Saturday, March 31, 2012

Flatscreen, by Adam Wilson

The cover drawing of a man’s robe accurately portrays the life of the main character, 20-something Eli Schwartz, an archetypical slacker living in the shadow of his more successful brother and literally in his divorced parents’ basement. When his mother decides to sell the house and move into a condo, he loses even this retreat. His family home is purchased by Seymour J. Kahn, a druggy, drunk, paraplegic porn addict, who once was a success on TV. The two form a strange sort of uneasy friendship which ultimately ends both comically and badly. And on YouTube. 336 pp.

Rez life, by David Treuer

Novelist David Treuer, son of a German father and Native American mother, grew up on the Ojibwe reservation of Leech Lake, the eastern border of which is a mere couple of miles from the cabin in northern Minnesota that we have visited all my life. The book mixes history with contemporary stories of his own family and acquaintances on “the Rez.” Much of this history, particularly of how reservations developed and the treaties that were made and often broken, was unfamiliar to me, which is pretty sad considering how much of my summer life has been spent in the area. Although the book is quite well-written, the mix of rather dry history with livelier personal reminiscences makes for a rather odd reading experience. 368 pp.

The flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey

This modern day retelling of Jane Eyre is moderately successful in reminding the reader of the earlier classic. In some ways, I might have liked the novel better without this reference. Gemma, orphaned at an early age, was born in Iceland, but taken to Scotland when her parents both died. When her caring uncle dies, her aunt and cousins more or less turn on her. Sent to boarding school on a “scholarship,” she finds herself and her fellow scholarship students virtual indentured servants. After several unhappy years there, the opportunity arises to become the companion to the young niece of Mr. Sinclair, whose ancestral home, Blackbird Hall, is on the Orkney Islands. Frankly, Mr. Sinclair’s secret isn’t nearly as interesting as a mad wife in the attic, but I liked the character of Gemma and particularly enjoyed the settings of the Orkney Islands and Iceland, where Gemma finally finds her real name. 464 pp.

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett 353 pgs.

Always willing to read Ann Patchett but I think Kathleen really captured the problem in her post about Patron Saint of Liars.  None of her other books can really compare with Bel Canto.  This book is interesting and features strong women characters and then becomes so steeped in fertility and maternity when we make it to the Amazon and sneak a peak at the secretive research being done by scientists funded by a major drug company.  There are secrets and interesting histories and the story is compelling.

I really enjoyed this book but it felt like a little bit of work to me.

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Torso/Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko

Torso by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko; true crime, graphic novel; 280 pages

Another true crime graphic novel! This one is about the serial murderer dubbed the Torso Killer, who terrorized Cleveland in the 1930s. Elliot Ness, better known for his work on the Al Capone case in Chicago, was working in the city at that time, and he teams up with two of the last trustworthy detectives in a corrupt town to track down the killer.

This was another case that I wasn't overly-familiar with, so I had no clue where the story was going. The authors had to do some improvising at the end, as the true killer was never apprehended, but their theory fits the facts of the case, and ties in nicely with popular theories about the murders. I was intrigued enough with the case that I spent the rest of the evening researching it online.

For all that I style myself as a comics nerd, I admit I haven't had a lot of exposure to Bendis' art, so at first I was a little turned off by the stark black and white images, with faces often in such deep shadow that it was hard to make out who was who. However, as the story progressed, I got the hang of reading Bendis' style, and started really loving his page layouts (whenever the good guys start to feel things slipping out of control, the whole page turns slowly sideways! Loved it!). The art is also interspersed with actual photos from the case--provided by the local public library, according to the thank-you note at the end! Overall, I thought this was a great addition to the true crime comics world.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Web of Air/Philip Reeve

Web of Air by Philip Reeve (Fever Crumb book 2); young adult, steampunk; 304 pages

I LOVED Fever Crumb, but hadn't really expected a sequel (well, not a sequel about her; I knew about the Hungry City series). So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across this: Two years after fleeing London, Fever finds herself in the company of a traveling theatrical troop. Her journey bringers to Mayda-on-the-Sea, where Arlo Thursday, the possibly-mad grandson of a famous shipbuilder, is attempting to construct a flying machine. But there are other forces at work within the city, and as Fever becomes involved in Arlo's project, it may put both their lives at risk.

There was so much to love in this book: Fever's older now, and a little more mature, but this book still shows her coming to grips with the real world in a lot of ways (including her first crush!). There's danger and excitement and adventure, as well as all the expected steampunk trappings: flying machines, pirates, and lots of cool gadgets. One of my favorite things about Fever's world is that it's our world, thousands of years in the future; I love seeing how the world has changed, and how some of the things we've left behind have been interpreted! I also love seeing how other things have evolved. In this case, I'm talking about the angels--mutant seagulls with rudimentary hands and a sort of basic, child-like intelligence. Creepy.

The ending is sadder than I expected, but it fits the tone of these books. And now that I know I can expect more (Reeve's third Fever Crumb book, Scrivener's Moon, came out in the UK last fall), I'm not quite so broken up about the way this one leaves us. I don't think I can wait another year for my next installment--I may have to order a UK copy of book three, as there's still no US publication date on Amazon.

Stargazing Dog

Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami  127 pp.

This graphic novel is a sweet but sad story of a man and his dog. It begins with the discovery of an abandoned car containing a dead man and dog then flashes back to the day the dog is found and brought home by a little girl who convinces her parents to let her keep him. As often happens, the girl soon loses interest in the Shiba Inu leaving her father to pick up the slack as the one who walks the dog every day and eventually feed and care for it. A divorce splits the family and the man, whose is now jobless and in failing health takes off in his car with his possessions and his lone companion, the dog who adores his "Daddy." It's a big of a tear jerker. The illustrations of the adorable dog made me wish I could cuddle it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes

Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes by T Cooper, 434 pages

When the Lipshitz family is getting off the boat at Ellis Island, the Russian Jewish immigrants somehow lose their blond-headed five-year-old boy Reuven, never to be seen again. However, after visiting a palmist in Texas, mother Esther comes to believe that her missing son is none other than Charles Lindbergh. Esther becomes obsessed with the aviator and sends multiple letters and telegrams to his wife and mother, warning them about a tragedy in their future, which the palmist predicted.

