Sunday, October 31, 2010


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

Participant/Books /Pages

Patrick 2/842
Karen 11/2,707
Christa 11 / 3,340
Susie 18 / 5,201
Cindy 10 / 3,221
Annie 10 / 2,772
Linda 5/ 1,702
Eliana 2/
Kathleen 10/3,138
TOTAL 79/ 22,920


Monster by A. Lee Martinez  295 pp.

In warped Martinez style, this book begins with a Yeti ravaging a grocery store. Enter Monster Dionysus and his assistant Chester, a paper gnome, of Cryptobiological Containment & Rescue Services who are freelance contractors to Animal Control charged with capturing stray creatures of the mythological sort. By the end of this convoluted yarn I was picturing this as a movie with Linda Hunt playing the evil, tea-drinking Mrs. Lotus. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Because the night

Because the night/James Ellroy 288 pg.

This is a crime thriller that features a psychiatrist who preys on his patients to make them do his bidding and the genius but unconventional cop who takes him down. It was written in the 80's and seems to contain a lot more bad stereotypes than things I've read with more recent copyright dates. Ellroy is good with the "hard boiled" characters but some of the dialog just about made me laugh. Still, a good story overall. - Christa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kitchen Witch

Kitchen Witch: a memoir by Cora Anderson  165 pp.

This brief book is a series of vignettes about the author's life starting with her childhood in Alabama through her marriage and the death of her husband, Victor. My favorites are about her childhood, including how important the visits of the bookmobile were and how she and her brother would read to each other and act out the books they checked out. In addition to her memories there are poems, recipes-a couple state fair prize-winners, and bits of folklore and folk medicine.


Curse of the Were-Weiner by Ursula Vernon  204 pp.

This is book three in the Dragonbreath series. Once again Danny Dragonbreath and his best friend Wendell, the iguana find themselves battling an unreal foe. This time the school lunchroom has been invaded by Were-weiners, strange, bright red hot dogs who bite and spread lycanythropy. Wendell is bitten by his lunch and the boys have only a few days to defeat the Alpha-weiner and save Wendell and his classmates from turning into ravenous hairy monsters. But how are two young boys going to do this? What could they do but seek out the evil potato salad that lives in the sewers (see book one) and ask for its help.

This series is silly fun for kids with much to make adults giggle including a reference to Joseph Campbell spinning in his grave.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Blindness of the Heart / Julia Franck 424 pp.

This book's cover quotes a review by A.S. Byatt which calls it 'brilliant,' and I won't argue with her. Translated from German, this is the story of Helene, a beautiful, intelligent, decent woman born a few years before World War I, and how she comes to abandon her little son at a railway station shortly after WWII. That's not a spoiler; the book opens with the scene at the station, then moves forward through Helene's childhood and youth. Don't think Sophie's Choice here; Helene's choice appears more the result of a natural progression of events, personalities, and pure accidents. The narrative concentrates heavily in the period between the wars, and there are cultural allusions - to popular artists, poets, and playwrights of the time - which I couldn't fully appreciate. That didn't take away from the intensity of the story for me, though.

My only criticism is of the character of Wilhelm, Helene's husband, who appears late in the story. Franck shows less imagination with him than elsewhere, falling back instead on a stock 'Everynazi,' the kind we've all read about before, right down to the brutal sexual proclivities. (The portrait of the Nazi with the distorted sex life is almost a fictional chestnut, if you'll pardon the expression. I wonder what sociological research has to say about this? I'm sure that many a thesis has been written on the sex lives of Nazis.) But I digress.

The conclusion of this novel is almost perfect. Don't look for Disney to buy the screen rights.

Noah's Compass / Anne Tyler 277 p.

Liam is a 60-ish unemployed schoolteacher who struggles to remember being attacked in his new, downsized apartment. In his quest to understand what has happened to him, he connects with a much younger woman who works as a rememberer for a man with dementia. The great thing, I think, about all of Tyler's books is that they center around truly ordinary people. They take the bus, live in drab apartments, and eat canned soup. At the moment I can't think of another author who stays so thoroughly in that one social milieu. While I wouldn't want all fiction to be like this quiet, thoughtful book, it makes for a refreshing break.

I listened to this on audio, with my 9-year-old son in the car, who chose to listen to it rather than watch DVDs in the back seat. He actually enjoyed it. Not sure what to make of that, except that maybe it's possible to entertain kids without snot jokes and car crashes.

The Little Stranger / Sarah Waters 463 pp.

I really wanted to like this one. Waters' The Night Watch was one of my most pleasant surprises of the past year, but Stranger was just not of the same caliber. Set in England a few years after the war, this is a ghost story and more. The Ayres family of Hundreds Hall, like so many families of land and 'quality' of the period, struggle to maintain their property and eat decently during the era when England's grand estates were abandoned under the crush of a rising middle class and its suburbanization. The family befriend Dr. Faraday, a talented GP from a working-class family who's always had a particular fascination for the beautiful but decaying Hundreds Hall. The writing is smart and the haunting believable; this would have been a terrific novella had it been cut by about 200 pages.

A Conspiracy of Kings/Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings (Queen's Thief, book 4), by Megan Whalen Turner; young adult, fantasy; 316 pages

While I enjoyed this book, I have to agree with Patrick that it wasn't quite as good as the previous three. I attribute that to the small amount of page-time the Gen, the main character of the first three books, gets here. Still, I had a lot of fun with it, and was especially pleased to see that Turner continues to end on a neat twist that nicely ties up loose ends from previous books. Turner could stop here, but I sincerely hope that there's another book in the works, as I'm getting very attached to this world and its characters.

