Sunday, September 30, 2012

Batman: Detective/Paul Dini

Batman:  Detective by Paul Dini; graphic novel; 144 pages

This short collection is a series of one-shots, all demonstrating Batman's detective skills.  He faces off against a slew of villains, winning each time through clever tricks rather than brute force.  The one anomaly in the book is the final story, in which Robin is captured by the Joker and must escape using his wits alone.  I guess it illustrates how well he learned from the master! 

Joker/Brian Azzarello

Joker by Brian Azzarello (story) and Lee Bermejo (art); graphic novel; 128 pages

The unthinkable has happened in Gotham:  the doctors of Arkham Asylum have declared the Joker sane and rehabilitated, and set him free. 

Told from the point of view of one of his henchmen, this book follows the first weeks of the Joker's new-found freedom.  And let me tell you, the Joker may be a scary, scary guy when he's concocting elaborate schemes to kill Batman or take over Gotham, but when he's doing it in a sane way its even scarier--because NOTHING is a joke.  Just look at the cover if you want an idea of how creepy this book can get.  As with Arkham Asylum:  Madness (another of my favorite creepy Batman stories), the Dark Knight is mostly absent in this book, but that doesn't mean it lacks for conflict.  A great read, but certainly not for the weak of heart. 

Batman: Noel/Lee Bermejo

Batman:  Noel by Lee Bermejo; graphic novel; 112 pages

This is a dark retelling of A Christmas Carol, Batman-style.  It follows the Dark Knight over one Christmas Eve, which he spends chasing a lead he hopes will result in the Joker's capture.  Along the way he encounters thee "visitors" who call on him to examine his own life.

This had the potential to be really hokey (and my blurb up there doesn't help), but I found myself really enjoying this book, Christmas-themes and all.  The narrator tells Dickens'  famous story, while we see Batman chasing his arch nemesis across Gotham, and encountering apparitions from his past, present and future along the way.  Bermajo's dark, atmospheric art fits the cold wintery scenes perfectly.  I'm not a huge fan of holiday literature, but this is unique enough that it may become a regular holiday read. 

Batman: Knightfall vol. 1

Batman. Knightfall, vol. 1 by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, etc., 640 pages

This whopping volume has been better described quite well by Annie, so I won't go into specifics here. But basically, this is when Bane comes to town and uses every bad guy Batman's ever faced to take down the Bat. And it's the only Batman storyline that I'd ever really heard of before experiencing Batman in a non-crappy movie way (Val Kilmer, you had a lovely jawline to play Batman, but that's about it). It's been a great introduction to the villains of Batman, who each get their own storyline here.

Through reading this, I've realized that I'm definitely a bigger fan of long-form comics. There is no way I would have read, much less enjoyed, this story if I'd read it in the original serial format. I'm glad I read it, and I'm looking forward to reading volume two.

Friday, September 28, 2012

One Good Turn / Kate Atkinson 418 p.

This is the second in the Jackson Brodie series, and it's just as good as all the others I've read.  It's tempting to say that Atkinson just writes mysteries to give herself a scaffold for developing her intriguing characters.  The problem with that theory is that Atkinson doesn't 'just write' anything.  Her mysteries are so darned good: well-plotted, perfectly paced, and full of great surprises.  This one features a Scottish mystery writer who spends most of his life in a dream state which ends when he crosses paths with a psycho with a baseball bat at an Edinburgh drama festival.  Throw a marauding real estate developer and a highly dubious housecleaning service in and you have all the ingredients for a satisfying read.

Pontius Pilate / Ann Wroe 412 p.

One of my all-time favorites, this is a fascinating examination of the great equivocator as he is depicted in scripture, historical documents, and medieval myths and Passion plays.  Wroe re-visits the story of Procula, Pilate's wife, who has a frightening dream foretelling PIlate's doom if he sentences Jesus to be crucified.  An amazing work of research, and very readable.

Green Arrow: Quiver/Kevin Smith

Green Arrow:  Quiver by Kevin Smith, et al.; graphic novel; 232 pages

Ten years ago, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow sacrificed himself to save others, and his friends have never quite gotten over their grief at his loss.  But recent crime scenes have been littered with the trick arrows that are Ollie's trademark, and people have sighted a hooded figure with the classic blonde goatee.  Ollie may be back, but he's changed--plagued with amnesia, he doesn't remember anything of his recent history, much less what's been going on while he was dead.  How and why is he back?  And what doesn't he remember? 

