Thursday, June 30, 2011

When the Women Come out to Dance by Elmore Leonard

When the Women Come out to Dance by Elmore Leonard, 228 pages.
This excellent collection of stories really shows Leonard's range. It also features the story of Raylan Givens and his old friend Boyd Crowder. They used to dig coal together, but now Crowder is leading a skinhead group, Crowder's Commandos, and Givens is a United States Marshall. This story was the basis for the TV show Justified, and even though some changes were made for TV, the show and the story match up well together. The rest of the stories in this collection are very good also, particularly the title tale and one called "Tenkiller".

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The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi

The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, 283 pages, thriller.
The fourth of Ghelfi's novels featuring ex-Spetsnaz Colonel, and current gangster, Alekei "Volk" Volkovoy is a disappointment. Volk, who is also a full-time secret officer serving under the shadowy General, seems to have lost his way. There is a dead journalist, a big-time nuclear waste scandal about to blow, and crazed assassins, but the story never really gels.
Interesting moments, but not up to the other three Volk novels.
Volk's Game, The Venona Cable or Shadow of the Wolf are all much better books.

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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, 328 pages, Western
One of my favorite books this year. This is a well written tale about two assassins in the old west, Eli and Charlie Sisters. They work for a man named the Commodore, killing those he wants dead, seldom asking why. Eli narrates the story, and he is beginning to have second thoughts about their chosen profession. As the brothers head west for California, they argue, revisit old feuds, and try to decide whether or not they will keep killing.
Eli's is a unique voice and this was a joy to read.

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The Complete K Chronicles / Keith Knight

The Complete K Chronicles by Keith Knight. 501 p.

Keef is an alt-comics artist (and rapper); this huge collection starts in the early 90s and runs up into the Bush administration. The later strips become somewhat more political, but I always enjoy his take on things. I especially enjoy the tales from his second job working in a youth hostel. And I cannot express how much I love the little woolly sheep that turns up in the background of so many strips.

Plus I find that cartoons from the relatively recent past--editorial, or in this case more sociological--are a great way to pick up on culture change. Often I think "I remember that! Wait, how old is this? Wow, I didn't things had changed (not changed) that much."

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Spiral by Paul McEuen

Spiral by Paul McEuen, thriller, 312 pages.
Paul McEuen, a professor of physics at Cornell, has written and entertaining and intelligent thriller, one where the science helps speed the book along. Liam Connor has long kept a secret concerning a biological agent developed as a doomsday weapon by the Japanese in the waning days of WWII. Now, sixty some years later, that secret is out and someone wants whole lot of people are going to start dying. Connor, or his granddaughter and great-grandson must figure out who is behind this and how to stop them.

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The Steampunk Bible / Jeff VanderMeer with S.J. Chambers

The Steampunk Bible: an illustrated guide to the world of imaginary airships, corsets and goggles, mad scientists, and strange literature by Jeff VanderMeer with S.J. Chambers. 224 p.

Ever wonder what Annie and I are talking about when we discuss steampunk? You can find the answer here. I came to steampunk from the fiction side of things, so I appreciated the primer on art, making, fashion and music. On the other hand, if you're only familiar with "steampunk" as an adjective describing jewelry with gears or neo-Victorian dress, this book will give you a grounding in the literary end of things, including the influences of Verne and Wells. Plus there are some really cool pictures. I think this elephant is my favorite.

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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education - by Diane Ravitch

This may be my favorite book of the year and I am not an education policy geek. Ravitch goes through the major educational reform movements and shows the successes and failures of each. She demonstrates why the worst reform movements are the ones that treat schools like businesses. From New York to San Diego, Ravitch puts in countless hours of research before writing up her findings in surprisingly readable prose. This is a good book that gives great insight into why large urban districts are "failing". I first heard about this book on The Daily Show. The conclusion I drew from the book is that we are much better off with educators in charge of education.

13 Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson

Ginny receives a package with 13 little blue envelopes from her "artistic" aunt. The package was delivered to Ginny upon her aunt's death. Each envelope is an instruction, "Take a plane to London and find this address...". These 13 envelopes take Ginny on a journey halfway around the world. She meets an interesting cast of characters along the way. The envelopes provide Ginny with insight into her aunt's life and the people she met before her death. While the method is similar to that in the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, the story is much more uplifting. It is a fun book to read.

The Singer's Gun - by Emily St. John Mandel

Anton Walker grew up in a corrupt household. His parents sold stolen goods and he and his cousin Aria began selling fake passports and other documents at an early age. As Anton tries to get out of the family business, his cousin is starting a whole new side to the business: human trafficking. This novel traces the corruption, back-stabbing, infidelity, murder that surround Anton's life.

In addition to Anton's family and business, he is to be married to a woman who has canceled the wedding twice already. What a twisted life this man leads. The book has enough intrigue to keep the pages turning and is set in some beautiful places. Really worth reading.

Darkness Under the Sun - by Dean Koontz

This is a spooky story about a killer named Alton Turner Blackwood, a man so ugly he could scare animals. He has a chance meeting with a boy whose injury has left him physically unattractive. While the boy tries to strike up a friendship with this transient, Blackwood is planning to torture and kill the boy's sister and mother. Through a couple of twists and turns the boy realizes that Blackwood is not his friend at all. Koontz creates a character in Blackwood who is as evil as the boy is innocent.

This is a short novel and serves as a prequel to What the Night Knows. Good stuff!

Hick - by Andrea Portes

Luli is a survivor in a poor, dysfunctional family. Luli's mom is an opportunist with a dramatic flair and her father is a drunk who is hopelessly in love with her. They drink, they fight, they drink some more, they fight some more. Luli knows how big the fights are going to be by how many drinks her parents have had. A three-drink fight is nothing but a nine-drink fight - look out! Luli takes off one day and gets picked up from a roadside ditch by Glenda. From here things get pretty bad for Luli. She deals with some pretty ugly stuff and comes through pretty much intact. This story is told in first person from Luli's point of view. This is a great read! Luli draws you in to the narrative and does not let go!

The I Hate to Cook Cookbook, by Peg Bracken, 144pp.

Yes. I read it cover to cover. I've often seen this little gem mentioned in other cookbooks and essays by food writers, and a glance at the recipes (heavy on the employ of condensed soup and other canned ingredients) will have you wondering why. But it's the absolute hilarity of the thing! Sometimes tacky, always clever, and occasionally un-p.c., it's the subversive commentary that will keep you reading. Peg Bracken is the Amy Sedaris of the golden age of mid-century entertaining, except that....I'm a little embarrassed to say I actually learned a few things I'd like to try.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 528 pp.

