Monday, October 31, 2011

Sidekicks

Sidekicks by Dan Santat 215 pgs.

Captain Amazing might be getting a little too old and and tired for his job.  He spends so much time fighting crime in Metro City, his pets feel a bit neglected but each has a dream of becoming their master's new sidekick.  The art here is just wonderful and the story is very fun.  Can't recommend this highly enough.  Oh wait, this is a book for kids!  Oh well, if you have any kid in you, give this a try.

Drupal for dummies

Drupal for dummies/Lynn Beighley 365 pgs.

This is great book to help you get started with Drupal.  It explains in easy terms how to install and  use Drupal for a basic website then goes into much more detail about using additional modules and setups to do everything from host a forum to open a store.  Very good reading for the Drupal beginner, now let's see if I can apply what I've learned. Still need to work on the design aspects of a website.

Rule 34 / Charles Stross

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. 358 p.

"Rule 34" is, of course, the internet meme that states, "If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions." Edinburgh Police Inspector Kavanaugh's job is to monitor that stuff on the internet and try to predict problems before they become unmanageable--a career comedown for her. She notices a trend of odd "accidental" deaths worldwide involving people who make illegal fabrications. Her boss doesn't want to hear it at first, but she does end up getting more and more involved in what turns out to be a horrifying series of murders. There are also secondary narrator characters, but I found Kavanaugh by far the most compelling. Stross' extrapolations of what people would do if 3D fabricator technology became widely available are plausible and horrifying.

This is the second Stross book I've read where the entire book is written in second person. That sounds really horrible, but I've found that after a few pages I don't even notice. I'm sure the book would have a radically different feel if it used traditional third-person narration, so don't let scare you off.

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The Walking Dead 7/Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead 7 by Robert Kirkman; graphic novel, horror; 304 pages

In volume six, Rick's band of survivors found a safe, well-supplied community that seemed too good to be true. In this installment, the gang has a breather from the constant threats of Outside, and interpersonal drama starts to surface.

I read this in a single sitting. I think I was expecting it to be duller than the other books in this series, what with the lack of immediate threats, but Kirkman manages to keep this story riveting. One of the things that I love (and hate) about this series is that Kirkman is constantly coming up with new ways for his characters to be in pain, whether emotionally or physically. That doesn't stop here. As I was told when I began reading this series, don't get too attached to any characters

Hark! A Vagrant/Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; comics; 160 pages

Cindy and Allison have already talked about how great this book is, so I'll just say that I agree with everything they wrote. I had a lot of fun with this, especially the spoofs on 19th century British literature (ah, Jane Eyre...). If you haven't checked this out yet, you should.

Edited to add: I'm ashamed to admit that I missed the pony factor of this work. That is now corrected.

The Unwritten, volume 4

The Unwritten: Leviathan by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, 144 pages

After a bit of a wait for this newest volume, it wasn't easy sliding back into the story of the possibly fictitious Tom(my) Taylor. However, this volume has Tom learning more about his past, about his abilities through the whale tales (Moby-Dick, Sinbad, Pinocchio, Jonah, etc.). It's nice to see Tom not completely oblivious (or in denial) about what he may be and I'm hoping that means this series is finally hitting its stride on that front.

One thing that really would have been nice in this volume: some sort of "the story so far" feature at the beginning. The Unwritten doesn't come out often enough to completely remember what happened last, particularly when you've got other complex graphic novels that you're reading in the interim.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monk's Hood

Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters  218 pp.

This is the third book in the medieval mystery series about the Welsh Benedictine monk, Brother Cadfael. I've read several books in this series and enjoyed the PBS Mystery episodes featuring Derek Jacobi in role of Cadfael. Because of that series I can't help but picture Jacobi's Cadfael in my mind when reading the books. In this episode a new resident within the abbey walls is poisoned with a liniment prepared in herbalist Cadfael's workshop. The prime suspect is the victim's stepson. The motive being the stepson's loss of his promised inheritance when the victim, Master Bonel, chose to give his manor to the abbey in return for food & lodging for his family for the rest of his life. Richildis, Bonel's wife turns out to be Cadfael's former fiancee who he left behind when he went to fight in the Crusades prior to becoming a monk. It is her son who has been accused of the murder. Cadfael sets about finding the true killer and setting things right. A side plot involving the possibility of a new abbott running the monastery has the ambitious Prior Robert, Cadfael's nemesis in the abbey, acting as if he has already been named the successor.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

God, No: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist, and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette


God, No: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist, and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette, 229 pages.

While Penn Jillette (the larger, more talkative half of Penn & Teller) couches his personal stories with a "hey I got way more success and money and friends who are strippers than I ever imagined I would have" sort of humility, he does seem to mention fairly frequently that he has a lot more success, money, friends who are strippers, and famous friends than you the reader (or me the reader, in this case) will ever have. I'm okay with that. I chose to read another celbrity memoirish sort of book. Eugene Merman, Anthony Kiedis, Keith Richards and many others should have taught me that there aren't many people of the televised or musical sort who are worth reading. John Hodgman and Tina Fey are the only two recent exceptions that I can think of right now. I heard Jillette on the radio a couple of weeks ago, and thought that what he was saying about atheisim and talking to people about atheism was compelling. Reading the book though, it is more about Penn Jillette. Much less of the book is devoted to atheism than I would have thought, and much more devoted to the aforementioned fame, money, and famous people.

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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich


Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich, History, 512 pages.

This was a fascinating and fun look at one of the oldest institutions in human history. There are brief, obscured glimpses at the popes of the first Millenia, with more detail provided for Sylvester I and his possible relation to Constantine, Gregory the Great, and Leo III, who crowned Charlemange. Late in the first Millenia, in the 900s, we encounter what the author refers to as the Pornocracy, a period of time that involved some very free-wheeling popes. During the second millenia, lots of popes follow, and unless they have a cool nickname, Pius IX was known as Pio Nino, or are referred to in one of the bad popes sections, Julius II is found in the chapter titled "The Monsters," they all run together. Good, kindly popes, ineffective popes, anti-popes, and lots of anti-semitic popes. They're mostly here, at least in brief. It is a fun read for anyone interested in the Catholic Church or Western history.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; Ransom riggs; bildungsroman with creepy photographs, 352p

I was, at first, pleasantly surprised by this book. I've been reading a lot of young adult fiction lately so I came into this one expecting it to be the same, really, given that the protagonist is a teenager. However, very quickly I was disabused of that notion, as Riggs introduces nazis and murder and severe psychological trauma in the early chapters. In some way, I think, the early chapters are the best. The narrator doubts pretty much everything he's been told by his grandfather, doubts his own sanity, and the ties that keep him with his family. And then he goes off to seek this fabled Welsh school where his grandfather lived as a refugee from Poland, and the book starts becoming more genre-predictable. When the most compelling aspect of a book is the narrator questioning his own reality, a lot of the drama is lost when we, and he, learn definitively what's going on. Still, it's a very tightly-paced story for most of the book, never quite getting into excessive harry potter-esque worldbuilding. Sometimes that's a bonus, not leaving the reader to slog through a bunch of fantastical exposition before getting back to the story. Sometimes, though, it's a detriment, when things get explained so quickly that when they start to go awry, I find myself unable to really care about the urgency of the situation, or the danger to the characters.
It's a very interesting premise that Riggs has built here, though sometimes the execution is confusing. It's predictable in spots, heartbreakingly good in others, and, I'd say, a pretty nice effort for someone's first novel. The ending is, shall we say, unsatisfyingly abrupt, and I wonder if Ransom Riggs plans to continue this story. If he does, I hope he manages to skirt the boggy patches of the world he's built and avoid falling into fantasy cliches. But just on its own, this book is sad, a lot of bitter and a little sweet, and on the whole entirely peculiar.

