Saturday, June 30, 2012

How did you get this number

How did you get this number by Sloane Crosley  274 pgs.

Crosley is an excellent essayist and also reads her work on the audio version of this book.  The stories in this collection range from college age to close to present day.  Her earlier book (if memory serves me here) focused more on her childhood.  Not all of her stories are funny but all have a sense of humor and keep you wanting to read or listen.  I look forward to her next book. 

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Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity by Joel Stein

Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity by Joel Stein, memoir, humor, 285 pages.
At the end of this book Stein gives credit to A. J. Jacobs, author of My Year of Living Biblically, Drop Dead Healthy and other non-fiction works where the author commits him or herself to chronicling their attempt to do something absurd or pointless over a long period of time to amuse the audience. Stein's entry into this genre of nonfiction-quest-literature is definitely amusing, though maybe not a book to be read over a short period of time. It is episodic, but also seems a bit repetitive- you might not mind if you were waiting a week or a month for the next installment of this tale. At the age of thirty-nine, and about to have his first son, Stein feels unequal to the task ahead of him. He doubts whether or not his testosterone level is high enough to pass on anything of value about being a man to his son, Lazlo. In order to man-up, Stein spends time with professional athletes, firefighters, hunters, MMA fighters, soldiers, and Marines. He finds that masculinity in America today is defined differently, even contradictorily. Stein seems comfortable throughout making fun of his own shortcomings, but also saying hilarious things to and about the various armed and angry men with whom he is hanging out. Each chapter is a gem, and much of it is laugh-out-loud funny and will have strangers on the plane glancing nervously your way. Stein is an hilarious writer and refuses to take the sacred tenets of whatever cult of manhood he is investigating seriously. The genre itself is getting a bit overworked and in this book, there is not enough variety in the tone and the pace to recommend reading it straight through. Check our catalog.

Drop Dead Healthy

Drop Dead Healthy:  one man's humble quest for bodily perfection by A. J. Jacobs
402 pgs.

I'm a fan of A.J. Jacobs and have read two of his other books.  This one is along the same lines...research a topic and then try to implement what you find.  This time his focus is health.  Although the subtitle talks about bodily perfection, it isn't really the goal...just being more healthy and living a better life in terms of extending life by taking care of yourself.  Each month for two years A. J. focuses on one aspect of health.  Some of the months are better than others.  Along the way you get his commentary and notes on his life and family.  His wife Julie is certainly a gem and his 3 kids are in the adorable stage...I wonder how his writing will change when those kids become troublesome teens.  I am interested in some of the areas of focus in this a quiet life (avoiding noise pollution), the treadmill desk and taking particular care of your hands are all interesting chapters that I did not expect.  Looking forward to the next topic of A.J.'s focus.

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Preacher-Gone to Texas, Until the End of the World, and Proud Americans

Preacher-Gone to Texas-199 pages, Until the End of the World-255 pages, and Proud Americans-239 pages- Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.
The first three volumes of the classic graphic novel series had some good moments, but I am not a big fan. I don't think I will finish reading this multi-volume series involving an absent God, a vengeful bunch of angels, demons, vampires, and Texans. It seems to jump from improbable scene to improbable scene congratulating itself for being bold and daring while never really transcending its comic-bookness with an engaging idea. Maybe I'm just old and crabby, though. Check our catalog.

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell, mystery, 408 pages.
The seventh Kurt Wallender mystery features one of those mysterious serial killers who fancies himself the smartest one around, and impossible to catch because he is so much smarter than the police. Three young adults are killed on Midsummers eve, and then the police are more or less teased and taunted with clues. When one of Wallender's colleagues is killed, Sweden's most well-known detective begins to see the connections. The smartest little serial killer in the world thing feels a little overdone, but Mankell's Wallender adds an extra dimension to the whole thing. Check our catalog.

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard, thriller, 279 pages.
A beautiful documentary film maker, and her cool, calm and collected cameraman sail off to the coast of Somalia to attempt to moake a compelling film about modern-day piracy. along the way they run into terrorists, millionaire plyboys, corrupt officials and they sort of fall in love. It's fun, and compelling, and it is vintage Elmore Leaonard. The audio, narrated by Tim Cain, is great as well. Check our catalog. Downloadable audio.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (based on Siobhan Dowd's work), 224 pages.
This illustrated work about nightmares and childhood loss is not for the faint-of-heart. Conor's mom keeps going to hospital for her treatment. His dad is far away, and he has to spend way too much time with his cold and emotionally distant grandmother. And then there are the monsters. There is the monster in his nightmares that keeps him from his mother, and there is the monster that appears in his yard, the one that demands Conor speak the truths that he would prefer to avoid. Not a barrel of laughs, but brilliantly done. Check our catalog.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, 622 pages, History. We read this for our Wednesday night book group at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. It is a fantastic book, an epic chronicling the events that affected millions of Americans, based on thousands of interviews, but focused through a lens of three individuals. The great migration of African-Americans, from the South United States to the North, began during World War I, when the need for labor in northern factories was intense, and continued on through the 1970s. Almost six-million people moved, changing America in countless ways, and leading to many of the great social shifts that occurred during the twentieth century. Wilkerson is informative, a sympathetic listener, and an eminently readable writer of non-fiction. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for general nonfiction, you should definitely read this one.
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Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone One by Colson Whitehead, fiction, 259 pages.
This is the best zombie novels I have read, right up there with Max Brook's World War Z. Whitehead is a brilliant novelist and is a master of evoking a nostalgic feeling for his characters' pasts. He did this wonderfully in his recent memoir, Sag Harbor, and that same longing for the simpler times of adolescence and young adulthood pervades this post apocalyptic work. Now with a para-military group cleaning up after the massacre of most of New York City's inhabitants, Mark Spitz, the ironically nicknamed main character, fondly recalls the time right after the rise of the zombies, when he was on his own, sleeping in the trees at night. He recalls childhood memories of watching monster movies on his uncle's large TV on visits to Manhattan even as he tries to recall which of these empty hulks dotting the NY skyline hosted those scenes. A great book. Check our catalog.

