Thursday, May 31, 2012

Castle Waiting vol. 1

Castle Waiting vol. 1 by Linda Medley, 457 pages

So whatever happened to Sleeping Beauty's castle after Prince Charming kissed her and whisked her away? According to Linda Medley, it became a safe haven for all manner of fairy tale-esque characters who are trying to escape those who seek to harm them (even if it's just their own demons). Medley's art is beautiful, clean, and detailed, and her stories within stories are both incredibly original (an order of bearded nuns? Sure, why not!) and familiar. I love Medley's feminist spin on fairy tales, and I can't wait to read the next one in this series.

Heat Wave by Richard Castle 198 pages 9780679456728

So this is a guilty pleasure. I confess that I enjoy the television show, Castle. This is a book "written" by the lead character in that glossy detective show. Nikki Heat is the NYPD officer who is being shadowed by the wealthy, suave journalist, Jameson Rook. They become involved in a case of a murdered wealthy real estate magnate. The victim was especially proud of his private art gallery; his business might have been floundering, but he had amassed a considerable art collection. Shortly after his death another victim is discovered, an art appraiser, who had been on her way to his place. When his collection disappears, Castle and Heat are sure that these two cases are linked. Heat tries to fend off her attraction to Rook with tough banter. If you like the show, or Parkeresque mysteries, you may enjoy this light read.

Catherine the Great: portrait of a woman by Robert Massie 625 pages 9780679456728

While Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia was not an artist, herself. She possessed among other virtues, great vision. It was this vision that helped transform the very landscape of Russia and the establishment of the Hermitage. Massie, is nothing if not a meticulous biographer. (I remember reading his definitive biography of Nicholas and Alexandra many, many years ago. He does a grand job of painting not just Catherine, but many of the leaders, soldiers, enemies, relatives who entered her circle at some time during her illustrious life. She was a woman of enormous appetites and was probably one of the earliest female collectors of art. I don't think of this as a beach book, as much a book to enjoy in front of a roaring fire.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight/Mike Mignola

Batman:  Gotham by Gaslight by Brain Ausutyn, Mike Mignola. P. Craig Russell, and Eduardo Barreto; steampunk, alternate history, graphic novel; 112 pages

One of the popular theories about Jack the Ripper is that he left London after his famous murders to continue his killing spree in another country.  Gotham by Gaslight encompasses the theory that he came to New York, but in this case, it's Gotham as ruled by a Victorian-era Batman.  That's right:  Batman vs. Jack the Ripper!  Of course, if anyone can figure out who is history's most famous serial killer, it's the Dark Knight...

This kicks off my annual Summer of Batman!  I don't even remember requesting this book, but I was very pleased when it popped up on my holds queue this week!  This volume collects two issues:  the aforementioned Ripper story, and a loose sequel, which pits 19th-century Batman against a psychotic villain with a dirigible.  I really, really enjoyed these stories!  Part of the fun was seeing how classic characters had been re-imagined (the Joker makes a brief appearance, and their interpretation of him is quite fun).  Also of note are the famous people who make brief cameos in the story (the first issue opens with Bruce Wayne concluding his course of studies with Freud).  Lots of fun, and a quick read.  I wish there were more stories in this series!  I would love to see interpretations of Two-Face, Catwoman, and all the rest of the Rogue's Gallery. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, 387 pages


"The circus arrives without warning." That opening line sets the stage for a dreamy story about a pair of magicians who participate in an enigmatic competition, using a black-and-white circus that only appears at night as their venue. And somehow, as they create their magical additions to the circus, they manage to fall in love with one another. As interesting as the love story was, I've got to say that what I loved most about this book was the circus itself. I want to visit this circus! I want to be a reveur! Somebody knit me a red scarf...

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, 318 pages

This book is labeled as YA, but I think the only reason for that is the age of the main characters. The story follows 16-year-old Hazel, who has been living with terminal cancer for three years, dragging around an oxygen tank and watching ridiculous amounts of bad TV. Then, at a support group meeting, she meets Augustus, a wise-cracking guy with only one leg, who also happens to be one of few people to share Hazel's cynical sense of humor about their shared diagnoses.

Given the subject matter, this should be a total downer of a book. Somehow it's not. While it deals with some understandably heavy topics, The Fault in Our Stars is also funny, sweet and quite enjoyable to read.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Worth It...Not Worth It?: Simple & Profitable Answers to Life's Tough Financial Questions 142 p.

Not a typical choice for me, but it seemed simple enough that even I stood a chance of understanding it.  The title is a clue to the format, in that each page looks at only two alternatives: credit union vs bank? diesel vs hybrid? term life vs permanent life?  If you're like me, you mostly want to read a book like this to confirm that you've already got things figured out.  It turns out that I'm not too far off, if Otter is to be trusted.  Quick and easy.

Carmen: an urban adaptation of the Opera by New York Times best selling author 978160681150122 pages

This award winning author of gritty gang,urban stories would seem to be the unlikely writer/ composer of a takeoff of a traditional opera. Poet, and novelist Walter Dean successfully stages the tragic story of a summer love in Spanish Harlem.Myers is succinct.Carmen is "hot" and attracted to both a young police officer, Jose and Escamillo, former rapper who is currently a filmmaker.Carmen wants to rise, but it is difficult to lose the past that keeps tugging at her.This is told in script format and includes the author's statement why he was drawn to this project. He even has music that has been arranged by a young friend, a variation on a theme from Carmen.This is for a "special audience". I would love to see it used in a high school classroom -- lots of potential in such a project.