I've watched every film version of Little Women at least three times, some of them more, but the only version of the book I've ever read is an abridged version I borrowed from my cousins one Christmas, probably around the age of 11 or so. Had I only known what I was missing! If you're relying ont he films to understand what has captivated readers (and film makers) for all these years, it's not too late. Read the original!

Clockwork Angels/Lea Hernandez

Clockwork Angels by Lea Hernandez (Texas Steampunk book 2); graphic novel, steampunk; 112 pages

My second attempt at this series, which as far as I can tell ends with this volume, even if that was not the author's intent. The focus of this volume is Temperence Bane and her friend Amelia: Temper is famous as a mentalist (one who can "read" the dead), and makes her living doing magic shows in the parlors of the wealthy. Most of her act is just that--an act orchestrated between Temper and Amelia, with no magic involved. But Temper really can read the minds of the dead, and when she is asked to read a murder victim, she and Amy find themselves running from a dangerous killer of supernatural origins.

This second volume ofHernandez' series show improvement over the first in both art and storytelling. However, I felt like this story was trying to cram too much into too small a space. Yes, brevity might be considered part of the genre, but Hernandez has a LOT of different elements going on here, and while they are all addressed, they felt rushed in many places--so much so that the romance that should have been central to the story felt perfunctory. This is disappointing, because I felt like this could have been a really great graphic novel, but instead was only so-so. I'm also disappointed that the third volume mentioned in the author's afterward doesn't seem to have ever been published. I would have enjoyed watching her improve on her technique.

Curse of the Spellmans

Curse of the Spellmans/Lisa Lutz 409 pgs.

The second in the series about the Spellman family of private investigators. The central character Isabel is a nut but her younger sister Rae is often my favorite. Rae has managed to become such a manipulator that I love her. The side story about her first boyfriend is such an aside but so great when you find out how Rae's mom deals with the information that her youngest *has* a boyfriend. Isabel is always interesting but I do wonder a little about her PI abilities since the central plot is about her suspicions that a neighbor is evil. Still very entertained by this book and will certainly continue reading the series.

Under the Dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King, 1074 pages

After a month and a half of labor, I am finally done reading this brick of a book. And I've got to say, I'm kind of glad I read it. King's tale of a rural Maine town literally cut off from the rest of the world by a transparent dome is pretty good, despite the time it took me to read it. The characters (of which there are hundreds) are all incredibly well-written, particularly town selectman Jim Rennie, a villain who makes Harry Potter's Delores Umbridge look downright cuddly. Rennie, I think, is the reason it took me so long to finish the book. As a crooked politician who believes God is on his side (no matter how many truly horrible things he does), Rennie seemed a little too real for comfort and I kept cringing at the idea of what he might do next. King didn't use paranormal or even too much of supernatural beings in this book, yet he had me so freaked out that I dreaded turning the page. That, my friends, is horror at its finest.

As a side note, in King's author's note at the end of the book, he writes that he started work on this book in 1976, got 75 pages in and gave up. Too afraid to continue, until he tried again in 2007. Reading that after slogging through the preceding story made me feel a bit better about my own experience with Under the Dome. If the author got freaked out by the enormity of the story, then I suppose it's alright that I did too. Although I must say that for my next book, I'll be turning to something considerably lighter (weight-wise, that is).

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea/ Chelsea Handler

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler mayhem, sexcapades, humor, alcohol/drug use, adult 272 pages

After reading Handler's breakout hit "My Horizontal Life," I had expected the next Chelsea Handler book to be more of the same. I enjoyed her no-nonsense partying stories and her unique outlook on the world around her. Honestly, though, I did not enjoy this book as much as the first (although I do have to give Handler credit, the title is AWESOME).

My biggest problem with Handler's book is a problem that occurs to anyone who professionally specializes in mayhem such as Handler or her male counterpart Tucker Max--- Their fame catches up to them. Once when they were just ordinary people, they found themselves in such hilarious and crazy situations that you knew they weren't made up because even the sickest person couldn't dream up some of their debacles. Once you become famous by writing a best-selling book on your exploits (and get your own TV show in Handler's case), such ridiculousness becomes more Hollywood. The guys Chelsea sleep with at this point know her through the business and know who she is and what she's famous for. She balances embarrassing herself and her roommate on a cruise ship with chatting up her agent about a TV gig. It all seems a little sold-out to me. This inevitably happens to people like Handler, but she should've taken a page out of Tucker Max's book and saved some of her pre-fame stories for a possible follow-up novel.

I will say that there is one story in the book that meets the expectations of the first book and even rockets past them. This story involves Handler's first and only DUI one week after her 21st birthday and a subsequent trip to a women's prison. I don't want to reveal any more than that, but it is one story that will leave you laughing so hard that you're crying a little.

Quality of her stories aside, Handler is an excellent storyteller, and I believe her storytelling style is what makes the books so good. She could have a story about a phonebook and make it interesting (probably by lying, but still). Handler does have a third book "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang," and while I am hoping that it is as good as the first, my gut tells me it'll be more like the second...either way, Handler's good enough that I owe it to myself to give it a try.

The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists/ Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman graphic literature, adventure, mythology, dark fantasy 224 pages

In writing this blog post, I have fulfilled my promise to read the first four volumes of Neil Gaiman's dark fantasy graphic novel epic, The Sandman. When I made this promise, I said I would read the first four volumes and decide only after reading those volumes whether I would continue on and finish the saga. If one has been following my posting, the choice to abandon this series would seem like an obvious one because I hated volumes 1 and 3, and was only pleased by volume 2 when it is compared to the colossal waste of paper that is volume 1. Now, I'll throw you a curveball--- I'm going to keep reading. This is not out of some delusional sense of reader's honor where I finish whatever I start. I will continue reading because Neil Gaiman finally hit a home run with volume four: Season of Mists.

After the monumental waste of time that was the vignette style in volume 3, Gaiman returns to the long arc form. This volume tells one major story (with the exception of one chapter, which seems out of place, but if I've learned anything about Gaiman, it's that i'll be eating my words on that one before too long) and that definitely works. This volume's story deals largely with Morpheus' quest to free a lover who he condemned to Hell ten thousand years ago. When he tries to rescue her, Morpheus meets up with Lucifer, lord of Hell. Lucifer explains to Morpheus that he is quitting his job and kicks everyone, from tormented souls to demonic torturers, out of Hell and gives Morpheus the key to his now-abandoned realm. Morpheus must then make the decision over what to do with the key, a decision that becomes even more difficult as he is propositioned by many different members of various mythological pantheons.

