Monday, April 30, 2012

A Murderous Yarn

A Murderous Yarn, by Monica Ferris 243 pgs.

Betsy Devonshire, a needlework shop owner, gets involved in an antique car show/race.  She decides to sponsor her friend Lars' car, and donate time to help with the show.  Everyone is enjoying the show/race until one of the drivers ends up dead and never makes it to the finish line.  Betsy goes into detective mode to determine if it was an accident or was he murdered  perhaps by a jealous competitor.  This is the fifth book in this needlecraft mystery, and there is a free antique car themed cross stitch pattern at the end of the book.  I've been following this mystery series since book one, and have really enjoyed reading them all.  You don't have to read them in order.  I am reading book seven now, because I tend to want to read them by the season.  Book six is centered around the Fall/Halloween season.  So I think I'll save that one for a September/October read.  If you love needlecrafts, you love this series!

The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore 406 pages

The sequel to I am Number Four was less powerful to me because it was diluted by more points of view (number 6, number 7 and number 4).Marina (7) is not as compelling as number 4 and her guardian Adelina, who had stayed in a Spanish convent perhaps had her mind sapped by the other nuns. She is kind of weird and not as interesting as John's keeper.  The author had proposed a six book series; I don't know if this series will flounder Lore is no Rowling. Dialogue is weak and characterizations are a bit flawed. The friendship of Sam and John is most interesting. There is a bit of a tug or war with crushes with females.I did like the way Sam has a real stake in the Mogadorian quest. I guess that I will probably stick around for volume three.

Building the Titanic: An Epic Tale of the Creation of History's Most Famous Ocean Liner

Building the Titanic: An Epic Tale of the Creation of History's Most Famous Ocean Liner, By Rod Green 160 pgs.

This non-fiction book is full of many wonderful photos, facts, and information on the world's most tragic ocean liner sinking. I found the photos especially facinating of how the ship was built and launched into the ocean after completion. This was a really great read especially to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Once again, another wonderful book for all of the Titanic fans out there!

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow 400 pages

Just when I think that I might have read all that could be written in juv literature about the Holocaust, there comes a new title from a completely different point of view. Fourteen year old Karl Stern doesn't "look" Jewish like his younger sister and so he has been able to "pass" as a non-Jew. Until the horrible day at his school, Nazi-loving bullies pull down his pants revealing the undeniable truth, beat him up and abuse him in the bathroom. His parents seem somewhat oblivious. His father is totally focused about the opening at his art gallery. His mother is withdrawn. The famous Max Schmeling, champion boxer stops by the opening and offers to barter his boxing lessons for Karl in exchange for a favorite painting. Karl had never had an interest in boxing, and Max gives him a training list that he must accomplish before he is even ready for lessons. Max grabs onto this opportunity like it is the life raft that might save him and hopes that his stronger physique might attract his attractive neighbor. Karl is also interested in cartooning, but his cartoons are much darker than Wimpy kid like doodles. His younger sister, Hildy worships him, but she also sees the changes in the world of their Berlin as violence against Jews escalates. The author draws characters never seen before in children's lit -- not just the Nazi hero, Max, but their father's cross-dressing patron, the Countess. Gritty, but believable.

Don't put me in, coach

Don't put me in, coach:  my incredible NCAA journey from the end of the bench to the end of the bench / Mark Titus 257 pgs.

Mark Titus was a walk on to the Ohio State basketball team.  He never had much chance to be a star...he abruptly stopped growing before he hit his 6'9" predicted height and he is a good but not great player.  He does, however make use of his talent for giving his team mates trouble and pranking them (and his coaches).  He ends up starting a club for benchwarmers everywhere and developing an award.  It seems like he probably had more fun in his four years of college than any other five of us combined...and I know LOTS of people who had fun in college.  Fun book that talks a bit about the basketball but doesn't overwhelm you with the sports stuff.

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When Will There Be Good News? / Kate Atkinson 388 p.

I started reading Atkinson's Jackson Brodie (ex private detective) novels with Started Early, Took My Dog, so technically I'm going backward.  It hardly matters, though, since these stories are so well constructed that they work as stand-alones.  A successful physician has a terrible secret in her past.  Her teenage nanny, who has some whoppers in her own background, can't make sense of her boss's disappearance and her investigations set off an intricate chain of events.  The body count here is extremely high, to the point (almost) of ludicrousness, but Atkinson's tart dialogue and superb characters, especially that of  Reggie the babysitter, are so darned good that an extra murder here and there doesn't hurt. 

Imagine: How creativity works

Imagine:  How creativity works by Jonah Lehrer 279 pgs.

Creativity seems to be a skill or habit that some people just have and others do not.  Is this accurate?  Can you increase your creativity with practice?  Are there structural changes that can be made that will lead to a more creative work place?  This intriguing book tackles all this and more.  I found this book very interesting.  The author summarizes some studies that draw conclusions that may seem a bit dubious at times but many are a revelation.  Love the writing, love the topic.  If you are a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, give this book a try.

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Taken somehow by surprise, by David Clewell


It was a shame that the reading that our Friends group sponsored by this Webster University poet was not well-attended because it was wonderful.  Reading his poems silently does not do them justice – the long, Whitmanesque, swinging lines deserve to be heard.  Clewell served as Missouri Poet Laureate for two years and it is clear that he loved traveling the state and sharing his poetry with audiences ranging from elementary schools to senior centers.  The work is accessible yet thoughtful.  Good stuff.  131 pp.

The O’Briens, by Peter Behrens


Although this family saga stretches from the late 1880’s to 1960, the central character is Joe O’Brien, the eldest son of Irish immigrants struggling to survive in the “bush” of eastern Canada.  When his father dies, and his mother marries an alcoholic fiddler, he takes charge of the survival of his brothers and sisters.  Through hard work, beginning with a small timber business and continuing as a contractor for the railroads being pushed through western Canada, he rises to a position of wealth and influence.  His marriage to a strong and independent woman shapes the next generations.  Spanning the Gilded age thorough the post-World War II era, the novel is an engaging history of its times and the characters are well-drawn and memorable.  However, I’m not sure that the glowing front page review in the NYTimes Book Review was justified.  A similar generational novel written by a woman, and there are many like this book, might have not seemed all that exceptional.   384 pp.

The bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad


This book was published to critical acclaim a decade ago and had been sitting on my bookshelf for years.  For some reason, I didn’t get into it the first time I started it.  In many ways, it was even more upsetting to read in the light of current events.  The author lived with an Afghan family for three months, shortly after 9/11 and the expulsion of the Taliban.  Some freedoms were beginning to creep back, particularly for women.  The bookseller, Sultan, has an extended family – an older wife, an unmarried sister, sons, and a new baby with his younger wife who he married recently. The author gives the reader a great deal of insight into the family dynamics of this group and, by extension, the culture of Afghanistan.  Ten years after this account, war still rages and any gains in women’s rights seem to have disappeared.  Just yesterday, there was a lengthy article in the NYT Magazine on women poets, who must conceal their work (and their faces) unless they are fortunate enough to live in a city like Kabul.  Here’s a sample:  "You won’t allow me to go to school./ I won’t become a doctor./ Remember this:/ One day you will be sick."  Depressing. 288 pp.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Color of Earth

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa  319 pp.

I decided to read this book after reading this article from the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). I wanted to find out what the fuss was about. I'm glad I did. This is a beautifully crafted graphic novel by a Korean author. It is the story of a girl's maturing and sexual awakening and her relationship with her widowed mother who finds love again in a traveling artist whose infrequent visits change their lives. Love is symbolized by different flowers that are featured in the story: gourd flowers for the mother's love of the artist, tiger lilies and hollyhocks for the girl's love for a young monk and the orchard owner's son. The topic of the girl's sexual maturation is handled with surprising gentleness, sensitivity, and honesty by the male author. The story is continued in two more books in the series.

A Bride's Story 3

A Bride's Story 3 by Kaoru Mori   207 pp.

The third book in this graphic novel series focuses on Mr. Smith who had visited Amir, the bride of the title, and her young husband in their family's village in book 2. Mr. Smith, an Englishman researching the Silk Road, has traveled to a nearby village to meet up with a guide to lead him to Ankara, Turkey. While at the town market his donkey and possessions are stolen along with the horse belonging to a young widow. After they are recovered the widow takes Smith back to her home where she lives with her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law is determined to get her daughter-in-law married and taken care of and tries to convince Smith to marry her to prevent her marriage to the son of a powerful man who is intimidating them. Smith ends up arrested and in danger of execution when he is rescued by unexpected saviors. The story combined with the exceptional artwork make this a better than most manga.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Book of Drugs

The Book of Drugs by Mike Doughty, 252 pages

Here's what it says in our OPAC: "Recounts the addiction and recovery of the world-renowned solo artist and former lead singer and songwriter of Soul Coughing." I guess that's true, but this memoir is so much more than that. Written as a somewhat rambling stream-of-consciousness confession, The Book of Drugs, yes, covers Doughty's addiction and recovery, but it also gives a brutally honest look at how Doughty's music is and was created, both with the other members of Soul Coughing and on his own now. Given the subject matter, I was surprised at how easy it was to read; perhaps that's because Doughty's writing style is inherently filled with humor and a conversational feel. This is the first "rock star memoir" I've read, and I really enjoyed it. Doesn't mean I'll be reading any others anytime soon, but I'm glad I picked it up.

The True Meaning of Smekday

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, 423 pages

This is a YA book that I'd been meaning to pick up for quite some time. I've got to say, I quite enjoyed it. The True Meaning of Smekday is the story of Gratuity Tucci (her friends call her Tip), who writes the book as an essay about the Christmas Smekday alien invasion. When the humans are rounded up and sent to a "human reservation" in Florida, Gratuity decides to drive her mom's beat-up car down there by herself, despite the fact that she's only 11 and her mom's been abducted by aliens. Along the way, she meets up with an alien named J.Lo, spends some time in the bowels of Happy Mouse Kingdom (wonder what that's supposed to be... hmm...) and ends up driving a hovercar west to Arizona to track down her mom.

This book is silly and fun, but also has some great thought-provoking passages. Fantastic book.

Bitterblue/Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore; young adult, fantasy; 576 pages

First, if you haven't read Cashore first two books, you should stop reading right here, because I can't talk about this book without giving pretty major spoilers for the first two. 


I've been waiting years for this book to come out, so when it finally arrived, I wanted to savor it (it may be another four years before we get the next one, for all I know!).  For the record, it's really hard to savor something that's so good you can't put it down.  I wound up running short of sleep all week because I just couldn't stop reading long enough to sleep.  And I LOVE sleep, so that right there should tell you something.

Bitterblue is set eight years after the events of Graceling, and 47 (?) years after Fire.  Bitterblue, daughter of the mad king Leck, is now a grown woman, trying to heal her broken kingdom from the atrocities committed by her father.  She relies on her four advisers for help, but feels suffocated in her palace life, never interacting with her own people.  It isn't until she sneaks into the city in disguise one night that she realizes life outside her palace is very different from what her staff has been telling her.  But what reason would they have to lie? 

This book deals with some heavy issues:  how do you heal after having your mind violated over and over for years (in the case of many of Bitterblue's subjects, you lose your grip on reality); how do you make things right when you're the heir of the person who destroyed so many lives?  How do you come to terms with your own horrible childhood memories?  And how do you do all this when you can't trust your court?  There are no straightforward answers, which is a refreshing change. 

This book labels itself as a sequel to Graceling and a companion to Fire, but, at the risk of spoilers, I'll go ahead and say that it's sort of a sequel to both (Fire shows up in this story--sort of).  Katsa and Po are major characters in this book, and seeing them was one of my favorite parts of this story.  Bitterblue is a fascinating character in her own right--enough that I keep feeling I should go back and reread her parts of Graceling when I get  a chance.  And then I need to reread Fire.  And then I can read Bitterblue again!  Ahem.  As always, Cashore's book is amazing.

Edit:  Blogger just informed this that this is our 2500th blog post!  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Murder Mysteries

Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman  64 pp.

This short graphic novel is quite interesting. A young Englishman meets an odd old man on the street in L.A. The old man bum's a cigarette from the younger and to repay him tells a story. The story is one of the time before the Earth was created. Angels were assisting the creator (the Word) in forming the different aspects of our world. The angel Raquel was waiting until he was called to do what he was meant to do. It turns out he was meant to investigate the death of another angel and exact retribution against whoever caused it. The severity of retribution causes angels to question the Word's decision. The story ends with the young man returning to England where he learns of the mysterious deaths of two women and a child in L.A. Were those victims the same women the young man had visited the evening before? 

Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis 197 pages

When did going to the "shore" become the theme of "sad" stories. First Junonia and now Lexie! Lexie used to love the annual beach family vacation. This summer is different since her parents got divorced and Dad invites his girlfriend, who brings her two children. Suddenly, their cozy beach hideaway doesn't seem so sweet. Perhaps if Dad had clued her in, she would have been prepared. Ben, the teen son, has his own issues and the young son is a slob! Will things work out by the end of the week? Guess you will have to read to find out!