Pie by Sarah Weeks 9780545270113 182 pages

Alice's Aunt Polly was a pie "artiste". She never married, had an estranged relationship with her jealous sister, but had a special relationship with her niece, Alice.She opened a pie shop and her reputation spread far and wide. She won the national Blueberry Award twelve years in a row for her magical pies. Her death was hugely mourned by her former customers. Immediately, a competition arose with local bakers hoping that they would easily win the next Blueberry Award (even though many of the bakers experienced big failures in their search for fame and fortune. Alice's mother is hoping to find Polly's secret pie crust recipe.She was devasted to learn that her fortune was left to her cat, Lardo. The town has a kind of Mayberry feel to it. Each chapter opens with an unusual recipe. Alice enlists the help of Charlie her bestest friend.This was a delicious read and I can't wait to try the peach pie recipe.

The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, A Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con by Amy Reading 9780307272485 246 pages

So, this could be subtitled the "art" of the con.Anyone who has seen the classic film, The Sting or had the misfortune of being victim of a con (my parents), knows that it takes a lot of skill to successfully pull a large scale con. It requires a cast of actors, the ability to read "a mark" ... choose one's prey and know when to fold the show and escape into the night. Amy Reading gives a thorough examination of one of the early American cons and the man who refused to quit in his quest to bring all the members of the gang who fleeced him to justice. In fact, J Frank Norfleet's single-minded perseverance caused him to create cons to catch the con.He traveled the country in search of his prey, supported by the wife who kept the ranch going.Reading also looks at the history of speculation that helped create fortunes, build our country, the Stock Market and also cost people their hard earned savings.

Noir at the Bar

Noir at the Bar edited by Jedidiah Ayres & Scott Phillips  201 pp.

I decided to see what this book was about after reading a blog that mentioned the hideous cover of this book. To my surprise I found that this book was published to help University City's Subterranean Books out of financial difficulties. The book is a collection of stories that were read by the authors at a "Noir at the Bar" event. From the 1950s cheap novel cover, I was expecting stories that were more along the lines of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Instead, I found a collection of stories that are considerably more violent with no private eyes. Drugs are involved in many stories along with robbery, infidelity, kidnapping, and retaliation. Basically it covers the gamut of crimes that can end in death. There is a minimum of one bloody killing in each story and usually more. The stories are attention grabbing and I found myself zipping through them even though they aren't my usual type of fare.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

A queer and pleasant danger

A queer and pleasant danger by Kate Bornstein 246 pgs

If you are fan of 30 Rock, you already know that freaky deakey's need love too. Kate Bornstein probably meets most people's definition.  An ex-scientologist, transsexual lesbian who enjoys cutting. This is her memoir and it is memorable.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

All my friends are dead

All my friends are dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John  47 pp.

I'm only counting half the pages in this little book because every other page is an illustration. This is another pseudo-children's book. Different creatures/people/things tell that all their friends are dead, almost dead, or in the case of the recurring tree, have been made into end tables. My favorites are the chicken whose friends are Kentucky Fried, the snowman whose friends are all puddles, and the milk whose friends expired on Tuesday. This book is not quite as dark as Grandpa Won't Wake Up. There is a sequel titled All My Friends are Still Dead. I guess I'll have to read that one.

Grandpa Won't Wake Up

Grandpa Won't Wake Up by Simon Max Hill and Shannon Wheeler  75 pp.

Even though this was intentionally formatted to look like a children's book, right down to the cover design copying "Little Golden Books." This "Little Boom Book" is definitely not for kids. The basic premise involves two children who discover Grandpa "sleeping" in his chair who then try various methods to wake him up. The attempts start off innocent enough--banging cymbals, pinching his cheeks--but then evolve into the truly kinky and bizarre. After Grandpa has been bounced on a trampoline, hung in a tree, dressed in fishnet stockings and Nazi hat, taken to a prostitute and  more, the kids determine that Grandpa is, in fact, dead. This is a book for those perverse enough (like me) who find 101 Uses for a Dead Cat and The Book of Bunny Suicides funny.

The Color of Heaven

The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa  320 pp.

This is book three in Kim's Color Trilogy. Ehwa is now 17 and lovesick over her young man, Duksam's departure at the end of the second book. Ehwa and her mother are spending their days waiting for the men in their lives to return. In the mean time, Ehwa's precocious best friend, Bongsoon, introduces her innocent friend to the facts of life. The arrival of both the traveling painter, and a young man carrying a message from Duksam lightens the women's moods. Eventually the first snow brings the arrival of Duksam who asks for Ehwa's hand in marriage. The hold a traditional Korean wedding with explanations of some of the more unusual traditions. Ehwa and Duksam leave to travel to their new home on his parent's farm. Ehwa's mother is left to ponder her new life as a woman alone when the painter returns and decides to give up his travels to stay with her. The arrival of the young lovers sparks a humorously renewed interest in romance between Duksam's parents as the young lovers are finally able to consummate their love.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I suck at girls

I suck at girls by Justin Halpern 180 pgs.

This book focuses more on the author than his "famous" father whose words of wisdom were the focus of his last book "Sh*t my dad says".  Justin is the opposite of the smooth ladies man that so many want to be/think they are.  He is honest about his insecurities and failures with women.  So much of what he says here could be any of us at least some point in our lives.  I enjoyed the book a lot and especially liked the parts that featured his dad and his straight forward attitude and "talks" that don't really seem to help Justin get through things at the time but obviously make a lasting impression since they are featured in this book.

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The Color of Water

The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa  318 pp.

This is the second book in Kim's "color trilogy." In the first book we are introduced to Ehwa and her beautiful and wise mother. In this volume Ehwa is growing into a young woman. She has moved beyond her girlhood crushes on a young Buddhist monk and the orchard owner's son. A humorous, chance meeting with Duksam, a new young man in the area starts Ehwa on first experience with true love. While this is going on, her mother continues her relationship with the traveling painter and counsels her daughter on the ways of life and love. The young lovers experience heartbreak when Duksam's elderly master connives to buy Ehwa to be his own wife. The young lovers part in the end leaving the story open for the third book.