Grave Goods

Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin  336 pp

This is book three in the "Mistress of the Art of Death" series. This time Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar is forceably summoned by Henry II and ordered to investigate two corpses buried on the grounds of the recently burned Glastonbury Abbey. Henry is hoping she can prove they belong to King Arthur and Guinevere to prove to the Welsh that Arthur is truly dead and will not return as the legend says and thus quell the rebellion. While Adelia and her servent, Mansur, investigate the goings on at Glastonbury, they are also searching for the missing Lady Emma who disappeared with her entourage while on her way to her husband's family estate. This is a series I really enjoy and book four awaits.

You have killed me

You have killed me/Jamie S. Rich & Joelle Jones 183 pg.

Mercer is a private eye hired to find Julie, a missing bride to be with whom he has a romantic past. He runs around digging up the dirt on Julie and her fiancé trying to figure out where she is and why she disappeared all while thinking back on their relationship. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is pretty good too. - Christa

Master your Metabolism

Master your Metabolism/Jillian Michaels 277 pg.

I started reading this book before the recent Jillian Michaels kettle bell controversy (if you are not in the know, some are saying her kettle bell form is WRONG) but lets face it, you can just take a glance and Jillian and see she is doing something right. This book talks a lot about her realization that her diet was previously very poor and a trip to the endocrinologist helped her see that her intake was doing more harm than good. This book has a lot of detail about various metabolic issues that can prevent you from losing weight and can sap your energy. Jillian also prescribes a diet that will allow your body to get itself in order. Not surprisingly, Oreos don't show up as an "allowed" food. Seems like good information but it probably won't help a lot just to read about it. - Christa

Jimmy the Wags

Jimmy the Wags/James Wagner 224 pgs.

I chose this to read about the life of a real P.I.  It is not nearly as glamorous as the ones on TV. - Susie

Blind Spot

Blind Spot/Timothy Naftali 326 pages.

I chose this to see what the author had to say about defending the U.S. from terrorists. - Susie

Dreadnought / Cherie Priest

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest (a novel of the Clockwork Century). 400 p.

This book provided the rollicking read that I had hoped for, and didn't really get, from Boneshaker, Priest's previous book in the setting. The American Civil War has been raging for 20 years or so. Vinita Lynch, called Mercy, has been working as a nurse in a Confederate hospital in Virginia. Her husband is off fighting--for the Union, although Mercy's sympathies lie with the South. Two days after she finds out that her husband died in Andersonville, she receives a telegram asking her to travel to Tacoma to see her father, who's probably dying. Mercy hasn't seen him since she was 10, when he left her and her mother to go West; they waited for him to send for them, but he never did. Still, she decides to make the trip, by airship, boat, and train. The trip is far from simple, what with the war and...other hazards.

Especially at the beginning, Priest does an admirable job of describing the feel of the times from a civilian's point of view: despair at the never-ending fighting that is killing two countries' young men, the unreliability of information available, the need to hide personal circumstances when meeting strangers. The hospital scenes that open the book are realistic depictions of what nursing was like during the real Civil War.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Capture

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky  226 pp.

This was a re-reading of the first book in the juvenile series "The Guardians of Ga'Hoole" and the November book for the "Treehouse Book Club". In this first book young owls are being stolen from their homes and put into service at St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. Soren, a barn owl from the forest of Tyto and Gylfie, an elf owl find ways to avoid being "moonblinked" (brainwashed) in hopes of finally learning to fly and escaping the evil masters who are trying to take over the owl kingdom. This book and the next two in the series are the basis for the new movie "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole."

Monday, October 25, 2010

By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

Art dealer Peter Harris is moderately successful, moderately happily married, and, at 43, feeling just a bit sick to his stomach. When his wife's twenty-year younger brother shows up for a visit, things begin to fall apart, in his marriage and his life. Ethan, known as "Mizzy," short for "The Mistake," is brilliant, drug-addicted, and manipulative. His androgynous appearance hauntingly recalls Peter's wife Rebecca's beauty at that age, and is powerfully attractive to Peter in its own right as well. Echoes of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain and Death in Venice set the literary tone of illness and blurred sexuality, while references to the modern gallery scene in New York do the same for the art world. Peter instinctively knows good and great art when he sees it; many readers have the same immediate reaction to well-written fiction, as I did to this beautifully written novel. Highly recommended. 238 pp.

The reluctant fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

Many others have reviewed this slim but thought-provoking book, which was the "Freshman Read" at Washington University this fall. I'm sorry I was out of town when it was discussed here since I would have loved to have heard what others thought of it. Told in one voice, that of the title character, it is almost hypnotic. I felt, as the unidentified American at a cafe in Lahore must have, like the wedding guest buttonholed by the Ancient Mariner. At turns thoughtful, humorous, and menacing, this disturbing account of how a bright young man from Pakistan, graduated from an Ivy League school and possessing a enviable job in high finance, is affected by the events following 9/11. A cautionary tale that should be read by the many who don't understand why "they" don't like us . 184 pp.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nervous Conditions-Tsitsi Dangarembga

I bet we don't have this in the library. It's a really good book though. More African literature! "Nervous Conditions" is a classic of African literature, as one of the only novels written by a woman to be published on the continent. Chronicling the story of Tambu and her rise from her family's homestead to a high school education, Dangarembga focuses on the gender inequality and Christian influence that pervades the lives of native Zimbabweans. An excellent and informative read, great for anyone who wants a first hand account of what life is like for young, black women in Africa.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster/Astrid Desbordes

Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin; graphic novel, children's; 56 pages

To be fair to this book, I picked it up on a "try this--it's terrible!" sort of recommendation, which probably colored my reading. I still tried to generous to this story, so I can't help but think that something must have gone very, very wrong in the translation. This is the story of Hamster and his friends Mole, Snail, and Hedgehog, and their musings on life, as told through a series of one-page vignettes. Most of the reviews I've read talk about how funny this book is, but I mostly just found it annoying and occasionally sad. I don't see any child finding this even vaguely interesting, let alone as funny as advertised.

