Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Salvage the Bones by Jessmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones by Jessmyn Ward, Fiction-261 pages

This year's National Book Award winner starts out quiet and slow, but builds to a big, strong finish. 15 year-old Esch, motherless, lives in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. The story revolves around her, her family, their place, her brother Skeeter's dogs, and the impending storm. It is a thoughtful, violent, and beautiful piece of work.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, mystery,274 pages.
Silas "32" Jones returns home and has to deal with the consequences of his long ago inaction in this interesting, but ultimately disappointing thriller.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King by Lev Grossman, Fantasy, 400 pages This follow-up to 2009's The Magician. Quentin doesn't want to came back. In Fillory the friends from Brakebills, are kings Elliot, Quentin,--okay obviously I wasn't paying attention when I was blogging about this book late at night on the last day of November, so, to continue days later-- Elliot, Quentin, that other character, and Julia don't want to come back, but past events are catching up with them. Julia and her comrades among the hedge-witches are the most interesting part of a story that alternates between the current activities of Quentin, and what happened to Julia while he was off at Brakebills. Again, a splendid blend of the Narnia books people with characters out of Jay McInherney's books.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, fiction,
The characters and the place are just right in this odd and off kilter story of some odd people interacting with a violent, bullying man. Everyone ends up scarred,or worse,when they encounter Bud. A well-done book for those who enjoy Frazier's quirky character and his sense of style.

Boxer Beetle

Boxer Beetle by Ned Beauman 246 pgs.

This is a crazy book set in the 1930's about a homosexual entomologist and Nazi sympathizer who is also interest in eugenics. There is a present day connection to a crime scene at a  collector of wartime memorabilia that is discovered by a fellow collector who suffers from trimethyaminuria.  Yes, you will probably need google/wikipedia nearby if you read this book.  Oh and I can't forget my other favorite character, the tiny but powerful Jewish boxer Seth "Sinner" Roach.  There is something in this book to offend almost everyone if you don't  keep in mind how incredibly funny it is.  Favorite line, "Overstimulation of the senses means mass degeneracy."

Snuff / Terry Pratchett

Snuff: a novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett. 398 p.

This is a Sam Vimes novel--well, a Watch novel, but much of it is set outside Ankh-Morpork and doesn't involve the rest of the Watch (although we do see some of them). Lady Sybil drags Vimes to the country, so Young Sam can get acquainted with the family estate. As always, Vimes remains an officer of the law no matter where he is. By the end, Sam has learned a bit about country ways, another race has become accepted into Ankh-Morporkian society, and justice has been served.

Some of the character voices here seem a little (Not the character actions, just the dialogue. It's hard to pinpoint.) Still a hugely enjoyable book, though. Especially because we see lots of Willikins, the family butler, and he is a delight.

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The MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. 207 p.

(Why yes, I did actually read this cover to cover.) What I really wanted to do while sick was watch a whole bunch of MST3K, but sadly I don't have a working VCR, so my tape collection is useless, and I only have a few eps on DVD. So I read this instead. It covers the first seven seasons--all of the ones where the show was on Comedy Central. Each episode gets a short description of the movie, a description of each host sketch, anecdotes about how the actors felt about that particular movie, and other random sidebars. It's the next best thing to watching the shows ("ooo, I remember that sketch!"). Plus there's like 30 pages of humorous front matter. I think the note about the typeface is my favorite bit.

The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy / Martha Wells

The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy: The Wizard Hunters (443 p.), The Ships of Air (475 p.), The Gate of Gods (484 p.) by Martha Wells (1402 p. total in paperback).

I was sick all during the holiday weekend (boo!) and too muzzy-headed to concentrate on anything new, so I went for comfort reads. The Fall of Ile-Rien may be my favorite fantasy trilogy ever. I'm fond of all of Martha Wells' books, but I really, really love Tremaine Valiarde, our main character. (Tremaine would object to being called a "heroine.") She's drawn into her country's war effort because it's dangerous and she has a death wish; she discovers that she wants to stay alive because the enemy sneers at her and damn it, if she's gonna die it's gonna be on her terms. I know I'm doing a really bad job of selling this, but Tremaine just delights me as a character. She doesn't follow the traditional fantasy young-hero-coming-into-power path, which makes her growth and experiences much more interesting to me.

Plus the books are full of all of Martha Wells' strengths: well-drawn settings, interesting and varied characters, culture clashes that make sense from both sides. Some day I'll figure out how to describe her books well enough that everyone else will want to read them, too. If we lived in a just universe, she'd be a bestselling author.

Darkness becomes Her by Kelly Keaton 273 pages

Yet another paranormal book for teens. However, this is set in New Orleans, postapocalyptic New Orleans, that is. After a natural disaster destroys New Orleans, nine prominent families purchase the territory from the federal government. Rumors fly about supernatural beings. Ari was abandoned by her mom shorting after the disaster. Her mother enters a sanitorium where she later dies. Grown up (17 yr old) Ari is out to learn the truth about her heritage. She has questions, like what's with her white hair and teal eyes? Could she be cursed???? The author seems to be trying to blend popular series like Twilight and Lightning Thief. It didn't really work for me.

Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry 151 pages

Two time Newbery winner has written a light chapter book starring church mice rather than people. Their days of comfortable living in Saint Bartholomew may be numbered. After parishioners complain about mouse sightings, an exterminator is scheduled to take care of the problem. Even more disturbing, the annual Blessing of the Animals is fast approaching -- which means cats and dogs will be descending on the church,too. Is this the time for a mouse to have a new litter?? Unfortunately, a new litter arrives and Hildgeard, self-appointed Mistress of the Mice tries to cope. Fans of Graham Oakley's Church Mice books will be in heaven!