I admit I was a little hesitant about this book, given the generally poor reception to Smith's Batman arc, Cacophony.  However, I loved his work on The Widening Gyre, and I like his movies, so I gave it a shot.  (Also, this was the last of the three Green Arrow books owned by the MLC.  We may need to work on that).  I have to say this was up there with Year One in terms of quality, and made up for the "meh" taste left over from the last GA book I read.  This is a pivotal moment in Ollie's story:  he's returned from the dead--an event which will make him vulnerable during the Blackest Night arc a few years down the road--but he's also got some introspection and self-realization to do (I could say more, but that would ruin one of the great surprises of the book).  There are a great many cameo appearances in this volume, from the rest of the Justice League (both living and dead), to some more fringe DC characters (Morpheus!  Woot!).  Smith handles it all well, and seasons it with his characteristic humor, making for a fun read.  Part of my love for this series might come from the fact that Batman plays a prominent role in the story, and seeing the Dark Knight juxtaposed against the (more normal and well-adjusted) Justice League is always entertaining. 

Now I'm out of Green Arrow books, so I need to head down to Starclipper for some suggestions! 

The Innocent

The Innocent by David Baldacci 422 pp.

Will Robie is a professional hitman who works for the Feds. He does the jobs he is given until the night he refuses to kill the target he is assigned to kill. When the target is killed in front of him by a sniper, Robie finds himself running for his life without knowing why he has become a target. He ends up saving the life of a teenage girl whose parents were murdered and things get more convoluted...and dangerous. He ends up involved in the investigation of a bus explosion and multiple murders while dodging the unknown assailants who are trying to kill him. I've found Baldacci's books to be hit and miss. This is one of the better ones. While the situation is a bit far-fetched the characters, dialogue, action, and plot twists keep the story moving at a fast pace.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Visiting Tom

Visiting Tom:  a man, a highway, and the road to roughneck grace/ Michael Perry 308 pg.

Tom is an interesting old timer in Wisconsin and a neighbor of Perry's.  This book talks about a series of visits with Tom and the times in between.  I'm still a big fan of Perry but this book was not one of my favorites, I guess mostly because I miss the EMT/fire fighter stories.  Still, very good and highly recommended but a slightly slower pace.

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The mating season

The mating season/P.G. Wodehouse 224 pgs.

Another great one featuring Bertie Wooster and Jeeves although not quite enough Jeeves in this story to suit me.  Bertie, as usual, gets himself in a crazy situation impersonating his friend Gussy Fink-Nottle since Gussy found himself in the pokey after a night of drunken dancing in a public fountain.  Things go crazy from their and Bertie has to work hard to keep it together.  He does, finally, with the help of Jeeves.  We have this on audio through Overdrive.  It is the bees knees.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake / Anna Quindlen 182 p.

Anna Quindlen's latest memoir has plenty of thoughtful insights into aging, work/life balance, faith, feminism and marriage and was mostly a good, solid read. I was frequently distracted by references to the 2 homes, one in the country and one in Manhattan, their divergent decors, the multiple sets of dishes, blah blah.  Not necessary, and, for 99% of us, not relatable.

The Messenger / Yannick Haenel 181 p.

A fictionalized story of the real-life Polish diplomat and resistance worker Jan Karski, who was tasked with visiting the Warsaw ghetto and a concentration camp and carrying his observations to the Allied Powers.  It was hoped that the urgency of his message in addition to his eyewitness details would persuade Churchill and Roosevelt to take direct action to liberate the Jews of Poland and beyond.  An emotional yet erudite account with interesting reflections on Polish identity.

Witness the Night / Kishwar Desai 242 p.

A murder mystery combined with stringent social commentary set in Punjab.  Simran Singh is a social worker sent to investigate the case of a thirteen-year-old girl found badly injured but alive amidst the murdered bodies of her entire extended family.  She's been imprisoned, and while it's clear that local authorities would like to hold her solely responsible and be done with it, Simran has her doubts.  The story unfolds in the alternating perspectives of Simran and the child, whose memories have an intense dream-like quality.  Touching on issues of infanticide and the deplorable state of  women in the region, Desai manages to be both outraged and cool at the same time.  Very good.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spinoza Problem / Irvin Yalom 321 p.

