Friday, August 31, 2012

The Unwritten: On to Genesis

 The Unwritten vol. 5: On to Genesis by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, 144 pages

In this fifth installment of The Unwritten, Tom/Tommy Taylor is still trying to figure out who he is and where he comes from, and if he's even real or just a story come to life. He attempts to accomplish this by delving into his father's journals and discovers more mysteries to solve. This series keeps getting better and better despite some blatant thefts from other stories (such as invisibility cloaks and seven league boots). Can't wait for volume six.

The age of miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker 272 pgs.

Julia is the focus of this odd story.  She is a preteen when we meet her.  She has few friends but is doing OK when the rotation of the earth starts slowing down.  Days get longer and people panic.  Is this the end of the world?  Nobody really knows.  This is unexpected and no one has done any research no one understands what is going to happen.  The conflicts that are created seem familiar but the speed at which the days are lengthening magnify's the reactions.

This book is a "coming of age" story but the backdrop is so unsettling that it takes on a different quality.  Julia's loneliness is  painful but the earthly crisis is enough to make anyone think about our world and where we are headed.  Are we all coming of age?
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Fables: Inherit the Wind

Fables vol. 17: Inherit the Wind by Bill Willingham, et al, 143 pages

Following the noble death of the North Wind in vol. 16, Bigby Wolf and Snow White's children are now vying to inherit his throne (they are his grandkids, after all) and all of the powers that go with it. Meanwhile, formerly-winged monkey Bufkin has made his way out of the destroyed Fabletown and back into Oz, which has been taken over by the evil Nome King. Bufkin's on the lam with a couple of wooden creatures and a talking cat, who are attempting to start a resistance movement against the evil ruler.

Between those two storylines and a handful of other snippets, there's a lot going on in Inherit the Wind. That said, I feel like Willingham and crew are floundering a bit. With the earlier volumes, there's a strong overarching story to drive everything. Now, I honestly don't know what's coming next, or even what whatever comes next might refer to. I'll keep reading because I'm curious, and because I like these characters, but these newer Fables are a bit lackluster.

Seating arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead

A frothy summer wedding novel, with a core of discontent and sadness, set amongst the privileged set that “prep” at the right schools, attend the right colleges, and join the right social and golf clubs (or strive to).  With first names like “Winn” and “Greyson,” and nicknames of “Biddy” and “Mopsy,” one can be sure we’re somewhere in a WASPish part of New England.  I enjoyed the satire and the writing, but found the over-the-top final chapters a bit much.  Fun, but a little disturbing.  300 pp.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Chaperone

The Chaperone/ Laura Moriarty 371 pgs.

Cora is an orphan who has made a pretty good life for herself after being adopted from one of the "orphan trains" that left New York and traveled to the middle of the country dropping of "lucky" kids in many farming communities when they were adopted by families who needed an extra set of hands.  Cora's adoptive parents actually wanted a daughter and were very good to her.  Unfortunately, they died in an accident when Cora was just 17.  The lawyer who settled their estate took a shine to her and they ended up marrying.  Twin sons follow not much later.  But as life tends to go, some of the things she thought he knew turn out not to be true.  The story really gets going when at age 36, Cora finds herself with the opportunity to be a chaperone for a young girl from her Kansas town who is going to New York City.  Cora is very interested in NYC because that is where she was born and she is hoping she can find out something about her biological parents.  Oh yea, the young girl that she accompanies is Louise Brooks who ends up being a huge star.  This book is a wonderful story of the intersecting lives of Louise and Cora but is more about Cora discovering her past, who she is and who she wants to be. I listened to the audio book and it was wonderful as read by Elizabeth McGovern.

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Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison  314 pp.