Catching Fire: Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire: The Hunger Games, Book 2; Suzanne Collins; Young Adult sci-fi, 391 p

Because things you do when you're just desperate to stay alive/keep your friends alive always have consequences! Terrible consequences. Katniss and Peeta's little eleventh-hour gambit in the first book turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the post-American country known as Panem (from the Latin expression Bread and Circuses, you get it, because they have to keep the people entertained and in check, okay, you get it, kind of a heavy-handed metaphor). Katniss doesn't figure this out until...fairly late in the book though, which makes me kind of doubt her intelligence. This girl is supposed to be an expert hunter, living off her wits to survive, and yet she's absolutely terrible at reading people. You would think those kind of skillls would go hand in hand, but apparently not. As a result, the horrible avalanche of doom that descends upon her is predictable to, it seems, everyone except Katniss herself.
The good part is, it's exciting and engaging, seeing this revolution start to unfold as the narrator is sort of on the sidelines the entire time. We the readers have to figure out what's going on based on limited information, and it's, dare I say, fun to see the grand horrible structure of Panem's Capitol fall apart into ruin and revolution. Makes you feel all warm and toasty. The fire theme is nice in this series, although really, the first book had more of it, and this second installment shifts from Katniss as The Girl Who Was On Fire to Katniss as The Mockingjay, which, again, is a little heavyhanded and obvious to everyone who isn't Katniss.
Of course the end is far too abrupt, especially since pretty much everyone tells me the third book is a disappointment. Ah well! It was fun while it lasted. I think I'll take a break from the series before reading Mockingjay.

The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games; Suzanne Collins; Young Adult, 374p

I read this book basically in one day and then started the second one as soon as possible, so my thoughts on this series are kind of blurred together. An excellent post-apocalyptic dystopian tale, plus some rather drippy teenage love triangle nonsense, but it's not NEARLY as bad as some other series I could mention, like Twilight, namely because Katniss, the main character, is so focused on the survival of herself and her family that she just does not have time to think about romance. Which is fantastic. She's much more of a role model for readers than, again, some other protagonists, but I'm not here to rant about how S. Meyer has pretty much glorified abusive relationships and set feminism back about fifty years.
Suzanne Collins, on the other hand, writes a very neat, tightly-paced adventure, and even though the plot twists (everything is horrible and it only gets more horrible!) are fairly predictable for the genre, they're carried off well, and The Hunger Games is a terribly engaging read. Also: It's REALLY GORY. A lot more gory than I was expecting from something YA! This was a pleasant surprise, actually, it makes the stream-of-consciousness narration from Katniss really pop.
I will continue this, with further thoughts, in my review of the second book. which should be posted in about fifteen minutes.

Where No Storms Come / John Deane 258 p.

One of the more unusual novels I've read recently, this is the story of Dorothy Lohan and Patrick Brennan, growing up in postwar west Ireland. As children, they develop a strong bond, but adolescence takes both of them into the religious life. The plot is not the central feature here, though. Dorothy and Patrick's stories read more like a poem, with brief scenes conjured in simple, beautiful language. The death of a beloved grandparent and a joyful ice skating adventure are two particularly vivid scenes. With its portrayal of a culture heavily steeped in religious tradition, in many ways this novel feels more exotic than a Japanese police procedural I read recently. Of course, there is family dysfunction as the result of alcoholism, but in fact this is not the novel's central feature. --Kathleen

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, 579 pages

A Discovery of Witches is a better-written mix between The Da Vinci Code and Twilight, but with Willow Rosenberg as the main character. The key word here is "better-written." Diana Bishop is a well-respected historian who also happens to be a witch, despite her lifelong attempts to ignore her magical powers. But while researching at the Bodleian, she manages to call up a long-lost manuscript with secret magical powers that sets all manner of beings after her. Among those, an uber-protective vampire named Matthew, with whom she quickly falls deeply in love and loves her back just as passionately (he can also go out during the day but thankfully does not sparkle).

Anyhoo, Diana and Matthew embark on a quest to discover all they can about her superfantastic magical abilities (think Willow in the later Buffy seasons) and this mysterious manuscript, all the while avoiding the powerful (and secretive) Congregation and its murderous minions.

It's a fun, quick read that marries the good (ok, good-ish) parts of the previously mentioned not-so-fantastic blockbusters and makes them much more palatable. This is the first of a planned trilogy and I'm looking forward to the next book.

Fable, vol. 8 & 9

Fables: Wolves by Bill Willingham, 125 pages
Fables: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham, 200 pages

After a ridiculously long wait for book 8 (c'mon, patron-who-turned-this-in-late, don't you realize other people are waiting for these books?), I felt a bit let down by Wolves. It might be because this one seems to be more single-track than the previous uber-complex volumes, but this Bigby-centric wasn't all I hoped it would be. I really like Bigby as a character and yeah, he does a lot in this one — coming home, infiltrating the Homelands, all sorts of romantic stuff with Snow White — but I kinda felt a bit meh about Wolves. I will say that I liked the Cinderella side story at the end of this volume. I like her attitude toward her spy jobs, and I'd love to see more of her in this series. (Mowgli, who played a big role in the first part of this volume, I could live without though.)

Sons of Empire, on the other hand, I liked quite a bit. This one mixed the war plans going on in the Homelands with some lighter short tales (I particularly liked the bit with the three blind mice) and Christmas with Bigby, Snow and their cubs. I also really enjoyed the last mini-issue, which answered reader questions, mostly in a humorous manner. I don't expect the humor to continue to prevail in this series, but Sons of Empire was a nice comedic break.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dead End Gene Pool

Dead End Gene Pool: a memoir by Wendy Burden  280 pp.

Wendy Burden is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of "The Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt. In this memoir she details growing up in an ├╝ber wealthy family of alcoholics, drug addicts, and other dysfunctional people. The family is rife with suicides, divorce, and other types of mayhem. Burden's own father committed suicide when she was six and she and her siblings were told nothing about it. Her mother entered into subsequent disastrous relationships as Wendy and her brothers were shifted from house to house and school to school, often living with the grandparents, their spoiled and annoying dogs, and a mass of foreign servants. Wendy copes by developing a fascination with the macabre and emulating Wednesday Addams while trying to avoid her mother as much as possible.

This is a rather dreary account of one faction of the Vanderbilts. I had hoped it would be more all-encompassing and include the other branches of the family but they aren't even mentioned. There aren't even any photos other than the ones on the cover which are not explained anywhere in the book.

Tumbleweed Skies by Valerie Sherrard 150 pages

Paperback books tend to gather dust on the shelf in the children's department unless they are part of hyped popular series (like Capt. Underpants, Geronimo Stilton, or Rainbow Magic). This gentle historical fiction novel, deserves a better fate. This is written in the style of Gates Blue Willow Plate and MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall. When the economy dives in the 1950's, Ellie's father is forced to leave her with his deceased wife's mother on her cheerless farm in Saskatchewan. His goal is to make enough money as a traveling salesman to pick her up and find a new place for the two of them. Ellie's Grandma Acklebee has to be the most bitter grandmother I have come across in children's lit. Unmarried Uncle Roger, who runs the farm, is much kinder. Over time Ellie discovers the reasons for Grandma's behavior and it is based in pain, disappointment and guilt. The ending is not sugar-coated and it is believable and has an element of hope.

