Saturday, December 31, 2011

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, vols. I and II, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; edited with notes by Leslie S. Klinger. 1,945 p.



I've been meaning to reread the canonical Holmes stories for a while now, and I finally got around to it. These two volumes cover all 56 of the original short stories by Conan Doyle, though they don't include the four novels, which I hope to cover in January. (For some of the stories, I'd watch the Jeremy Brett television adaptation, then read the story. I was amazed at how much of the dialogue the shows reproduced exactly!) It's been so long since I've read the stories that the sloppiness of Conan Doyle's writing surprised me. I was also surprised by how many of the stories were set when Watson was not living at 221B Baker Street with his friend.


I enjoyed the annotations immensely. There are two kinds: factual ones explaining some aspect of history or setting, such as the values of pre-decimal British money--I actually know the difference between a pound and a guinea now!--and "Sherlockian" notes, discussing theories about how stuff in the stories that contradicts itself might be explained away, such as positing that John H. Watson's middle name is Hamish, and thus when his wife calls him James she's merely using the English version of his middle name, not getting his name completely wrong. Anyway, if you're a fan of annotations, definitely check out this collection. If you're a fan of any of the new Holmes adaptations, movies or TV shows--and I highly recommend the BBC's Sherlock--more familiarity with the original stories can only add to your enjoyment.


Three-Day Town / Margaret Maron

Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron. 278 p.



In the latest book featuring judge Deborah Knott, she and her husband of a year, Dwight, finally get to take their belated honeymoon. They're going to New York City to stay in a friend's apartment, and Deborah is taking along a package from one of her neighbors to give to the woman's daughter. Instead, she gives the package to the woman's granddaughter, and the contents are stolen--and a murder is committed in the apartment.

I do miss the early books in the series, where Deborah is the viewpoint character for the whole book. At least in this book, the other viewpoint character is one I've met before: Sigrid Harald, the policewoman who was the main character in the author's previous series of mysteries. I enjoy Deborah and her voice, though, and I like Dwight a lot, so I'm always glad for another entry in this series.



A Study in Sherlock

A Study in Sherlock: stories inspired by the Holmes canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. 394 p.



A perfectly pleasant collection of short stories inspired by the original Conan Doyle Stories about Holmes. I can't say any of them stood out to me particularly, but they were okay.



The Next Always / Nora Roberts

The Next Always by Nora Roberts (book 1 of the Inn Boonsboro trilogy). 324 p.



The first book in this trilogy was a bit odd for me to read because I know something about Nora Roberts. The town in which the story is set, Boonsboro, is where the author actually lives. The b&b that the male characters are rehabbing, and the bookstore that the female lead runs, are actually businesses that Ms Roberts and her husband own and run. It was just a little disconcerting.

The book itself was fine, if not a particular standout. The ghost who haunts the inn was mostly low-key enough not to annoy me. The characters are generally fun without being outstandingly memorable in any way. That said, the clumsy deus (ghost?) ex machina at the end was truly annoying. Still, I enjoyed this more than her previous series (in which the women were all wedding planners, which bored me rigid) and will certainly pick up the other volumes when they come out.


Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol


Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol; graphic novel, young adult; 224 pages

Anya wants nothing more than to fit in at her high school. She want to lose weight, lose the last of her Russian heritage, and get better grades. When she falls down an abandoned well, she meets a ghost who promises to give her all of that, and more--the boy of her dreams.

I picked this up from the recommendations of the writers of Unshelved, and loved it. Anya is a pretty typical teenager, without falling into the usual high school stereotypes. The ghost story starts off innocuous enough, but quickly turns creepy. Loved this!

Tiger's Wife / Tea Obreht 337 p.

This novel got a lot of press this year. Set in Yugoslavia during and after the war, it is the story of a young doctor who goes in search of her grandfather's possessions after his mysterious death. Saturated with a Balkan-style magical realism, but using Kipling's Jungle Book as an additional narrative framework, this is a fascinating if somewhat incoherent novel. The author is clearly a talented, and extremely young, woman. I suspect we will hear more from her.

Collected poems of Rupert Brooke

Reading The stranger’s child sent me back to my old copy of Rupert Brooke’s poems, which I bought as a teenager. Dying young is often a “good career move” and seems to have been in his case. The romantic figure of the handsome poet dying in his youth for his country strongly influenced how the poems were received. He is a minor poet, but some of the more famous poems still resonate. 180 pp.

The Stranger’s child, by Alan Hollinghurst

With midnight approaching, can’t let Christa down, so here’s the scoop on a couple last titles of 2011. This longish novel draws upon the short life and durable romantic literary persona of Rupert Brooke, the World War I poet who wrote, “If I should die, think only this of me:/ that there’s some corner of a foreign field /That is forever England….” Like Brooke, the central figure, Cecil Valance, dies in the Great War and he leaves behind a iconic poem scribbled in the autograph book of his friend and lover, George Sawle’s, sister Daphne. Daphne, too, falls in love with the dashing, captivating, and somewhat amoral Cecil. When a modern-day biographer of Valance begins digging into the past, long buried secrets are revealed. The plot of the novel is engaging; the language beautiful; but it is also a sweeping history of gay life, particularly in England, over the past one hundred years. 435 pp.

Ego & Hubris

Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar  153 pp.

The late Harvey Pekar is an acquired taste. I have to admit I didn't like his stuff very much at first, but I've learned to appreciate it. Michael Malice, the subject of this book, is a real person. Malice's first appearance was in Pekar's American Splendor. The response by the public was favorable and led to this book. Malice is an interesting character. He is highly intelligent with an ego to match. The book chronicles his life up through his late thirties including his education, working at a string of jobs, conflicts with his family, and his frequently abrasive personality. If Pekar's portrayal is accurate, and I have no reason to think it isn't, Michael Malice is not someone I'd get along with. But the book was an interesting read and it meant I could squeak in one more book this year.

Hedy's Folly

Hedy's Folly: the Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World  261 pp.

Hedy Lamarr was an incredibly beautiful woman, an actress in Europe and the U.S., and a part-time inventor. With composer George Antheil, another occasional inventor, they patented a jam proof radio guidance system for torpedos in hopes it would be useful to the U.S. Navy in World War II. In spite of being a high school dropout, Lamarr was highly intelligent. She also had been married to Friedrich Mandl, an Austrian arms manufacturer who allowed his lovely young wife to be present for meetings with the likes of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Mandl did not realize that she had a near photographic memory and absorbed many details of the conversations about weaponry. Lamarr hated the Nazis and once she left her husband and made it to the U.S. she wanted to help defeat Hitler. Antheil, on the other hand was a struggling composer whose most well known work was "Ballet Mecanique," a work with instrumentation including several player pianos, an airplane propeller, sirens, and electric bells. Antheil had to figure out a way to synchronize all the player pianos. The technology he developed was used in the invention of the frequency hopping spread spectrum guidance system with Lamarr. Unfortunately the Navy didn't actually develop the system until the early 1960s, after the Kiesler-Antheil patent had expired. (Kiesler was Lamarr's real name.)