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell, thriller, 400 pages.
Christa wrote a nice review of this, the second book by her favorite author, Josh Bazell. I agree with her that the ending is abrupt and a bit disappointing. It was an enjoyable read, but never reached the fever-pitch of wacky and semi-sadistic violence that you found in Beat the Reaper. Still, it's an edgy tale of drug dealers, mafiosi, Loch Ness-like creatures, scammers, and cruise ships. Check our catalog.

Friday, June 29, 2012

One for the Money

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich  290 pp.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is wildly popular. Up to this point I hadn't bothered with them. I finally decided to see what the hoopla was all about. I can understand why people like them so much although I'm not that impressed. There is lots of action, bad guys, and mystery. But the stupidity of the main character turned me off. In this first book, Plum loses her job and ends up working as a bounty hunter for her bail bondsman cousin (without a reliable car, familiarity with guns, knowledge of procedures...). She ends up on the hunt for and then partnering with an old nemesis while tangling with a sadistic boxer named. If you want a book with lots of action, by all means, go for this series. If you like a little more depth in your characters and plots look elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel  532 pp.

In the 1500s Thomas Cromwell was of lowborn birth, the son of a blacksmith who beat him often and viciously. Thomas left home as a teen and traveled to the continent to fight as a mercenary, ultimate traveling throughout the Europe of the time, learning multiple languages, and studying law. He became an assistant to Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and, upon Wolsey's death, became one of Henry VIII's trusted advisors. Cromwell played and important part in the negotiations involving the king's attempts to divorce Queen Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn and the later difficulties with Thomas More's refusal to acknowledge Anne as queen. Cromwell's rise to power and riches are the main subject of this novel.

It's unusual to have a book that focuses on someone other than Henry, his queens, and heirs. This book is packed with an overabundance of characters which makes the conversations confusing at times especially in the audiobook version. It is sometimes hard to know who exactly is speaking when "he said" is used again and again. The title is also a bit misleading since Wolf Hall is not the home of Cromwell but the residence of the family of young Jane Seymour, a lady in waiting at court, and future wife of Henry VIII. Jane plays only a small part in this book. However, the sequel to this book is about the downfall of Anne Boleyn and rise of Jane Seymour. The author won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for this book in 2009.

The Red House: a novel

The Red House: a novel by Mark Haddon 264 pages

Who doesn't have a terrible family vacation story to share?  Well, that isn't this book.  Although siblings Richard and Angela have not been close, they decide to rent a house and vacation together with their families after their mother dies.  Suffice it to say everyone involved has issues except maybe 8 year old Benjy who is just having a good time.  This book follows the vacation for a week and the relationships among those in the house. 

The authors previous book "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time" stuck me as brilliant.  This one, not so much.  But maybe it is just me.  I didn't want to stop reading but it seems rather ordinary and I was hoping for more.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde/P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde vol 4:  The Devoted Friend and the Nightingale and the Rose; vol 5:  The Happy Prince, written by Oscar Wilde, adapted by P. Craig Russell; 32 pages each (64 total)

Who knew the Oscar Wilde wrote fairy tales?  I saw volume five on the new book cart, and had to check it out.  My library had volume four as well, but I may have to ILL the remaining volumes. 

Wilde's fairy tales remind me strongly of Hans Christen Anderson's stories:  beautiful and poetic, but sad (as opposed to what I think of as the more organic fairy tales--those by the Brothers Grimm).  In volume four, we get a story about true friendship, in which a kind soul is taken advantage of by a greedy neighbor who claims to be his friend.  It's the second story in this volume, "The Nightingale and the Rose," though, that is the tear-jerker:  a nightingale slowly kills herself to give a lovesick student a red rose for his beloved.  The fifth volume builds from here:  the statue of the Happy Prince begs a passing swallow to carry his jeweled eyes and gold leaf to the poor of the city, until the Price is so plain-looking that he is melted down and tossed away. 

Russell's adaptations are perfect, and I look forward to reading more of these. 

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life by Sissy Spacek & Maryanne Vollers  271 pp.

When she first started appearing in films I was not a big fan of Sissy Spacek. It wasn't until much later that I learned to appreciate her talent and her rejection of the "Hollywood Lifestyle." The book begins a bit of family history and her childhood in a small town in East Texas and continues through to her idyllic life in Virginia with her husband of 38 years, movie art director, Jack Fisk. Spacek is generous in acknowledging family and friends who have helped her along the way including her cousin Rip Torn and his wife Geraldine Page, directors Terrance Malek and David Lynch, and many others. While including plenty of humorous anecdotes about her life and career Spacek doesn't gloss over the bad times. Her story of Loretta Lynn coercing her to play in "Coal Miner's Daughter" is great. While she doesn't talk about every film she made I wish she had said more about "'Night, Mother." When Spacek and her husband left L.A. for a Virginia farm the press concluded that she had retired from acting. Instead she chose to become more selective about the films she made while giving her two beautiful daughters a carefree childhood that was similar to what she had growing up. This book is well written and a very interesting look at an intelligent, talented woman.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol  221 pp.

Russian immigrant teenager, Anya, is trying hard to just be an American teenager. She is suffering from all the usual teenage angst about her appearance, lack of popularity, crushes, etc. Her mother is too caught up in the ways of her old country. After an argument with her best friend, Anya goes for a walk in the park and falls down an abandoned well. She is shocked to find a skeleton there and even more surprised by the presence of the ghost of a teenage girl. Anya is rescued but ends up taking a small piece of bone and the ghost with her. At first the ghost is friendly and helpful but things are not as they seem. Anya ends up learning a lot about herself and her strengths during the course of her good/bad encounter with the ghost.

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel  290 pp.

Alison Bechdel won tons of awards for Fun Home, her graphic novel about her father. In this book, she tackles her relationship with her mother, her experiences with analysts, and the works of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. Bechdel's mother was an actress who stifled her career to raise her children while coping with a marriage to a gay man who ultimately committed suicide. The book mainly focuses on Bechdel herself and her conflicted feelings toward the emotionally distant mother who told her she was too old for kisses at age seven. After awhile Bechdel's internal conflicts get repetitive and tiresome. Disappointing.