What an odd, odd tale... and it takes a sharp left turn about 300 pages in, when Esther's story ends in the 1940s and T's tale begins in 2002, with a rant that is as funny as it is unexpected. Cooper's characters are multidimensional, and the story is certainly a fresh one.

Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times / Eyal Press 196 p.

One of my favorites of 2012 so far. Press studies 4 individuals who displayed remarkable courage in the face of extreme pressure to obey orders that ran counter to their moral code. The individual stories are fascinating, from that of a Swiss policeman to an American corporate whistleblower, as well as the thoughtful conclusions the author draws about their personalities. While it's not clear that these brave individuals helped themselves much, it's certain that the rest of us are better off because of them

The Best of Chief Dan George

The Best of Chief Dan George by Chief Dan George and Helmut Hirnschall  127 pp.

The title of this book makes it sound like it should be a collection of movie clips featuring that wonderful First Nations character actor, Chief Dan George, the son of a chief and former Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in British Columbia. Instead this is a compilation of his two books of poetry and essays, the speech he made at the Canadian Centennial in 1967, and a biographical sketch. Most of his writings are concerned with the damage that has been done to the environment and the creatures that inhabit the earth. Others lament the loss of native culture and his concern for children. The book is illustrated with pencil sketches and pen & ink drawings by Chief Dan George's friend Helmut Hirnschall who also wrote the epilogue. My favorites:

Look at the faces of my people:
You will find expressions of love and despair,
hope and joy, sadness and desire, and all the
human feelings that live in the hearts of people
of all colors. Yet, the heart never knows the
colour of the skin.


The only thing the
world really needs is for
every child to grow up is happiness.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides  406 pp.

Madeleine Hanna wrote her senior thesis on the marriage plot in Victorian literature. It's the early 1980s and without realizing it, she is living her own, updated version of the same type of love story. She is in a rocky relationship with handsome, tortured Leonard. But her friend Mitchell believes that he and Madeleine are meant to be together even though she has given him the brush off. Eugenides crafted a story that includes the realities of modern relationships while giving glimpses of the romance of novels like Austen's. As stories go, this is just another book about angsty relationships. It is Eugenides' masterful writing that makes this something special.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties

Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate as told to Lesley M. M. Blume  242 pp.

This is not a book about the cute and colorful little fairies that adorn the popular juvenile series. This is about the creepier side of the fae and their magical cohorts: goblins, brownies, trolls, dwarves, and other not so friendly beings. Alternating between descriptions and warnings concerning the creepy creatures are true cautionary tales of children and their unfortunate encounters with the often dangerous species. The illustrations by David Foote are suitably dark and mysterious. Also included are interesting, little known facts about fairies and their habitats like the existence of a fairy island in the Mississippi near here or that gray hair is not caused by aging but by fairies stealing the color. Now I know who to blame for those shiny gray hairs that seem to be mulitplying. This is a fun, if a little bit creepy, piece of juvenile fiction.

The Gathering

The Gathering by William X. Kienzle 280 pp.

Former priest, William Kienzle died in 2001 and I thought I had read all his "Father Koesler" murder mysteries years ago. Somehow I missed this one. This book isn't exactly a whodunit. It's really a story of a who is going to do it and to whom? Most of the story is a flashback to the years when Father Bob Koesler and several of his schoolmates in Detroit were making their plans to go into the religious life. Rose and Mike are twins who want to enter the convent and priesthood respectively. Alice, Rose's best friend also plans to be a nun. The hot tempered Manny is also headed to the seminary. Stan is the outsider of the group who is only entering the seminary to please his mother after a priest pulls strings to get his parents' marriage legitimized in the eyes of the Catholic church. The twist and turns in the lives of these six people leave you wondering which one is the killer and who will be the victim. The ending is anticlimactic and somewhat disappointing. Now I can honestly say I read all the books in this series although my favorite remains Death Wears a Red Hat

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hope: a tragedy

Hope: a tragedy by Shalom Auslander 292 pgs.

Sol Kugal is trying to start over.  He and his wife Bree buy an old farm house in Stockton, NY...a place where nothing important has ever happened.  The idea of running from history seems fairly attractive to Kugal but once they move into the house, things don't go all that well.  For one, his ailing mother seems to be short for the world so he moves her in to witness her improving daily and driving he and his wife crazy.  Then he discovers someone living in the attic and can't figure out how to get rid of her.  This is a funny book that is pretty sick at the same time.  I feel sorry for Sol but as he spends a lot more of his time trying to determine what should be on his tomb stone and planning his last words than parenting his young son, maybe he gets what he deserves.
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Sisters brothers

The Sisters brothers by Patrick deWitt 328 pgs.

Dark and well paced, Eli and Charlie Sisters -- the feared Sisters brothers are out earning a living the way they know how.  They are basically cowboy hit men who work for the Commodore traveling about settling scores with his enemies.  They don't ask too many questions, just do what they are told.  When they go after Hermann Kermit Warm, Eli is thinking this should be his last job.  When they discover Warm's "crime" against the Commodore, they decide to join with him and make their fortune during the California Gold Rush.

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Blue Nights

Blue Nights by Joan Didion 188 pages

Losing a child is never easy but not long after her husbands unexpected death, Joan Didion's daughter suffered a health calamity that put her in a coma and ultimately led to her death 18 months later.  I read her early book The Year of Magical Thinking which focused on the year after her husband John Dunne's death and now this volume that deals with the memory of her daughter.  Neither is uplifting but both are beautiful tributes to their subjects.

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Chelsea Chelsea bang bang

Chelsea Chelsea bang bang by Chelsea Handler 247 pgs.

Have you ever read anything by Chelsea Handler?  This one is much like the others...which is to say HILARIOUS.  I guess earning the nickname "Chunk" is some of the highest praise you can get from Chelsea but that may be tougher now that she has give her dog (seen on the cover) that name permanently.