Knifepoint by Alex van Tol 113 pages

Orca soundings strive for filling a high interest/ low vocabulary niche for struggling readers. Many of them I find rather lame and pretty unappealing to their target audience. They tend to be shelf sitters. Not this book. The writing is as sharp and gripping as the book jacket and title hints. Jill signs up for what she expects to be a perfect summer job, working on a horse ranch. All too late, she discovers that the hours are long, the pay is lousy and her co-workers are lazy. After a spat with her boss, she rashly agrees to take a lone rider on a mountain ride. Out on the trail, she discovers that she is the prisoner of a psychopath. van Tol packs a lot of action and tension in this fast read. Why limit this to poor readers? Horse lovers and survival junkies will enjoy this book, too.

Shine by Lauren Myracle 359 pages

This opens with a young victim of what seems to be a blatant, vicious gay bashing incident. 16 year old Cat had been a best friend of Patrick until she also became a sexual victim when she was around 12 and subsequently cut herself off from all friends. She feels called to action since it looks like the authorities would rather sweep the case under the rug than solve it. She is fearless, questioning local meth cookers and dealers, before she realizes that the case is more complex and touches all of her former friends and brother. Raw and rather bleak, Cat's life in squalid surroundings is told with polished prose that shines. Myracle is the best selling author of the Internet Girls trilogy - much lighter fare.

The marriage plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Sorry, I was disappointed. After the author’s wonderful Middlesex, I expected more of him than a book that mashes together a novel of academia, high-level chick lit, and homage to Salinger’s religiously troubled Franny from Franny and Zooey. I didn’t think I was ever going to run across the Jesus Prayer again. It’s the 1980s at Brown University. Well-bred Madeleine Hanna, who is enchanted by Jane Austen and Victorian literature, novels where “the marriage plot” drives the action, stumbles into a semiotics seminar where she has her eyes opened to a different world. And to Leonard Bankhead, poor and brilliant –perhaps her Heathcliff. Competing for her affections, ineptly, is Mitchell Grammaticus, who has begun exploring the Christian mystics. This triangle bumps along through their college years (angst, drinking binges, sex….) until on the eve of graduation Leonard has a breakdown, revealing a terrible secret he has been keeping. Then it’s off to India for Mitchell to continue his spiritual explorations and dabble briefly with working for Mother Teresa. Meanwhile, Leonard and Madeleine try to work things out at a rarefied biology laboratory on Cape Cod. Former English majors may enjoy the opening chapters more than those with less interest in The New Criticism and Deconstructionism. I found Madeleine somewhat undeserving of the attentions from either of her disturbed suitors. 406 pp.

Nothing daunted, the unexpected education of two society girls in the West, by Dorothy Wickenden

Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood were best friends since childhood. After bouncing around a bit (a European tour, etc.) after their graduation from Smith College in 1909, they suddenly decide to accept positions as teachers (for which they have no real training) in remote Elkhead, Colorado, on the Western Slope of the Rockies. The author is the granddaughter of Dorothy and based much of this rather charming book on letters from the period. Both women are indeed intrepid and find fulfilling lives in later life mostly because of this defining year. However, the book started out as a magazine article (the author is an editor at the New Yorker) and probably works better as a long article than a short book. I felt a lot of the history, which was interesting, was primarily padding to lengthy out the article. That said, you will enjoy meeting Dorothy and Rose and cheer them on. 304 pp.

The submission, by Amy Waldman

It was purely by chance that I read this around the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but it did heighten the relevancy of the book. What would have happened if a competition to design the 9/11 memorial had been won by an American-born Muslim architect of Indian background? Mo (short for Mohammad) is both secular and about as American as can be imagined. His design, of a peaceful garden, is selected by a politically appointed committee, with an assortment of over-sized egos, and immediately becomes controversial when the identity of the winner is revealed. Many decry it as a stealthy way to sneak a Muslim concept, that of the garden as paradise (particularly for martyrs), into the World Trade Center site. Emotions are still very raw. Protest groups form and demonstrations are held. The controversy brings out some of the worst, and best, in people and in the country. The book succeeds best in making one think about the issues rather than in developing the characters as fully rounded individuals. The title seems to be a play on both the “submission” of the design to the competition, and the “submission” to the will of God or Allah. 320 pp.

Cloud chamber, by Michael Dorris

Michael Dorris’s suicide, and the allegations that prompted it, probably have resulting in his being much less read that at the height of his popularity when he wrote A yellow raft in blue water. When my Kindle failed me (out of touch with its electronic masters in rural New Hampshire), I fell back on the time-honored resort of a traveler stranding with “nothing to read” and picked up a copy of this book at the Pillsbury Free Library book sale. It is a multi-generational and multi-cultural tale which begins in Ireland during the “troubles” before moving to Kentucky and later Montana and Washington State. I found the Irish chapters unengaging, but things picked up after the emigration to America. However, it is only in the final chapters that the author finds his voice and brings this saga full circle to Rayona, the heroine of Yellow raft. A prequel of sorts to that much better book. 316 pp.

The bird artist, by Howard Norman

Set in Newfoundland at the turn of the century, this brief but moving novel explores the confined world of its inhabitants and a defining murder. Fabian Vas is a “bird artist,” he draws and paints the birds around him, particularly waterfowl. We also know from the first paragraph that he is the one who committed murder. How this came to be is slowly revealed in the first person narration of his story. Isolated much of the year by weather and the rest of the time by remoteness, only the mail boats regularly escape the village and its close-knit relationships. When Fabian’s father embarks on a months-long trip to hunt birds to make money for a trip New Brunswick to meet the fourth cousin that his parents have arranged for Fabian to marry, his mother takes up with the lighthouse keeper. This sets in motion the events that lead to his death. An economical yet intense exploration of passion, guilt and redemption. 289 pp.

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke, 273 pages

Let me tell you right off the bat that I've never seen the Dick Van Dyke Show. I know that it's a giant gaping hole in my pop cultural education and one that I need to fill, post haste. That show is, I'm guessing, the main reason most people pick up Dick Van Dyke's memoirs. Not me. Mary Poppins all the way.

Anyway, Van Dyke's memoir is just the sort of light, rambling tale that you'd expect to hear from the man who consciously decided to focus on family-friendly projects. He tells the reader from the introduction that this book is not the place to find sordid tales of Hollywood, so while his skimming over his own drinking problems and marital infidelity are not a surprise, it's still something of a disappointment. I mean, when you're talking about how your wife goes into painkiller rehab the same day you're coming out of alcohol rehab, couldn't you go just a little deeper than, "What a pair we were!" Mr. Van Dyke?

That said, this is a light friendly autobiography that's heavy on the show biz reminisces. For me, it was a nice break from all the school-related reading I've been doing lately. And it was yet another reminder to check out the Dick Van Dyke show. I'm even more convinced now that I'll love it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Die Trying

Die Trying/Lee Child 434 pgs.