A strange and beautiful book, this is the fictionalized story of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish-Dutch philosopher, and Alfred Rosenberg, one of Hitler's 'philosophers'.  The connection is that as a young man, Rosenberg develops a passion for the German poet Goethe, and is horrified to discover that Goethe was greatly inspired by the work of Spinoza, a Jew.  He struggles to make sense of this seeming conundrum throughout his life.  His failure to understand Goethe, Spinoza, and ultimately, Hitler himself leads to his downfall. He is a horrifying person but in Yalom's hands he isn't a caricature, and we are left feeling mostly sorry that a reasonably talented mind was put to such terrible use.

I knew very little about Spinoza before reading this and I loved Yalom's portrayal of him.  Fully ostracized from the Dutch/Portuguese Jewish community for his writings on Hebrew scripture and the Divine (which were later banned by the Catholic church as well), he lived a quiet life as a lens grinder while continuing to write works which influenced the course of Western thought. 

Les Miserables / Victor Hugo 1432 p.

Our Adult Summer Reading program choice.  I had read it 25 years ago, forgotten it, and enjoyed it again the second time.  I was surprised to find that I liked quite a few of Hugo's rather long-winded passages about the progress of human history, the rights of women and men, and social justice.  (Up to a point, of course - he does tend to like to hear himself write.)

Bring up the Bodies / Hilary Mantel 410 p.

The sequel to Wolf Hall, and written with equal smoothness.  Both books annoy me and I don't fully understand why.  I suppose it's our main character, Thomas Cromwell himself.  It feels as though we are meant to see him as a higher being than all those around him, but sheesh, he doesn't have a lot of competition.  Yes, he loves his children, dead and living; yes, he doesn't beat his servants, but for this he and Hilary want to give him a medal?  For me he was far too efficient about dispatching Anne and her friends, disgusting though they may have been.  He'll get his comeuppance in part 3, but I doubt it will make me feel any better.

Green Arrow and Black Canary: Five Stages

Green Arrow and Black Canary: Five Stages by various authors; graphic novel; 128 pages. 

So I've made a bit of a jump here:  I've gone from an origin story to a death story in two volumes.  Note to self:  check into these things instead of just picking random volumes. 

In this very recent storyline, Black Canary and Green Arrow are back together as a couple.  They spend most of this volume taking down a supervillain named Cupid, who uses her love potion to control the minds of those around her--and who is fixated on Ollie as her next conquest.  That story is pretty good, even if I only caught the second half.  The art is so-so, but the relationship between Arrow and Canary is sweet and believable.  The second-to-last issue collected here ends with GA and BC getting a call from Green Lantern  to report to JLA headquarters, and heading off.  The final issue in this volume is such a non sequitur that I have trouble even understanding its inclusion:  we pick back up with these characters at the climax of the Blackest Night crossover event, when an evil force has taken control of any hero who's been brought back from the dead, including Green Arrow.  Ollie watches helplessly from inside his own head as he attacks everyone he's ever cared about.  To their credit, Ollie's friends and loved ones do their best to stop him--Canary even goes so far as to try her sonic scream on him--but none of it works.  Eventually, though, the heroes are forced to, I assume, kill him in order to save themselves and the planet.  Thus ends this volume, and once again I'm left wondering who as DC is responsible for organizing these collections, and what they were smoking the day they worked on this one....

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bellwether Revivals

Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, 420 pages

Eden Bellwether is a strange man. He's rich, talented, and more intelligent than can be believed. He's also narcissistic and believes he has the ability to hypnotize and possibly heal people through music. Our protagonist, the blue-collar Oscar, is initially taken with Eden, but as he spends more time around Eden and his "flock" of friends, the less comfortable he becomes and the more sure Oscar is that something bad is going to happen.

Bellwether Revivals reminded me a bit of The Great Gatsby and Atonement in its portrayal of the upper echelon, though the suspenseful buildup of the story would almost place it in the horror genre. I had trouble getting through this one, but I suspect that has more to do with the other things going on in my life than with Wood's writing. I wish I'd read it when I had more time to devote to it.