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The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje 269 pgs.

I was prepared not to like this book too much based on my previous and years long inability to understand the movie or book version of The English Patient by the same author.  But this book was really fun.  The bulk of it takes place on an ocean liner taking a 3 week trip where 3 11ish year old boys become friends and adventurers on the boat.  None are constrained by close supervision or parents and they use the trip to discover a lot about adults and the other activities on the boat.  Of course there are some dark parts and the end where the boys are adults isn't as much fun but overall a winner.  Maybe I don't understand the deeper meaning but really fun to read.

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The Elements of user Experience

The Elements of user Experience by Jesse James Garrett 172 pgs.

More information architecture.  Great information about how much documentation is the heart of every project and how important it is to the success and ongoing maintenance of your website.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Believing the lie, by Elizabeth George

The latest in the Inspector Lindsay mysteries finds Tommy and his crew up in the Lake District investigating the untimely death of Ian Cresswell, who was largely raised by his uncle, Bernie Fairclough, a self-made industrial tycoon famed for the “Fairloo,” an upscale toilet. Cresswell came out to his wife and young son and daughter a few years previously and had been living with a young Pakistani man. Son Tim is having a hard time of it and is enrolled in a school for troubled teens. That Bernie’s son, and presumptive heir to the family fortune, is a recovering addict casts suspicion his way – Bernie always seemed to favor his nephew. But almost nothing is as it seems in Cumbria. Tommy, Deborah and Simon delve deeper into long held family secrets, while Barbara Havers helps out from London while dealing with her own problems with the new head of the department, Isabelle, who is secretly having an affair with Lynley. In addition to being commanded to reinvent herself with new clothes, hairdos and attitudes, Havers is also coping with the reappearance the girlfriend of her neighbor and friend, Taymullah Azhar, and mother of his daughter Hadiyyah. As many feel, the series has suffered after the death of Helen a couple of books back, but the good news, perhaps, is that the cliffhanger ending leads one to believe that the always engaging Barbara Havers will be central to the next installment. 624 pp.

Anywhere but here, by Mona Simpson

I first read this book in 1987 when it came out. I liked it very much and never forgot it. When I read the Steve Jobs biography I learned that the author was his sister, a fact neither of them were aware of until they were well into their twenties. I decided to reread Anywhere but here in the light of this knowledge. Although the book stands on its own without this biographical insight, I found that knowing this illuminated both the novel and my understanding of Jobs’ personality. Much of the story is semi-autobiographical in that Mona and her mother made a similar journey. In the novel, the mother, Adele, and her ten-year-old daughter, Ann, head for California with the hope that Ann will become a child TV star before she is too old. There is no real basis to believe Ann has any qualities or experience that would make this a reasonable assumption, but this has no bearing on Adele’s vision of their future. “Borrowing” her second husband’s Cadillac and his credit card, they set off on an epic journey from Wisconsin to Hollywood, where things don’t entirely go as hoped. Adele’s belief that she can bend any situation to her will and that those who stand in her way can be discarded has eerie echoes of the Apple founder’s personality and business methods. A good book on its own and fascinating to read in light of recent events. 544 pp.

Outlaw album, by Daniel Woodrell

This powerful collection of short stories is enough to put you off that float trip on the Jacks Fork forever. Some of the stories are no more than a few pages, but not a word is wasted. They are peopled by Ozark characters that the author knows well as a resident of the area, and many of the protagonists would seem like caricatures in the hands of a less skillful writer. One kills his neighbor multiple times; another does in a handicapped uncle; a third rides with Quantrill and Coleman Younger in the Civil War. Strictly speaking most of the stories deal with criminal activity, but somehow, the author makes you both understand the characters and why they acted as they did. A chilling, bleak slice of American life. 176 pp.

An available man, by Hilma Wolitzer

Stunned by the sudden death of his wife, Bee, from fast moving cancer, 62-year-old Edward Schuyler finds himself the object of female attention. For he is a rare beast, an available man in a world where there are many more single women than attractive men. When his stepchildren, fearing he is lonely, place a singles ad in the New York Review of Books, the situation only escalates. Although he doesn’t feel ready to date nor particularly interested in finding a new woman in his life, he gradually reaches out to some of those who respond, with rather predictable results. Things get really complicated when his ex-fiancĂ©e, who left him literally at the alter decades ago, resurfaces. An enjoyable, if a bit hackneyed, romance. 304 pp.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, 129 pages

I don't know that I've ever read a book quite like The Buddha in the Attic. Written in collective first person (Did that exist before this book? Who knows!), this short novel tells the tale of the Japanese "picture brides" from the early 20th century, who came to America to marry Japanese men they had never met but they hoped would provide fresh adventures. The story takes the reader from the boat that brings the women to the U.S. through the disappointments of life here to the racial ostracism of WWII's resettlement camps.

While it's in an odd format, I liked the book, which somehow manages to be both universal and intimate. What a melancholy tale...

Deeper by Roderick Gordon 643 pages

This is a sequel to Tunnels and to tell the truth I can't remember if I got through the first book but I downloaded this and caught up with Will's saga which picks up immediately where volume one left off. Will, Chester, and Cal on a train taking them away from the Colony to the deeper underground wilds. The story moves back and forth from different characters points of view as they are sometimes split up and reunited. While they are in the deep, their mother moves back and forth from the Deep to Topsoil, a legendary hero until her capture by the Styx. They try to brainwash her into thinking that her son Will turned evil and was responsible for his uncle's death. The Styx are super evil -- there is a lot of graphic torture and death of beloved characters. Some "characters" are brought back to life lessening the horror first felt. The boys become hopeful that their archaeologist dad may still be alive. Some parallels to The Emerald Atlas, but this is more for young adults than a younger audience.

