Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Deceived by Brett Battles


The Deceived by Brett Battles, 358 pages.
Quinn, Nate, and Orlando are back again, and yet another job yields clues that someone they care about is in danger. They race all the way around the world, questioning everyone, telling in an instant if someone is lying to them, because they are such skilled agents, but then the whole book is built around lies that they are told that they never question. If they weren't suddenly gullible schoolchildren, the book would grind to a halt. A few phone calls could be made and all the bad guys arrested. As it is though they find themselves back in firefights with trained assassins who seem to have decent weaponry, and yet they escape time and again. It just feels like a sloppy rendition of a good plot.

Bossypants by Tina Fey


Bossypants by Tina Fey, humor, audiobook 277 pages05:32:21
Tina Fey's memoir is the current model for comic memoir. She is interesting and funny, constantly funny, and impressively funny.
Downloadable Audiobook.
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The Cleaner by Brett Battles


The Cleaner by Brett Battles.353 pages. Thriller.
Quinn is a cleaner, like Quentin Tarantino's Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction, but not as fun to hang out with. Quinn takes it all very seriously and tries to impart both his seriousness and his grim sense of purpose on his apprentice, Nate. Quinn is working for a clandestine group, cleaning up for them, when he discovers a plot to release a substance that could kill millions. As the race to stop the release, they uncover betrayal after betrayal. Fairly good thriller with some believable characters.

Moon over Soho / Ben Aaronovitch

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. 288 p.

A sequel to Midnight Riot, which I reviewed here. Peter's personal history comes into play with the big case here, as his father is a jazz musician and he's investigating what may turn out to be a series of magical murders of jazz musicians. Plus he has to continue his magical training, as well as try to deal with his friend Lesley, who was severely disfigured while helping him with an earlier case. I'm enjoing this series a lot, particularly for the way Aaronovitch makes London feel present, almost more like a character than a setting. I hope this series continues soon.


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Born Standing Up

Born Standing up: A comic's life / Steve Martin 207 pgs.

Steve Martin writes this biography of his career as a stand-up comedian that starts a little earlier than his first performance at age 10. He tells of the many years of barely making it and honing his craft where he moved from being a banjo playing magician to a banjo playing comic who sometimes did magic tricks. I always wonder if successful performers know they are good and going to make it but I guess that isn't a good question to ask...after all, maybe the ones how DON'T make it think the same way. Steve Martin is a very good writer and this book had many good reviews when it came out and it has been on my list to read ever since. My favorite line comes fairly early in the book when he talks about getting connected to a network of desperate Cub Scout troops seeking entertainment and the shows he did for the local Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs (this at age 15). He says, "I was now performing at the hectic pace of one show every tow or three months." Later, he thinks back at this time and wonders why the clubs would hire him, a 15 year old boy magician to be their entertainment...here he says, "Only one answer makes sense: out of the goodness of their hearts." Without that early encouragement and sweet $5 paydays, who knows, Steve might have finished that Phd in Philosophy and been a professor -- for real, that was his plan B!

Mourning Gloria / Susan Wittig Albert

Mourning Gloria by Susan Witting Albert (a China Bayles mystery, #19). 301 p.

China is a former lawyer turned entrepreneur; she runs several businesses with her friends, but at the core is her herbal shop in a small town in the Texas hill country. (Herb lore is always included in the books, and sometimes recipes are too.) China's particularly good at investigation and interviewing people, skills she picked up as an attorney. She's deeply invested in her community, so she digs around any time she thinks something bad is happening. In this particular case, she stops to report a trailer fire outside of town, realizes that someone's alive inside the trailer, and is unable to get the person out before the trailer explodes and the woman inside dies. She helps an eager young reporter who's investigating the fire...and then the reporter disappears, so it's all up to China.

Like all long-running series where the main character isn't a cop or a detective, it's a bit hard to swallow that China gets involved with so many murders. (Interestingly enough, China's husband is a retired-cop-turned-private-investigator, but China doesn't become involved in his cases; she's drawn into mysteries because she's nosy.) If you can overlook that problem, this is a well-done series. with strong, well-drawn interpersonal relationships.

Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell 318 pgs.

This book is getting a lot of buzz and based on my favorite line from the book, I think it is deserved. Oh yes, I'm going to lay that line on you...first let me tell you about the Bigtree kids. Their mother recently succumbed to cancer and it seems like she was the one holding it all together. Now oldest son Kiwi has some issues with his dad and finds out their theme park/alligator wrestling show and their property is so far in the hole, he is worried about the bills. He leaves their island home for the mainland and tries to figure out a way to save it all. Oldest sister Ossie is going through a "phase" that includes relationships (romantic ones) with ghosts and youngest Ava is trying to train and take over her mom's role as famous alligator wrestler. This book is funny and heart breaking and unforgettable. Oh yea, here is my favorite line: "His friends looked a little lost next to the tyrannosaurus drunks, old men whose tiny, atrophied arms curled whiskey sours against their Hawaiian shirts." How can you not love the idea of tyrannosaurus drunks?

Pacific Rift

Pacific Rift: Adventures in the fault zone between the U.S. and Japan / Michael Lewis 132 pgs.

The next in my quest to read everything by Michael Lewis. Hard to remember back in the late 80's and early 90's all the economic talk was about Japan and how much money they made and how much U.S. real estate they owned. I remember when companies were looking to adopt the Japanese way and how that was supposed to be the answer to returning to profitability. Of course it all looks all looks a little different now. This book does give insight into the Japanese business world and culture and made me wonder why anyone thought it could last. But in 20 years, we may be having to admit we are all wrong about China now too. Who knows? As always, Michael Lewis has an interesting perspective and an honesty that makes the reading interesting.

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The epic story of America's great migration / Isabel Wilkerson 622 pgs.

This is an amazing book that follows the migration of three individuals as they decide to leave the Jim Crow dominated south and move to other places. In between the stories of these three amazing people, are the general history of the times and places covered in the book. Isabel Wilkerson spent a lot of time interviewing people and doing research. This was on the ALA Notable books list and it is easy to see why. A little bit of our history that is not America's proudest moments.

Dead Reckoning/Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse book 11); mystery, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, horror; 336 pages

I was somewhat disappointed with the last book in this series: too many characters to keep track of, too much politics, and very little time to focus on specific relationships. So I was pleased to see that this entry seems to have returned to form. Almost the whole book is set in Sookie's small home town, and while there are some elements of vampire politics present, most of the book is focused on Sookie's relationships with the various supernaturals in her life. There were still a lot of characters and back story to keep straight, but nowhere near the amount found in the last few books.

