Thursday, November 29, 2012

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, 272 pages

This is one of those books that's been sitting on my shelf for ages, despite the fact that I knew I'd love it. I don't know why I didn't pick it up before now, but turns out I was right. This is an awesome book. In this collection of essays, Sedaris ruminates on everything from his ill-fated guitar lessons and speech therapy sessions as a child to his father's penchant for hoarding rotting food to his experiences as a drug-addled performance artist. The title, and many of the essays, however, refer to his attempts to learn French while living abroad. Whatever subject he's musing on (or ranting about, in the case of his short essay on pretentious food), Sedaris is hilarious. I wasn't rolling on the floor laughing with tears coming out of my eyes, but that's not really my M.O. I chuckled out loud several times though, which is about the same for me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ironskin/Tina Connolly

Ironskin by Tina Connolly; romance, fantasy; 304 pages

The war agaisnt the fey left many people scarred, but one of the more obvious in Jane Eliot, who bears a magical curse on her face which infects those around her with rage.  Jane covers her scar with an iron mask to contain the curse, but it has the side effect of driving people away (including employers).  Desperate for any kind of job, Jane accepts a position as a governess at the mysterious Silver Birch manor, home to the reclusive Mr. Rochart and his unusual daughter.

If this plot sounds kind of familiar, that's because it's a retelling of Jane Eyre.  Bronte's work is one of my favorite books of all time, so needless to say I had high expectations for this book (maybe a little too high...).  Don't let the Beauty and the Beast quote on the front fool you:  Jane Eyre is now and has always been a retelling of Bluebeard. 

The book starts out strong:  it's Jane Eyre all right, but in a 1930s world still struggling to find an alternative power source to the fey-powered bluepacks that have fueled human technology up to that point.  It's also a society still fighting to rebuild after the devastation of war, and the loss of an entire generation.  Into that setup we get Jane, a young woman who's been not only wounded in the war, but then ostracized for it.  She meets Rochart, a sensitive and eccentric artist who's keeping secrets in the attic (no, not THAT secret, despite the basis on Jane Eyre.  There are a few clever nods to it though, for those who know the source material). 

It's about a third of the way in that the novel starts to diverge from Bronte's source material, and to lose focus.  Jane goes from a sensible person to a rash, impulsive being, who seems to decide that she and Rochart are in love after having all of two conversations with him (Jane and Rochester at least had their nightly conversations for months before the Declaration!  Mr. Rochart is hardly present at all for the bulk of this book, so I never got attached to him).  From there, the story starts to go its own way, breaking from Bronte's plot even more--there's no wedding, no governess-bashing, and no St. John Rivers (you CAN'T get rid of St. John Rivers...said no one ever).  There's a lot of magic and possession going on in the last third of the book, and the segues aren't always the smoothest, so I had a little trouble following the story to its conclusion.  Additionally, Connolly's writing style (despite being perfectly good) didn't jive with the story, which needed a little more of the gothic atmosphere and smoldering romance that make Jane Eyre so distinctive.  There's also some unsettling implications about physical beauty towards the end of this book--it's hard to discuss them without spoilers, but I don't think the author intended for it to be quite as creepy as it was.  Overall, this was a light, quick read, but didn't hold up to the source material. 

For a better retelling of this story (still with a fantastic twist), I recommend Sharon Shinn's Jenna Starborn, which stays truer to the original novel. 

The price of politics

The Price of Politics by Bob Woodward 428 pgs.

I'm a big fan of Woodward and have read several of his books but this one is kind of a head scratcher.  The topic is the 2009 debt limit crisis, you know, that fiscal cliff we are stepping up to?  Read this and realize why.  So really  this book should only appeal to political junkies who care about the budget.  How many of us are there?  I'm guessing this one won't end up number 1 on many lists.

As with his other books, you wonder how Bob gets this kind of info.  It always amazes me.  What amazes me even more is how much reading this reminds me of the old saw about watching sausage being made.  OMG, it is frightening to see the up close negotiation process and the politics in action and I am fascinated with this stuff.  I'm not sure if the voters should be happy or sad that things take so long and are so arduous.  On the one hand, keeping government busy doing as little as possible can be a good thing for us, on the other, it is unbelievable how hard it is to get anything DONE even when not getting it done will probably start the chain reaction of global economic meltdown.