Banksy: Wall and Piece

Banksy: Wall and Piece by Banksy, 207 pages

I'll admit I'm not much one for art books (too heavy and unwieldy, generally speaking). But when this book of Banksy's clever graffiti antics came across my desk as an ILL, I had to check it out. The book is filled with images of Banksy's work, including the works he added to world-famous museums, as well as some of Banksy's thoughts on creating graffiti art (he uses overpasses because the bills of security guard and police hats prevents their wearers from easily noticing things that high). Really, this was a fascinating read, especially in light of how little is actually known about the artist/criminal. Definitely worth perusing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

House of Stone, by Anthony Shadid

Tragically, Shadid died this spring of an acute asthma attack, caused by a severe allergy to horses, which he was forced to use trying to reach safety in Turkey while covering the current crisis in Syria.  A well-known, Pulitzer-Prize-winning, Lebanese-American journalist, he was only 43 and this book was just about to be released.    As its subtitle says, it is “A memoir of home, family, and a lost Middle East.”  The book, covering the year between July 2006 and 2007, relates his rebuilding of the abandoned and war-scarred house that his great-grandfather had built in Marjayoun, in what is now Lebanon.  His first marriage has failed, and he has taken a year off from the Washington Post to reconstruct the house.  It is also the story of his family’s immigrant experience in the Oklahoma City area; of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and redrawing of national borders in the Middle East which has led to seemingly endless conflict in the area; and a meditation on what he calls “the lost Levant” when Christians, Jews, Muslims, and several other diverse peoples lived more successfully together.   He says “Gone was what had redeemed that long-ago Ottoman era, a Levant of many ethnicities and faiths that managed to intersect before the vagaries of nationalism.  Myths had to be imagined to join a certain people to a certain land that was so long shared.  Pasts were created and destinies claimed.  The borders reinforced the particulars of states with no ambition save the preservation of a petty despot’s power, or a people’s chauvinism, or a clan’s fear, and cosmopolitan cities gradually but irrevocably became national ones.  In the centuries that followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire, all those states failed; none would quite capture the ambitions or demarcate the environments of the diverse peoples that had lived there so long.”  But parts of the book are very funny – putting the house back together with the help of the contractor and workers he found proved daunting.  To read it is also to understand the area a bit better.  And should you be as fascinated to see what the house became as I was, there are a series of videos that were made during its reconstruction on YouTube that are very interesting.  How sad that he and his second wife, who he married after the house was finished, and his two children, were only able to share this house briefly.  Inshallah, they will continue to preserve it and his memory. 311 pp.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Entwined by Heather Dixon 472 pages

This is a "grown- up" version of the classic fairy tale about the twelve dancing princesses with dark undertones. Princess Azalea is charged with taking care of her younger siblings. Her father, the king, is mourning the death of his wife and keeps himself aloof from his children's needs. They feel trapped since they are supposed to be confined to the castle. So, when they are given an invitation to dance at a ball and are given a secret way out of the castle they grab the opportunity. The Keeper, who is the extender of the invitation, has a hidden agenda. Soon the nightly balls become a nightmare. The author of the book knows the world of courtly dance and weaves in a fantasy of dance to this tale. Entwined is "enchanting".

Alex Rider: Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz 402 Pages

Alex Rider does it again -- for the last time? The cover says:The final mission. Alex has been the only teen British spy. After each mission he is promised "retirement". After all, it would be a huge embarrassment if word got out that the British had to resort to using a teenage boy. Scorpia knows this and plans to use this weakness. As always the gadgetry and action is exciting; the pacing is fast and the locals, exotic. Horowitz sounds serious. A major character is killed off. Must reading for Alex fans.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The presidents club

The presidents club: inside the world's most exclusive fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 641 pgs.

Now this is my kind of book.  A little "behind the scenes" politics that helps explain some history that you may already know.  The relationships of presidents to the FORMER presidents is intriguing when you find out what they say about each other, who is the rogue who can't really be trusted on international missions, and how much they like each other. Most of us can understand that this is a difficult job but nobody understands it more than someone who has been in your shoes.  I'm ready for this fraternity to go co-ed but still loved reading about the relationships from Hoover to Obama.

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Await your reply

Await your reply/ Dan Chaon 324 pgs.

This book started out with so much potential to be creepy, I almost put it down.  The first chapter includes a young man getting his hand cut off by thugs and it seems to be going down hill quite quickly from there.  Despite my original reservations, I stuck with it and ended up liking the book a lot.  Many people who are pretending to be other people made it a little hard to follow at times and in the end you expect the big "reveal" but don't quite figure out what it will be.  I listened to this on audio which made it difficult to back up and reconnect the dots but ended up being very satisfied with an interesting and twisty plot.

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Missed Connections

Missed Connections: love, lost and found/Sophie Blackall 128 pgs.

A fun book of illustrated "missed connections" which are messages on the internet from people who want to reconnect with other people that they don't really know but feel like they shared a connection somewhere.  Lots are people who saw each other on the subway or maybe even exchanged some words but didn't get contact information.  Blackall's drawings are delightful and this is a fun little book.

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Dead Boy Detectives/Jill Thompson

Dead Boy Detectives by Jill Thompson; young adult, graphic novel, mystery, humor; 144 pages

Rowland and Paine are two schoolboys who died almost a century apart.  Now, due to a technicality, they're stuck on earth as ghosts, and making the most of their time before Death tracks them down.  Now, they've been summoned to Chicago by the wealthy and beautiful Annika to track down her missing roommate at her prestigious all girls school. 