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer 250 pages

Just look at the luscious cover of this book! Foster is a young girl who has dealt with heartache (her beloved dad died a soldier in Iraq), by watching the Food Network and adopting TV cooking show celebrity idol Sonny Kroll as her mentor/idol. Her goal is to have her own TV cooking show someday, sharing recipes, techniques, and morsels of homespun wisdom. Achieving this goal is not going to be easy. She can't read. Her mom yanks her from their home and flee Memphis. In the escape from mom's abusive, egomanical boyfriend Foster loses her pillowcase -- her treasure box of all her letters, medals and mementos of her father. Although she is devastated, she makes new friends and literally cooks up a job for herself. She becomes Culpepper's cupcake queen, whipping up cupcakes and muffins each day and selling them to a gruff diner owner, Angry Wayne. Her newest friend introduces her to the town celebrity, Miss Charleena, who seems to be hiding out from Hollywood and the world. Before you can say chocolate cupcake, Charleena is teaching Foster to read and Foster is teaching Charleena to cook. This book has a lot of teachable moments. My only complaint is that Bauer, who has written plenty of award winning teen books, but no cookbooks, does not include any recipes. Any reader will be craving a yummy cupcake or moist muffin before finishing this book.

The Sentry by Robert Crais 309 pages 0399157077

This does not open with a dead body, but a sadistic killing. Several other bodies are discovered in this latest Joe Pike mystery, and I think the best ever. Crais has a large following, especially for the series starring the strong, mostly silent loner. Pike, a former cop is a force to be reckoned with. He is a killing machine, often protecting the weak against criminal organizations. In this installment, Pike happens to be in the wrong spot at the wrong moment and witnesses an attempted shake down at a sandwich shop. He intervenes maiming the two bad guys and vowing to help Dru Rayne and her uncle. He is attracted to the modest single mom and is devastated when she and her uncle appear to be abducted. He enlists the help of sidekick Elvis Costello, "world's greatest detective" (according to Elvis)to try to locate them. Since Dru said that they were Katrina victims, Elvis rings up his former girl friend for some help from Louisiana. This is the first book that Pike seems afflicted with human frailities. He accepts Dru's story -- and discovers a truth that involves a drug cartel. It is not necessary to read the Pike stories in sequence; just about all of them are gems.

Axe Cop

Axe Cop by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle  130 pp.

This is a collection of quirky comics create initially as a family joke between two brothers ages 5 and 29. The stories are created by the 5 year old and drawn by the older brother. The series evolved from cartoons done just for the family to a web comic to book form. The main character is a "cop" who finds a fire axe that he decides will be his weapon to fight "bad guys." In the first episodes Axe Cop auditions sidekicks which end up being an odd collection of creatures including a giant avocado-man with a unicorn horn. The bad guys are equally quirky and frequently dispatched by the use of the axe, or poison, or explosions. The individual episodes are obviously from the mind of a 5 year old which makes them sometimes childlike and other times surreal. There are also amusing "Ask Axe Cop" (say that 5 times real fast) segments where online readers can post questions which are then answered by the the authors in cartoon form. If you don't mind the explosions and/or decapitations, this is a fun book.

The Little Friend / Donna Tartt 555 pp.

An entirely different story from Tartt's The Secret History, but no less engaging. Harriet Cleves Dufresnes is growing up in small town Mississippi in the 1970s in the long shadow of her older brother's unsolved murder when she was an infant. The murder has ruined her mother, who copes by taking pills and staying in bed, and left her older sister dreamy and fragile. Harriet, on the other hand, is precocious, tough, and determined to solve the case and exact vengeance. The cast of characters here includes a snake-charming preacher, an oily car salesman, a psychotic ex-con, and an ex-con who may or may not have a heart of gold.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mockingjay: The Hunger Games, book 3/Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay: The Hunger Games, Book 3; Suzanne Collins; dystopian fight the man Young Adult sci-fi, 390 pages.

Okay, this is the point at which I outgrew the series, I think. I'm smarter than the narrator, I can see the plot twists coming, and there gets to be a point in the narrative where it's just one more bad thing happening to Katniss after another, I hate to say it, but the horrible stuff stops having much of an impact when there's so much of it, etc.
Also the ending was....pretty schmaltzy, actually, as far as these things go, and it felt as sickly-sweet and terrible as that godawful epilogue to the last Harry Potter book.
In general: the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy: fantastic, without doubt. The third book? WEAK. SAUCE.
It should be noted that from the very beginning I was never interested or invested in the whole "oh man which boy will Katniss declare her undying love for etc etc whatever" drama, and...yeah, I felt nothing about that entire process. consider me bored.

A Monster Calls/Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; young adult; 214 pages

Thirteen-year-old Conor lives with his divorced mom in England. His father lives on the other side of the Atlantic, and his grandmother is his polar opposite, so Conor's mom is pretty much his only family--and she's slowly dying of cancer. When Conor wakes one night to find a monster outside his room, he's surprised it's not the monster from his recurring nightmares about losing his mom. Instead, this monster offers to tell him three true stories, and in return, Conor must tell him a fourth, and it must be the truth.

I read this book fairly quickly, but it's by no means a light or easy read. Conor grows up a lot over the few days covered in the book, and the emotional range Ness covers is huge. The illustrations are perfect: dark and brooding and totally fitting the mood of the book. Highly, highly recommended, not as a fantasy or horror story, but as a realistic look at grief and loss.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet / David Mitchell 479 pp.