It's an interesting story but it is much more about Antheil than Lamarr. I'm sure this is due to the fact that Lamarr was a very private person after she retired from acting while Antheil was a shameless self-promoter who had written plenty about his work. Of course, if the book was titled "George's Folly" no one would be interested. 

My Sweet Folly, by Laura Kinsale

My Sweet Folly by Laura Kinsale; historical romance; 407 pages

My original plan was to take one for the team, and read a bunch of romance novels this past week, so I could quickly build up my stats for the Book Challenge. That backfired, in that that the first two novels I picked up were so poorly written as to be unreadable. Fortunately, I found this one, and was able to read at least one before the year was out.

Years ago, Folie began corresponding with her husband's cousin, Robert, who was stationed in distant India. Through their letters, they fell deeply in love, but as both were married, nothing came of it. Ten years later, both are widowed, and Folie finds that Robert is now the legal guardian of her step-daughter. The pair moves to live with Robert, only to discover that he may or may not be completely mad.

I thought this sounded close enough to Jane Eyre (in tone if not in plot) to make it interesting, and it was. In fact, I'm a little embarrassed at how much I enjoyed this book--mostly for the crazy twist after crazy twist that kept coming up (in case you're curious, this book includes poisoning, murder, kidnapping, spies, undercover agents, "mysticism,"--both real and faked--sleight of hand, questioned sanity, disguises, and plots against the crown. There's even a hint at the end that one character may have been a Bertha Rochester in the making). It was a wild ride, and a surprising amount of fun. Not sure when I'll be picking up another romance, but at least I enjoyed this one.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan


The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, juvenile fantasy, 516 pages.

I liked the Percy Jackson books for the most part. We read them at night and all of us enjoyed them. We had started this one a while back, but the beginning annoyed me and we stopped.
Now that we have read it, and enjoyed it, I will admit that I made a mistake. My kids were right. This tale of Sadie and Connor, siblings being raised separately after the death of their mother, who now have to work together to save their father from a vengeful Egyptian God is very good. We're looking forward to reading The Throne of Fire.

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Downloadable audio.

That is All by John Hodgman


That is All by John Hodgman, Humor, 368 pages.

Hodgmans third book in this series is still very funny. It is, however, funny in the same way as the other two. The nice part of that is the books can be read in small bits, and nothing really needs to be read in order. The bad is that you can overload on his prose if you try to read too much at once. In this final volume, Hodgman gives a handy day-by-day calendar of the coming (Zombie-free) apocalypse, or Ragnarok, that will involve a blood-tide, a giant headless worm-thing, and a nine-headed Golden Retriever, I think. I have a signed copy, for I am cool.


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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

We listened to Lewis' classic Narnia story on a drive back from Chicago. It was well narrated with a cast of readers. Very well done and the kids loved it.
You've read the book or seen the movie: Peter, Lucy, Susan and Edward are sent to the countryside during the blitz. While hiding in a wardrobe, a portal to the world of Narnia is discovered. I've got to say that Lev Grossman has ruined a lot of the innocence of these books for me, but he does have a point about the wisdom of avoiding strange older men that may serve children better than the fantasy of Lewis.

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The Affair by Lee Child


The Affair by Lee Child, Thriller, 405 pages.
Lee Child has it all down to a science. Reacher rolls in to town, gets some coffee, headbutts an angry local, and breaks the arm of a second angry local. The police object or sometimes applaud, depending on how much they are colluding with the angry locals. Then the real fun starts. There is usually an attractive female victim, or member of the law enforcement, for Reacher to comfort and confide in too. This one takes place in 1997 and Reacher is sent into a small Mississippi town that is next to a small, secretive Army base to find out whether soldiers or civilians are killing local women.
Child is well in his stride, a good solid Reacher novel, and as this is the sixteenth such, you get what you expect.

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Matched by Alyson Condie


Matched by Alyson Condie, YA Dystopian Fiction, 369 pages. Downloadable audio-9 hours, 49 minutes

By far the girliest of the YA dystopian novels I have read. Cassia has always been relatively content with The Society and their micromanagement of everyone's lives until she is not allowed to date a character who is slightly more interesting than the one she is supposed to date. Secrets are reavealed, government control is threatened. I wouldn't have stuck with it, but I was re-grouting a tub and it was the only audio I had. Readers who liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but would have preferred it without there being any actual danger for any of the characters.

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The Buddha in the attic, by Julia Otsuka

Otsuka again mines the subject she so memorably explored in When the Emperor was divine, the Japanese immigrant experience in America. In the earlier book, she concentrated on the World War II internment camps, and the experience of one family, husband, wife, son and daughter, who are never given names which gives the book a universal feel. In The Buddha in the attic, she culminates the book (it isn’t really a “novel” in the traditional sense) with the Japanese internment, but traces their history back to the arrival of “picture brides” at the turn of the twentieth century. More of a long tone poem, it is reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s The things they carried, still one of the best evocations of the Vietnamese Conflict. Haunting and affecting. 144 pp.

That old Ace in the hole, by Annie Proulx

This comic novel with serious overtones was written ten years ago. Bob Dollar, a young man who can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do with his life, is hired by Global Pork Rind to surreptitiously scout the sparsely settled Texas panhandle for failing ranches to buy up for corporate hog farms. His cover is that he is looking for sites for “luxury homes,” which doesn’t really fool the rural but not-stupid folks in the town of Woolybucket where he settles. There he meets a series of colorful, and colorfully named, characters who have lived there for generations. The desolate beauty of the land, the quirky nature of its long-time residents, and the rich history of the area are deftly woven into a rollicking story. Even more timely today than when it first was published, the novel also raises (without preaching) the contemporary concerns about confined animal feeding operations; water rights and the devastation of the Ogalala aquifer; and the destruction of the land wrought by the change from buffalo-grazing to cattle-raising. It is obvious that the author treasures the Texas panhandle and those who have eked out a living there. 361 pp.

