Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Psychopath Test : a Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.


The Psychopath Test : a Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson. 275 pages.
Not so much a journey through, as a brief (but interesting)look inside the madness industry. Ronson gives us a look at some psychopaths, some psychologists, and some Scientologists in this engaging, readable account. I liked the subject matter and the author's style. I would have enjoyed reading more.

Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin


Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin, Fantasy, 1016 pages.
Martin's epic saga continues in the long awaited fifth volume. "Valar Morghulis" is the watchword for some of the characters. It means "all men must die". Martin drives home that point frequently, so try not to get too attached to anyone in the book, as bad decisions, angry gods, mad rulers, plague, warfare, and betrayal are everywhere in this world. Its a finely crafted world, one in which naked self-interest and betrayal will get you far. I don't know how or when this will all end, but I hope I live to see it.

The Secret Seven: Look Out Secret Seven by Enid Blyton

The Secret Seven: Look Out Secret Seven by Enid Blyton, Juvenile fiction, 160 pages
My kids really liked this. But I consider a bunch of kids who refer to their club as the SS, and feel the best way to handle adult, male criminals is to meet them in a lonely patch of woods at night to be a little lacking as role models.

House Divided by Mike Lawson


House Divided by Mike Lawson, 345 pages. thriller.
Joe DeMarco, son of a Mafioso, and "fixer" for the Speaker of the House, returns in the fifth, and best, of the series. Speaker Mahoney is out of the picture and DeMarco's close friend Emma is on a cruise, so when Joe is drawn into a shooting match between a secret Army-hit-squad and the NSA, he has to figure a way out by himself. A great series that keeps getting better.

The Internet is a playground : Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius by David Thorne


The Internet is a playground : Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius by David Thorne
Thorne, and much of this book, can be found at www.27bslash6.com. He's very funny, and more than a little mean. I spent too much time feeling sorry for several of the people in the book who draw the author's ire (maybe not Shannon, cuz she doesn't seem to notice, and not Simon, but Lucius and John and maybe the goth). Those who ask for it, by sending unsolicited, poorly written, or crazy email to the author, are fodder for justified mean humor, though. A very funny book

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex


The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, 423 pages, fantasy.
I read this a couple of years ago and loved it. It has taken me a long time to get my kids to agree to listen to it. I'm glad that we listened to the audio, because Bahni Turpin does a fabulous job and has become one of my favorite readers. She does a great J-Lo (the invading Boov have unpronounceable names and may take common Earth names to put us at our ease). Twelve-year-old Gratuity "Tip" Tucci writes a school essay about what Smekday means to her in the post-invasion days of 2013-2014. She recounts her adventures with J-Lo and their Booved-auto, "Slushious," as they travel across the land, avoiding Boov and Gorg, and trying to find Tip's mom.
Layered, weird, and funny, Smekday is great.

The Internet is a playground

The Internet is a playground: Irreverent correspondences of an evil online genius/David Thorne 354 pgs.

This guy tries to pay a bill by sending (via email) a drawing of a spider. When this does not fly, he requests his drawing back. That is the opening gambit in a book that hits all the high notes of email and internet idiocy. So many great stories and exchanges punctuated by personal stories of David's "friends". This guy is a nut and I appreciated almost every entry in this book which may be more telling about me than anything else. I'm going to go out on a limb here and make this my second recommendation to Nate with whom I'm currently batting 1000. I have very little fear that this will damage my average.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell


Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, 304 pages, thriller.
Bazell's 2009 and thriller about an ex-mafia hitman turned medical student is even funnier on the second reading. I still find the shark tank and the knife fight won with the fibula a bit much, but overall this is a great read. Can't wait for Bazell' next book.

Tiassa / Steven Brust

Tiassa by Steven Brust (the 13th Vlad Taltos novel). 335 p.

Before I started this book, I thought about why I liked the first book in the series so much more than later ones. I decided that it was because the first one was a caper, with lots of setup involving Vlad's friends. (It's been a long time since I reread it, but that's what stands out in my memory.) So the first main section of Tiassa was extra fun for me, because it is...Vlad setting up and carrying out a caper. I love Vlad's narrative voice. On the other hand, the later section, which features the narration style that Brust uses in the Khaavren books, reminds me of why I was never able to read The Phoenix Guards or other books in that sequence: the style is incredibly irritating. And, as usual after reading a new Vlad book, I feel like I need to go reread the whole series, because I'm sure I'm forgetting important details.

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Among Others / Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton. 302 p.

I read several rave reviews of this book when it came out a few months ago, but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Morwenna is trying to adapt to her new life--crippled by a car accident that killed her twin sister, shipped off to a snooty English boarding school (she's Welsh) by the father she's just met, hoping that her mother won't find her.... Joining the local library, where she can get interlibrary loan books for free, and then joining the science fiction book club the librarian tells her about, changes her life again.

Anyone who was an avid reader as a teenager--especially anyone who grew up reading science fiction, as I did--should definitely check this out.


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Girl Genius 10 / Phil & Kaja Foglio

Girl Genius 10. Agatha Heterodyne and the guardian muse by Phil & Kaja Foglio. 152 p.

I read GG as it's published online, but it's always a treat to read a complete volume in one sitting--the pacing feels so much different in book format than it does online. This volume ratchets up the interpersonal violence, but we also get some marvelous sparkiness (mad scientists Being Mad, that is), and crucial information about a supporting character that I've never liked but that I respect more now. Plus the Gil/Tarvek rivalry is particularly hilarious here.

I'm a huge fan of this series and encourage everyone to read it. That said, do not start with this volume!

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Heartless / Gail Carriger

Heartless by Gail Carriger (book 4 of the Parasol Protectorate). 385 p.

I loved the first book in this series, then didn't care as much for the next two. This one was all kinds of fun, though. Lots of balls in the air as Alexia juggles her job, her personal life, and her person (she's 8 months pregnant when the book begins). The solution to stopping the vampire assassination attempts was unexpected but enjoyable. Alexia investigating by pretending to be a servant seeking a new position while heavily pregnant was hilarious. And we find out some interesting backstory about one of my favorite characters. I had a hard time buying one aspect of the grand finale--c'mon, there's no way Alexia wouldn't know those facts about vampires--but overall it was so much fun I was willing to handwave the stupidity. Looking forward to the next book in the series.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Batman: The Widening Gyre/Kevin Smith


Batman: The Widening Gyre vol 1, by Kevin Smith, et al.; graphic novel; 200 pages

After the terrible reviews of Smith's last Batman story arc, I admit I was a little nervous about picking this up. However, this turned out to be a pretty entertaining look at the Dark Knight. In his afterward, Smith refers to this story as Batman's mid-life crisis: he sees Tim Drake "pulling a Nightwing" soon, and leaving his side to fight crime solo. Also, a new, younger superhero has started appearing in Gotham--maybe someone who could one day replace Batman? At the same time, Silver St. Cloud, one of Bruce Wayne's old flings (who knows about his double life as Batman), shows up, and starts making noises about getting serious about their relationship.

Yeah, when I sum it up like that, this volume sounds kind of lame. But Smith peppers the story with enough inside jokes and great one-liners to keep things interesting. My one complaint was that it was really, really weird to see Bruce Wayne smiling so much in this volume, but I see that changing in part two. Yes, there's a part two. And I promise, however bored you might get with the Batman-dating storyline, after the last panel in this arc, you're going to be dying for the next volume. I know I am....