Devious by Lisa Jackson 439 pages

Devious by Lisa Jackson begins in St Marguerite’s Convent in New Orleans. Sister Camille is dressing in a bridal gown and dream walks to the chapel where she is strangled to death. Detective Rueben Montoya and his partner Rick Bentz are called to the scene where Montoya recognizes Sister Camille as his high school sweetheart and her best friend, also a novitiate, was the girlfriend of his brother in high school. Another novitiate is murdered. Camille’s sister was a former police detective in Texas and she starts investigating Camille’s murder. Valerie, the sister, is estranged from her husband who shows up to try to reconcile and becomes involved in the search for the murder and some truths that are just beginning to surface. The police are frustrated THEN a prostitute is murdered following the same MO used by a serial killer impersonating a priest several years ago. The cases become confused, the nuns and priests try stonewalling the police while Valerie and her husband run a parallel investigation. In typical Jackson style, the pieces of the puzzle twist until they start fitting together. A great read for mystery fans.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Chaser by Miasha p. 211

Nasir and Kenny are old friends but are not so friendly anymore. Especially after Leah starts working at the auto shop with Nas. Nas' old attraction to Leah comes back and this time he does not ignore it. But Leah is already in a mess with Kenny. This doesn't stop Leah from bringing him in it. She is playing a dangerous game with Kenny, Nas, and someone else. It becomes a tougher situation everyday. Leah is backed in a corner and isn't quite sure which way to turn.
I really enjoyed this book although it was rather short. I wasn't sure how things were going to turn out. It kept me guessing the entire time.

10 Crack Commandments by Erica Hilton p. 244



Inspired by the rapper Notorious B.I.G.'s song, Lil' Nut has to become a man before his time. His father, once a strong black man that he looked up to, becomes addicted to crack. So Lil' Nut becomes the man of the house. Already a crack dealer, he gets deeper into the game squashing all enemies on his rise to the top. He will kill any and everyone he feels is a threat to his paper including friends and family.



I enjoyed this book. I actually finished it in a few hours because I couldn't put it down. Lil' Nut's character is one that is quite common in many neighborhoods and it is very unfortunate for them and the people who suffer from their actions.

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel


Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel, 432 pages.
I had been meaning to read this book since it came out back in 1999. I am glad that I finally did, as I enjoyed it very much. I remember this as part of that first wave in the "serious nonfiction that reads like fiction" wave of accessible, interesting accounts written about a serious subject, but written for the generalist, a genre that continues to this day.
Providing an overview of Galileo's life, with much of the detail from the latter part of his life taken from letters to him from his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a Clarisse nun who died at age 33, this is a fascinating look at the life of one of sciences great minds. She wrote to her beloved father often, about matters of her daily life, about his household, their family , and his laundry, but she also wrote to him about his work and about the troubles he had with the church and with the Pope because of his work. Galileo's letters to his daughter, though mentioned in her correspondence, have never been found, and may have not survived. A wonderful book.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin


A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin, fantasy, 1040 pages.
The song of ice and fire continues to expand as the story goes on. We don't see much of Robb, though he is always talked about, off fighting and doing well. We meet Stannis, the older of the late King's brothers and are reacquainted with Renly, the younger brother. Both men decide to try for Robb's throne, believing that Joffrey, the boy king is not their borther's legitimate son. With Robb fighting Joffrey's forces and a sneak attack on the north by Balon Greyjoy, this quickly becomes the war of five kings. Catelyn has now lost touch with all of her children, believing some of them to be dead. Jon Snow and the Brothers range far from the wall and encounter a huge army. Oh, yeah and Daenerys is trying to raise an army too.
A little bit too much going on, but fun reading.

Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon


Tumor by Joshua Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, graphic Novel 240 pages.
Frank Armstrong had been a private detective, and not among the best of them, by all accounts. Now he finds himself with an inoperable brain tumor and one last job. He is not sure if he is up to it. Gibson, a man Frank believes would like to see him dead, instead hires him to his missing daughter, Evelyn. Frank is unsure of Gibson's true motives, and when he finds Evelyn he doubts her motives as well. Because of the effects of the Glioblastoma, he starts to doubt a lot of other things as well. He passes out occasionally in mid-event, or mid-conversation and finds himself in the recent past, back in the hospital. More and more, as the story progresses, Frank finds himself drifting into a situation he faced in the past that was similar to his (ostensibly) present one. While he never doubts himself for long, the reader comes to see him as a very unreliable narrator. The art supports the story well, with background detail that doesn't quite reveal what we need to know, as it admirably mirrors Frank's confusion and displacement. A very good, very interesting graphic novel.

Mockingjay/ Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Young adult, adventure, dystopian, war, series. 400 pages

I don't know quite what inspired me to revisit the third installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy. After some contemplation, I have decided that it was a combination of three major factors-- 1. anticipation for the Hunger Games movie next year (of which I have a few choice words to say about the casting that I won't bother to include here but feel free to ask me about them if you have time for an hourlong bitchfest). 2. The fact that I was severely disappointed by the Hangover pt. 2, which caused me to realize that maybe I judge sequels too harshly based on the success of their predecessors and 3. I had nothing to listen to before an 8 hour shelving shift and was running out of time. All three of these factors, in no particular order of importance, drew me to the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy with the hope that my disappointment of the first read when the book came out will be replaced with appreciation if I read the book on its own and take it for what it is instead of comparing it to the awesome Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Unfortunately for me, although I escaped with appreciation in a few key areas, I was largely still disappointed by Suzanne Collins' inability to finish what could have been the greatest written trilogy of our time.

The main issue with Mockingjay is that it completely digresses from the formula that made Hunger Games and Catching Fire so great. Collins had a really great formula going when she took a little bit of "Lord of the Flies" mixed it with "Gladiator" and threw in some "1984." I understand that the circumstances of the last book have changed substantially which would make this formula less effective, but to turn the story into a war novel seemed like quite an abandonment of what the series was about. Also, with the exception of 5 of the story's main characters (Katniss, Haymitch, Peeta, Gale, and Prim) and the occasional cameo of a character from the last two books, many of the lovable characters from the first two volumes are simply considered off-page casualties never to be heard of again (Cinna anybody? And really...Collins' choice to bring back comic foil Effie Trinket in the last few chapters of the book? Good luck negotiating that one with Elizabeth Banks when the third movie comes out...). Certain wartime characters such as the tough-as-nails Boggs and the oh-so-hateable President Coin are welcome additions, but don't make the character sacrifices worthwhile.