When you reach me, by Rebecca Stead

I read this Newbery-winning young adult novel on the advice of a friend and enjoyed it thoroughly. An homage to the classic Wrinkle in time, which I must admit I haven’t read. Time to catch up on children’s literature! 197 pp.

Barbarian nurseries, by Hector Tobar

Scott Torres and his wife, Maureen Thompson-Torres live in a gated Los Angeles community with their two young sons and infant daughter. Scott made a killing in software, but that bubble has burst. To economize, he lets the gardener and nanny go, leaving the cook/housekeeper, Araceli, as the lone Mexican servant in the household. No increase in pay, just more work. Their marriage is increasingly difficult, and when an argument leads to both leaving without the other knowing, Araceli is left alone with the two sons (Maureen having taking her daughter with her). Not knowing what to do, unable to reach anyone on the list on the refrigerator, and fearing the children will be placed in foster care (which she has no idea what is, but it sounds bad), she leaves on an epic journey through the many different worlds of Los Angeles searching for the children’s Mexican-American grandfather, who has been banned from the home. Not speaking Spanish myself, I shared in her confusion when important things were said in a language unfamiliar to me, and the sheltered sons’ impressions of the alien worlds they encounter are both funny and frightening. When the boys’ disappearance is discovered, the media becomes involved in a classic “young white children in danger” headline-grabber and Araceli’s illegal status becomes a sensational story. Although the author’s sympathies clearly lie on one side, this well-written novel even-handedly illuminates many sides of this immigrant experience. 432 pp.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, Fiction, 659 Pages.
We had a wonderful discussion of this book thanks to Washington University and our discussion leader, Peter Coogan. So much of what was going on in the book tied in to not just the history of the times (1940s onward), but also the history of comics as an artform and an industry. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows Joseph Kavalier and Sammy Clay, two cousins, from the time they meet, when Joseph shows up after a long, emotionally draining trip, fleeing the Nazis, through their ideas for comic books, their rise in that business and how it all affects their lives. A very good book by a great author.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 309 pages
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 341 pages
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 435 pages
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 734 pages
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 870 pages
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 652 pages
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 759 pages

Note: So it may seem a bit cheap to blog about these all at once. BUT I do have a reason for that. For me, these books are all just one big story that happens to be broken into smaller, more digestible (and easier to carry) parts. I can't read one without reading them all; ask my husband how annoying he finds it. So there's my reason; take it or leave it.

There are few people in the world, much less in libraries, who don't know the story of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard, so I'm not going to make any attempt to rehash the overarching plot of the series. This was a reread for me, and, as always, I got sucked into the details of Rowling's world, marveling at how some innocuous comment or act from one of the first books could have so great an impact later on in the series. True, she gets a bit wordy in those middle books (Order of the Phoenix in particular could use a heavier editing), but for the most part, even her small details should not be overlooked. Every time I read these books (and I'm embarrassed to say how many times I've done that), I have some new revelation. That's some talented writing there, Ms. Rowling.

Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, 743 pages

Damn you, cliffhangers! The second installment of Gabaldon's historical fiction romance (with a touch of sci-fi, thanks to the time travel bit) Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber wasn't quite as fantastic or engrossing as Outlander. But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I liked Claire and Jamie's travels to France and further foray into European politics of the 1740s. Yes, this one was a bit slow at times; it took a lot longer to get hooked into Dragonfly in Amber than it did in the first book (perhaps because it starts back in present(ish) day). But I've heard the third steps it back up a notch, which is good, since I'll definitely be reading it, thanks to that silly cliffhanger.

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizell 325 pages

Last vampire book I read this year! This has a bit of a twist. Lenah reverts from life as an unhappy vampire to a modern day teenager attending the exclusive Wickham Boarding School. It is more than a bit difficult for this more than 500 year old creature to adapt to modern life. She meets two guys. One becomes her best bud, Tony; the other, Justin, a love interest that rivals the passionate love she had for Rhode, the vampire who sacrificed himself for her freedom. These twists make the story fresh, although I don't know if it will be successful as a series. (This is book one). Mildly entertaining.

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck 238 pages

Newbery winning author tries an animal fantasy tale. Richard Peck is known for his fine historical fiction and young adult novels. This is totally different, as Peck spins a charming tale about a mouse family's adventures. A mouse family follow social climbing humans on their venture to try to marry their elder daughter in England. The shipboard journey is full of danger for the mice (a ship's cat). Peck slips in period details and lots of humor. Fans of Avi's Poppy series will especially enjoy this story.

I am not myself these days

I am not myself these days/Josh Kilmer-Purcell  308 pgs.

Many of us has some wilder days in our past but probably not too many of us can top this story.  Josh moved to NYC to follow his dreams and ended up being an alcoholic drag queen/ad man who lived for several month with a boyfriend who he thought was "the one".  I can certainly say he found himself in situations that I could not relate with personally but the bad choices and sheer luck of staying alive might ring a bell with some.  Kilmer-Purcell has a gift with description and his writing made this a wonderful read.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs/ Walter Isaacson 630 pages

Walter Isaacson has written another "home run" biography.  Steve Jobs was a big collaborator on this project which is the first hint about his controlling tendancies. Jobs is certainly an interesting subject driven by a perfectionism that had both positive and negative results throughout his life.  He was not the kindest soul and often saw people and objects in one extreme or the other.  They were either bozos or geniuses, the things are shit or great.  He was not good at hiding his feelings or keeping himself under control but he was a genius who cared so much about his products that it ruled almost all his decisions.  He also had an ability to boil things down to a more simple problem and solution.  Not always an easy problem or solution but his bullshit monitor allowed him to see past things that were NOT important.  This book was great to read after my last one because it proves making a better product can work out on the business side as well.  Jobs himself is not someone I probably would have wanted to spend time with but we are all better off that he was here.

Cheap: The high cost of discount culture

Cheap: The high cost of discount culture/Ellen Ruppel Shell 320 pages.

I listened to this as an audio book and so didn't have the ability to check the table of contents as I listened.  At first I could not imagine how the author was going to make a book of this topic but I got so involved in the different topics and how she organized the book.  The heart of this is economics, labor & price theory specifically.  Few people probably really understand what we have given up by making getting things cheap our highest priority.  Those who bemoan the lack of factory jobs and the wages they used to bring but then brag about the cheap new household item they bought are missing the big picture.  As products become more disposable, we also miss the environmental impacts and the lack of motivation to manufacture quality items.  Excellent coverage of a topic we might should be a little more concerned about.