The Junior Officers' Reading Club

The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing time and fighting wars / Patrick Hennessey 310 pg.

Hennessey is/was an office in the British Army who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. This book mostly covers his training and those 2 tours. He does a great job of balancing the fear and horror of war with the boredom and the thrill of action. Sprinkled throughout are the little stories that give you a taste for the situation...the respect and friendship they feel for their Afghan counterparts, the anger at an attack that comes at a pivotal plot point during Grey's Anatomy, and the hard to comprehend feelings as their fellow soldiers are injured and killed. Of course the reading selections are great too. - Christa

Disaster! / Dan Kurtzman

Disaster! the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 by Dan Kurtzman. 296 p.

The second book I've read on this topic this month. This one is a little facile, but a much better popular history overview than the previous one. Kurtzman's book is better organized than Dennis Smith's (the other author), so it's much easier to follow what's going on.

Because most people with insurance were covered for fire but not earthquake, and because the city powers feared that no one would invest and rebuild if they were worried about earthquakes (uncontrollable) versus fire (preventable), people afterwards almost always talked about the fire rather than the earthquake. Yet nowadays it's almost always referred to as just an earthquake--I knew there was massive devastation in its wake, but until I started reading about it I had no idea about the scope of the fires.

Cryoburn / Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (a Miles Vorkosigan novel). 339 p.

It's been 8 years since Bujold's last novel in this setting, so of course the book itself is a bit of a let-down after all that anticipation. It's still very good. Miles, the Emperor's trouble-shooter, is on Kibou-daini, a planet whose main industry is cryogenics--they want to extend their services into the Empire, so Miles needs to figure out whether there's anything hinky first. Of course something is wrong, and Miles figures it out; but compared to some of Miles' earlier adventures, this one feels just a bit...sedate. I think that, for me, it's the absence of most of the supporting cast from previous books that I miss the most. Still, the picture of Kibou-daini's culture and and society is pretty interesting--what would happen if a large chunk of the population was frozen with the potential for being awoken again? I thought the vote-proxy ideas were particularly plausible. And Bujold, always a thoughtful writer, handles the various themes of death and aging with aplomb.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Half of a Yellow Sun-Chimamanda Adichie

This is a really amazing book by a contemporary African author. Focusing on the Biafran War that took place in Nigeria during the late '60s, Adichie tells the story of the Biafrans who declare their independence and survive a brutal war. Seen through the eyes of individual Nigerians, it's truly a beautiful novel.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lord of the While Hell book 2/Ginn Hale

Lord of the White Hell book 2, by Ginn Hale; dark fantasy, mystery; 346 pages

When I read the first half of this story, I was a little disappointed, but I think the second half more than made up for it. Here, the mystery set up in the first installment comes to its conclusion, and it makes for a gripping read. I had mentioned earlier that the world wasn't well-developed, but this volume had what the first lacked: a solid appendix of names and places, as well as a timeline of major historical events. Seeing this makes me think that this was originally a single book, and the publisher broke it in two, so I'm going to blame the publisher for the rockiness of the first volume. I tore through pretty quickly, so if the ending seemed a little rushed, that might have just been my reading it so fast. However, this was an exciting read, and I look forward to more from this author.

Family Skeletons

Family Skeletons by Rett MacPherson  184 pp.

This is book one in a mystery series I just found out about although it isn't new. The author is a member of a local writers group that a couple friends of mine belong to. The sleuth is Victory O'Shea, a museum docent and amateur genealogist in the small historical Missouri town of New Kassel. She is asked by a local antique dealer to do her family tree and then Torie (Victory) discovers the woman murdered a few days later. Along with the local sheriff, Torie investigates the murder and discovers several other mysteries in the process. Not great literature but a fun whodunit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Down a road all rebels run

Down a road all rebels run /Mogue Doyle 240 pg.

I chose this because it is historical fiction. - Susie

Dreams from my Father

Dreams from my Father/Barack Obama 442 pgs.

I chose this to learn more about the president's early life. - Susie

Heaven's Fury

Heaven's Fury/50 Cent and Meta Smith 171 pgs.

I chose this to find out how the main character handles her problems. - Susie

Book of a Thousand Days/Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale; young adult, fantasy; 320 pages (about 6.5 hours on audio CD)

This is probably my favorite Shannon Hale book so far. It's a retelling of the fairy tale Maid Maleen, which, like The Goose Girl, is a story that is left out of most collections. The twist here is that the story is told by the princess's servant, a simple lady's maid named Dashti. Dashti is a great character, and very likable, even if the princess is not. Over the course of the book, we see Dashti grow from a humble, loyal servant who puts up with a lot of abuse from the nobles, to a true heroine who manages to save the kingdom. To make it even more interesting, this version is set in a world reminiscent of the central Asian steppes, and Dashti's narration is filled with bits of folklore and custom that left me wanting to know more. I loved this book, and highly recommend it. I have to especially endorse the audio book: much of the story involves Dashti singing traditional songs, and audio version has added melodies that the reader sings.