Bourne Dominion by Robert Ludlum 421 pages

I used to read a lot of Ludlum, but then it seemed like there was a formula to them and I could anticipate exactly where the book was going. Then the Bourne movies came out and my interest in the Jason Bourne character was reignited. I didn't even realize that like James Bond, Bourne was brought back after the author's death by a new author Eric van Lusbader. Lusbader captures the essence of Bourne and creates a case of international intrigue. Female triplets (not just a case of identical twins) and an American agent offer strong female characters who are brave and a bit deadly. The case involves the possibility of enemy infiltration high up in US national defense who could create mass destruction with rare earth metals used in weapon systems. There are a variety of "baddies": Russian mafia tries to force General Boris Karpov to assassinate Bourne, the Severus Domna anti-American organization and more provide torture and mayhem. Lots of twists and changes of allegiance. I listened to this on audio and I have to say that the narrator, Jeremy Davidson goes a bit over the top -- the action scenes, and there are many are just so breathless -- but that is a quibble. Superior espionage saga.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 313 pages

Many, many light years ago I read a weeper called Love Story. They made a movie out of it. The tag line was "love means never having to say you're sorry". Ali McGraw died beautifully; Ryan O'Neal was golden, tearful and heroic. Since then I have read many books in which a lover dies and seen many movies with death as a theme. Oh, how I cried when I read this new young adult novel by the Printz Medal (best book for young adults given by The American Library Association). What is sadder than a 20something dying tragically? How about having the death occur to a teenager and how about having all the teens in the story of horrible health issues? There is Isaac who has lost sight in one eye and is told that his condition has worsened and he will lose the other eye. There is Hazel, who has been given a tumor-shrinking miracle, but knows that death is inevitable and has to drag around oxygen since her lungs are severely damaged and golden boy Augustus, basketball varsity hot shot who loses his leg to cancer. They meet in church at a group session for youth with severe health issues. Despite her resolve to not make any attachments with people outside of her parents, Hazel falls in love with Augustus. Unlike the characters in Love Story, these are the most articulate, intelligent teens I have come across. (The title comes from a discussion they had about Shakespeare).
To say that Hazel is passionate about a book of fiction by an obscure author is not the point. It is about the only work of fiction she talks about. She gives the book to Augustus and he is equally wowed. Both try to communicate with the author to find out what happens to the characters since a sequel was never published.
This results in their trip to visit him in Amsterdam. (Hey, Augustus uses his dying kid wish to get him, Hazel and her mom to Amsterdam). I know, you think you can guess the rest of the plot. You are so wrong. Just be sure to have the Kleenex ready when you read.

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation by Elizabeth Berg  242 pp.

This collection of short stories center around women making changes in their lives in sometimes humorous, often poignant, and frequently defiant ways. Many of the stories focus on food, dieting, and body issues as in the title story where a woman abandons Weight Watchers for a day and goes on an eating spree. Some are concerned with love and relationship changes. The problems of aging are touched on at least briefly in almost all the stories. Most of the stories are amusing but not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny. This is a nice, light read.  

Warbreaker/Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson; fantasy; 688 pages (about 25 hours as an audio book)

Idris and Hallandren are two neighboring kingdoms on the brink of war. To fulfill a decades-old treaty (and hopefully buy time to build his troops), the king of Idris sends is youngest daughter to marry the legendary God-King of Hallandren, where the dead return as gods with incredible powers, and sorcerers called Awakeners draw their power from human souls. While Siri struggles to overcome her fear of her inhuman husband, other plans are moving within the city, both for an against the war.

My friends have been bugging me to read Sanderson for ages ("Not his kids' stuff! He REAL books!!" If you ask me, his Alcatraz books are amazing enough). So I admit I picked this up more to placate them than anything else. Of course, then I got TOTALLY SUCKED IN.

Sanderson's world is unique and engaging: the source of magic is Breath, which can be gathered from ordinary people and stored and manipulated by Awakeners. Color plays a huge role in this process, and is almost a magical source in and of itself. In decadent Hallandren, humans who have died heroically Return and are worshiped as gods, and are ruled over by the Hallandren God-King; to the North, stoic Idrians shun color, ornament, and ostentation, and accuse the Awakeners of consuming people's souls.

On top of the wonderful world-building, the characters are awesome as well. While I got a little annoyed with how the narrator of the audio book voiced some of the characters, but I genuinely cared about EVERY character by the end of the book, which is pretty rare for me. In fact, I found myself wishing that this were the first in a series, so I could see more of this world and its people. Sanderson left more than a few questions unanswered, so I can hope that he might return here one day.

The adjustment by Scott Phillips 217 pages

I felt guilty about not attending the author's program at the U City Library, especially since the book sounded like something I would enjoy reading. So, I took it on vacation for both my husband and me to read. PR Wayne Ogden has a messy life to match his somewhat checkered past as supply sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps during WWII. He has been receiving poison pen letters and doesn't know quite how to address the problem. His wife is pregnant and he is less than the picture of the proud papa, hinting to her that perhaps it would be better if she "lost the baby". Although he has a plum job as head of pr for Collins Aircraft in Wichita, his job's priority seems to be pimping the black market (sex and drugs) for founder and CEO Everett Collins. Maybe he would have an easier life if he re-enlisted. This is a very dark "noirish" novel with a antihero who is rather unlovable but is compelling, none-the-less.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal 238 pages 97815883334386

Subtitled: How Self-Control Works, Why It matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. The author created the popular Stanford University course The Science of Willpower which takes insights from the disciplines of psychology, neuroscience and economics. How often do we set goals, annually as New Year's resolutions, or seasonally like "I've got to lose some weight before bathing suit weather" or randomly "where does my free time go?". This book has concrete information about how to set goals and actually achieve them. The author creates a doable framework by setting out challenges to make baby goals and ways to avoid common pitfalls that prevent us from progress. We can be our worst enemies by making it so easy to give up or make excuses for minor failings. I don't know if I agree with her condemnation of diet drinks. ( The author says that if we drink diet soda we will tell ourselves that since we made that "sacrifice" we can load up with salty, fatty sweet rewards). I really enjoyed reading her spin on the marketing aspect of creating desires. After reading this I hope to begin meditating daily... just have to start this goal soon! My husband, who reads much more self-help literature, pronounced this a winner... we had to negotiate whose turn it was to have "possession" of the book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall  602 pp.