Sandry's Book, by Tamora Pierce

Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce (Circle of Magic, book 1); young adult, fantasy; 272 pages (about 6 hours on CD)

Sandry is one of four drastically different children who has survived terrible tragedy by seemingly impossible feats. They are brought together at Winding Circle Temple, where children gifted with magic are trained. All four have the potential to become great mages, but they must first learn to cope with their losses and adjust to their new lives.

As much as I love Tamora Pierce, I wasn't quite sold on this book. There were things I loved about it (mostly the fact the spinning yarn plays an important role in the book--drop spindles for everyone!), but I never really bonded with it the way I did the Tortall books. Part of that might be that this book is clearly aimed at a younger audience than the more recent Tortall books (I would put this firmly in the 4-6 grade range), but it's also an early book of Pierce's, and I think she hadn't quite found her voice yet. The audio book might also have colored my opinion. This version is from Full Cast Audio, which I normally love, but in this case it felt a little rough around the edges (maybe it was an early work for them, too?). I still hope to pursue this series, and I hope to see it improve as it goes.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis  160 pp.

This has already been blogged about by Annie and Patrick so there isn't a whole lot I can add. Peter Sis' illustrations of this excerpt of a Persian poem are the centerpiece here. I found myself examining every detail of the artwork and even following the paths of the different labyrinths with my finger. And I don't feel guilty about including this in my page count since I read it twice.

The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China by Ed Young 51 pages 9780316076289

This is the most lovingly crafted book that I have seen this year. The title says it all; the book is more about the amazing house, than about the Caldecott author's childhood in China. Young's father made a deal that he would build a house on land near the fields of the Shanghai embassies. He could not afford to purchase the land, but he was a resourceful engineer. So, he would build a house, a swimming pool, extensive gardens that his family could enjoy for twenty years. Afterward, this would all belong to the landowner. And what an estate he created! The family moved into the house in 1935. Later he added a rooftop skating rink, and other rooms as friends and relatives joined his compound. To raise extra revenue, the neighborhood agreed to pay to use their pool during the day and in the evening the pool became private for the family. After twenty years and his five children had grown up, the father kept his promise and moved away. How radical!! The book is designed as a collage with family pictures, architecture plans and original art. Pages fold out to try to capture the grandeur of the plans. Unique!

Bossypants by Tina Fey 277pages 9781609419691

Let me be the last person to urge you to listen to (or read) the Tina Fey biography, although, to be honest, if you haven't read it yet, you probably made a decision not to read it. Tina Fey must be one of these people who live with no sleep. I can say that I have shared some of her experiences. I enjoying being in the audience of Chicago's Second City; she performed on Second City's stage. I attended the Women's March in Washington D.C. several years ago; she was one of the featured speakers. But I can only be content to read about her life and not live it. The only drawback to listening to her hysterical memoir is to have to visualize the pictures probably illustrating the book. ( Memo to self, check out the book). Tina does a great job of letting the reader view the home movie of her early years. Any reader must agree that Tina has earned her fame (and made the most of being in the right place at the right time and looking just a bit like Sarah P.).

How to Die of Embarrassment

How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day: A True Story by Ann Hodgman  209 pp.

This book is essentially a memoir of the author's childhood written so today's kids can see what growing up in the late 1950s/early 1960s was like. I'm not so sure the kids will be that interested in it but it certainly brought back a lot of memories for me. It is illustrated with photos of the author, her parents and grandparents as a children. There are also illustrations from the 1960s orange "Brownie Handbook" that I remembered well. The author includes the bad parts of her childhood along with the good including attending birthday parties, bad hair days, the nightmare that was gym class, learning about JFK's assassination from the school bus driver, and teachers (both good & bad). Adults might enjoy this paired with Mommy Knows Worst for a look at the horrors of our upbringing. How did we survive?

The Best Advice I Ever Got: lessons from extraordinary lives 262 pages

I listened to this as an audiobook read by the author and other five readers. Using the multiple readers tricks the listener into thinking they are actually hearing all the famous people quoted by Couric. Couric has been most fortunate in meeting world leaders, and celebrities. Couric has also faced much tragedy, the deaths of her husband and sister. She does come across as a person with gumption, who has earned her place in the limelight. Some of the advice are mere tidbits, while other pieces are longer, perhaps taken from more than one commencement speech. This actually would be a good gift for a graduating student and the proceeds of the book sales go to a worthy charity.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde 127 pages

A collection of eight short stories that are variants of The Little Red Riding hood. A bit of a disappointment from the author of one of my all time favorite vampire stories, Companions of the Night. These are lighter and the emphasis seems to be on creating amusing twists rather than developing dimensional characters.

TheLast Good Place of Lilyl Odilon by Sara Beitia 301

Nifty little teen mystery. New kid Albert Morales falls hard far Lily, a girl with a wild reputation. When Lily disappears, he is the prime suspect. He is confused especially when he discovers her diary and discovers that her step-dad, a dentist with friends in high places, is evil incarnate. Lily's younger sister, Olivia trusts Albert. After he receives a cryptic postcard, they realize they have one chance to save her -- if they can be the first to reach Last Good Place. Sadly, there don't seem to be any helpful adults. His parents never liked Lily and think that her disappearance is for the best. Lily's mother has shifted her allegiance to her wealthy new husband. The police are friends with the bad dentist. Albert is a romantic and wants to stand behind the promise he made to Lily to find and rescue her. Someone seems to be following them and they don't know who it could be. Tense and atmospheric. A good winter read.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker 162 pages 9781423123569

Newest in the cheerful Clementine series opens with Clementine obsessing about what she has done wrong to cause a Family Meeting. Her parents are mum, telling her to wait for the meeting. Surprisingly, the topic has nothing to do with her past misdeeds. Instead, her parents announce that there will be a new member of the family (and it is not going to be the baby gorilla that she would like to have). Clementine feels dejected, that her parents are not satisfied with the perfection of their family of four. Together the family come up with ways to prepare for the baby and reassure Clementine that she is an important member of the family. This is a great family to get to know. The dialog rings true and the day to day dramas are believable. The parents are loving, thoughtful and communicate well.

Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop

Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (Black Jewels Trilogy, book 1); dark fantasy, horror; 384 pages

Okay, we're down to crunch time on the Book Challenge, so it's time to pull out all the stops. And that means revisiting some of my favorite reads, that I know I can reread quickly. This series is one of my ultimate guilty pleasures, and it's a trilogy, to boot (though it's really more one giant story broken into three volumes, than three connected novels).