8 cllass pets + 1 squirrel + 1 dog + chaos by Vivian Vande Velde 68 pages

It's hard to believe that this is the same author of edgy y a novels like Companions of the Night. This is a somewhat tamer story of class pets running a muck in a school.  Twitch, the squirrel, is usually pretty happy hanging in the school yard, but in attempt to escape a owl he enters the school. Each chapter is told in the voice of different class pets, including: hamster, turtle, parrot, snake, etc.The principal's dog adds to the riot which brings in the  firemen! Slapstick fun!

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: the authorized adaptation by Dennis Calero  151 pp.

I hadn't read The Martian Chronicles since 7th grade Honors English class. I hadn't realized how much of it I'd forgotten until I read this graphic novel adaptation. Now I feel like I need to go back and reread the book. Parts of it sparked some memories but for the most part it was like reading something entirely new. The dialogue is sparse in spots and some of the story is lost in the translation. Otherwise I think it was quite well done. The introduction by Ray Bradbury is interesting also.

How to Build a Fire



How to Build a Fire and other handy things your grandfather knew by Erin Bried  266 pp.

This is the companion book to How to Sew a Button and other nifty things your grandmother knew. This one is geared more toward men with tips about how to choose a suit, tie a necktie, grow a beard, or shave included along with non-gender related things about how to buy a car, barbeque, change your oil, train your dog, change a diaper, make a speech and more. This book isn't quite as entertaining as How to Sew... but the bios of the "grandfathers" who were consulted for the book are fascinating. The men include nine World War II veterans who worked in a variety of professions, and one immigrant from Colombia who came to the U.S. for a better life for his family. There is useful information in this book but I don't know that I will purchase copies for my sons because I didn't find the information as useful as the previous book which I did give them.

Girl walks into a bar...

Girl walks into a bar.../Rachel Dratch 248 pg.

I always thought Rachel was great on SNL and this book seems to reaffirm that she is a down to earth person with a very "normal" life and outlook.  Funny stories about dating and pursuit of love but it suffers a little bit from the usual comedian problem...always funny in person but the writing isn't as good.  Still an enjoyable book.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

White Cat

White Cat by Holly Black  310 pp.

This is the first book in the "Curse Workers" series. Curse workers have special powers that vary from worker to worker. Curse working has been made illegal in most places. Curse working happens through touch so everyone wears gloves in public because no one knows who does and doesn't have powers.  Cassel Sharpe is the only member of a family of curse workers who doesn't seem to have any power. However, he has been taught by his mother to be an excellent con man. He also has a guilty secret: the teenager committed a bloody murder that his family covered up. When Cassel begins having strange dreams involving a white cat he begins his search into some mysterious and dangerous goings on. When he discovers what his family has been keeping from him, his whole life changes. Now he must find the truth about a strange white cat with one blue and one brown eye and stop a murder that he is supposed to perform. This is a well written fantasy/thriller. Now I have to read the rest of the series.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Best of the Best by Tim Green 262 pages

The newest in the Baseball Great series by sportswriter Tim Green. Josh is an unstoppable athlete. His baseball team won the hall of Fame National Championship, but it is not time for him to drop the ball so to speak. His father paves the way for him to play on a Little League team  that may make it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. So what can stop Josh? His parents are having marital problems and Josh hates the flashy Realtor who seems to be trying to hook his dad. What could be worse? Her son is a new player on his Little League team and he is an obnoxious jerk. Josh and his best friend, Jaden investigate the woman and it looks like she might be setting up his father might take a huge financial fall. Engaging writing makes this better than the average sports story.

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney 335 pages

Date rate is not an easy topic to talk about in fiction or in life. Alex is a junior at an elite college prep school when she is raped by a fellow student. She doesn't know what to do or who to turn to for help. Fortunately, members of a secret society the Mockingbirds step up to serve justice. The Mockingbirds is a group of students dedicated to righting wrongs created in their school since the administration cannot be relied on.  The set up of this group, the way they operate, hold court and carry out sentences is very clever. Alex is a sympathetic and believable character. The author writes from personal experience raped when she was in freshman at Brown University.It can happen anywhere and girls need information to prevent and or deal with traumas successfully.

Cloud Atlas / David Mitchell 509 p.

Although the action all takes place on planet Earth, the (sometimes) futuristic setting, to say nothing of the jaw-dropping quality of the writing, make this an out of this world selection.  Cloud Atlas is five separate stories, sewn together by tiny, clever threads.  The structure of the larger plot could be called a double helix, which is fitting in that Mitchell wants us to consider our DNA as a species: are we doomed to destroy one another?  can we overcome our destructive tendencies?

I've never read anything like this.  Each story is entirely distinct in setting, time period, style, and most importantly, voice.  After reading Mitchell's Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, I learned that he has struggled with stuttering throughout his life.  There's beautiful cosmic justice there, since he sure as heck can speak fluently on the page.  We hear the voices of the last Moriori, an L.A.-noirish journalist, a privileged Oxbridge musician, a test-tube slave, and a London vanity publisher, and they all come through loud and clear.

Operating instructions: A journal of my son’s first year, by Anne Lamott


When author Anne Lamott found herself expecting her son, Sam, with the father out of the picture, she decided to go ahead and raise a child alone.  This journal is a record of the journey of that first year after Sam’s birth, a look back to her rather checkered past, and a thoughtful meditation on life. In addition to the joys and trials of new motherhood, she is still mourning her beloved father several years after his death and her best friend has received a devastating medical diagnosis.   As she says as Sam begins to leave babyhood, “He’s crawling inexorably away now. He’s crawling toward anticipated pleasures.  Soon there will be scheming and manipulation, a dedication to certain outcomes, to attaining certain things and storing them for later.  I’m trying so hard to learn to live in the now, to bring my mind back to the present, while Sam is learning to anticipate and plan, to want things that are far away.”  I look forward to her newest book, Some assembly required, published twenty years later which relates Sam’s son’s first year.  251 pp.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charlie Joe jackson's guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald 219 pages

You can tell by the tongue-in-cheek humor on the book jacket that this is after the reluctant reader; perhaps, that boy who is forced to write a book report when he would rather be doing almost anything but reading. Since I am an avid reader, I do not fit that target model -- but I did find a lot of humor.Charlie Joe is not a self-starter. He is clever and comes up with several schemes to try to pass without reading. His strategy to bribe a friend with food falls apart when he unwittingly antagonizes that friend. Charlie is a guy's guy and doesn't understand the female psyche. The class hottie seems to have a crush on him -- (not too believable). It is that "girl next door" who comes to his aid when he paints himself in a corner that threatens his very survival in school. It has "helpful" lists for readers who may also want to avoid reading and frequent illustrations for Wimpy Kid fans.Should find male readers in the 3-6 grades.