The Russian Revolution is approached from the point of view of Rasputin's older daughter Marila, called Masha, in this fictional account of the last days of the Romanov rule. After Rasputin's murder, Tsarina Alexandra brings his daughters to live with the royal family and gives Masha the task of being a companion to the young, hemophilia stricken Tsarevitch Alexsei who is called Alyosha in the story. The Tsarina hopes that Masha will have some of the mystical healing powers of her father but the best she can do is keep him amused with fanciful stories. Masha remains with the family during their house arrest during which the young Tsarevitch seems to be the only one who understands that they will all be murdered one day. When the Tsar and his family are removed to Siberia, Masha is freed and goes on to the marriage her father had arranged before his death. Eventually they leave Russia and, after her husband's death, Masha comes to the United States as a circus performer. The story plays fast and loose with the facts and jumps back and forth in time which can be confusing. It's an interesting mix of magical realism and historical fiction.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Les Miserables

Les Miserables/Victor Hugo 1364 pgs.

It makes me laugh that you think I'm going to do a summary of this 1300+ page book right here. Ok, if you insist.  Whatever you thought you knew about Les Mis from the movie or musical is such a minor part of the book.  Sure, there is Jean Valjean, Cosette, Fantine, and Javert but there are SO MANY MORE.  You don't get a 1300 + page count based on 5 characters.  In addition to the story, Hugo takes this opportunity to write extensively about the events of the day, famous people, and just about anything that was on his mind.  I have to say, it is very unlikely that I could have finished this book on my own but with the great support from the adult summer reading group here at UCPL, it was a pleasure to hear what others had to say about the parts I didn't "get" the first time around.  Viva le Paris!

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The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies

The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies by Jordan D. Metzl 368 pgs.

I'm not much of an athlete but I originally checked this out for my husband and as I read, really liked the way the author breaks down the body parts, sports, types of injuries and how to prevent them.  He gives great workouts for increasing strength, flexibility and a reasonable healthy eating plan.  On top of all the good information, Dr. Metzl is a Mizzou grad so there is nothing not to like.

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Birdseye Bristoe

Birdseye Bristoe by D. Zettwoch  68 pp.

This short graphic novel is fun. The parodies of ads like you used to see in comics are funny. The artwork and characters are interesting. And there is even a "centerfold" (of a cellphone tower). Birdseye Bristoe refers to the towns near where the eccentric main character "Uncle" lives. Uncle is a major landowner in town and is allowing a massive cellphone tower to be built on his property with the addition of a giant crossbar making the tower into a huge cross. The story begins with the destruction of the tower and flashes back to 3 months earlier when his great-niece and nephew came to visit. The illustrations are what really makes this slim book a winner because there is so much detail to look at.

Batman: House of Hush/Paul Dini

Batman:  Streets of Gotham:  House of Hush by Paul Dini (story) and Dustin Nguyen (art); graphic novel, superheroes; 192 pages

While there's a book between this volume and Hush Money (the first Streets of Gotham collection), this is the true continuation of the first volume.  Tommy Elliott (better known as Hush) is still impersonating Bruce Wayne, but now that Wayne has returned, things are changing.  Hush escapes the custody of the Justice League and teams up with an old enemy of the Wayne family, intent of revenge. 

I had mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, the story of Hush impersonating Bruce Wayne was really intriguing, and I wanted to see how it would end.  Hush is an interesting character, and I can usually expect some measure of drama from his stories.  However, the almost total absence of Batman himself from this book leaves us without much in the way of a confrontation, making for a disappointing end to an otherwise good arc.  As usual, Nguyen's art is excellent, and one of the highlights of this book was seeing his interpretations of Golden Age superheroes during the numerous flashbacks. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home

Batman:  Bruce Wayne:  The Road Home by various authors; graphic novel, superheroes; 200 pages

This volume collects the arc Bruce Wayne:  The Road Home, which was run as single-issue chapters across nearly a dozen titles (See, DC?  You CAN collect a series with some amount of logic! Go you!).  Following Tim Drake's discovery of Bruce Wayne (alive, and now in possession of a suit that gives him near-super abilities), Bruce decides to test each of his former friends and colleagues.  Under the guise of "The Insider," he stages a series of fake crimes and attacks, and judges the fitness of each of his students, before finally revealing himself. 