Beat the Reaper / Josh Bazell 304 pp.

If there is a book with a more shocking, disgusting and thoroughly satisfying conclusion, I don't know what it is. And I'm not sure I want to. Much has already been said about this story of a medical resident and former mob hitman and its improbable plot which, somehow, works. I'd just like to highlight two additional details: our foul-mouthed hero's love for an ultra-religious virgin, and his visit to, of all places, Auschwitz. Everything about this book is unexpected, but you can definitely expect to laugh. The Monday Book Group is reading this for November 15 - staff are welcome! I will bake pie! Vote for your favorite pie choice (but only if you plan to come)!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How I became a famous novelist, by Steve Hely

I grabbed this off the shelf when I read that it was the 2010 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. It IS funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny like Thurber's The night the bed fell, which gives me the giggles just thinking about it. Pete Tarslow's long-time girlfriend has dumped him; he spends his days writing graduate school admissions essays for struggling foreign-born applicants; life in general is really not working out well. When said girlfriend announces her wedding to a much more successful suitor, Pete hatches the idea to put him to show him up by becoming best-selling author. And he does. In between are send-ups of popular authors; the publishing/media industries; a truly hilarious and dead-on mock of the New York Times bestseller list; and fame in general. It's fun to guess just which popular works are satirized on the bestseller list but this one is a no-brainer: "The Balthazar Tablet, by Tim Drew: The murder of a cardinal leads a Yale professor and an underwear model to the Middle East, where they uncover clues to a conspiracy kept hidden by the Shriners."Underneath it all is the author's real appreciation of literature. 322 pp.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bite me

Bite Me: a love story by Christopher Moore  309 pp.

Moore has once again used his satiric genius to set the vampire genre on its head. The yarn about vampires Jody & Tommy began with You Suck and continued with Bloodsucking Fiends. Jody & Tommy have been bronzed by their minion, goth girl Abby Normal whose scientist boyfriend Foo Dog is trying to discover a cure for vampirism. In the mean time Chet, the alley cat who was bitten by the old vampire, Elijah, in the previous book has grown huge and is turning all the cats in town into vampires who are killing people at random. Police officers, Rivera & Cavuto, are back on the job trying to find a way to defeat the vampire kitties with the help of The Animals, the night crew of the Safeway. Armed with an ancient Chinese recipe for vampire killing tea they stalk the cats with garden sprayers & Super-Soakers. The arrival of a mysterious ship brings a trio of ancient vampires intent on destroying all the other vampires. A guest appearance is made by Kona, the blonde Hawaiian surfer/faux Jamaican Rastafarian from Moore's book Fluke.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

San Francisco Is Burning / Dennis Smith

San Francisco is burning: the untold story of the 1906 earthquake and fires by Dennis Smith. 294 p.

There's some interesting stuff in this book, mainly about the military response to the fires--they spent a lot of time dynamiting and setting off black powder charges, which caused many more fires than they stopped, but the army didn't help fight fires at all. (The navy, particularly one lieutenant, did fire-fight, and helped save the wharves.) They did spend a lot of time forcing people to abandon their houses at bayonet-point, instead of letting them remain to fight the fires, which the author clearly thinks should have happened. He also alleges that the military shot a bunch a people. We get a lot of detail about fire-fighting, some description of the political and social situation both before and after the fires--especially about the graft trials--and some detail about individuals who were affected. The book is badly organized, though, and I found the multitude of individuals introduced at the beginning more confusing than anything--at least one of them isn't mentioned again for nearly 200 pages. Also, I found the writing style incredibly annoying, especially when the author kept describing what certain people were thinking right before they died. I'm looking forward to reading a different book on this topic.

A Night in the Lonesome October / Roger Zelazny

A night in the lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. 280 p.

I read this every October because it's just so much fun. Narrated by Snuff, a watchdog--among other things--who is involved in the Game with his master, Jack, a gentleman with a big knife who hangs around Victorian Soho. They're closers, working against the openers who want to open the world to invasion by the Lovecraftian Elder Gods. Each chapter is one day in the month, so we see the slow evolution of the Game and its players--the Count, the Good Doctor, the Great Detective, and others. Snuff mostly interacts with the players' familiars, though; a cat, a bat, a snake, a squirrel, etc. Zelazny was clearly having fun with this, including some entertaining wordplay, and I smile the whole way through every time I read it. I know some people who read one chapter a day in October, matching the chapter heads, but once I start I can't restrain myself and have to read the whole thing. Maybe next year.

Blameless / Gail Carriger

Blameless by Gail Carriger (book 3 in the Parasol Protectorate series). 355 p.

A fun entry in this light-hearted series. Alexia travels from England to Italy with some friends in an attempt to find out more about her strange preternatural condition. Along the way they deal with killer clockwork ladybugs, an ornithopter, and Templars. There's also a bunch of werewolf/vampire intrigue in England, which includes Alexia's husband being awesome despite the fact that he's drunk (and broken-hearted) for much of the book. The couple finally reunite at the end, although I think she should have made him grovel a bit more.... I was pleased that Alexia seemed less like a knock-off of Amelia Peabody (the Elizabeth Peters character) in this one. I look forward to seeing more stories in this setting.

One Day

One Day by David Nicholls 437 pg.