In this first installment, an extraordinary young girl appears who may be the answer to an ancient prophecy. She's destined to rule over a golden age, but first she must survive to adulthood. The story is told from the points of view of three men who will play central roles in her life, who fight to protect her from her enemies.

This book isn't for the faint of heart; it's got some of the darkest moments in all of the literature I've read, and it isn't shy about the blood an gore, either (this is the darkest book in the series, at least as far as bad things happening to characters we know). There's also a LOT of melodrama (which is essential in a guilty pleasure book). But in contrast, there are also moments of humor or warm fuzzies that wouldn't be out of place in a cozy. It's a strange mix, but it works. The characters are the real draw here, and I can say from experience that, by the end of this series, they'll feel like old friends. This fist book is probably my least favorite of the series, because the characters are still meeting up, so we don't get as much interaction between them as in later volumes. Bishop also spends a lot of time in this book world building, and while she does a superb job, it means less room for story. The world she creates is really original, though, and the series is worth checking out just for that. One last note: there's a magical horse that plays an important role. To me, that means PONIES.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen 402 pages 9780670012947

Sarah Dessen has a true gift for writing for teen girls. Each of her books is poignant and true. The characters are fresh, believable and hard to say goodbye to. McLean is moving, again, to her Dad's next assignment. He is a restaurant troubleshooter, sent to a troubled restaurant with a mission of evaluating the restaurant's chances of survival or the possibility of success with changes.
McLean's parents are divorced. Her mom took up with the hot basketball coach of Defriese University. Basketball is kind of a religion she shared with her dad -- she was named after the university's all-time winningest coach, until her mother defected, married and had twins with the coach.
So, every time they move, McLean creates a new persona with a new name. She has learned not to get attached to people or places since they are likely to move in 6 - 12 weeks. But she finds herself breaking her self-imposed rules when they move to Lakeview. She makes friends and really wants this restaurant to succeed.
Her mom wants to reestablish a relationship and threatens McLean's dad with legal actions if McLean does not start spending quality time with her mom's new family.
What makes this book special is her evolving relationship with Dave, the guy next door, who has his own family problems and is also a new kid at the local public high school.
These kids have problems, but not the messy drug and sex problems of so many teenage novels. This looks at the meaning of family and friendship and the importance of trust and communication.

Emerald Atlas written by John Stephens 417 pages 978030787969

There is a new series, The Books of Beginning, in town. It is unlikely to create the firestorm of Harry Potter, but it has some of those universal themes familiar in other great series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and this is, even more importantly, available in audio format read by the great Jim Dale (who was the VOICE of the Harry Potter audiobooks). Three siblings mysteriously lose their parents and refuse to think of themselves as orphans. They are sent to several different establishments before they are sent to their "final" posting. A home for orphans that seem to have no other orphans. Kate is the oldest, Emma, the youngest and Michael the book who discovers the magic of the green book. It is an album that can transport them through time and space via magic photographs. After one such excursion they return home without Michael. Yes, they get separated a lot, which means they each have their own fantastic adventures involving magic and the overarching battle between good and evil. And what adventure can their be without an evil female and scary creatures. Fortunately, the children meet up with courageous benefactors, and imprisoned children who need to be rescue. It is a delicious adventure. The audiobook(10 discs) would make a family vacation even more special or it could be used as a bedtime serial. I recommend highly and can't wait for the next episode.

How They Croaked: The Awful ends of the awfully famous by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley 161 pages

Colorful non-fiction writing certain to engage young male readers. Five famous females (from Cleopatra to Marie Curie) and fourteen illustrious male movers and shakers (starting with King Tut and ending with Einstein) make up this attractive collective biography. While these people came from different time periods, continents and claims to fame they all shared somewhat grotesque endings. Bragg does not shy away from the topic, going into details Poor King Tut's burial rites as well as his several "modern" autopsies, or sharing what happened to Einstein's great brain. Plenty of yuck factors will make this memorable reading! The most "fun" collective biography I have read since Kathleen Krull's biography series for young readers.

The Territory by Tricia Fields 278 pages

It was refreshing to read this violent battle between a drug cartel and a small Rio Grande town, Artemis (population2,500) because the gutsiest enforcer was female! Josie's life is at risk after she arrests the cartel's one hit man and kills another. When the town's most vocal 2nd Amendment vigilante is found murdered and his cache of weapons gone, her job as police chief becomes even more difficult. She gets little respect from the town's leaders and isn't sure which fellow officers may be inside traitors. Her long suffering boy friend wants her to flee and leave the bloody mess behind her. Josie has a dog, a couple of friends and a fierce determination to do the right thing. Lots of action make this a fairly quick read.

Just my Type: a book about fonts by Simon Garfield 330 pages

I had to wait such a long time to get my hands on this book. When I help create flyers or posters I have always enjoyed playing with fonts. I could not fathom that so many others were interested in this topic. Garfield does a rather thorough job of giving the history of "fonts", some of the creative names who "invented" various fonts, some of the modern legal battles over copyrights and more. It was also interesting to see the changes in signage in international cities. I found it fascinating to hear about people who catch"font anachronisms" in movies and television shows. Of course, there were so many fonts and variations, that it was difficult for me to remember favorites. Some day, I will have to go back and take notes, for now, I will just pass it on to the next reader.

Emily Carr & her dogs

Emily Carr and Her Dogs, Flirt, Punk & Loo written & illustrated by Emily Carr  96 pp.

I became a fan of Emily Carr's art after I read Susan Vreeland's The Forest Lover, a fictionalized biography of Carr. I stumbled upon this little book when browsing for books for my e-reader. The cost was minimal, if not free, and I was curious. I just got around to reading it (I couldn't handle anything too challenging while sick). Carr briefly describes her foray into breeding Old English Sheepdogs (Bobtails) during a brief period of her life. Between the small chapters are watercolor sketches and commentary "made by the dogs."  Parts are sweet. Parts are sad. What comes through is how much she enjoyed the animals she raised and her heartbreak when forced to give them up.

Hark! A Vagrant

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton  168 pp.

This book is a collection of comics from New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton. These are cartoons that appeared on her  web comic site.  The comics are historical or literary in nature. Most are amusing, some very funny, others not so much. Beaton's commentary on some of the comics is often funnier than the strip itself. My favorites are the "guess the story by the book's cover" series of Edward Gorey covers and especially the Nancy Drew covers. (I must check if we have The Password to Larkspur Lane at UCPL.) I had trouble getting into this book when I first picked it up. On my second attempt I read it straight through.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Blind Miller by Catherine Cookson, 289 pp.