After reading this, I'll probably be able to keep better track of the current fiscal cliff negotiations but doing so may end up sending me off my personal cliff.

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Killed at the Whim of a Hat

Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill 374 pp.

This is the first book in the new Jimm Juree mystery series. Jimm Juree was a crime reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail in Thailand until her mother sells the family shop and buys a run down resort in southern Thailand. Jimm moves with her eclectic collection of a family: a mother who might have early stage dementia; her retired cop grandfather, a body-builder younger brother, and her transsexual former brother, now her sister. After thinking the move has destroyed her career a buried VW van containing the skeletons of two 1970s hippies is discovered by a local farmer and Jimm gets involved in the investigation. Then the she learns of the brutal stabbing of a Buddhist abbot that is being covered up. Jimm sets out to find the reason for the cover up and the killer with gay police Lieutenant Chompu. This is an entertaining story with lots of humor and quirky characters along with the whodunit, which is almost secondary to the characters. The title stems from an actual quote by George W. Bush. Other skewed quotes from Dubya begin each chapter. Eventually there is an explanation for that. I'm looking forward to the second book, Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Art of Procrastination

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing by John Perry, 92 pages

OK, first I'll admit that I picked up this book based entirely on its title. I mean, "effective dawdling" makes it sound like I could get all my homework done by surfing cat videos on YouTube. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Perry's short book (which is really a good length for procrastinators) centers on his theory of "structured procrastination," which starts with a to-do list in which the procrastinator avoids doing the top few things on the list by doing things further down the list. For example, I should be writing a paper/doing some housework/working on layout for the newsletter, but instead I'm writing this blog post. I'm getting something done, even if it's not the most important thing on the list.

It makes sense, but after about 50 pages, it becomes painfully obvious that Perry is trying to justify his own procrastination. His structured procrastination works for the emeritus professor of a philosophy department (which he is), whose to-do list seems to center on reading and reviewing philosophy articles and books. But for people whose to-do list consists of things with more immediate ramifications (paying bills, taking care of kids, doing laundry, even turning in homework assignments), avoiding the most important items at the top of the list doesn't make one's dawdling effective.

When I placed it on hold, I thought this book might be funny. It wasn't. It was just excuses. Perhaps I'm just not as much of a procrastinator as I thought I was.

I Could Pee on This

I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats by Francesco Marciuliano  111 pp.

If you're looking for a holiday gift for a cat lover, you've got it in this small book. Anyone who has shared their life with a cat will appreciate these small poems about cat behavior. The one about the gift mouse on the bed brought back not so fond memories of the half eaten water bug left on mine. And the one about being rudely awakened by the cat reminds me of how my Lizzie nibbles my fingers if I'm not out of bed when she thinks I should be. The poems are separated into "chapters" of Family, Work, Play, and Existence. Some will make you laugh out loud (the one about getting neutered) while others invoke a nod of "Oh yeah, that happens all the time." Included with the poems are adorable photos of cats (and a couple dogs).

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote 46 p 0679800409

Truman Capote is probably best known for his iconic novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's (later adapted to the poignant Audrey Hepburn film and recently resurfaced as a song by Deep Blue Something), the bestseller, In Cold Blood (which also became a film) or his larger than life somewhat outrageous persona. This is the perfect time to rediscover his charming childhood stories A Christmas Memory and A Thanksgiving Visitor, both have been reissued as lushly illustrated children's books. Both look at the relationship he had with an elderly cousin and are set around their respective holidays. The relative is large-hearted and has a generous nature although she is cursed with limited funds. A Christmas Memory is about their annual custom of baking fruitcakes for cherished friends, loved ones as well as personal heroes like President Roosevelt and the Baptist missionary to Borneo who passed through their town the previous winter. Their fruit making world is small: the two of them and Queenie, her dog.It is not just a matter of opening a box and mixing a cake. They have to find hard-earned pennies (one summer they earned a penny for every twenty five flies they killed!), nickles and dimes to purchase needed ingredients (including home brew!). Charming and bittersweet -- you don't have to enjoy fruitcake to like this book.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Green Witch by Alice Hoffman 135 9780545141956 135 pages