Skin Hunger/Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey (Resurrection of Magic, book 1); dark fantasy, horror, young adult; 368 pages (about 10 hours on CD)

Skin Hunger is two stories, told in alternating chapters: In one, Sadima is a gifted girl growing up in a world where magic has been outlawed. Her own hidden magical abilities make her an outcast in her own family, so she seeks out a small group trying to recover the ancient lost spells, and perhaps pass them on to future generations. The second story is that of Hahp, one of ten boys attending a school for wizard training, hundreds of years after Sadima's time. The training is brutal and needlessly cruel, and the boys (many of whom where sent there against their will), know that only one of them, if any, will live to graduate.

I LOVED this book. This was one of those where I got so wrapped up in the story, I failed to notice that I kept missing turns, or taking long routes so I could listen to just one more chapter. There's not a lot of action here, but the quiet personal stories more than make up for that. Lest I make this sound sappy, there's also a growing sense of fear and dread as we get to know certain characters, and realize just how determined/stubborn/crazy they are. There's a lot of deep themes explored here, too: love, abusive relationships, revenge, long-term exposure to cruelty and it's effects on the psyche. Things just kept getting darker as the book went along, but I was so wrapped up in the characters that I couldn't look away. I can't wait for the second volume to arrive.

The Last Striptease

The Last Striptease/Michael Wiley 247 pgs.

Violence, sex, porn and a kooky P.I. why isn't this book better? I listened to the audio and it was not the best narrator...I'm not sure why that is how I feel either. The guy's voice seemed very much what I would expect Joe Kazmarski to sound like. I just can't put my finger on what was kind of lame about this book. I'm interested enough that I may try the next one in the series but it will take me awhile before I want to. So much "casual" killing in this book and maybe since I read the last Kurt Wallander book too close to this, it just didn't seem right.

"Apple" vol. 1

"Apple " *Graphic Novel* (vol. 1) - by Various 250 pages.

I can't say I really liked this book for it's great story telling, most of it is translated from Korean, thus making it slightly confusing to read...after it's been translated into English. Even with the language barrier, the stories are still imaginative and creative. There's one story about a prince and princess that can turn into giant monster...wolves (for lack of a better term). They were sent to protect...something... WELL at least the illustrations in this book are to die for.

Emily, Alone by Steart O'Nan


Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan, Lit Fic, 255 pages.
A wonderful book that is sweet without being maudlin or overly sentimental. Emily Maxwell is in her seventies, living alone since her husband died six years ago. Her best friend died a year or so ago, and now it is just Emily and her best remaining friend (and sister-in-law?) Arlene, driving carefully around town, adjusting to changes and quietly mourning what has passed.
A touching and well=written book.

"Vent" vol. 1

"Vent" *Graphic Novel* (vol. 1) - by Various 224 pages.

I love UDON Entertainment Corporation, but I hate the fact that they are ALWAYS late with publishing works (I'm still waiting on my Monster Hunter Illustrations). Either way, they are good at content and Vent is no exception. Filling the 224 pages of this book are three very intrinsic stories and a load of tutorials on how to draw characters, cover pages and more. This book is very stylized, to the point of which I felt bad for breaking the spine (I like to take in everything). If you like slice-of-life stories and sci-fi westerns. then you might like this book.

The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives/ Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman dark fantasy, mystery, graphic novel, occult, adventure, thriller 256 pages

I enjoyed this volume because it deals largely with the Endless-- Morpheus' family consisting of Morpheus himself (or Dream), his sisters: Death, Delirium, and Despair, his sister-brother Desire, and his brothers: Destiny and a final one to be announced after reading this book. Normally, I'd relish the option to ruin something this big for other readers, but I enjoyed stressing over figuring out who this guy was (Hint: his name starts with a "D") and I want all of you to have fun with it too.

Gaiman returns to his linear plot-form and it works out well. The major plot arc of this volume is that Morpheus and his sister Delirium are looking for their long-lost brother, and they must travel the Waking World looking for him. Although they travel together, Delirium is the only one who really wants to find their brother. Morpheus is mostly going along with it because he thinks that he might run into his recently broken-off romantic interest (an interest who never actually appears in the book...yet?) The light-hearted and cooky Delirium is a perfect foil to the starchy and serious Dream, and these two seem like they could have their own buddy cop show if they really wanted to. Their constant bickering and disagreement makes for a very entertaining read.

If I had to complain, there would be two major points I'd argue with on this volume. The first is that the side characters are all very one dimensional. Gaiman's previous characters were complicated and well-designed, but it seems like the characters introduced in this volume were all motivated by only one thing, which made them predictable.

My last complaint is that the long-lost brother Endless turns out to be a pretty big sap by the end of the story. It really does suck to see a character with such promise living a zen-like existence on an abandoned island somewhere (okay that's a little bit of a spoiler, deal with it). I understand that this black sheep may actually be the wisest of all his brothers and sisters, but I don't wanna read about what's smart. I want to read about what's EXCITING! Have him living in a van down by the river turning tricks for crack or something...COME ON!

Annie Fuller Credibility Scale (pre-7): 1
Annie Fuller Credibility Scale (post-7): 2

The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections/ Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman graphic novels, dark fantasy, adventure, historical references 292 pages

A lot of my problems with this volume come from the format. I'm going to repeat something I said about Gaiman's Vol. 3 when I say that I HATE DISCONNECTED VIGNETTES! Tell a story for chrissake! Yes, these vignettes were a little more connected because they featured characters that we had already seen before, but I still would've rather seen a major story arc.

Some of the vignettes, especially those featuring more prominent historical figures (which seemed to be a theme in this volume) were really out of place. One vignette, which featured Caesar Augustus and a midget pretending to be beggars, was especially bizarre. Similarly, Gaiman tells a story by having us follow Marco Polo through a desert in the dream world in which the only redeeming quality is a brief cameo by Fiddler's Green, one of my favorite characters from Vol. 2.

That being said, there were a few vignettes that were connected by one character--- Morpheus' son, Orpheus (I know...really clever naming scheme there, Neil...) Before you start ragging on the fact that Morpheus' son is just his name without the "M," you should know that the story's Orpheus is the one from Greek Mythology. He went into the underworld to rescue his girlfriend and all he had to do was not look back at her until he got out of the underworld, but he couldn't help himself and lost her forever. We see a more expanded version of this Greek tale that features a fusion of the Greek pantheon and the Endless-- Morpheus' brothers and sisters. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this story are the first appearances of the black sheep of the Endless family, their red-headed brother whose lack of pallor and abundance of likable personality set him apart from his brothers and sisters. You can definitely tell that Gaiman is enjoying teasing readers with this character.

While the Orpheus storyline is enjoyable, it isn't even told in a linear fashion, which could be cool, but is instead obnoxious and confusing. You learn some things about Orpheus in the present that ruin his story from ancient times. A little planning on Gaiman's part would've been nice.

Annie Fuller credibility scale (pre- 6): 2
Annie Fuller credibility scale (post- 6): 1

The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You/Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman graphic novel, adventure, fantasy, occult, thriller 192 pages

I had mixed feelings about this volume of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" saga. The subject matter was certainly one that was interesting, because it shifts between the real-life experiences of Barbie, a character Gaiman introduced all the way back in Volume 2, and the adventure she has inside her Narnia-esque dreamworld. We got the first glimpse of this bright, colorful, fantasy world in Vol. 2 also, and I remember even then I was interested in seeing more of it because it stood out from the dark and depressing worlds that Gaiman normally sets his story in.

