Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Annoying / Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman

Annoying: the science of what bugs us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman. 262 p.

This book is written in an entertaining, easy-to-read style, and I enjoyed it. It investigates various scientific fields that have relevant studies--why certain sounds and smells are almost universally annoying, and why that might be. The animal behavior studies discussed were really interesting, but I think my favorite section was on how to develop an empirical scale for measuring something personal, like pain (or annoyance)--how do you know that one person's "10" on a scale of 1 to 10 is the same as another's?

Basically this book gives an overview of a lot of scientific studies that are possibly related to sudying annoyance. I enjoyed all of the byways that the book explored, so I had a good time. Sadly, it did not give me any solutions to any of the ongoing annoyances in my life. (Not that it promised to do so, but one can always hope.)

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Ghost Story / Jim Butcher

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (v. 13 of the Dresden Files). 481 p.

I pretty much can't say anything about what happens in this book without providing massive, massive spoilers. I will say that I think Butcher has done a very good job of playing fair with the plot, based on the previous worldbuilding he has done throughout this series. I'm also encouraged by indications that characters are going to be dealing with consequences of their previous actions (grr, this is hard to talk about without spoiling it!). Often you have characters saying they'll do "whatever it takes" to make something happen, and they make the thing happen, but the book ends before they have to deal with any fallout from their choices. Not so here.

As usual, I am now on the edge of my seat to see what happens in the next volume of the series. Next summer can't come fast enough.

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A Feast for Crows/ George R.R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin high fantasy, adventure, war, political intrigue, violence, betrayal, awesome books 784 pages

Before blogging about this book, I would like to ask one very important question:

"What do you call the guy who graduated with the lowest grades in med school?"

Why does this relate to my post about the 4th installment of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" high fantasy epic? Unfortunately, the reason is that "A Feast for Crows" was my least favorite of all the Martin books thus far. While to some, this may seem discouraging, the fact is that Martin's worst is still better than most people's best. When I told people how I was liking it, I would always say that I didn't like it "as much," not that I didn't like it at all...just not as much as the other books that have all made my top 10 books I've read this year.

The story still follows many of the trends that Martin has followed in the past few books. Although the previous war that has kept the realm in turmoil for the past three books is all but over, the land enjoys a "peace" for less than a few seconds before a new conflict arises. Once again alliances are formed and broken as a reader is transported to the wondrous continent of Westeros.

The problem with this book is the way Martin wrote it. When writing his 4th book, he realized that it would be huge, and although the logical point would have been to break it up into two books at some inadequate-but-better-than-most-places stopping point. Martin made the decision to tell all of the story for half of the characters instead of half of the story for all of the characters. Because of this decision, the storylines deal almost exclusively with what is going on in three locations: King's Landing (the capital of Westeros), Dorne (their tenuous ally), and the Iron Islands (home of the rebellious pirates the Ironmen). The unfortunate thing about this is that the characters in these locations mostly suck. The Lannisters, a family who has obviously been painted the villains up to this point, become the main characters of the story, and unfortunately this just ends up making you hate them even more, which would be alright if not for the fact that Martin is clearly trying to make you feel a little sympathetic for them. I'm all for a little bit of ambiguity, but COME ON, these guys have been dicks for three whole books and suddenly you want to give us a few reasons why their actions are justified (and weak reasons at that)?

The one thing that this book does well is give slight hints at the actions that will be occurring in the 5th (and most recent) book "A Dance With Dragons," which I am reading now. The characters you grow to miss in "Feast for Crows" are all back. Also, at the end of this book, Martin breaks the 4th wall and explains his storytelling decision to his readers. This is the point where I marked Martin as a truly great storyteller. This passage, however unnecessary it may have been considering that he could have said the same thing in a press release, makes you feel like you're listening to the story in a tavern around a campfire with a mug in your hand and a smile on your face. Martin shows you that even though he isn't a character in his story, his writing makes him into a wise old narrator that you could just picture telling the story. Don't take my word for it, though...enjoy this one for yourself (even if you enjoy it less than the others like I did).

A Storm of Swords/ George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin best books ever, high fantasy, political unrest, conflict, war, violence, just read it for chrissake 1216 pages

This book is setting a lot of records for me. First of all, at a whopping 1216 pages, it is the largest book I've ever read (the print is small too, it's kind of ridiculous) It has also just topped the list as the best book that I've read this year ( can take solace in the fact that "The Passage" is now sitting pretty at #2) and maybe the best book I've ever read. The third part of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series will not disappoint fans and although this epic tale may be dealing with a realm in turmoil, OUR whole world can unite beneath the banner of the one true king, George R.R. Martin, the greatest writer ever...Martin even surpasses another fantasy icon with an R.R. in the middle of his name.

While much of the story continues the gripping tale of faction v. faction violence in a world where no one can truly be trusted and everyone has their price, we are also granted a look into some of the more outlandish corners of Martin's world. Up to this point, the story has taken place on the Euro-inspired continent of Westeros (with the exception of the storyline of fan-favorite Danaerys Targaryan the dragon-blooded exiled princess). Martin begins to show us lands like Dorne, the closest neighbor to Westeros and the only land to hold a truly peaceful relationship with the Seven Kingdoms. We also get to see the exotic and dangerous Slaver's Bay, a series of coastal towns where the major incomes are rooted in the slave trades and betting pits. It is through these lands that we see just how vast Martin's world is, and at this point there is nothing I'd like more than to know everything about it.

We learn even more about the characters that we have come to love, and every character has at least one moment where their fans will cry out (whether in joy or agony depends on the choice of character, but believe me, this book will evoke some emotion). I found myself shouting out loud in my car cheering for a personal favorite of mine during a particularly tense battle scene.

This book also features more than one gamechanger. A gamechanger in any book can throw the reader for a curve, but a George R.R. Martin gamechanger will keep you awake for a week. Those of you who have read the first book know that Martin is not afraid to rack up a body count of major characters and that holds equally (if not more) true in this installment. Some of these turns will shock you to your very core. I happened to be in the grocery store holding a carton of eggs when one of the most shocking moments played over my mp3 player (yes...I had to get a second carton of eggs).

While I've already said that George R.R. Martin's books make up the best series I've ever read, this is the best book in the best series I've ever read. Read it now. Do it. Seriously. Not kidding.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children/Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; science fiction, horror, young adult; 352 pages

Other people have beaten me to blogging this book, so I'll save my recap of the story. Riggs does a great job of creating mood in this strange story, even if the writing is a little uneven. Then again, the voice of Jacob, our 16-year-old narrator, felt very realistic in that it wasn't as polished as most writing, so maybe that was Riggs' goal. His descriptions of the monsters, though, border on Lovecraftian in their gratuity. That's not a complaint--Lovecraft's purple prose is one of my guilty pleasures!