You may not judge a book by its cover, but looking at the title might be quite educational. Alice Hoffman does like to write about magic -- (I was mesmerized by Practical Magic -- both the book and the movie.) for both adults and teens.  One can surmise that the elements of magic and spells will be used in this book. This is actually the sequel to a much earlier work, Green Angel.Green is a survivor, 17, Her farm was destroyed, by a group of fishers(the Horde) who despise all things modern and forward thinking.When this book opens her existence is mean and she is almost without hope and certainly love. This slim novella is about her journey towards love and self-acceptance and a re-connection with others.Lovely, lyrical writing..

The Edenville Owls by Robert Parker 194 pages 978-0-399-24656-2

Why should Robert Parker only be enjoyed by adult?.Before he died, Mr. Parker published a couple of juvenile mysteries that have strong characters, smart dialog and film noirish atmosphere in spades.The titular "Owls" are not birds per se, but refer to young basketball players in a small Massachusetts town at the end of World War !!. Bobby may only be 14, but he has what it takes to motivate his coach-less team.Like Spenser in his adult mysteries, Bobby is becoming quite the gallant hero.Why exactly is a mysterious stranger harassing his teacher? Joanie, his trusted sidekick, is morphing into an attractive young person. Bobby may not quite know how to handle his new feelings for her, but Parker sure does know how to work this sweet adolescent turbulence. These slim mysteries would make great reading for grandparents and their young readers.

Days of Blood and Starlight/Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone book 2); young adult, dark fantasy; 528 pages

On another world, a war has been waged for centuries between the Seraphim and the Chimera.  That war has finally ended with the defeat of the Chimera, and now all that remains is the systematic extermination of the races which once called Eretz home.  Karou--raised human and only recenty reunited with her people--now fights with the Chimera rebels, lashing out against the angelic forces and resurrecting the fallen soldiers in fresh bodies to keep fighting.  On the opposite side of the fighting is Akiva, the angel who fell in love with Karou 18 years ago, when the two of them dreamed of making peace between their races. 

LOVE.  Lovelovelovelovelovelovelove.  If I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I loved this ten times more.  Taylor once again manages to make our own world seem every bit as exotic and exciting as the world of monsters and angels.  Like the last book, this one travels to distant lands--in this case, Morocco, in an abandoned kasbah in the desert.  But more of this book is also set in Eretz, where we get to see beyond the fort-city of Karou's memories, and into the way normal, everyday people live.  We also get to see the Seraph capital in all its glory. 

Even better, the stakes are higher here:  while the last book focused on Karou's relationship with Akiva, this one is more about the war itself.  To that end, it deals with some pretty dark topics--genocide, vengeance, stockholm syndrome, and more (the "more" here is the attempted rape of one of the teenage characters *shudder*).  The romance is still there, but it's on the backburner.  Other reviewers have said that Taylor is clearly setting up a love triangle for book three, but if so, she's doing a really good job of it--I genuinely like both potential suitors, and would be happy for Karou to choose either; that said, there's a good chance that she will choose neither, which would also be a refreshing change. 

The Walking Dead 8/Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead Book 8, by Robert Kirkman; graphic novel, horror; 336 pages

Our intrepid group of survivors continues to struggle for survival in the zombie-infested wasteland that America has become following the still-unexplained plague.  Rick and his companions have found shelter in The Community, a walled town where people can still live a (sort of) normal life.  That safety was breached in the last volume, and this one focuses on picking up the pieces, mourning the dead/wounded, and trying to rebuild the Community as a safer, better place. 

While this volume wasn't quite so heavy on the action as some of the others have been, but there was plenty of character drama to keep things interesting.  This is the first collection of this comic to end on an optiministic note--Kirkman has trained me well enough that I'm now waiting for the other shoe to drop in volume 9...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 419 pp.