The age of desire, by Jennie Fields

An imaginative treatment of a real period in the life of Edith Wharton.   At 45, Edith, who has her own inherited money, has for many years been in a loveless marriage to Edward “Teddy” Wharton, a wealthy man of no great intellectual depth.  They live somewhat separate lives.  They winter in Paris, which she loves and Teddy hates, and summer at “The Mount,” their country estate, where Teddy is happiest.  They also maintain a couple of apartments in New York City.  In Paris in 1907, she is introduced, by her great friend Henry James, to William Fullerton Morton, an American journalist working for the Times in Paris.  Fullerton, as she calls him, is younger, dashing, and irresistible.  He’s also a bounder, bisexual, and amoral, as we come to learn after Edith falls into a passionate affair with him, a true sexual awakening for her.  Edith had an unhappy childhood, mitigated by her governess, Anna, who is German.  Anna remains with Edith and becomes her secretary, friend, and the “first reader” of Wharton’s increasingly successful novels.   During this period, Teddy begins to exhibit what today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, his ill health intensified by the suspicion that his wife is under Fullerton’s spell.  Anna, who loves both Edith and Teddy, is torn by the conflicting desires that surround her.   I found the book fascinating.  I believe I’ve only read Ethan Frome of Wharton’s many books, and it reading this novel will drive me to read Wharton’s longer and more complex books (or maybe watch the movies!).   The author weaves the actual events skillfully in with the imagined conversations and scenes.  During this period, both Anna and Edith form life-changing emotional attachments that threaten to destroy their bond, and it is this relationship that the book is truly centered upon.   368 pp.

You are the love of my life, by Susan Richards Shreve

Lucy, a single mother of 12-year-old Maggie and 5-year-old Felix, is living more or less happily in New York.  She has had a long-term, somewhat hopeless relationship with the children’s father, who they all call “Uncle Reuben.”  She is a noted children’s book author, and the older, married Reuben is her editor, who she met in her early twenties.  She found her own father, a suicide by hanging, when she was quite young and it has made her a very private person.  Her mother, who was French, is also long dead by 1973, when the action of the book takes place.  Lucy decides to leave Reuben and her New York life for the charming Washington DC neighborhood where she still owns the house her father died in.  It is the time of Watergate.   The women of the neighborhood form a tight-knit group around one central queen bee figure, but not just Lucy has secrets to protect as it turns out.  OK for a vacation read but not great …  304 pp.

Green Arrow: Year One/Andy Diggle

Green Arrow:  Year One by Andy Diggle and Jock; graphic novel; 160 pages

For my first foray into Green Arrow, I thought I should start at the beginning (or at least, one of the more interesting of the many origin stories for this character).  Oliver Queen is a billionaire playboy not unlike Bruce Wayne's public persona.  The difference is that if the scratch the surface of Olive Queen, you find...more surface.  He's a thrill-seeking, hard-drinking womanizer who cares for little beyond his own pleasure.  But all of that changes when a double-cross lands him stranded on a deserted island, forced to fend for himself and fight off the forces of nature for his own survival. 

Loved this book!  I'm glad I went with one of the more recent GA origins, as this seemed to really fit what little I know of the character (I've only caught peripheral glimpses of him through Batman and Birds of Prey, but I like what I have seen!).  Of course there's more going on on the island than my blurb would lead you to believe, but that would be telling.  This is a fun book that manages to pay homage to the older versions of Green Arrow (boxing glove arrow, anyone?) without being too campy.  Yes, there are a few moments where I had to stretch my sense of disbelief (like the fact that Ollie is shooting with a broken arm, or that his "English long bow" is, in fact, quite short), but overall, this was a quick, fun introduction to the character. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The World's Greatest Idea

The World's Greatest Idea: the fifty greatest ideas that have changed humanity by John Farndon 317 pgs.

This book is chock full of great ideas that have changed the world from weaving and spinning to the Internet.  I loved the short lesson on each and why it is important.  I've never tried to develop a list like this and probably couldn't so am glad that John Farndon and his panel of big brains have done it for me.  Fun to read and enlightening.

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Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (a mostly true memoir) by Jenny Lawson  318 pp.

Read this book! It's laugh out loud funny in that taxidermied animal, squirrel hand puppet, anxiety attack, dog mauling, couch etiquette, alligator pirate, argue with your spouse sort of way. In other words, if you have a quirky sense of humor you will meet your match in blogger, Jenny Lawson. I haven't laughed so hard reading a book in a long time.

Einstein's Dreams

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman 140 pp

This book is a fictional series of dreams about the bending of time. They are dreams that the patent clerk, Albert Einstein may have had while developing his theory of relativity. In the "dreams" time is circular or runs backwards, slows down, and sometimes stops. Each dream has a deeper meaning about life and how we choose to live it. It's a thought provoking book.