As Karen said in her review, some of the most appealing things in this book were the photographs: every few pages, we're treated to real vintage photos that feature primitive camera tricks and unusual circumstances. It makes for a quick read, and made me wish there was more to this book. Then again, this felt like an introduction to a series, not a stand-alone story, so we can only hope we'll get to see more of this world.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, Juvenile fiction, 652 pages.

This made a long car trip longer, as we had to keep driving after we had reached our destination in order to find out what happened next. I have been a big fan of these books since they came out, and am now enjoying sharing them with my sons. I put off reading the entirety of this one to them last year, since I wasn't sure how they would take the ending, but as a friend told them the big surprise, we went ahead and listened to the whole thing. Rowling really did a nice job with the arc of the whole series, and keeping her characters true and believable. I loved hearing Jim Dale read this on disc, and we look forward to listening to The Deathly Hallows on our next journey.

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23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang

23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang, economics, 286 pages.

Chang, an Economics professor at Oxford, explains many things about capitalism (it seems like more than 23, but there it is). He explains that no market is truly free, and those arguing for market freedoms are usually protecting advantages that they have already. Also, contrary to somewhat popular belief, that government controls of industry can turn out very well for everyone, and that giving the rich more money doesn't usually help anyone but the rich. He points out that when manufacturing brings in half of the GDP it used to, that this doesn't necessarily mean your production has halved. For example, if you can make computers for one-quarter the cost and now sell twice as many, you are bringing in only half as much. It's hard to do a more efficient hair cut though, so for hair-cutting and other services, as the price goes up, that sector's percentage of GDP may grow, even if you are still performing relatively the same number of services.
He makes a lot of cogent, points, and he writes well, but I still struggle to remember what he says.

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Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Juvenile Fiction, 311 Pages.
This is what Collins was writing before she got a little more YA and came up with the Hunger Games trilogy. There are five Gregor books, they're written for a somewhat younger audience than her newer series, and so for my sons and I are enjoying them quite a bit. Gregor's father disappeared several years ago, and life has not been great since then. One day, while babysitting his toddler sister, Boots, Gregor must follow her into an unexpected world. There is a lot of danger in this new place, and Gregor must do everything he can think of and sacrifice everything he can think of to save his family. Lots of action, a bit scary at times, but well worth reading.

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Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars and You Can Too! by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars and You Can Too! by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, screenwriting and humor, 320 pages.
This was a nice mix of practical advice (format your screenplay correctly, make the changes to your screenplay that the people paying you ask for, make it between 105 and 120 pages unless you know James Cameron personally, etc.) and the humorous (Billy Crystal is a dick). The authors, who figure their screenplays for such movies as Night at the Museum, Night at the Museum 2:Battle at the Smithsonian, and Taxi, have earned everyone involved a billion dollars, or two billion dollars, or some large amount of money, seem to know what they are talking about and are willing to share the secrets of how you can make serious money. One of the secrets seems to be get a book deal and then fill the second half of the book with screenplays that you wrote, which will never be made into movies, and call them examples. The screenplays are funny, so that's time well spent for the reader too. The footnote where they refer to libraries as places filled with internet porn and the homeless was uncalled for, but the rest of the book is fun.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys off-beat, profane humor, people who already dislike Billy Crystal, aspiring screenwriters, and Nate.

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American Gods: Author's Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman

American Gods: Author's Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman, Fantasy, 541 pages.
I heard Neil Gaiman speak last January, and that was good. He is a very entertaining person, enjoyable to listen to, and even better to read. He mentioned that he had found his original draft of American Gods around the same time that his agent, or editor, or publisher mentioned releasing a 10 year anniversary edition. I made a note then to be sure and read it. I lost the note and forgot about the book, but since I work in library with a fair number of Neil Gaiman fanatics, I eventually heard about the new edition again. Reading it for the second time I realized that I remembered three things about the book, four if you count the fact that I liked it. I remembered that one of the characters was in prison, that the title had something to do with the characters, and one of the twists at the end. It was a fast read because Gaiman draws you in and pulls you along with his stories. The "preferred text contains about eighty pages of additional content, and none of it feels extra or particularly editable. But as Gaiman says the first editor must have known something of what she was talking about since the version she had him publish won a Hugo, a Nebula and a Bram Stoker award. Fans of Gaiman, those who like a bit of the supernatural, and fans of well told tales will enjoy this.

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License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver by Rick Harrison

License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver by Rick Harrison, Memoir, 256 pages.
I don't know why I decided to pick this book up as I had never seen the show. I am pretty sure that I wasn't even really aware that this particular show existed. Thanks to the library and to Netflix I now know way more about the Gold And Silver than I would have thought. The show and the book are about equal in content and tone. It's all fairly pleasant from the author's somewhat self-involved viewpoint, but it's not anything to get that excited about. Harrison and his son Corey, "Big Hoss," were both horrible kids, and they both ended up working for their fathers. The stories of the crazy folk that inhabit their world can be funny, but the day-to-day life there is not exciting enough that I would read the sequel.
Recommended for fans of reality shows.

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A Clash of Kings/George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin high fantasy, conflict, war, faction violence, adult content, greatest books ever 784 pages

This is going to be an extremely hard book to blog about only because I don't want to reveal any plot details to those of you unenlightened enough to not take my advice and start reading the greatest series ever written-- "A Song of Ice & Fire" by George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings, the second installment after the absolute thrillride that was Martin's premiere novel "A Game of Thrones" continued Martin's stellar literary trend and even improved upon it. As one can tell from the title, the basic premise deals with the political unrest that occurs when a unified ruler dies unexpectedly and multiple potential heirs to the throne with varying levels of support all vie for power.

Any of Martin's characters who were lucky enough to survive the first book are back for the second and we even get to meet a few new ones such as the iron-willed and adamantly religious Stannis Baratheon or the smuggler-turned-privateer Davos Seaworth. Martin's characters have the ability to make you love them and loathe them at different points in the story, but they will doubtlessly elicit some form of emotion from you. Another thing that makes this book so great is that the faction ambiguity is even more present. While there are some 100% evil characters, it is impossible to hate all of the characters within one faction because you'll find yourself with favorites in each.

I won't say much more about this book other than read it yourself because you will not be disappointed

Batman: War Games, Act 1/Ed Brubaker

Batman: War Games; Act 1: Outbreak by Ed Brubaker, et al; graphic novel; 208 pages

On a dark night in Gotham, the leaders of every gang in the city meet to answer a mysterious summons. No one knows who called them together, and they don't find out before paranoia and suspicion make the situation turn violent. Soon an all-out gang war is spreading across the city, and Batman and his allies may be stretched too thin to stop it.