A fascinating glimpse into socio-economic goings on of Northeast England of early to mid last century. The setting is the Fifteen Streets of East Jarrow; most of the characters work, have worked, or otherwise owe their livelihood to the shipping docks thereof. At the “top” of the Fifteen Streets live those who are managers, office workers, and others well-to-do. At the “bottom” are those more apt to be out of work or those at the bottom rung of employment. Sarah, the novel’s main character is from the bottom, but captures the attention and heart of a young man from the top, David Heatherington. When Sarah’s sister Phyllis escapes their lowly life and abusive stepfather by marrying an Arab (scandal!!!), David and Sarah quickly and secretly marry before David’s overbearing mother finds out and forbids their marriage altogether. From that point on, it’s a struggle. Of course the mother-in-law can never forgive and forget, and beyond that, the abusive stepfather we’d hoped Sarah had escaped, resurfaces and remains a constant threat to Sarah’s happiness and peace of mind. Even his death ruins Sarah’s life beyond belief.
One of my resolutions for 2012: more Catherine Cookson!

No Such Thing as Ghosts

No Such Thing as Ghosts by Ursula Vernon  201 pp.

This is the fifth book in the "Dragonbreath" series. Danny Dragonbreath still has not learned to reliably breath fire although he can manage a tiny spurt in times of stress. It is Halloween and Danny, his friend Wendell the iguana, and a crested lizard named Christiana are taken out trick or treating by Mr. Dragonbreath. Wendell is dressed as a Hydrogen Atom, in a costume created by his mother out of pie plates. His costume is so lame all he hopes for is "pity candy." Christiana is outfitted as a Salmonella Bacteria. And Danny...is a vampire. While out collecting candy they meet up with Danny's nemesis, Eddy, a komodo dragon and a bully. Eddy and his cohorts dare the threesome to go to a dilapidated old house to trick or treat in hopes that when they run away the bullies will take their candy. Danny and his friends get locked in the house and have a variety of scary and ghostly experiences. This book is just as goofy as the previous ones in the series (somehow I missed #4). Vernon's humor is a bit off the wall but she manages to introduce topics you don't normally see in kids' books, like Occam's Razor and interviewing a ghost about its "existence postulating an afterlife" and "the constraints of the visual and physical manifestation." I like this series.

The Virgin in the Ice

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters  220 pp.

This is the sixth book in the Brother Cadfael mystery series. There is almost too much going on in this short mystery. The war between King Stephen and Empress Maud has drawn near to Shrewsbury Abbey where most people side with King Stephen. The two children of a newly returned Crusader and their escort, a Benedictine nun, have disappeared on their way from war ravaged Worcester. A monk from a nearby abbey has been severely beaten by persons unknown and Cadfael is called to the priory at Bromfield to treat him. On the way there he finds the thirteen year old boy at the home of a farmer. The boy tell him how his eighteen year old sister ran off with a man known to their family. Cadfael also discovers the body of a young woman frozen in a stream. In the mean time, a band of raiders has been looting the local manors, killing the residents, and burning the places to the ground. Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff for the area and Cadfael's close friend, is charged with searching for the missing children and finding the pillagers. When the girl is recovered, the boy and the injured monk disappear and more searching begins. In the end, a hostage situation is defused, the bad guys are all caught, and Cadfael meets the son he fathered while a knight on Crusade. Oh yeah, most of the action takes place during a blizzard. All that in 220 pages. Whew!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, fantasy, 400 pages.
Celia and Marco are bound to Le Cirque des Reves, as it makes it way around the world during the beginning of the 20th century, and to each other in ways they do not initially understand. Trained in magic and set against each other in a competition that could be dark and deadly, they instead turn the circus and their trial into something beautiful, timeless, and full of the longing and love they share. Grown-up magic, but filled with whimsy and childish wonder. -Patrick

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Jeeves in the Offing by P. G. Wodehouse


Jeeves in the Offing by P. G. Wodehouse, humor, 200 pages.

Bertie and Jeeves are back and in rare form. Bertie is in danger of getting engaged, and despite decades of situations that indicate otherwise, he still believes he can come up with a plan on his own. I love the stories that feature Bertie's Aunt Agatha, as this one does. Bertie's descriptions of aunts, both in general terms and when he gets down to specifics, are always a joy. These books are great fun to listen to regardless of the narrator.


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The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis


The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis, 160 pages, Persian poetry, Illustrated books.

I have to admit that it was not my great and much noted love for Persian poetry in general, or the works of Farid ud-Din Atta specifically, that lead me to "read" this one. I was attracted to this book by the words per page ratio, which was remarkably low. It is a wonderfully illustrated work, and the poem is a thing of beauty. And I was struck by the central message of the poem (No, I wasn't. It's late December for God's sake. It was all about the page-count. I am a Philistine.)

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan


The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, fantasy, 521 pages.

Percy Jackson returns in the second volume of The Heroes of Olympus series. He's had his memory taken from him, and he's ended up at the Roman camp that we heard about in volume one. Gaea is awakening and her giant sons hope to destroy the Olympian Gods and everything else. Percy and his new friends are the world's only hope. Well-written and exciting, my kids and I love these.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, 388 pages, fantasy.

Neverwhere is a great story that takes place underground. This alternate London is unseen and unseeable to those who live above and exists in its own collection of time. There are strange ways and customs below, and the world is filled with monsters and mythic creators. Richard Mayhew must find his way among them if he hopes to recover the life he once lived in the world above. The best thing about this, as with many other Gaiman audio books, is the author's reading of the work.

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Downloadable audio.

The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James by Scott Raab


The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James by Scott Raab, sports 302 pages.
Ancient, crabby-guy sportswriter Raab discovers that some professional athletes are self-centered and just in it for the money. Sure LeBron leaving Cleveland was a big deal in Cleveland, but it is rather an insignificant thing to base your life around, to seek and swear revenge for, to pray that someday LeBron is brought to justice to atone for this heinous act. Raab's overly long, splenetic diatribe against LeBron James is whiny, self-contradictory, and yet still somewhat fun to read.

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The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse


The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse
204 pages, Humor.
I listened to this after downloading it from our Overdrive collection. It is not the funniest Wodehouse, but it has its moments. And relatively unfunny Wodehouse is still funnier than most everything else ever written. Sally inherits some money from a recently deceased crazy mean uncle. she uses her share of the inheritance on world travel. She is dumped by her conniving social climbing playwright of a fiance, but has already met a sincere dog-loving bumbler on her travels. He is destined to bumble his way into her heart.