The point in the story where all of the Gods and mythical creatures start showing up is definitely a highlight. As someone familiar with mythology, I was extremely pleased to see Norse Gods like Odin and Thor dining next to Bast, the Egyptian cat Goddess and Remiel and Duma-- Angels from Heaven. Each of these Gods has their own personality (the belligerent and constantly drunk Thor is a personal favorite) and make for very interesting characters with different things to offer Morpheus in exchange for the key, all of which seem appealing. The conclusion of this storyline is a solution that will leave the reader and many of the characters satisfied.

I was also intrigued by the brief, but all-too-important presence of Dream's siblings, the Endless. Up to this point, we had been exposed to Dream, Death, and Desire, but now we get to meet two more as well as get hints at the identity of a third (a question that is still driving me NUTS). The two additional endless-- Destiny and Delirium, are both deep characters with strong story potential. I really hope Gaiman continues to keep the Endless at the core of this epic.

If I had one criticism of this book, it's that a chapter concerning a haunted boarding school was included. I understand that this was an excellent way of showing the reader what the Earth was like now that souls were locked out of Hell, but it seemed really out of place with everything else that went on. Furthermore, the conclusion of that chapter seems interesting, but then it proves pointless because the souls must return to Hell at the end of the story when ownership of Hell is finally decided.

I am really excited to keep reading, which is something I never thought I would say until now. If anyone decides to pick up this series and takes stock in anything I say, PLEASE read until the fourth volume. Everything else you read might be crap, but the fourth volume is 100% worth it. I promise you.

as much as I hate to do this....
Annie Fuller Credibility Rating (pre-volume 4): -1
Annie Fuller Credibility Rating (post-volume 4): 1 (it REALLY is that good...this is no joke)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Warmth of Other Suns / Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: the epic story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. 622 p.

A fascinating look at a period of history that was never covered in my high school history classes: the great migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North. Wilkerson grounds her book with in-depth discussion of the lives of three specific people, which illuminates the more general discussions. Well worth reading.

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Behemoth / Scott Westerfeld

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. 485 p.

Book two of the trilogy. I was somewhat disappointed in the development of Deryn and Alek's relationship in this one, but the setting is amazing. Looking forward to the final book in the trilogy this fall.

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Curse of Pharaohs/Elizabeth Peters

Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody Mysteries, book 2); mystery, historical fiction; 285 pages (about 10 hours on CD)

I'm still immensely enjoying this series. This book picks up about 7 years after Crocodile on the Sandbank, with our main characters happily married, and parents to young son who may be an evil genius. Amelia and her husband are called away from their family home, however, to finish a dig that's been cut short by a series of tragedies. The string of events (everything from sickness to injury to death) has lead most to believe there's an ancient curse at work, but Amelia believes there's a more mundane cause, and she's out to catch the culprit.

I LOVED the relationship between Amelia and Emerson as it was portrayed in this book. Amelia is too practical to get choked up on emotions, but it's clear that she and Emerson are crazy about each other, even in their arguments. I'm looking forward to picking up the next book in this series, The Mummy Case.

State of wonder, by Ann Patchett

Like her celebrated Bel Canto, this new novel is set in South America, in this case, somewhere in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil. It opens in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where Dr. Marina Singh learns, through a distressingly curt and incomplete note from Dr. Anneck Swenson, that her office mate and fellow researcher, Anders Eckman, has died and been hastily buried at the outpost in the Amazon where the secretive Swenson is investigating a promising new fertility drug. He had been sent out by the pharmacology lab’s head, Mr. Fox, to find out what exactly is going on, since Dr. Swenson refuses answer questions by phone or computer – and is, in fact, not revealing exactly where she is doing her work. When he fails to return, Marina, who is in a romantic relationship with Mr. Fox, is sent to complete his mission and bring back anything belonging to him to his wife and three young sons. She also has an earlier connection to Dr. Swenson, who was her teacher in medical school and is, in part, responsible for Marina fleeing medical practice to the safer field of pharmacology after she committed a traumatizing surgical error. With many echoes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness, the story follows Marina as she pushes deeper and deeper into both the jungle and the secrets it holds. Although the writing is evocative and the characters well-drawn, there was something about the novel that I found somewhat off-putting and I finished it feeling vaguely disappointed. Perhaps the Heart of darkness theme is a bit forced, and the symbolic names (Eden Prairie, a real place, is clearly Eden to Marina, who loves its flat, wide-open spaces, so unlike the smothering embrace of the jungle) got to be a bit much. 368 pp.

When god was a rabbit, by Sarah Winman

A very good novel peopled with eccentric, vivid characters, not the least of which is the rabbit named “god.” Elly begins life in just as her mother’s parents’ lives end in an accident. With her mother grief-stricken during Elly’s early years, she bonds instead most closely with her older brother, Joe, who at eight is “already hooked on the verse of Noel Coward and the songs of Kander and Ebb.” It is this relationship, along with that to her mysterious childhood friend, Jenny Penny, who lives with her mum and a series of “uncles,” that form the emotional core of the book. However, there are so many other wonderful characters, such as her father’s theatrical sister, Nancy, who introduced him to his wife, mostly to keep her near; and the aging fop, Arthur, who arrives as a guest to her parent’s B&B in Cornwall and stays the remainder of his life. Ranging from London, to Cornwall, to post-9/11 New York, the book explores love and loss – with a great deal of humor and a little bit of magic. 296 pp.

Sapphique/ Catherine Fisher

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher YA fiction, adventure, prisons, fantasy, science fiction, sequels 464 pages

This sequel to Fisher's brilliant fantasy/sci-fi prison epic, Incarceron is not without its merits, but pales in comparison to the first installment and it's clear at about the halfway point in this book, the author ran out of steam and was beginning to tire of her own fictional world, which NEVER benefits the reader.

The story takes off a few months after the last book ended. Finn has escaped Incarceron and is now living as prince of the outside realm, but he has left his friends behind and the guilt of not being able to save them is certainly draining him. Meanwhile, on the inside, Keiro and Atya seek the glove of Sapphique, the only other person besides Finn to ever escape Incarceron, with the hope that it will grant them freedom from the clutches of the evil sentient prison. My problem with this installment's story is that Fisher created this brilliant environment, but chooses not to explore that which makes it so great, the human populated areas of Incarceron. I would've loved to venture more into the makeshift cities and learn about gang hierarchy and prison economy. Unfortunately, Fisher forces her characters to trudge through the empty caverns and wastelands within the prison. It also seems like the combinations of characters are forced and Fisher just switches people from inside the prison to outside the prison and vice-versa until every combination has been fulfilled at some point.