Okay, I admit I went into this with a bias: I had heard this was a lame story. And then it started out with a chapter told from Spoiler's point of view; and while this was my first real encounter with Spoiler, I had also heard that she was an awful character. So I didn't have very high hopes. In the end, though, I wound up really enjoying the story, even if I do have to agree that Spoiler is an idiot. Especially interesting was watching Tim Drake (who at this point has just quit his role as Robin so he could live a "normal" life) become a well-known hero as he fights a group of mobsters that have taken over his school. The ending of this was unexpected, and I can't wait to see where it goes in Act Two.

The Collaborator by Geerald Seymour 474 pages

There aren't a lot of books that I give to my husband, but I knew that he would enjoy this. Eddie meets a young Italian accounting student in London. This chance meeting drags him into a large scale Italian mob war and he is the Jimmy Stewart, happy go lucky man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The young student, has a gangster brother, a member of the Borelli clan. While she bravely, renounces her family and agrees to testify against them in court, Eddie becomes the pawn. He is kidnapped and tortured after he goes to Naples in search of the girl he loves. Bold and bloody, this is a fine thriller.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption 473 pages

I did not READ this book; I listened to the audiobook read by the wonderful actor Edward Herrmann. I had thoroughly enjoyed Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit (award winning story of legendary racehorse and later made into a pretty good film). I usually don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this title had rave reviews. When fellow staffer, Cynthia enthusiastically recommended this title, I reserved it.
Louis Zamperini's life story is larger than life. He starts out as a pranking juvenile delinquent, until his brother gets him involved in athletics. He becomes a discipline runner competing in the 1936 Olympics in Munich with a goal of smashing running records. Instead, war intervenes and he becomes a crewman for the US Army Air Corps. In 1943 his B-24 crashes into the ocean. After 47 days adrift, there are only two survivors, Zamperini, and pilot Russell Allen Phillips. They are rescued by Japanese, and their lives take a turn for the worse when they become POWs. Zamperini draws the wrath of a crazy camp commandant, Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Watanabe's sadistic cruelty is difficult to listen to. I had never heard of Louis although there is an earlier autobiography, Devil at my Heels. Nonetheless, the Hillenbrand's research is meticulous. She quotes letters and diaries to make this unbelievable life story believable. I can totally imagine Clint Eastwood directing this; it may be a different director, but I am sure that Louis will be up on the big screen soon.

The Laughing Policeman: a Martin Beck Mystery / Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 211 p.

This is the 4th in the Martin Beck series, set and written in '60s Stockholm, by this husband-and-wife team. While the Stockholm police are busy with a Vietnam war protest at the American embassy, a double-decker bus crashes on the opposite end of town. It is found to be full of nine people dead or near-dead from gunshot wounds. The mystery is well-crafted and suspenseful, but what sets it apart is the comically dry dialogue among the detectives, and the general atmosphere of near-hysterical dreariness. I loved it. If you need more enticement, take a look at Jonathan Franzen's introduction to our edition. We agree!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Unwritten, volumes 1-3

The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, 144 pages
Volume 2: Inside Man, 144 pages
Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock, 160 pages

The Unwritten follows Tom Taylor, who seems to be the inspiration for his father's Harry Potter-esque blockbuster series of Tommy Taylor novels. When the story opens, Wilson Taylor, the aforementioned author, has been missing for several years, and Tom Taylor is making his living by appearing at Tommy Taylor conventions. However, things quickly turn on their ear as a woman brings up questions about Tom's past. The trio of books takes Tom Taylor on quite a trip, through a prison and in contact with some fantastical elements that seem to be straight out of a novel. The questions throughout: are real guy Tom Taylor and fictional character Tommy Taylor one and the same, and who the heck are the guys hunting Tom?

This is my kind of graphic novel. I love the mix of realism and fantasy, the mix of real world and fictional. It reminded me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, as well as Stephen Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, both of which allow their main characters to slide into books. I also quite enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure section in Volume 3. I don't know how Tom/Tommy Taylor's story will resolve itself — or even how many volumes it will take — but I know that I'm really looking forward to Volume 4's release in October. Please tell me we're getting it, Cindy!

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein, 244 pages

While the title alone sounds like this book could be one of the zombie/vampire-classic literature hybrids, Cinderella Ate My Daughter is in fact an examination of the uber-pink, sparkly world that seems to have taken over little girls in the last 10 years or so. Orenstein looks at, among other things, the Disney Princess phenomenon, American Girl dolls, little girl beauty pageants, and the pink versions of every toy available and their potential future effect on the girls who are targeted by them. Do they oversexualize the girls? Do they create weird little girl-skanky teen hybrids that are numb to the consequences of sex? Or is there really any effect at all?

Orenstein writes as a feminist mother who wants her daughter to grow up without the "girls = pink, boys = blue" stereotypes. For the most part, I can identify with her as a parent — yeah, I have a son, but if my next child is a girl, I'd love to spend as little time as possible in the "pink aisles" at Target — although she sometimes veers into the opposite extremes of what she's studying. As she points out in the book, even if you try with all your might to guard against a certain type of toy or TV show, it will find some way to creep into your kid's life. Is it really worth it to fight, at least with such vehemence?

The book's definitely thought-provoking, and definitely makes me glad I've got the bookish and independent Beauty and the Beast on my DVD shelf to counteract the clueless puppy love of The Little Mermaid, lest I fall too far from my tomboyish roots.

Monday, August 29, 2011

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal 436 pages

Another weeper, but this time it is at least an adult novel and more importantly, not about a dog. I never watched Oprah, but admire her because of her push for the joy of reading. This is a book that I could imagine being praised on her show,the show I just said I never watched. Oh well, let's get to the book. But first, let me digress again. I am just amazed that a man wrote this book. He got all inside the female character. Judith Whitman, not a totally lovable character, but a young girl who is perhaps just a bit too smart for her own good has a tumultuous childhood. Her dad leaves the family and moves West to Nebraska. Her mom reacts by forgetting her age, dressing inappropriately and getting involved with a succession of losers. So Judith, leaves her mom to visit her dad and there she meets the love of her life, Willy Blunt. A kind of Marlboro type guy who understands her, gives her space and loses his center when she leaves him for Stanford, the college, not a guy. I could go on, but then I would spoil it for you. And this is a bittersweet romance to be savored.

