Fabletown government. This limited series--complete in this volume--showcases one of her assignments, with some fun flashbacks to earlier cases. Our heroine gets to kick a lot of opponents in the face literally, as well as kicking ass metaphorically, while showing off her cleverness and her other talents.

As an aside--one flashback here features Cindy meeting the Confederate spy Belle Boyd, which was my first clue that the character of that name in Clementine (see my previous review) was an actual historical person, rather than an original character of Cherie Priest.

Clementine / Cherie Priest

Clementine by Cherie Priest. 201 p.

Part of Priest's Clockwork Century setting--an alternate United States still mired in the Civil War in 1880, with steampunk technology--this short novel features Croggon Hainey, airship captain, whom we last saw in Boneshaker. Unfortunately for him someone's stolen his airship, and he's determined to get it back. His path crosses that of Belle Boyd, former Confederate spy, who's now working for the Pinkerton agency and may be trying to capture Hainey, who's wanted in the South as an escaped slave (and air pirate). I could have done with more Hainey and less Belle, but this was pretty enjoyable. Some of the airship action scenes were really cool, too,

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, fiction, 262 pages.
Our book discussion choice for later this month. In 1951 Eilis Lacey, is convinced to leave Ireland and settle in Brooklyn by her mother and older sister. She is able to begin to make a life for herself, learning bookkeeping and finding love, but when tragedy strikes back home she must decide which life is really hers. Beautifully written and timeless.-Patrick

The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O'Connell

The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O'Connell-History, 310 pages
Hannibal spent about 15 years (218-203 b.c.) on his invasion of what is now Italy, during the Second Punic War. He was very successful, fighting on his terms and winning almost every battle. It was only after the Romans learned to stop letting him choose the ground and stopped reacting to his feints, and traps and after they found a master strategist and tactician of their own in Scipio Africanus, that they were able to defeat him. They did on his own turf, as he had on theirs, with Scipio's army beating Hannibal's decisively at the battle of Zama in 202 b.c.
O'Connell does a nice job of giving the personal and cultural backgrounds of the people, places and the times.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unwritten vol. 2 / Mike Carey et al

Unwritten. Vol. 2, Inside Man by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. 144 p.

Tom Taylor goes to prison, then leaves again. He starts to accept some things about his life, but he still has no idea what's going on. One of the other characters knows a lot more than Tom does, but she "can't" tell him anything, which is desperately annoying. Also, I was disturbed by a couple of deaths in this volume, which seemed to happen just to motivate another character; I have a real problem with "fridging" characters like that. I'm still curious about where the story is going, so I'll continue to read the series, but I can't say I'm exactly enjoying it.

A personal matter

A personal matter/Kenzaburo Oe 214 pg.

Bird is 27 years old and a new father of a baby with a significant birth defect. He isn't all that committed to his marriage or his current life, and if frightened by the "monster baby" who the doctors assure him will only live for days. While his wife is recovering in the hospital, he embarks on an adventure that includes getting beat up by a gang of kids, a torrid affair with an old friend, goes to his job drunk and gets fired, and then decides to hurry along the demise of his baby. In the end he grows up a bit. This is much more literary and philosophical than I've indicated in this short review. Very interesting book. - Christa

From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor

From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor: front-line dispatches from the advertising war/Jerry Della Femina 253 pgs.

This is written a little after the Mad Men era but still has some fun stories of heavy drinking and pranks on Madison Avenue. Jerry Della Femina opened his own agency after working for 3 or 4 others and is a self-made man. That is, he is not getting a bunch of business from his contacts from his old neighborhood since most of them are in jail now. There are some politically incorrect references for todays culture (fags, girl=any woman) but I guess that just goes to show you that some things have changed. - Christa

Monday, September 6, 2010

Deep Waters / Jayne Ann Krentz

Deep Waters by Jayne Ann Krentz. 376 p.

A burned-out businesswoman moves to a small town, opens a bookstore, and embraces a slower lifestyle. Helping other eccentric small business people negotiate with their mutual landlord, she meets a mysterious new tenant, and they start a relationship. Along the way to the happy ending they help unravel a couple of murders and a big fraud scheme. A predictable but pleasant read, although the beta male lead is annoyingly clueless for much of the book.

I Am What I Am / John Barrowman

I Am What I Am by John Barrowman with Carole E. Barrowman. 256 p.