Then by Morris Gleitzman 198 pages

This is a sequel to Once about two young people in Poland trying to survive the Holocaust. Felix is ten and Jewish; Zelda is younger and Catholic. They escape from a cattle car bound for a concentration camp. Felix finds Zelda a difficult companion. She hates her parents, who were Nazis and has a quick temper that attracts attention. But she has adopted him, even though she could probably survive without him since she has proof that she is not Jewish. They find respite with a gruff farmer. Felix attracts the wrath of the local young  bully as well as a survivor from a recent slaughter of Jewish orphans. As you can surmise, this is not an easy read and the ending is harsh.Poignant and memorable.

The easy way out

The easy way out/Stephen McCauley 296 pgs.

Patrick and his brothers Ryan and Tony are all trying to avoid turning out like their parents.  The parents have spent a lifetime fighting with each other and being miserable.  Ryan married his high school sweet heart but let his parents talk him out of a good job and into working in their run down men's clothing store.  Thus his wife left him and now he is living in the basement with his folks.  Our narrator Patrick is in an unsatisfying relationship with Arthur, a good man but not what Patrick is looking for.  Tony is engaged to Loreen but having a torrid affair with Vivian but can't seem to decide what he should do.  He cares about Loreen but clearly doesn't feel any passion for her.  All three brothers are looking for a way out thus the title.  In the end, I'm not sure they all took the easy way but I guess that is for each reader to decide.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Junonia by Kevin Henkes 176 pages

Kevin Henkes is one of my absolute favorite picture book authors. He won a well-deserved Caldecott award for Kitten's First Full Moon. Chrysanthemum, Julius, The Baby of the World, and Owen are miniature masterpieces that every child should experience. Henkes has written a few chapter books that are not world beaters (I did enjoy Sun & Spoon), but Junonia is a train-wreck. A small family, mother, father and precocious daughter, Alice return each year for a February vacation to their cottage on Sanibel Island, Florida. Alice's nose is out of joint when several of the usual vacationers can't make it this year. Her mother's best friend, Kate has the audacity to bring a male friend and his daughter, Mallory. Mallory is younger than Alice and is even more attention-hungry than Alice. Alice fears that her special birthday, her tenth will be spoiled by the bratty Mallory and an elderly neighbor who praises Mallory's beauty in Alice's hearing!!! Alice believes that the only thing that could save her besmirched birthday would be if she could find the elusive junonia shell.Yeah, I read the whole book hoping that either it would improve or Alice would be carried away by a riptide.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez 275 pages

There have not been many junior fiction novels written about Castro's takeover of Cuba from the perspective of young residents. This begins in May 1961 when Lucia's comfortable life changes and ends one year later.. Her father is a bank official. Her mother worries about societal changes and tries to keep eighth grade Lucia and younger son, Frankie safe at home. Lucia would much rather socialize with her friends and join the young political summer program. After she witnesses her father's boss kidnapped and beaten, she realizes that there is great danger beyond her home.Her parents refuse to join the new powers and send both her and Frankie to the United States after a traitor denounces them to the government and most of their hidden belongings are stolen Life on a lonely Nebraskan farm is quite different. She and Frankie have to help their sponsors with hard chores to earn money for infrequent phone calls to their parents. Her best friend denounces her as an enemy of Cuba in harsh letters. The author shapes this story around the experiences of her parents who were among the 14,000 unaccompanied minors who came to the United States as part of  the Operation Pedro Pan.

Crossed by Ally Condie 367 pages

The sequel to Matched doesn't quite match the breathless tension achieved in the first novel. Cassia has reached the Outer Provinces searching for Ky. The format is similar, told in narratives switching back between Ky and Cassia. Although they love each other, they have different goals.Cassia is hurrying towards the promise of The Rising; Ky is cynical and fears another double cross from above.  Ky has a major secret concerning Xander (his competitor for Cassia's affections). They make alliances with new friends, all of whom are rebelling against Society. Survival is difficulty in a frigid and unforgiving land and they are never sure if they will be captured because of the sensors hidden in their garments. Condie wanted to save meat for the conclusion to the trilogy due in November which hopefully will wrap up all lose ends (like what happened to Xander!!!!)

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett  120 pp.

This novella by the playwright of "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" asks the question "What would happen if the Queen of England suddenly began reading for pleasure?" I don't know if Elizabeth II enjoys a good novel now or then or not although I hear she is a fan of crossword puzzles. However, in this story she suddenly renews an interest in reading after discovering a mobile library van parked at the palace. Out of politeness, she checks out a book and it's all downhill from there. She promotes a cook's assistant she meets at the van to be her assistant in procuring books. Soon she abandons her legendary promptness to be late for engagements because she was busy reading. Ultimately she realizes she would much rather be reading than making tedious public appearances. All this creates a crisis in the government and various plots to curtail her reading surface, to no avail. The ending is an amusing surprise.

Beautiful Beasts/Serena Valentino

Nightmares and Fairy Tales:  Beautiful Beasts by Serena Valentino and FSc (Nightmares and Fairy Tales v. 2); graphic literature, fairy tales, horror; 184 pages

After reading the Cloaked in Red, I felt a strong urge to revisit one of my favorite Red Riding Hood retellings, contained in this volume.  Of course, then I got sucked in, and had to reread the whole thing...

For those not familiar with this series, it's a set of vignettes told by Annabelle, a rag doll who has wandered through a variety of fairy tales, legends, and horror stories.  For the first time, she's able to communicate with her owner, a little girl named Gwen.  The stories in this book are tales that Annabelle shares with Gwen, and one of Gwen's own adventures as well.  The fairy tale retellings are of course my favorites:  Little Red Riding Hood comes from a family of werewolves, but doesn't know it; and Beauty and the Beast were lovers in the past, before they were separated by Belle's cruel father.  But the rest of the stories (ghost stories, all) are very effective, and range in tone from the sweet love story between a girl in 1920s New Orleans and the ghost of a young man, to the terrible haunting of a woman in 1940s New England, driven mad by the ghost of her husband's first wife.  This is probably my favorite volume in the series, and that last that uses the fairy tale format before the story changes theme and tone in the third volume.  Highly recommended if you're looking for great storytelling and you don't mind some horror elements and violence. 