The hypnotist, by Lars Kepler

We’re back in Sweden, at the shortest time of the year, when daylight is dim at 10 in the morning and gone by mid-afternoon. An appropriately bleak time of the year for yet another bleak, bloody, noir Swedish thriller. And there’s blood – lots of it, and obviously the work of a deranged serial killer. A doctor who is an expert in hypnosis, but has foresworn it ten years earlier after being accused by a patient of malpractice of the most serious kind, is convinced by Joona Linna, the lead detective in the case, to try it one more time on the lone survivor of a family that has been slain. Part of the premise of the book, that troubled people who suffered abuse as children could be helped by "group hypnosis," sort of like group therapy but with counting down and “you are very sleepy…” seemed unbelievable from the outset. That this didn’t end well, either ten years previously or in the present of the novel, wasn’t all that surprising. The book is no Girl with the dragon tattoo, on whose coattails it is obviously riding, and none of the characters really engage you. This is the last time I go by a glowing full page ad in the NY Times Book Review as a valid recommendation. Don’t waste your time on this long depressing book. 503 pp.

The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking/Kate Payne

The Hip Girl's Guide To Homemaking by Kate Payne; home organization, home decor; 288 pages

Yes, I read this. All of it. Thought I didn't pay as close attention in the cooking and gardening chapters because, well, I feel like I have those areas covered.

The gist of this book is about maintaining a household in the real, grown-up, non-college world: keeping things neat, decorating on a budget, basic home repairs, and handling meals. Payne has some good advice in all of these areas, and most of her tips involve a trip to the thrift store, which is always fun. There were times when I felt like her advice was geared a little too much towards the NYC apartment lifestyle for me to really follow, but on the whole, I found a lot of good idea to implement in my own house. And I got an excuse to go to Goodwill, so I'm satisfied.

Mad as hell

Mad as hell: the crisis of the 1970's and the rise of the populist right/Dominic Sandbrook 506 pages.

Someone in our blogging contest wrote about this book which got me interested...I'm sorry I can't remember who or what team now. I like history but the more recent stuff is what you never quite got to when you were in school. Of course now, this doesn't seem all that recent to many of you but the 70's were my childhood and I remember Jimmy Carter as president (maybe Gerald Ford a bit) so learning more about the times was something I could relate to. Turns out there are many social issues that seem to have roots in the 70's...equal rights, school busing, the rise in popularity of country music, energy crisis, trouble if the Middle East...ok, that started LONG before the 1970's but you get the picture. It seems like a lot of the feeling about the country being screwed up, the economy being screwed up and the speed of social change are familiar topics today. Does this make me feel better about stuff today? Maybe has all happened before and not really that long ago. The big question for me is are we making any real progress? Or is it a case of letting history repeat itself. In the end, this book leaves me with more respect for the presidents of this era and hopefully, a slightly better understanding of the decade of my childhood.

Butterfly Cabinet / Bernie McGill 227 p.

Based on a horrific true crime committed in Northern Ireland around 1900, the Butterfly Cabinet attempts to explain the motivation of wealthy Harriet Ormond in committing the worst of crimes. The story is told in two parts, through Harriet's prison diary and, seventy years later, through the recollections of Harriet's former employee, Maddie McGlade. It could hardly be a coincidence that both versions are recounted during periods of 'trouble' in the history of Ireland at large. The writing was smart and fast, but didn't succeed in arousing any sympathy, or even much understanding of, Harriet and her deeds.

The Haves and the Have Nots: a Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality / Branko Milanovic 258 p.

A little gem of a book I wish had existed many years ago when I was struggling through economics class. The World Bank's Milanovic tracks inequality through recorded history using easily relatable vignettes which explore such topics as income disparities among Jane Austen characters, and whether you can predict soccer World Cup winners based on the wealth of a team's home nation. His explanations of key economic concepts are crystal clear, and delivered in a calm, rational, just-the-facts manner. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in globalization and economic policy.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt  219 pp.

This well-written piece of historical fiction covers a little known, awful piece of Maine history. Turner Buckminster is a preacher's son who arrives in the small town of Phippsburg with his parents. From the start, things go bad for Turner and he hates his new home until he makes friends with Lizzie, a lively young black girl who lives on a nearby Malaga island with other African-Americans who were escaped or freed slaves. The townspeople want to clear the island of it's shacks and the black residents to make the area more attractive to tourists. They end up taking part of the residents, including Lizzie, to the Home for the Feeble-Minded. When Turner finally has the opportunity to bring Lizzie home, he discovers she had died at the Home. Schmidt has takent the appalling racism of the townspeople and Turner's helplessness in the face of their treachery and created a poignant and memorable story.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1293 pages.
Well worth reading. There was certainly enough going on in this book to justify three book discussions. The relationships between Pierre and Helene, Natasha and Andrei, Marya and her father, Marya and Nikolai, Anatole and anyone he could convince to run off with him. They were all great.
I enjoyed wide swaths of the war part too, though say the Battle of Borodino, when I mean Austerlitz, and talk about Bagration when I mean Barclay de Tolly. I feel like a smarter person for having read this book, even if I was the last of the participating staff to finish.
Kudos to Kathleen, Annie, and Christa for all of their hard work on a successful series of programs.

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Downloadable Audio (different translation).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom/Joe Hill

Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art) (Locke and Key vol. 4); graphic novel, horror; 160 pages

I've been waiting almost a year for this fourth collection of Locke and Key to arrive, and even if I was frustrated with the wait, I can at least say it was worth it. Utterly and completely.

The pace of the story changes dramatically in this volume: Instead of introducing one key per story arc, Hill has the Locke children finding new keys almost constantly. The threat of the Dark Lady is ramping up, as well, with more frequent threats appearing at times when their friend Zack is mysteriously absent. It's Ty that starts to put the pieces together; but the question is what to do once they have a flesh-and-blood villain to face.

There's a lot that happens in this story, and while I often found myself wanting more information on a particular incident or key, I never felt like the story was rushed. The ending was something I never saw coming, and has me eagerly awaiting the next volume. I just hope it doesn't take quite so long to publish!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan

What is it about a shared summer cottage that has housed generations of a family that brings out the worst in the relatives? One theory might be that it is the power of the childhood memories that one has of a particular loved space that has been a constant throughout one’s life. Here, perhaps, on a sunny vacation as a ten-year-old or a new bride, you were happiest. The magic of the place; its musty smells; its collections of old birds’ nests, shells, and the memories it contains have a powerful hold. It is also where old hurts and animosities may seem as fresh and raw as when you were a child. Matriarch Alice decides, unbeknownst to her children and grandchildren, to donate their summer cottage, and the modern house the most successful son has built, to the Church upon her death. During this final summer, her children and her grown grandchildren visit, including successful son Patrick and his martyred wife Anne Marie; Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic (the family disease) and “worm farmer” in California; and particularly Maggie, pregnant and alone. All have secrets, particularly Alice who hopes to work out her life-long guilt over the death of her sister in the Coconut Grove fire in 1942. Despite the theme and my love of family cottages, with all their "baggage," I didn't feel this novel lived up to its early rave reviews. 400 pp.