The second autobiography of this actor. Since he's only 42, this one isn't a linear continuation of life events, but rather discussion of specific shows he's done and various other topics. There are also numerous anecdotes about his birth family, to whom he's quite close (his co-author is his sister), and his husband. He's a high-profile gay actor in Great Britain and feels some responsibility to be somewhat public about his marriage because there aren't nearly as many role models for successful gay relationships as there are for straight ones. This is a pretty light & fluffy read--like many actors, Barrowman is rather self-absorbed, but he's good-natured and sincere, and his family seems to provide endless comical anecdotes. BTW, this is the man whose picture is on my computer desktop.

Scott PIlgrim Vol. 5

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley  184 pp.

Scott is still agonizing over his relationship with Ramona, still forgetting his keys and getting locked out, and still fighting Ramona's exes. This time it's the twins, Kyle & Ken, and their robot minions. And the band is breaking up...or not. But their months of recording resulted in only 17 minutes of music and their latest gig was a disaster. On to volume six, when it arrives.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The curious Science of life in the void/Mary Roach 334 pg.

I'm coming close to believing that Mary Roach can do no wrong. I love the space topic and as usual, her descriptions and research are wonderful. Patrick and Cindy have already given some of their favorite tidbits but one of my favorites is about the Russian crew who ate one of the experiments they were supposed to be reporting on from space and kept right on making up updates to mission control as if the experiment was ongoing. Many laugh out loud moments ensue when Mary grabs a topic. Wow, great stuff. - Christa

Sick like that

Sick like that/Norman Green 340 pg.

The second book about Alesandra Martillo. This one was a little harder to follow but Marty (the lecherous boss) is in a car facility in a wheel chair after being shot at the end of the last book. Now Al and her partner Sarah are on their own in the private eye business. Sarah's ex-husband seems to have gotten mixed up in something bad so they do some investigating. The other big case involves a dying woman trying to find her estranged step son. I enjoyed the book but wonder how it would be different if these 2 strong women characters had been written by a woman instead of a man. Not that I'm being sexist here, I just wonder. Even though Sarah was billed as a librarian in the last book, it is not mentioned this time around. - Christa

Friday, September 3, 2010

Censored Hollywood

Censored Hollywood 269 pgs.

I chose this because I'm interested in how the movie business works. - Susie

The Reasonable Man

The Reasonable Man/ Cynthia Lee 278 pgs.

This book shows how the legal ideas of provocation and self-defense in criminal cases are used to benefit white defendants and minority suspects are at a disadvantage. - Susie

Dog Company Six

Dog Company Six/Edwin Howard Simmons 303 pages.

I chose this to because the subject is historical fiction about the U.S. Marines written by a Marine. - Susie

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans/Rick Geary

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder), by Rick Geary; graphic novel, true crime; 80 pages

Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder series is a gem, so I was really looking forward to his latest offering in this new collection. The murder here is once again an unsolved mystery: a series of attacks in New Orleans in 1918 and 1919. While Geary's narration and art are both wonderful, I this graphic novel felt a little less finished (and much shorter!) than previous entries. Part of that may be that this is a less famous killer (I had never heard of him before this book), and so there's less information available. Still, I missed the theories and reconstructions that were present in the Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden books. On an editorial note, this book also seems to have more typos than any previous volume, so maybe there was a publishing mix-up that affected the quality of the book? It's still an interesting story, and I felt like I learned something.

Batman and Son/Grant Morrison

Batman and Son by Grant Morrison; graphic novel; 200 pages

This started out strong, but quickly devolved into terrible. This collection starts with an arc in which Batman faces off against Talia (Ra's al Ghul's daughter), and learns that their long-ago liaison resulted in a son. Add in the fact that Talia's weapon of choice is an army of genetically engineered "Ninja Man-Bats" (!!) and it made for a pretty entertaining, if campy, story. Then, for reasons that are unclear, Morrison inserts a prose story that might be one of the most poorly written, gratuitously violent things I've ever had the misfortune to read. It's riddled with plot holes, the action scenes are unclear, the font is hart to read, and the purple prose is enough to make H. P. Lovecraft blush. I read the last third of the book on autopilot, because I was still reeling from the horrible writing in the middle. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Midnight Crystal / Jayne Castle

Midnight Crystal by Jayne Castle (book three of the Dreamlight trilogy). 373 p.