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Hack: stories from a Chicago cab

Hack: stories from a Chicago cab/Dmitry Samarov 124 pgs.

Cab drivers deal with some strange situations and Dmitry Samarov, artist, writer, & cab driver has done a great job giving us an insider view of his experiences.  These stories remind me that working with the public is always an adventure...something I already knew.  This book is interspersed with illustrations and paintings by the author which really add to the "feel" of this book.

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Mastiff/Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (Beka Cooper, book 3); young adult, fantasy, mystery, adventure; 608 pages (about 18 hours on CD)

Provost's guard Beka Cooper has been keeping order in the royal city for four years. She loves the city, but after burying her betrothed, she need to get away for a time. The chance comes when she is called in to track a kidnapped child with her partner Tunstall, and her scenthound, Achoo. The team soon learns that it's not just any noble's child that has been lost--this boy is Prince Garreth, the only son of the king, and heir to the throne. His kidnapping can only point to treason, and it's up to Beka and her friends to find the prince and save the realm before civil war breaks out.

I enjoyed the bulk of this book, but I wasn't completely happy with the ending: some of the characters didn't seem quite right, and the romantic interest just seemed a little too neat and tidy (and sudden). Overall, though, this was a fun read. I especially liked the way Pierce tied this series in with the more "modern" Tortall books through the epilogue: Beka is an ancestor of George Cooper (one of my favorite characters from the series), so it ends with him musing over her figure in his ancestors' shrine.

Sadly, this means that I've officially read all of the Tortall books (at least until Pierce writes some more!). On the up side, I still have her Circle of Magic series to read--hopefully I'll love them as much as I love these!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Extraordinary Marriage

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley  345 pp.

I admit I'm a sucker for books about the Roosevelts, especially Eleanor and Franklin. As a result there is little information out there that I haven't read somewhere already. That is the case with this book. It is very readable and well done but there is nothing really new here. It focuses more on their personal relationships than the politics although you can't have a book about the Roosevelts without including some politics. Their household of family, staffers, and friends would be referred to as an entourage (or posse ☺) nowadays. Franklin's relationships with Lucy Mercer, Missy LeHand, Daisy Suckley, and other women are well documented as are Eleanor's with Lorena Hickok and her bodyguard, Earl Miller. Whether or not all of those relationships were sexual is still a matter of opinion and Rowley contends that most were. Rowley is gentler in her comments about Franklin's domineering mother, Sara Delano, than most Roosevelt biographers. Obviously a 300+ page book does not have the amount of information that are in the Joseph Lash and Doris Kearns Goodwin volumes or Eleanor's own writings. But this is a pretty good overview that is not as dry as some of the other books.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fables, vol. 15

Fables: Rose Red by Bill Willingham, 245 pages

It'd been a while since I read Fables vol. 14, so catching up on this one took me a bit. But once I figured out what was going on, I enjoyed Rose Red. It had a great bit of backstory for the titular character, yet managed to move things along nicely in the Fables' troubles on the farm and with the Dark Man in the city. The end of this volume is filled with short stories and even a prose-based addition to the Pinocchio-Gepetto storyline. I particularly enjoyed the celebrity edition of questions for Willingham and the other Fables creators.

No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read, 148 pp.

If you are an Enya fan, you will have heard this title before. Evidently Enya is a fan of Miss Read! Understandably. Especially given this delicious Christmas treat. Miss Quinn has only just settled herself in her new apartment outside of Fairacre when her brother asks that she come to the aid of his Norfolk family at Christmas. His wife has been hospitalized, and he, a village vicar, needs help with his three small children at his busiest time of year. Of course she rises to the challenge and the reader can’t help but cheer her on. I may have to reread this one each Christmas. My only complaint is that the ending begs a sequel, and I can't tell if Miss Quinn reappears in subsequent Fairacre novels. I suppose I'll just have to read more Miss Read in the hope that I'll find her again.

Falling Together by Maria de los Santos, 358 pp.

While it doesn’t measure up to her debut novel Love Walked In (with its myriad classic movie references and familiar Philadelphia sights and sounds), Falling Together by Maria de los Santos was great. It tells the story of the reunion of three college friends--well actually two of them and the subsequent search for the third by the first two. The journey of the friends to Cebu mirrors the journey of recognizing how they’ve changed, what hasn’t, and how they are likely to carry on from this point. Thoughtful characters, glorious settings, and clever plotting “fall together” here. Recommended.

The Eight

The Eight by Katherine Neville  624 pp.

This convoluted story takes place in both 1972 and 1790. In 1972, computer expert Catherine Velis is sent to Algeria to do some work for the then brand new organization OPEC. She and her friend, a chess master named Lily, end up in a search for a mysterious chess set. In 1790, during the French Revolution, a young nun named Mireille and her cousin Valentine are given the job of protecting pieces of the Montglane Service, a fabulous jeweled chess set that once belonged to Charlemagne. The one who possesses the entire set has access to a secret formula which will give them great power. What kind of power is not really explained but many would like to get their hands on it. The story jumps back and forth between time periods, explaining what happened to part of the chess set in France and the search for the pieces in Algieria in 1972. The main characters find themselves in life-threatening situations that are neatly resolved a bit too often. Prominent historical figures such as Catherine the Great, Robespierre, and Talleyrand are featured in the French portions. King Faisal and Muammar Qaddafi make appearances in the Algerian sections. After all the twists, turns, and intrigue the result was a bit of a let down. This one had the potential to be better.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wendel

The Complete Wendel by Howard Cruse  288 pp.

This is a compilation of all the Wendel cartoons that appeared in The Advocate magazine from 1983-89 and one stand-alone comic published in 1990. It is a look back on what was going on in the LGBT community during the era when AIDS was beginning its devastation and the Gay Pride parades were gaining status. In spite of the political commentary that appears in the cartoons, it is really the story of the day to day life of Wendel-an aspiring auther, his partner Ollie-an actor, Ollie's son from a brief marriage, and their many friends. There is a lot of nudity and sex in the cartoons as well as some stereotypical characters that remind me of some people I know. Cruse's portrayal of the meetings of a political organization where every person takes offense at something reminds me of some meetings I've been involved in. Cruse ends the book with a "Where are they now?" look at the main characters.

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner (graphic novel version) by Khaled Hosseini  132 pp.