The New Yorker stories, by Ann Beattie

Here gathered in one volume are the masterful stories Beattie has published over the years in the New Yorker, beginning in 1974. In many ways, they typify what my husband and I have always called “a New Yorker story.” They are elegantly written and usually portray a certain class of self-involved, well-to-do, white, East-coast people. Many are divorced or separated, most are not all that happy. Despite their advantages, life has been in some ways a disappointment. It was interesting to trace some of the societal changes reflected in these stories as one moves from the early 70’s to almost present day. And, like a collection by Updike or Cheever, all the stories are well-worth reading. Perhaps, however, better taken in slow doses rather than all at once. 528 pp.

Lucia, Lucia, by Adriana Trigiani

Trigiani’s frothy novels make wonderful summer reading. Her writing is engaging as are her characters. A frame tale, the story of Lucia is told to Kit, a struggling playwright living in Greenwich Village in an apartment building that has fallen on hard times. Elderly Lucia lives on the top floor and is surrounded by boxes from B. Altman’s, the bygone department store where she was once an independent-minded career girl, to the despair of her traditional Italian family. She was also once “the most beautiful girl in Greenwich Village,” but she lives alone and has never married. How this came to be is the story she tells Kit over tea. Trigiani, as in other novels, weaves the generational stories of Italian immigrants skillfully into the narrative, and her love of fashion and the fine art of sewing are also on display. 304 pp.

Faceless killers, by Henning Mankell

Having read that this Swedish author had just published the last of his mystery novels featuring Kurt Wallender, I began the series with the first novel featuring him, hoping to find an author similar to Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo and Stieg Larsson. I will definitely want to continue reading the Wallender books. However, having read this book, the Larsson trilogy, and currently being in the middle of the new book, Hypnotist, by Lars Kepler, may result in my losing all interest in ever visiting Sweden despite my Scandinavian ancestry. What a scary bunch of folks! Although this first novel is twenty years old, the themes in the more recent bunch of Swedish bestsellers are already there – a stifling society and anti-immigrant prejudice feature in Faceless killers, and the gloomy weather is almost a character as well. 284 pp.

Sister, by Rosemund Lupton

A psychological thriller that explores not only the bonds of sisterhood, but the effect of loss in childhood and beyond. Beatrice’s younger sister, Tess, she’s the “flighty” one whle Beatrice is the typical good-girl, responsible older sibling, has died and Beatrice is convinced that the verdict of suicide is completely wrong and out of character for her life-affirming artist sister. The tragedy draws Beatrice back to London from her life in New York and she in many ways assumes her sister’s life and persona as she tries to prove the verdict wrong and bring the perpetrator to justice. Adding to the richness of the novel are the ethical questions surrounding medical intervention in prenatal life – Tess delivered a stillborn infant shortly before her death and had been given an experimental treatment to cure cystic fibrosis in utero, an inheritable disease that caused the sisters’ brothers early death. The author is a scriptwriter and the book seems destined for the screen. 336 pp.

Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman  268 pp.

When you think of Charles Darwin the first thing that comes to mind is not "love story" but that is exactly what this is. Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma, had a 43 year marriage that was an stunning example of what a good marriage could be. They were devoted to each other and their ten children in spite of their religious differences. Charles' agnosticism bothered Emma a great deal because she worried that they would not be together in Heaven after their deaths because Charles did not believe in such things. During their lives they suffered many misfortunes, including the deaths of three of their children, but never wavered in their commitment and love for each other. This is a charming book that shows an unexpected side of the amazing scientist and theorist.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs  352 pp.

This is a peculiar story about peculiar children and the events surrounding their existence. Sixteen year old Jacob sees the creature who killed his grandfather. His grandfather's cryptic last words leave him with a mystery that connects strange photographs found in his grandfather's house and a remote Welsh island. Throughout the book are odd vintage photographs of...peculiar children doing peculiar and magical things: floating in mid-air, holding fire, wearing bizarre constumes, appearing invisible, etc. All of it ties together in a fantasy/time travel story involving a group of refugees trapped in a Brigadoon-like existence whose peaceful, if unusual, life is about to be ripped apart. The author ends the book with the possibility of more about the peculiar children to come. I wasn't sure I liked this book at first but then it became one I couldn't put down. The photographs alone are fascinating.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Birds of Prey: Perfect Pitch/Gail Simone

Birds of Prey: Perfect Pitch by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey vol 5); graphic novel; 224 pages

I'm continuing to enjoy this series. This time around, Batman tries to put a stop to the Birds' operations in Gotham (culminating in a fantastic scene between Batman, Barbara, and her father, Commissioner Gordon, who basically yells at Batman to stop messing with his daughter--love it!). In another storyline, both hilarious and tragic, Black Canary and Lady Shiva switch places to better understand each other's background.

Over all, I had a lot of fun here. But I also felt like many of the ongoing storylines got wrapped up. I was disappointed by this, but then, maybe there will be something I overlooked. We'll see in the next installment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Bad Day for Scandal

A Bad Day for Scandal/Sophie Littlefield 290 pgs.

A great antidote for War and Peace although still loaded with philosophy and relationships...instead of romance, there is more lust here. Stella Hardesty is my kind of woman...confident, strong, with a life calling for justice and what is right. Stella continues her adventures in this third book by Littlefield...each of which keeps getting better. In this book Stella and her assistant Chrissy (who is very satisfyingly becoming a real computer nerd) are dealing with one dead body and a couple of missing people and a former Prosper resident isn't missed by most of the current residents. Stella's relationship with the Sheriff continues to heat up little by little and another love interest presents himself. The dialog and the situations in this book are quite funny. A short conversation between Stella and Chrissy goes like this:
"Hey Stella, how's a gun better than a man?"
Stella smiled, She could think of a few ways - depending on the man. And the gun. "How?"
"If you admire a friend's gun, and tell her so, she'll probably let you try it out a few times."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Heartless/Gail Carriger

Heartless by Gail Carriger (Parasol Protectorate book 4); steampunk, urban fantasy, alternate history; 400 pages

If you haven't read any of these yet, you totally should, but be sure to start with the first book, Soulless. This volume picks up about six months after the third volume: Alexia is eight months pregnant, and dodging assassination attempts from various supernatural groups. Soon, though, she hears of a plot to murder the Queen! Never one to be sidelined (even by limited mobility and a sprained ankle), Alexia vows to uncover the plot, even if it means delving into the history of her own adopted werewolf pack.