Cloaked in Red/Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde; short stories, young adult, fairy tale retellings; 127 pages

I picked this up because I remember loving Vande Velde's work when I was in middle school, and I loved the concept of this book:  retellings of Little Red Riding Hood.  The execution, however, wasn't quite what I was expecting.

These stories (eight in all) are good, but aimed at a younger audience than I was expecting, especially given subtext of the original Red Reding Hood story.  To be fair, I read Vande Velde as a middle schooler, so I shouldn't be surprised that her current work is still aimed at middle schoolers, but I remember her other books as being a little darker and a little more serious (if you've never read Dragon's Bait, I highly recommend it!).  Part of that expectation might come from where her books were shelved at my childhood library--in the adult section, with Tolkien and Beagle and L'Engle.  Of course, that was in the ancient times, before there was really a YA section, but it may have lead to me expect some more mature content this time around (when you're 11, everything out of the adult section seems mature!). 

While I enjoyed these stories, they were all very tongue-in-cheek, and at times seemed like they might be trying just a little too hard.  Still this was a quick, light, and fun read.  I'd recommend this to people who love fairy tale retellings, especially ones with a good dose of humor thrown in.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Autobiography of a fat bride


Autobiography of a fat bride/Laurie Notaro  257 pgs.

If you like David Sedaris or Tina Fey or laughing out loud, you should give Laurie Notaro a try.  She is very fun to read and every time one of her stories hits a little too close to home, I get a little frightened.  This book tells how the self professed meanest girl caught the nicest guy and they got married.  Armed with her humor and freakish ability to cook cutlets, she parlayed her talents into a love story for the ages.  Now happily married and fighting over who gets to wear the sweat pants, you can't help but admire a woman who has accomplished so much. 

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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, 311 pages

Offred is a Handmaid in the regime of Gilead, a new state that forbids reading, writing, and property ownership by women, and submits the Handmaids to a monthly ritual in an attempt to impregnate them by their rich "owners." This book theoretically takes place in the late 20th century, and Atwood is masterful in how she takes many real situations and draws them to a completely logical and completely horrifying conclusion (her remarks about the digitization of books and money stood out in particular). I'm not sure if I really liked this book, or if I was completely turned off by it. I guess that means it was a good one.

Rescue

Rescue by Anita Shreve, 288 pages

Webster is a rookie EMT when he saves a drunk driver who's wrapped her car around a tree. For reasons unknown, he falls in love with her, impregnates her and then marries her, perhaps believing that this turn of events can make her change her ways. But 18 years later, he's raising their daughter on his own, trying to keep her from following in her mother's alcoholic footsteps.

This was a surprisingly quick read and raises a lot of questions about forgiveness, family, and the strength required to consistently attempt to save someone who can't be saved. I enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Good American

A Good American by Alex George  387 pp.

I decided to read this book because I read a review that mentioned the characters living in the (fictitious) town of Beatrice, Missouri located on the Missouri River, where the residents were German speaking. My grandmother was born in the very similar town of New Haven, Missouri and didn't learn English until she went to school. Any resemblance between my family and this book ends there.

The story is told by the grandson of Frederick, an amateur opera singer, and Jette who were young lovers when they left Germany for a new life in America. They marry on board a ship bound for New Orleans. After arriving in American they travel up the Mississippi in hopes of finding employment in Missouri. On the way to their destination they find the small town of Beatrice where everyone speaks German and decide to settle there. Jette gives birth to their first child and Frederick finds work in a tavern. Eventually they become owners of the tavern and Frederick leaves his wife and two children to fight for his new country in World War I where he meets a young officer named Harry S. Truman. When prohibition begins, Jette turns the saloon into a restaurant with the help of an itinerant Jazz musician the couple met in New Orleans. The story continues through multiple generations of the Meisenheimers with the tavern/restaurant and music as centerpieces for the lives of the family members. They face numerous joys and tragedies and continue on with their lives. The Good American is a realistic story of what it meant to leave everything you know in the country of your birth and adopt a new life in a strange place that you come to call your own.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mommy Knows Worst!

Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice by James Lileks, 176 pages

As a new mom, this book has been such a help to me. Who knew that I should not cuddle my new baby, lest she grows up to be a psychopath a la Norman Bates? And I really must go out and get myself one of those nets to put on her head to keep her ears from sticking out.

Oh wait... what was the subtitle again? "Highlights from the Golden Age of BAD Parenting Advice" OH! Well, I guess it's good that I didn't go out and buy some boric acid to sterilize my nipples (all the better to breastfeed, of course!). Phew!

At the Mountains of Madness: A Graphic Novel/by H. P. Lovecraft


At the Mountains of Madness: A Graphic Novel by H. P. Lovecraft and I. N. J. Culbard; graphic novel, horror; 128 pages

I admit (with shame) that I've never read Lovecraft's horror classic, even though it's the basis for some of the best horror of my time (The Thing and a few episodes of the X-Files spring to mind). So while this graphic novel doesn't *really* count, it was a good way for me to get the story without wading through too much of Lovecraft's overwrought prose.

This volume tells the story of an early expedition to the South Pole. What starts out as a simple geological survey soon becomes something much more exciting when researchers unearth the frozen remains of strange creatures previously unknown on earth. As the team begins to delve further into these mysteries, one member starts to see shocking similarities between these events and those laid out in the legendary Necronomicon...

Of course the story here was awesome, but the art was also a really good fit. Culbard's style is vaguely reminiscent of Herge's work on Tintin, which fits well with the 1930s setting.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Friend Dahmer/Derf Backderf

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf; graphic novel, true crime; 224 pages

I'm continuing my true crime graphic novel spree with this fascinating take on Jeffrey Dahmer, told by one of his high school friends. Imagine getting a call one day, only to be told that that socially awkward guy you knew in high school was a serial killer?? That's was happens to Backderf, and what prompted him to write this graphic novel. Assembled from interview transcripts and personal stories, this book follows Dahmer from seventh grade through high school graduation. It shows a troubled and confused teen with a terrible home life, and, more shockingly, a culture of teachers and adults who didn't seem to notice or care: for instance, Dahmer becomes an alcoholic his junior year of school; all of the students know it, but the teachers seem unfazed. It's just one of the many points in this story where I felt like someone should have stepped in and done something. Backderf seems to feel that same way, though he often stressed that his sympathy for Dahmer ends with his first murder. This project never condones Dahmer's crimes, but it does raise the question of whether it all might have been prevented his someone--a classmate, teacher, or parent--had stepped in to help Dahmer deal with his issues.