This is one of those book I always intended to read but never got around to. I decided the graphic novelization was better than nothing. It is the story of Amir, a Pashtun, and Hassan, a Hazara, two young boys in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hazaras, are an ethnicity looked down upon by many Pashtun Afghans. Hassan is the son of the servant to Amir's father. Together the boys participate in kite fighting, where the object is to cut the strings of the competitors' kites. Hassan is a kite runner, the one who chases after the kites that are cut free. Years later Amir, now living in the U.S. learns that Hassan is really his half brother. Hassan and his wife have been killed and Amir returns to Afghanistan to retrieve Hassan's young son. While this story is somewhat depressing it's not as much of a downer as Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo 201 pp.

This is a magical story in many ways. A fortuneteller appears and a young orphan named Peter asks if his sister is still alive and where he can find her. The fortuneteller's answer is that an elephant will lead him. This begins an amazing chain of events, including appearance of the elephant. This is one of DiCamillo's best.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 850 pages

This is the story of a WWII British nurse who is somehow transported back in time from 1945 to 1743 in the Scottish Highlands. Outlander is one of those hard-to-categorize books, although I'd probably call it a historical fiction romance, given the fact that the main character falls in love with a kilted Highland soldier. But Gabaldon gives it some depth with her descriptions of the politics, medicine and culture of 1740s Scotland, as told through the eyes of a stubborn mid-1900s woman.

I don't usually like historical fiction or romance, but I devoured this one. On to the sequel!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mnemovore/Hans Rodionoff

Mnemovore by Hans Rodionoff, Ray Fawke, and Mike Huddleston; horror, graphic novel; 160 pages

Kaley is one of the top snowboarders in the world, so she's used to broken bones and sprains. But when she suffers a traumatic head injury, Kaley loses large chunks of her memory, and she has to re-learn her life. A the weeks pass, Kaley struggles to remember her likes and dislikes, her relationships, and her habits, but she also begins to notice...creatures at the edge of her vision that no one else seems to see. Then the people around her start to forget. Little things at first, but there are larger and larger gaps in their memories, and only Kaley seems to notice.

Loved this. Read it in a single sitting. The art is slick and appealing, and the atmosphere is especially creepy. I can't talk about my favorite device, which doesn't appear until the end, but I really enjoyed the creative spin on storytelling here, as well as the horror-movie feel of the whole book.

Three Incestuous Sisters

The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger 176 pp.

This odd but beautifully done book is hard to describe. The Afterword calls it an "artist's book" originally done as a handmade edition of ten. Niffenegger calls it "a fourteen year labor of love." The aquatint illustrations are beautifully done though often derivative of artists like Klimt, Dali, Manet, and others. The surreal story of the sisters Clothilde, Ophile, and Bettine is relegated to a sentence or even a few words on the page opposite the artwork. This is an unusual and intriguing book.

Chwast's Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer adapted by Seymour Chwast  143 pp.

After being disappointed in Chwast's Dante's Divine Comedy, I decided to give him another chance with Canterbury Tales. I found this one amusing. It has the characters from the original along with their stories illustrated in Chwast's quirky pen & ink style. The pilgrims heading to Canterbury are riding motorcycles but their clothing, with the exception of the Wife of Bath are fairly traditional Medieval costumes. Each of the tales are abbreviated and there is no skimping on the bawdy parts. I enjoyed this one more than the Dante.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Killshot

Killshot by Elmore Leonard 287pg.

Elmore Leonard has a way of making almost anything seem exciting.  This book had me on the edge of my seat through this whole book.  Wayne and Carmen are accidentally involved in witnessing a crime  and end up being a target of a couple of creepy guys, one with mob connections, one just a psycho who wants to kill people with every type of gun that he can think of.  Wayne and Carmen end up in a witness protection program in Cape Girardeau, MO when a sicko federal marshal harasses Carmen when Wayne is out.  They return home and end up hostage to the criminals.  Even at the very end it is hard to tell what is going to happen but you hope the good guys win.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Secret Power of Middle Children

The Secret Power of Middle Children / Catherine Salmon & Katrin Schumann 292 pages

An entertaining book about birth order focusing (obviously) on middle children.  As much as the "rational" me wants to discount some of these theories, it is interesting how many of them ring true.  The author makes clear that we are more complex than just one or two theories about birth order, parents/parenting, and genetics can predict but there are some significant observations that can be made. Also, if you have 2 kids, better consider having a third just so you can have a middle child because, it turns out we are AWESOME!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Son of Neptune

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, 513 pages

This is the second book in Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series, which has a lot in common with the Percy Jackson series (including characters). Much like the memory-free Jason character in The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus book 1), this book focuses on Percy Jackson, who has mysteriously had his memory erased too, and is fighting against Medusa's sisters just outside of San Francisco when we meet him.

The book takes Percy and a couple of Roman demigods on a series of adventures along the west coast and into Alaska, territory that had previously been untouched in this series or Riordan's previous Percy Jackson series. The adventures are a bit predictable by this point, although this series far surpasses Riordan's other post-Percy Jackson series (which focuses on the less-known Egyptian mythology) in readability, intrigue and characters that the reader actually cares about. Really, the biggest issues with this series are the questions that keep popping up in my head as I read: When is Riordan going to run out of mythological creatures/stories to rehash, and when will he run out of travel destinations for the kid demigods to visit?

Keena Ford and the Secret Journal Mix-up by Melissa Thompson 118 pages

Keena loves writing in her journal her most private thoughts. One day her journal is accidentally left in the apartment of a not-so-nice classmate, Tiffany. Tiffany, of course, reads the journal. She threatens to spill the beans unless Keena becomes her personal slave. What is Keena to do? Keena is sassy and sweet in the same vein as Junie B. This will be enjoyed by young chapter book reading girls who will appreciate the high drama -- what would happen if Tiffany carried out her threat!! Thank goodness Keena has a good friend Eric who agrees to go on a secret retrieval mission. The author admits that she used to be a second grade teacher and found inspiration in the experience.

Monday, December 12, 2011

And Furthermore by Judi Dench 268 pages

The celebrated actress "chats" about her illustrious life and roles on stage and the silver screen. Her manner is rather self-deprecating. She seems quite down to earth and not puffed up with all her awards. She kinds of skips over her childhood, but admits that she wanted to become an actress from an early age. She is most generous with her praise for fellow actors, and directors. I listened to the audiobook narrated by her friend, Samantha Bond. Bond's voice was pitch perfect. I felt like "Judi" was just across the table from me sharing her stories. Although she has performed for television and movies, Dench's heart is in the theater. To think that most of the world thinks of her as James Bond's boss!!! Enjoy this with a cup of tea and a bite of scone.