As a rule, I'll read just about anything that claims to be a Sandman tie-in.  I've also heard Neil Himself endorse Thompson's work, so I thought I'd give this a try.  Unfortunately, this was a bit more of a stretch than I could manage.  For those unfamiliar with Gaiman's epic comic series, Rowland and Paine only appear in one issue, but it's one of the creepiest issues in the entire run, and definitely one of the most memorable.  Both attended the same boarding school, where they are tormented by bullies.  In Paine's case, he was eventually murdered on campus; Rowland died almost a century later, killed by the ghosts of another set of bullies.  Their story is dark and brutal and terrifying, so it's more than a little jarring to be thrust into a bright and bubbly, slapstick world of this manga.  The tone was just too zany for me to reconcile with my main idea of these characters. 

Some assembly required, by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

Anne Lamott famously chronicled her own foray into motherhood, single and in her thirties, in Operating Instructions, the story of her son Sam’s first year of life.  Now, at 19, Sam himself is becoming a father as his girlfriend, Amy, gives birth to Jax.  I enjoyed the first story, but found myself considerably less charmed by this second generation tale.  Although the book is meant to convey the problems of the young couple (will they stay together?  will Amy decamp from California to be with her family in Chicago and take Jax away?), as well as the new grandmother’s mixed feelings about both their tenuous situation and her own desire to control their lives, I ended up being pretty sick of the whole group by the time Jax turned one.  And I got particularly tired of Anne Lamott’s rather icky-poo relationship with Jesus, God, and whatever other flaky spiritual advisors she finds.   272 pp.

The shoemaker’s daughter, by Adriana Trigiani

Needing a break from dystopias (Hunger Games) and miserable childhoods (Why be happy when you can be normal?), I was happy to immerse myself in a little light reading by Adriana Trigiani.  She’s actually a fine writer, and her carefully researched history of her family’s Italian immigrant experience adds considerable weight to many of her novels, including this one.  Enza and Ciro grew up a few miles apart in villages high in the Italian Alps.  Meeting briefly as teenagers, a spark is immediately lit, but Enza is forced to immigrate to America with her father and leaves without saying goodbye.  Ultimately (this is a romance after all) they reunite in America.  This is not only their story, but the story of many immigrants, and is, in fact, based on that of the author’s grandparents.  Enza sewing skills, and her courage in the new country, lead her to an important job at the Met, where Caruso becomes a friend.  Meanwhile, Ciro, after witnessing a priest’s indiscretion, is forced to flee the convent where he and his brother have been raised after his father’s death and mother’s breakdown.  He also ends up in the New York area.  After learning the shoemaker’s trade, and seeking more information about the death of his father in the iron ore mines of northern Minnesota, Ciro ultimately settle in Chisholm MN.  There are good times, and tragic ones as well as world wars intrude on family life.  An engrossing read made more so for me because of the parts about the early history of the Mesabi Range area where my mother grew up and we still visit annually.  496 pp.

Why be happy when you can be normal?, by Jeanette Winterson

Another entry in the miserable-childhood-memoir genre.  And Jeanette’s truly was.  Calling her adoptive mother “Mrs. Winterson” throughout the book, the author both conveys the coldness of her upbringing and her attempts to distance herself from her horrific childhood. Told from an early age that her parents “got the wrong crib” when she was adopted; dragged to frightening church services; locked out of the house for minor offenses; and otherwise abused, her survival is miraculous. Although she grew up, despite her mother’s best efforts, to become an educated woman and successful author (Oranges are the only fruit, et. al.), her sense of self-worth remained fragile and she finally had a serious mental breakdown in mid-life.  Not for the faint-of-heart.  224 pp.

Phoenix nest, by Margaret Hermes

An average mystery which I read because I enjoyed her recent short story collection.  The plot twist became fairly apparent early on.  She’s gotten better with age!  187 pp.

Black Heart

Black Heart by Holly Black  296 pp.

This is the third (and final?) book in the Curse Workers series. I think I liked this one the best of all. Cassel Sharpe, the rarest kind of curse worker, has been recruited by a special department of the FBI that uses curse workers. Cassel's mother has disappeared after her attempts at stopping the anti-curse worker governor of New Jersey backfires. Lila, the love of Cassel's life, has become a full-time operative in her father's criminal empire. Sam, Cassel's best friend and boarding school roommate is entrenched in his own love troubles. With all this in his life Cassel has to deal with a worker girl/classmate who says she is being blackmailed but is probably working a con, find the Resurrection Diamond that his mother stole from a crime lord, try to get Lila back, help Sam get back together with his girlfriend, and work out how to protect himself against the Feds who have ordered him to participate in a con of their own. He has to accomplish all this while trying not to get kicked out of high school where he has only one demerit left before expulsion. The last part of the story contains quite a few twists, although the very end was pretty much what I thought it would be. The ending leaves an opening for further books if Black decides to expand the beyond a trilogy.   

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mistborn: The Final Empire/Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn:  The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson; fantasy; 544 pages (about 25 hours on CD)

Kelsier has just escaped from the harshest prison in the Empire, and he's determined to get revenge--and for him, revenge means killing the Lord Ruler, and destroying the Final Empire.  Kelsier is a Mistborn--one who can draw power from different metals--and his rare abilities mean that he might be able to pull off his plan.  Then he meets Vin, a common thief who shows Mistborn abilities of her own, and suddenly their crew has a real chance at success. 

I've had half a dozen people tell me to read this series, and after Warbreaker, I was only too happy to dive back into Sanderson's writing.  This story starts out as a crime novel--you have the different players in the crew, and each one has a role to play in what may be the biggest scam in history.  But as the book moves along, and twist after twist interferes with the plan, it becomes a really complex story about loyalty and class issues.  The world-building is amazing:  a thousand years after a legendary battle between the immortal Lord Ruler and the mysterious Deepness, the sky is red, ashes fall like rain, and no one can see the stars.  But there is allomancy--the ability to consume a few specific types of metal, and "burn" them for their magical properties (manipulating emotions, moving objects towards, and seeing the future, to name a few).  Reading Vin's education in allomancy was half the fun of this book. 