I admit I was hoping for a little more plot and a little less punching in this collection.  I mean, a MAJOR character has just returned from the dead, and all he wants to do is play mind games with his friends?  He doesn't want to, I don't know, let them know that he's not dead so they can stop grieving??  I admit seeing Bruce's assessment of each hero is interesting, and the reveal is a little different each time (though in most cases, the test subject figures it out before Bruce ever reveals anything, which kind of takes the fun out of it).  My favorite chapters were, unsurprisingly, the Tim Drake and Catwoman stories; the weakest point involved an overlong story involving a group of minor superheroes that Batman worked with once or twice, and inexplicably felt the need to test during his reunion tour.  Strangely, though, Bruce never reveals himself to the (arguably) two most important heroes, Batman and Robin.  I can only assume that part will appear more in one of the other collections (possibly one that I have on hold?). 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Red Robin: The Grail/Christopher Yost

Red Robin:  The Grail by Christopher Yost (story) and Ramon Bachs (art); graphic novel, superheroes; 128 pages

Following the death of Bruce Wayne, every member of the Bat-family is grieving in their own way.  Perhaps the most visibly affected is Tim Drake, Batman's adopted son, and the person's who has held the title of Robin for the last few years.  However, with Dick Grayson's ascension to the role of Batman, everything in Tim's life has changed:  Dick had handed the role of Robin to Bruce's son, Damian, saying that he values Tim as an equal rather than a sidekick, but that doesn't help Tim adjust.  Then Tim becomes convinced that Bruce Wayne is still alive somewhere, and that it's up to Tim to find him.  He dons the Red Robin costume, and begins traveling the world in search of his mentor. 

Of the three Batman books I knocked back this weekend, this was probably my favorite.  That's probably due to the fact that Tim Drake is one of my favorite characters, and that this book builds a lot of sympathy for him (character backstory:  since his introduction in the 1980s, Tim has lost his mother, then his father, and now his adopted father/mentor, AND his role as Robin).  It's understandable that Dick Grayson wants Tim to take on less of a sidekick roll, but Damian's snotty remarks about being Bruce's *real* son don't make the transition any easier (and also pretty much take away any sympathy I might have developed for Damian in the Leviathan storyline).  Tim also does a lot of wrestling with his conscience:  in order to find Bruce Wayne, he has to compromise many of the values that Bruce taught him, including having to fight some of the good guys, and work with Ras Al Ghul, the only other person who believes "The Detective" is alive.  I tore through this, and am looking forward to reading the next collection. apparently there's a chunk of these that have not been collected, though, so I'll miss out on the middle part of the story.  :(   


Anathem by Neal Stephenson  937 pp.

There are some lengthy books that don't seem as long as they really are because you are riveted to the story from page one. But this is not one of them. In general, I like Stephenson's books but this one was a bit of a slog. There is a lot of intellectual argument on philosophical questions and speculation on technological subjects which are occasionally interesting and sometimes amusing. Stephenson uses terms that are "close to English" (glossary included) in this world of "Saeculars," the common people in the society and "Avouts," the thinkers, mathematicians, and scientists who have been segregated into a monastery type existence because of fear of their technical knowledge. The real storyline doesn't begin until about a third of the way through the book when the main character, Fraa Erasmus (Raz), and other Avouts end up on a mission to save the planet. There is even a bit of a love story in the mix. By the end I was eager to see how it was all going to turn out. I just wish it hadn't been such a long trip to get there. 