Fisher's ability to trick the reader is still present, but honestly there's no mystery worth solving except for the question of "Who is Sapphique?" and this question may be the most sloppily handled of all Fisher's plot arcs. The most exciting stuff still seems to be the actions and motivations of the prison, because as a conflicted character, it is also someone who the reader can both hate and pity. Incarceron can only hear about the outside because to escape would be to escape itself, which is impossible.

My final problem is one with the series as a whole. You may not understand this unless you read the series but in 900+ pages of dangerous adventure, we only see ONE good character die. I understand that losing a lovable main character can be rough, but it needs to happen sometimes. If this prison is so dangerous, then how the heck can EVERY member of this ragtag group of heroes make it out alive. I mean, one character even manages to find a way to cheat a terminal illness and survive past the end of the story. It's not like I wanted Fisher to kill off everyone, but it just seemed like a few more tallies on the casualty counter wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world.

Not the worst...certainly not the best. If you read Incarceron, you'll definitely feel obligated to pick this one up, but it's not gonna amaze you in quite the same way that the first one did.

Incarceron/ Catherine Fisher

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher adventure, YA fiction, fantasy 464 pages

Incarceron is an interesting marriage of science fiction and fantasy because of Fisher's interesting choice of placing a futuristic, tech-heavy sentient prison within a world that is, by choice, stuck in the 1800's (although futuristic technology is peppered in the story). This creative setting is the marquis to Fisher's "Incarceron," and it's what gets people to pick the book up, but it is Fisher's talent as a storyteller that keeps you reading page after page.

What I am about to say may sound a bit rash, but I'm going to say it anyway-- I think Catherine Fisher is one of the most talented storytellers I've read recently. This doesn't mean that she's told the best story I've read recently (that award still goes to Justin Cronin's "The Passage") but Fisher knows exactly how to trick readers in the way we enjoy being tricked. Too often in stories the author poses a mysterious unanswered question early in their book that the reader tries to predict (if not out loud, then just in their head, but believe me--they're doing it). Fisher is no exception to this rule, but what makes her so great is that she has the reader wondering about this one mystery so intently that she has time to drop plenty of other bombs on the reader while they're too busy trying to solve the first mystery (which ends up not mattering all that much, which makes Fisher's talents in this department even more awesome).

The characters in Incarceron are the most boring aspect of the story, with the two main characters, Finn and Claudia, being some of the most boring and vanilla protagonists I've read in some time, but their plainness is redeemed by interesting side characters like Finn's arrogant "sworn brother," Kerio and Claudia's father, the dark, brooding Warden of Incarceron. Finally, the most interesting character of the story doubles as a person and a place: the prison itself. This isn't one of those things where the details of the prison make it act like an extra character, the prison actually acts and speaks which makes for a super cool character with plenty of interesting conflict.

While not as great as some other YA favorites (Hunger Games, Inheritance Cycle, Harry Potter) Fisher's storytelling talents make this one a must-read.

Mobbed by Carol Higgins Clark 255 pages

Mobbed is a light funny mystery set at the New Jersey Shore. Nora and Jack Reilly plan to spend the weekend with Nora’s parents when Nora receives a call from her mother asking her to arrive early to help her monitor the garage sale being given by her friends unpredictable mother. The mother has advertised that she is selling items belonging to a famous actress who had rented her home and left them behind. The actress disappears after dead roses are thrown at the rented house. Unable to contact their daughter, the actress, Cleo’s parents hire Nora to find her. There is also a disreputable boyfriend of one of Nora’s friends who Nora and Jack witness becoming engaged to one of the women running the garage sale. Nora is following leads in every direction while trying find Cleo. The leads sometimes become tangled.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie...

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss  208 pp.

This is an unusual, artistic, and creative take on the life and work of Marie Curie, her husband Pierre, her lover Paul, Langevin, and her daughter and son-in-law, Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie. Using drawings, transparencies, cyanotype prints, photos, articles, maps, and more, Redniss presents the story of the Curies plus related information related to radioactivity, nuclear weapons, Chernobyl, and more. It's always intriguing although frequently the text is hard to read on the colored pages. While I was familiar with the lives and work of the Curies and their offspring, there was much in the side articles I didn't know. Added notes and appended information, including an explanation of cyanotype printing, adds to the experience.

This is a fascinating book both for the subject matter and especially the wonderful way it is presented.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol. 4

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol. 4 by Philip K. Dick  144 pp.

In this installment, Rick Deckard administers the empathy test to bounty hunter Phil Resch so they can both find out if he is an android. Isidore, the "chickenhead" continues his infatuation with the newcomer to his derelict building, Pris. He brings her food and while at her apartment two of her friends arrive. They have a discussion of how the bounty hunters have killed the rest of their group of android escapees from Mars. They make plans to protect themselves. Deckard takes the bounties he received for his last kills and uses it for a down payment on a real live goat.

This volume also contains articles by three other authors about how Dick's writing influenced them.

Cathedral Child/Lea Hernandez

Cathedral Child by Lea Hernandez (Texas Steampunk, book 1); steampunk, manga; 112 pages

The setting of this book is what made me pick this up. Set in a remote part of west Texas in the late 19th century, this is the story of Glory and Sumner, two brilliant mechanics who can communicate with the great machine known as Cathedral. The goal of the Cathedral project is to create a sentient machine, but Cathedral has never quite lived up to that goal--until Glory starts to speak with it.

This story had a lot of promise, but didn't quite live up to it. Or maybe it did, and I just didn't get it--because I found this book almost impossible to follow at some points. It's not just the art (which is good, but doesn't handle action scenes particularly well), but the page layout and the way Cathedral's "speech" is handled: the disembodied "voice" of the machine would probably be really cool on film, but is hard to distinguish from narration and thought bubbles in the text, and confusing as to how I should interpret it (is this music, with a translation included? An actual voice? R2-D2 noises???). I'll still pick up Hernandez's next book in this series, in the hopes that she's improved her storytelling a little.

The Fast and Furious 5 step Organizing Solution

The Fast and Furious 5 step organizing solution by Susan Pinsky 223 pgs.