This book was every bit as witty and fun as the other have been. While the big action sequence at the end felt a little contrived, I was willing to overlook that in view of how much fun I was having. These books are like candy--quick, sugary, and not too substantial. Can't wait to read the next installment!

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within/Gail Simon

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey reboot vol 4); graphic novel; 240 pages

This is probably my favorite Birds storyline so far, even if I was too embarrassed by the cover to take it out in public. This collection starts out with a few stand-alone stories that feature the disparate women coming together and really starting to function as a cohesive team. Then Huntress has a fight with Oracle, which results in Huntresss leaving the group to strike out on her own. Meanwhile, Oracle is still feeling at after-effects of her battle with Brainiac, signs that are manifesting in increased computing abilities and dangerous health problems.

I loved the story here, and the art wasn't too shabby, either. I'm intrigued by the long-haul plots that were introduced here, and I can't wait to see where things go.

Wicked Plants

Wicked Plants: the weed that killed Lincoln's mother & other biological atrocities by Amy Stewart  235 pp.
The gist of this book is that darn near every plant has at least some part of it that can be dangerous or deadly, even the ones we commonly eat. It is written in an engaging manner that introduces the reader to common and uncommon plants that may grow in your own yard or in a far away jungle. Many are mildly dangerous, causing discomfort, rashes (like the bane of my existence, poison ivy), or other allergy symptoms. Others are so dangerous even a  minor encounter can result in serious illness or even death. You may have some of the toxic offenders blooming prettily in your flower beds. Included are tales of how various plants have caused illness and death or, as in the case of Mussolini's men using castor oil, used for torture. There's a lot of information packed in this small book and it's written in an engaging way. This is a worthwhile read for anyone who gardens.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

War and Peace

War and Peace/Leo Tolstoy 1291 pages

Part history, part political study, part semi-autobiography, part psychology manual, part romance novel...I guess a book this big can be all things to all people. And really, the page count does not take into account the sheer denseness of the words on the page. This took me longer to read than any other 1291 pages in the last many years of keeping track of reading. It certainly *is* a great book. I did not tire of reading it, just of holding it up. Tolstoy seems like a sentimental guy who likes most of his characters...not that there aren't any evil people in this book but most of the main characters are good people doing the best that they can and it shows through in the narrative how much Tolstoy likes the characters he has created. There are many historical figures sprinkled throughout as well who seem to get pretty fair treatment. In the end, what can I say about this experience? Tolstoy is obviously no fan of war as I am not either. The look into Russia history and the day-to-day lives of the rich aristocratic class was interesting and informative and something new to me. I am glad to have read this with so many others who are participating in Our Summer of War and Peace at UCPL and look forward to our final discussion on Wed.


Unbroken: a Word War II story of survival, resilience and redemption/Laura Hillenbrand 473 pg.

A remarkable story of Louis Zamperini who was a track star cut down in his prime a by World War II stint as a POW in Japan. His story starts out so fun and amazing. He was an interesting kid whose parents seemed to have virtually no control over who grew up into this amazing running machine. His times dropped so fast once he started training, he was compared to Seabiscuit in that the famous horse was the only thing who could run faster. After an impressive 1936 Olympics where he placed 7th in a race he had only run 3 times, he was looking forward to 1940 which would be his prime Olympics. War ruined these dreams and after becoming a POW in Japan, Zamperini's spirit was close to being ruined. Sadistic guards and horrible conditions in the various camps where he was held made it difficult for this outgoing positive person to maintain his humanity. Coming home after the war was difficult for many who tried to re-integrate themselves into society after suffering horribly. Zamperini had several difficult years before finding peace in Christianity and forgiving his former captors. An inspiring story that Hillenbrand delivers in a way that makes it so very readable despite the hard parts.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Finder: Voice

Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil  215 pp.

I don't know what to say about this graphic novel except that I really should have read the earlier volumes I didn't know about before I read this one. During most of it I was rather confused by the goings on. Rachel is part of the Llaverac clan by blood but admittance to the clan takes more than just being born to clan members. She is a competitor in an annual beauty contest, where the winner becomes a clan member. Things are very convoluted after that and involve the Native American-like Ascians, Voudoun-like gods, gender bending, and a missing ring. I haven't decided if I'm going to read the earlier volumes to make sense of this one or just let it slide.

The Water Seeker

The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt  305 pp.

This well written historical novel is the story of a boy growing to manhood in the early 1800s with a touch of magical realism thrown in. Amos Kincaid had a rough start in life. His mother died when he was born and his father was a trapper who was away most of the time. He was taken in by an relatives and neighbors only to lose them to illness. His father, Jake and his grandfather before him were born with the gift of dowsing, finding underground water using a forked tree branch. His father, however, sees the gift as a curse that would only tie him down and only uses his gift when absolutely necessary to make money. Because of his father's feelings about it, Amos hides the knowledge that he too has inherited the gift. After Jake returns from trapping with a new wife, a Shoshone woman named Blue Owl, he decides to take a job as a scout for a wagon train headed to Oregon. On the trip Amos matures in many ways, growing into a fine man who eventually finds his calling and the love of his life. 

War and Peace / Leo Tolstoy - remaining 700 p. (Rosemary Edmonds translation)

What have I learned?

  • War is mostly a chaotic mess

  • Peace is no easy trick either, and consists mostly of a happy family life (I think)

  • It is better to be rich than poor, but poor people can be happy too

  • Wandering aimlessly around the Battle of Borodino is a BAD idea, right, Pierre?

And much more. I hope I get a chance to talk to someone about two characters who still intrigue me: Sonya and Denisov, who get rather shortchanged by Tolstoy, in my opinion.

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers / Scott Carney 254 p.

A look at the various ways human bodies, either intact or in pieces, move 'up' the supply chain in the international marketplace. Each chapter details a different type of red market, from blood, organ and tissue donation, to anatomical specimens, to eggs, to surrogate uteruses (uteri?), and even to hair. The overriding theme is that beneficial body parts always move up the socioeconomic ladder, and never down, and the author's sympathies clearly lie with donors. Carney contends that laws intended to protect privacy of parties involved actually result in more opportunities for exploitation, while the notion that all transfers should be governed by altruism (donations) rather than sales has a similar effect. Definitely controversial, very interesting reading. Pairing this with Roach's Stiff might make for a lively discussion.

The Secret History / Donna Tartt 524 p.