Dead as a doornail

Dead as a doornail/Charlaine Harris 295 pgs.

This is the fifth in the Southern Vampire series that features Sookie Stackhouse.  The books are the basis for the popular HBO series True Blood and the show is still loosely following the books.  I appreciate Sookie for her independence and her "can do" attitude.  These are fun to read and my only foray into the ever popular vampires.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Driving Mr. Yogi

Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berry, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift by Harvey Araton  224 pp.

Yogi Berra is one of the most beloved players in the history of baseball. To Yankees fans and players alike, he is a living legend. To many of the rest of us he is known for his "Yogi-isms," the unintended humorous comments Berra is famous for that have become a part of American speech: "It's deja vu all over again." and "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." (referring to Ruggeri's Restaurant in St. Louis.) Berra's history with the Yankees dates back to his days as a player in the 1940s-60s and as a manager and coach through the 80s. Ron Guidry didn't join the Yankees organization until the 1970s when he was a Cy Young Award winning pitcher. Guidry later became a pitching coach for the team. Berra and Guidry became fast friends and it has become a tradition for Guidry to pick up Berra at the airport every year when the two attend spring training. Guidry is the self-appointed guardian and valet of the older man, discussing and advising players, making the rounds of the local restaurants together, and enjoying Guidry's home cooked Cajun specialties like fried frog legs. In spite of their difference in ages the two became the closest of friends.

Emma. vol. 2-5/Kaoru Mori

 Emma volumes 2-5, by Kauro Mori; young adult, manga, romance, historical fiction; 776 pages totals

Once I got started on volume two of this series, I found I couldn't stop long enough to blog, so I just kept going.  The books all started blurring together after the second hour of reading, so I'm not going to try to do individual entries for each of them.  These volumes finish introducing the characters and the conflict of the story, and give us some time to get attached to these people.  The later volumes here reminded me strongly of Downton Abbey (especially cutting between the upstairs and downstairs stories), so that was a fun surprise.  The story is really engaging, and I found myself rooting for both Emma and Will; I also found myself loving some of the supporting cast so much that I had to stop reading and say things like "Kelley Rocks!" to an empty room.  In my defense, though, I was on painkillers...

My only complaint is that these five volumes don't finish the story.  Since almost every library I checked owned vols 1-5, I (wrongly) assumed that was all there was to this series.  There are actually another five volumes, which apparently didn't get widely reviewed, and so didn't wind up in libraries.  I'm requesting the rest through ILL, so I'll be able to finish this story soon. 



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When the killings done, by T.C. Boyle


Really, I don’t know why I read Boyle – I got very annoyed reading Tortilla curtain, and this book affected me in much the same manner.  Whatever can go wrong will.  Don’t look behind you, someone or thing is trying to kill you.  Slowly and in great detail.   His books are didactic yet thought-provoking.  The former book dealt with illegal Mexicans just struggling to get by and he subjected them to the trials of Job.  This novel pits two different types of “environmentalists” against one another – one wants to restore the islands off the Santa Barbara CA coast to their pristine, pre-human-intervention state, even if this means killing off everything from the introduced rats and plants to the now-native feral pigs; destroying a sheep rancher’s livelihood; and relocating golden eagles. The other, more in the PETA mode, wants to protect all living things at all costs, no matter whether they are rats, or pigs, or humans.  Well, most humans -- if they agree with him. I wasn’t surprised that things end badly for almost everyone.  But it really does make one think….once mankind has interfered, intentionally or not, can the genie ever be put back in the bottle?  384 pp,

The hunger games, by Suzanne Collins


Our book club decided to read this much-talked-about young adult novel to see what we thought of it.  One member, who dislikes anything involving children being hurt, refused to read it; another had to force herself through the more violent pages.  On the whole, however, the group liked it and found much to discuss, including its appropriateness for the target age group.  Some have grandchildren old enough to read it and shared their reactions to the book.  With echoes of The lottery and The most dangerous game, and bringing back memories of reading Lord of the flies, this dystopian novel draws much of its appeal from the well-drawn main characters.  I look forward to reading the other two books of the trilogy and seeing the well-received film adaptation.  384 pp.

Salvage the bones, by Jesmyn Ward


Covering a period of twelve eventful days, as this short novel opens, China, a pure white pit bull, is giving birth to four puppies.  Her teenaged owner, Skeetah, watches anxiously, and there are flashbacks to another birth seven years earlier, which took the life of his mother when she had Junior, the last of the three brothers.  China is a successful fighter, and each puppy may bring $200 to this poverty-stricken African-American family and allow the eldest boy, Randall, a chance at basketball camp and where he may perhaps catch the eye of a professional scout. The story, however, is told from the viewpoint of Esch, the sister who is younger than Randall and Skeetah.  Another main character is Katrina – the epic hurricane bearing down on the Louisiana coast where the siblings live with their alcoholic father. Esch has had casual sex with her brothers’ friends for several years and is just beginning to suspect that she is pregnant at fifteen.  A bright, if un-parented, girl, she loves to read and her current obsession is with the story of Medea.  This ancient Greek myth also frames the narrative.  It is a very hard book to read and overwhelmingly sad.  The characters are not people one would normally identify with or feel enormous sympathy for, but one comes to care deeply about the family, China and her puppies.  I can understand why it was selected for the National Book Award. 258 pp.

Cinder/Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Book 1 of the Lunar Chronicles); young adult, science fiction, fairy tale retelling; 400 pages

In this retelling of the classic fairy tale, Cinder is a teenaged cyborg living in New Beijing, over a century in the future.  A brilliant mechanic, Cinder only dreams of finding freedom from her domineering stepmother and her stepsisters.  She has no worries about the prince's upcoming ball, the war brewing with the colonists on the Moon, or the mysterious disease that's slowly devastating Earth's population. 