I am always looking for the painless way to get/stay organized and I still haven't found it. What I have found, I believe, is the most honest organization book I've ever read. The author shows pictures than tells how much time she has budgeted with the owners of the mess to go through it, weed it and organize it. VERY REALISTIC. None of this "we spent 20 minutes and took care of a decade worth of paperwork". Another focus of the book is what you really need. You don't need 5 sets of sheets for every bed in the house. In fact, she says wash and put the same set on and save yourself the folding chore and the storage space. I think the very BEST part of this book, compared to other organization books is that there is NO product guide in the end. In fact, she figures most people already have too many containers, etc. and can use what they have. In fact, lots of them can probably go. She advocates over the door hooks and a few sorting trays. Sounds like most of the people featured in the book bought VERY few and VERY cheap items to help them get organized. I love that attitude and would say this is one of the best books on this subject that I've read.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck

A short road trip down to Monterrey when we were last in the Bay Area would have been enhanced by rereading this famous short novel prior to going. This gentle and humorous series of interconnected vignettes involving the colorful, often struggling, characters that lived on Monterey’s Cannery Row during the Depression has kept its appeal over the intervening decades. Sentimental – yes – full of prostitutes with hearts of gold and indigents living an almost blissful life despite privation, but still affecting. 196 pp.

War and Peace / Leo Tolstoy lots of pages, about 750 so far

I had intended to post several blog entries about this one; I guess the half-way point is better than never. At the risk of annoying my colleagues, I have to tell you that I LOVE THIS BOOK! I read it at least 20 years ago and found it tough going. Now, though, I love the slow arc of the characters' development. Even the battle scenes are interesting this time - I try not to focus too much on the details, some of which I don't understand anyway; instead, I just pretend to be facing a giant canvas in a museum, and let the picture spread out in front of me. I'm especially impressed by the way Tolstoy pulls powerful visuals from small details. He doesn't need to tell us everything about Princess Maria's dress or hair, he just says that in a time of grief she spends hours pulling at the buttons on the sofa. To me, this is a perfect image.

At our first W&P meeting, my small group seemed to generally feel that Tolstoy was disparaging toward women. I disagree. He was certainly a 19th century aristocratic male, but he also spent an awful lot of time observing women very closely. And, if the extent that a writer moves away from the virgin/whore dichotomy in female characters measures his progressiveness, then Tolstoy does pretty well. Sure, Helene is a consummate whore and viper, but Natasha can't be neatly slotted into a category, and she's the important one. At least I think so, at the moment. What do you think?

To Be Sung Underwater / Tom McNeal 436 p.

A funny title for a novel set almost entirely in Nebraska. The premise is familiar - what if I had married that other guy? - but McNeal freshens it up and makes it almost authentic. Judith has creature comforts, a nice-looking husband and child, and a job editing TV dramas. As mid-life looms, she becomes preoccupied with a man she left behind in Nebraska to head off for Stanford. She becomes fixated to the point of renting a storage locker and constructing a sort of shrine to their romance, complete with the original bed and quilts on which they first, you know, kissed. This is just weird enough to make me like the character (and the author), but ultimately stories like this are doomed from the beginning: they either end sappily or tragically. A very fast, absorbing read, and the Upper Midwest landscape is rendered beautifully, by an author who has clear affection for that country.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan: a graphic biography by Andrew Helfer 103 pp.

I only picked this up because I enjoyed the other graphic biographies in this series. This one was almost as good as the ones by Rick Geary. It is a pretty accurate accounting of Reagan and his politics, his rabid anti-communism, using 'sound bites' to his advantage, his manipulation of facts, and his foibles. I was confused by the depictions of Reagan's first wife, Jane Wyman, as a blonde but on investigation I discovered that she frequently had blonde hair in her younger days. This book shows how Reagan was a much better actor while in office than he ever was in the movies.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?/ Steven Tyler

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler autobiography, drugs, sex, rock n roll, music 386 pages

There are two things I learned upon reading this book-- 1. Steven Tyler is insane. 2. I Hate Steven Tyler.

I was excited to read this book because I like a lot of Aerosmith's, Tyler's band, music and was interested to hear the story behind it. Also, I had recently read Keith Richards' autobiography and was surprised at how much I enjoyed hearing about the hard-partying debauchery of the rock n roll community. Unfortunately, Steven Tyler is no Keith Richards, but he'd be the last person to tell you that. This book proves that Steven Tyler is one of the most loathable egomaniacs in the music industry.

Tyler is a crappy writer (yes, I know, most famous people don't actually write their own autobiographies, but since Tyler's name is attached to this, I'll ask HIM to track down the hack responsible for this book and give him an earful from me). He picks completely random points to skat-skat-skeebow for a paragraph or interrupt what could actually be interesting prose with far too much descriptive and unnecessary lyrical rhyming. We get it, Steven, you're a songwriter...we've all heard your songs so stop trying to prove this point by filling your book with senseless nonsense.

I was also surprised at how much hearing Steven Tyler's perspective on inter-band drama and family drama made me hate him more. You'd expect that Tyler would at least TRY to twist the perspective in his favor, but instead paints himself out to be a complete tool and rationalizes his toolishness by saying "I'm a lead singer, they need me to be this way." A perfect example of Steven making you hate him is when he discusses his unending trips to rehab. I understand that kicking a drug habit can be extremely difficult, but after all of those supposed "clean slates," Tyler admits that he is still using drugs. What is his rationalization, one might ask? Well, Steven Tyler says that it's not a bad thing that he does drugs because other members of the band (he's too classy to name names...*gag*) are using drugs too and people are hypocrites for not calling them all out. Tyler presents his problems in a way that a six year old would-- constantly passing the buck and selfishly rationalizing everything he can't pass on with his ultra-inflated ego.

If you like to read about Rock n Roll, partying, the music industry, and crazy stories from "Life" by Keith Richards. If you've already read that one and are feeling especially masochistic, pick up this one and prepare to hate only one person more than yourself by the end of it...Steven....Freaking....Tyler

Sandman Volume 3: The Dream Country/ Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Volume 3: The Dream Country by Neil Gaiman graphic literature, adventure, occult, dark fantasy 160 pages

This truly leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Neil Gaiman certainly has a way of turning my interest into a roller coaster ride. First, he writes volume 1, which is the single most uninspired piece of trash I've ever read. Then, he almost redeems himself with the gripping story and interesting characters of volume 2. Those of you familiar with momentum would expect (like I did) that volume three will continue in this upward swing. Unfortunately, those of you would be just as wrong as me. To call volume 3 a collection of chapters seems wrong, because it is actually a series of lame vignettes that are interwoven only by the fact that Morpheus, the saga's protagonist, makes an appearance in each. What a lame waste of a volume.