The characters are wonderfully drawn, the funny parts are funny, and the scary parts are really, really scary (I had nightmares about the Steel Inquisitors towards the end of this book).  As he did in Warbreaker, Sanderson plays with the idea of divinity:  what does it take for a man to be worshipped as a god?  What would that do to a person?  Of course, there's more to it than that, and there are plenty of loose ends to lead into the next novel (already on request). 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Insurgent by Veronica Roth, 544 pages

This is Roth's follow-up to Divergent, a dystopian futuristic YA novel (really, are there any other kind?) in which the residents of what was once Chicago are split into five factions named according to the characteristics prided by each: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Abnegation. The story centers on Tris, an Abnegation-born girl who chooses, at age 16, to join Dauntless, though she's actually Divergent, meaning she has the qualities of two or more of the factions. Insurgent picks up after Erudite has decimated Abnegation, using mind-controlled members of Dauntless to do the dirty work. The City Formerly Known As Chicago is on the cusp of an all-faction war (well, other than the hippie-ish Amity), with Tris and her boyfriend Four right in the middle of things.

I loved Divergent, and I'm happy to say that Insurgent doesn't disappoint. It's a bit jarring at the beginning, as Roth simply picks up where Divergent left off, with no exposition for you to find your bearings. But Insurgent grabs you and doesn't let go, just like its predecessor. I can't wait to see what Roth has up her sleeve for the next installment in Tris's story.

Castle Waiting vol. 2

Castle Waiting volume 2 by Linda Medley, 384 pages

This is a fun follow-up to the first Castle Waiting. Lady Jain is settling into life in the castle, some Hammerlings (mountain-mining dwarves) swing by to help out with castle renovations, and there's a wonderful bit of bowling fun. This is a really approachable graphic novel and I really enjoyed reading it.

That said, what the heck is up with that ending??? And where in the world is volume 3??? Linda Medley had better get stuff sorted out with her publisher, or whoever is holding this up, because really, that's no way to end a story. The way this ended, I seriously thought there were pages missing at the back of the book. It's that abrupt. But sadly, there's no more Castle Waiting in my (or anyone else's) immediate future. But should a third volume magically appear (like out of Lady Jain's excellent trunk), I'll happily read it.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison  354 pp.

This memoir was originally published in 1975 and recently re-released. Rosina Harrison, known as Rose, was lady's made to Lady Nancy Astor for thirty-five years. She wrote matter-of-factly about her considerable duties to her ladyship and the long hours she put in while in service. However, her story is not one of drudgery. She was devoted to the temperamental and headstrong Viscountess and their relationship developed into one where the maid could frequently be brutally honest with her mistress to which the response was often "Shut up, Rose!" Nancy Astor was quite the character, American born  and the first woman elected to Parliament. She was an outspoken critic when the government wasn't meeting her standards and a thorn in Winston Churchill's side. She was also a tireless worker during the blitz, with her maid and other loyal servants beside her. Rose was in charge of handling the wardrobe, jewels, and getting Lady Astor ready for her multitude of activities. It's clear from her book that Rose enjoyed her thirty-five years in service with all the perks of world travel, meeting royals from different countries and other famous people. Rose was with Lady Astor when she died at age 80. I don't know if there were photos in the original edition but there were none in the paperback version which made it a bit lacking.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs / Ellis Peters 192 p.

One of my old favorites, Peters (who also wrote under her real name, Edith Pargeter) wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries, as well as a series of modern mysteries set in 1960s-ish England with Detective Inspector George Felse.  This is a Felse title, my first 'new' one in a long time.  And somehow, I didn't enjoy it as much as I remember enjoying her in the past.  Dominic Felse, George's son, spies a young man off a rocky coast struggling in the water.  He rescues him, or so he thinks.  Why was he out there alone?  And what does it have to do with a longstanding smuggling tradition in the many rocky coves of this seaside village?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Dirty Life on farming food and love by Kristin Kimball 276 pages

My grandparents were farm people. After a bad period when they had to put all their cattle down, they came to St Louis and worked as janitorial staff at a  hospital until they earned enough to go back and resume farming. Years later my grandmother told my mother that the St Louis years were her "easiest years". My mother, a Chicago gal, warned my dad that she would never agree to leaving city life for the farm. And now my daughter has bees and an amazing garden, yearns to have her own chickens...and I wonder what my grandmother would think. So, that is why I picked up this book. It is the journal, so to speak, of a journalist, a thirty-something single journalist, who leaves New York City and becomes a farmer. She and her future husband set up a CSI - (they raise produce for families that buy an annual stake in their farm).It is hard work, but she finds a life that she loves and a partner to share a vision.I am not packing up and moving, but I am glad that there are people out there making the commitment to grow organic / local food.

More than you know by Penny Vincenzi 589 pages

I found this title on some recommended list, cause it's not the type of book I would generally read -- a big, fat sudsy read about a group of friends and lovers living in London, way, way, back in time - the 1960's and 1970's ( yeah, historical fiction from when I was a young, young girl). Anyway, either they have money, but no class, or ambition but not class, or lots of class but no money. Mummy has a gorgeous estate out in the country that is starting to show its age -- can she keep it in the family? Eliza is great at her hot fashion job, but her hubby Matt is a Neanderthal and refuses to let her work. So whose fault is it if she has a one night stand? Meanwhile, Matt's sister Scarlett is an airline stewardess with a propensity for married men. Of course when she meets a dishy author at a Greek pension, she assumes that he must be married....This is as fluffy as it comes, but yesterday it was just my cup of tea.

Crossing the Borders of Time: a True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed / Leslie Maitland 494 p.

Journalist Leslie Maitland researched and wrote this story of her mother's flight from Europe during WWII and subsequent life in the United States.  Jeanne, her mother, was born in Germany to a prosperous Jewish family.  With Hitler's rise to power the family moved to Mulhouse, France, then Lyon, and finally to Marseille before boarding a ship to Cuba.  Eventually they were able to join relatives in New York.  During Jeanne's teen years in France she met and fell in love with Roland, a handsome and kind French Catholic.  They were painfully separated in Marseille, and had no contact for 50-ish years.  Their eventual reunion, partially engineered by Leslie herself after her father's death, makes for icky reading.  (As did the descriptions of their adolescent trysts in France; I guess I'm a prude, but I kept wanting to scream "TMI" as I was reading.  Should anyone really write about the sex life of a parent?)