Also, I need to comment on the plot of the third book while attempting to not reveal too much important plot information unless someone's been hiding under a rock and hasn't read it yet. Katniss Everdeen, the trilogy's protagonist, is turned from center of the action in the first two books to a glorified audience member in the third book. It is clear that Collins was trying to show the readers that the Panem rebellion was something much larger than one person but her choice to constantly have Katniss wake up in a hospital bed only to have the important events of the war told to her by a confidant just seems unfair to the readers. WE WANT TO SEE KATNISS SUCCEED!!!! By choosing to go down a much darker plot path, Collins really cheated Katniss and the readers out of the ending they deserved. Although it makes for an interesting story that Katniss becomes such a conflicted character, she gained so much of our respect in the first two books that readers weren't going to abandon her, and instead curse Collins for not allowing such a great character to EARN an ending she deserves. Also, the will-they-or-won't-they love triangle between Katniss and her two boyfriends Peeta and Gale is so confusing that when it finally comes to a conclusion the readers are not excited for Katniss and her choice but instead relieved that the annoying "turmoil" within Katniss as a character is over.

Honestly, I could bitch and moan for another couple of hours about this book, but it is a book that most people have their own issues with and reading mine will only frustrate fans of the series more. I realize that there is no such thing as a do-over in the world of fictional series, but I found myself wishing that Collins could be the exception to this rule because I would really like to read a third Hunger Games book that ends the series in a more enjoyable manner.

Bossypants/ Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey humor, autobiography, television, media 288 pages

Whether you're a fan of Tina Fey's work on SNL (most notably as the Weekend Update news anchor and as vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin), her movie work in such films as Mean Girls, Date Night, and the Invention of Lying, or her celebrated NBC television show, 30 Rock, Bossypants will have something for you. This is not your average comedian biography (most of which have a tendency to dramatically disappoint fans) because it is clear that Fey is not only TRYING to be funny but also to give some important advice to young women,fans, future comics, and parents. She has created something that manages to be extremely humorous and also very touching at parts, especially when she is discussing her daughter.

Fey provides a hilarious account of her journey through show business from her teenage years in a theatre program through SNL and eventually to her job as the big boss on 30 Rock. As a TV/Movie buff, it was especially entertaining to hear about the behind-the-scenes elements of SNL and 30 Rock as well as the many hilarious anecdotes Fey tells including appearances by Alec Baldwin, Sarah Palin, and Oprah.

At first I was a little put-off by the heavy female-specific stuff (let's be honest, I would prefer not to read about breastfeeding or menstruation) but after reflecting on the book as a whole, I have found that I always applaud female readers who are able to enjoy writers who do the same thing with male writers like Tucker Max and Adam Carrola, so I realize that I have no real right to bitch about that stuff (even if I REAAAAALLY didn't wanna read about it).

All-in-all, I must applaud Tina Fey for proving that comedians writing books will not always end in disaster. I definitely enjoyed this book and it is short and light enough reading that even the most encumbered readers should take time to enjoy this one. One final note-- I will ALWAYS have respect for authors who are confident enough to record their own audiobook. Since Fey is a performer, this may not seem like such a big deal, but the fact remains that writing is hard enough without having to read every word aloud and then immortalize it through recording. Mad props to Tina Fey for providing an enjoyable audiobook experience!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Started early, took my dog, by Kate Atkinson

In this fourth outing, PI Jackson Brodie, still reeling from the defection of his girlfriend (with his money), has taken on finding the British biological parents of a woman raised in Australia. Tracy, an aging cop, unexpectedly “adopts” the child she sees being abused by a known prostitute and finds herself on the run. A small dog, similarly being abused, ends up in Jackson’s car, permanently. Meanwhile, an older actress, drifting (very convincingly) into early Alzheimers gets caught up in something she misunderstands and the decades old cold case of a dead prostitute comes back to haunt many. Before the book ends, these and other seemingly disparate plot lines have been cunningly interwoven, except maybe the dog – he just is. 384 pp.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything, by Joshua Foer

The concept of the “memory palace” dates back to the ancient Greeks and many of the techniques used by the “mental athletes” that Joshua Foer discusses in his book are based on the memory palace and other very old systems. After covering the U.S. Memory Championship in 2005 as a journalist, Foer challenged himself to learn more about this sport and to train himself to compete. In addition to discussing the training he underwent to become the U. S. champion by 2006, Foer introduces the reader to a bizarre and fascinating cast of characters involved in memory feats today; to individuals who have unique memories due to brain events and accidents; and to “savants” such as Kim Peek, inspiration for the film Rain Man. In the end he concludes, “But after having learned how to memorize poetry and numbers, cards and biographies, I’m convinced that remembering more is only the most obvious benefit of the many months I spent training my memory. What I had really trained my brain to do, as much as to memorize, was to be more mindful, and to pay attention to the world around me. Remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice….Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture. All these essentially human acts depend on memory.” A fascinating book with the added result that one finds oneself using at least a little bit of the “memory palace” while at Schnucks to recall that third elusive item on one’s mental shopping list. 271 pp.

Blood, bones and butter, the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton

Hamilton, a writer and the owner of the Manhattan restaurant, Prune, had a most unusual childhood, and has had a messy adulthood. Her early affectionate memories of her parents contrast sharply with their virtual abandonment of her as a young teen when they broke up and left to her largely to her own devices. The love of her life seems to have been a woman with whom she had a long term relationship, but she is married to an Italian man many years her senior, with whom she has two children. They have never shared a home. Her relationship with her Italian in-laws in complicated as well. An honest and interesting memoir. I’d love to taste her food if she’s as good a chef as she is a writer. 304 pp.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

Not as lightweight as you might think it would be, but just as funny. Fey combines a memoir with critique of the differences between male and female comics. 288 pp.

The tiger’s wife, by Tea Obreht

Magical realism in the Balkans. This amazing debut novel mixes the recent history of an unnamed country (the former Yugoslavia, where the astonishingly young author, she’s just 25, was born) with the superstitions and history of its past. A young woman doctor crosses the recent border searching for answers about her grandfather’s (also a doctor) death. Mixing present day with flashbacks to stories the grandfather told about his birthplace and its history and myths, the evolving picture it forms of the region did more to explicate recent Balkan history to me than all the words written in newspapers. The “Tiger’s Wife” is but one memorable character --- not since The book thief has death been so interestingly personified as it is in the recurring appearances of the Deathless Man. Terrific. 352 pp.