The first of these vignettes tells the story of Calliope, a muse captured by writers who rape her in order to harness her inspiration and use it for their own ends. Calliope, a former girlfriend of Morpheus, seeks the aid of her powerful ex-lover in order to be free from the imprisonment of the aforementioned captors. In Morpheus' revenge, we get to see just how powerful the Sandman is and his vessel of vengeance is so creepy that I had chills multiple times in this chapter. Gaiman manages to do creepy without doing interesting, which is harder to do than one would think. Verdict: Boooooooooooooooooo

The second vignette tells about the secret life of cats. Yes, that's right-- Cats. As in HOUSEHOLD CATS!!! All of the neighborhood cats are travelling at night to meet a messiah cat who gives a speech in an old clearing about her journey to meet Morpheus (who is, unsurprisingly, perceived by cats to be a cat). A pointless chapter where Gaiman's only redeeming facet is that he uses some beautiful language. Unfortunately, such language tells a crappy story. Verdict: Boooooooooooooooooo

Next, we have one of the laziest pieces of graphic literature I have ever read. The third vignette tells the story of Shakespeare's first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the last volume, Shakespeare and Morpheus made a deal, and this deal was never revealed to the reader, but they learn now that Morpheus is responsible for two of Shakespeare's most lauded plays-- the aforementioned "Midsummer" and a second play yet to be revealed (although it's OBVIOUSLY gonna be the Tempest). There are about 5 panels in this whole chapter that feature lines not stolen verbatim from Shakespeare's play. If I had wanted to read the Midsummer graphic novel, I would've picked it up--- I'm sure someone's thought of that already and if not, they could make decent money with it. Verdict: Booooooooooooo

Finally, we see a vignette that focuses not on Morpheus, but on another of the Endless, his sister Death. This story shows Death's involvement in a woman cursed with an extremely weird superpower taking her own life. The woman's superpower is that she can turn any material into any other material, but unfortunately, the same goes for her body, so she looks really weird. She lives in her dark apartment chainsmoking her life away while she flirts with the Veteran's check clerk on the phone. Besides being depressing, this chapter is kind of gross because we get to see her failed attempt to mask her now-ghoulish appearance when she shows up to lunch with a friend and her false face falls into her pasta mid-conversation. This brief vignette gives us some exposure to Death, who is definitely one of the more engaging and equally mysterious characters. Verdict: face-pasta ewwwwwwwwwww all-in-all Boooooooooooooo

What more can I say besides....
Annie Fuller Credibility (pre-volume 3): 0
Annie Fuller Credibility (post- volume 3): -1

Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House/ Neil Gaiman

Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman graphic literature, adventure, occult, fantasy 240 pages

I liked this volume of Neil Gaiman's dark fantasy epic "The Sandman." I didn't love it, but I certainly did like it. For those of you who read my review of Gaiman's first volume (a review that will live in infamy as one of the most scathing reviews of any person, place, or thing that I have ever written) I am wondering the same question as you: Was this volume really good, or did it just seem good in comparison to the absolute pile of livestock excrement that made up the first volume??? I honestly think that I will never know the answer to this question, so I will attempt to explain myself without relying too much on comparison to the first volume, although that is almost impossible (especially when you consider how much I like ranting about stuff I hate). Here are a few reasons I really liked the second volume:

This may seem like a given, but those who have read Gaiman's first novel will remember that it was mostly just aimless meandering with a little bit of plot thrown in there. Volume 2 features a major plot arc that the reader can not only follow, but be interested in. This story splits focus between the Sandman and another interesting protagonist, Rose Walker, a human who also, for some unknown reason, acts as a vortex in Morpheus' land of dreams. Morpheus' story focuses on locating some of the rogue dreams that have abandoned his dreamland (which may seem eerily similar to his quest in the first volume, but believe me, it's better) while Rose's focuses on her quest to locate her long-lost younger brother. These quests intertwine in a way that makes sense without feeling forced.

Gaiman has a great imagination. Nobody can argue that. That is why I was so bothered by the fact that he chose to populate his world with both boring characters such as the less-than-diabolical Dr. Dee and interesting characters borrowed from other DC franchises (John Constantine anyone??). The characters in Gaiman's second volume were both original and deep. I especially enjoyed reading about the hauntingly horrible character known as the Corinthian and Morpheus' undying friend Robert "Hob" Gadling. Gaiman makes new characters that are interesting and fleshes out old characters to make them more interesting. Both work extremely well and Gaiman should be commended for that.

As a literature nerd, I was on the verge of peeing myself when Gaiman populated one of the volume's chapters with cameos by some of literature's most renowned figures. Will Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Kit Marlowe all make appearances in the world of Sandman. Such appearances are done in a way that doesn't seem cheap or hokey, which is what makes their inclusion worthwhile. This point may not be worth its own reason heading, but I was especially pleased by it. Also, the second volume features a "Cereal" convention which is actually a clever misspelling that masks the true nature of the convention. Gaiman presents a major convention of serial killers that is both interesting and humorous. The inclusion of such a bizarre plot device manages to work well with the story while also creating perfect breaks in the action by giving the reader insight into many of the humorous panel discussions and industry-talk between avid professional murderers.

So yes, I liked this volume of Sandman a lot. I even have to admit that it almost makes reading the first volume worthwhile just to understand the action going on in this one...almost.

Annie Fuller credibility rating (pre-volume 2): -1
Annie Fuller credibility rating (post-volume 2): 0
Annie Fuller credibility rating (post-volume 3): tune in next time, folks...

Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Oracle

Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Oracle by Chuck Dixon, et al.; graphic novel; 208 pages

Okay, I've officially started this series. This is the first time Black Canary and Oracle have teamed up, but it also introduces the Huntress, and features cameos from Catwoman, Lady Shiva, and other villains of the DC universe.

I'm still not thirlled with Dixon's writing in this series, and to be honest, I got bored with parts of this collection. I'm close to starting the Gail Simone era soon, so I hope the series will improve with new authorship.

Treason at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry 306 pages

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are back in Treason at Lisson Grove. Thomas is tricked into following a supposed anarchist from London to France where he and his “partner” at Special Branch set up a watch over the house the anarchist visited and those who joined him. In the meantime, Victor Narraway who is head of Special Branch is framed for embezzling money that was to be paid to an Irish informant. The result of the embezzlement was death to the informant. Narraway is relieved of duty and heads to Ireland to try to find answers. Charlotte decides that Victor is unable to enter Irish society without his past becoming a deterrent to the investigation but that she could meet with Irish Society. She is afraid that, should Victor fail to exonerate himself, Pitt would be blamed or charged. There would be nowhere for future employment. Treason has treason, murder and treachery woven into a very entertaining story. Charlotte, Thomas, Victor and Lady Vespasia (Charlotte’s aunt) join forces to try to stop the anarchists before the Queen is threatened.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, biography, 904 pages, 14 hrs 20 mins on audio.
Chernow's excellent account of the life and career of George Washington is uniformly well-written and fascinating. Chernow tells of Washington's early days with his father, his mother, and his many siblings and half-siblings (George was the eldest child of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary). When Washington's father died in 1743, George's hopes for a first-rate education died with him. Washington always regretted not having had the best education, but apparently he was able to lead a full life without it. A great read.