My one major problem with the story was that with the exception of Barbie and Morpheus, every character in this volume is new. Don't get me wrong, adding new characters is important when one is trying to keep a series fresh, but let's not abandon all the characters that the readers have grown to love just because you want us to understand the grand scale of your imaginary world. This isn't something that particularly bothers me about this volume, but all the volumes up to this point. Yes, this is Morpheus' story and constantly changing the characters around him forces the reader to focus on him, but bringing back a major character from a previous volume to appear as a major character wouldn't be the end of the world...

Another thing I noticed reading this volume is that Gaiman is EXTREMELY interested in gender ambiguity. He repeatedly populates his stories with men dressing up as women, women dressing up as men, pre-op transsexuals, and other characters who blur the gender divide. In the case of this volume, that line is blurred by Wendy, a pre-op tranny who wants to fully become a woman, but due to her financial situation, can't afford to get rid of one very crucial bulge. After this fact is revealed, Gaiman puts Wendy in his/her underwear for the rest of the book and proceeds to graphically remind the reader in every frame that Wendy is no woman by featuring a pronounced bulge. This may be the artist's doing as much as Gaiman, but I still have yet to understand Gaiman's message about gender ambiguity (however, knowing Gaiman, it will be revealed to me at the last possible moment).

The plot of this story is exciting and the twists and turns make it very interesting to read. Barbie's dream world, where she teams up with talking birds, rats, and monkeys to take on an evil adversary known only as the Cuckoo, is both beautiful and exciting. Gaiman also manages to create a world that may seem childlike and innocent, but is still plagued by darkness and corruption however deep one must look to find it.

While I was torn on this volume, I must admit that I enjoyed it more than I was bothered by it, and the bitching and moaning featured in this entry was mostly concerning minor pet peeves. Honestly, if you're this far into the series, you're gonna keep reading anyway, so why bother taking my word for it anyway?

Annie Fuller credibility scale (pre-volume 5): 1
Annie Fuller credibility scale (post-volume 5): 2

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fallen by Karin Slaughter 388 pages

Georgia Bureau of Investigations Agent Faith Mitchell arrives at her mother's house and finds the front door open and blood on the doorknob. Inside she finds a dead body and a hostage situation unfolding in the other room. However, her mother is nowhere in sight. When the scene turns even deadlier, Faith becomes a suspect and relies on her partner Will Trent and doctor Sara Linton to make sense of what happened at her mother's home. Will and Sara work with the GBA on a parallel investigation with the Atlanta PD which is not sharing crime scene information. Will and Sara’s attraction to each other grows and their brain storming about the case helps formulate theories on motives and suspects. The Faith and Will books by Slaughter are always fast paced and intriguing but Fallen seems to move more quickly than normal. Many threads are pulled and secrets revealed before the answers are found and everyone is safe.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block 319 pages

Matthew Scudder sits with a long time friend and reminisces about the first year anniversary of his sobriety. Matt tells his friend about running into Jack Ellery, an acquaintance from grade school, at an AA meeting who is later found shot to death. Matt was asked to investigate by the Jack's sponsor and the investigaion, in usual Matt Scudder fashion, becomes an involved journey through Jack's life before he joined AA. Matt, too, battles his demons. He remembers his struggle to understand his alcoholism and fight to stay sober. Matt is not alone in his search or struggle for sobriety. He calls on some old police buddies to check back stories of some of Jack's associates and partners in crime. He checks in with a former confidential informant of his to see if there is any chatter on the streets. Matt works through the end of a long-time relationship with another alcoholic and finds a few more friends while working the case. Matt Scudder is one of my favorite Lawrence Block characters. He could be a real person with real problems that he tries to work through. Matt slowly unravels the mystery leading the reader through the process making one feel like a participant.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Theodore Boone: the Abduction / John Grisham 217 p.

Another hit at my house for Grisham's 'kid lawyer,' Theodore Boone. This second installment has Theo at wit's end over the disappearance of his best friend, April Finnemore. Although she comes from a seriously dysfunctional family, Theo certainly doesn't expect her to vanish. When the police focus their time and resources on a man Theo believes is innocent, he goes to work with his fellow middle-schoolers to get to the bottom of things. A steady pace and nice balance of suspense and humor make this work; while Theo's investigations take him to the dark sides of town, he's grounded by his own loving, comfortable home.

Lost in Shangri-la :A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff.


Lost in Shangri-la: a True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff, 384 pages.
This account of the rescue of two Army Air Corp servicemen and one WAC from a remote mountainous area of New Guinea during the waning days of the war provides an interesting story that does not quite live up to the hyperbole in the title. After a C-47 transport plane crashes into a mountainside during a sight-seeing flight over an inaccessible valley in New Guinea, four survivors must hope that the air crews at the base on the other side of the mountains can find them before they all succumb to their wounds, starvation, jungle-type infections, or the supposed dietary habits of the locals. Once they are located by the US Army, someone has to figure out a way to get them out. The Army discards the possibility of using sea-planes, despite newspaper stories from several years back that told of an expedition to the area using sea-planes. The method of extraction the Army chose was cooler, riskier, and a bit unnecessary. An interesting story that could have been told in a shorter book.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bossypants - by Tina Fey

How can you not love Tina Fey? Throughout this book she tries to make it seem like she has succeeded in spite of herself. She is immensely talented! There are so many places in the book that are laugh-out-loud funny. She tells amusing stories about the cast of Saturday Night Live, gives good overviews of the politics of the show, and also goes way back to when she was in theatre in Chicago. The stories of her time at SNL playing Sarah Palin are hilarious! The book is conversational and a really quick read. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - by Stephen Chbosky

I loved this book. Charlie is an odd 15 year old kid who spends a lot of time reading books to quiet his brain. We are let in on the fact that Charlie had a breakdown a while ago and while he is recovering nicely, his family is still on the lookout for signs of problems. Charlie makes some friends including Patrick and Sam, who are brother and sister. The list of "first experiences" that Charlie has in this story is long and yet he makes it through in pretty good shape. It is the secret he has been carrying since childhood, though, that was the reason for his breakdown. This is a must-read for anyone who likes quirky characters. These few sentences did not do the book justice.

The Social Animal - by David Brooks

David Brooks writes a pretty fascinating book about how a person's culture affects his life. He alternates chapters about human development and psychology with chapters that use characters that embody these characteristics. One of his major points is that people develop in relation to others and in relation to the experiences they encounter in life. The events that help shape an individual (family life, friends during childhood, tragic events, etc) influence how a person lives their lives. This point may seem obvious but along the way Brooks feeds the reader a steady diet of psychological studies that shed light on why people behave as they do. An interesting read.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Affection and trust

Affection and trust : the personal correspondence of Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson, 1953-1971, 343 pgs.

Harry Truman is still my favorite president and reading this LARGE collection of letters between him and Dean Acheson (his Secretary of State) is quite wonderful. The two men had a mutual admiration society for each other and thus the letters reveal a lot of personal details and thoughts. The title of this book says it all. Wonderful.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin, 232 pp.

Remember The Enchanted April? I've always loved that movie, and so I read and really enjoyed the book a few years ago. When I saw Elizabeth and Her German Garden on downloadable audio, I had to have a listen, and I'm so glad I did! Tons of lovely description of her garden with equal measure of her saucy wit, kept me listening. Written probably around 1898 or so, this book is ahead of it's time in its commentary on chauvanism and the rigidity of European /Victorian social mores, not to mention the fact that she was a woman, and a spunky one at that! Loved it. Must get my hands on The Solitary Summer, sequel to Elizabeth and Her German Garden.