On the other hand, the story of Jeanne's family in Europe was fascinating, and beautifully researched.  As we read about Jewish families during the war, it seems painfully obvious that they should bolt for the New World at the first opportunity.  Jeanne's story highlights how difficult this decision was in real life, and just how much was lost to those who 'successfully' got away. 

.....Fifty Shades of Grey/E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey; E.L. James, erotic Twilight fanfiction that became a bestseller by some miracle; 15 pages

I'm listing this in my blog count as 15 pages because that's how much of the book I was able to read before I threw it across the room. (It landed on my yoga mat, no damage to library items was incurred)
I'd skimmed through it beforehand, looking for all these sex scenes that were supposedly SO racy and kinky and whatnot and nothing I saw seemed that interesting, to be honest!

And then I started trying to actually read the book from the beginning and THESE CHARACTERS ARE SO BORING. I don't care about them! I don't care about their relationship, and I certainly don't care about them enough to slog through the rest of this drivel to read about their supposedly hot sex.

Spoiler alert: This book is so boring. The people are boring. The whole meet-cute is boring. The sex is boring. I'm trying really really really REALLY hard not to begrudge anyone their choices in entertainment reading but I just literally cannot conceive of how anyone would find this book in any way good. This heroine has such low self-esteem! Her mysterious cold powerful partner is so full of secrets! Is the secret that he has passionate feelings but is unable to express them in an open and emotionally healthy manner? I BET THAT'S WHAT IT IS.

It has all the oppressive, sexist, creepy stalker abusive relationship themes of Twilight, but this time it's not couched in any vampire metaphors. So...hooray? Wait. No. Not hooray at all. People can read whatever they want but I'm sorry, I can't help looking a little askance when someone is really excited about reading this one. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

I think I'm starting to talk myself in circles. Really I'm wishing I had never tried to read it in the first place! but alas, my morbid curiosity. Sigh. 

Small Gods/Terry Pratchett

Small Gods: A Novel of Discworld; Terry Pratchett, SF, 344 pages

So I've known about Discworld for a while, but there are just so many books in this series and so many different plotlines that it all seemed way too intimidating for me to get into. And then! One fateful day I ran across a very helpful guide online (no idea where the link is now, but if I find it again I'll edit this post to include it) describing different avenues for newbies to start reading with, which is just what I needed!
I chose Small Gods because, according to this guide, it has basically nothing to do with the rest of Discworld, plot-wise, but in terms of tone and satire it's a great example of Pratchett's style.

And of course I fell in love with said style! I feel like this book was written just for me. Excellent exploration of all the silly intricacies and problems that spring up in any religion, the inherent humor of really militant athiests, and ANCIENT STATUARY JOKES.

I think it might take a particular type of person to be highly amused by ancient statuary jokes, but luckily I am that type of person, so this whole book was a treat.
I highly recommend it if you ever took Latin.

I think my next foray into Discworld will be Guards! Guards! to embark on the stories of the City Watch. I've heard those are good. :)

Fracture by Megan Miranda 264 pages

Delanley Maxwell is pulled out of icy waters when the ice beneath her fractures mostly due to the heroic efforts of her best friend, Decker. However, it was eleven minutes and most people would be dead. Strange things begin to happen. She meets this new older guy, Troy at the hospital. His back story seems to change daily although her frosty mom takes a liking to him.But death seems to be following her ... and Troy around the neighborhood. She gets this itchy feeling in her hands and next thing you know, the person she had been looking at dies.Troy is on a mission and it is not one that Delaney wants to buy into.Her mom just wants to keep her on meds and tied to the house.Thank goodness for ol' Decker, but wait. Is he seeing another girl? Angst and terror add up to a swift moving summer read.

Are you my mother?

Are you my mother? a comic drama by Alison Bechdel 286 pgs.

Alison Bechdel has done it again.  A beautiful memoir/biography/auto biography about the author's relationship with her mother.  At times, I'm sure I was not keeping up with the psychological and literary comparisons and references but there are many books I've added to my list based on her reading.  Her complicated thoughts and insights make me wonder how long my book about my mother would be...probably 5 pages of funny stories and little or no insight aside from, she is great.  Guess we are just not as complicated and alas, not so interesting.
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Monday, June 11, 2012

A Changed Man / Francine Prose 421 p.

This was a re-read of one my favorite authors.  Vincent Nolan is an extremely half-hearted member of a White Supremacist movement in upstate New York when he decides to break free, under threat of retribution from his former friends.  He takes sanctuary at the Manhattan office of Meyer Maslow, a holocaust survivor who runs a Human-Rights-Watch type of organization.  Vincent's story, although seemingly implausible, becomes believable in Prose's hands. 

Curious Case of Benjamin Button: and Other Jazz Age Tales / F. Scott Fitzgerald audiobook

I was familiar with the title story from the film with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and it was fun to hear the many ways the original differed from the film.  The tone here is more strange and macabre than the film, which could be said about the other stories as well.  In Diamond as Big as the Ritz, which is a cheerful enough title, a naive prep school student spends a summer with a classmate whose family is in possession of said diamond, as well as an elaborate security apparatus for protecting it.  Uneasy listening for a long, dark road trip.

Something from the Nightside/Simon R. Green

Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green
Ace Books, 240 pages

So I've been desperately wishing for a series that fills the void left between installments of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, something featuring a cynical, hardboiled private eye investigating the weird and supernatural. Something from the Nightside has reminded me that, while I was right to wish for all of that, I should have added a caveat to my wish that the resulting book also not suck. John Taylor, the protaginist, has all the cynicism of Phillip Marlowe, but none of the humor, all the guts of Harry Dresden, but none of the charm or loveable nature. But the author goes to great lengths to tell the reader that John Taylor is, above all, TOUGH and DARK. Men fear him, women want him, and he's so dark he probably farts bats.