Girl of Nightmares/Kendare Blake

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake (Anna Dressed in Blood book 2); young adult, horror; 336 pages

It's been six months since teenage ghost hunter Cas faced down the demonic spirit that killed his father. And six months since Anna, the ghost he loved, sacrificed herself to save him and his friends. Anna's on the other side now, where she belongs, so Cas should be able to move on, right? But he keeps seeing Anna every time he turns around--and she's always in pain or torment. And it's not just him imagination, because the mysterious knife with which he kills ghosts grows warmer whenever she's around...

Of all the things I picked up at PLA, this was far and away my favorite. I was so psyched to get an arc of this that I called my other (librarian) friends to brag that night. Yeah, I know, I'm a nerd. This story is every bit as action packed and genuinely scary as the first volume. Cas and Anna's romance didn't feel quite as powerful here (they're separated for this book, so the only way we knew about it was for Cas to keep reminding us), but I was willing to let that slide in favor of the awesome action scenes, and the secret society the comes up later in the book. There's also a scene in a certain forest that will give me nightmares for weeks. The ending was more abrupt than I hoped, and Blake has stated that this will be the last installment in the series. However, she leaves enough loose ends that I can hope she'll continue to tell stories in this world (there's a character introduced in this book that I'd love to get to know better!). This comes out in August, so be sure to check it out then!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth, 487 pages

Holy cow was this a good book! Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago (Lake Michigan is now a marsh! The Bean is all rusty!), Divergent tells of Beatrice, a 16-year-old girl who must choose one of the five factions in which to spend the rest of her life. Should she stay in Abnegation with her parents, putting the needs of others eternally before her own? Or should she take the daring step into Dauntless, where bravery (and daredevil lunacy) is prized above all else? This is a fascinating look at how, despite all efforts to quash conflict through structure and segregation, war will find away, as well as a quick-paced tale of rebellion against the idea of fitting into a pre-ordained box. Fans of The Hunger Games will like this one, which features a heroine who's smart, brave and selfless, but not quite as harsh as Katniss (I'd put Beatrice at about a 7 on the Katniss-Bella scale). Can't wait for the second book!

The Silvler Bowl by Diane Stanley 307 pages

Molly, the young scullery maid has hidden talents. When she is told to polish the castle's silver she discovers that one piece, a ceremonial basin, gives her odd visions. The curse on the royal family is well known; it has touch generations with sorrow. Molly and her friend Tobias work together to save Prince Alaric. This is a graceful telling of a castle story. It features bravery, friendship and a dash of romance.

Lucky for Good by Susan Patron 203 pages

This conclusion to the Newbery winning trilogy picks up about where the other left off. When Lucky gets sent to the principal's office after defending her adopted mom's honor, she is given an assignment to delve into her past. Lucky yearns to find out more information about the father who abandoned her and the family tree project leads to some answers. Brigit's diner has been cited by the county health code and is in imminent danger of closing. The Hard Pan, California community pools together to answer their needs.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake 316 pages

This paranormal is more than a step above the usual undead / horror story. Cassio Lowood is more than your usual loner. He has inherited his father's athame -- a magical knife that is a ghost's worse nightmare. He is a ghost killer specializing in ghosts who kill humans. Since there are plenty of these, he and his mom are pretty much on the move until he meets Anna. Anna has a pretty gruesome rap sheet, but there is something about this case that makes Cassio want to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Not only does Anna have a pretty tragic back story of her own, but she may be able to help him track down the unspeakable evil spirit who consumed his dad. Gallow humor with a touch of romance.

We meant well

We meant well: how I helped lose the battle from the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by Peter Van Buren 269 pgs.

Never have I laughed so hard at ineptitude and ridiculous ideas that had 99.9% chance of failure.  The wasting of billions of dollars -- your tax dollars, mind you can be so funny.  Peter Van Buren works for the State Department and volunteered for a year in Iraq to help fund his child's college education.  His account of the absolutely crazy ideas and projects funded by the government will curl your hair.  Which one will be your favorite?  The idea that Iraqi farmers should start growing wheat?  (it's a desert for goodness sake), the pastry/cake decorating class for disadvantaged women? (they have no water nor electricity nor income - let them eat well decorated cakes!),  the milk distribution center? (still no electricity thus no refrigeration) or maybe the sports mural for $20,000+.  Oh well, it's only money!  Peter Van Buren does a great job passing along the absurdity of it all.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot/ Jeffrey Eugenides 406 pgs.

I really wanted to like this book.  After all, it is set in the 80's and features college age characters...surely there will be something here that I recognize!  Plus, this is one of the books from the Morning News Tournament of Books (it is over now but I still feel the need to finish the list) In the end, I could not get into the story or the characters enough to recommend this to anyone.

Madeleine Hanna is an English major.  Mitchell is in love with her but they never really hook up.  Instead she gets involved with the manic/depressive Leonard and thinks she can fix him. I have a low tolerance for stories like this, I guess. People and relationships that are so obviously doomed and way too much chatter.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Voyage on the Great Titanic, The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic 1912

Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic 1912 by Ellen Emerson White, 197 pg.

Another great Titanic story of another survivor of this horrible tragedy. This book is part of the Dear America Series. Thirteen year old Margaret tells the story of how she leaves her life and friends in an orphanage in London to become a companion to a wealthy American woman (Mrs. Carstairs)and her dog name Florence. In the end, Margaret, Mrs. Carstairs, and Florence survive the terrible sinking. However, it was interesting to read another survivor's story of how they overcame this tragedy. Great book, especially if you are a Titanic fan!

Fablehaven

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull  359 pp.

Fablehaven is a sort of wildlife refuge but there are no lions, giraffes, or hippos there. Fairies, satyrs, imps, naiads, trolls, brownies, a witch, a giant cow, an enchanted chicken and even a Golem live in the sanctuary for magical creatures. Kendra and Seth are staying with their grandfather, the caretaker of the refuge. In spite of multiple warnings, Seth just can't stop breaking the rules. After he accidentally harms a fairy, the story takes a darker turn. The fairies take revenge and change Seth into a horrible beast. Grandfather must get help from an imprisoned witch to return him to normal. Soon the annual wild happenings on the Summer Solstice turn horribly violent and Grandfather Sorenson is kidnapped. It's up to the kids to rescue him and save the refuge from destruction by an evil demon. This first book in the series leaves the reader wanting to read more.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stir of Echoes

Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson, 211 pages

After being hypnotized by his brother-in-law, Tom Wallace is suddenly tuned in to emotions and tragedies taking place all around him, including being visited by a ghostly woman in his own living room. Tension mounts as he tries to harness the power before it destroys him and his marriage.