The dirty life : on farming, food, and love by Kristin Kimball, 276 pp.

Books about urban, suburban, and otherwise unlikely farmers seem to abound these days, but if you only read one, choose this one. Manhattan journalist Kristin Kimball falls in love with the quirky, ambitious CSA (comuunity supported ag) farmer she travels to rural Pennsylvania to interview and ends up starting a new 500 -acre CSA with him near Lake Champlain in upstate New York. It is, indeed, filled with the nitty gritty down and dirty details of their farm life, as well as the difficulties of nurturing a relationship (and planning a wedding!) under such stressful circumstances, but despite the stress, cold, exhaustion, and dirt, it's a pleasure to read!

Smokin Sebenteen by Janet Evanovich 387 pages

Books by Janet Evanovich are a delight, quick read ( I can’t usually put them down) and hilarious! Smokin’ Seventeen is no exception. Stephanie Plum is my favorite Evanovich character. She is intelligent without but hides it well. She has a knack for getting herself into trouble with the bad guys she tries to apprehend as part of her job as bounty hunter for her cousin Vinney. Stephanie also finds trouble with the two men in her life. Ranger, the secretive security expert waits patiently while Joe Morelli, the cop is busy with bodies being dumped on the site of the old bail bonds building. Stephanie’s mother and Grandma Mazur are trying to get Stephanie married off by inviting an old school mate of Stephanie and Joe’s to dinner. The former high school football star looks like the perfect fit and Stephanie’s mom encourages her to dump both Joe and Ranger for a more “conventional” type of man. As usual for Stephanie, a car is demolished, more dead bodies are found and some of the skips for whom she is trying to “reschedule” a missed court appointment are strange but typical for her New Jersey town. You cannot help but laugh out loud when you read the Evanovich books and Smokin’ Seventeen is no exception.

Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder 388 pages

Nick Heller is called by an old friend of the family to find his daughter who has been kidnapped. Nick drops everything to find Alexa Marcus only to discover that her father is lying to him at every turn. Nick has few clues to go on. Alexa was supposed to be out with her best friend but when Nick tries to ask Taylor Armstrong about what happened to Alexa her US Senator father puts up roadblocks. Nick calls in favors from friends with covert backgrounds to try to track Alexa’s last known movements. He finds South American drug dealers and Russian oligarchs who have interests in the business dealings of Alexa’s father. This book is fast paced and full of surprises. Nick is involved with the FBI and a former member of Russia’s KGB. The rush is on to track Alexa’s captors and find where she is being held before the monster charged with holding her is released to do his worst. It is always a pleasure to read one of Finder’s books. They never disappoint.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Batman: Face the Face/James Robinson

Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson (writer) and Don Kramer (art); graphic novels, superheroes; 192 pages

It wouldn't be summer if I didn't get a least a few volumes of Batman read. This one opens after the events of War Games (which I still haven't read, so I'm kind of in the dark on certain points of the story). Batman, Robin, and Nightwing have just returned after a year away from Gotham. In their absence, a recovered Harvey Dent has been tasked with keeping the streets safe. Upon Batman's return, however, someone begins brutally killing various members of the Gotham underworld, and all evidence points to Dent. Has Harvey gone back to the dark side?

Initially I wasn't too crazy about the art in this issue, but it grew on me as I went along. That's not to say it's without flaws: there are a few points where Bruce Wayne's outfit changes from panel to panel or, on the writing side of things, characters slip up and use the wrong name to describe someone. Still, this was a fun, if grisly murder mystery. Also of note: this is the story arc where Bruce Wayne formally adopts Tim Drake as his son. Awww.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The man who smiled

The man who smiled/Henning Mankell 325 pgs.

Kurt Wallander is ready to retire from the force. This book starts 18 months after the last one. Kurt isn't coping very well with the weight of the knowledge that he killed a man. It was self-defense but this is a Swedish mystery, not a US mystery where people rarely think twice about death (at least in the books). Kurt gets a request from an old friend to look into the car wreck that killed his father. When the friend turns up dead, Kurt decides he must return to work to figure out what has happened. The rest is standard Wallander...I don't say that as a negative, it is always awesome. Looking forward to the next in the series.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Psychopath Test: a Journey through the Madness Industry / Jon Ronson 275 pp.



I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though I didn't agree with all of Ronson's points. Among other things, Ronson traces the cases of several patients who have been classified as psychopaths in the U.S. and Great Britain through the use of the 'test', which allows clinicians to score a person based on the assessment of 40-odd personality traits. The varying degrees to which the test appears to fail or succeed, and the stories of the potential psychopaths themselves, are fascinating.


From the psychopaths Ronson veers into shakier territory: a brief history of the development of the DSM and an analysis and condemnation of the use of hard-core drugs for pediatric bipolar disorder. He paints the DSM with a fairly black brush in just a few pages, and spends an equal amount of time on the pharmaceutical companies. I can't find anything wrong with his arguments; my problem is that these are huge issues which can't be properly explored in so little space.


Add to that Ronson's arch style and his tendency to relate everything to himself, and we have an entertaining and provocative book which I wouldn't cite in a research paper.




Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories about Mental Illness / Darryl Cunningham 139 p.



An intriguing and moving book in which Cunningham shares stories and insights about his time working as a nurse assistant in an English psychiatric hospital. The topic is very well suited to Cunningham's artistic style. Something about the faceless outlined figures suffering in various poses is quite moving. The latter portion veers into personal confessional which I found less interesting than his straightforward depictions of various mental health challenges.

Eleven: a novel

Eleven: a novel by Mark Watson 302 pgs.

Chris Cotswold had a life changing tragedy but eventually picks himself up and moves to a new country and starts a new life as Xavier Ireland. Xavier seems like a good guy, he is the better half of a radio show duo who plays some music but is known for giving advice to callers. This book shows the relationship between events and people ala the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Xavier comes upon a situation but doesn't effectively intervene, this, in turn ripples through the community as people react to information and situations that exist because of this one event. A fun premise but more importantly, the characters are real and relate-able. The cover of this book mentions One Day by David Nicholls which almost convinced me NOT to check it out but I'm glad I did.

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park  121 pp.

Using the true story of one of Sudan's Lost Boys, Salva Dut, Newbery Award winning author Linda Sue Park has written a riveting account of Salva's journey from war torn Sudan to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, to Kenya, America, and back to Sudan. In alternating chapters with his story is that of a young Sudanese village girl named, Nya. The story begins when 11 year old Salva has to run from his school when gunfire announces the arrival of the fighting. Unable to return to his family and not knowing their fate, he joins a group of refugees walking east to Ethiopia. After braving lions, starvation, dehydration, a river crossing, and the desert he arrives in a refugee camp where he lives several years. Forced out at gunpoint, he then travels to Kenya and then is transported to the U.S. as part of a program to rescue Sudanese orphans. Nya's story is that of a young girl forced to walk many miles twice a day to get water for her family. The muddy water they drink nearly causes the death of her younger sister. Eventually her life is changed by the work of an organization begun by Salva Dut. This is a short book and a quick read but it is well worth it. Park is one of my favorite children's authors and she once again has produced a winner.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Reading Promis: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma 279p.