I really admire the writing in this book. The conversations between the main characters is very good. I also like the concept of the story taking place on one day a year. But the actual plot and the direction of the characters is not something I can praise. What we learn from this book is if you are the smart girl who is good looking but not gorgeous, you too can have a shot at the great looking popular guy. All you have to do is wait about 20 years until he is a wrecked, divorced, unemployed, pudgy, alcoholic while you have lived the life of a saint (EVERYBODY loves you), become very successful in your career and managed to lose that couple of pounds that were holding you back and have not really aged at fact, as mentioned SEVERAL times, you are better looking than EVER! Oh yea, you also have to dump your French boyfriend when the guy comes crawling to you. Finally now, you have the opportunity to gather him up in your arms and fix him, build relationships with his ex-wife and young daughter, use your money to set him up in a business that he might not suck at and basically take care of all his needs.

Perhaps I've just revealed myself as the least romantic of all living people but all I could think of was RUN EMMA RUN. That and since the name "Dexter" is so closely associated with a serial killer, I suggest all authors be very careful when using it for a character name. - Christa

Trooper Down

Trooper Down/Marie Bartlett 215 pg.

I chose this for an inside view of the lives of Highway Patrol Officers. - Susie

Friday, October 15, 2010

Enna Burning/Shannon Hale

Enna Burning (Bayern series, book 2), by Shannon Hale; young adult, fantasy; 336 pages (about 11 hours in audio format)

I've now discovered Shannon Hale, and plan to work my way through her entire catalog. But as much as I loved The Goose Girl, I found myself getting very frustrated with Enna throughout the book. It wasn't really the story's fault: Enna spends most of the book struggling with her new-found gift for fire, and fighting to control it. When she's captured by an enemy army, she is drugged and slowly brainwashed into believing she should help them attack her homeland. The story is believable and well-written, and I see that much of this story needed to happen after the events in Goose Girl. But between the magic, drugs, and brainwashing, Enna comes across as pretty passive for most of this book and, while she does eventually break free and save the kingdom, I was grinding my teeth for the bulk of the story. I guess I like my fantasy heroines a little more proactive and level-headed. I still plan to pick up River Secrets, the next book in the series.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Citadel / A.J. Cronin 368 pp.

I read this book at least twice in my twenties and loved it. My older, more cynical self doesn't love it anymore, but I still find it worthwhile. A young Scottish doctor, Andrew Manson, begins his career in a 1920s Welsh mining town with high ideals which are gradually eroded through years of practice. The dialogue is dated, but in a charming way, and the issues that Andrew struggles with remain current.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Arkham Asylum: Madness/Sam Keith

Arkham Asylum: Madness, by Sam Kieth; graphic novel, horror; 112 pages

As I'm winding down from my annual Batman frenzy, I thought this might be a good transitional read, since it's set in Batman's world, but the Dark Knight never makes an appearance. The author describes this as a haunted house story, and while nothing supernatural occurs, I definitely got that feeling while reading. This short, atmospheric book follows one nurse at the infamous Arkham through a single day (though she works a double shift, so we get to see the dramatic change between the day and the night). Like all good haunted house stories, the house becomes its own character, expressing itself through groaning pipes, shattered windows, and a broken clock. The inmates only add to the building tension, and I was constantly waiting for the next breakout. A great read for Halloween, but a very dark take on the Batman universe.

An aside on the art: When I opened this, my immediate thought was "This reminds me of Sandman." I LOVED the art here (a blend of watercolor, photography, and digital manipulation). It fits the tone of the book perfectly, and made it a delicious read. The strange thing is that I looked up Kieth and, yes, he did work on Sandman, producing some of my less favorite art in that series. Of course, his style has had almost 20 years to evolve, but I thought it was funny that I could still recognize it, and now like it.


MOB/Clint Willis 328 pg.

I chose this because I'm interested in the mob. - Susie


Psycho/Robert Bloch 223 pgs.

I chose this instead of the movie.  It is a quick read. - Susie

The Rackets

The Rackets/Thomas Kelly 374 pgs.

I chose this because it seemed interesting. - Susie

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity/Robert Ludlum 535 pgs.

I chose this because I saw the movie. - Susie

Bomb Squad

Bomb Squad/Richard Esposito & Ted Gerstein 320 pg.

I chose this for an insiders view of dangerous police work. - Susie

Karoo Boy

Karoo Boy/Troy Blacklaws 196 pg.

I chose this because it is about South Africa and I enjoy reading about places I will probably not visit. - Susie

The Children's War

The Children's War/Monique Charlesworth 367 pg.

I chose this because it is about WWII. - Susie

The last day of a condemned man

The last day of a condemned man/Victor Hugo 102 pages

I chose this because it seemed interesting. - Susie

The days of our lives

The days of our lives/Ken Corday 247 pages.

I chose this because I watch 'Days of our Lives'.  I strongly recommend this for fans for the TV show. - Susie

The Rockwood Files: Tales from the hood

The Rockwood Files: Tales from the hood/James Andrew Clay 139 pg

I chose this to see which characters managed to improve their lives and which couldn't. - Susie

Which Lie did I tell?

Which Lie did I tell?/William Goldman 462 pages

I chose this to learn about how Goldman wrote screenplays. - Susie

The second Horseman

The second Horseman/Kyle Mills 290 pg.

