Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Rowling's first book with language that would upset you if a child was to repeat it back to you.
Her first book for adults.
Her first really sad book.
Barry Fairbrother's early and unexpected death throws the small English town of Pagford, and its Parish Council into an uproar. The Council was split evenly on the issue of the local rehab clinic, with the less warm-hearted members wanting to shut it down, and rid their small town if its patients. Barry may have been the only truly decent person in the book, no one else is truly good. They are all too complicated, and have too many secrets. None of the children behave in a Potter-like manner. Even when they try to do what they think ins the right thing, the consequences boreder on the horrific. Not an easy book to get into, but definitely worth the read.

Check our Catalog.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, 320 pages.

Peter Heller composes a lyrical and nostalgic tale of a man longing for a world that was. Hig, widowed by the plagues that have swept across the world, lives now in an abandoned airfield. He spends his days flying his 1956 Cessna-looking for maurauders- with only his dog, and a perpetually angry, and heavily armed survivalist for company. He dreams of his dead wife as he watches what little is left of his world succumb to newer diseases and climate change. Bittersweet and broken-hearted.

A really beautiful book. One of this year's best.-Patrick

Check our Catalog.

The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner

The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner, memoir-Iraq War, 222 Pages.

Castner has no romantic notions left about the war. He lost a lot of friends and colleagues among Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, with whom he served two tours of duty. Castner brings home bad memories and a whole lot of crazy. He tries running until he's in pain and exhausted, to quell the crazy feelings, but he's a different person when he returns, and he is not sure if the old him can ever come back. When his wife consults her grandmother, whose own husband served in combat, how to help him recover, she's basically told that her husband has died and that a different man will be coming back to her. A very convincing anti-war account. Avoid the war, avoid lots of explosions near your person or near those you love.

Check our Catalog.

Check out the ebook.


Footnote  by Boff Whalley (296 pages)

FOOTNOTE is the autobiography of Boff Whalley, who was one of the founding members of the anarchist pop group, Chumbawamba. Like his band, which broke up earlier this year after 30 years of playing together, FOOTNOTE is unconventional and unique. It's also straight forward and unpretentious. The book takes its title from the notion that Chumbawamba were but a footnote in the annals of pop culture, breaking through to mainstream success after the release of "Tubthumping" in late 1997, leaving 15 years of indie obscurity behind them and selling millions of records.* The massive success of "Tubthumping" overshadowed (and outsold) everything the band had done up to that point. FOOTNOTE is a first-person account of Chumbawamba's early years, from forming in a squat in Leeds in the early 1980's, to playing countless benefits, releasing noisy punk records, and making the decision to move in a more pop-oriented direction in the early-1990's. Whalley writes about his own life, and the lives of his band mates, in the years before and during Chumbawamba in a mostly linear fashion, with occasional forays into related subjects (the music industry, politics, etc.). It's not the typical rock&roll memoir, which is what makes it so great.

I first read this book in 2008. My old copy was lost in a bizarre gardening accident so I asked the librarians at the UCPL to buy one for the collection. As soon as it was cataloged I read it again. I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

* It's also an acknowledgment of the book's numerous digressive footnotes. Whalley weaves much of his narrative between the main body of text and a series of footnotes much like this one.

Gone by Michael Grant 558 pages 9780061448768

This is the first of a popular series by Michael Grant. The premise: Everyone over the age of fourteen disappears from a small California town. How end of the world is that? Rivalries erupt between the townies, the students from a very strange, very special, very private school and the kids who have "Powers". The rivalries escalate and become very bloody- because some of the "baddies" have twisted special "Powers". Grant creates a world, okay, a somewhat twisted world with kids trying to cope without adults and weird plagues, creatures, etc. thrown at them.I recommend starting this book on a Friday night or Saturday morning, because once you start it, you won't want to put it down for long.


Naughty by Brenda Hampton p. 329

Jaylin has two women, Nokea and Felicia, who have been in his life for years. They know about each other and continue to date him anyways. Felicia believes if she can get rid of Nokea, she can have Jaylin to herself. That isn't very likely because Jaylin has been with Nokea longer, and he likes her better. On top of that, he meets Scorpio. She is not the type of woman he would normally go after but she gets him anyways. For awhile at least.
Brenda Hampton is a great author who knows how to draw readers in. When she came here a couple months ago she said Jaylin is based on someone she knows. That made me want to read this series even more. This guy is something else. It was a good read. I would recommend it.

Locke and Key. Volume 4. Keys to the Kingdom

Locke and Key. Volume 4. Keys to the Kingdom written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez, 146 pages

OK, you see that last post I did about how creepy these books are getting? Scratch that. NOW they're getting really creepy. Zach/scary echo lady is seriously freaking me out, and I'm just going to say that the way this volume ended has the potential to give me nightmares. And I don't get nightmares easily.

Yeah, I'm just tearing through these books. They're awesome.