The daughter of a former school librarian recreates a reading journal of milestones in her reading adventure with her father. Before her eccentric mother abandoned the family (the author is rather harsh on ol' Mom), she and her father made a pact to read everyday together; or rather dad would read to her. Or rather, more of a reading performance, since he would practice before the day's reading. He read to her, mostly in person although a couple of times over the phone for over 2,000nights. Yeah, I am jealous. My dad never read to me. It is not a mere listing of titles (although there is a list at the back), but more an introspective look at a rather unique father/daughter relationship. Mom makes occasional reappearances and an older sister quickly rejects the nightly read alouds. Alice (her adopted name) comes off as a bright, gifted student with a lot of brains and charm; Dad is somewhat clueless about money and is not the warmest individual. Although I did read a lot aloud to my family, this book makes me wish that I had insisted on reading more nights together.

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta 271 pages

An odd book. When Linus's family is transferred to Liberia, his family readjusts much quicker than he. He has a reputation of stressing out easily and truth be told it would be easy to freak out in Liberia, especially since he seems to have been adopted by a poisonous black mamba. Everywhere he goes, the mamba seems to be following him. Why? He meets strangers like the son of his dad's co-worker who hates his life in Liberia. Quirky, but interesting characters.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers 246 pages

Some girls are really cruel in high school. Regina, is an ex-popular girl, who suffers the fall from the height of cool, to the bottom because of a lie that trashes her image and loses her "best friend" and "boy friend". Truth be told, she is better off without either of them. She meets another bottom dweller, Michael, who allows her to sit at his lunch table. Even though the reader discovers that Regina was not a "nice" girl, she hardly deserves the dirt dished out by Anna and Kara. Sadly, her parents are so clueless, they totally miss the changes she is going through until she hits rock bottom.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman 296 pages

Jacob Fielding survives a horrific car accident that kills his foster father. Only a week later he writes his foster father's final words on the cast of a new girl at school, "You are indestructible".
Would it be a blessing or a curse to be indestructible? How could this gift change friendships and romances if not history. An interesting premise that should intrigue even reluctant readers.

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder 304 pages

This seems to be almost a throwback in tone to Little Orphan Annie. Penelope is a bored, rich girl who wishes for something interesting to happen. You know that line, be careful what you wish for? Before you know it, her parents lose their fortune, their mansion and end up just about broke and move to a ramshackle house filled with eccentric people. Of course, they learn what is truly important in life and lonely, Penelope makes her first friend. A bit old-fashioned, but somewhat charming. Lots of unique characters.

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer 310 pages

Abby has always been her little sister's protector. When Maya's boyfriend turns up dead and Abby finds Maya's phone next to the corpse, she fears the worst. Here is a mystery with a lot of red herrings and the reader is not sure whether to even trust the narrator. Even Jefferson, the perfect boyfriend is not who he seemed. The ending is a knock-out.

Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn/Gail Simone

Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey reboot, vol 3); graphic novel; 176 pages

The third collection in this series opens with the suicides of three teens, each dressed as a deceased superhero. All three had recently returned from trips to Oregon, so Oracle dispatches Huntress to investigate (not completely solo: the metahuman Vixen is already undercover). Huntress uncovers a cult full of brainwashed teens, and when Oracle tries to hack in, she's hijacked by none other than Brainiac.

I felt like the Birds really came into their own with this story. They're starting to mesh as a team, and to overcome their differences. We got to see a little more of Huntress' personality in this book (previously, she'd been showing up, kicking butt, and vanishing again), which was also refreshing. There were two one-shots tacked onto the end of this story, including one in which Oracle chooses to move her base of operations out of Gotham, following the destruction of her clocktower. The frustrating thing is that the loss of the clocktower--a pivotal moment for Oracle and, I guess, the series--takes place in another series (I want to say it was in a Batman arc, but I don't recall exactly). We get a brief flashback in Birds, but the event itself is glossed over. I generally like the shared DC universe, but it would be nice if at least some of the major life-events for Oracle happened in her own title.

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci 416 pages

Michelle Maxwell and Sean King are hired by an old friend of Sean’s who is representing Edgar Roy in a multiple murder case. Michelle and Sean drive to northern Maine to meet Sean’s friend when they find him dead at the side of the road on the way to the meeting place. The police and FBI are called. The FBI suspiciously arrives within minutes of the call. Sean and Michelle begin by trying to investigate the death of his friend and the charges against Edgar. Without the lawyer of record the begin the process of trying to defend the client. Once started thy find that there is much more going on in the background than any one person is aware of. Six bodies are found buried in Roy’s barn, people connected to Roy’s case are being murdered and answers are not easily found. Things get more complicated when the CEOs of two private intelligence agencies meet with the Secretary of Homeland Security and one becomes the target of the conspiracy. Next, Roy’s sister appears and brings some background intelligence to the hunt. As usual, Baldacci keeps adding surprises and just when you think you may have the whole story untangled he throws in a few more knots. Lots of Fun!

Ice

Ice: a memoir of gangster life and redemption--from South Central to Hollywood by Ice T and Douglas Century  251 pp.

If you can get past the incessant use of f-bombs and the n-word, this is a really good book. Rapper Ice T (Tracy Marrow) tells his story from being an a child in Newark, losing both parents by age 7, growing up in L.A. South Central, joining a gang and committing crimes to becoming one of the first hip-hop mega-stars, battling Congress, the police, and the NRA over the song "Cop Killer," and his transition to movies and one of the most successful television franchises, "Law & Order." Ice pulls no punches in this book. His brutal honesty about gang life in the 70s & 80s and what gang life has become now is an eye opener to anyone who didn't grow up in that life. Basically, this is a tale of a boy growing into a man, making mistakes, and learning a lot of hard lessons along the way to his success as an actor, a father, and a husband. He now spends a lot of his time lecturing and speaking to organizations like the Boys' & Girls' Clubs in an effort to keep kids out of gang life. I liked this book and I like the man Ice T has become.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Dreamer

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan  372 pp.

This beautifully written juvenile book is the fictionalized story of Chilean born Neftali Reyes, better known as the poet Pablo Neruda. Neftali's father was virulent in his opposition to any artistic pursuits. When Neftali's older brother showed promise as a singer, his father denied him permission to study music and forced him into the business world. Neftali was always getting in trouble for daydreaming, collecting rocks, feathers, pine cones, and other things that struck his fancy. He was a gentle soul whose work hardened father did not understand and was embarassed by him even when others applauded his writing. His father's attempts to "make a man of him" cause him much pain and anguish. Things come to a head when an article he has written is published in the university magazine which reveals that Neftali plans to study poetry. His father takes all the notebooks and papers of his writings and burns them. It is then that he makes the decision to write under a pseudonym so his father will not know he is still writing. He choses the name Neruda from Czech poet Jan Neruda.

Illustrator Peter Sis uses his artwork to illustrate the fanciful thoughts and daydreams of young Neftali. They help to set the gentle, thoughtful tone of the book. Excerpts of Neruda's poetry are included at the end.

Spindrift by Allen Steele

Spindrift by Allen Steele, 368 pages.

I will present my review of this book in the form of a haiku:

It is very slow,
I do not recommend it.
Refrigerator.

Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student/Gail Simone

Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey reboot, v. 2); graphic novel; 168 pages

This arc ties neatly into the loose ends left from Of Like Minds: Savant is still loose, and Senator Pullman is still a threat, but things are on hold for the moment. Dinah is in Hong Kong to visit her dying martial arts instructor, who she loves as a father. However, her master's condition also attracts his other best student, the infamous assassin, Lady Shiva. At their master's request, Dinah and Shiva form an uneasy truce, which is strengthened upon finding that their master has been murdered. Their investigation points to the notorious Cheshire, a master of poisons, but Cheshire claims that she's been set up, and vows to help them track down the real killer. Meanwhile, someone has hacked into Oracle's systems, wreaking havoc with the superheroes of Gotham. Alone, and cut off from contact with the outside world, Oracle must track down the person clever enough to outwit her security.