The more I like a book, the harder I it is for me to write about it. That means this post will be excruciating for me! This is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and like the rest of you, I read a lot of books. Jacob accepts a position as clerk with the Dutch East Indies company at Dejima, a fortress-like town off the coast of Nagasaki circa 1800. He is young, reverent, intelligent, and scrupulously honest, which traits may make it difficult for him to make his fortune quickly enough to marry his sweetheart Anna back home in Zeeland. His plans get complicated quickly when he meets Orito, a beautiful but disfigured midwife. Worse for Jacob, he is not the only, and certainly not the most powerful, man interested in her.

I could give much more detail about the plot, but that would do little to convey what I found wonderful about this book. The dialogue is so intricate and complex (and often, extremely funny) that it deserves to be called Shakespearean. Mitchell conjures up a world that most of us know nothing about - Japan in a state of almost complete isolation - and makes it fully real. Jacob's inability to discern friend from foe, even among his own countrymen, overlays perfectly with the challenges inherent in all cultural collisions. Suspense, mystery, and the interplay of faith and the Enlightenment. What could be better?

Death of Achilles / Boris Akunin 320 pp.

This was a perfect audio for a long car trip. Fandorin is a Russian detective only recently returned to 19th-century Moscow from Japan with his faithful manservant, the samurai-like Masa. Upon arrival, he immediately learns of the death of an old friend, General Sobolev, known as the Russian Achilles. It appears that the 38-year-old General died from natural causes, but Fandorin is immediately doubtful. The investigation takes him to the boudoir of Moscow's most famous chanteuse and into seedy underworld cafes and high-level government offices. Full of secret poisons, arcane weaponry, skilled hitmen, and lots of bodies. It's summertime in Moscow, so there's no snow here, but it's still great fun. Audiobook reader Paul Michael does a great job: his Russian accents sounded great to this utnrained ear, but were fully comprehensible.

Night Strangers / Chris Bohjalian 378 pp.

What is it about ghost stories and New England? If Amityville had been in Omaha, would it still have been scary? Anyway, Bohjalian understands how to set the stage for maximum eeriness: a quaint, isolated New Hampshire village, a gingerbread Victorian house with secret passages and an earthen cellar, and some very nosy 'herbalists' who smile a lot and take an inordinate interest in 10-year-old twin girls. Chip and Emily retreat to Bethel, NH, after Chip's commuter jet crashes in Lake Champlain, killing the majority of his passengers. Their new haven is not what it at first seemed, however. Bohjalian does an expert job of keeping you guessing whether Chip is merely traumatized or truly possessed by spirits, and whether the plant ladies are only hyper-organic or something far more sinister. Most impressive to me were the long descriptive sequences of the plane crash...ultimately far more terrifying than any haunting.

The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian  375 pp.

Captain Chip Linton is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after ditching the plane he was piloting, causing the death of 39 people. He moves with his wife and twin daughters to a small New Hampshire town in hopes of getting away from the publicity and healing from the trauma. But in the basement of the Victorian house they buy is a mysterious door sealed shut with 39 bolts. Why was it so tightly sealed and is there a connection to the suicide of one of the twin boys who lived in the house decades before? Chip begins to hear voices in the house and soon the apparitions begin. Is he losing his mind from the guilt he feels over the victims of the crash? In addition, a strange group of women, all named after plants and proclaiming to be "herbalists", have taken a strange interest in the twin 5th graders. Are the women really trying to be helpful or is there something more sinister in their plans? This is a good, creepy tale.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor 418 pages

You know that old adage, "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover?"... this book has a GREAT cover, a person wearing a harlequin mask seems to promise intrigue and atmosphere. Also, right above the author's name: "by National Book Award Finalist". It could have been that I was too tired when trying to read this book, it took forever to finish and just about the time I was ready to give up, I thought "but I read over half"...There are great elements: it is set in Prague, there is a mysterious collection of human teeth and a dandy heroine: blue-haired Karou. She is an artist and more, much more. She collects teeth for an unusual foster parent, Brimstone in exchange for money and magic beads. Each bead can be exchanged for a small wish, like to instantly learn a language, or grow blue hair. She travels through portals to collect the teeth. Her best friend Zuzana helps save her from depression after her bad breakup with Kaz. I guess it was the chimera and seraphs that lost me. I will not move on to book two no matter how great the cover and reviews are.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, fiction, 581 pages.

I had trouble getting into this book. During the first thirty to fifty pages, while the unnamed protagonist is attending school, I was afraid that this was going to be a bit of a slog. Once it got going though, it was a wild ride. The scenes at the paint factory and the industrial clinic are surreal. The communist / activist part is never boring. We had a great discussion about this book in late September. A true classic.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, Fantasy, 288 pages.

One of life's great disappointments must be reading one of your favorite books from childhood to your own children and having them be more than a little bored. To them this is a poor substitute for Percy Jackson. We're on to the latest PJ now, so they're happy. I enjoyed re-reading The Hobbit, except for their obviously and loudly not finding this their new favorite. I hope that they appreciate it more in a few year. Lots of ponies, though.

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Vessels by Howard Schwartz

Vessels by Howard Schwartz, poetry, 60 pages.
A beautiful collection of poems from local author Howard Schwartz. Published in the late 1970s, this has held up well and it is best read alongside Howard's most recent collection, Breathing in the Dark.