Green adopts a "tell, don't show" method for explaining how hard-as-nails his PI creation is, with other characters shuttering in fear at Taylor's approach. What makes his so dangerlicious? Hell if I know, and I read the book. Taylor's only power seems to be his inner third eye, his "private eye" (and yes, that is what Taylor calls it, repeatedly, no matter how much I swear at the book in protest) which allows him to see the truth of things, kind of, a little depends. When he's really hacked off he can, apparently, see the hell out of something, like a door, and thereby destroy it...just by really SEEING at it. Weird. Expect a tragic romantic entaglement that only exists because the genre formula demands it, a sufficiently grey ending to keep with the book's mood and a TOUGH, DARK boatload of sequels full of TOUGHNESS and DARKNESS. Fin.


Fludd by Hilary Mantel  181 pp.

This is an odd little book full of odd characters. Father Angwin of the village Fetherhoughton has lost his religion and is dealing with a bishop who wants him to modernize. The bishop orders Angwin to remove a majority of the saint statues in the church in spite of protests that his very superstitious flock won't like it. The order is obeyed and Angwin has the statues buried in shallow graves in the churchyard. Enter Fludd, a curate that arrives on a rainy night. Everyone assumes he was sent by the bishop. Add to the story the nuns at the school, the evil tempered Mother Perpetua (called Purpiture by everyone), Sister Philomena, who is having difficulty dealing with her life in the convent, the rest of the nuns at the convent, and Agnes Dempsey, the priest's housekeeper. Superstitions abound in the village, and all believe they have met the devil in various guises, including the tobacconist. But who is the mysterious Fludd?  He celebrates mass like a priest and hears confessions. He conspires to return the statues to their rightful place in the church. He also "helps" Sister Philomena with her "problem." Is he a priest, an angel, or a demon?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant  416 pp.

In spite of the title, this book has nothing to do with Botticelli masterpiece. However, it is a book about art and artists. Alessandra Cecchi is a headstrong teenager in 15th century Florence. Her wealthy merchant father brings a reclusive artist into the household to paint frescoes in the family chapel. Alessandra is an aspiring artist who desperately wants the young painter to teach her more than just art. Meanwhile, Florence is undergoing big changes with the death of Lorenzo de Medici and the increasing popularity of the fanatical monk, Savonarola. Alessandra agrees to an arranged married with an older man when she learns that he will not deny her books, education , and her painting. However, she sacrifices the hope of married love with Christoforo when she learns he loves another and has married only to protect himself by producing an heir. The fear of Savonarola's torture and his Bonfire of the Vanities alters their lives. The ending to the story contains a twist and is a bit disappointing. The story is intriguing but not as well done as the author's previous novel "In the Company of the Courtesan."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Red Glove

Red Glove by Holly Black  325 pp.

This is book two in "The Curse Workers" series. Reading the first book is essential before reading this one. Cassel Sharpe is a curse worker of the rarest type. His family of curse workers each have their own particular talent which they use for criminal purposes. Cassel is recruited by the FBI to help find the worker who caused the disappearance of five people. With the help of his friends from the private school he attends, he attempts to find them and the culprit who killed his brother without revealing too much about himself. He is also being recruited by his girlfriend's father to work for their crime family. Will Cassel turn in his own family members or those of his girlfriend to the Feds? Of course, the ending is a set up for book three, Black Heart.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

May Totals

May was a busy month for us, but we still managed to get a ton of blogging done!  We also saw some really, really long books posted this month, so what we lack in numbers, we make up for in pages!


Kara:  7/2396
Annie:  14/3688
Patrick:  8/2570
Allison:  3/1388
Karen:  10/2355
Christa:  8/2404
Marilyn:  5/1373
Katheen:  1/142
Mercedes:  2/567
Linda:  5/1406

Totals:  63 books/18,289 pages

Patrick, Kara and Christa won a shot at the prize bag in this month's random drawing. Summer is upon us, so we should all have more time to read for the team!  And don't forget audiobooks while you're out doing other activities. 


Tripwire/Lee Child 417 pages.

Continuing the Reacher saga...late to the game with this as so many other things.  I made some fun of the first two in this series and have to say that they are getting better.  In the first book, Reacher had no problem killing 6 trained assassins with his bare hands...this time he has a little trouble taking out 3 mean guys who are killers but not so professional.  He also takes a bullet and is actually injured and needs to recover.  There are a few other details that are awesome but still so many things that make no sense.  The "person of interest" in this saga is a Vietnam vet whose parent's want to know the truth about what happened to him 30 years ago.  Well, it seems like he moved 50 miles away from them, became a complete bad ass but never bothered to change his name.  Still, he remains a mystery and nobody can find him.  Sure, this is 1999 and there was no google, but please, that does not make a person impossible to find.  Anyway, overlook all those rather obvious things and the book is a lot of fun.  Reacher is still amazing and the St. Louis military record center plays a roll as does the NY Public library.  I will continue reading the series as I have time and I will continue to overlook the craziness of much of it. 

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We the animals

We the animals by Justin Torres 128 pgs.

A short little novel with amazing impact.  Three brothers are living like boys do with their young parents in an unstable relationship.  There are times of hunger and pain but mostly a lot of boy stories.  The family is poor and yet very loving and seem close...but the youngest son doesn't quite fit in.  The family as a whole has each other but they don't seem to fit in with many others so when you are the one that doesn't quite fit, you can end up being very lonely.  I don't want to write too much about this book.  I loved it but don't want to spoil the experience for anyone else.  Kudos to Mr. Torres.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Emma, v. 7/Kaoru Mori

Emma, v. 7, by Kaoru Mori; manga, historical fiction, romance; 280 pages
 This book claims to be the conclusion to Emma and William's story--which is very confusing, as there are another three volumes after this one!  Things do come to some sort of conclusion here, with Emma accepting William's proposal, and leaving service to the German family she's come to love.  However, this volume is where the story started to fall apart for me.  William and Hakim pursue a kidnapped Emma to what I assume is meant to be America, even though most of the people there speak with an English accent, and the trip seems to take a very, very short time (both there and back).  Maybe it's just a seaside village in England?  I couldn't really tell.  It's sheer coincidence that reunites William and Emma--what are the odds of finding each other in a distant country, without even knowing where one party is???  When Emma returns home, she leaves service, but asks her former mistress to educate her in the ways of a lady--which she does (another thing I had trouble believing.  Then again, Emma's employer is often portrayed as bored and fabulously wealthy, so maybe she has the time and resources to undertake something like this.  I just had trouble believing shy, proper Emma would ask it of her!).  I'm going to keep reading, because I've grown very attached to these characters.  It looks like the next few volumes focus on supporting cast, so I'll be interested to see what Mori does with them. 