The anthologist, by Nicholson Baker

Ostensibly, this short novel is about Paul Crowder, a poet with a serious case of writer’s block, who is way late in producing a 30 page introduction to a poetry collection. His editor is on his case and longtime girlfriend, Roz, has moved out. Life consists of sitting in the barn or on the driveway in a white plastic chair avoiding putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. But it is really a love song to poetry and a wonderful book to have read in April, National Poetry Month (I’m really behind in these posts!). As Paul says, “The tongue is a rhyming fool. It wants to rhyme because that’s how it stores what it knows…..So what rhyming poems do is they take all these nearby sound curves and remind you that they first existed that way in your brain. Before they meant something specific, they had a shape and a way of being said. And now, yes, gloom and broom are floating fifty miles away from each other in your mind because they refer to different notions, but they’re cheek-by-jowl as far as your tongue is concerned. And that’s what a poem does. Poems match sounds up the way you matched them when you were a tiny kid, using that detachable front phoneme. They’re saying, That way that you first learned language, right from the beginning, by hearing what was similar and what was different, and figuring it all out all by yourself, that way is still important. You’re going to hear it, and you’re going to like it. It’s going to pull you back to the beginning of speech.” Lovely book. (and the above quote is interesting in light of the book I am now reading on memory, Moonwalking with Einstein). 243 pp.

The bird sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen

Written by a local author who teaches at Fontbonne, The bird sisters, is a quiet but effective novel centering on two elderly sisters, Milly and Twiss, who still share their childhood room on the farm owned by their late parents. Their father met their mother on the golf links, where he was the pro. She is from a wealthy family; he isn’t, and her family has cut them off. When a lightning strike nearby causes the father to mysteriously lose his golf skills, and ultimately his job, family life becomes precarious. How the two sisters came to live on alone has its roots in the events in of their girlhood, when Cousin Bettie, whose parents are having their own difficulties, comes to live with them for that eventful summer. 304 pp.

My new American Life, by Francine Prose

In the aftermath of 9/11, 26 year-old Lulu from Albania has intentionally overstayed her tourist visa. But things are looking up. She is working for “Mr. Stanley,” keeping an eye on his teenage son, Zeke, after his wife, Ginger, goes off to the Norwegian fjords to start over “somewhere clean and white.” His best friend, a powerful lawyer, has succeeded in making her a legal immigrant. Just as she is beginning to relax and stop worrying, three Albanian men mysteriously show up at the apartment and insist she keep a gun for them. Things get complicated in this comic yet thoughtful exploration of one immigrant’s experience in America. 306 pp.

Special Exits

Special Exits, a Graphic Memoir by Joyce Farmer 200 pp.

Lars and Rachel are an elderly couple who are slowly deteriorating with age. Their house is filthy, piled with junk, and falling apart. Their daughter, Laura, struggles to manage their out of control lives while maintaining a career and her own marriage and getting attacked by her parents' Siamese cat. At first her father and stepmother are managing okay until Lars has an automobile accident (which brought back memories of my own father) leaving them with no way to get groceries. They are very set in their ways and don't want 'strangers' in their house so they refuse any attempts to get them home health aids. Because of their failure to go to the doctor, Rachel loses her sight to glaucoma and her health fails in a variety of ways. Eventually Laura puts her in a home. Lars' health is also failing but he refuses to see a doctor. By the time he is diagnosed it is too late to do anything more than hospice.

This is a sad but realistic view of what sometimes happens with the elderly and how families struggle to do the best they can for them. It made me thankful that my 94 year old mother is still doing so well.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conversations with God-Book 1 (211 pages)

Ok, so I approached and continue to approach this book with a healthy dose of skepticism...

Overall, I found it to be a really cool book, and God sounded pretty legit. That said, it just kind of bums me out that God's new messenger is another middle-aged guy with a beard.

I like the idea...well, I mean I guess it doesn't matter if I like God's ideas or not...but anyways. The idea of human beings being the body of God, and of the unity of our mind/body/spirit, as well as the idea that life is about creation. Those are all pretty cool to me.

I'm definitely going to read the next two, and I would recommend them to anyone, because even if you disagree, I think it's a valuable read and relevant to our time.

The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos (165 pages)


I don't know if you guys will really count this, but it's a cool book, so I thought I would add it to the blog.

Essentially, this book catalogues all kinds of tattoos with literary quotes, symbols, and art contained in them. Everything from Vonnegut sketches to W.H. Auden quotes. Pretty cool stuff. Lots of pictures. This book actually made me consider getting a tattoo, something I have never really been interested it.

If I did get a tattoo it would totally be of this: It's Fernando Pessoa. I am currently reading "The Book of Disquietude."

Anyways, cool yes? Check it out!

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran/Oscar and the Lady in Pink-Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (117 pages)

A. Sorry for my lack of blog posts. Miss College Student has been busy with finals and a new job and whatnot.
B. If our library doesn't have Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt translations in it, somebody might want to get on that. (I like how the Iowa City Public Library still isn't really my library...)
C. The actual post:

This book contained English translations of two novellas "Monsieur Ibrahim" and "Oscar." Both are amazing! "Monsieur Ibrahim" describes the tale of a Sufi grocer who adopts a young Jewish boy after his father commits suicide. "Oscar" tells about a boy dying from cancer, who writes letters to God every day for twelve days until his death. Both are incredibly beautiful, gut-wrenchingly so, as is Schimtt's signature.

Two of my favorite quotes:

"Your love for her belongs to you. It's yours. Even if she refuses it, she cannot change it. She isn't benefiting from it, thats all. What you give, Momo [short for Moses], is yours forever. What you keep is lost for all time!"-Monsieur Ibrahim

"For the last three days, Oscar had a sign on his bedside table. I think it's meant for you [God]. On it he had written: 'Only God is allowed to wake me up.'"-Oscar and the Lady in Pink

I honestly believe Schmitt is a divine teacher. Everything he writes is so beautiful, I cry.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick


Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick, Juv fic, 204 pages.
I had seen reviews (a review?) for this book and it sounded good. A thirteen year-old finds his father frozen to death on an iced over lake adjacent to their cabin. While he is left alone with his father's corpse, as his older sister and their step-mother go for help, a stranger from his father's past shows up, claiming that the father owes him money. The boy must decide what to do. An ancient Colt revolver plays a central role as the boy decides what to do, what path to take. I had hopes, but preachy and not engaging is how I would rate it.

Mistress of the Art of Death / Ariana Franklin 384 p.

This is the first in Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series about medieval physician and pathologist Adelia Aguilar. It's set during the reign of Henry II and full of terrific period detail and vocabulary. Here Adelia is summoned by the King from her comfortable position in Salerno to solve the mystery of several murdered children in Cambridgeshire. The Jews are blamed and forced into the sheriff's castle for protection, which deprives them of their rights and Henry of their considerable tax revenue. Adelia uncovers a thoroughly evil villain and manages to fall in love as well, so there's a little something for everyone here. Franklin paints an interesting picture of the mix of cultures and faiths in medieval England. She wrote three others in this series, and many other novels under her real name, Diana Norman, before she died in January 2011.

My New American Life / Francine Prose 306 p.