I didn't expect to enjoy this nearly as much as I did.  This is a really fresh take on the Cinderella story, and I found myself getting completely sucked in.  Cinder has a lot of obstacles:  she's under age, so her stepmother has total control over her life; she's a cyborg, which means she's not considered "human," and so she has even less freedom and acceptance that other people; her youngest stepsister (and her only real friend) has been infected with the plague; and finally, the guy she likes a) is the freaking Prince, and b) has no idea that she's part machine.  Meyer throws in enough politics to keep things interesting, and the setting is unique, so this manages to be more than a simple love story.  And while the twist was something I saw coming fairly early, I didn't see the resolution (or lack thereof) that will lead neatly into the next book.  In fact, I only have one complaint about this book:  the Lunar kingdom kept triggering flashbacks of my childhood obsession with Sailor Moon.  I mean, part of that was the names:  the missing Moon princess is named Selene--which is pretty close to Serena from the American dub of the show; part of it was also the descriptions:  the evil Lunar Queen in the book bore a striking resemblance (in my head, at least) to the Queen Beryl, the villain of season one.  All of which has resulted in my having the Sailor Moon theme stuck in my head for days.  So readers, ye be warned.  

Resurging geek tendencies aside, this was a great read, and I was happy to have it on hand for a day of feeling under the weather.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Big questions

Big questions, or Asomatognosia: whose hand is it anyway? by Anders Brehus Nilsen 592 pgs.


Philosophical birds...How else can you describe this book? I guess everyone is considering the big questions but when an "egg" drops from the sky, it becomes a quest to figure out what to do with it. When the "bird" that the egg came from crashes a bit later, the birds have many more things to think about. This book represents a fifteen years of work on this subject. The author did many other things in the meantime but never let the birds go. So glad he didn't. I think Andrew would like this book and will recommend it to him.


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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Behind the beautiful forevers

Behind the beautiful forevers: life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo 256 pgs.

Not an uplifting book...this tells the story of the population of a slum in Mumbai that is surrounded by the airport and "rich" developments.  The people struggle, are mired in incredible poverty and subjected to crazy corruption by every "official" and even non-officials.  Despite all of this negative energy, the people are working hard to make better lives for themselves.  Partly inspiring but also heart breaking this excellent book makes you question a lot of things and appreciate what you have.
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Friday, May 18, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children p. 352
Jacob's grandfather used to tell him stories about when he was growing up in an orphanage. When Jacob got older, he started believing that these stories may not be true. When his grandfather dies (or is killed maybe) Jacob wants to investigate. He believes there is meaning in his last words and intends to find out. He goes to the orphanage, which is off the coast of Wales, to find answers. He finds answers all right, about his grandfather and about himself. 
This book was so good. I didn't know where it was going at first (not in a bad way, it was just suspenseful). I did not see this story coming. It was shocking and fun. I loved it and I think everyone should read it. No wonder it took forever for me to get a copy. A must read.

Horse, Flower, Bird

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer 186 pp.

This is a small book of unusual short (some very short) stories. The subjects are varied and often odd. The oddest is probably the one about a girl befriending a tulip bulb, told from the bulb's point of view. In another a wealthy wife keeps a menagerie of animals in her basement unbeknownst to her husband. There's the story of an exotic dancer who builds a cage for herself in her apartment and another of sisters playing Star Wars. The stories are sometimes a bit disjointed or missing the occasional detail as if they were written from dreams that the author couldn't completely remember. The format is odd also, with some pages containing only a line or two and few completely filled with text. It's quick to read but leaves you thinking about it long after. The illustrations that begin each story are as quirky as the stories.

Zero History

Zero History by William Gibson 404 pgs.

Somehow I started with the last of a trilogy...that may be why there were a few loose ends that I just couldn't figure out in this book.  I felt like I needed some more information about some characters, etc.  So I'm an idiot.  But the book is cool.  This is my second "fashion" themed book in a month.  Bigend is a mysterious, rich guy running a company involved in "trends" and is looking to find recession proof businesses.  Military contracts are the way to go.  Somehow this turns into a corporate spy job that involves a couple of governments too just to make it interesting.  I enjoyed the characters and now have to catch up by reading the previous 2 books that feature Bigend.

Sprinkle With Murder by Jenn McKinlay

Sprinkle With Murder by Jenn McKinlay p. 215

Mel and Angie followed their dream and with the help of their best friend Tate, opened the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery. Tate is engaged to Christie and they hired Mel and Angie to make cupcakes for their wedding. Christie is the bride from hell and she pissed people off wherever she went. Mel did her best to accommodate her for the sake of making Tate happy. Things went bad when Mel found her dead one morning in her studio. Tate and Mel were persons of interest in the murder and Mel felt like no one believed her when she said they didn't do it. So it was up to her to find the real killer.

This was a cute mystery and a fun read after a semester of lots of hard reading and papers. This is the first in this series and I'll be reading the second one soon. There are some romances that are sparked in this first book and I would like to see what is going to happen with them. Plus I love mysteries that are centered around bakeries. Fun reading.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Emma, v. 1/Karou Mori

Emma, v. 1 by Kauro Mori; manga, romance, historical fiction; 192 pages

I've been meaning to read this series for years, but reading Mori's other series has finally spurred me into picking this one up.

Emma is a young maid in Victorian London, who falls in love with a young gentleman from a prominent family.  The upstairs/downstairs romance makes up the bulk of the series.  This volume mostly focuses on the pair meeting and growing to love each other (though neither has made their feelings clear to the other).  Several obstacles have been introduced, and I can't wait to see how it plays out! 

Firelight/Kristen Callihan

Firelight by Kristen Callihan (Darkest London book 1); paranormal romance; 400 pages

Miranda is sold in marriage to the mysterious Lord Archer, who keeps his face hidden behind a mask. 