The second book featuring Jack Reacher is an improvement over the first.  Jack ends up kidnapped by a crazy militia with 100 armed "soldiers" and the solution does not come down to him personally killing each one...so as I say, an improvement over the last book where Jack easily took out 6 highly trained and armed men without blinking an eye.  But still, there had to be the point when I almost tossed the book away and that came following the tender love scene in the forest where he and the crippled (injured) but still sexy FBI lady consummated their 4 day old relationship right after completing a very disgusting task.  Call me a nut but I just don't see the romance in this situation.  Still, a fun read with plenty of action.  Does a stinger missile really travel at 1000 mph?  I may have to look that one up.

The Star Maker by Laurence Yep 100 pages

A warm family story about a young Chinese-American boy and his uncle. Artie over reacts to teasing from his mean cousin and rashly promises to give all his relatives fireworks for the next Chinese festival. His uncle, a popular but not very successful man, promises him help to fulfill his goal. However, there are several setbacks and a little romance before Chinese New Year arrives. This is set in San Francisco around 1954, when family customs were very evident in Chinatown. This is an excellent partner to Tomie de Paola's reminiscence of growing up in Italian part of Conneticut.

Vampire Crush, by A M Robinson 408 oages

Could this be my last vampire book? Like a kid who is finishing a plate of dessert too big for him, I feel oversated with vampire literature. In this story, the guy next door -- you guessed it ---is a vampire. Sophie, a sophomore seems to have some unexpected talents of her own. Sophie's primary goal at the beginning of the book is to become editor of the school paper. James reappearance does distract her more than a bit. By the end, she does help settle the dilemma of who is more worthy to hold that position. Rather breezy, none of the high drama of Twilight saga.

Crossing the Tracks, by Barbara Stuber 258 pages

This historical fiction is set here in Missouri around 1926. Young Iris discovers that she is to be shipped off to help a country doctor for a summer. Her widowed father has plans to open a second shoe store in Kansas City and it looks like his new girlfriend wants Iris out of the way. Iris adapts to her new home and enjoys the family she works for. The doctor's invalid mother is easy to work for and Iris decides to make her own future. Fortunately, she has a good friend who corresponds with her and helps her in her hour of need. Iris is spunky and resourceful -- a girl worthy of more than the limited life her father seems to offer her. Then and now, communication is necessary to keep a family healthy and thriving.

Kick by Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman 197 pages

What a story and what a back story. On the basis of a fan email sent by a young high schooler, Walter Dean Myers, dean of male y a literature, extended an offer to co-author a book and three years later, here is that book. The story is a sports story of a young soccer player who gets in trouble while helping a female friend. It appears that he took her father's car and side-swiped another car. The police officer is called to help because of Kevin's legacy. His father was a police officer who died in action. Sergeant Brown wants to help Kevin out, but is put off by Kevin's quick temper. Kevin wants to help Brown out with a case involving his friend's maid. In the end they help each other out and Kevin even teaches Brown a few soccer moves. This mentoring works on several levels and is a good guy's book.

Ice Harvest

Ice Harvest/Scott Phillips 217 pgs.

It is Christmas eve and Charlie is getting ready to get out of town.  Turns out he has been skimming off his boss for awhile and has not taken the "final" step of clearing out the business accounts.  Charlie is kind of a scum bag but then again everyone else who shows up in this book is pretty much the same.  This is certainly not an uplifting story but since you do't really end up liking anyone very much, their fates seem fitting.  Also a movie.

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The Book Thief/Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; historical fiction, young adult; 560 pages (about 12 hours on CD)

This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years, but since it's outside my preferred genre (fantasy!), I was always finding myself putting it off. Then my book club chose this as the October book, and I HAD to read it. Even then, I chose to listen to it instead, and I'm glad I did. There were some difficult parts to get through in this story, and I'm happy I had the audiobook continuously plowing along so that I had to keep going.

Death is the narrator of this story, and that right there should give you an idea of where this story is going. Leisel is only ten when she's brought to live with a working class family on the outskirts of Munich in 1939. She's enrolled in school for the first time in her life, and between school and her foster father's dedicated "classes," she discovers the joy of reading. As the WWII begins to heat up, Leisel and her family begin to feel the restraints of living under the Third Reich, but it isn't until the arrival of an old family friend that the cruelty of Hitler's rule is really brought home.

Leisel relies on books for a lot in this story: escape, distraction, enlightenment, and friendship, to just hit the tip of the iceberg. Through it all, there are the interactions of the crazy but lovable cast of characters: Rudy, the boy next door who's secretly in love with Leisel; Frau Holtzapfel, half of a longstanding feud between herself and Leisel's foster mother; Frau Hermann, the mayor's wife, who is still haunted by the death of her son in WWI; and of course Leisel's adopted parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, whose interactions with Leisel were one of my favorite parts of the story.

Knowing how this book ends (it's no surprise--Death tells us in the first chapter) made it hard to read, but it was so well written, and rich in characters, that I'm very, very glad I read this (even if it did make me cry while driving home).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

After the quake

After the Quake: stories/ Haruki Murakami 181 pgs.

A series of stories from Murakami (becoming a favorite of mine) about his usual themes and issues.  This set of stories feature the events following an earthquake in Kobe Japan.  The quake is a life changer in each story but at the same time seems to be a very background detail.  Murakami is always interesting and this book is no exception.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Medical Mind

Your Medical Mind:  How to decide what is right for you/Jerome Groopman & Pamela Hartzband 308 pg.

Making choices about your medical care can be difficult for so many different reasons including, of course, the stress placed on you by being sick in the first place.  Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband go through many options to help people clearly evaluate their options and deal with their deeply rooted beliefs about their health, the healthcare system, doctors, etc. I think the book does a good job with this subject but I have to say that Groopman's earlier book How Doctor's Think was a book I think literally EVERYONE should read.  This book is very good but doesn't reach the level of mandatory reading.  I did enjoy the personal viewpoints of the authors...one aggressively pursuing medical treatment and the other much more oriented to "wait and see".  I can certainly see the advantage of having a doctor with an approach similar to your personal beliefs and maybe in a medical crisis getting a second opinion from a doctor with a different viewpoint.

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The Death-Ray

The Death-Ray/Daniel Clowes 48 pgs.

This is really Andy's story...a quiet, lonely boy who becomes a quiet, lonely man.  Andy lives with his grandfather after the death of his parent's and grandmother.  He is the kind of kid that only has one friend and you can't really tell if you can trust the friend.  One day he smokes a cigarette and finds out that nicotine activates super strength.  He becomes a vigilante and also discovers his father left him the death ray which sort of turns out to be too much for him.  In the way of every other book I've read by this author, the characters are awkward loners without girlfriends and usually pretty angry.  I'm not sure why that attracts me but I always look forward to reading this author.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Drama

Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow  320 pp.

John Lithgow's acting life began at age two in a production of the theater run by his father, Arthur Lithgow. In this memoir John Lithgow chronicles growing up in the uncertain life of a theater family. The family moved around a lot as his father took on jobs as artistic director at colleges and small theaters around the east and midwest. The junior Lithgow had no intention of a career on the stage, planning instead to be an artist. But acting in plays at Harvard hooked him in and he went on to study in London and work his way up through summer stock and small theater companies before becoming a favorite on the Broadway stage, ultimately winning Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and other awards along with Oscar nominations.. Lithgow recounts his successes and failures, foibles and strengths without conceit. In fact it seems he writes more of his mistakes than his accomplishments. A large part of the book is an homage to his father and an acknowledgment that he is indebted to the theater education he received often through osmosis. The book mainly focuses on Lithgow's stage acting although there are brief mentions of some of the films he was in as well as the t.v. show "Third Rock from the Sun."  I wish there had been more about his motion picture work and less about his affair with Liv Ullmann and the resulting break-up of his marriage.