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The Shortcut Man by P. G. Sturges

The Shortcut Man by P. G. Sturges, Noirish, fiction, 209 pages.
Dick Henry, the shortcut man of the title, is willing to get his clients what they need without taking the long, complicated, legal way around things. Whether his clients need an obstinate tenant evicted, money recovered from a scam artist or a philandering spouse uncovered, he can do it for a price. A good solid read for fans of anti-heros and noir. There is a follow-up novel due out in January, so that's good.
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The Unwritten: vol. 4: Leviathan/ Mike Carey et al

The Unwritten volume 4: Leviathan; Mike Carey, Peter Gross, some other awesome people; graphic novel, 142 pages

Let it be known that I manually counted the pages because Horizon is down and some slacker did not enter the page count on WorldCat. So there.

But enough about that! This volume was maaaybe the best in the series, we're really getting in deep into the mythology Carey has woven, and it is rich and terrifying. The art is magnificent in this installment, there's a great switching-up of styles as our hero Tom Taylor traverses the strange, tenuous boundaries between intersecting realities. Our protagonists are not really any closer to understanding what they need to do or how to do it, but the full immense scope of the things at stake has, in a way, been revealed.

actually I'm really grumpy that this is the latest installment because I want MORE, and NOW. sigh. Waiting is awful.

Spooner / Pete Dexter 496 pp.

Patrick gave this one rave reviews many months ago, and I can only add that I loved the story of this dysfunctional family as much as he did. One of the best accounts of a (step)father and son I've read.

The Great Influenza: the Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History / John M. Barry 546 pp.

This was a heavy, long and intense read, but it was well worth it. Barry chronicles in great detail the course of the flu pandemic that erupted just before the end of WWI, killing at least 100 million people. (That number, like other assertions in the work, is the subject of some scientific debate. There are virology blogs - cool, huh? in which people argue some of his points; however, the book was very well reviewed by most standard sources.) In any case, I can't tell you how on target Barry's science is; I can say that the book is heavily footnoted and contains a truly impressive bibliography. Some things I learned: the virus apparently emerged initially in mild form in Kansas; Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit cities in the U.S.; St. Louis fared better, having instituted strict quarantines; in its worst forms, the 'flu' was a truly gruesome death. The narrative derives its strength from Barry's outrage at the foot-dragging of many public health and military officials, whose poor decisions may have cost many lives. He directs particular venom at Woodrow Wilson, claiming that his strategy of pouring all national resources toward the war effort overseas weakened the ability of domestic officials to cope and left great swaths of the country with only the most poorly qualified medical professionals to assist them.

The Heart Specialist / Claire Rothman 325 pp.

Our Monday Matters reading group enjoyed this, and I did, too, with qualifications. This is a fictional re-telling of the life of Maude Abbot, one of the first female physicians in Canada and certainly its first female cardiac specialist. She overcame tremendous obstacles, scorn, sexism and hostility to carve a place for herself in the medical community of Montreal and the wider world. It's always refreshing to be reminded of what women had to go through to determine their own destinies a mere hundred years ago. Abbot's story is fascinating; my complaint with the novel is that Rothman has given us too blurry a sketch of the woman. Long sections of her life are elided, and Rothman is especially stingy with the details of her work. Still, this was a good, solid piece of historical fiction.

The Barbarian Nurseries / Hector Tobar 422 pp.

I was intrigued by the cover photo, and in this case, an interesting cover led to a very worthwhile read. Who knew? Araceli is the live-in maid to a semi-enlightened wealthy southern California family. A former art student in Mexico City, she came north when her options there ran out. Tobar gives us an original character here: Araceli is described as blockishly built and taciturn, but everything we learn about her makes her seem a radiant beauty. When her employers disappear leaving her and the children with little food and no money, the child-averse Araceli takes the two young boys on an L.A. odyssey in search of their grandfather. Some of the results are predictable - Araceli is illegal, after all - but there are passages of striking beauty in this novel. Tobar is a veteran journalist and he puts a keen eye and terrific narrative sense to work here. Best of all, this intricate story is reported, which means that the flawed characters are presented rather than judged. Thought provoking, sad, and occasionally funny.

License to Pawn

License to Pawn by Rick Harrison  257 pp.

This is the story of the owner of "World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop" subject of the reality show "Pawn Stars." Rick Harrison spent most of his youth in California. As a child he suffered from epilepsy and the debilitating seizures caused him to miss a lot of school. He became and still is an avid reader which has helped him acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the many odd items that show up in his pawn shop. In addition to telling about his life and the oddities of the pawn business, there are chapters by each of the other stars of the t.v. show: the Old Man (Rick's father), Corey (his son), and Chumlee (Corey's best friend). Corey's chapter was the most surprising. He detailed his methamphetamine addiction and his method of kicking the habit which caused him to gain 100 pounds and he doesn't recommend to others (eating bacon cheeseburgers when the urge for meth hits). Old Man is as curmudgeonly as he appears on the show but Chumlee is not nearly as dopey as he seems. Fans of the show will enjoy this book.  

Fables, vol. 12, 13 & 14

Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham, 192 pages
Fables: The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, 224 pages
Fables: Witches by Bill Willingham, 184 pages

So this is what Willingham comes up with after the first huge story arc is over. The Dark Ages deals with the aftermath of the big brouhaha with the Adversary and war for the homelands, while introducing the next Big Bad, a super-evil witch/wizard/sorcerer guy who's coming to take back the witching cloak. Really, the new Big Bad isn't really that exciting to me, at least not yet. This volume's better for the re-integration of Gepetto and poor Boy Blue's storyline. He's been one of my favorite characters in this series, and I hate to watch him go like this.

Skipping over The Great Fables Crossover for a moment, Witches deals with the fables' attempts to spy on the new Big Bad after he's taken over Fabletown and ruined all of its magic bindings. This volume also has a fun storyline that pits Bufkin the flying monkey against a genie and Baba Yaga while confined to the business office, as well as a look in on Flycatcher's new kingdom. Both of these storylines keep this volume alive and moving forward, since the witch-centric storyline is a bit on the blah side.