Locke & Key. Volume 3. Crown of Shadows

Locke & Key. Volume 3. Crown of Shadows written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez, 140 pages

Holy wow, this is getting creepy. As the Locke kids find more keys, Zach/scary echo lady keeps increasing his/her power. It comes to a head in this volume, which finds Zach/scary echo lady taking control of Keyhouse's shadows and using them to wage war on Tyler, Kinsey and Bode. The shadow art is incredible, as are Hill's characters. I seriously have no idea what's going to come next, and that's fantastic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Richest Woman in America

The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach  304 pp.

I don't think I ever heard of Hetty Green until I read a review of this book. Henrietta Howland Robinson was born to a Quaker family who earned their money owning whaling ships. She learned about business from her father but he did not allow her to participate in his business ventures. She inherited several million dollars from her father and an aunt and, by her death in 1916, had increased her worth to about $200 million dollars (over $3 billion by today's equivalent). She married Edward Green, the son of a wealthy Vermont family, with a prenuptial agreement that he renounce all rights to her money. Hetty was careful about her investments and after bailing out her husband's bad business deals on more than one occasion, she separated from him but they never divorced. Through her shrewd and careful business dealings, Hetty weathered several of the serious economic panics in the late 19th and early 20th century. In spite of her wealth, she lived an extremely frugal life, moving frequently between boarding house and residential hotels to avoid paying taxes in any one location. She was often ridiculed in the press for her penchant for dowdy clothing, her frequent appearances in the courts for an abundance of lawsuits against others, and her restrictions on her daughter who did not marry until she was in her late thirties. Green was an interesting character.

This is a book worth reading but not because of the biographical information on Hetty Green. I found the most fascinating parts to be about the causes of the various "panics" and financial crises the country faced during her lifetime. Every one of them can be traced to situations similar to what caused our current financial troubles. Proof that Santayana was correct when he said "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

I listened to the audiobook version and was rather disappointed in some of the mispronunciations and stumbles in the reading that were not corrected in editing. 

The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean

Based on a true story during the siege of Leningrad, when the employees of the Hermitage Museum saved the collection from destruction from the advancing German army and lived in the basement.  When the art was removed from the Hermitage, the workers left the frames in place to symbolize that it would return.   In present day, Marina, who had been a tour guide at the museum, and her husband, a close friend since childhood, have long lived in the United States where they have raised two children.  Her granddaughter’s marriage sets the couple off on a physical trip but interiorly, Marina is on her own memory journey as Alzheimer’s disease begins to seriously affect her mind.  During the long siege, Marina learned from an elderly cleaner how to memorize the entire collection and call it forth in her mind as she looks at the empty frames.  In a similar fashion, she calls forth her past life, which has been largely kept secret from her children and is rarely discussed with her husband.  An intriguing interweaving of memory and reality.  231 pp.

Forest Park, by Caroline Loughlin and Catherine Anderson

This history of Forest Park came out in 1986, a project of the Junior League.  It chronicles the development of the park from the earliest days, when it was a forty minute carriage ride from downtown St. Louis, to 110 years later, when it was desperately in need of loving attention.  I read it because I am beginning to do some research for a little pamphlet for Forest Park Forever, an organization which has made such a spectacular contribution to the present enhanced state of “St. Louis’s Backyard.”  Obviously, the book is sorely in need of a sequel, but it gives an adequate overview of the politics, the people, and the development of one of my favorite places.  292 pp.

The revised fundamentals of caregiving, by Jonathan Evison

Ben Benjamin, who has spectacularly failed to protect his own two children, has lost his wife, his job, and his home in addition to the children.  Seeking any kind of employment, he ends up taking a class on the fundamentals of caregiving and accepting a job looking after a nineteen year old young man with advanced Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a death sentence.   Trevor’s mother is over-protective, his father, unable to cope, has moved away.  Together, Ben and Trevor embark on an epic road trip, picking up odd characters along the way.  At times hilarious, at times heart-breaking.  Never dull.   278 pp.

The orchardist, by Amada Coplin

Set in the frontier of the Pacific Northwest , this  long, richly written novel is more like an extended tone poem.   William Talmadge lives alone following the death of his mother and the disappearance of his beloved sister.  He raises apples and apricots on the land they homesteaded back in 1857 when he was nine.  His closest confidantes and friends are an Indian horse trader (and sometimes thief), and a healer and midwife who also lives alone.  Into his quiet world come two very young, very pregnant sisters, escaping the abuse of their father.  The book follows the course of the rest of his life as it is impacted by the events that follow their arrival.  A strangely moving book.  426 pp.

Toby’s room, by Pat Barker

Writing at the top of her form, Pat Barker’s newest book about World War I is, I think, her best work since Regeneration.  Like the latter work, real historical characters are interwoven with fictional ones, in this case, Henry Tonks, an artist and teacher who both taught at the Slade and documented the facially wounded returned soldiers.  Two of the main characters share a last name with fallen poet Rupert Brooke.  Featuring many of the same characters as in her previous Life Class, this is an altogether better book which in 300 short pages raises haunting questions about love and war.  302 pp.