At first, I thought this book sounded great:  shades of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with Phantom of the Opera, two of my favorite stories!  But I'm sad to say that the story didn't quite hold up to its predecessors. The plot was okay, but I never really felt any chemistry between the two main characters, or any real depth from the rest of the cast.  The world-building was weak, at best, and the writing was in serious need of another few passes from the editor.  The paranormal elements were pretty disappointing; neither Archer's appearance or Miranda's powers are ever really explained to my satisfaction, and no one seems particularly interested in pursuing them.  I won't be picking up the sequel, which comes out this summer. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson  347 pp.

What if the HAL 9000 took over control of all the computerized machines in the world and turned them against the humans? That is pretty much the premise of this book, except the computer in control is not HAL, but Archos. Archos is a sentient artificial intelligence that is released after it attacks the scientist who created it. After that it plots the destruction of humans who control all the robots by turning the robots against them with deadly force. The robots then attempt to turn humans into machines with Mengele-like surgical experiments. Meanwhile pockets of human resistance fighters have cropped up in various parts of the world, in some cases led by the most unlikely of the humans. This book makes one think hard about our reliance upon the computer controlled machines in our lives. I know I've been eying my smart phone more suspiciously.

Just last night, after watching a t.v. commercial about the computerized gadgets in a new car model, my husband made a comment about the expecting to get in a car one day and have it say "What are you doing, Dave?" in that famous HAL voice. I responded, "You need to read Robopolcalypse."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Birthmarked

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien, 362 pages

Continuing in my tour of dystopian YA fiction, Birthmarked tells the tale of Gaia, a 16-year-old girl who has been trained by her mother to be a midwife. Gaia and her mother deliver all the babies in their section of Wharftown, the slums surrounding the walled, prestigious Enclave, where the streets are paved with gold (not really) and nobody goes without anything they could want or need (yes, really). But the Enclave needs Wharftown for an odd purpose: to provide a monthly quota of babies to diversify the Enclave's genetic pool. As in most YA dystopias, Gaia begins revealing the cracks in the structured, seemingly perfect Enclave after her parents are arrested and Gaia herself goes on the lam.

I enjoyed this book for the way that it brings up reproductive rights in a new light; I honestly didn't expect that from a YA book. This is the first of a trilogy (it's a YA book; of course its a trilogy!), and I'm curious to see what happens to Gaia in her attempts to undermine the Enclave in the next two.

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry, 180 pages

Somehow I managed to make it through the past 19 years without having read this book in school. But I figured it was high time I picked it up. And wow, am I glad I did. I loved Lowry's simple, sparse writing style, which so well fit the dystopian setting. I'm amazed at how well she can evoke emotion from, really, some pretty thinly described (but incredibly human) characters. And I'll admit that this book made me cry. Simply put, I was floored. If you haven't read this book, do it.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks/E. Lockhart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart; young adult, realistic fiction; 352 pages (about 7 hours on CD)

When Frankie starts dating the coolest guy in school, she's thrilled--at first.  But it soon becomes clear that Matthew and his friends share a bond that Frankie will never be part of--they're all members of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, and all-male secret society that's existed for half a century.  Frankie longs to be part of this guys-only world, but when she's repeatedly locked out, she takes matters into her own hands.

This was a reread for me (my book club picked it for this month), but it's one that I was happy to revisit.  Frankie is a criminal mastermind, plain and simple, and watching her work is one of the best parts of this book.  Of course, there's a lot of other stuff on feminism and power games, but at its heart, this story is about a young woman coming to realize that the world isn't fair, and that sometime you need to make waves to affect change.  The ending isn't as neat and tidy as a lot of other books, but I would love to check back with Frankie in four years (Frankie:  The College Years!) and see what she's up to.  Highly recommended!  And for those who have read it and are looking for similar fare, I have to suggest the Plain Janes series (okay, it's two books, but whatever) by Cecil Castellucci.  I listened to Frankie on CD, and the narrator does a great job of capturing the characters. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Black Heart/Holly Black

Black Heart by Holly Black (Curse Workers, book 3); young adult, fantasy, crime; 304 pages

Cassel Sharpe has faced a lot of changes since the first book:  he's gone from being the only non-worker in a notorious crime family to possessing one of the rarest and most dangerous cursing talents, and cutting an agreement to work for the FBI.  He's also won and lost Lila, the love of his life and heir to the most powerful crime family around.  Now the feds are asking him to use his talents for them--to help "take care" of a senator who has overstepped his bounds.  And his mother is being help captive by Lila's father, and can only be released if Cassel can find and return something his mother stole.  Meanwhile Cassel is approached by a fellow student who claims she's being blackmailed, and needs his help.  Cassel suspect's he's being conned (he is, after all, a con artist), but he's not sure by who. 

I've been loving this series since the first book, and the conclusion didn't disappoint.  I admit there were a lot of times where I couldn't see how Black could salvage a good ending, but I was pretty happy with the way everything worked out.  The blackmail subplot was a little out of place (and seemed very minor when compared to the rest of the story), but Black tied it into the ending rather neatly.  I admit that most of the appeal of this series is seeing just how Cassel is going to pull off the next big con, and there was plenty of that here to keep me entertained. 

A Bride's Story v. 3/Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story v. 3, by Kaoru Mori; graphic novel, manga, historical fiction; 208 pages

This volume of the series moves away from Karluk and Amir's village, and instead follows the British ethnographer Mr. Smith as he travels to a new town.  There he meets Talas, a young woman who has been widowed five times (!), and who now lives alone with her mother-in-law, struggling to maintain the family lands. 