I enjoyed this quick read, though I'll admit I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be (though that may be because I was reading during the day, with the sound of my daughter's baby swing and the neighbor's lawnmower in the background; middle-of-the-night reading would probably be more conducive to the heebie-jeebies). But I like Matheson's writing style here, even if I still prefer I Am Legend.

Heroine of the Titanic, The Real Unsinkable Molly Brown

Heroine of the Titanic, The Real Unsinkable Molly Brown by Elaine Landau, 131 pg

This year is the 100 anniversary of the Titanic Sinking, and I have been reading many articles and books related to the subject. This was a great biography on Margaret (Molly) Brown. A short but good read. It was very interesting to learn more about her in addition to what I have seen in the movie. For example, she was born in Hannibal, Missouri. The movie doesn't really do her much justice. She was a very courageous woman, and supported many charitable events in her lifetime.

The Lady And The Panda

The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Constantine Croke, 372 pgs.

This was a very interesting non-fiction book. I first came across the story in the children's department through the non-fiction book Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, by Alicia Potter. I was so curious that I decided to check out the adult non-fiction version to learn more about the story. The book tells the story of Ruth Harkness who was the first american explorer to venture to China to bring back the first live Panda to the United States.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Deliverance

Deliverance by James Dickey, 236 pages

Once upon a time, four city guys took two canoes out on a river in hillbilly country and three days and a few banjos later, they're no longer the innocent yuppies they once were. Really, who doesn't know the gist of this story? I've got to admit that I thought this would be scarier, or at least a little higher up the gross-out scale. Usually, horror stories that are based in real-world possibilities are the scariest ones for me; this one kind of disappointed me by being just...meh. A bit tense at times, but I had no trouble falling asleep.

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies

Dragonbreath: Revenge of the Horned Bunnies by Ursula Vernon  195 pp.

This is another installment of the series about Danny Dragonbreath, his best friend Wendell the iguana, and Christiana the crested lizard. The three classmates are headed off to Camp Jackalope where Danny has a bad reputation because of the previous summer's "Bottle Rocket Incident." Unfortunately for Danny, his annoying younger cousin Spencer is attending the same camp. When Spencer disappears the others set out to find him and in the process discover a plot to steal the jackalopes (part jackrabbit, part antelope) for their valuable antlers. It's up to the kids to save the jackaolopes and stop the thieves. Even though Danny is the one who always finds himself in some sort of problem, with his friends' help things eventually turn out okay.

This is a fun children's series that includes quirky humor, fun characters and story, and the non-didactic incorporation of science in the stories.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Snow Child: a Novel / Eowyn Ivey 389 p.

Jack and Mabel, middle-aged and grieving, establish a homestead in the 1920s Alaska wilderness. In the midst of brutal winter weather, they experience a rare moment of happiness together one evening building a snowgirl on the property, which disappears inexplicably the next day. And then, of course, she reappears, or seems to, always accompanied by a red fox. Is she real? A forest spirit? Or are they going mad from cold, dark, and sadness over their lost baby, stillborn years before? I found this story both fascinating and a bit frustrating. The landscape and reality of such an isolated life was amazingly well-evoked; on the other hand, the plot begins to have a circular, repetitive feel. Still, it was worth reading, especially if you enjoy re-workings of fairy and folktales.

The Quality of Mercy / Barry Unsworth 319 p.



I finished this several weeks ago and am sorry that I've forgotten enough already that I won't do this excellent book justice. The story begins with Sullivan, an Irish fiddler just escaped from Newgate prison in 1767 and making his way north. Unsworth's prose is layered and full of detail but never ponderous: in a few pages we know, understand, and like Sullivan, learn where he's going and why, and have a feel for the period and its tensions between personal liberty and property rights. And he keeps the action moving forward too!

Sullivan had been imprisoned for the long-ago mutiny of a slave ship, whose captain ordered the live slaves jettisoned in order to collect insurance payments for lost property. The fiddler and his fellow sailors escape to Florida and establish a settlement, where they and their former slave cargo flourish for several years, only to eventually be found and brought to trial in London. The plot which follows includes coal miners, abolitionists, and the son of the ship's owner, now bent on revenge. Or, perhaps, a change of heart.

I have not yet read Sacred Hunger, to which this novel is a sequel, but I plan to. The fact that I already know the broad strokes of the plot hardly matters given the quality of Unsworth's writing.

The Invisible Ones / Stef Penney 399 p.

An excellent missing persons thriller, and so much more. Ray Lovell is a private investigator of Romany descent hired to find Rose, the wife of the son of a prominent English Romany clan. Told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Ray and JJ Janko, the nephew of Rose's husband, the plot has some amazing twists, including a family curse and a mysterious genetic illness. Like most Americans, I know almost nothing about Romany culture, which added to the interest this book held for me. Strongly recommended.


The Flight of Gemma Hardy / Margot Livesey 447 p.

I don't have a lot to add to Linda's post on this novel. I agree with her that the story would almost have worked better as a stand-alone, rather than a re-working of Jane Eyre. (Although it wouldn't have gotten as much press, I bet.) On the one hand, Gemma is more accessible and less masochistic than Jane, which comment I know may upset some Jane Eyre fans at UCPL. On the other, modernizing Rochester into Mr. Sinclair and giving him a believable 20th century secret rather than a madwoman in the attic sort of deflates him. Gemma's story as an individual is great: her search for her parents' history in Iceland, her boarding school experiences, and her love of nature are novel-worthy in their own right.




Something Wicked This Way Comes / Ray Bradbury 293 p.

My kids and I enjoyed this as an audiobook. Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade were born just before and after midnight on October 31st. The week before they turn 14, they encounter a bizarre lightning rod salesman. Soon after an evil and terrifying carnival comes to their picturesque small Illinois town. Eerie and strange and very good.


The Sigh / Marjane Satrapi 56 p.

I loved Persepolis and was happy to see a new title from Satrapi. A sweet and comical fairy tale, Sigh doesn't have the heft of her earlier books, dealing as they did with the Iranian revolution. Still, I enjoyed this, and love the quality of her art.


The Good Father / Noah Hawley 307 p.

Paul Allen is a rheumatologist, or a sort of detective of medicine. He sees patients whose symptoms elude diagnosis, and gives them the answers they're looking for: what's wrong, and by what mechanism, and, most imp0rtantly, can it be fixed? When his estranged adult son Daniel, the product of an earlier marriage, is arrested for assassinating a presidential candidate, Paul copes by trying to examine Daniel's life for symptoms in order to diagnosis and ultimately, fix him.