It's no surprise that I liked this new novel by Francine Prose, a writer who, for me, can almost do no wrong. Lula is a 26-year-old Albanian immigrant who's landed a comfortable situation in the home of Mister Stanley and Zeke, two bewildered (but wealthy) suburbanites at loose ends since the departure of Zeke's mother. Prose is an expert at shining a light on the foibles of affluent American culture through the eyes of outsiders; her observations are always razor sharp. When reading her, you get the sense that she could tell all sorts of things about you just by looking at your clothing and hair. In this story, drama ensues when Lula is asked to hide a gun by some fellow Albanians. Both sad and hopeful, and always smart.

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter/ Steve Dublanica aka The Waiter

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica, the artist formerly known as "The Waiter" nonfiction, humor, restaurants, food 302 pages

I have always been fascinated by the restaurant business. Whenever I eat out, whether it's at a fancy sit-down restaurant or my favorite dive, I find myself in awe of the restaurant's ability to harness the hectic and chaotic energy of their vocation and employees in order to provide an enjoyable dining experience for their patronage. I reviewed Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" last month in order to gain a better understanding of this mysterious craft, and while I definitely enjoyed it, Bourdain, as a career chef, was missing something-- the perspective of the server--the face of the restaurant. In reading "Waiter Rant" I was able to get the exact perspective that I was hoping for.

To understand what makes this book so great (because let's be honest, anybody could probably fill a book up with stories about the crazy people they deal with when they work with the public) one must look no further than the writer himself. Steve Dublanica, or "The Waiter," as he is more commonly known to his online following, is a waiter at a Tuscan restaurant in New York that for anonymity purposes he calls "The Bistro." Dublanica's greatest asset as a rider was his ability to stay anonymous until the publishing of his book, because the rantings and ravings as well as the hilarious shenanigans are more effectively delivered when one can't put a face to "The Waiter." He could be anyone--he could've served you last time you ate out and you didn't even realize it. His anonymity as "The Waiter" allowed him to gain instant internet celebrity chronicling his waiter exploits while not losing his job by insulting his co-workers or patrons (before the publishing of his book, only one person ever identified him as "The Waiter" and that person was Russell Crowe....no joke). Dublanica is also an excellent voice in the story because as an ex-seminary student as well as someone who spent a few years in corporate America, he can be intelligent, well-read, spiritual, wise, and yet still retain that hilarious cynicism.

The story is a series of rather disconnected events throughout Dublanica's 7 years at the bistro. Some are more funny than others, but on the whole there are at least a few stories that everyone can enjoy. If you are at all interested in the restaurant business and the dark underbelly of it that customers rarely see, then this humorous account is perfect for you and definitely deserves a read.

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive / Steve Earle 243 p.

Surprising? This is a novel that features the ghost of Hank Williams, JFK's stop in San Antonio the day before he was assassinated, characters who consume more heroin than food, and an illegal immigrant with mysterious healing powers. The sinister priests are the only unoriginal element of the plot, but the rest was so engaging that I'll forgive Earle one cliche.

The surprise, for me, was how much I liked this story about people on the margins of 1960s society. Earle has a great sense of humor, and humanity, and has created a cast of hopeful and unforgettable characters.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden / Helen Grant 287 p.

I picked this up on Annie's glowing recommendation and never regretted it. An almost contemporary story set in the Black Forest area of Germany, and told from the point of view of eleven year old Pia. Children are beginning to disappear in her small, snug town, with no explanation and no bodies. Pia is fascinated and terrified, and her imagination is stoked by the many legends and monster tales for which the Black Forest is so well known and which permeate the narrative.

The remarkable (or surprising!) thing is the way Grant perfectly represents a child's mind while still telling an entirely adult story. Suspenseful and frightening, with more than a few surprise twists.

n.b. The author has the story narrated 20 years after the events have taken place, putting the story firmly in the pre-cell phone era. Certain elements of the plot would have been fairly implausible in today's era of instant communication. I wonder if we will be seeing more of these plot gymnastics, at least for stories of disappearance and kidnapping.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The White City / Elizabeth Bear

The White City by Elizabeth Bear. 189 p.

A sequel to New Amsterdam, featuring the great detective Sebastien de Ulloa, his companion the forensic sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett, and their friend Phoebe Smith, visiting the titular city of Moscow. Actually there are two stories, set 6 years apart; in the earlier one, Sebastien visited Moscow with Jack as his companion. In both of them, he investigates a murder that involves a local artist. I really enjoy Bear's stories about these characters, and so I would recommend that you read New Amsterdam before reading this one, because it will give you a different perpective on the characters--especially Jack.

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Cinderella Ate My Daughter / Peggy Orenstein

Cinderella ate my daughter: dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture by Peggy Orenstein. 245 p.

The whole "Disney Princess/everything must be pink" trend for girls over the last few years was pretty scary for me, even though I don't have any kids, so this book looked interesting. Orenstein is a journalist, so the book is written in a casual, user-friendly style, although she does include lots of endnotes, which I appreciated. I learned some entertaining things, such as why none of the Disney Princesses make eye contact with each other when they're on the same product (it's because each Princess is the center of her own story, so they can't acknowledge that there's more than one princess at a time), and some truly scary things, such as research that shows that girls who dress "sexy" at an early age end up very disconnected from their own feelings at puberty--when asked how something makes her feel, such a girl is likely to respond with what she thinks she looks like, or say something like "I feel like I looked good." And I must agree with Orenstein--why, when so much of the current cartoons and dolls and other merchandise is supposed to "empower" girls, why does it seem to empower them only to shop or become rock stars or models?

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Knockdown / Sarah Graves

Knockdown by Sarah Graves (a Home Repair Is Homicide mystery, #12). 278 p.

I was very disappointed in last year's entry in this series. Unfortunately I didn't like this one either, so I guess I'm done reading these. We've lost the first-person narration by the main character, which I always liked, and in this book we also spend a lot of time inside the bad guy's head. Yuk. Not to mention that the supporting cast, which has some great characters, gets short shrift, and most of them act like morons in this book. They know someone's trying to hurt Jake, so they make a half-baked plan to use her as bait. When the plan runs into a snag, everyone forgets about it, and Jake is captured. The bad guy tries to kill her for a bit, and then they're both trapped in a collapsing house, and she spends a lot of time trying to save him even though he's still trying to kill her. I just found the whole thing annoying and unbelieveable, in a not-fun way. Oh well.

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Quicksilver / Amanda Quick

Quicksilver by Amanda Quick. An Arcane Society novel ; book 2 of the Looking Glass trilogy. 327 p.