The Great Fables Crossover. Hmm... Well, this volume tied the Fables series with the Jack of Fables series, bringing back one of my least favorite characters in fabledom. This one was a bit too slapsticky, didn't move the story along and was pretty much a waste of time EXCEPT for the genre characters. I enjoyed them. But that was about it.

The Adjustment by Scott Phillips

The Adjustment by Scott Phillips, 217 pages.
Scott Phillips has written a slim novel of post-war noir that packs a brutal punch. Wayne Ogden, our narrator, is nobody's hero. He spent the war as a supply sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps, which allowed him to make extra money selling his stock on the black market and gave him plenty of time to supplement his Army income by moonlighting as a pimp. Back home in Wichita, Wayne now spends his days trying to figure out various ways to ruin the life of his boss, Everett Collins, the owner of Collins Aircraft, while also trying to figure out who is sending him anonymous letters, threatening him over the death of a prostitute back during the war. A great read with a thoroughly unlikeable character. By the author of The Ice Harvest.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unraveled Sleeve

Unraveled Sleeve, by Monica Ferris 243 pages

This is another one of Monica Ferris' needlecraft series. This one takes place at a lodge where Betsy Devonshire (the crime solver) and her friend Jill spend a week at a needlework retreat to get away from it all and enjoy others with the same passion for needlework. However, the first person she meets in the common stitching area in the lobby ends up dead a couple of hours after meeting her. The book was good, just as the others Monica has written. However, this book kind of dragged on and on at the end as to who was the real murderer. It still was a good read, and as always there was a cross stitch pattern included in the book to stitch.

The inimitable Jeeves

The inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse 220 pgs.

It is difficult to say anything but good about Jeeves and Bertie.  I've come to love these books so much I need to read them all.  I listened to this on audio which is also unfailingly wonderful.  Wodehouse is deservedly called "a master of English prose".  Do yourself a favor and try one of these hilarious books.

There but for the

There but for the by Ali Smith 236 pgs.

If you are in the habit of inviting people for dinner and always try to add someone new or have invitees bring a guest, you may end up in the situation of this book.  Gen and Eric have a party and one of their guests decides to stay.  He locks himself in the spare bedroom and pushes a note under the door asking for food.  Time marches on and weeks go by and the uninvited guest stays on.  People start collecting outside and sending things up with a pulley.  This book tells the story from 4 points of view but keeps it moving.  A very interesting story and wonderful writing from Smith.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep Vol 6

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep Vol 6/Philip K. Dick 144 pages

The final volume in the graphic version of DADOES is as fabulous as the previous volumes.  The art is fabulous and the story reminds me that I have to re-read the original.  This volume also includes an essay by Dick's daughter which is a bonus.

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Deadly Storm/Richard Castle

Richard Castle's Deadly Storm: A Derrick Storm Mystery by Richard Castle; graphic novel, suspense; 112 pages

I love the Castle television show, but I hadn't yet ventured into the tie-in books. Since a graphic novel is less of a commitment than a novel, I thought I'd start here. While espionage thrillers may not be my genre of choice, I enjoyed the banter between the main characters, and the fast-paced story, combined with great art, made this a quick read. My favorite part, though, was reading the summaries for Castle's other books, listed in the back of this volume. Someone needs to write At Dusk We Die.

Now I just need to read the Niki Heat books.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone/Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor; young adult; 432 pages

I spent about ten minutes trying to come up with a way of describing the plot of this book that won't give away too much, but I can't. In fact, in reading over the publisher's description, I'm going to suggest you skip that too, and just start reading. This is a fantastic book, with a gripping story and a fantastic world. Taylor's writing style is lush and vivid--whether she's describing exotic locales (the book jumps from Prague, to Marrakesh, to Paris and more), or the eerie and beautiful art that the main character creates (if this ever gets made into a film, Dave McKean and Guillermo de Toro should work on it). I LOVED this book, and was disappointed when it ended too soon. However, there will certainly be a sequel, and I'll be eagerly awaiting it!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Calling Mr. King

Calling Mr. King/ROnald DeFeo 291 pgs.

It is never a good idea to employ a stressed out hit man so when "Mr. King" makes a mistake, his employers send him on vacation.  Of course having time off can lead to introspection and "Mr. King" decides he has plenty of interests to spend the time studying.  Now he isn't really all that interested in returning to work.  Sure he does one quick job on his vacation but when the call comes to return full time, it just doesn't seem that interesting anymore.  An interesting take on an obsessive guy who never misses. - Christa

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Queer History of the Unites States / Michael Bronski

A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski. 286 p.

It was very interesting to read about how earlier times thought about, and described, sexuality. Our categories are not theirs; even the Puritans didn't necessarily punish sodomy, for instance, if it was private and didn't interfere with society. Bronski talks a lot about America's obsession with "purity," especially the 19th century social purity movements and their deep, abiding effects on American society--the "persecuting society," as he calls it. He discusses all manner of relevant aspects of society, including language--for instance, the phrase coming out wasn't really in use before the late 60s; the "previously the metaphor had been about coming into the homosexual world," p. 209).

(As an aside: It's been a long time since I've felt so stupid while reading a book--in some sections I felt like I couldn't fully understand the discussion. I've not read much social history nor political theory. I don't mean that Bronski's language is overly technical, just that I felt like I was missing some basic theoretical grounding that would have helped.)

Overall, I found the book very interesting, and will probably check out some of the references and topics that Bronski lists.