I chose this because it seemed interesting - Susie

Blameless/Gail Carriger

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, book 3), by Gail Carriger; fantasy, romance, scifi; 384 pages

I was a little disappointed by Changeless, the second book in this series, but I was please to see that Carriger seems to have recovered herself here. Lady Alexia Maccon, after being cast out by her husband, causing quite the scandal in London, and being marked for death by every vampire in England, sets out for Italy in hopes of finding out more about her preternatural state. There's much more adventure and travel here than in the previous book, and the separation between the main couple means that the romance continues to play a strong role (pretty impressive, given that they were married in the first book!). I loved this, and read it very quickly. I was also pleased to note that there will be a fourth volume coming out next summer!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice: a novel by Thomas Pynchon  369 pp.

In the twisted world of a Los Angeles still nervous after the Manson killings, Larry "Doc" Sportello, a chronic drug using private investigator finds himself wrapped up in the search for a missing real estate mogul and tracking down a supposedly dead surfer band saxophonist. Throw in a large cast of quirky characters, improbable situations, police and government corruption, and a drug & crime syndicate called the Golden Fang that may actually be a tax shelter for a bunch of dentists. Confused? So was I. It all falls into place at the end with a large stash of heroin...or was it a t.v.?

How to mellify a corpse, and other human stories of ancient science and superstition by Vicki Leon

This amusing compendium of wisdom and erroneous beliefs of the ancient Greeks and Romans is best read in short bites. To cut right to the chase and get to the mellifying bit: "It had long been common knowledge that the Babylonians embalmed with wax and honey. But the big news began when Alexander the Great died at age thirty-three. Always organized, Alex had left pre-need instructions to mellify his remains. The high sugar content of honey draws water from the cells and gradually dehydrates tissues. Thus, if honey happens to surround a corpse, under the right conditions it produces a drying action while also preserving. It seemed to work for Alex. His body survived a 1,000-mile road trip, a corpse-napping, and decades-long display in a glass coffin in Memphis, Egypt -- and he was still being called "lifelike" when last seen centuries later by Roman emperor Caracalla." Lots of fun stuff! 297 pp.

Skippy dies, by Paul Murray

Skippy does die, right there on page 6, at which point you are less than 1% into this looooooong book. Set in an Irish private school, much of the story follows a group of friends, many who are outcasts, and the author has brilliant insights into male adolescence, and arrested adolescence. The adult characters -- teachers, priests, parents -- are similarly well done, but in the end I felt there were just too many plots and diverse characters loose in the pages. Either the book needed an editor, or possibly to have been turned into more than one novel. I liked it well enough to persevere, but not well enough to completely enjoy slogging through to the end. The bullying that goes on in the school, drug use, anorexic girls, and the abuse of boys by their elders, gave it a"snatched from the headlines" feel. I did admire the writing more than this review would indicate. 661 small type pp.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How to live safely in a science fictional universe

How to live safely in a science fictional universe/Charles Yu

Wow, this is a great book that I'm not even sure I understand. Minor Universe 31 is the setting and our hero, named Charles Yu is a time machine repairman. He spends a lot of his time explaining to people that they can NOT change the past. We are really all too insignificant to have that kind of power. He sees people who make haste to revisit the most depressing times in their lives...I guess many are just still stunned by it all. Yu's father is lost in time and so Yu is searching for him. His mom is (fairly) happily and by choice stuck in a loop where she is making Sunday dinner over and over again. Yu's only companion is a dog who probably isn't even real and his computer. I know it sounds so science fiction-y but it is really more about people and relationships. Can I say again that is it great? - Christa

War is boring

War is boring: bored stiff and scared to death in world's worst war zones/David Axe & Matt Bors 125 pgs.

What happens if you cover a few war zones and find you can't come back and assimilate into your regular life. Well, then, you just keep going to more and more war zones. David Axe just can't stop. War can be boring but not like small town South Carolina. He keeps moving to new war zones since he can't stand being anywhere else. So far, he has been to many war zones and I'm guessing before he is done, he will go to many more. - Christa

Trouble Maker

Trouble Maker/Janet Evanovich & Alex Evanovich art by Joelle Jones 106 pg.

The plot here is pretty simple and what you might expect from one Evanovich if not two. The art is impressive. - Christa

Doctor Who: the Visual Dictionary / Neil Corry

Doctor Who: the visual dictionary by Neil Corry et al. 144 p.

An oversized book full of glossy photos of characters and props from the long-running British TV show, although primarily concerned with the series reboot that started in 2005. There's not tons of text, although there was more than I was expecting, and I even learned a few canonical tidbits along the way, which was fun.

I wasn't planning to check this out until the third staff person came up to me and said, "This pink is for you, right?" So I was forced, forced I tell you, to read it, so it counts toward my total and it's not my fault.

These Children Who Come at You with Knives

These Children Who Come at You with Knives by Jim Knipfel 232 pp.

I found this displayed on the new fiction shelf and thought it looked interesting. Then I saw Patrick had made it one of his 'staff picks' for October. I've never read anything by this author before but now I will probably check out some of his other stuff. This book is a quirky collection of usually disturbing short stories. The subjects range from evil gnomes to scary house plants to sombrero-wearing talking maggots but the one that squicked me the most was about a roach infestation. Odd and creepy but fun in a sick sort of way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Earth: (The Book) A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race by John Stewart, et al.