It took me awhile to get through this, and not just because it was long. I loaded it on my Ipod and started listening to it, then set it aside for a long stretch before I went back to it. I can't imagine why a man would want four wives and 28 children but that's what Golden Richards has. In spite of being the patriarch of this clan, he is a man not in control of his own life. The household decisions are made for him. He is told how and when to discipline his children. And his wives beg him to take charge and make decisions that he prefers to avoid. Son Rusty, the misfit of the family, has his own issues and is constantly in conflict with the #1 wife who is not his mother. Golden's youngest and newest wife, Trish, seems unable to have a child and suffers from depression. After the accidental death of his disabled daughter and the stillborn birth of a son, Golden finds himself at loss with how to deal with his life and the family he doesn't really know and who aren't interested in his emotional needs. Against his better judgment he begins an affair that jeopardizes everything. I enjoyed this book and I'm sorry I took so long to finish it.

Fables, vol. 16

Fables: Super Team by Bill Willingham, 148 pages

What a long wait for this volume! But it was so fun that it was worth it. In preparation for the fables' impending battle with Mr. Dark, comic book-lover Pinocchio decides to create a super team to defeat the ultimate baddie. A large chunk of this volume ends up poking fun at superhero stereotypes, particularly the X-Men and Iron Man. My only complaint here is that we never get to see them battle Mr. Dark, whose demise comes WAY too quickly with no real battle. It's been building up forever, so it seemed a shame to end so abruptly. I'm curious to see what bad dude Willingham has in store next though.

Chasing Fire

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts, 472 pages

I decided to read this book not because I'm a fan of Nora Roberts or romantic suspense (generally speaking, I'm neither), but because it takes place a stone's throw away from my hometown in Montana and deals with smokejumpers, the crazy forest firefighters who jump out of airplanes into the belly of the beast itself. I was curious how Roberts would handle these people who are such a huge part of a Montana summer.

So how'd she do? Meh. The story revolves around Ro and Gull, two smokejumpers who fall in love, despite Ro's rule to never date a fellow jumper. As they're falling in love, a woman with a vendetta against Ro returns to the smokejumper base, goes bananas and soon turns up dead, roasting to a crisp in a forest fire.

Problems I had with this novel: neither one of the protagonists got too much in the way of character development, which would have been nice, since issues in their past were ripe for more than just a passing mention. Also, I had the murderer figured out almost immediately; kinda lost the "suspense" element there. And finally, there were a few descriptive passages that Roberts obviously meant to be beautiful but were scientifically impossible. A low mist hanging over the bright purple lupines in a green meadow RIGHT NEXT TO a forest fire? Yeah, Montana doesn't have that much moisture at any point in the summer, much less next to a forest fire. Sounds pretty, yes, but I just couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy it.

Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness

Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness by Reinhard Kleist, 221 pages

The pseudo-dust jacket of the book describes it as a "graphic biography", which is as good a short descriptor of the book as one could come up with. The black-and-white graphic novel tells the story of Johnny Cash, but it is not simply a biography of the Man In Black. It chronicles Johnny Cash's rise to fame, his marital and legal troubles, his marriage to June Cash, his legendary Folsom Prison concert, and his growing age leading up to his death. In terms of analyzing Johnny Cash and the choices he made in his life, the graphic novel is very ineffective. It tells the story, nothing more, but it does that very effectively. Visually, the black-and-white art style is very appropriate, and the rough edges of the drawings provide a sense of watching an old movie. The art will not be winning any prizes, but it is still very good and the pages are peppered with very dramatic shots when appropriate. The story moves at a good pace, and one never gets bogged down in details that are sadly overly prevalent in other biographies. Much of the story focuses on the Folsom Prison concert and an inmate named Glen Sherley, who later worked for Johnny Cash. Overall, the graphic novel is excellent and is definitely worth reading, though the unusual style may be off-putting for some.

A word of warning, though. The book often switches back and forth between the life of Johnny Cash and his most famous songs. For example, right in the middle of Cash trying to buy drugs, the story switches for a few pages to a young man being gunned down in an Old West town. For someone without knowledge of Cash's songs (namely "Don't Take Your Guns To Town"), this shift will seem completely random and confusing. This book is not for people with a passing interest in Johnny Cash or for people who just like graphic novels. It takes a certain level of familiarity with the Man In Black and his songs to read the book the way it was meant to be read, so for this shortcoming I only give it 3 out of 4 stars. It is very good as long as you have the knowledge of the singer necessary to have everything flow together perfectly. Perfect for any die-hard fans of Johnny Cash.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan 422 pages

Fans of Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series have reason to rejoice. Although the ten book series seemed to come to an end earlier this year, Flanagan offers a treat. This is a collection of stories relating to beloved characters: including a peek at two weddings, back story on how Halt chose to join the Rangers, Will's mysterious parentage, and even how trusty horses were uniquely bred for their owners. Some of the stories (like Tug's story) are in response to questions posed from readers from around the world. It is not mandatory to have read the series first, each story is a stand alone gem. Readers of the series will appreciate the rousing new adventures of this richly textured series.

Information Architecture

Information architecture for the world wide web by Peter Morville & Louis Rosenfeld 504 pgs.

Where will the librarians go when the libraries all close (predicted to occur around the year 2000)...we can become information architects.  The plot here is not so fun but this book was great explaining to me features and facts about websites and what I should be doing with our website.  Very valuable plus a good list of resources in the back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sloppy Firsts/Megan McCafferty

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty (Jessica Darling book 1); young adult, chick lit; 297 pages.

After her best friend moves away, Jess Darling chronicles her 16th year, and all the ups, downs, and drama that go with being a teenager.