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One Word

One Word: Contemporary writers on the words they love or loathe/molly McQuade (ed). 261 pgs.

This is a collection of essays from many authors talking about the one word they love, a few talk about a word they loathe but the love outweighs the loathe. Some of the essays are fabulous and some not quite so exciting. This is a book that I like reading and essay and then think about it. Of course that ends up taking a lot of time. But really, maybe that is the only thing we really have.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nightwing: The Hunt for Oracle/Chuck Dixon

Nightwing: The Hunt for Oracle by Chuck Dixon, et al.; graphic novel; 192 pages

This summer, I'm going to forgo my annual Batman read-a-thon in favor of visiting another corner of the DC Universe: Birds of Prey. I know, this isn't technically a Birds of Prey title, but it came up on every list of important collections I checked, so I'm reading it. Even though I've read Dixon's work on this series before, and couldn't stand it. I'm just that dedicated.

So this story arc finds a young Dick Grayson setting up shop as his own vigilante in Bludhaven, the next town over from Gotham. He's just graduated from the police academy, but isn't corrupt enough to make it into the Bludhaven PD, so right now his crime fighting is confined to his alter ego. Meanwhile, one of the crime bosses of Bludhaved has decided he's fed up with Oracle raiding his offshore accounts whenever she feels like it, and sics a team of hackers on her to track her location. The most notable thing that happens in this book was the first face-to-face meeting for Oracle and Black Canary. The story ends on a cliffhanger, with Black Canary captured and the bad guys thinking she's Oracle. Unfortunately, I think this is one of those cases where the concluding issues have not been collected. So I'm just going to assume that Dinah escapes and everything's cool. Because she is, after all, in the rest of the series.

I wasn't too impressed by this book, and there were two things that kept me from getting into the story: the art, while good, simply isn't to my taste, and I found myself getting confused by the exaggerated porportions; also, the book was littered with typos (the most annoying was characters repeatedly referring to Oracle as a "she" when they've just given a long speech about how they don't know if Oracle is a man, woman, group, or computer program). This is what editors are for, guys. Especially in reprinted collections.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Herzog-Saul Bellow (371 pages)

Saul Bellow is a Nobel Prizing winning author, so it's hard to criticize his book. However, I didn't really like it. This is definitely one of those novels where, although the craftsmanship of the writer is widely recognized, I as a reader did not enjoy the work. Herzog describes the mental state of Moshe Elkanah Herzog (a man with most Biblical name ever), a crazy, emotionally wired Jewish guy who thinks really deep thoughts all the time and works himself into a veritable tizzy while writing mental letters to everyone he knows--the living, the dead, his friends and his enemies. But the letters are actually just Bellow's own intellectual musings, prose that reflects late night conversations he must have had, complete with the snobbish air that accompanies such lofty gibber gabber. Well, I guess it's not gibber gabber--Bellow's thoughts are incredibly complex and of great depth. It's just that he's sort of boasting about his own mental capacity rather than enlightening the reader. He's a hipster from decades past. Also, referencing literal street addresses in New York City and Chicago every five seconds does not make you cool. Neither does including a shocking repertoire of Biblical Hebrew that even a former Orthodox Jew is impressed with. All in all, Herzog is a book of ideas. But unlike writers like Milan Kundera who make me ache from the beauty of the concepts they present, Herzog just kind of kvetches until I say, "Alright, already. I finished the book."

Monsters of Men by Patric Ness 603 pages

Hefty conclusion to the Chaos Walkilng trilogy. Can one boy, Todd and one girl, Viola save the world? Stupid, evil and shallow adults don't seem to worry about the consequences of their actions. Genocidal tyrant Mayor Prentiss leads an army on one side, the terrorist healer Mistress Coyle heads a band of revolutionaries on another, and a massive legion of native Spackle threatens from a third. All three sides see only the complete annihilation of the others as the sole option for victory and survival, no matter how Todd and Viola use their formidable wills to advance peace as an influx of new colonists nears. Don't even attempt to read this before reading the other two books. This is epic in scale and is an interesting contrast to the book I am currently listening to, War and Peace. There is much to think about in the Ness universe and one can't help but contemplate the futility and high cost of war.

Sophomore Year (Vampire High) by Douglas Rees 247 pages

Yes, another vampire book. Actually this was pretty fun. Cody Elliot, who we first met in Vampire High and is NOT a vampire would be all psyched for sophomore year at Vlad (high school for vampires!) except for the arrival of Turk, his very colorfully goth, rebellious cousin. After being expelled from yet another school, his family seems to be the last hope for her. She creates hostility be being rude to his girlfriend, a vampire princess and the duke of vampires at the school. However, she wants a gallery for her artistic creations and discovers an abandoned warehouse that would be perfect....except that it is in the next community that has a horrible prior history in which many of the ancestors of Cody's friends were tortured and slain. Quirky and well-developed characters.

The Eternal Ones What if Love Refused to Die? by Kiirsten Miller by 407 pages

Multiple reincarnations of personalities who refuse to die in a somewhat muddled book. Haven Moore, a high school senior wants to leave the south for New York to find fame in the fashion world. She and her gay pal, Beau are quite talented. But Haven is cursed with fainting spells and vague memories of a past great love and an evil grandmother who wants to keep her locked in her house.But is that great love actually the guy who murdered her? Not the quickest read. This took me several days to slog through.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park 119 pages

Newbery winning author Linda Sue Park takes the reader to another part of the world to meet two young people of Sudan divided by time (23 years) and tribe. Both are under great stress. Nya spends most of her awake hours walking back and forth from the distant water hole bringing her family essential water. Salva has a traumatic day in which he escapes an attack on his village. Although he survives he is separated from his family and becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. This is based on his story and shows what perseverance and hope can accomplish. Memorable.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Zot! 1987-1991: the complete black and white collection by Scott McCloud  575 pp.