I enjoyed this volume for the change in locale and characters, but was a little taken aback at the ending, which is more realistic than happy.  I hope Mori will return to these characters, so that we may have another shot at the ending I would have wanted.  However, since I'm not caught up on this series, it will be another six months or so before I find out. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Feast For Crows: George R.R. Martin

A Feast For Crows: Book 4 of A Song of Ice and Fire; George R. R. Martin; epic fantasy, 753 pages

This book was less of an insanely massive beast than Storm of Swords, and a little slower to get going, and deals with a set of characters who aren't generally fan favorites, which is why I heard from so many people before I read this that this is the worst book in the series. HOWEVER! I enjoyed the pace, which felt like taking a break from all the bloody, earth-shaking slaughter of the previous book, and gave me an opportunity to explore some of the political nuance of areas of Martin's world that hadn't been fleshed out so thoroughly before.
Dorne! Exciting things happen there! I like these people! An interesting plotline that brought up some intriguing possibilities for later betrayals and alliances.
Jaime! Continuing his kind of miraculous character redemption arc! Secretly the best knight! Who Knew!
But! the most satisfying story in this book was the delicious, schadenfreudey, dramatic irony-laden Cersei plot, in which she (spoiler alert) manages to shoot herself in the foot in basically the best way possible. She just fails at everything, and it's wonderful because she's such a horrible person and you want her to fail so much, and while she's setting everything up for this epic failure she thinks she is succeeding brilliantly and there were points reading this where I had to just set the book aside for a minute and cackle madly at what I knew was to come.
I knew this (incredibly, hilariously satisfying) downfall was to come because Martin is not very subtle when it comes to these things. Or maybe it's just me! But in previous books he's set up big shocking moments with slow-building tension and it's been kind of frustrating when the reader can see what the characters can't. (see: Oh my god Ned you idiot stop trying to solve this incredibly foreshadowed mystery it is not going to do you any good/Oh hey everything about this party we're going to seems really crappy and no one wants to do it wand we all have bad feelings but LET'S GO ANYWAY WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN)
In this book though, there was less yelling and more mad, deranged laughter. And I'm not going to apologize for enjoying this character's misfortune because let's face it Cersei is just awful in every way.

I am very definitely taking a break from this series before I start A Dance with Dragons, because that book is huge and I have too many other things to read. Yeesh!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unholy Night

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith, 307 pages

So what if the three wise men who attended the baby Jesus' birth were actually thieving murderers on the lam? That's the premise of this book, though it's a lot more complex than that. The main character is Balthazar, an infamous criminal better known as The Antioch Ghost, and as such, the story is more about his life than that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I've got to admit, I kind of like reading books that feature Jesus as a supporting character, and in this one, he's easily the least-developed (though that could be because he's less than two weeks old for all but the epilogue). But I very much enjoyed rooting for an immoral bad guy in a Jesus story.

The characters are well-rounded, and Grahame-Smith did an excellent job weaving this tale. Granted, I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this wasn't at all what I expected from this author. Perhaps I'll have to check those others out...

Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller

Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn, 385 pages

Well, just about everything you need to know about this book is either in the title or on the cover. It's a thriller about an American assassin in Paris. Mitch Rapp (great name, I know) is methodically hunting down bad guys when his assassination of a Libyan diplomat goes wrong: a herd of Middle Eastern terrorists (is that the correct collective noun, herd? Is it a bunch? It's not a whole cell...) storms the room, guns blazing, leading Rapp to the correct assumption that he'd been set up. But by whom???

This was a bad book. It was filled with stereotypical cardboard characters (those Middle Eastern terrorists had names like Aziz, Samir, and Habib, even though most of them died within pages of being named) and shootouts that would have played much better in a Michael Bay movie. This would be better served as a movie to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you're too lazy to change the channel to something with more substance, like Jersey Shore.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Bride's Story v. 2/Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story v. 2, by Kaoru Mori; graphic novel, historical fiction; 192 pages

This volume continues the story of Amir and her (much younger) husband during the first year of their marriage.  Here, Amir's family makes good on their threats to take Amir back, so she can be given in marriage to another clan.  I accused the last volume of glossing over some of the harsher aspects of this life, but here we start to get a glimpse of some of those harder sides of life--most notably, in the other clan's treatment of women (Amir must be traded to them because there are no marriageable young women left in her own clan; those that were given to the other clan died of abuse). 

The art and storytelling continue to be wonderful in this volume.  The third volume looks like it will shift away from Amir for a while, but I hope we get to see more of these characters later in the series. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Scrawl

Scrawl by Mark Shulman  234 pp.

Tod Munn is a bully who extorts money from weaker classmates, not just to be mean, but because he has no lunch money. One of his misdeeds lands him in daily detention under the supervision of his school counselor, Mrs. Woodrow. All she requires of him is that he write about himself in a notebook (he won't call it a journal) during the time he spends there. The novel is made up of his entries, including details of his home life, his droogs (friends), his misdeeds, and successes. It turns out that Tod is not the loser everyone, including the school teachers, administrators, and security guards, think that he is. When he gets roped into helping a strange Goth chick with her play you get to see another side of Tod that is not what you expect. His droogs are angry because he got the cushy detention and they are stuck cleaning up trash around the school every day and then appears to have befriended that weird girl. Good guys turn out to be the bad guys and vice versa in this well written and interesting young adult novel. I got so caught up in Tod's story I even passed on watching the "Eureka" season premiere to finish it. This is going on my "best of the year" list.

A Bride's Story 1/Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story, vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori; graphic novel, historical fiction; 192 pages

Many other people have been blogging about this series, so I'll just briefly state the plot:  Twenty year old Amir is sent to wed a husband eight years younger than her.  Over the course of the book, the young couple gets to know one another and begins to fall in love. 