This was one that my book club picked, which is nice, since I never would have picked this up otherwise. This is pretty much the book version of a typical teen movie: protagonist's best friend moves away; she hates the clueless "friends" she's left with, and finds herself falling for the wrong guy. There's a sort of twist at the end, which is also straight out of any teen movie, but refreshingly, it doesn't have the same sappy ending. Of course, this is only the first in the series, so who knows how future books will turn out. I liked Jess's voice, and I wanted to know what would happen to her, but I found her teenaged voice a little unbelievable (I should know; this book is about a 16-year girl in 2000. I was a 16-year-old girl in 2000). Then again, this wasn't written as YA lit (which didn't really exist in 2000 as it does today), but was hanging out in my library's adult section, so maybe it's meant to be read as nostalgia? Not sure if I'll pick up the next in this series, but there's a chance.

The Technologists

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl  496 pp.

This is a combination historical fiction, thriller, and science geek novel. In 1868 the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology is struggling to survive against those who want to see it shut down. The opposition includes many professors and students at Harvard who believe a "classical" education is the only "proper" college education and that one based on science and technology is not worthy of the name college. Others who oppose MIT are the unions who fear scientific innovations will take away their jobs, the upper class who resent the fact that working class charity students and a (gasp!) woman are allowed to attend the school, and those who fear science and technology as evil. This conflict takes a bit of a back seat to the more serious problem of who or what is causing odd disasters in Boston. First the compasses on all the vessels in Boston Harbor go haywire causing mass destruction as they crash into each other and the piers in the fog. Then, in the business district the truly strange occurs when all the glass in the buildings suddenly turns to liquid and oozes out of the windows causing injury and death to those engulfed by the molten silicon. A small group of MIT students dub themselves "The Technologists" and set about to solve the mystery and put a stop to the person causing the disasters. In the mean time, the police have consulted an anti-MIT Harvard professor named Agassiz to assist in their investigation. Agassiz would love nothing better than to wipe MIT off the map. What could have been a fast moving, nail biter gets bogged down in the back stories of the characters, the repeated battle of the classes and sexes, and unnecessary details. Pearl took a great idea and wrote it to death. 

Green Girl

Green Girl by Kate Zambreno 268 pg.

Ruth is a young woman living in London trying to escape her past...or maybe just trying to escape.  She seems to be going nowhere, working a series of silly jobs, dressing up and partying with her friends, partaking in a series of inconsequential couplings.  She is directionless and her personality changes depending on who she is hanging around.  Basically, she is a clean slate awaiting some input.  I read this book because it is part of the tournament of books and I'm glad I did.  It isn't the type of thing I would normally read and I'm still looking for that book about the strong and opinionated young woman who has a little more power.  Perhaps that book isn't in the group this year?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mommy Knows Worst: James Lileks 176 pages 1400082285

Subtitle: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice. Lileks has combed through ads, magazine articles and even government issued parenting guides in the 1940's and 1950's to glean truly scary advice given to parents. It is amazing that we survived some of the well-meant, but nearly lethal hints. The pneumonia jacket -- sounded like a torturous strait jacket that a crafty mother would create for the healthy child to prevent possible infection. Lots of laughs from the dated advice given to fathers, too.

Where things come back byJohn Whaley 228 pages

This book was more than a little difficult getting into. It starts with the identification of Cullen's cousin after his drug overdose and shifts to the aftermath of the disappearance of his younger brother, Gabriel. Not very light reading. Then there is a subplot about the possible reappearance of a thought to be extinct woodpecker right in Lily, Arkansas, Cullen's home town. Except, the bird "expert" maybe a charlatan who walked out on his family. You might think where could this possibly be going? Two females with names starting with A( Alma and Ada) are Cullen's love interests are also little bit confusing. But then a bit midway though the tale, your heart quickens as you are captivated by Cullen's plight. You feel for his parents who are a bit lost in their grief. You are glad that he has a good friend in Lucas. Well worth keeping the faith.

Notes from a totally lame vampire by Tim Collins 329 pages

What do you get when you cross Wimpey Kid with the vampire genre?? Answer: this mildly amusing tale will entertain the younger brothers of the Twilight readers. Nigel, a 100 year old vampire, is having an epicly difficult life as a terminally fifteen year old. He resents the fact that he is not old enough to drive and he doesn't fit the classic handsome ladykiller vampire profile. He has a crush on a classmate and is having difficulty impressing her. It doesn't help that his "father" is cheap and doesn't want to attract attention by making ostentatious purchases. He also resents his younger "sib" who seems to have a much easier existence while being a pain in his side. It is written in a similar Wimpey Kid format, black script on lined pages with occasional black ink cartoonish illustrations. I'd give it 3 1/2 fangs.

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore 440 pages

This is science fiction that I can buy into. It has a great premise: A fifteen year old has been living in the shadows on planet Earth. He has a mission, a protector and he knows that others (Mogadorians, who destroyed his home planet, Lorien) are out to kill him. He is number four -- three others have been killed. If Mogadarians kill all of the hidden Garde members Earth will likely be taken over by the Mogadorians. Whenever they suspect that his identity has been compromised, he and Henri hit the road. They are in Ohio now and he has met a girl that he has feelings for. He does not want to leave. He has just acquired a legacy (supernatural power) and hates the thought of starting over again. This successfully mixes the normal (fitting in to a new school) and the abnormal (battle by extraterrestrials). John is likeable; Henri is a noble Obi wan type mentor. Sarah fits the sweet girl next door role.
I have not seen the movie yet and am not sure that I care to. The book is a great read and I am not sure that the film would do it justice. The sequel is sitting on my bookshelf at home.