Green Witch by Alice Hoffman 135 pages

More of a novella than full formed book, this spoke to me of the sad anniversary of 9/11, although it is actually a sequel to Green Angel (2003). Lyrically narrated, it is the story of Green's life a year after her family and town were destroyed by the Horde, a group that hates modern invention of any kind. Green is just beginning to reach out to other people and connecting with survivors. After planting a garden, she begins to write stories. This leads to a quest, first to gain existential answers about life and then to break out the Horde's prisoners. Beautifully written.

Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene 127 pages

I loooooove Stephanie Greene. Her Owen Foote series for young boy readers is the best. This is the third in the series about a modern day Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary series). In this episode, Sophie is greatly anticipating her first double digit birthday. Since her older brother got a car for his 16th birthday, she is thinking big. She is a planner and more than a bit of a conniver and she voices her birthday wish to her Dad while he is watching an intense football game. He actually did say yes when Sophie whispered her request for a baby gorilla and she starts going into heavy planning for the baby gorilla's arrival. She lets her big news out among friends, but doesn't really tell mom. Great family and friend story

Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers p186

I have read a lot of books by Walter Dean Myers. He is probably the most published author of black young adult male books. This felt a little bit rushed and unpolished. Seventeen-year-old "Lil J" is holed up in a house having a dialog with a weird dude. He is trying to escape after a drug deal went south and finds himself almost confessing to the guy. The guy seems to see into his soul and tells him how he could have made better choices at different points in his life. It is gritty and seems real. I wonder if reading this could be a wake up call for other guys at a crossroad in their lives. I preferred Monster about another young guy caught in the prison system for poor choices in his life.

Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff 103 pages

It was a little difficult for me to relate to Sophie. This third grader has the smarts and confidence to rule the world. She enjoys studying calculus and math has never been my forte. In fact, she yearns for a graphing calculator and I have never used that device. Her parents are concerned that she is not having a "normal kid" childhood. I do confess that my parents worried that I read too much. Lisa, though, is able to channel her wisdom to classmates also having parent issues and earn her graphing calculator. It is funny, but I wonder if young chapter book readers will "get" the humor. She is kind of a female Great Brain for a slightly younger reader.

Dark Entries

Dark Entries by Ian Rankin  214 pp.

If Dante were to write The Inferno today, on what level of hell would he make the punishment a reality television show? That is the question that came to mind while reading this graphic novel. John Constantine is a paranormal investigator who is hired by the producer of a reality television show that is a sort of cross between "Big Brother" and "Survivor" that takes place in a haunted house. The six people who have been chosen to live in the house have been dealing with their own hauntings before the show's producers started their own spooky stuff. Once there Constantine discovers things are not as they seem on the show and the producers are not what they appear to be. The shift in the reality of the story is shown by the change in the background of the art from white to black.

This book is based on the John Constantine, Hellblazer character but done by a different author and illustrator.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Junonia

Junonia by Kevin Henkes, 176p.

This was a great quick read for a juvenile fiction book. Alice and her parents make an annual visit to Sanibel, Island, Florida and stay in a cottage named Scallop where she has always celebrated her birthday. This year she is celebrating her 10th birthday, and one of her friends who visits the island the same time Alice does each year and stays in one of the island cottages is not going to make it. Instead some new visitors come and stay in her friend's cottage. This really upsets Alice because she wants things to be the same as they always are every year. Alice struggles with accepting "change", but soon learns that things change and at the same time makes a new friend. This is a really cute vacation read.

A Sickness in the Family

A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina  180 pp.

This "house of Usher" has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe. At first glance, this Usher family is pretty normal. There are the parents, Ted and Biddy, their children William, Amy, and Sam, and grandmother Martha. After the savage murder of their downstairs neighbor by her husband, things start going wrong. Ted buys the downstairs flat to make their living space larger. Workmen installing a staircase leave a gaping hole in the floor that Martha falls through causing a stroke. A mysterious fire erupts in Amy's room. Then family members begin dying. Adopted son, Sam, believes the house is haunted because he has discovered a witch was burned at that location. This graphic novel brings to mind Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" television show--very dark and creepy.

Entwined/Heather Dixon

Entwined by Heather Dixon; young adult, fantasy, fairy tale; 480 pages

Princess Azalea and her ten younger sisters love nothing more than dancing; their mother taught them, and it's one of the ways that they feel closest to her. But when their mother dies giving birth to another daughter, the king orders a period of mourning: for the next year, there will be no leaving the castle, no opening the windows, and no dancing. The girls are devastated, until they discover a secret passage in their room that leads to hidden garden, perfectly suited for dancing. The girls travel there each night to dance under the watchful eyes of Keeper, the mysterious being who guards the passage. But soon Keeper starts acting strangely, and makes it known that there is a price for dancing in his realm.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite fairy tales, so I'm always looking for new retellings of it. This version had everything I've come to expect in the best versions of this story: danger, intrigue, and romance. Dixon's storytelling style reminds me strongly of Robin McKinely's voice, so that was an added bonus! The setting--a hybrid of once-upon-a-time-ness and more modern technology (trains, clocks)--was refreshing, as was the "prince" character who finally helps to save the day. Also, kudos to Dixon for successfully working all twelve of the sisters into this story--it would have been too easy for her to merge some of the younger sisters into one character, but she keeps distinct personalities for each.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Osiris Ritual / George Mann

The Osiris Ritual by George Mann (a Newbury & Hobbes investigation: book 2). 319 p.

The setting for this series is pretty cool: London, 1902, with airships and automatons alongside horse-drawn cabs and typical Victorian stuff. Queen Victoria is kept alive by strange devices. One of Newbury's contacts, a bookseller with a vast collection of occult tomes, had one eye replaced with a mechanical device. When Lord Winthrop hosts a grand party at his home, the pinnacle of which is the opening of a very unusual mummy case that he brought home from Egypt, his servants are automatons that are designed to look like Egyptian statues. Newbury ends up investigating Winthrop's murder, which ends up tying into his attempt to find a rogue agent. Hobbes is trying to find out whether a stage magician is causing young women to disappear. She keeps trying to interest Newbury in her problem, but isn't too successful until (of course) the cases converge.

Mann's very good at atmosphere, and some of the action setpieces are really cool. However, there's something off-putting to me about his characters. I can't really put my finger on it, but I don't feel any sympathy or connection with the characters at all. Still, I am planning to read the third book (The Immorality Engine).