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The Counterfeit Bride / Nancy Parra 188p.

This title was on a list (Booklist? LJ?) spotlighting historical romance. Lillian is a beautiful redhead in a Colorado mining town whose only path to self-sufficiency lies in fabricating a husband away in the military. This gives her the freedom to open a dry goods business in his name, which works well for her until a strange man turns up in town claiming to be this fictitious spouse. Parra has the building blocks here for a good read, including enough reasonably plausible backstory to make the characters' actions credible. She's hobbled here by a small page count (I suppose this is a standard length for these series?) and an editor who has a poor grasp of grammar, is lazy, or isn't allotted enough time to do a decent job. Too bad.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Fitzgerald Ruse

The Fitzgerald Ruse by Mark de Castrique 250 pgs.

The second book in the series about Sam Blackman, an Iraqi War vet and amputee.  Sam has started his detective agency with Nakayla Robertson the woman he helped by solving the murder of her sister in the first book.  Nakayla and Sam are business partners and have a love connection as well.  This book is also set in Asheville, NC and the city and surrounding area is a character in the book.  This mystery also has a literary connection as an elderly woman asks Sam to help her return an original Fitzgerald manuscript to its rightful owner.  That is Fitzgerald as in F. Scott.  Murder and mayhem follow this first case but there is little doubt that Sam and Nakayla will figure it all out.  I liked this second entry in the series even better than the first and am looking forward to the third.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, graphic novelty, 166 pages.

Many of my co-workers have already read this (Cindy, Alison, Annie and Christa) and they all pointed out the many fine things about this collection. And they were right and I applaud them and their wonderful reader's advisory concerning this title. But I wonder how all of them have missed the key point here, namely that this is, on a fundamental level, a book about ponies (or at least pony).

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Cain / Jose Saramago 159 p.

This was my first experience with Saramago. It was a bit of a disappointment, coming as it did after long conversations with someone who insisted in a smoky whisper, "You must read Saramago," as if my very life depended on it. Here Saramago re-tells several key stories from scripture (I believe mostly Genesis), from the point of view of Cain who wanders through time and space after being condemned for killing his brother Abel. I found it artful rather than insightful; that is, it hardly seems original (or daring) to say that the God of those stories appears capricious and cruel. Still, the writing itself has an elegance which I enjoyed, and I'm sure to read more at some point.

Jut My Type: a Book about Fonts / Simon Garfield 356 p.

I'd been scratching my head at the popularity of this book (still 16 people on the request list) until I brought it home and read it. Either Garfield is a terrific writer, or font preferences tap into a deep vein of psychological meaning, or both, but this was a lot of fun to read. My favorite section detailed movie gaffes in which a printed page appears in history written with a font that hadn't yet been invented at the time in which the scene was set.

Canterbury Tales / Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Seymour Chwast 143 p.

I brought home this fun-looking graphic-novel version of Chaucer's classic, thinking it would be a nice way to get my 10-year-old son interested in 'good' lit. So I perused it first, and, thanks to the graphic nature of this work, was reminded of something I'd completely forgotten since college: Chaucer is so bawdy he makes your eyes water. (But in a good way.) The 10 year old never got to see it, but I had a great time re-reading these stories. The pilgrims in this version ride motorcycles to Canterbury, but Chwast has preserved much of the feel of Chaucer, while dispensing with the Middle English.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, fiction, 307 pages.

Dr. Jennifer White, brilliant orthopedic surgeon, mother of two grown children, and a recent widow, is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. She is a believable and compelling narrator, she is angry, secretive, and still proud of her skills, her family, and the life that she has made. She has lost a great deal lately, but she still has her secrets; her husband was serially unfaithful, and her son has a drug problem and other difficulties. She may have other secrets as well: the one about her daughter, what her late husband did, and the one that has the police nosing around, who killed her neighbor and best friend, Amanda, and surgically removed the fingers of one of that poor woman's hand.
Well written, and well done, with that forgivable flaw of too few characters to spread the suspicion among, leaving the final revealed truth somewhat expected.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz 296 pages

Scary futuristic novel. Katey(aka Kid) attends an alternative school in a former mall. Before, during and after classes, students play video games. Corporate sponsors have raised market research to a 24/7 art form tracking everything students do, play, and wear and selecting the chosen few to become the trend setters. After she witnesses a shocking p.r. prank of a simulated suicide between classes, she discovers the Unidentified who spurn the corporates and crave anonymity. Katey learns that some of her friends seek fame rather than friendship. This sharp satire questions whether we are not too far from this imagined society.

Fall for anything by Courtney Sulmmers 230 pages

Eddie Reeves has major problems accepting her famous photographer/father's suicide. It doesn't help that her mother is basically catatonic and her strident best friend moves in and becomes boss of Eddie. Also, her best friend/boyfriend(?)'s girlfriend from last summer moves back to their town and makes Eddie feel like the proverbial third wheel. Eddie's relationship has shifted a bit with Milo. He discovered her shortly after she had found her father after his suicidal jump. Milo appreciated her dad but is unable to communicate with her about that horrible day. Then Eddie meets her father's former art student, Culler Evans. Although he is 20 and a college guy, Eddie feels drawn to him. Together they set out to discover a possible last message left by her father. Summers captures the pain caused by the suicide. Eddie's search for closure feels true, but the depiction of Culler doesn't quite seem real.


REAMDE by Neal Stephenson  1044 pp. (32 discs on CD!!!)