How does an author create a story lacking a single likeable character that keeps you reading frantically to the last page? I can't answer that, but I can tell you that Tartt has done it. Richard Papen leaves his dingy California home for a small, elite college in Vermont. There he becomes enmeshed with a small clique who, the reader gathers, are the friends he's been waiting for all his life - brilliant, eccentric, fabulously wealthy, and entirely exclusive. Papen manages to hide his working-class background and so-so education to penetrate their circle, being accepted into their unique program of study: Greek and Latin classical literature and philosophy, all under the tutelage of Dr. Julian last-name-forgotten, a mysterious figure who looks like Dumbledore but may very well be...well, never mind. These very precious, special young people quote Aristotle like the rest of us toss off Seinfeld references and create their own moral universe, with disastrous results. Tartt sustains Hitchcock-like tension throughout. Just plain amazing writing.

The Snowman / Jo Nesbo 384 p.

I had a long wait for this one, but it was well worth it. Nesbo gives us another creepy, improbable and occasionally slightly funny murder mystery. Norway's first official serial killer challenges Harry by killing married women with children, and leaving behind hideous snowmen at the crime scenes. He uses one of the most unusual murder weapons I've heard of, provides plenty of false trails, and sets up a spectacular final showdown. I'm reluctant to give much away, but I have to believe that Nesbo has a bit of a laugh with some of this. The plot is intricate and Nesbo gives out just enough clues to tease you along. Harry continues to struggle with alcohol and romantic relationships and remains (for me) less sympathetic than Mankell's Kurt Wallander, but he's still lots of fun.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Handmade Marketplace/Kari Chapin

Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online by Kari Chapin; how-to, business; 224 pages

This is a great resource for anyone who wants to try making some extra money off their hobbies. Chapin targets this book towards crafters who want to sell online (either from their own website, or a parent site like Etsy), at craft fairs, or in local shops. She interviews successful merchants from all around the U.S. for tips on how to set up a shop, market your business, and more. The legal chapters were particularly helpful--Chapin includes information on sales tax, registering a business, and liability. Highly recommended for people interested in selling their crafty projects.

"Swans in Space" by Lun Lun Yamamoto

"Swans in Space" *Graphic Novel* - by Lun Lun Yamamoto (160 pages).

It's sad that even though this book has two girls as main characters, the story is so boring. When I think of the main character "Corona" I think of an alchoholic drink. I think the characters are suppose to be in sixth grade but the dress like they're in college.

So basically Corona and her friend are getting ready for bed (in their respective houses) when they are transported to another planet (or something) in order to help solve a problem. There's a blue bear creature... and some other convoluted stuff that I just couldn't get into. I wouldn't really recommend this book to anyone over the age of ten.

"King City" by Brandon Graham

"King City" *Graphic Novel* - by Brandon Graham (192 pages).

I want to live in this city, sleepless nights, great looking food and cats that can do anything with the right type of drugs... and when I say cats and drugs, I literally mean those things. Joe is a cat master. He's able to use his cat to do just about anything. With an injection his cat can turn into a parachute, duplicate keys and some other crazy, off the wall stuff. One would think he's using his cat's powers for good....but he's not. He's a... cat burglar(har har). A series of things are going on in this book, thieving, betrayal, curvaceous girls... but only reading it can do these things justice.

Brandon Graham has great talent, it's unfortunate he sided with Tokyopop. They are never going to print his volume 2.

"Hyperactive" by Scott Christian Sava

"Hyperactive" *Graphic Novel* - by Scott Christian Sava (108 pages).

I believe this story is a one shot, which is a shame considering how hilarious it is. Joey, an average elementary student comes to the realization his antsy attention span is really the early development of super human powers. He can out dodge dodgeballs, run faster than a car and wiggle out of any situation. His only problem is the slew of marketing agencies, mobsters and pharmaceutical companies clawing to use him as their spokes person.

The illustrations are fantastic and remind me of updated WWII propaganda art. I'd say this is a worthwhile read for someone who loves super heroes and bad cameos of Splinter Cell characters.

"Odd and the Frost Giants" by Neil Gaiman

"Odd and the Frost Giants" *JF Novel* - by Neil Gaiman (118 pages).
I don't really know where to begin. The story is fun and entangling (not in the confusing sense, but really easy to fall into). I don't normally read novels (due to my personal bias of most authors) but this was recommended to me and I couldn't say no. The story revolves around a kid named Odd and how his life sucked. Without giving too much away, the first chapter is set up like a Disney movie (one that is certain to make you cry for an animated character). It's good that talking animals are introduced soon after...otherwise I don't think I'd be able to finish it without returning it water damaged.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camera Obscura / Lavie Tidhar

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar. 412 p.

Cleo, Milady de Winter, grew up a street orphan in Paris and traveled Vespuccia as the Dahomey Amazon in Barnum & Bailey's Circus. Now she works for the Quiet Council, the shadowy rulers of Paris, keeping the peace in her city. But the murder of a man in the Rue Morgue is more complicated than it seems....

There's a lot of really cool stuff in this book. The setting is great--decadent 1893 Paris, full of automata, with Les Lezards across the water, minions of the Middle Kingdom's Dowager Empress using the Gobelin factory to make automaton goblins, and the Council of Chiefs in charge of freedom-loving Vespuccia. (And I always enjoy playing Spot the Reference, which was quite a lot of fun here--I especially like Q, the hunchback who lurks in the tunnels under the city, providing information but in a hurry to get back to his Esme.) I'm not a big fan of the actual writing style--sometimes the choppy sentences would distract me from the story--but the action scenes are generally well done, and the settings are really cool.

I understand this is a sequel to The Bookman, which I think might be set in England and thus might have more lizards in. I'm curious enough about the setting that I'll definitely be hunting it down.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family [

The commitment: love, sex, marriage, and my family/Dan Savage 291 pg.

Dan Savage makes his living as a sex columnist but I'm enjoy his books too. This book talks about his decade long relationship with his boyfriend, with whom he shares a son, and their decision making process and discussions leading up to the final choice of whether they should get married or just have a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of their relationship. Just like any couple, they disagree about and have odd ideas about what their relationship should be. Complicating matters, they live in a state that does not recognize same sex marriages so the benefits would be only the "mental" state of marriage, not the legal state of marriage. Savage writes in an engaging way about their "discussions" along with the pressure from his mother and their son. I listened to the audio version of this book. Although not read by the author, the reader did a wonderful job of adding emotion to story.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall 295 pages

Having won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her first novel, The Penderwicks, Birdsall has added another chapter to the this family's charming saga. To focus on the younger Penderwicks, Birdsall sends the parents and baby off to England and the eldest daughter, Rosalind to visit a friend for 2 weeks. So it is just Skye, Jane and Batty accompanied by their somewhat scatterbrained, Aunt Claire to spend summer in Maine. Many adventures ensue. Skye is worried sick that she is not up to the OAP position (oldest available Penderwick) and has lost Rosalind's written instructions. Jane is trying to write a romance novel and becomes involved in her first romance. Jeffrey comes to stay with them. He and Batty become passionate about music after discovering their musical neighbor's house full of instruments. Also, their is a mystery solved about Jeffrey's missing father. Totally heartwarming tale. Highly recommended.