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Hark! A Vagrant/Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant; Kate Beaton; comic, 166p

If you are a fan of a) history b) literature c) Nancy Drew d) Canadian politicans e) fat ponies and sexy Batman, you ought to be reading this webcomic. Kate Beaton, it is generally agreed, is pretty much a genius, and in addition to her economical lines and excellent caricatures, she is incredibly, unbelievably funny.
This collection of Beaton's comics is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Hark! A Vagrant has to offer, but there are some real gems here. I highly recommend her book cover interpretations, in which she takes excellent oddball cover illustrations (Edward Gorey did a lot of covers for classic books, I did not know that!) and extrapolates a plot from just the covers. It's pure gold. Nancy Drew has, in this light, lost her grasp on reality. it's amazing.
I also highly recommend: Mystery Solving Teens, Dude Watching With The Brontes, and anything she's done regarding Shakespeare.
My one complaint is that this book doesn't have enough Fat Pony or Napoleon. :(

The Unwritten vol. 3: Dead Man's Knock/Mike Carey & Peter Gross

The Unwritten, Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock; Mike Carey &; Peter Gross; graphic novel, 160p

Okay in my review of Volume 2 of this series I mentioned how Carey and Gross have been taking advantage of the graphic novel medium to really make the most of the story being told. This volume, I must say, takes that to new heights, with the addition of a whole chapter formatted as a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BOOK. In addition to be bascially the coolest cheesy thing to come out of the 80s/early 90s, the CYOA format is a frankly brilliant way to tell the story of a character who is currently in a coma. The jumbled mindset! it works so well!
Aside from that totally awesome chapter, the rest of the book holds up well, and I feel like the plot is really...congealing, for lack of a better word. Gelling? meshing? This plot feels solid, the characters are in good/interesting/dramatic places in their development, and I cannot wait until the next volume. THE DRAMA! 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? vol. 5

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? vol. 5 by Philip K. Dick  144 pp.

In this fifth volume of the graphic novel version of Philip K. Dick's classic book, Bounty hunter Rick Deckard and his dysfunctional wife revel in their newly purchased goat (live animals are virtually extinct and very expensive). Deckard is
ordered to go after the last three renegade androids and he enlists the help of android Rachael Rosen. After a brief sexual encounter with the android, he sets out to find the renegades. And now I await the final volume in the series.

As in the other volumes, there is added material about Philip K. Dick, written by authors & artists who knew him. This is the first time while reading this series that I could "hear" Harrison Ford saying Deckard's dialogue as if it was the movie "Blade Runner."

The Submission

The Submission by Amy Waldman 299 pgs.

I'm not sure what to say about this book.  The premise is that it is 2 years post 9/11 attacks and their is a jury tasked to choose a design for a memorial.  The competition is anonymous and it turns out the winner is a Muslim which throws the whole thing into a tizzy as people protest the designer, the design, the jury, etc.  The book does explore some interesting topics...people question their beliefs, and change their minds.  The public pressure on the jury, the politicians, the families of the victims and the public.  This part can be interesting as people examine their own motivations and ideas...the actual story is a bit less intriguing.  Of course our main character is a flawlessly beautiful, rich and smart widow and her main opposition is a working class Irish guy who has always been a disappointment to his family but lost a brother in the attack.  Too much talk about his lust, etc. for my taste.  Not that it wouldn't happen, I just think it takes away from the struggle of deciding the central issue.  Anyway, an interesting book, just wish it was better.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Worldshaker by Richard Harland 388 pages

Col Porpentine has spent his whole life on a juggernaut, the Worldshaker commanded by his grandfather. When his grandfather announces that he has chosen Col to be groomed as his replacement, his rather calm life is turned upside down. He meets Riff, an escaped "Filthy" and begins to question the social organization onboard. He becomes persecuted at his new school and discovers that his jealous, older sister is behind the torture. The absurd solution to his social problems seem to be to betroth him to a vapid young girl. He reluctantly agrees although his heart belongs to the natural born leader, Riff. This reminded me a bit of vintage Joan Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and is a rousing adventure that should entertain both boys and girls.

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney 299 pages

Another teen fantasy. Donna Underwood is home schooled by her aunt since she had a meltdown and destroyed a locker after being teased by a cruel classmate. Her father was killed when trying to save her from a fey. She survived but her arms were severely injured and later rebuilt through alchemy. They work okay, but look like they have complex tattoos and she usually tries to hide them in gloves. Her mother lives in a mental institution and pretty much her own world. Donna meets her match at a party, Xan who has magical issues of his own. She also has a good friend, Navin who is abducted by evil wood elves. Lots of action and a little romance.

Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan 440 pages

Sequel to The Devil's Lexicon. Don't bother with this unless you have read the first book. Teen fantasy with magicians and demons. Mae tries to protect her brother, Jamie who is being targeted by Gerald, evil leader of the Obsidian Circle. Nick and Alan, who are kind of enchanted brothers, try to save each other. Mae doesn't know who she is most attracted to: Nick, Alan or Seb (who initially seems "normal"). Are you confused? Don't think that I will bother with book 3.

Life Is Not a Stage

Life is Not a Stage by Florence Henderson  264 pp.

Okay, I'm going to admit it right off the bat: you can call me un-American, but I am not a fan of "The Brady Bunch." That being said, I do respect Florence Henderson and her talents. This book is her autobiography, beginning in a large, poor farm family and taking the gutsy step of heading to New York to tackle Broadway while just a teen-ager. Her singing talent got her noticed by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which led to an amazing career spanning 60 years. Through it all she raised four children (son Robert is a great guy and a good friend to the library Children's Dept.), suffered from postpartum depression, hearing loss, divorce, heart problems, and a disastrous one night stand with NY Mayor John Lindsay (who gave her crabs). Henderson gives an honest account of her life, warts and all, and waxes philosophical on life, death, and her career. She also sets the record straight on her supposed "affair" with Barry Williams (Greg Brady). I listened to the audiobook version which is read by Henderson and includes a 17 page pdf of photos that were included in the print version. 

Faceless Killers

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell  284 pp.

When I get tired of reading other things I fall back on mystery series and have been searching for one that's new to me. Enter the Kurt Wallender mysteries, recently made into a Masterpiece Mystery series on PBS (which I haven't watched...yet). In this first book in the series Wallander is a middle-aged, soon to be divorced, Swedish police officer who is estranged from his adult daughter, drinks too much, and is gaining weight from eating junk food. When a seemingly innocent elderly farm couple is brutally murdered, Wallander heads up the investigation. The woman's last word was "foreign" which immediately sheds suspicion on the large refugee population of the area. Soon the police discover that the innocent farmer was not all that he seemed which takes the investigation in another direction. But someone is threatening the lives of the refugees which adds to Wallander's problems which also include his father suffering from dementia and a possible love interest with the new district attorney. There's a lot going on in less than 300 pages. This is a tidy police procedural and a series I'll probably continue reading.

A Bride's Story

A Bride's Story vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori  190 pp.

I'm not a frequent reader of manga but this one caught my attention for one main reason: There are no angsty teen-agers or crazed demon-like creatures. Instead this is story is set in the time of the Silk Road.  Twenty-year old Amir has been betrothed to Karluk, a boy from another clan who is eight years her junior. They must navigate cultural differences and an attempt by Amir's brothers to repossess her to marry off to someone else. Yes, the characters have the typical manga style big-eyed, pointy chinned appearance. However the drawings of the clothing and lush decor of Karluk's family home are beautifully done. I just might continue reading this series.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs/Olen Steinhauer 278 pgs.