Amanda Quick--which is Jayne Ann Krentz's nom de plume for historicals--has been an auto-read for me for years, but I'm sorry to say that these last several books have all started to run together for me. Part of it is the Arcane Society background she's using to tie the books together. Members of the Arcane Society have psychic powers. Rather than use traditional psychic powers, like mindreading, Quick has invented her own--for instance, glass-reading, which the heroine of this book has. But she has to spend time explaining the powers in each new book, and I'd rather she spend those pages on character interactions. I can always count on her to have strong female characters and strong-but-not-overpowering male characters, but somehow they've become a bit dull.

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Warm Bodies/Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion; horror, romance, zombies; 256 pages

I picked this up because of the wide range of blurbs on the cover: Stephenie Meyer, Simon Pegg, and Josh Bazell (of Beat the Reaper fame) have all endorsed it, and that's a strange enough combination to catch my attention. Though the plot also sounded pretty intriguing: Our narrator is R, a zombie who one day encounters a teenage boy, and eats his brain. But instead of the brief sensory flashbacks that usually accompany such a meal, R starts getting real memories, and bits of personality from the boy's last thoughts. He also starts to remember Julie, the boy's girlfriend, and feels a strong urge to protect her. Soon R is rebelling against the elder zombies, forming sentences, and abstaining from human flesh. Is it residual brain chemicals left over from his last meal, or is he really changing into something else?

I loved this book. There's lots of very dark humor, but it's mixed with moments of surprising sweetness (R's and Julie's relationship, or R's thoughts of his zombie children--long story). Marion's excellent writing makes this more than a simple zombie story: there are long stretches of R's inner monologue that is very deep and, in some places, terrifying. But let's face it, if anyone is suited to mull on the existentialism of human existence, it's zombies. I can see this one making it on my "best of the year" list in a few months.

Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward 489 pages

Lover Unleashed is the ninth novel in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. The Brotherhood’s members are vampires who live close to a city just outside New York, NY. They roam the city at night looking for and killing the undead known as Lessers. Throughout the series the history of each brother is revealed along with the history of the Brotherhood and the reason the vampires moved from Europe to the U.S. “Unleashed” is the story of Payne, the Scribe Virgin’s daughter (technicality here), who escapes from her mother who has imprisoned her for centuries. One of Payne’s duties is to spar with Wrath, the king of the vampires, and during a sparring session Payne is badly injured. Payne’s twin brother, Vicious is mated with a surgeon. Payne’s injuries are too complicated for Jane so she finds her old boss in the human world and brings him to the Brotherhood mansion to operate. Needless to say, sparks fly between Payne and her healer, Manuel. If there is interest in reading the Brotherhood series I suggest starting with Book 1. Each novel stands on its own but the progression of stories helps build a knowledge of the lives and histories of the charactes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Matisse Stories

The Matisse Stories/ A.S. Byatt 134 pgs.

This is a thin volume with only three stories but each is so wonderful, you are sad when you are done. I read this many years ago and had a memory of one story that made me seek it out again. My memory was not perfect but the story turned out even better than I thought. Truly a hallmark of a great book, thinking about a part of it over 15 years after the original reading. Perhaps I'll touch base again in a couple of decades.

Ten Fun Things To Do Before You Die

Ten Fun Things To Do Before You Die /Karol Jackowski 123 pgs.

This is a great advice book by a NUN...yes, I'll say it again, a nun. Quite a cool nun at that. Karol Jackowiski does mention God here but not very often. Mostly she is out for a good time and avoiding exercise. This book impressed me.

The King's Speech

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue & Peter Conradi  242 pp.

This is not a novelization of the Oscar winning movie by the same name. Instead it is the story behind the drama of the film. Written by the grandson of speech therapist Lionel Logue, this book is based on Logue's personal diaries and papers. It chronicles Logue's life beginning in Australia and his subsequent move to England. He began his work with "Bertie," then the Duke of York, when the Duke was scheduled to make a tour of Australia for the opening of Parliament House in 1927. The Duke had a serious stammering problem and giving public speeches was horrific for him. Logue's work with the Duke, at a time when speech therapy was in its infancy, helped make the Australian tour a success. When the abdication of Edward VIII suddenly thrust the Duke into being King George VI of England, he once again worked with Logue on the speaking he would have to do at the Coronation. By this time Logue was automatically consulted whenever a major speech needed to be made, often helping to change the wording to make it easier for the King to avoid "problem sounds." Throughout it all, Logue kept a relatively low profile, rarely talking to the press and refusing to use his work with King George as a way to further his career. Logue and his wife became great friends of the young royal couple and in his diaries Logue speaks fondly of the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. I listened to the audiobook version which includes the recording of the full speech King George made when Britain went to war with Germany at the start of World War II.  The younger Logue and Conradi have presented this little known slice of history (until the movie, that is) in a matter-of-fact and approachable style. It's worth reading, especially if you've seen the film.   

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, 320 pp.

It feels like I should begin this post with a quote from Shakespeare; no matter what I'd pick, Eleanor Brown probably used it in The Weird Sisters. The WSs are the daughters of a Shakespeare scholar and professor at a small-town college in Ohio. For various reasons, but most importantly the illness of their mother, the three converge on their family home. The professor/father speaks--I'm pretty sure--exclusively by quoting Shakespeare; his daughters speak elsewise but are quick with a quote amongst themselves and their parents. They all read avidly, thirstily, naturally, constantly. For them it's like breathing. In that way, they are all the same; in other ways, the sisters are doggedly determined to carve out their differences. In the end, they find, as many of us do, that "birds of a feather" (there. Isn't that Shakespeare?) can try to force an identity that has nothing to do with one's family of origin, but that ultimately, we come from the same bunch of feathers and we don't always get to pick which feather will define us best. I found this family so so so endearing, and yet just this side of annoying. I can't imagine writing this book 1) for having ready access to all the Shaekspeare and 2) for a narrative trick I loved but can't imagine employing so unfailingly: the story is told by all three sisters at once, the personal pronouns being plural throughout. This is a clever and fun book, well worth the time spent.

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories/Zack Whedon

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon; graphic novel; 80 pages

This collection of vignettes was originally published on the Dark Horse website and web exclusives. I remember reading a few online, which is the only way I knew that (it's not mentioned anywhere in the book that I can find). While they were enjoyable as web shorts, and I'm glad they were collected, I find myself agreeing with Nate that this book needed to be fleshed out a bit more, either through longer stories or more of them. That said, there were quite a few elements here that I enjoyed, including the story of Johnny Snow vs, the ELE (and Bad Horse!). Without more meat to it, though, these stories just served to whet my appetite for the rumored Dr. Horrible sequel, which as yet doesn't have a start date. By the way, does Bad Horse count as a pony?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox/Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson; young adult, science fiction; 272 pages (about 6.5 hours on CD)

Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox has just awoken from the coma in which she has lain for the last 18 months. Her memory is fragmented at best, and a complete blank in many areas. Sequestered in a remote California town with her mother and grandmother, Jenna slowly starts to rebuild her life; but as her mental state improves, Jenna starts to ask questions: why did her family move across the country while she was in a coma, leaving all Jenna's belongings behind? Why does her grandmother, who she remembers fondly, seem to hate her? And why is Jenna forbidden to talk or ask about the accident that caused her coma?