Unlike Kara's review I am not excited about this book. In fact, I couldn't wait for it to finish. Yes, there are lots of plot twists and things you don't see coming.  I know it's incredibly popular and all the "to read" lists.  But by halfway through I was thinking, enough already, let's get it over with whatever "it" is. Maybe I just don't care for this author. I only got about a quarter of the way through her novel Sharp Objects before I had enough of it. I do know that not a single character in this story is likable. The only other book I can readily say that about is Lolita, which at least had the redeeming quality of Nabokov's beautiful writing. If the author's purpose in writing this book was to show just how dysfunctionally evil and stupid people can be or perhaps to cause a visceral reaction in the reader, for good or ill, then she succeeded. However, she also succeeded in dragging the story out much longer than was necessary.

I could pee on this

I could pee on this and other poems by cats / Francesco Marciuliano 111 pgs.

I've confessed my ignorance about poetry several times on this blog but I intend to keep trying.  When this volume passed by, I could not help myself.  I may not know much about poetry but I think I'm pretty good about cats.  Sure enough, I understood most of the contents.  Whether wondering why a human acts upset upon receipt of a gift or wondering about the familial relationship with hamster, or unlocking the mysteries of the laser pointer, this is the kind of poetry I can really understand.  Ooops, I think I just ranked my intellect as about equal to creatures with a walnut sized brain. Oh well, they sure are cute plus, how bad can I feel, this book currently has 7 holds! 

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The Emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer

The emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee  571 pgs.

It took me awhile to read this book, not because it isn't well written or compelling but at times it is difficult to realize how far we have to go with this cancer thing.  Of course it has come very far since the days of discovery.  The struggles and breakthroughs in research are all here.  Of course there are untold others who tried different research angles and made no headway.  I guess that is what was so overwhelming about this book, it really makes you think and also makes you reflect on the gift of good health.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

God is Not a Christian

God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations by Desmond Tutu  256 pp.

In 1993 I heard then Archbishop Tutu give a dynamic talk at the United Church of Christ International Synod in St. Louis. I have been enamored of this dynamic, if tiny, man ever since. This book is a collection of some of his most powerful speeches and sermons of the last 40 years. They include the apartheid struggle in South Africa, the fall of the Berlin wall, genocide in Rwanda, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and gay civil rights. The basis of all his writings is the philosophy of Ubuntu or the fact that every human being has worth. There's a lot to think about and applaud in this little book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin / Erik Larson 448 p.

Others have blogged about this before me and I doubt I have anything new to add. Karen's post summarizes the details perfectly: this is the story of William Dodd, ambassador to Germany in the early thirties.  He was an academic and a decent man who saw that Hitler's Germany was heading in a disastrous direction and tried to act morally in the face of that.  But he did what academics do - he wrote correspondence and briefs, he gave speeches which were condemnatory but so graceful and scholarly that they landed like feathers rather than the hammer blows that were needed.  In the end he was recalled because even his mild protests were too annoying to the Germans and the American diplomats who were of the appeasement school. 

And then there was his daughter, who features largely in the book because of her many 'friendships' with various powerful German men of the day.  So I guess I'm a prude, but I found myself distracted throughout the book by her easy virtue.  And I wondered, frankly, what in the world she was using for birth control in those Dark Ages of women's reproductive health, because she certainly would have needed something.  Sheesh.  But that's a digression.  Dodd and his daughter are two people for whom it's hard to feel much enthusiasm; it's to Larson's credit that he makes their story such a fascinating read.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank: Stories / Nathan Englander 207 p.

If I hadn't read this immediately after Etgar Keret's book (see my previous post, below) I would have said this was the best collection of short stories I'd read in a long time.  So this is the second best.  These stories are deeply engrossing and painful at the same time, depicting situations of excruciating cruelty, both psychological and sometimes physical.  Although varied in setting, they have a common theme: if viciousness is a germ, then the Holocaust was its most powerful vector, yielding acts of heartlessness that spread out and multiply in infinite directions.  (OK, that's an awful metaphor - sorry.) The final story, Free Fruit for Young Widows, attempts to answer the question of where and how the cycle of cruelty may cease, and is a fitting end. 

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door / Etgar Keret 189 p.