Much Ado About Loving: ... by Jack Murnighan and Maura Kelly 204 p 9781451621242

It was the sub-title that grabbed me: "What our favorite novels can teach you about date expectations, not-so-great Gatsbys and love in the time of internet personals". I am always curious about what are others' fav novels and this does include several of my personal greats. One can also guess by the wordplay that this was going to be a rather tongue-in-cheek advice to the (well read) lovelorn. The authors are VERY New York and capture the Carrie (Sex in the City) tone.
The authors try to give both the male and female perspective relative to literature and love. The advice is not remarkable, although their confessions of some of their past experiences are entertaining. I was amazed when my other half picked this up and actually perused it. However, I did not see him rushing off to experiment with reading the great book titles or engage in their advice. In other words, don't expect this self-help to really change your love life.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, 870 pages

This is the third book in Gabaldon's Outlander series, and while the second one (Dragonfly in Amber) faltered a bit, Voyager definitely picked up the pace again. This book finds our heroine, Claire, back in 1968 searching through historical documents to find Jamie's whereabouts in 1770 so she can return to him. The resulting voyage back in time also takes a reunited Claire and Jamie across the pond to the West Indies in search of Jamie's kidnapped nephew.

While the first couple of books in this series definitely lean toward the romance side of the story, this one is much more of an historical adventure novel, with a pinch of fantasy and a side of romance thrown in to keep things interesting. I'm good with that transition, and I'm glad Gabaldon found her feet again here after Dragonfly in Amber.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie p. 240

Junior is born with fluid on his brain and because of this and the surgeries he had to get some of it out, he has some physical problems. He is a really awkward kid who is picked on and beat up on the reservation. Junior comes to the conclusion that there isn't any hope on the reservation and he would be poor forever if he didn't get off. He transfers to a white school where they mostly seem to accept him. Especially after he joins the basketball team. For a kid, Junior has more traumatic experiences than some adults. Both of his parents drink and he loses many close family members. Trying to succeed and make it off the reservation is going to be a challenge but Junior has heart and he tries.
Great book. It is kind of sad to think a kid could go through so much but there are many children that do face these issues everyday. The way Junior narrates the story makes even some of the sad things funny and you can't help but laugh while reading this depressing tale.

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft p. 240

Jonathan's twin brother, Telly, is killed in an accident and Jonathan and his mother struggle to cope with his loss. Jonathan spends most of his time taking stimulants, playing music, and hanging with his "thicks" (their friends). The "thicks" realize Jonathan is having a hard time dealing with the death of his twin so they spend more time with him. He is having problems in school and may not graduate next year so he is given a few projects where he can use his extraordinary writing skills to make up for the work he has not done. One of the projects is writing a book for an old man who was in WWII. This helps both of them cope with their ghosts.
This is a great book, especially if you're into music and poetry. Wesselhoeft covers so many areas that most readers would be able to relate to parts of the book.

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor p. 288

The story is set in Mississippi in 1933. The Logans own their own land and fight work hard to keep it. The children are beginning to learn what it means to be black at this time and they don't always understand why things are this way. The main character, Cassie, and her brothers, Stacey, Christopher John and Little Man, learn lessons throughout the book about how racist people think and behave and what they need to do to remain safe. Stacey's best friend, TJ, does not listen as well as they do and finds himself in a lot of trouble (life threatening) by the end of the story. Are they going to kill him or will they allow the "justice system" to determine whether he is guilty and punish him accordingly.
Parents, both white and black, should suggest this book to their children. It is a great read and it is didactic. One of the most important reasons children should read it is so that WE NEVER FORGET!!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lightning Rods

Lightning Rods/Helen DeWitt 275 pgs.

Joe isn't much of a salesman until he comes up with the right product.  To decrease incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, he will employ "lightning rods" -- women who will have anonymous sex with high value men in a company so they don't act out on their animal urges to other women in the company.  This this sound crazy, sexist and kind of disgusting?  It sort of is.  I know this is a satire but something I just didn't find very funny. 

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The Operators

The operators: the wild and terrifying inside story of America's war in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings 417 pgs.

Where to start with this one?  How about the short story:  Michael Hastings, a Rolling Stones reporter is invited to tag along with General Stanley McChrystal and his staff soon after he takes command of the war in Afghanistan.  After his story comes out, Stanley McChrystal is summoned to Washington D.C. and fired by the president.

The longer story is everything in detail and is a very good read.  If you want to know more about Afghanistan, the war, the military, or foreign policy, this is a good book for you.  I would recommend it as a set with Charlie Wilson's War to anyone interested in Afghanistan.  Too bad we ended up in this mess which has taken on a much more personal feel now that one of our library employees is being deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis 313 pages

Winner of Denmark"s Best Thriller Award and probably the first Danish thriller I have read and the first to feature child trafficking. A woman gets an urgent request to go to a locker at a Copenhagen train station and remove a suitcase. The suitcase is very heavy and awkward. She opens it to find a drugged three year old boy. How and why he was put in the suitcase is a cleverly constructed puzzle. The woman, a Red Cross nurse has to figure out where to take this child who speaks a different language. She doubts that taking him to the authorities would really help. She knows that her estranged husband would be upset with her and she can't get in touch with the former friend who called her and thrust this responsibility on her.A murderer starts a trail of blood.This is one of those books in which one several seemingly unconnected strands of characters and actions are woven together to create a strong story. Very satisfying.

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong 391 pages

This is book 3 in the Darkest Powers trilogy and yeah, you do need to read the first two books to properly enjoy the conclusion. To recap, Chloe is a 15 year old necromancer who has more feelings for werewolf brother, Derek and than his more popular sorcerer brother, Simon. Having escaped from the evil doctors with the Genesis project, they are temporarily in a "safe house", protected by Andrew. They are trying to plan a way to release Aunt Lauren even though she had originally betrayed them to the Edison Group. Of course, they aren't really safe and find themselves in worse straits. Is Tori, a fellow escapee to be trusted? Powerful spirits try to help. Chloe is trying to figure out who she is really attracted to and makes a connection with her long-gone mother. Satisfying conclusion to a popular series.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones/ Jesmyn Ward 261 pgs.

Calling the situation in this book "hard scrabble" like the short summary in the catalog says does not really capture the depressed state of the family featured in this book.  There are four kids trying to get by with an absentee, drunken, father after their mother passed away in child birth years ago.  It is not a pretty situation and the author does a good job of relaying the filth, poverty, and despair of the main character who is a teenager, a child herself, who discovers she is pregnant just days before Hurricane Katrina hits.  Patrick said he liked this book but I'm willing to admit I did not...maybe I need more hope and happiness but not as bad as the characters that populate this book.  I really wanted something GOOD to happen to any of them but, as you may guess, it does not happen.