This was one another of those books I'd been meaning to read for several years, and had kept putting off. Now, I'm sorry I waited so long. Jenna's story is emotional and suspenseful enough to make a great summer read, but also deals with enough bigger issues to make an excellent book club choice. Medical ethics, ecological responsibility, and theology all get addressed in this book, and would be great jumping off points for a discussion. (At the risk of dropping spoilers, I recommend you brush up on the Theseus Paradox before digging into this book.) I loved the narration here, which really captured Jenna's inner voice. If the ending seemed a little too neat, I can forgive it, especially after listening to the author interview included at the end of the audio book.

The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown  320 pp.

Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy) Andreas all end up living back in their parents' home to regroup after their individual disappointments in life. Their father, a professor of Shakespeare, tends to speak in quotes from the Bard. Their mother is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Rose has always been the homebody, and, unasked, has taken over caring for her parents frequently to the annoyance of the rest of the family. The always glamorous Bean has returned home from New York emotionally damaged but keeping it all inside. Cordy, the youngest, has returned after wandering the country like a gypsy and carrying a secret of her own. Each must come to terms with the fact that their lives have not turned out the way they expected and must figure out the direction they need to go now. Should Rose leave the safety of her small town existence with the man she loves? Can Bean change her addiction to the high life and high spending to be happy in small town Ohio? Will Cordy be able to change her wandering ways and still stay true to herself? How can you not like a family who believes "there is no problem a library card can't solve?"

This book is written in a kind of collective first person. The point of view is that of all the sisters and occasionally a single sister. It takes a little getting used to. It was also very obvious to me that the author has had experience with cancer treatment either personally or in caring for someone with cancer. The descriptions of what the mother went through were spot on and brought back many memories of my own chemo treatments.

 

The Sixth Man

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci  416 pp.

I'm reposting this because my other post inexplicably disappeared. I originally posted about this earlier this month.

This is the latest in the series featuring former Secret Service agents now private investigators,  Sean King & Michelle Maxwell. U.S. intelligence analyst & super-genius, Edgar Roy has been charged with murder after the discovery of several bodies buried in the barn of his farm. His defense lawyer hires King & Maxwell to investigate. When they discover the lawyer shot to death in his car they become enmeshed in a conspiracy involving competing government agencies, crooked government contractors, and a Secretary of Homeland Security who doesn't always have the best interest of the country at heart. The story made me think of the bumper sticker that reads "I love my country but fear my government."

I'm not a fan of Baldacci's Camel Club series but I do enjoy the King & Maxwell books. This one gets a bit tedious with the introduction of a few too many characters and plotlines but the surprises at the end make it worth the read.

The Arctic Marauder

The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi  63 pp.

I'm not sure how to explain this graphic novel. Ships are mysteriously frozen along with the passengers & crew, little old ladies kill people, evil scientists create a gigantic machine disguised as an iceberg, and a storyline that leaves an opening for further books. That pretty much sums it up. And, oh yeah, the artwork is great.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to be sick

How to be sick by Toni Bernhard 191 pages

I bought this book for the library and put it hold for myself based on Eliana's review and I'm glad I did because 3 other people already have it on request! This book really opened my eyes to so many things...You certainly don't need to have chronic illness in your life or be a caregiver to get a lot out of this book. The author DOES suffer from a chronic illness but she has managed to make a good life for herself by falling back on her Buddhist beliefs which has allowed her to cope with the pain and disappointment that comes with being sick. I admire her for her honesty and her attitude and her ability to give me hope that I can be a better person.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh, 336 pp.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my favortie authors. Her novels are each so different and not one of them has disappointed me. Her latest, Faith, is her best yet. It tells the story of a Catholic priest and his family as they weather the storm of the pedophile priest crisis in Boston. Father Arthur Breen's half-sister, Sheila McGann, tells the story. As someone who has in the past distanced herself from both her family and the church, she is an honest voice after the truth wherever she can find it. And when she finds it, she makes excuses for no one. As a Catholic, I found her observations so refreshing. I loved her apt reflections on what's happened to the church in her/my lifetime. But just as real-life headlines have captured everyone's attention, this captivating, well-crafted story will deservedly attract the attention of anyone. Maybe the best book I've read this year!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Coldest Winter Ever/Sister Souljah

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah; urban literature, crime, drama; 432 pages

I've been meaning to read this for several years, and I'm glad I finally got around to it. This is the story of Winter Santiaga, eldest daughter of one of the most powerful crime families in New York. However, when her father is arrested, she loses everything in a matter of weeks, and soon finds herself trying to survive alone on the streets.

I enjoyed this story, but it became difficult to keep watching Winter make poor decisions. It seemed like any time things started to look up, she'd overreach, or betray someone who trusted her, and everything would come crashing down. In the end, though, I still wanted things to work out for her, despite the fact that I never warmed up to her as a main character. Overall, this is a gripping read, told from a unique perspective.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The elegance of the hedgehog

The elegance of the hedgehog/Muriel Barbery 325 pgs.

I listened to the audio of this book and it was brilliant. The 2 main characters are done by age appropriate narrators that add a lot to the story. This book was fairly popular when it came out and made it onto my "list" but I had not gotten to it. I am glad that I finally did and mostly enjoyed it very much. This is the story of Rene, a fifty-ish concierge who has lived a life of hiding her true self and her intellect. The second main character is Paloma, a suicidal twelve-year-old who feels like the false life around her is too draining to maintain her existence. When a new tenant, Japanese Kakuro Ozu moves into the building, he changes everything with his respectful friendship of both Rene and Paloma and brings them together. The writing is beautiful and I liked the story up until the end which did not satisfy. Still, I would not hesitate to recommend to someone who enjoys literary fiction and whole heartedly enjoyed the audio performance.


Superman vs. Muhammad Ali/Neal Adams

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali by Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil; graphic novel, superheroes; 96 pages

I'm not generally a huge fan of Superman. In fact, most of the time I'm lucky if I can make it through a single issue of a Superman story without getting a toothache. But when this came across my desk, I knew I had to read it.