The bingo palace, by Louise Erdrich

A sequel of sorts to Erdrich’s well-known first novel , Love Medicine, this short novel continues the stories of several of the characters in the earlier book.  It focuses on Lipsha Morrissey, a young man who seems to be drifting through life, who is summoned back to the reservation by his grandmother.  Falling under the spell of beautiful dancer, Shawnee Ray, who has a child by the rez’s entrepreneurial Lyman Lamartine, owner of the local bar and gambling den, Lipsha struggles to fit in and to win her love.  At times funny, at times tragic, this book is well-written but not really one of her best.  274 pp.

Batman: Streets of Gotham: Leviathan

Batman:  Streets of Gotham vol 2:  Leviathan by various authors, art by Dustin Nguyen; graphic novel, superheros, action; 160 pages

This collection follows the Hush Money storyline, but focuses more on Dick Grayson/Batman and Damian/Robin.  This plot follows the duo as they try to track down who's responsible for the dead children that have been found in the river recently.  Their search leads them to Mr. Zsasz, and a potential new ally. 

I'm getting the impression that the Streets of Gotham series is meant to be grittier than the normal Batman stories:  this arc featured murdered children, serial killers (okay, Zsasz is ALWAYS creepy), more.  Still, the storyline was really interesting, and we got to see some character growth for Damian;  I still want to punch him most of the time, but at the end of this book, I found myself kind of liking him.  Batman/Dick Grayson is hardly in this book at all:  when the Damian arc isn't playing out, there's a one-shot featuring Huntress and the Man-Bat (weirdest moment of reading this:  realizing that the new Batman has dated both Huntress and Oracle).  It's a good story, and I look forward to reading the conclusion in House of Hush

Overburden: Modern life on the Iron Range, by Aaron Brown

Aaron Brown was born and raised in the Iron Range area of northern Minnesota.  A fifth generation resident, he writes and blogs about the area for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.  You don’t have to know and love the area, as he obviously does and as I do, to enjoy these essays which touch on the history of the region, the tenacity of its inhabitants, and the joys of raising children in rural and small town America.  239 pp.

Lucky girls, by Nell Freudenberger

An earlier collection of short stories by the author of The Newlyweds.  Like the latter, they are all set in Southeast Asia or India, an area the author seems to know well.  A bit “New Yorker-ish” on the whole, and the last story, “Letter from the Last Bastion,” was the strongest.  225 pp.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, 584 pages

In this, Harkness' second entry in the All Souls Trilogy, the story picks up immediately after the conclusion of A Discovery of Witches: witch/historian Diana and her vampire/scientist husband Matthew have just timewalked back to England in 1590 to avoid the dreaded Congregation, who is pursuing them for a whole slew of reasons. First of all, marriage between vampires and witches is strictly forbidden. Second, Diana has somehow managed to temporarily discover a powerful book that has been lost for nearly 500 years. And finally, Diana has recently begun using her powers, which are much stronger and stranger than your average witch, and thus a heck of a lot harder to control.

Shadow of Night takes place almost entirely in 1590 and 1591 (with occasional glimpses back into the present day), and Harkness captures that world with vivid detail and the inclusion of historical figures, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Except for the mention of unicorns and of course the inclusion of vampires, witches and daemons, the setting is very realistic and believable. This is almost certainly due to Harkness' day job as a historian, and boy am I glad that she decided to delve into fiction. I described this book to a friend as Outlander with Buffy's Willow as Claire and Angel-with-a-soul as Jamie; I stand by that. This is smart, fun and a great historical adventure. Can't wait to see what Harkness has up her sleeve for the third book in this trilogy.

The art of fielding, by Chad Harbach

Having little interest in baseball unless the home team is in the World Series, I resisted reading this popular title for quite a while.  But, like Shoeless Joe, Field of Dreams, and The Natural, it is about much more than “just” baseball – and also once again demonstrates that the game somehow inspires good books and movies as well as great fans.  One critic said, "The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story" (Nicholas Dawidoff), and indeed, Moby Dick figures prominently in the book and the team is known as the Harpooners.  Engaging and beautifully written.  528 pp.