On the one hand, I liked the drama of this arc: seeing Dinah have to work with two hated enemies, and seeing Oracle have to work things out with Huntress. I'll also add that the interactions between Lady Shiva and Black Canary are fantastic, and I hope there are more instances where they're working on the same side. The art didn't bother me as much as in the previous volume, but I will say this: Cheshire has, without a doubt, the most ludicrous costume I've EVER seen in a comic, and I've seen some pretty bad clothes (no, it's not the one you see on the cover). Also, Catwoman is in this book for a grand total of three pages, so I'm not sure why she made it onto the cover, but whatever... One of the best parts of this book was the flashback story to the original Black Canary, as Dinah investigates a similar case in the present. I liked it enough to overlook the horrible librarian stereotype that runs through it (cats, glasses, frizzy hair, no life, sleeps at the library--you get the picture). Then again, we've got Barbara Gordon being the ultimate in cool librarians for most of this series, so I guess I can let this one slide. Continuing this series later this week.

Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume / Silvena Rowe 255 p. (credit 50)

One of the prettiest cookbooks I've looked at in a long time, but far too ambitious for me. This is Eastern Mediterranean cooking, with a focus on Syria and Lebanon. Ingredients include things like nasturtium petals and rose-flower cream; for me the bigger problem was that almost everything seemed to include nuts: pine nuts, pistachios, almonds - all are a big no-no in my house (if not in my desk drawer)! Photos of elegant dishes contrast with gorgeous street and landscape shots from Damascus and environs.

Brooklyn Bridge / Karen Hesse 229 p.

Set in 1903 Brooklyn, this is the story of 14-year-old Joseph Michtom (rhymes with victim!), whose parents have just invented the teddy bear. Joseph experiences this as a great misfortune, as his happy family life is now consumed by the family business and his friends are wary of his new-found wealth. Add to that the fact that he's the only boy in his neighborhood whose family hasn't taken a trip out to the brand-new Coney Island park and you've got real problems. Joseph's 'hard-luck' story is nicely balanced by vignettes of homeless children sheltering nearby under the bridge of the title. The audio reader, Fred Berman, was super, and the whole family enjoyed this one.

The End of the Affair / Graham Greene 191 p.

Is it possible to fall in love over a dish of onions? Apparently, yes, at least in this short, intense story of sex, war, love, faith and death. Thought-provoking and often moving.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Children and fire, by Ursula Hegi

This short novel revisits the German village of Burgdorf, so memorably portrayed in Hegi’s Stones from the river, and features many of the characters who people the earlier book. Set on a single day, February 27, 1934, the first anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag, the book also flashes back in time to earlier events which have set the stage for what will happen on this day in the small town. Thekla Jansen is a gifted young teacher of a class of fourth grade boys. She is delighted to be working after waiting many years to practice her profession during the massive unemployment in Germany following its defeat in World War I. However her joy has a cost: she has replaced her own beloved teacher, who has lost her job because she is Jewish. Thekla buys little gifts and sets them aside to take to her, but somehow hasn’t found time to visit. Her students have been encouraged to join the Hitler-Jugend – some of them are conflicted about this membership by what they overhear from their parents, and some of what they innocently repeat could have serious repercussions. Thekla also has doubts but feels that membership in a group that offers hiking, bonfires, and comradeship has benefits that outweigh its connection to Hitler and his policies. By the end of the day, one boy’s fascination with the Hitler-Jugend will have tragic consequences and Thekla will have made a life-altering discovery about herself. How ordinary citizens got caught up in the stream bearing Germany towards the dictatorship of Hitler and the tragedy of the coming years is skillfully portrayed and thought-provoking. Which small rationalized choice is the decisive one? 272 pp.

The Astral, by Kate Christiensen

I don’t know what to make of this book, even after slogging to the end. The Astral is a Brooklyn apartment building where poet Harry Quirk (the name is a give-away) and his Mexican-born wife, Luz, have lived their married life and raised two children, Karina, now a lesbian “freegan,” and Hector, who has recently joined a religious group, the Children of Hashem. Luz, convinced erroneously, from poems that she has found that Harry is having an affair with long-time friend Marion, has thrown Harry out. Harry still loves Luz and regrets the actual affair he had with someone named Samantha ten years earlier. Karina, who despite her alternative lifestyle seems the most grounded of the group, both tries to mediate between Luz and Harry and save her brother from the cult he has joined. Luz mostly acts hysterical. Harry, unable to write and mourning the poems Luz has destroyed, gets a real job in a Hasidic lumberyard so he can afford to move back into a tiny Astral apartment several floors below his wife. An intervention is planned to save Hector, who by now is seen as the second coming of Jesus and is being tested by walking on water, which he seemingly does. Has Luz been oppressed all these years by working hard both at her job as a nurse and caring for their home? Is Hector the Messiah, or just a duped kid set to marry the cult’s founder, a 48 year-old lapsed Mormon and former stripper? These and other questions are raised and left unanswered as the book coasts to a stop, divorce papers signed, on page 311.

Pumped for Murder by Elaine Viets 292 pages

The newest entry in the Dead-end Job Mystery Series is a dandy. Helen Hawthorne and her new hubby, Phil have started their own private eye agency. While they are not overwhelmed with new clients, they do have a couple of jobs courtesy of their kindly landlady. It is a cold case, in which the surviving brother wants to prove that his handsome, popular brother did not commit suicide, but was murdered by a drug dealer. Helen also finds herself working at a fitness center in order to find proof that her client's husband is fooling around. Helen and Phil's relationship brings back memories of breezy film detectives Nick and Nora and Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence. There is a bit of a dark secret that Helen is keeping from Phil regarding her ex's disappearance, but nothing that should seriously damage their marriage. Breezy summer reading.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The President is a Sick Man

The President is a Sick Man by Matthew Algeo  255 pp.

The subtitle of this book "Wherein the supposedly virtuous Grover Cleveland survives a secret surgery at sea and vilifies the courageous newspaperman who dared expose the truth" pretty much tells what this book is about. I picked this after reading a favorable review and I'm so glad I did. I haven't been so engrossed in a nonfiction book in years. Matthew Algeo chronicled the events surrounding the diagnosis and removal of a large tumor from the roof of President Cleveland's mouth by Dr. W.W. Keen. The secrecy surrounding the operation, which took place on board a yacht while Cleveland was "on vacation," made this one of the best kept government secrets in history. In fact, no one knew of it other than Mrs. Cleveland, the medical team, the yacht owner, the steward on board, and one cabinet member. When one of the medical team breaks his promise of silence, journalist E.J. Edwards gets hold of the story and publishes the account. Denials from the White House, Cleveland's staff, and the other doctors involved along with staged demonstrations of Cleveland's well-being squash the story and turns Edwards into the "bad guy."  What is more astounding than the secrecy is Cleveland's amazing recovery after a risky surgery performed in less than perfect conditions in an era where the idea of sterile procedure was in its infancy. Compounding the conditions was the stress Cleveland was under as the country was experiencing the "Panic of 1893", an economic depression surpassed in severity only by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many years later, after the deaths of most of those involved, Dr. Keen obtained the permission of Cleveland's widow to publish an account of the surgery and set the record straight. His article was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916. In it Keen vindicated E.J. Edwards and the article he had written so many years before. Algeo has written a very readable account which I found very hard to put down.

the particular sadness of lemon cake

The particular sadness of lemon cake/Aimee Bender 292 pgs.