Emil Brod is a newly graduated homicide detective in an unnamed Eastern European country right after WWII.  The country is occupied by Russian troops and is kind of a mess.  Emil gets assigned his first case, one that nobody wants him to solve.  He works through it and in the process gets shot, beaten and falls in love.  I listened to the audio version of this book and really enjoyed the reader.  The author also wrote 2 of my favorites - The Tourist and the The Nearest Exit.  This book doesn't quite compare but I also discovered it is the authors first book and that made me like it more.  Certainly an interesting story and an interesting young character that I also discovered shows up in later books.

Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility/Amor Towles 335 pgs.

The bulk of this book is set in NYC in 1938, an important year in the life of our main character Katey Kontent, a working girl of great intelligence and wit.  She an her good buddy Eve are out on the town when they meet a successful banker Tinker Grey.  Although he and Katey seem to have an attraction, an accident gets in the way of their romance and the story takes several twists that we don't expect.  Katey still manages to look good and do good work during the time she is waiting for the issues with Tinker to resolve themselves.  Later when they have a chance, she finds out something even more disturbing.  This description seems stilted but giving any details away will make the reading of this less fun.  I really enjoyed the book and also find it intriguing that it is written by a man but has such strong women characters.  More details that I liked - Katey is a reader and there is a George Washington reference (I'm still obsessing about Washington).

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Night in the Lonesome October / Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. 280 p.

Ah, October. Time to read one of my favorite books again. It's hard to explain why this book is so much fun; it's full of references to other stuff, and it has a great narrator, and sometimes Zelazny just has to play with the language because it's fun. Plus there are illustrations by Gahan Wilson. I always end up with a goofy smile on my face when I read this.

Snuff, our narrator, is a dog--now. ("I like being a watchdog better than what I was before he summoned me and gave me this job.") He lives in Soho with his master, Jack, who possesses--or is possessed by, possibly--a magical blade. Because the full moon will fall on October 31, they are involved in a Game with a group of strange folks. If the other side wins, the way will be opened for the Elder Gods to return to Earth. Snuff & Jack are on the side of the closers, who want to stop the opening. So yes, Jack the Ripper is one of the "good guys" here. Snuff mostly interacts with the familiars of the other players, although he interacts with Larry Talbot and the Great Detective (guess who that is). I love Snuff's narrative voice, and his unique combination of intelligence and canine instincts: "Jack told me I was an excellent watchdog. I was very proud."

My review from last year.

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The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, 507 pages

Let's get this out of the way right up front: Yes, this book has 507 pages in it, but I only read 240 of them. Why? I hated this book and even though it's been sitting on my bedside table for the last few months, waiting patiently for me to pick it up again, the idea pains me. I'd rather read my really boring and poorly written management textbook; at least that one would fulfill a reading assignment.

The Lacuna is about a half-American, half-Mexican closeted gay guy who grew up mostly with his self-centered mother in the early part of the 20th century. The book is supposedly a series of journals that Kingsolver "found" and published after the guy's death. The premise sounds promising, especially once you consider that the guy serves as a secretary/cook for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as well as Leon Trotsky (who is never referred to by name). Eventually the guy (whose name I don't even care to look up at this point) becomes a famous author, according to Kingsolver's introductions to different parts of the novel.

So why does it suck so much? Nothing happens. It's just this guy observing what everyone else is doing while he pines over the random other guys who aren't gay. 240 pages, and that's all I got out of it. I expected a lot better out of Kingsolver. I loved The Poisonwood Bible and had high hopes for this one. It just doesn't live up to my expectations of, you know, something interesting happening.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, 222 pp.

Whoa. This is one of those "There but for the grace of God..." stories that are happening all around us these days. So it's easy to identify with/feel the terrible pain and desperation of the Bergamot family when their Beautiful Life is suddenly shattered. I loved the mom, Liz. As the mother of a teenager and an adopted 6-year-old who has gone from the laid back life of college-town Ithaca to the hyperlife of Manhattan private school mom, she is overwhelmed and exhausted, even before her son gets into trouble. I wanted to cheer out loud when she said, "This beautiful life. I DON'T WANT IT!" Well done, Schulman, although I'm not sure we needed the little peek into the future as a way of finishing the novel. Recommended.

Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America/"Leslie Knope," Nate Di Meo

Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America; written, compiled, researched, typed, collated, proofread, and run through spell check by Leslie Knope, with Nate DiMeo and the creative team of Parks and Recreation; 240p

Basically, if you are not watching Parks and Rec, you'll miss 90% of why this book is utterly hilarious. Also if you're not watching Parks and Rec you have earned my eternal scorn. Kidding, kidding! This is an excellent tie-in for the show, particularly since the book, and Leslie's frantic efforts to get it in the local bestseller-guaranteed book club, were featured in a recent episode. And it was hilarious! Good times were had by all.

The level of detail this book goes into, presenting all the minutiae and useless history of a fictional podunk town is, shall we say, obsessive. And that's exactly how Leslie Knope is, and the work put into the book shows both the character's love for her town and the creators' love for their show. Good work done by all!
I have to say, my absolute favorite aspect of the book are the footnotes, sometimes long and rambling and filled with hidden comedic gems, sometimes brief snarky back and forth exchanges between co-workers.
Also the appendices (plural!) offer the reader that legendary treasure, the holy of holies, the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Words cannot describe its majesty, its deep spiritual meaning for every human being. You simply have to experience it for yourself.

Basically, this is a show you should be watching (since it's pretty much the best scripted show on tv right now, IMO) and if you're watching the show, you should read this book. At least to tide you over until the next episode.

Fables, vol. 5, 6 & 7

Fables: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham, 166 pages
Fables: Homelands by Bill Willingham, 190 pages
Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) by Bill Willingham, 143 pages

I don't know how, but I just keep liking this series more and more. The Mean Seasons starts with a look into Bigby's past, which seems somewhat similar to that of Wolverine (of X-Men fame, naturally). But still, it's nice to see where the guy's coming from, and to meet his dad, the North Wind (yeah, seriously). Anyway, this installment also introduces the reign of Prince Charming as mayor of Fabletown, something that proves over the next few books to be a monumentally bad decision by the residents of the secret community.

Homelands takes us back to, shock of all shocks, the Homelands, as Boy Blue goes back to do a bit of reconnaissance work and rescue Red Riding Hood while he's there. It's an interesting view, again, into the backstory of the fables and into what the Homelands are experiencing while the fables live in secrecy in New York. This book also serves as the launchpad for Willingham's spin-off series, Jack of Fables. The side story into Jack's foray into Hollywood is interesting enough, but somehow I'm skeptical about a whole series based on this guy that I really don't care that much about. So we'll see if I read it.

Arabian Nights (and Days) introduces the idea that the fables of different cultures have separate homelands, and are dealing with the Adversary individually. This volume includes a visit from Sinbad, the temporary unleashing of a genie, and show Prince Charming in a rare moment of humility as he's forced to admit that his predecessor, Old King Cole, had some political skills after all. This volume ends with a story about a couple of the Adversary's wooden puppets falling in love and becoming human, with the caveat that they have to do some wicked deeds in the mundane world. I'm curious what becomes of this couple, and I hope Willingham continues to check in on them from time to time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lucille

Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme  544 pp.

This depressing graphic novel is the story of an Lucille, an anorexic girl who wants to be so thin she ceases to exists. Juxtaposed to her story is that of Arthur/Vladimir, a boy with OCD whose alcoholic father commits suicide. These two very damaged young people find each other and run away, finding a brief period of happiness together. The illustrations are spare, pen and ink drawings, often with no text. At first glance it appears to be a simple book, but there is much going on. This is the English language translation of the original French graphic novel.