Batman: Earth One/Geoff Johns

Batman:  Earth One by Geoff Johns (story) and Gary Frank (art); graphic novel; 144 pages

Earth One retools both Batman's origin story and his "year one" into something much darker than what we've come to know as cannon. Bruce Wayne here is a spoiled, self-absorbed child whose temper tantrum results in his parents' death; Alfred is a grizzled war veteran who specializes in personal security, and trains a teenage Bruce in how to fight a war; and Bruce himself--well, he starts out as the noble, idealistic hero we all know, but one of the first things he learns is how to be cruel and cunning, and not always fight fair.  It's an interesting take on the Dark Knight, but I found myself really enjoying it.  Johns changes enough to make a familiar story fresh and exciting, and Frank's art is a perfect fit for the dark, brooding story.  This isn't Batman for the whole family--with serial killers, guns, and more, it's definitely better for mature fans who are looking for something a little darker, but not as heavy-handed as, say, Frank Miller.  

Red Robin: The Hit List/Fabain Ncienza

Red Robin:  The Hit List by Fabian Ncieza (Red Robin 3); graphic novel; 128 pages

In the third Red Robin collection,Tim Drake is setting up shop as an independent crime fighter in Gotham.  He has a lot to figure out:  where to live, who his allies will be, and who to fight.  For the latter, he makes the titular hit list, a set of plans designed to set up a new villain's capture for each one Red Robin brings down. 

I'm still really enjoying this character, and was sad to learn that (a) there's only one more collection after this, and (b) it came out only a few months ago, so it's not eligible for ILL.  :(

This book sets up Red Robin as a proper superhero, not just a temporary persona for Tim to use while searching for Bruce Wayne.  He even starts to accumulate some bad guys of his own, including Anarky (a new one), and the mysterious Lynx (who, as Tim points out, has the potential to become his very own Catwoman).  I also had a lot of fun with the interactions between the Wayne family members--Bruce, Tim, Dick, and Damian. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Batman: Knightfall, vol 3

Batman:  Knightfall volume 3:  Knightsend by a whole bunch of various authors and artists; graphic novel; 652 pages

In the conclusion to the Knightfall epic, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham, but must relearn much of that martial arts skills and physical agility he lost when Bane injured him.  Following a grueling physical training program with the notorious Lady Shiva, Bruce must fight to reclaim the mantle of the Bat and the role as protector of Gotham from the now-insane Azrael.

This book was a good change from the previous volume, which contained a whole lot of Jean-Paul Crazy.  In this volume, we move back and forth between Bruce, Azrael/Batman, and Robin & Nightwing, who are working as a support unit to Batman.  The inevitable defeat of Jean-Paul comes in the middle of the book, with the second half devoted to the aftermath of Jean-Paul's actions.  Another interesting arc was the final twelve issues collected here:  the Prodigal storyline, in which Bruce, having just reclaimed his role as Batman, inexplicably abandons it for several months, and leaves Dick Grayson to fill in.  Reading this next to the more modern Batman stories (in which Bruce Wayne is presumed dead, and Grayson once again must take on the role of Batman) is really surreal:  Grayson expresses similar complaints and fears in each instance, but in the Morrison arcs seems to be having those thoughts for the first time, so that was weird.  Was there a reboot somewhere between 1994 and 2008 that I'm unaware of?  Leaving aside the strange and unexplained disappearance of Bruce Wayne for the latter half of the book, this is a satisfying conclusion to the story, though once again I found myself wondering what was left out of this collection.

A final note on the art:  there's a lot of different artists involved here, so it's hard to make blanket statements about anything (except Nightwing's mullet, which is consistently hilarious).  However, if you were to just look at the cover, you'd never know there was actual good art inside.  I understand choosing an image of Batman and Azrael facing off as the cover of the collection (this is also the cover of the issue in which they clash), but surely we could have picked something that uses proper perspective, and that doesn't look like Azrael is about to crack is spine.  I'm not even sure what Batman is doing there--a bizarre dance of some kind? 

TL;DR:  I'm glad I read this classic story, but it's not something I'd recommend to the casual comics fan, or even the beginner comics reader.  Getting through this takes some dedication.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homer and Langley

Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow  208 pp.