I loved this story for the characters, but also for the unusual setting (central Asia in the 19th century) and attention to detail (check out the dress Amir is wearing on the cover:  the interior art is every bit as elaborate and intricate).  While I'm sure the author glosses over a lot of things, I found myself wanting to live in Karluk's idyllic village.  I've already checked out the next volume, and plan to read it tonight!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sacre Bleu

Sacre Bleu: a comedy d'art by Christopher Moore  403 pp.

I'm a big fan of Christopher Moore's books because of his twisted humor. This book doesn't have the level of humor of his previous books but it makes up for it with an intriguing plot. It certainly helps if you have some knowledge of famous painters, particularly those of 19th century France, as they are the main characters/victims. The story begins with the murder (not suicide) of Vincent Van Gogh by a small mysterious figure known only as "the color man. What follows is a surreal story involving Vincent's friends Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and baker/painter Lucien Lessard who search for the truth behind his death. Everything hinges on the ultramarine blue paint (the sacre bleu used in religious paintings), the color man, and a mysterious artist's model. There are also appearances by Manet, Monet, Seurat, Whistler, Renoir, Gauguin and other famed painters of the era all of whom have had encounters with the color man. The humor in this novel is more subtle than in most of Moore's previous books and sometimes almost slips by before you realize it. I still think Fool is Moore's best book to date but this one is worth a read.

Spurious

Spurious by Lars Iyer 188 pgs.

Lars and W are a gloomy pair of philosophers who don't really have any good ideas.  They are know they lack genius and will never amount to anything so they talk about it.  A lot. And hilariously. 

For example:  
"So how fat are you now?", says W., "you must be really fat.  Are you eating at the moment?  What are you eating?"
and:
"One of us is dragging the other down, W. and I decide, but which one?  Is it him or me?  His friends say that since he's been hanging out with me, his work's really gone downhill.  People are avoiding us, says W.  They can smell failure."

We don't have this book in the collection but we DO have the follow up Dogma which I intend to read.  With friends like each other who knows what will happen to Lars and W.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flannagan

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flannagan. The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1. 249 pages. Will, an orphaned ward of Baron Arault, wants desperately to join the recruits at the Battleschool and train as a warrior in this medieval world, but instead he is chosen to be the Ranger's apprentice. The Rangers are not held in high regard by Will and his friends, but he gains respect for them as he trains. There is one Ranger per fief in the Kingdom of Araluen, and they are the spies, the silent killers, and the special forces of the kingdom. Morgareth, a rebel lord with an army of inhuman beasties is threatening war, so Will and his master, Halt, need to train fast. We listened to this on our last vacation and then finished up reading it at bedtimes. I've heard great things about the series, and since there are like 14 books, I'm looking forward to listening to them if we go anywhere this year, and to reading them all with the boys. Check our catalog.

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly, 482 pages.
This was Connelly's first novel back in 1992, and features his long-time character, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch. Bosch and partner, Jerry Edgar, investigate the death of a junkie found in a storm drain. The first officers to the scene and the medical folk all assume it's an accidental overdose, but when Harry recognizes the dead man as a fellow "tunnel rat" from Viet Nam and notices some oddities at the scene, he begins an investigation. The evidence points to the dead guy being tied to a big bank robbery from several months back and that brings in the FBI and sets Harry in the sights (not for the last time) of Deputy Chief Irving. A good framework for this book and the rest of the series. Check our catalog.

Satan is Real: the Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin and Benjamin Whitmer

Satan is Real: the Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin and Benjamin Whitmer. Country music memoir, 305 pages. I'm not a big fan of country music, and I've never really heard of the Louvin Brothers, but the book had an interesting cover, some cool things said about it by people I respect, and a first chapter that grabbed me, so I read it. The first chapter, where Charlie beats the hell out of his older brother for getting drunk and disrespecting their mom, was the best part. The rest of it was mildly interesting, and probably best for someone who has actually heard of the duo and has some interest in their music. Check our catalog.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Swamplandia by Karen Russell, 315 pages. One of the three, along with David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, and Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, that made the news by being a finalist in a year without a Pulitzer. It was better than some of the past Pulitzer winners, but it isn't among my favorites from last year. I was drawn in as the book went along, liking it more and more, but then felt a little let down by the ending. Probably at least partly due to all the hype that was surrounding the book as I was reading it. Kiwi, Osceola (Ossie), and Ava Bigtree have recently lost their mother to cancer. They, and their father, all try to make things better and to hold on to their island Alligator theme park. Check our catalog.

City of Bones by Michael Connelly

City of Bones by Michael Connelly, 393 pages. Detective Harry Bosch and his partner Jerry Edgar are given the case when a child's bones are found in a shallow grave in the woods above a residential neighborhood. The bones were buried twenty years before, and forensics show that the child had suffered years of abuse before he died. Not the most pleasant read, but not as horrible as some child murder books. As the book opens, Bosch becomes romantically involved with a woman who had just joined the force. Given Bosch's history of relationship dysfunction, the reader doesn't expect a sunny end, but there are some surprises here. This one falls somewhere in the middle of the series, Bosch is about 50 and working out of the Hollywood division. I have read some of the older books in the series and the two or three most recent books, so it is kind of fun to randomly pick from the (many) that I have missed, and read those. Check our catalog.

White House Burning: Our Founding Fathers, the National Debt, and Why It Matters to You by Simon Johnson and James Kwak

White House Burning: Our Founding Fathers, the National Debt, and Why It Matters to You by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, Economics, 352 pages. Johnson and Kwak explain how the US government has traditionally used debt to fund wars and growth. They show how while our current debt is historically high, it is not unprecedented. They show how more of the debt we currently carry has to do with tax cuts than with the TARP spending. They also believe that our country would be worse off without the TARP spending. A well-reasoned set of arguments that probably won't convince opponents of the current administration. Check our catalog.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons by Jeff Kinney, 217 pages. Juvenile fiction. This is the first book that I read on the advice of my eleven-year-old. He said "Dad, I really think you should read this. It's really good." I had heard about it over the years and was never really interested in reading it. It was better than I thought it was, mostly because of the obliviously unlikable main character. A fun read. Check our catalog.