This book leaves me speechless (or whatever the writing equivalent of speechless is: I just don't know what to say about it).  Israel's Keret packs this slim volume with short stories so brief and seemingly innocuous that their power amazes me.  They are dry, funny, not quite real, and sharp but not cruel.  In Lieland, a man stumbles across a hole in the ground which leads to a land where he meets all the lies he's ever told.  In Teamwork a father and toddler son plot revenge against an abusive babysitter.  A man tells us the contents of his pockets - that's it, really, the whole story - and it's moving.  (The title, of course, is What Do We Have in Our Pockets?)  My favorite of the collection is What, of This Goldfish, Would You Wish? in which a man making a documentary of the wishes of ordinary people encounters something unusual.  Keret's writing looks easy at first glance  - you think, 'I could write that.'  If it were easy, though, someone else would have written these a long time ago.

The Unwritten, vol. 6

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words [vol. 6]
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, 240 pages

Yay! Stuff is starting to make sense! Tom(my) Taylor and his cohorts continue on their mission to defeat the mysterious cabal that controls world events through storytelling (at least, I think that's what they do). Meanwhile, we finally get a backstory, told through the diary entries of Tom(my)'s father/creator (still not sure if Tom(my) is real or fictional). As I type this, I realize that this story is still really murky, despite all of the backstory and the fact that this volume brings the end of the initial story arc. Perhaps the next arc will be clearer, though somehow I doubt it.

Where'd you go, Bernadette

Where'd you go, Bernadette / Maria Semple 330 pgs.

Bernadette Fox is kind of a classic genius but she is kind of in a rut and maybe not having the best life right now.  She adores and is focused on her daughter Bee but the rest of her energies remain, shall we say, unfocused.  Over time, this can only get her into trouble...which it does.  She has a bit of a disagreement with her neighbor and maybe it is actually everyone.  She doesn't like living where she lives and she and her husband seem to be losing touch with each other.  So what is the answer to these doldrums?  I don't want to spoil anything but an exotic trip is a good start and a rushed exit is sort of required during the "intervention" that is being staged at her house with the hopes of getting her to voluntarily enter a "treatment facility".  No way that is acceptable to Bernadette so she goes on the lam with the unexpected aid of a former enemy.  This book is a lot of fun and hard to put down once you start.  Bernadette is a very interesting character as is her daughter.  This is the second book I've read this month that features employees of a recognizable high tech this becoming a "thing" in literature?

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The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food / Lizzie Collingham 634 p.

I read this over a period of many months, so I apologize if my memory for details is sketchy.  Collingham looks at all the major players in the war and examines their agricultural and food distribution situations both before and during the war, and the impact these had on the war's outcome.  She makes the case that the effects were enormous, and after reading her careful, massively researched work, I have to agree.

On the one hand, this is a tedious read.  Each chapter takes us through the dry bones of climate and soil conditions around the globe, and how government bureaucrats everywhere decided what to keep for their populations, what to export, and how to balance the needs of hungry armies against hungrier and potentially restive civilian populations.  (The Nazis, for example, were deeply determined not to repeat Germany's WWI mistake of allowing the German people to starve while that war dragged on, badly weakening civilian morale.)  We learn how many daily calories a front-line soldier needs compared to the requirements of a munitions worker who must walk miles back and forth to work; the detail I'll never forget is how to avoid scurvy during the lean times: boil pine needles and drink the resulting tea.  It will taste bad, but you'll get your vitamin C (and keep your teeth, presumably).

Impossible to summarize, but in spite of its repetitive narrative structure, this was an outstanding work.  The Russians earned Collingham's respect, appearing to achieve the most while making do with very little, their earlier experiences with deprivation having taught them survival tricks such as the pine needle tea.  The section on the Japanese was most interesting to me.  The emperor and his military brass sent their soldiers to remote islands all over the Pacific, with no supply lines or concrete plans to get the poor men provisions.  They were meant to survive, instead, through their special Japanese warrior spirit, which would enable them to live off the land and keep fighting with nothing but grass to eat.  It didn't work, of course, and the number of Japanese soldiers who starved in comparison to the combat death toll is truly disgraceful.  Ultimately everything you've learned about the war sounds a little different once you've read this work.

Monday, November 19, 2012

One last thing before I go

One last thing before I go /Jonathan Tropper 324 pgs.