It's obvious from the outset that Paul's quest is futile, but Hawley is fascinating as he unravels the threads of Daniel's mildly dysfunctional childhood, interspersing the account with chapters about real-world assassins such as Sirhan Sirhan, Lee Harvey Oswald, and others.

It appears that Hawley cranked at least part of this out in the aftermath of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, which makes this engrossing novel a truly amazing feat for the speed of its production. Paul's grief and shame are almost excruciating in their realism. Not cheerful, but very good.

Relative strangers: Short stories, by Margaret Hermes

I was very sorry I missed seeing the author at the library a few weeks ago as I enjoyed this collection very much. Of course, part of the fun is the U. City locale for several of the stories. Most of the stories involve familial relationships, and demonstrate how even our closest relatives remain in many ways strangers to us. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of two stories, Second lover, and Foreign Exchange where life imitates art in a surprising way. I look forward to reading more of her stories and was disappointed that we don’t seem to own her novel, Phoenix nest. 167 pp.

A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords: Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire; George R.R. Martin, 973 pages

This book is a beast. It is a miracle I finished it at all, really, given that I just don't have that much time to read these days, and there's always a request list on this series. However, the story is engaging enough that I kept on through the seemingly endless chapters, and I really really enjoyed it. Martin isn't the greatest writer ever, sometimes the dialogue seems a little too modern for a medieval fantasy world, but the characters and the worldbuilding are excellent. By this point in the series, the plot is pretty damn grim, and yes, the storm of swords is very...stormy. Lots of people die. Or are maimed, and gain ridiculous amounts of character development and reader sympathy as a result! Who knew! The plot takes a little while to get going, and I think that's probably a holdover from the previous book, which was sloooooow and mostly uneventful. But once the storm starts it doesn't really let up, and the end is a very satisfying read.
That said, I'm going to take a bit of a break before starting A Feast For Crows, because, wow, I was worn out by the end. Also by many reports book 4 is kind of the weak link in the series, so I think I might start reading something a little less huge and dense, since I'd like to maybe get more than one book blogged per month.

Mush!

Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues by Glenn Eichler & Joe Infurnari  124 pp.

"Office politics meets sled dog team" could be the subtitle of this graphic novel. Six sled dogs work through a number of issues in an allegory of the workplace. Venus, the breeding female, is tired of Buddy's sexual advances. Buddy is focused only on his sex drive and wants help in wooing Venus. Winston, the only purebred just wants some respect. Guy is after Dolly's job of lead dog and will do whatever is needed to take it including causing dissension in the ranks. Dolly doesn't really think she deserves the lead dog position but she lives to run. While this is going on, Frank, their owner, and his wife are having problems of their own. This is an interesting take on the "workplace."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones 342 pages

This Canadian author has won many awards for this superior flights of fantasy for children and young adults. This is quite different from his earlier story. It is written in the second person alternating two different points of view, both young people on the run lacking traditional family support. Blink, a young man living on the street, overhears a loud noise in a hotel where he is trying to scrounge a free meal off cast off trays. When he sees a hotel key dropped by one of the guys departing from that room, he decides to use the key to check the room for a possible corpse. Instead, he finds a blackberry, a wallet with money and a picture of a young girl. Later, it appears that he had witnessed a kidnapping of a high profile developer. Meanwhile, Caution, is barely surviving as a plaything of a drug dealer. She is punishing herself for a horrible accident that cost her beloved brother's life. When she discovers the drug dealer is fooling around with a neighbor, she trashes the joint and leaves with his cash stash. Their two lives connect and their miserable lives find meaning. A bit grimey, but believable. Readers will empathize with these two lost souls.

Feynman


 Feynman By Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick 262 pg.

A fabulous graphic biography of Richard Feynman that shows a little bit of physics but it really more about the man and all of his lovable quirkiness.  Always fun at parties he left a legacy of a Nobel Prize, a series of teaching lectures that are still used today and a solution to the Challenger space shuttle disaster.  Oh yea, he also helped end WWII by working on the Manhattan project.  An inspirational guy.

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The Name of this Book Is Secret

The Name of this Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch  362 pp.

I'm not trying to hide anything, that really is the name of the book. It's book one in the "Secrets" series and it's a lot of fun. It begins with "WARNING: Do not read beyond this page!" What follows is a mystery/comedy/adventure story about a girl named Cassandra, her "friend" Max-Ernest, her eccentric substitute grandfathers, the mysterious possessions of a missing magician, a pair of creepy villains, and a spa called the Midnight Sun. What makes this story different from other juvenile mysteries is the interjection of comments and footnotes by the book's narrator. These vary from hints about what is about to happen in the story to historical facts about Isaac Newton and Benito Mussolini. I understand why this is a popular series with kids.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks, 192 pages

Wow...never has a book about food been so unappetizing. Lileks excerpts and snarkily comments on "classic" American cookbooks, making fun of everything from the recipes themselves to the photos of food to the chefs and models who appear alongside the unfortunate dishes. A good laugh — particularly the sections on aspics and organ meats — but definitely nothing you'd want to read while eating. Or if you just ate. Or will be eating soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans, 289 pages

Alan Christofferson is a successful business owner whose world collapses after his wife dies and his business partner betrays him. At the end of his rope, he decides to walk from Seattle to Key West, and learns to confront his grief from the people he meets on the road. It's also the first of a series, which, I'm guessing, will take Alan through different stages of his physical and emotional journey.

This was by no means a great book (or even that good of one), but it's quick and not as bad as I feared it would be. Fans of Mitch Albom's books would like this one, even if it is a bit subtler about its emotional manipulation.

At Home in Mitford

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, 446 pages

Father Tim is the rector of a small church in Mitford, North Carolina, a quaint town where everyone knows everyone else and the biggest controversy seems to be who in town makes the best apple pie. The book follows the 60-year-old rector through what he deems a crisis of faith (but the rest of us would probably just call overwork) brought on by caring for a fifth grade orphan, helping friends deal with illnesses and the arrival of a huge dog that can only be calmed by the recitation of scripture.

I would not have read this book if I didn't have to read a Christian fiction title for class, and I can't say I'm any better off having read it. It was boring, saccharine, and while not all-out preachy, just too stinking religious for my taste (see: the thief who confesses to his crimes from the altar during a Sunday service and then asks to be baptized; the aforementioned dog; and the off-hand reference to specific Bible verses). I'm neither old enough nor religious enough to enjoy this, and I'm very much looking forward to the next genre we tackle in class: horror. Some good old-fashioned blood-and-guts-filled scary stories should be a nice palate cleanser.