A mildly pleasant if utterly unmemorable romance novel, with a faux science-fantasy setting--in the future, on a distant planet, everyone has psychic powers of some kind, but the cultural trappings are all modern-day American. Except that the cars, the electricity, and any kind of power sources are crystal based. (Don't ask, it's pretty goofy, not to mention vague.) A powerful man with loyalties to one organization meets a spirited woman whose loyalties lie with a seemingly competitive organization. Naturally they are forced to work together. Blah, blah. Sorry--it's more enjoyable than I'm making it sound, but I'm completely unable to describe why, because the individual elements are fairly lame.

The most interesting thing about this book, to me, is that it was published as a paperback original. All of Jayne Castle's books are--but "Jayne Castle" is a pseudonym of Jayne Ann Krentz, whose books come out in hardcover. As do her historical romances written as Amanda Quick. Since this Dreamlight Trilogy features one book published under each name, books 1 and 2 were in hardcover, but book 3 is not. It just seems like an odd publishing decision.

Stuff : compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things / Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee.

I am with Christa on this one; it's a fascinating book, but anxiety-provoking. While reading it I found myself scrutinizing every little stray bit of paper in my fairly messy house. The tentative explanations for what is happening in the brains of hoarders are interesting and well-written for the layperson. (Plus, ultimately, the anecdotes were so extreme that I ended up feeling pretty good about my own situation...after a couple of trips to the trash dumpster.)

Year of Wonders / Geraldine Brooks

I mostly really enjoyed this story of a small English village which, when the plague arrives, isolates itself in an attempt to save the neighboring villages from the contagion's spread. It was apparently loosely based on the story of a real village in 17th century England. The description of what happens to a small society under terrible stress seemed incredibly realistic until the end, when Brooks tacks on a strange plot twist. LOTS of grisly plague details - not for anyone with a weak stomach.

Wolf Hall / Hilary Mantel(l?)

I started this with high hopes which were ultimately disappointed. Wolf Hall tells the story of Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn which resulted in England's break with the Roman Church. It's told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rose from obscurity to become Henry's right hand man. His foil is Thomas More, who fell from Henry's good graces when he refused to recognize him as the head of the English church. According to reviews I've read, Mantel here rehabilitates Cromwell's reputation as an opportunistic schemer by contrasting him with the prissy, heretic-burning More. And, yes, he's certainly less weird than T.M., but I still find him hard to love. It's clear that he didn't like the savage behavior of most of his fellows at court, but he seems ultimately without ideals beyond acquiring as much wealth and power for himself as possible.

Mantel's writing style is smart and elliptical, and provides a more intense sense of history than most 'typical' historical fiction. Maybe my problem was just that the characters - the randy, goofy narcissist Henry, Anne 'super-b*#!@' Boleyn, and their conniving, adulterous friends at court - make lousy company after a few hundred pages.

Batman: The Black Glove/Grant Morrison

Batman: The Black Gl0ve by Grant Morrison; graphic novel; 176 pages

This book is the direct predecessor to Batman: R.I.P. It's actually a loose collection of arcs, the first being a classic murder mystery (a group is called to a mansion, one of them is killed, and the rest are locked in until they can find the killer). That was probably my favorite part of the book, even if it did veer into horror towards the end. The second half is a story referring to some earlier arc with which I'm not familiar, and features Jezabel Jet, Bruce's current flame, and a character I can't stand (thought, having read Batman R.I.P. first, I'm a little biased). I think I understand a lot more from R.I.P. now, at least.

Private life, by Jane Smiley

The view of marriage in this new and well-reviewed novel is so bleak it did, indeed, make me wonder about Smiley's own experience of marriage. Margaret Mayfield is on the cusp of becoming an old maid at the age of 27 when she marries the brilliant but enigmatic scientist, Andrew Early. Scenes from post-Civil War Missouri, particularly the area around St. Louis and the 1904 World's Fair, enliven the early portions of the book which depict her girlhood. After marrying, the couple move to an island off San Francisco which is taken up with a naval base. A depiction of the horrors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which spares the island off its coast, but not all of those dear to her, is also well done. Her husband, brought up to believe in his own genius by his mother (one of the best portraits in the book), develops ever-stranger theories of the origins of the universe and becomes obsessed with Albert Einstein, who he considers an intellectual fraud, and later, during the twentieth century World Wars, a traitor and German spy. Margaret "stands by her man," even as his distorted view of reality destroys those around him that she loves. Stunningly depressing. 318 pp.