12 Things to Do Before Your Crash and Burn

12 Things to Do Before Your Crash and Burn by James Proimos  121 pp.

James Proimos has written several children's books but this is his first venture into Young Adult novels. Hercules Martino is the son of a recently deceased famous talk show psychologist. Herc and his father weren't on the best of terms, to say the least. He is sent to stay with his Uncle Anthony (his dad's brother) in Baltimore for a couple weeks in the summer. Anthony gives Herc a list of things he wants him to accomplish--a sort of "twelve labors of Hercules". Labor #1 is to find a mission. Herc's mission is to find a "Beautiful and Unattainable Woman" he meets on the train to Baltimore. In the process of completing his labors, Herc discovers that he does have some fond memories of his father and that Uncle Anthony has been harboring a secret for many years. This is a fun little book. It's entertaining and a very quick read.

Emma, v. 6/Kaoru Mori

Emma, v. 6 by Kaoru Mori; manga, romance, historical fiction; 192 pages

In this volume, the story starts to take a melodramatic turn:  William has made up his mind to marry Emma, but he must first break off his engagement to the daughter of a powerful viscount. Of course, this viscount doesn't take this lightly, and decides to remove William's temptation by targeting Emma. 

This volume has all the hallmarks of a Victorian penny dreadful:  midnight rendezvous, kidnapping, false letters, and rebellions (the latter mostly on William's part).  Mori really starts ramping up to a climax here, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dawn Land

Dawn Land by Joseph Bruchac & Will Davis  313 pp.

This is a graphic novel version of Bruchac's novel by the same name. It is based on an Abenaki legend about the people fighting a race of giants. A boy named Weasel Tail watches his mother and others killed by the giants. A giant scratches him with his claw and tells him he will be their slave when they call for him. Weasel Tail develops an uncontrollable temper and is banished. Young Hunter, another young man in the tribe, is given an important task of carrying the "Long Thrower" to another village to help them fight against the giants. The "Long Thrower" is a bow and Young Hunter learns to make arrows and shoot with deadly accuracy before going on his mission to help defeat the giants. The black and white artwork in this book is striking but frequently the lack of text leaves the story a bit confusing. I'm sure I missed some important details in the story because of it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo  262 pp.

In the summer of 1953, the newly former President Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess did something that is unthinkable today. They got in their car, a brand new Chrysler New Yorker, and took off on a trip across the country from their home in Independence, Missouri to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. They had no Secret Service protection since it wasn't given to former Presidents at that time. In fact, the only protection they had on the road was Bess keeping Harry from driving too fast. The cost of the trip was paid for by the Trumans from the small military pension he received since former Presidents did not receive a pension at that time. The author retraced the Trumans' route, visiting many of the same places and talking to a few people who met them while on that trip. Even though Harry and Bess tried to remain incognito during their trip, they were generally recognized every time they stopped for a meal or to stay at a hotel. There were only a couple times they managed to get completely 'off the radar.' Some of the stories are quite amusing. They were always gracious, even when interrupted during dinner by autograph seekers, although they asked photographers to wait until after the meal to take photos. Harry insisted on loading his own luggage into the car trunk in spite of the insistence of bellhops. However, he was not against taking advantage of free meals, hotel rooms, and tanks of gas when business proprietors offered them. This fun book gives a charming look at a bygone era and the President who was just a regular guy from Missouri.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines 342 pages

Which girl is murder? It is 1942 and Iris is experiencing life upheaval. Her father lost his leg at Pearl Harbor. Her mother committed suicide in a hotel room. Her father takes her from her comfy life with her Aunt and Uncle to live with him in a room in a rooming house. She has to leave her private school and go to public school where there are BOYS! Money is very tight and she would like to help her father at his new career as a private  detective. Her first helpful efforts are rejected by him although she has great instincts for the business. When a classmate who robbed her locker on the first day of school goes missing, she decides to go "undercover" with the guy's ex-girlfriends. The language is fun -- very jivey and period specific -- one almost needs a glossary to keep up with the slang. Iris is plucky and sympathetic although her father seems to be a bit of a cold fish.Very entertaining historical fiction set in New York City, with an emphasis on mystery.

Turing's Cathedral

Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe  401 pp.

I have to admit that while I thought this was a very interesting albeit tedious book, there were sections of it that I didn't understand at all. George Dyson documents the development of the computers that we now can't seem to live without, from the early mathematical theories, through the first early machines that only did simple calculations, on through the development of the ENIAC, MANIAC, and early IBM computers. The government's use of the computers for bomb calculations during World War II and the Cold War nuclear buildup helped spur on the development of new and better systems. The book focuses on many of the people who were instrumental in this work and the contributions they made. Alan Turing, John Von Neumann, Stan Ulam, Jule Charney, Julian Bigelow, Robert Oppenheimer,  the author's father, and others are featured in this book. The objections of the "pure" mathematics people to the inclusion of engineers to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton was amusing to me as was Bigelow's penchant for driving old cars that were always breaking down and Von Neumann's insistence on staying only at fancy hotels when traveling while Turing stayed in hostels. An Amazon reviewer said the inclusion of a timeline would have been helpful and I agree. The book is not presented in a linear fashion but jumps back and forward in time is rather confusing. The title is misleading also, as Alan Turing is only featured in a section of the book. Von Neumann is the main focus.