Earth: (The Book) A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race by John Stewart et al. 244 pages, Humor. Check our catalog.
So I feel a little bad counting this in a competitive reading contest, though not too bad, since I am so far behind. Mostly this book is pictures with funny captions, if you read "America: The Book" you know the format. None of thejokes really stick with me, none of them come to mind right now. . . Oh, wait, there was that one about scientology in the religion section, making fun of thetans, Ron Hubbard and various celebrities. And the joke where they (the supposed aliens reading this book sometime far in the future) are pointing out that many, many of us questioned whether or not the pope was catholic. That was a good one. It is a funny book. Best taken in small doses, but I was in a hurry.--Patrick

Infamous / Suzanne Brockmann

Infamous by Suzanne Brockmann. 433 p.

A.J. goes to a movie set to convince the historical consultant that the story presented is all wrong--the "hero" of the Wild West, Quinn, was really a villain, and the "villain," A.J.'s great-grandfather, was really a hero. Alison, the consultant, is curious, although she's not going to buy it until A.J. comes up with some evidence. But A.J.'s biggest source of information is his great-grandfather's ghost, who's following him around and talking to him. Explaining that is going to be problematic, especially since A.J. is a Gulf War vet with a mental health discharge and PTSD & alcoholism issues.... This book didn't really work for me; Alison & A.J.'s issues are treated a little too realistically for something that's just fluff, but the ghost and the suspense subplot are too fluffy to fit with a more serious book. I have no problem with any of the individual components Brockmann's working with here, but they just didn't gel for me in this case.

Veil of Night / Linda Howard

Veil of night by Linda Howard. 340 p.

After a bad day at work, Jaclyn stops in a bar for a drink. She (metaphorically) runs into Eric, a very attractive man whom she literally ran into earlier in the day. They hit it off and have a one-night stand. The next day, each of them wonders if they might continue dating...but then one of Jaclyn's clients is murdered after publicly assaulting and firing Jaclyn, and Eric is the detective assigned to the case. Complications ensue. Jaclyn's a wedding planner, so we get to see some comical weddings along the way. As usual, Howard's male hero is a tad too alpha to suit me; in real life he'd be annoying, but in fiction it's fine. After the last couple of nonfiction books I've been slogging through, this was a nice, light change of pace.

Guarding the Golden Door / Roger Daniels

Guarding the golden door: American immigration policy and immigrants since 1882 by Roger Daniels. 340 p.

I'm interested in the topic of this book, but found actually reading it to be an incredible slog. The two major points I came away with are 1. America's immigration policies have been racist and nativist for as long as those policies have been codified in legislation--it's just that the targets of the policies change and 2. Every time America changes immigration policy, the patterns of immigration change, but never in the fashion that the policymakers expect it to. Also, back in the day (up until the 1920s), a woman born in America would be stripped of her citizenship if she married a non-citizen.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Desmond Seward   264 pp.

Since I'd gotten into the "Mistress of the Art of Death" mystery series which involves Henry II & Eleanor, I thought it would be helpful to have a little more background information about their lives. This biography is pretty straitforward and covers her 82 years quite thoroughly. My only complaint was the author's repeated assertion that Richard the Lion-Hearted's homosexuality was caused by his domineering mother's control of him (brothers Henry, Geoffrey, & John were not gay, however). Other than that it was well-documented and pretty thorough for it's short length. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery / Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas

A nicely organized book, with recipes for basic cupcake flavors which can be mixed and matched with different frosting (mostly buttercream) recipes. The basic chocolate was very chocolaty, which I like, but too heavy. My search for the perfect cupcake/cake recipe goes on.

Jar City: a Reykjavik Thriller / Arnaldur Indridason 274 p.

This series was heavily touted on NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge, and I think the author was interviewed, too. I was excited to read it, but this first one was only so-so, I thought. In a very soggy basement apartment in a Reykjavik neighborhood which is apparently sinking back into marshland, something sinister (and a little smelly) has happened. Genetics feature into the detective work here, which is appropriate since the Icelandic population's genetic homogeneity make it home to a high-tech DNA database. Smart but dreary.

The Black Path / Asa Larsson 384 p.

Apart from Henning Mankell, this author (not to be confused with Stieg) stands out for me as the most intriguing of the Nordic Noir-ers. Her stories are set in and around Kiruna, in the north of Sweden, and this title dealt, in part, with a community of Sami (ethnic Laplanders). Her two main characters, prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson and Detective Anna-Maria Mella, are a study in contrasts. Rebecka seems to be quasi-suicidal most of the time, while Anna-Maria is a sunny mother of 4 who's also pretty skilled with firearms. She doesn't get much sleep because her small children kick her in the face throughout the night and her husband farts in his sleep. Why do I identify with this? I will say no more...

A Philosophy of Evil / Lars Svendsen 306 p.

I guess it was inevitable that after reading a truckload of Scandinavian crime fiction I would feel the need to read a Norwegian philosopher's take on evil. While I was reading this my husband worried that I was reverting to an obsessive Stalin/Hitler/Jack the Ripper bio phase I went through some years ago, but I think I've gotten that out of my system. I genuinely liked this book. It was much smoother reading than anything I remember from college philosophy class; I may even sort of understand Kant now! Svendsen isn't interested so much in individual horrific acts, as with serial killers, but in the evil which we are all potentially capable of. To that end, he looks at ordinary citizens and soldiers in Nazi Germany, Vietnam, and Kosovo, primarily. Very interesting.

One Day / David Nicholls 437 p.