Rose discovers her particular talent at age 9 when she eats dinner and discovers her mother's unhappiness. Baked goods always reveal the most about the "maker" and Rose spends a lot of years trying to find and eat machine made foods. She develops the ability to tell where food is from and how it was raised. As she gets older, she has a bit more appreciation for her "skill". This book is really about the entire family and their interactions. Older brother, father and mother all have some quirky "issues" and some of their traits make for interesting situations. I was often struck by the perspectives of the characters when they thought about something that happened...like the father's plot to get her mother interested in him when they met at a garage sale. Ok, I feel like this entry is becoming more confusing as I continue and I'm not doing a good job of capturing what I liked about the book. Suffice it to say that the same "affliction" can be a gift of a curse, just depends how you look at it.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds/Gail Simone

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds by Gail Simone, et al. (Birds of Prey reboot v. 1); graphic novel; 144 pages

I admit I had some trouble getting into this collection. The art just wasn't doing it for me, possibly because I'm not a guy. For a series that's touted as a feminist comic, I found the art overly gratuitous, but I'm hoping that will be fixed later in the series. As for the story, once I got past the art I found myself enjoying Simone's writing, and the arc outlined in this volume.

First, I have to say that I like Simone's version of Oracle and Black Canary much more than Chuck Dixon's. They're much more well-rounded, and she starts the story after they've already met, so there's none of the awkwardness present in the early Dixon volumes. The dialog is much snappier, and the whole feel of the book is less dated. We get to see a lot more techno-gadgets, and Oracle really puts her library skillz to use in a way she never did as Batgirl. She also spouts one of my favorite quotes here: "When it comes to research, never bet against a former librarian." Love it!

However, I'm starting to wonder if I should be reading Nightwing alongside this series; this volume was full of references to things that happened off stage, presumably over in Nightwing's title. Again, I'm hoping this is something that will lessen as this series goes on.

And the Heart Says Whatever-Emily Gould (208 pages)

Usually when an author writes a coming of age story about New York, I feel left out, excluded, purposely kept at a distance by the casual mention of various streets, restaurants, and villages. It's simply a landscape I do not know. Also, a lot of people who write about living in New York are kind of snooty. But not Emily Gould!
I truly loved this collection of essays. Partly because I'm young and confused, and Gould sets up her essays so they're a rocket through her college life and twenties. I don't go to as many parties, and I certainly don't um..."imbibe"...the way she does, but what makes her stories interesting, relatable, and touching is not partying or drinking/smoking, a memoir of which I see walking down the street every weekend called, "I'm A Stupid College Dude."
The way Gould describes her inner confusion, her relationships, and her personal brand of turmoil is honest and jagged and familiar. She manages to identify the little light in ourselves that is completely unique, and thus universal. I sat on a park bench Saturday night reading for hours until I finished her book. And when I did, I was sad. I felt like I had spent a couple hours talking to a friend, and that friend was getting up off the bench and calling it a night.
I wonder what an older reader would think. The writing style is really original and punchy without being some New Agey assault on the English language. I think it's a good read even if your college days are far behind you. Or your just-out-of-college-without-a-job-days. Or your long-term-boyfriend-gone-after-six-years-days. Or "whatever."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Red Glove/Holly Black

Red Glove by Holly Black (Curse Workers, book 2); young adult, crime, urban fantasy; 336 pages.

I'm just going to start out this review with a warning: Don't read this if you haven't read the first book, White Cat. The best part about the first book is the twist at the end, and since that twist affects most of the plot of this book, there's no way I can write this review without giving away something. So if you plan to read this (and why wouldn't you? This is Holly Black we're talking about!), start with the first book, and save this review for later.

Okay, now that the newbies are gone, I just have to say that this book rocked. Not quite as much as the first book, but this book suffers from the middle child syndrome so common to the second book in a trilogy: all the characters have been introduced, but there's no real conclusion to the story; in fact, there can't be, since much of this book is just setting up for the third (I'm assuming this is a trilogy, since that makes the most sense; of course, I would love to see Black flesh out this world a little more with another story set here, but I'll take what I can get). Anyway, the plot: Cassel is back at school, and so is Lila, still reeling from the effects of the curse laid on her at the end of the White Cat. Meanwhile, Cassel is approached by federal agents with disturbing news, and an offer he can't refuse: help them track down is brother's killer, and they'll grant him protection from the mob families clamoring for his abilities. But Cassel was born and raised in a crime family--can he really sell out his own people?

The cons here weren't quite as spectacular as in the first book, or maybe I was just on my guard, so I saw them coming this time. Even so, I had a lot of fun watching a con artist at work (and "artist" is the right term for what Cassel and his family do). I just have to say that the wait for the next book is going to be way too long.

The Shadow Market

The Shadow Market: how a group of wealthy nations and powerful investors secretly dominate the world/Eric J. Weiner 304 pgs.

The author seems to think the news that wealthy organizations and governments are dominating the world is somehow news. This has been obvious to many for a long time. Now that I've made my slightly disparaging remark, let me continue by saying this book fascinated me with carefully researched examples and situations that seem to get at the crux of what it means that companies in the US are owned by foreigners and the state of business, investment and economy in the US and the world is changing. The changes don't look to hold a lot of improvement for our country but we have only helped them along and sold ourselves out. I particularly read with interest the chapter about Norway's Government Pension Fund that played a part in toppling Iceland's economy (really in was only a matter of time, Iceland was being really crazy). Norway isn't on a lot of our lists when it comes to economic power houses but they have brilliantly invested their oil revenues instead of spending every penny...I mean to say that they are brilliant BECAUSE they have invested, not so much that they have always made wise investments. Anyway, enough details. Weiner has done a great job with an interesting topic.

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House of Prayer No. 2

House of prayer no. 2: a writer's journey home/Mark Richard 205 pgs.

This is Mark Richard's story...sort of. Not really a biography but a series of events from his life. He spent a lot of time in the hospital for "cripple children" due to hip problems that doctors attempted to fix with a series of operations and full body casts. At one point they put "nails" in to hold things together. Years later when the nails were working their way out and becoming apparent through his skin, a doctor decided to remove them with local anesthesia only. The description of that operation was absolutely amazing. Of course nothing went as easily as originally thought and the sounds of the doctor wrestling with the nails and trying to pull them out of his bones sounded a lot like removing nails from old wood. Everyone in the room was a bit grossed out but his description is just so straight forward...of course I can't find the line right now to quote it here. Anyway, an interesting and enjoyable book.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures/Vincent Lam 353 pgs.

A series of connected stories following the lives of a group of medical student then doctors. I downloaded this book thinking it was something completely different...in fact, I thought it was a non-fiction medical book. I was pleasantly surprised by the stories and characters and was easily sucked into this book in the good way when you really care to see how things turn out. The doctors are Canadian and there is one story I found very funny about an emergency room doctor who was explaining that a dermatological issue (rash) that had been around for 4 years is NOT an emergency and that the hospital didn't even have a dermatologist on the emergency rotation. "Dermatologists like to sleep." the doctor explained. Of course the patient was trying to get everything they could out of the system and didn't want to wait for a referral. Ended up really liking the book even though I wasn't sure about it when I started. This has been made into a mini series by HBO Canada. Doesn't look like it is available in the states....yet.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Striking Back

Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response by Aaron J. Klein  288 pp.