Psychiatric Tales

Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham  139 pp.

This book is subtitled: eleven graphic stories about mental illness. The author uses his experiences working as a psychiatric nurse to present different mental illnesses, symptoms, causes, treatments, and case stories taken from his work. It covers depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, dementia, cutting, suicide,famous people with mental illness, and more. It ends with the author depicting his own struggles with severe anxiety and depression and how it caused a four year gap from the time he began this book until he finished it. Throughout, Cunningham includes a call for people to understand that mental problems are an illness just like any physical ailment and an end to the stigma that causes people to shy away from the mentally ill when they typically support and aid those with physical ailments. This is a very dark book about a dark subject and the simplified black and white drawings portray the subject matter well.

Crogan's Vengeance

Crogan's Vengeance by Chris Schweizer  185 pp.

This is the first book in "The Crogan Adventure" graphic novel series. Dr. Crogan tells his young son, Eric, the tale of his ancestor "Catfoot" Crogan who was a sailor turned pirate at the beginning of the 1700s. While aboard a ship with an evil captain, the crew allows a smaller pirate band to overtake them and joins them. In spite of being a pirate, that captain is a fair and moral man who refuses to pirate French ships because the French allow them access to their ports. That captain is killed by the evil first mate, D'Or who takes the larger ship and sets out to pirate whatever he can get. Catfoot eventually ends up warning the town of Kingsport of the impending arrival of D'Or and his men. Dr. Crogan uses the story of Catfoot to teach his son about having a personal moral code.

This series is recommended for age 13+ but I can only assume it's because of the violence, none of which is depicted in a gory or bloody way. In fact, even in a duel to "first blood" between Catfoot and D'Or, the only injury is a scraped elbow. The story and the lessons it tries to teach are appropriate for the intermediate grades. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury  267 pp.

I read this many many (many many...) years ago and really didn't remember much about it. When I found the audiobook I decided to give it another go. I was completely charmed by this book. It takes place in the summer of 1928, in Green Town, Illinois. The main character is Douglas, who grows up a lot in that brief time. He starts out the carefree summer of his twelfth year picking dandelions for the wine his grandfather makes, plotting a way to get new sneakers, and revelling in the contents of the junkman's wagon. During these simple acts, he comes to the realization of what it means to be alive. But with that realization comes the knowledge that life isn't always wonderful. He rides the town trolley on its last trip before it is retired in favor of buses. His best friend moves away. A neighbor fails in his attempt to build a "happiness machine". His great-grandmother dies, as does the elderly Civil War veteran Douglas and his brother nicknamed "the time machine" for all the stories of the past he told. The local newspaperman strikes up a friendship with an elderly woman who regales him with tales of her world travels before she too succumbs to death. There is even a serial killer in the small town, preying on young women when the moon is full. Douglas has his own brush with death when a mysterious fever has him in its grip. In the end, though, he and his brother look at the bottles of dandelion wine on his grandfather's shelf and they are convinced that they will always remember every day of that summer forever because they are so full of life and the promise of the future. Bradbury has created a believable town populated with characters you wouldn't be surprised to find there. I'm sorry I waited so long to read this one again.

Sacred Scars/Kathleen Duey

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey (Resurrection of Magic, book 2); young adult, dark fantasy; 560 pages (about 14 hours on CD)

I'm writing this review just minutes after finishing the book, so my review might be colored by my post-book high.

Sacred Scars picks up where Skin Hunger left off: Sadima is still struggling to free herself and Franklin from Somiss' insane plans, while hundreds of years later, Hahp is fighting for survival in the wizard school Somiss will one day establish. More happens in this book than the previous volume, but the pace is still slow and deliberate. The characterization is wonderful, and the tension Duey builds is so palpable that the book is hard to put down (I definitely missed a few turns while caught up in one section of the audio book). This might be one of the best things I've read this year. If you're looking for action, though, this is not the series for you.

And now for the bad news. I went into this series assuming it was a two-book set, since there hadn't been a new book for several years. Halfway through the book, I was pretty sure this wasn't going to wrap up in a single volume, so I visited Miss Duey's website to see what's going on. There is a third book in the works, it's just taking a while to write. So I'm stuck waiting with everyone else for the final book. You should still read these, even if you can't get the last book right away. I think the wait will only make it better.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, juv fic, 557 pages.
Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus Series" of which this is the first, are set at Camp Half-Blood, and feature several of the same supporting characters. And of course the Olympians, being immortal, are the same. This series begins to explore the Roman aspect of some of the deities as well and brings in three new main characters, Jason, Piper, and Leo. These three, with false memories of their time before Camp HB, are sent out on a quest to rescue the queen of the gods, and to stop the world from being destroyed by some evil giants. This was as much fun as any of the Percy Jackson series. My kids and I enjoyed this one and look forward to reading "The Son of Neptune" this fall.

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Downloadable Audio.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Criminal by Michael Van Rooy

Your Friendly Neighborhood Criminal by Michael Van Rooy, crime fiction, 325 pages.
Van Rooy's character, Monty Haaviko, Manitoba's friendliest brutal ex-con, is back. I didn't feel this was quite as well done as the author's first book, but since I just read on the back flap that the Van Rooy passed away in January, I am not going to rip into it. Most of my complaints were of the sort that some re-writing and polishing would have fixed. The author had a good voice and had made Monty into a convincing character; one who landed somewhere between Richard Stark's Parker and Lee Child's Reacher, as persons in whose way you did not want to be. An Ordinary Decent Criminal is the better of the two books Van Rooy wrote, but this is worth a read as well.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Batman: Bruce Wayne, Fugitive, vol. 3

Batman: Bruce Wayne, Fugitive vol 3; graphic novel; 176 pages

This volume mainly consists of Batman mopping up after the rest of the story. Part of that mans protecting the real murderer from the hit on him while he's en route to his trial. Another big chunk of this story is taken up by Batman's desire to set things right between himself and Sasha, his bodyguard/protegee, who was wrongly accused of the murder. The ending to that particular arc felt a little flat, but that could be because I missed the beginning of this story, when their relationship was formed.

Overall, the best part of this book was actually a stand-alone issue I'd read before, in a best of Batman collection: "24/7" tells the story of a typical day in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Basically, it's about how awesome Batman is, but also what a great person Wayne is when he's just himself. It's a little warm and fuzzy for Batman, but it's a nice palette cleanser for this otherwise dark and violent story.