The premise of this story (recovered from the awesomeness that is the 1970s), is that an army of warrior aliens from the planet Bodace (yes, as in "bodacious") arrives on Earth, demanding that we choose a champion to represent us in a fight with their best warrior. To prove that they're serious, they launch a few bombs at St. Louis (!!), which Superman has to stop with great drama and flair. Anyway, the people of Earth are torn on who to choose as their champion: Superman, or Muhammad Ali. Yeah, I know. So the Bodacians decree that Superman and Ali should duke it out to see who gets to fight their guy, an 8-foot tall green menace with impenetrable skin. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Oh, and did I mention that the Bodacian emperor wears a purple leisure suit for the whole book?

To be fair, the match between Ali and Superman gets a lot more even when we learn it's taking place beneath Bodace's red sun, which nullifies Superman's powers. Still, the whole thing stretches my comic credibility so far that it just goes right into the "camp" category. And really, we all know how much I love camp. It's probably the reason I was able to finish this in a single sitting.

I will say that the parts about Ali were much less campy than the overall story. He's represented as an American hero, much like Superman, but knowing that he's a real person puts a different spin on it. Also worth checking out is the original cover, in which the crowd is entirely peopled with celebrities, both real and from the DC universe (though, sadly, Batman was not actually in this book). Overall, this was an awesome trip back to the '70's. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where good ideas come from: the natural history of innovation

Where good ideas come from: the natural history of innovation/Steven Johnson 325 pg.

A very interesting book that discusses the way in which big ideas are "hatched" and how we tend to think that there is a "eureka" moment but in real life, there is often years of "peculation" before something really takes hold and becomes real. Steven Johnson has done a lot of work studying good ideas and how they came about. He also looked at how things work in the natural world and related how some scientific discoveries were made about the elegance of mother nature's solution. I was particularly taken by his idea of "the adjacent possible". Most innovation comes right at the edge of what is currently in place and that makes sense when you think about it. Historically, if you came up with something "too far" out, it might take years and years before technology progressed and made you idea "actually possible". Charles Babbage was one of those guys...he basically invented the computer but in the 19th century there weren't any good parts to make it from so he designed a mechanical version. Yes, it actually worked but to look at it is to understand steam punk. Anyway, this was a very interesting book that made me want to continue puttering on some things I've been thinking about for years...the pay off can certainly still come after all these years, in fact, that is the more common way that progress is made.




Monday, May 16, 2011

Knockin' Boots by Tracy Price-Thompson p. 286

Kevin, Fancy, Sparkle, and Emile are all in or married to someone in the military. They all tell their side of the story. Kevin is a sex addict who brings his wife into all his crazy fantasies and she goes along with it (and likes it most of the time). Fancy is trying to deal with being married to Kevin (she does not know he is a sex addict) and her best friend's (Sparkle) issues. Sparkle dates as many men as she can but when she meets the right one, she is not sure how to handle it. He is everything she could ever want but there's one thing she can't seem to deal with. Emile has a problem with black women and does not respect them at all. He dates a white women but he learns a valuable lesson.
This book was very enjoyable. So many unpredicatable things happened it was hard to put down. This book dealt with real issues as well such as safe sex, drugs, and race issues.

Bossypants by Tina Fey, 277 pp.

Like Christa, I loved it. Bossypants was worth every minute spent listening. I also discovered the embarassing equivalent to singing along while listening to music through earbuds: unexpectedly laughing out loud while listening to Tina Fey through earbuds. I got funny looks on a number of occasions. It truly is laugh-out-loud funny at times. The absolute bright star moment, IMHO, though, is The Mother's Prayer for Its Daughter. If I weren't afraid of breaking the rules, I'd reprint it here. It's that great. Don't miss it!

Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg, 280 pp.

Some of Elizabeth Berg's books are just okay. Every once in a while she writes one that is exceptional (We Are All Welcome Here, for one). Once Upon a Time There Was You started out to be one of those! The prose, the character formation, the observations, everything was going so well. And then she must have read Room by Emma Donoghue and just couldn't get it out of her mind, because there is a sudden kidnapping incident that is almost just as suddenly over, almost as if it didn't happen, and then all the big issues that have emerged in the novel start being too easily resolved. It felt like Berg got tired of writing this story, so she just wrapped it up as quickly as she could. Oddly, a friend who hadn't read Room, didn't feel the same as me at all. Still, I would have liked to have read the end of that novel that emerged in the beginning.

Bossypants

Bossypants/Tina Fey 277 pgs.

Tina Fey is the best at so many things and after reading this book, I place her on top of the heap in another category...Tina is really the person you want to respond to your mail. In the book, she responds to 4 or 5 comments about herself from the internet. It is brilliant...she is so kind and gentle as she slices and dices some of the "bright" people who have made unkind comments. Well, let me just say here, I have no unkind comments. Some members of this UCPL reading team have been disappointed over and over by books from our favorite comedians that we assumed would have to be hilarious because they are so funny. Now, I don't for one minute put Tina in the category of comedian...that is too small a box for her. But let me be honest...I figured there was at least a chance that I would be disappointed by this book. Never again will I doubt Tina...She helms the funniest show on TV, used to be the head writer on SNL and now gets added to favorite authors list.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

March Violets by Philip Kerr


March Violets by Philip Kerr, Mystery, 246 pages.
Bernie Gunther used to be a cop, so the horrible things he sees now, as a private investigator, don't surprise him much. And as the book is set in Germany in 1936, and a lot of his clients are German Jews trying to locate love-ones, he is getting used to disappointment, and not finding everyone he is looking for, sometimes people just disappear in the new Nazi state. His new client wants him to find a missing piece of jewelry, as the loved-one is already dead. No one who has read more than a handful of thrillers or mysteries really believes the body found in the ashes, burned beyond recognition is really who the characters in the book say it is, but even with that Kerr manages some surprises. A solid mystery, with a believable and engaging setting. I look forward to reading more of the Bernie Gunther stories.

True Grit by Charles Portis


True Grit by Charles Portis, 235 pages.

Portis's 1968 classic has been made into two great movies now, and the book itself has aged well. Mattie Ross is fourteen, stiff, formal, and fearless. She does not suffer fools and she has a strong sense of justice and will not be cheated out of anything, not her share of the covers in a shared bed at the boardinghouse, not the price her late father paid for a string of ponies, and most certainly not vengeance on Tom Chaney, the coward who shot down her father in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
By the time Mattie gets to Fort Smith, Chaney has taken off, riding her father's horse, leaving Arkansas and heading into the Oklahoma territory. Mattie seeks help from a U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, former confederate raider, former road agent, constant drinker, and possessor of the characteristic from which the book takes its name. They are joined in the hunt by a Texas Ranger who is seeking Chaney for the killing of another man. The book is Matties stubborn and honest reflection of what she saw and did at that time, and it all feels remarkably true. A classic book-makes me want to read the rest of Portis's work.
We have the book and we have both movies at UCPL, so check them out!