Don't Put Me in Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench

Don't Put Me in Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench by Mark Titus, sports Memoir, 257 pages. Titus was an AAU basketball star. His team won a lot. Maybe they were champions, I don't remember (I just looked at the pictures in the book again and there is one of them holding the AAU trophy, so yeah, they were). He blames his high-school coach for his not getting into Harvard, though he admits to ambivalence about wanting to play college ball, and does point out that though his coach was an a-hole, telling him that he was one was not the best career move. Even though Titus knew there was a good chance he would not play in a big-time college basketball, he ended up foregoing any of the mid-majors that offered him a scholarship and decided to attend Ohio State with his AAU teammates, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook. His joy comes when he makes peace with the fact that he won't be playing for Ohio State except in those last moments of blow-out games and he decides to not take it all too seriously. He starts blogging about being on the bench and starts his "Club Trillion" based on his game stats, 1 minute of playing time and a string of zeroes for points, assists, rebounds, etc. He is mostly funny, funnier than Tom Davis, but not as funny as Tina Fey (on the scale of humorous memoirs I have read in the last year). Check our catalog.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Immortal Bird: A family memoir, by Doron Weber


All of our children are exceptional, but Doron Weber’s son, Damon, was also exceptional, in a bad way, from birth.  Born with a serious heart defect and with some organs reversed, he survived early surgeries in infancy to grow into a young teen with a mop of red hair, short stature from these early problems, and an unusually bright and creative mind.  His father, a writer whose day job is directing programs for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, chronicles Damon’s courageous struggle to live as his condition worsens in his teens, ultimately necessitating a heart transplant.  It is a family story as well, as his mother and younger brother and sister are obviously affected by Damon’s situation.  The memoir is well-written and the father’s suffering, as he researches Damon’s uncommon illness and fights to save his son, makes it painful to read.  However, the family’s great fortune at knowing Nobel Laureates and famous doctors, who step in to give access to world-class care, as well as movie stars and TV producers (Damon gets a small part in the series Deadwood), occasionally make the reader wonder how a less well-situated family would fare in helping a seriously ill child who, to them, is also exceptional.  Despite one’s sympathy for the author and his pain, it is often hard to like a man who routinely browbeats over-worked medical staff and questions the wisdom of most doctors, or to believe that Damon was the quite paragon he is portrayed as being.    358 pp.

Grave Mercy/Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin book 1); young adult, romance, action; 560 pages

Ismae has been raised and sheltered by the convent of St. Mortain, patron saint of death.  The sisters of this convent, dubbed "Death's Handmaidens" by the populace of medieval Brittany, are not merely devout:  each has been trained in the art of death, and follow their saint's signs and symbols in defense of their country.  The young Duchess Anne of Brittany has recently been betrayed, and it is in hopes of unearthing that traitor of Ismae is assigned to work with Gavriel Duval, a close member of Anne's court, who may or may not be a traitor himself.  Posing as his mistress, Ismae gains access to the Breton court, but soon finds herself questioning her convent's orders when they conflict with the signs from her saint. 

First off, don't fall into the same trap I did:  this is a straight-up romance novel masquerading as YA historical fiction (with assassin-nuns!).  That didn't make me like it any less, but it took me a few chapters to readjust my expectations.  This story is good, but not all the characters and relationships are as fleshed-out as they could be (partly because they're all just background to the relationship between Ismae and Duval).  Still, I had a really good time with this book, and the suspense was ratcheted up enough that I tore through the last 100 pages in record time (apologies to any of my coworkers who tried to talk to me at lunch yesterday; someone had been poisoned, and it was VERY IMPORTANT that I knew whether or not they were going to make it!!).  As a bonus, this cover isn't one of those YA covers where they slap a girl in a fancy dress that has nothing to do with the story:  both that exact dress and the crossbow play important roles in the book, so go publishers! 

This is the first in a series, but like all true romance series, the next book will focus on a different character (another of the assassin-nuns introduced in this volume).  I'll definitely be reading it, though it will fall under the heading of "guilty pleasure." 

Fables: Super Team!

Fables vol. 16: Super Team. Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham et al; graphic novel, 148 pages

Okay! so! Big final showdown with the biggest of big bads so far! STRANGELY ANTICLIMACTIC? I don't want to give out spoilers but man, the pacing in this volume was kind of weird and by the end it was like...um..okay? Is that really what you're gonna do? It felt a little deus ex machina, to be honest.

But, all that aside, it is tough to manage a story that has a giant cast like this one, and it was good to see the different perspectives of the various characters on this horrible unwinnable war.
Also! The lead-in to the next issue sounds way interesting! This should not come as a surprise, really, because I've always felt like the Bigby stories are the most solid and compelling of the series. He can certainly border on martyr territory, like many heroes, but overall I love his character arcs.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A bad idea I'm about to do

A bad idea I'm about to do:  true talkes of seriously poor judgment and stunningly awkward adventure by Chris Gethard 243 pages

Chris Gethard may have a few "issues" and I guess that is lucky for us because, although many of them seem serious, the way he tells it makes it come out funny.  Anger issues, being a loner, driving like an aggresive bat out of hell, bad judgement, seemingly enjoying getting beat up on a regular basis.  Hilarious stuff! In fact it is hard for me to tell you which was my favorite story.  Maybe the summer of his horrible movie theater job...that should be required reading for every manager...oh heck, every co-worker.  Maybe the one about his first condom purchase?  Or maybe the story about his dear old dad...a guy who will not tolerate vandalism.  Any of these qualify as do many of the others not mentioned here.  If you like reading about people who do things that make you feel like you have pretty good judgement, check this one out right away.

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