This mammoth collection contains 5 years of Zot! comics plus commentary by the author. I was entirely unfamiliar with this comic since in those years I was busy caring for my then small children, not reading comics. The beginning editions were so-so. Girl (Jenny) meets superhero (Zot) from an alternate Earth in another dimension. Superhero fights bad guys on his Earth and takes girl and her friends on escapades on the alternate Earth. In later editions McCloud explores the lives of Jenny's Earth friends. Zot has been trapped in our dimension and attempts to fight the crime that is found everywhere with disastrous results. On his world the crime is confined to acts by specific evil individuals he can fight one on one. In our dimension he learns about poverty, racism, drug abuse, and street crime. These editions also cover other weightier topics like divorce, alcoholic parents, gay-bashing, coming out, and teen sex. The section titled "Earth Stories" is by far the best part of the book. McCloud's commentary covers the evolution of the comic.

Side note: I kept seeing the name of the editor, cat yronwode, in this book and it took quite awhile for me to figure out why I knew that name. Eventually it dawned on me that while I'm not sure I've actually met her, she does attend a con in California that I have attended and owns a little shop there.

Beauty Queens/Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray; young adult; 400 pages

A plane full of beauty queens crash lands on a deserted island. That's Bray's book in a nutshell, but like her previous, Going Bovine, there's so much more to it than that. The girls find themselves in a Lord of the Flies meets Lost scenario, with strange people showing up on the island (including literature-loving pirates!), crazy monsters attacking, and their own insecurities manifesting in the isolation. Ultimately, this is a very empowering book without ever getting preachy. Also, if you're unfamiliar with Bray, her writing is hilarious, and I often found myself wishing there was someone to whom I could read these brilliant lines (I settled for my dog, who mostly puts up with it). The characters are also wonderful--with such a large and diverse cast, it would have been really easy for Bray to slip into stereotypes or caricatures, but she fleshes out each character fully (well, except for the Sarah Palin knock-off, but that's okay). This is easily going on my best of the year list.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Good Turn

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson 418 pgs.

Every once in awhile you are taking a trip and you have a book with you and you are just several pages from the end when the plane lands. Lucky for you, you have some checked bags that are being brought to the jet way and you have another few minutes to read the book while you wait in a row with your fellow passengers. You might have THIS book with you and you might not even be in a big hurry to finish it because most of the details have been wrapped up and you see where it is going. Then you get bored on that jet way and finish those last few pages and at the VERY LAST LINE you are given such a twist to the story that you actually yell out something that makes your fellow passengers stare. You don't really care because at that moment, you consider starting the book from the very beginning and reading it again because it was so good.

This is the second in a series that features character Jackson Brodie and so far the two I've read have been great.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol. 3

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Vol. 3 by Philip K. Dick  144 pp.

At the end of the previous volume, bounty hunter Rick Deckard was being held at laser gunpoint by the android opera singer Luba Luft. She calls the police who take Deckard into custody. Instead of being taken to the building that houses the department he works for, Deckard is taken to an alternate Police Dept. building that is populated by androids. There he is investigated by another bounty hunter, named Phil Resch, who Deckard has never met. Eventually they both come to the realization that Resch is an android also. After partnering to hunt down and kill Luba Luft, Resch is left to decide what to do about himself. This volume also includes writings by Jonahtan Lethem, an author and long time fan of Dick.

Where did Miss Finch go?

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli  55 pp.

The title of this slim graphic novel is almost as long as the book. However, there is a lot packed into it's few pages. A group of friends with the addition of the not-particularly pleasant and argumentative Miss Finch spend an evening attending a bizarre and somewhat creepy circus in an old building. Miss Finch only agrees to join them after being told there are no animal acts. The audience is directed from room to room to observe a variety of circus "acts" by a ringmaster dressed as Alice Cooper from his "Welcome to My Nightmare" days. Miss Finch is then drawn away to be an audience participant in the show. In the end, she is gone...but where did she go?

Dissent Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Cases

Dissent: Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Cases by Mark Tushnet

I listened to this on my MP3 player and found it to be a very interesting perspective on American history. So many of the big Supreme Court cases dealing with race, gender, privacy , worker's rights, etc. were decided one way but years later overturned. So it seems like the justices who dissented on the original cases were ahead of their times. Or maybe so many of the decisions are influenced by politics and public opinion and not so much on the impartial view of the court. Not surprising, there have been many judicial appointments that are based on politics more than competence so the results should also not surprise. Many dissents are quoted in the book and some are not based on the reasoning that you would imagine. I think this book would be interesting to anyone who likes American history or the judicial system.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank/Elizabeth Peters

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody mysteries, book 1); mystery, historical fiction; 273 pages

I started reading this series because I so much enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and had heard from many, many people that the main characters of those books are essentially reworkings of Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson from Peters’ mysteries (that’s very true, by the way: I can totally see Amelia and Alexia sitting down to tea in some alternate Victorian London and snarking about men, society, and parasols. But I digress.) I had also been told by many other sources that this series was worth checking out--so here I am.

This story opens with Amelia in Italy, en route to Cairo. Her father’s death has left her a wealthy, well-educated (and very opinionated) spinster of 32, and she’s decided to do what she always wanted: see Egypt. Along the way, she befriends an honorable-but-disgraced noblewoman and the prickly gentleman archaeologist, Radcliffe Emerson (though maybe “befriends” is the wrong word to use here—Amelia and Emerson are both so stubborn that all they do is fight). While visiting Emerson’s dig, the group finds themselves haunted by a mysterious figure that appears to be a walking mummy, bent on destroying the dig. Amelia sets out to uncover the culprit behind the apparition, while studying the rudiments of archaeology along the way.

I loved this book for so many reasons: The Egyptology is accurate (as it should be: Peters is the pen name of a successful Egyptologist), which is important to me in a book like this. Having an introduction to Eyptology helped, but Peters explains things well enough that even a person with no previous knowledge of the field should be able to pick it up. And yet Peters never goes in for the info-dump; the story sails along smoothly, and Amelia and Emerson’s constant bickering/flirting adds just enough romance to keep it interesting, without turning into an all-out romance. And Amelia and Emerson throw some one-liners into the story that had me laughing out loud. To make it even better, the book was set at Amarna, one of my favorite places in Egyptian history.

I should mention, though, that there were some elements of the book I enjoyed less: Amelia-as-narrator tends to take a very Imperialist view of the Egyptian people that often made me uncomfortable, despite the fact that such opinions fit her time period and character. I think I could have gotten around it, but I really liked Amelia otherwise, and every time she made some condescending comment about the non-British characters, I questioned whether I should like her. I reminded myself that this book was written almost 40 years ago, so maybe later entries in this series will be more enlightened. I definitely going to keep going with the series to see how it progresses.