I was out with some friends recently, and they got into an argument about this book. One loved it, the other thought it was annoying. I'm in the squishy middle here. This is a romance of sorts; it spans 20 years, but only looks at one day (the same one) out of each of those years. The main characters go to University together in Edinburgh, then head their mostly separate ways in London after graduation. The writing is good, definitely engrossing, lots of humor and some real poignancy. It very strongly echoes McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (or maybe it's just that all scenes of druggie debauchery read the same). My biggest beef is with the use of a particular plot device toward the end which I detest but won't name.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Goose Girl/Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale; young adult, fantasy; 400 pages (about 9 hours, listening)

This was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up, though I always wished there was more explanation included. Shannon Hale claims to have felt the same way, which is why she wrote her own interpretation of the story. This is my first foray into Hale's works, but I have to say that the praise I've heard is deserved. The characters were amazing, and I once again found myself unable to stop reading. The audio book was done with a full cast, so there are many different actors voicing the characters--which I also loved. If you're interested in the plot, I suggest checking out SurLaLune, which has the original story (with footnotes) as well as modern interpretations. Hale's book sticks to the original story pretty closely, but there's enough fresh material to make it work.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dexter is Delicious/Jeff Lindsay

Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay; mystery, suspense; 350 pages

Vampires, serial killers, and cannibals. Really, what more could you want in a book? Dexter (the serial killer with a conscience--sort of), continues his adventures, this time tracking two missing girls in Miami. Evidence suggests that they've been abducted by a group of vampire wannabes, which normally wouldn't be a problem for our hero, but since the birth of his new daughter, he's feeling a little more human, and less like a monster. Lindsay's writing continues to hit just the perfect note of sarcasm, and I loved seeing Dexter try to wrestle with shocking new things like emotions. A good entry in a fun series.


Night by Elie Wiesel  120 pp.

This was one of those "one of these days I need to read that" books. It's Wiesel's account of his life as a teenager during World War II and his survival in various Nazi concentration camps. It's an awful story but important story.

Beast/Marian Churchland

Beast by Marian Churchland; graphic novel; 152 pages

I love retellings of Beauty and the Beast, which is why I picked this up. I also found that I loved Churchland's art, especially the depiction of the shadowy Beast. The story is pretty modern: a sculptor is brought to a run-down old mansion to create a portrait in marble. Her patron only appears at night, seems to be made of shadow, and is called only "Beast." I loved this take on it, and Churchland's storytelling is subtle--filled with pregnant pauses and long silences. My only complaint about the book, in fact, centers on that subtlety: When Colette, the artist, realizes she loves the Beast, it felt very rushed, and not quite natural, given how little we had seen them together for the rest of the book. I'm willing to take the blame on that--I read this in a single sitting, and may have rushed through the parts that I was meant to linger on. Still, I'll be interested to see more work from this writer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies/Paul Murray 661 pgs.

Well, the title kind of gives it away but there is a lot of other stuff happening in this book. Skippy is a boarder at his private school and he is typical with friends, sports, and a crush on a beautiful girl from the school next door. There are many significant characters in this book and it really weaves together what we see of other people and what is actually going on with them. Many interesting stories but you can't help but feel bad for know why right? - Christa

Loving Frank

Loving Frank/Nancy Horan 377 pages.

This is a fictionalized account of the real life affair and tragic end between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. There are parts of this book that strike me as a romance but there is much more to it when you learn about the historical context and how much scandal was created by this affair at the time. Mamah is an interesting woman with deep seated feminist ideals who is just so crazy about Frank that she sometimes sets aside her own goals. I guess it is her journey that was most interesting to me although I am interested in FLW too. I've not been to Taliesin in Wisconsin but have toured Taliesin West in Arizona. Now I will have to go to Wisconsin and see the site that was really designed for Mamah even while Frank was married to another woman. The end is tragic but the events don't point of the inevitability of such a thing...I guess that is usually the way of real life. - Christa

Star Island

Star Island/Carl Hiaasen 337 pgs

Cherry Pye is a pop star with very little talent but a taste for the partying. She has a body double to stand in for her when she is too trashed to make an appearance. This double gets kidnapped by an aggressive photographer and the usual Hiaasen craziness ensues. One of my favorite characters, the ex-governor makes an appearance and some crazy new characters will fill your imagination. This is a typical book for Hiaasen but that is why I like it. - Christa

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes, Fiction, 598 pages. Check our catalog.
Downloadable Audio.
When we first meet Marine Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, new to the bush, and fresh from the world, he is struggling to remember just some of the 212 names of the men in Bravo Company. All the Marines, black kids and white kids, look the same to him. He came to Vietnam from Princeton, thinking that if he was running for congress someday, it would be good to do so as a former combat Marine. As the book is winding down, sixty some days and 590 some pages later, congress never crosses his mind, but he does know everyone's name, all of the splibs and the chucks (it's in the book, read it), the living and the dead. He's just Mellas now, or Mel, and he has lived a whole life with them on this one small patch of South Vietnam, on the two hills; Matterhorn and Helicopter hill, near the Laotian border, coming to understand something about the difficulties of race relations, something about love and hatred, and something about the nature of good and evil in this beautiful, sad book. I read this one, but we also have it on downloadable audio and on CD. Really a wonderful book, but for those who don't get the significance of the subtitle, there is a bunch of shooting, killing, and dying-so be warned.-Patrick

Friday, October 1, 2010


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

Participant/Books /Pages

Patrick 13/3,885
Karen 12/3,586
Christa 12 / 3,211
Susie 8 / 1,955
Cindy 12 / 3,222
Annie 9 / 2,285
Linda 5 / 1,826
Eliana 2/
Kathleen 3/
TOTAL 76/ 19,972