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Girl of Fire and Thorns/Rae Carson

Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson; young adult, fantasy; 432 pages

Elisa, youngest daughter of the king of Orovalle, has always felt second to her sister. She may be the bearer of the legendary Godstone, and destined for some nebulous sort of greatness, but her sister is witty, beautiful, and heir to the kingdom. Her low self-esteem manifests in an obsession with food and a sort of selfishness that leaves her blind to those around her. When Elisa is traded in marriage to the king of a neighboring country, she resigns herself to a loveless life on the edges of court. But then she's kidnapped, and whisked away to the other side of her new kingdom, where war is brewing, and she may finally be able to fulfill her destiny.

I LOVED this book. For starters, it's familiar and fresh at the same time: parts of this story reminded me strongly of Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, but the setting was unusual (a blend of Mexico and North Africa, with strong Spanish influences), and the story was really original. Elisa is married to the king within the first few pages of the book. Not engaged, but actually, permanently married. Which never happens in YA books! At least not at the beginning. From there, the story continued to twist and turn, so that every time I thought I knew where it was going, I was surprised. Elisa is a wonderful character, and I can't wait to read more of her adventures.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, 325 pages

Eli and Charlie Sisters are two sharp-shooting guns-for-hire working for the ruthless Commodore, who has a long list of enemies he wants bumped off. This book follows the brothers on what Eli, our narrator, has decided will be the last of his "errands" for the Commodore: the murder of a gold-panning chemist in California. The story is funny in a wry, situational way; there are no real jokes here, yet somehow I was snickering all the way through the book. It seems very much like the Coen brothers' recent take on True Grit in that sense, so if you enjoyed that, you'll likely enjoy this. I honestly didn't think I'd like a western (I'll admit I only read this because I had to for class), but lo and behold, I loved it.

I, Robot

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, 218 pages

Yet another classic sci-fi novel that I'd been meaning to read for, well, forever. The premise of the book is that it's a history of robotics through the eyes of Susan Calvin, a "robopsychologist" who, through her long career, has seen robots change from nonspeaking automatons to reasoning, thinking beings that are indistinguishable from humans. It's a book that's chilling, both in the powers of the robots and in how the humans interact with them. Fantastic story, and I'm glad I finally read it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Action Philosophers!

The More than Complete Action Philospohers by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey  306 pp.

Back in January I blogged on Volume 1 of the Action Philosophers series. I went in search of other volumes and came up empty but I did find the complete set in one volume and bought it. I think this book would be a great addition to any Philosophy 101 overview course. The single volume I read previously included a wide range of philosophical eras. This complete version presents them chronologically from the Pre-Socratics through Derrida. The collection of philosophers are presented in different styles, sometimes borrowing from other comic strips e.g. John Stuart Mill presented as "Peanuts" comic strips and Foucault as "Family Circus", The Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, and a board game based on Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This is not a dumbed down version of philosophical ideas, but rather an outline of major schools of thought presented in an understandable and entertaining graphic novel form. It actually took me awhile to finish this book because, after reading about several different philosophers in a sitting, I came away saying "my brain hurts." I never thought reading about philosophy could be such fun...with apologies to Dr. Shapiro.

The devil all the time

The devil all the time by Donald Ray Pollock 261 pgs.

Arvin Russell has had some tough breaks.  His war vet father pretty much loses his mind when his mother gets cancer.  He ends up killing himself not long after she dies and Arvin ends up with his grandmother who has another orphan living with her...a young girl she was babysitting as a tiny baby whose parents never returned for her.  Arvin is a good kid in general but has learned some of the lessons is father imparted before losing his mind.  He looks after his "sister" and does pretty well in school but isn't cowed by any of the bullies or abusers he comes across in life.  Lots of stuff happens in this book and a lot of the characters are not very likable but we are rooting for Arvin and hopes he stays centered.  Depends on your definition of "centered" as to your opinion of his success by the end of this sometimes violent and depressing story that you can't put down.

This book is up against The sense of an ending in the tournament of books and in my mind wins easily.

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From the memoirs of a non-enemy combatant

From the memoirs of a non-enemy combatant  by Alex Gilvarry 302 pgs.

Boyet (Boy) Hernandez is living the dream.  A recent graduate of the Fashion Institute of Makati, Makati City, Manila, he takes New York City by storm.  Ok, he shows up, crashes with a friend and finds some work.  But he is working in his field (FASHION BABY) and he is getting noticed.  He has time to work on his own collection.  He meets his odd neighbor Ahmed Qureshi who pays top dollar for a couple of custom suits and ends up bankrolling Boy's own line.  Boy hires an Irish publicist with the unfortunate name Ben Laden (he comes cheap as many of his client fled after 9/11) and starts getting written up for his fabulous designs and wonderful shows.  Most of the models are Boy's friends and he has bedded a few.  One late night, everything changes.  There is a knock at the door and Boy finds himself in the custody of the government and not long after, he is in "no man's land", (Guantanamo Bay) being held for terrorist activities.  Turns out Ahmed might be selling arms on the side but Boy had no knowledge and nothing to do with it despite the insistence that he confess.  He spends months writing his story which all checks out but nobody really wants to believe they have made such a mistake.  Eventually, Boy gets spit out the other end and returned to Manila.  This is a delightful satire that makes you think it could almost very well be true.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

February Totals

I've finished tallying for February! Totals are listed below. As always, if you think I made a mistake, just let me know!


Christa: 11/3789
Patrick: 2/948
Kara: 9/3280
Karen: 7/2124
Annie: 6/2008
Kathleen: 4/1450
Marilyn: 14/4788
Chip: 1/353
Linda: 2/437

Total: 56 books/19,177 pages

Congratulations to Patrick, who won this month's random prize drawing. Also, welcome to the team, Chip! Chip has also won this month's prize for best post.