If I had read this instead of listening to the audiobook I probably still wouldn't be finished. It's a good thing I have a fairly long drive to work. I love the work of Neal Stephenson but he has a tendency to write long books. That being said, there is little in this one that could have been left out without damaging the story. And it is quite a story. I will try to condense 1000+ pages into a few sentences:

Richard Forthrast, nicknamed "Dodge" for running to Canada to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War, is now a billionaire entrepreneur who owns a resort in British Columbia and created a multi-billion dollar massively multiplayer online role-playing game called T'Rain. Hackers have targeted T'Rain with a virus called REAMDE that holds players files for ransom. Add to this a jihadist terrorist plotting against the U.S. who is being stalked by Britain's MI6, and the Russian "mafia" who have had their money stolen by the hackers and who have kidnapped Forthrast's adopted niece. The story goes from the Forthrast family farm in Iowa, to the Pacific northwest, to China, Taiwan, & The Philipines, to a somewhat confusing shoot-out on the U.S.-Canadian border where Forthrast's survivalist brother joins in the fracas. While all this is happening, strange alliances are made and broken and love blossoms among some participants. It all sounds quite confusing but it all comes together in the end, although not always happily for the characters involved. Fans of Stephenson's other novels will enjoy this one. And, if nothing else, I sure learned a lot about guns.

Blood Red Road/Moira Young

Blood Red Road by Moira Young; young adult, post-apocalyptic, survival; 464 pages

Saba and her twin brother Lugh have lived their whole lives on their family's homestead, so isolated that they only see a few people each year. Then one day, four riders appear out of nowhere, kill Saba's father, and kidnap Lugh. Saba, with her kid sister Emmi in tow, vows to track down her brother no matter what.

I think this book flew a little under the radar when it first came out, but I've been hearing a lot of buzz about it through various blogs, so I decided to check it out. Young's world is fascinating: a dry, dusty planet that was ruined by the Wreckers (us), and now makes survival and everyday struggle for most people. Remote homesteads, shanty towns, and bandit camps are the living conditions for most people, and drugs are pandemic to most places where more than a handful of people live. As interesting as Young's world was, her writing style was even more so. Saba, who's never even seen a book, narrates the story, and Young reflects that through deliberate misspellings and poor punctuation. I thought that would bother me, but I got used to it after a few pages, when the action kicked in. This is a great read, very fast paced, and it even sneaks in a sweeping romance. I would even go so far as to call this a western of sorts, with it's outlaws and setting. Oh, yes, and there was a pony!

The Garner Files

The Garner Files by James Garner & Jon Winokur  273 pp.

James Garner, born James Bumgarner, has been one of my favorite actors since I was a child. As Julie Andrews says in her introduction, Garner is "a man's man, a ladies' man, a good ol' boy in the best sense of the word, a curmudgeon...and a sweetheart." He reveals his life, from childhood to present day, without sugar coating his bad parts (a quick and sometimes violent temper) or his opinions of those in Hollywood who weren't on the up and up. He also shows the "good guy" parts of himself that you see in his acting roles. He makes no apologies for his liberal politics and his fights against corrupt studio practices. He is one of the rarities in show business who has been married to the same woman he wed after a two week romance in 1956. The book is appended with a section of comments from Garner's friends & family and another with his commentary on the various movies & television shows he's appeared in. (My favorite was his renaming "Space Cowboys" as "Space Geezers.") For the most part I enjoyed this book, but I could have done without the chapter on his obsession with golf. 

Blood Secrets

Blood Secrets by Rod Englert  286 pp.

This book is subtitled "Chronicles of a Crime Scene Reconstructionist" which sounds like it could be really dry and boring. However, it is quite interesting and very readable. Englert is one of the pioneers of the science of reading blood spatters at crime scenes. He was a policeman when he began doing his own experiments using cattle blood from his own farm. Eventually he became the expert that police departments called on to teach their officers and to consult in troubling cases. Because of his expertise he is also one of the go-to guys in high profile cases like that of O.J. Simpson (according to the evidence presented in this book, he was guilty) and Robert Blake (he was probably guilty too.) When testifying in court he does his best to reconstruct events in simple, easy to understand terminology, often using dummies & stage blood, so that jurors can easily understand his testimony. Any fans of shows like "CSI" should read this to find out just how fake a lot of their t.v. science is. 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan, 381 pages, Fantasy.
This is the fifth, and final installment in the Percy Jackson series. That, of course, doesn't count the five books in the next series which features many of the same characters and settings and continues where this series left off. In this series finale, Percy and his demi-god companions must fight against Kronos, his army of monsters, the now invulnerable Luke, and their battalion of renegade demi-gods through the streets of New York, falling all the way back to on the top of Mt. Olympus for the final battle. My sons and I enjoyed reading this one too.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Contested Will / James Shapiro

Contested Will: who wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro. 339 p.

Yes, I read this because of that stupid new movie Anonymous, which claims "Shakespeare" was Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, illegitimate son (and incestuous lover) of Elizabeth. Turns out that the movie makers didn't invent that theory; it's the "Prince Tudor II" version of the Oxfordian thesis.

Shapiro (who believes that Shakespeare was, well, Shakespeare) is less concerned with discussing all of the candidates and more interested in discussing the cultural circumstances that lead people to insist that Shakespeare must have been someone other than an actor named Will. He does discuss Bacon and Oxford as candidates along the way, as well as famous supporters of the theories. But the cultural discussions and expectations of authorship are the core of the book, which I really enjoyed.

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A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer

A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer, virology, 109 pages.

A fascinating introduction to the world of viruses. This series of essays, each on a particular virus, or group of viruses, are accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject; they're not at all technical. Zimmer gives us a glimpse of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Ebola, Rhinoviruses, Bacteriophages, and the Influenza Viruses, among others.
Informative and interesting.