Homer and Langley Collyer were real people. In 1947 the eccentric brothers were found dead in their N.Y. mansion filled with old newspapers and the other detritus of their bizarre habits. Doctorow created a fictionalized version of the story narrated by Homer, the brother who loses his eyesight as a teenager. Langley goes off to fight in WWI and is severely injured by mustard gas. He returns home changed both physically and mentally to find his brother living alone in their Fifth Avenue mansion with the servants. Their parents died during the Spanish flu epidemic. Their home becomes a haven for tea dances, Langley's cockeyed projects, musicians, gangsters, hippies, a Model T in the dining room, and others who wander through the lives of the brothers. Fights with the health department, utility companies, and banks cause an increased sense of paranoia in the brothers who end up shuttering their house and booby trapping it to stop unwanted invaders. Doctorow takes liberties with the story by having the brothers live long past 1947. Their lives in the story are marked by the succession of wars up through Vietnam. Who knows what made the real Collyer brothers live like they did? Doctorow's speculation makes for a good story.

Thy Neighbor

They Neighbor by Norah Vincent 306 pgs.

If you like books full of characters that are all creepy, this might be for you.  Nick Walsh is thirty-four and an alcoholic basket case.  His parents met a violent end which was the final blow to a less than stellar upbringing.  This, of course, is  his excuse to be one of the neighborhood weirdo who spends his few sober moments spying on his neighbors and being a jack-ass.  Clearly not a real sympathetic character but pretty much everyone else in this book is as bad or worse.

I loved the Norah Vincent's 2 non-fiction books that precede this one but this dark tale is not my cup of tea.  Not to say that it wouldn't be yours but overall a little too depressing for me.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Alloy of Law/Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn book 4-ish); fantasy, steampunk; 336 pages (about 10 hours on audio)

Hundreds of years have passed since the events of The Hero of Ages; the world is no longer choked with ash or oppressed by brutal rulers--indeed, it has begun to move into its own industrial era, with railroads and skyscrapers bringing civilization to the wild lands beyond the city.  Lord Waxilium Ladrian has been exiled to the Roughs by his family, and has made a life for himself as a lawkeeper; when a sudden death draws him back to the city, he thinks his days of investigation are over.  But soon a band of criminals begins to terrorize the city, kidnapping women from noble houses and stealing small fortunes in metals from railcars.  When the woman he's engaged to marry is stolen, Wax starts to investigate on his own.

A lot of reviews I've read refer to this book as Mistborn-lite.  I can see why:  the plot here is much simpler and less introspective than those of previous Mistborn books, and new setting is so radically different from the ash-covered world of before that it does feel like a different series.  Allomancy  and Feruchemy (two of the major abilities available to mankind) are still around, but in radically different forms as well.  In fact, one of the most interesting parts of this book was seeing how those powers have changed with the advent of industrialization (steel-pushing and guns?  I'm there). 

Despite all the changes, I had a lot of fun with this book.  It was fun to see how the legends of Vin, Eland, Sazed, and all the rest have been interpreted and changed over the years.  It was also kind of nice to have a little more action and a little less philosophy in this volume.  The ending was a little predictable, but Sanderson throws in a great twist in the epilogue that makes me see a series in this book's future.  Mistborn meets steampunk:  it totally works, and I will happily read more of these. 

Monkey Mind

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith  212 pp.

Daniel Smith's life was almost paralyzed by anxiety. The simple act of choosing condiments for a sandwich could immobilize him with dread. Anxiety was a torment from childhood on. It ruined relationships, nearly ended his college education, and caused him to quit jobs. In this book he chronicles his experiences and various forms of treatment he received from doctors and therapists until he finally finds one that helps more than the others. Smith writes about his experiences with honesty and humor. Some of the more technical parts get a little dry but overall it's an interesting book.

A hundred flowers, by Gail Tsukiyama

In 1956, Mao Tse-Tung wrote, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” thus inviting intellectuals to offer their ideas about and critiques of the Communist Party.  Those who did fell into a trap and soon found themselves being “reeducated” in far-off labor camps.  This is why seven-year-old Tao’s father Sheng has disappeared.  Tao lives with his mother, Kai Ying, scholarly grandfather, Wei, Auntie (in name only) Song, and another couple in the subdivided villa which had been his family’s ancestral home.  This gentle tale covers a short period in the family’s story when Tao falls from a tree and breaks his leg; a homeless, pregnant girl shows up on their doorstep; and grandfather Wei, holding a terrible secret, sets off alone on a 1,000 mile journey to find his son.  I enjoyed the book, but found it episodic and ultimately wondered why the author had written it.  Not one of her best.  288 pp.