The Greater Journey

The Greater Journey by David McCullough  558 pp.

During the 19th century, Paris was the place to visit for Americans. Many were artists seeking to learn more of their art. Others were politicians, writers, architects, doctors, students, and socialites. McCullough has collected the stories of many of these, the well-known and not quite so famous. Painters George Healy, Samuel F.B. Morse, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens honed their artistic talents in that city. At that time, Paris had the best medical schools in the world which lured many to study there, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in America. James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Henry James and other writers traveled to see if Paris could offer them inspiration.

Many of the American visitors spent months or even years in Paris. Others made the often harrowing ocean journeys to return more than once. Many of those who made the trip had never left home before and didn't speak the language. They survived epidemics, wars, revolutions, bitterly cold winters, and other hardships but it didn't stop them from finding their experiences in Paris to be some of the best of their lives. As always, McCullough has done impeccable research and produced a very readable account of a remarkable time.  

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O'Connor 168 pages

Summer may be over, but its not too late for this perfectly crafted summer tale for middle grade readers. Owen knows just how he wants to spend his summer. He wants to "doctor" his "pet" bullfrog and solving the mystery of what made the huge crash while falling off the train. He is onto an adventure when he locates the answer to the mystery, a two-person submarine!!! Unfortunately, his nosy parker next door neighbor, Viola seems to know everything. Owen doesn't want to let out his secret or his "pet" bullfrog. He does want to pilot the submarine with his guy pals, but how? Delicious summer fun has an old-timey feeling to it.

The Boy Who Comimbed into the Moon by David Almond Illustrated by Polly Dunbar 117 pages

David Almond has won many awards for his young adult books: Skellig, Kit's Wilderness and others. This is very different from those. This has elements of Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupry. A previously unimaginative boy devises a goal to touch the sky. He lives in a tall (29 story) apartment building and decides to go to the roof and hoist a ladder into the sky. He gets help from an odd assortment of characters and makes a weird discovery. This fable exhorts readers to be bold, use their imagination and literally, reach for the stars. British humor at its quirkiest!

Henrietta Hornbuckle's Cirucus of Life by Michael de Guzman 152 pages

An unusual circus tale about an unconventional family. Henrietta is perfectly content with her life as a clown in the circus. It is all she has ever known. Her parents, teachers and friends are all clowns until one horrible day. They were walking home from dinner when a car hits and instantaneously kills her father and alters her life. Her mother contacts a sister that she had broken contact with. She decides to close the circus, although Henrietta pleads for one last performance in memory of her dad in New York City.

Brightly woven by Alexandra Bracken 354 pages

Another fantasy... Sydelle is whisked away from her desert village the day after a deluge causes much damage and destruction. She is taken by a young wizard, Wayland to be his assistant. She is not sure what she can do besides repair his clothes with her loom. She is oblivious of her terrible gifts that can cause killing weather forces. Her talent makes her a valuable pawn in a game for power between several rulers. Her feelings for Wayland are ambivalent; she is drawn to him, but sometimes he seems to treat her as his property. The ending is a bit rushed. This is a pretty good debut novel for readers who like a little magic and a little romance.

Call me Princess by Sara Blaedel 302 pages

For those who enjoyed Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, another grim Nordic tale of a twisted serial rapist. Suzanne was only looking for love when she visited a popular dating website. Instead she becomes the prey of a seemingly faceless villain. She insists that the attack was actually her fault. The next victim is found dead. Detective Inspector Louise Rick is assigned to the case and finds that she has a connection to the man. This cautionary tale would keep me from dating websites, for sure.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It looked different on the model

It looked different on the model: epic tales of impending shame and infamy by Laurie Notaro 221 pgs.

Have you ever gotten trapped in clothing that was too small?  Laurie Notaro has.  She almost had to wait in the dressing room for a week or so until she lost enough weight to get out of that blouse.  Have you ever turned anyone in to homeland security for buying up too many kitchen timers on ebay?  You guessed it, Laurie has.  This woman is BUSY, let me tell you and most of what she does is funny.  Be careful at the post office if you end up behind her.  She practices "Prairie Medicine" and has no problem confronting the young man sleeping in her yard.  Laurie is underrated so don't miss this great collection of her stories.

Just Kids

Just Kids/Patti Smith 278 pgs.

This memoir is on the 2010 ALA notable books list.  It is a sweet story about the author and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.  It is a good slice of life in NYC in the 60's and 70's but it is also a lovely story of these two growing up and "finding" themselves.  I enjoyed reading it and want to continue my lifestyle which includes never going hungry due to lack of money to buy food.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation/Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation by Ray Bradbury, adapted by Dennis Calero; graphic novel, science fiction; 160 pages

The Martian Chronicles was one of the first "hard" scifi books I read, and to this day it remains one of my favorite. I haven't revisited it in several years, though, so I was psyched to pick up this book.

The "adaptation" part of the title is key here, because this graphic depiction only includes a small fraction of the nearly 30 stories that make up the book. The choice of stories is interesting, in that it includes some stories I only vaguely remember, while others that I consider classics are completely absent ("There Will Come Soft Rains" is not included, much to my disappointment). Still, the work manages to capture the tone of the original, and the great cycle of the Mars settlement. Calero's art is shifting and indistinct, and adds a nice element of tension to the stories, and helps to set up the mood.

My Year with Eleanor

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock 295 pp.

I have to admit I ended up with this book in error. I was looking for another book on Eleanor Roosevelt in the library catalog and saw this listed. I misread the author's name as Hickock and jumped to the mistaken conclusion that she was a relative of E.R.'s friend and confidant Lorena Hickok and had spent time with the inimitable Eleanor. Since I'm a big fan of all things Eleanor Roosevelt, I requested the book. I realized my mistake when it arrived but decided to give it a go and it grabbed my attention quickly.

Noelle Hancock is a free-lance journalist who has written articles and celebrity gossip columns and blogs for various magazines. After losing her job she realized she had also lost her confidence and was now riddled with fear and anxiety. Taking a cue from the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "Do one thing every day that scares you," she embarks on a year of facing fear. In that year she balances mastering small fears with experiences like shark diving, flying in small planes, sky diving, trapeze artist school, performing  stand-up comedy, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. During that time she also tries to tame an addiction to sleeping pills. On days when she couldn't come up with a fear to tackle she would run naked in the hallway of her apartment building. Interspersed in her experiences are brief anecdotes of Mrs. Roosevelt as well as quotes. Parts of Hancock's story are touching and other parts very funny. It was a worthwhile mistake.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Corpse / Jessica Snyder Sachs

Corpse: nature, forensics, and the struggle to pinpoint time of death by Jessica Snyder Sachs. 270 p.

A very readable overview of the different markers that experts have used to try to pinpoint time of death. Besides the basic body markers--lividity, rigor, temperature--are other possible information sources, such as potassium levels in the eyeball. In addition, environmental factors such as bugs and plants--even the dirt around a body found outside--can provide additional information streams. The author does a great job of explaining to the layman the limits of each kind of information and what factors can distort that particular marker. She also details the history of various kinds of scientific study--there's a lot of discussion of entomology and how scientists set up studies to provide more detailed information that they could apply to the time-of-death question. An excellent book, although you might not want to read it while you're eating.

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