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The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston, 240 pp.

Wow! What fun! I have a very strong sense of nostalgia, so a scrapbook of memorabilia with minimal added text that tells a story is just my thing. So inspiring. It made me want to make one myself. The Scrapbook tells the story of a Frankie Pratt's adventures in high school, at Vassar, and abroad during the 1920s. Because I'm not one to peek ahead, I didn't realize until reading the acknowledgments in the back of the book, that the story was inspired and perhaps based at least partly on the experiences of the author's mother, goddaughter of Sylvia Beach, proprietress of Shakespeare and Co. in 1920s Paris. Loved it.

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen, 336 pp.

Beginning with two sisters in rural Kentucky, this story becomes that of mothers and daughters, more sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, etc. who've descended from that first pair of sisters, all of them unaware of how an undelivered message between the pair caused a misunderstanding that separated them for life. SO VERY SAD! Fortunately, the novel clips along through the years fairly swiftly, or the reader's longing for this secret to be revealed or for these estranged families to accidentally stumble upon one another would be too much to bear. Add to that unpleasant tension the penchant of most of the women in this story for picking sad-sack men. Ugh. Not the most delightful of stories, but an insightful one for sure.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi by Craig Thompson, Graphic Novel, 672 pages.
Combining rich, intricate black and white illustrations with the parallel stories, one set from the Koran, and the other a tale of two youngsters who find and save each other, Habibi presents an extravagant, but ultimately bleak world. In Wanatolia with its slums, its poisoned land and water, ane witht the vast surrounding desert, no one is safe and days when you are free and have enough to eat and drink are a rare gift from god. Dodola is sold by her father into marriage at the age of nine. She is later stolen away by slavers and her husband is killed. She finds Zam, a small boy, abandoned by his mother among the slavers, and rescues him. They manage to live on their own for a few years, but their world is all torn apart by the greed and indifference of the people of Wanatolia and by its self-indulgent, and homicidal Sultan. They both undergo great hardship in their years apart and then attempt to build lives for themselves in a harsh modern world.

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The Finder Library: Volume 2 by Carla Speed McNeil

The Finder Library: Volume 2 by Carla Speed McNeil, Graphic Novel, 636 pages.
I love McNeil's Finder series (UCPL has volumes one and two of the Finder Library, the collected works) so far. Jager, the "sin-eater" of the Ascian clans, and "Finder" by trade, is virtually indestructible, and lives his life between the urban modern clans and the rapidly disappearing nomadic life of his mother's Ascian people. The artwork is complicated and imaginative and tells its own story, but it is not always the same story that the text is telling. Ideas and sub-plots are often addressed in the illustrations long before they are explained textually, leaving the reader somewhat disoriented, like a visitor to a strange land. Vary, a beautiful anthropology student and prostitute, is introduced in this second collection, and her stories are as interesting as Jager's. Often described as "Aboriginal Science Fiction" (see XKCD #978 Citogenesis) McNeil creates a vivid and unique world.

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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Fiction, 512 pages.
A beautiful book about baseball, friendship, building a life, and then watching it all fall apart. For the most part set at the small, Midwestern, and fictional Westish College, the novel revolves around the college's long-time doormat of a baseball team. Mike Schwartz, catcher for the Harpooners, is a young man who sees himself as not possessing enough talent to be the best at anything, but who is so driven to succeed, and capable of driving others to success, driving them over the edge, or driving them away, that the possibility of excellence haunts him. Schwartz discovers and recruits star shortstop Henry Skrimshander and with that done, he attempts to make champions out of the team. Richard Peterson, in the 11/20/2011 Post-Dispatch, says The Art of Fielding is not much of a baseball novel. Maybe so, but by the end of the book, baseball, while still centrally important to many of the characters, has ceased to be the center of the book. Life, with all its unexpected bumps and turns has changed the course of Henry, his roommate and teammate Owen, Pella Affenlight, and her father, college President, Guert. Henry, formerly an unerring fielder with a rifle for an arm, joins the list of stellar baseball players who can no longer throw the ball (Steve Blass, Steve Sax, Chuck Knobloch, and the Cardinal's own Rick Ankiel are all mentioned in the book as examples of those who trod this path before the fictional Henry). Pella, trying to recover the lost years of her youth after running off with a much older man while she was still in high school, can't help but throw away her burgeoning relationship with Schwartz when his twin manias for baseball and Henry intrude too far and too often. Outside of baseball, Owen and Guert try build a relationship without realizing just how doomed it actually is. Schwartz stays the course, and gets what he has wanted and worked for, but it changes little off the field. Everyone, or at least those who are left, must still find their way in the world. A very satisfying read, with wonderful characters.

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Freakangels Volume 6 by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Freakangels Volume 6 by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, graphic novel, 144 pages.
And so the series ends. Maybe. I think it's ending anyway. The Freakangels learn a bit more about themselves, their powers, and the world they live in, and learn to help, trust, and respect each other just a bit more. And then they draw a penis on the one guys forehead while he is dead (before he gets better) and disappear into the future. Yay.
I like the series. Really, I do. This volume just has a bit of a played out feel to it, is all.

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The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, Vampiric Fiction, 308 pages.
This is the second book in del Toro's and Hogan's Strain trilogy. I had read the first book and almost enjoyed it, though there seemed to be some big holes in the plot, and I wavered about whether or not to read the second. The fact that we had it on downloadable audio was the deciding factor, as I had a big home improvement project, and could find nothing else to listen to. This was better than the first, the evil vampiric like beasts are winning, and their history is uncovered. The third book is out now, so maybe I will see how it all turns out.

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Downloadable Audio.