As it says on the cover, this is the book about the real events that inspired Spielberg's movie Munich. I chose to read it for another reason. As a fan of Daniel Silva's "Gabriel Allon" series of thrillers, I wanted to know more of the real background events that inspired the creation of Silva's character, a Mossad assassin. I was in junior high school when the Black September terrorists attacked the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics occurred. What I remembered was that the athletes and some of the terrorists died at the airport. What I did not know was how all attempts to save them were botched by the German officials and police in such a horrendous way or that one of the athletes might have survived if anyone had bothered to see if any of the athletes in a burning helicopter had survived being shot. He died of smoke inhalation, not gunshot wounds. The book documents "Operation Wrath of God",  Israeli's revenge on the Palestinians for the massacre. This operation was charged with seeking out the Palestinian terrorists responsible for planning and carrying out the massacre and assassinating them. Included is the horribly botched case of mistaken identity in Lillehammer, Norway, where Israeli agents gunned down an innocent man in front of his pregnant wife and then were caught by authorities and tried. In some of the Silva novels references to "we don't another Lillehammer affair" pop up and now I know what they mean. In response to some of the assassinations, there were more terrorists attacks. However, the audacity some of the Mossad attacks led to the mythology that they were unstoppable even when they had done nothing. This book is interesting, horrifying, maddening, and depressing. Who are the good guys in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? I don't think there are any. I'm sure I'll be criticized for saying it, but, in my opinion, both sides are equally to blame.

Gift from the Sea

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh  132 pp.

This is one of those "I'll read it someday" books. When a copy happened to land in the children's department, I decided that this was as good a time as any. Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, uses different types of seashells as metaphors for aspects of the lives of women and occasionally men. While there is much here to appreciate in this slight volume, there was much that annoyed me. Of course, it is easy to recommend that women take vacations away from their obligations of home and family to recharge when you are wealthy and have your own beach house in Hawaii to escape to. Lindbergh's ideas that children are the ultimate purpose of woman is also irksome. That being said, this gentle book has much to make it worth recommending. She stresses the importance of creativity and taking time for creative pursuits (once again, much easier when you have great amounts of leisure time). I found her comparison of stages of marriage to the knobby calcifications on an oyster shell to be interesting. The addition of a ninth chapter, added twenty years after the initial publication, addresses the changes in society in that twenty years. All in all, it's a nice book, not terrific, not awful...just nice.

Here in Harlem

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers  88 pp.

I have to be in a certain mood to read an entire book of poetry at one sitting. This book is so good I couldn't put it down (and subsequently overslept the next morning-but still made it to work on time). Myers, who has written so many award winning juvenile books, was inspired by Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. The result is a collection of poems about his hometown of Harlem. Each is written in the "voice" of a different person: a church deacon, English teacher, student, salesman, hairdresser, boxer, mechanic, etc. The only person who appears more than once is "Clara Brown" whose "Testimony" is in six parts. Also included are vintage black & white photos of Harlem residents. It is a book for reading, re-reading, and savoring.

These poems give a flavor of Harlem in the days of the Cotton Club, rent parties, and jazz. Some are humorous, some touching, others sad. At least one, the story of a soldier, newly returned home who was attacked and blinded in the assault, is based on a true story. While all are excellent, I admit to liking some a lot more than others.

In "William Riley Pitts, 42: Jazz artist" a man laments the death off his young son:
"Sometimes I sit and wonder
What the boy could have been..."

And "Delia Pierce, 32: Hairdresser" who gossips while claiming she doesn't:
"And I could say something about them
But I'm not the kind to talk behind nobody's back"

My favorites are "Betty Pointing, 64: Clerk" who still loves her husband of forty-six years:
"He asked me why I smile when I say 'I love you.'
I don't know why I smile--I just do."

and
"Mali Evans, 12: Student":
"I'd like to be old one day
Like Mrs. Purvis with her gray
Hair like a halo around her black face..."

Yasmina Reza: Plays (268 pages)

Other than Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. my favorite French playwright, Yasmina Reza pretty much tops the charts in France. I definitely didn't like her plays as much as Schmitt's, however, comparing them is kind of unfair. Schmitt writes warm narratives with philosophical observations offered at every turn of the page like mental cups of hot coco. Reza, on the other hand, constructs her plays in a very abstract manner, and therefore they present themselves as confrontational, rather than outrightly welcoming, works. All of the plays in this book--'Art,' The Unexpected Man, Conversations after a Burial, and Life x 3--are conversation based. Now that sounds stupid, as reading a play is literally just reading dialogue. But plot and setting are truly secondary or nonexistent in Reza's works. The dialogues of her characters unfold scene after scene, not much happening other than the peeling away of her characters' emotional layers. But this peeling away is really a peeling away at the exterior of ourselves. The ultimate truth of Reza's plays--that our selves are fleeting, complex systems which depend greatly on our relationships with others--reveals itself disturbingly again and again. Each play represents "a man who moves across a space and disappears." Reading this book reminds me that we can so easily lose ourselves, a philosophically induced amnesia that takes my breath away.

Freedom, Love, and Action-J. Krishnamurti (132 pages)

J. Krishnamurti is an Indian religious figure who I know very little about. However, this book is touted as a pretty good summary of his thoughts and teachings. I came to this book hoping that it would give me some kind of spiritual guidance. I left it feeling kind of like I just got yelled at by an obstinate Indian man for a hundred or so pages. That's really harsh. But Krishnamurti's ideas are very difficult to stomach. He believes that ALL thought is bad, that thought is the source of all evil, that every religion and organization of people is not only an illusion, but a terrible idea. Art and poetry aren't even ok. The idea is to completely let go of all attachment, live a life of inaction, and love without needing other people. Marriage is a big no-no. It's not that Krishnamurti offered no wisdom--a lot of what he said was quite interesting, such as that we are more in love with the ideas of people than the people themselves, or that we don't allow ourselves to flower inwardly because we're so hung up with social categories and ideology/dogma. But mostly I felt assaulted. I kept saying in my head, "But I like romantic love. And literature. And...thinking."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Beat the Odds

I beat the odds: from homelessness to the blind side and beyond/Michaael Oher 250 pgs.

Michael Oher is half of the subject of the book "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis, the other half was about football. When the movie version came around, the personal story of Oher's struggles and triumphs became the only focus of the movie. Oher's story is moving. He grew up in a somewhat loving family with several siblings but his mother had a drug problem that prompted her to lock the house and abandon her kids on a regular basis for significant lengths of time. That and moving frequently did no make for the best environment for schooling or overall stability. Michael was driven to succeed, however, and with the help of many who let him stay with them, fed him, and helped him along the way, he was put on a path to greatness. In the end, he was adopted by a fairly affluent family who gave him the security he needed to achieve his impressive goals. He graduated from high school and went on to an academically successful college career on a football scholarship and was drafted into the NFL. This book tells his story from his point of view and gives you insight into a very modest guy who is thankful for everything in his life. Michael Lewis is a better writer but this biography is inspiring.

Stiff

Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers/Mary Roach 304 pgs.

Human cadavers are quite a valuable resource and used in lots of ways, medical research, organ donors, tons of other scientific research. Some of the other research is hard to read about if you have a weak stomach. Mary Roach has a way of telling the story that makes it a little less offensive to the sensitive and pretty damn funny for those with a humor bone. I always learn a lot when I read one of Mary's books and that is why I'm on a quest to read them all. The set isn't that big yet be we hope more will be added soon. If you are a curious type and like science even a little bit, try reading something by Mary Roach. Oh yea, then leave your body to science.