If you haven't had the most successful or satisfying life and you found out that you had a correctable medical condition that left alone would kill you, would you have to give it much thought?  Drew Silver is thinking this one through...his failed marriage and poor attempt at fatherhood plus his lack of success in work and just about any other aspect of his life make him decide there isn't really a reason to continue living.  A heart problem that will kill him sooner rather than later if untreated is the perfect way to sign off.  His friends at the "divorced guys" dumping ground of an apartment complex are a constant reminder of his many failures yet turn out to be very supportive.  His parents are, understandably upset with his decision and are trying to  make him change his mind but all he can think about is how he has disappointed them for many years.

Although this doesn't sound like a light and fun topic, this book certainly is a joy to read.  I loved the honest thought process and the side effect of the health scare that leads to Silver saying things out loud that he thinks he is only thinking.  Great book.
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Illuminations: a novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt  274 pp.

This is a fictional account of the life of the medieval nun and mystic, Hildegard von Bingen. It is based on actual documents on Hildegard's life. The story begins when the child Hildegard is offered to the church as a tithe. She is cloistered in a small room with a devout young woman from a wealthy family as her servant. Hildegard has visions which lead her to fame as a sibyl of the church and becomes the teacher of other young women. Eventually she rebels against the greedy abbot of the monastery and finds a way to establish her own convent. The author acknowledges that some of the characterizations are her own creations or composites of actual people from Hildegard's life. The book is well written and the story is interesting. I enjoyed it a lot.

Secrets of Eden

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian  370 pp.

I liked Bohjalian's novels The Night Strangers and The Sandcastle Girls. However I had some problems with this one. The basic premise is fine. Alice Hayward is brutally murdered by her abusive husband who is believed to have committed suicide afterward. When it turns out he was murdered by someone after having killed his wife, the suspicions turns on the Stephen, local church pastor, who had baptized the woman the day of her murder. Stephen has lost his faith and leaves the small New England town right after Alice's funeral which adds to the suspicions about him. Add to the mix a New Age author of books about angels whose parents died under similar circumstances who comes to town to provide comfort for the Hayward's teenage daughter and ends up involved with Stephen. Lots of secrets are eventually revealed along with the identity of the murderer. The main problem with this book is too many narrators. I'm not sure what the author's intent was but it is narrated, in part, by almost all the main characters. That was a bit much, especially since all but one add to the suspicions about Stephen. In addition, the fact that the friends and neighbors are allowed to scrub away all the blood & brains from the victims' house when the police are still present at the crime scene, is a laughable detail that any police officer would tell you would never happen. Personally, I thought Alice's best friend did it but I'm not saying if she was really the killer. 

Beasts of Burden

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson  180 pp.

A group of pets, mostly dogs with a couple cats, investigate mysterious deaths of other animals. With the help of spirit guardian dogs they battle supernatural forces including zombies, witches, rats, a plague of frogs and more. The premise is interesting and the artwork is well done. The animals have individual personalities down to the complaining little pug who kind of reminds me of Frank in Men In Black 2.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Warm Bodies / Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, 256 pages.  Narrated by Kevin Kenerly, Audio length: 7 hours, 59 minutes.

    R is your average guy (for a zombie).  He has a job (hunting down the few remaining human survivors), he's married (to a zombie woman) and has kids (zombie kids)  He even goes to church (yeah, a zombie church).  But that's really not enough for R.  Somehow, he just finds it hollow and meaningless, like he's just shambling through life without any real purpose.  His wife leaves him for another shuffling undead monstrosity, but he finds it just doesn't affect him all that much.  After indulging in some recreational brain eating, he finds something that catches his interest like nothing else: a living girl named Julie.  But rather than kill her and consume her sweet, delicious brains, he finds he has the urge to keep her alive and protect her.  Awesomeness ensues.  

    Warm Bodies is, fundamentally, a story about defiance, hope, and fulfillment.  I've found that most stories in the zombie apocalypse genre focus on accepting the inevitable nature of a bleak situation and moving on, but this story has a diametrically opposed spirit.  It screams at the you to reject inevitabilities and embrace the things you think are impossible.  

    Maybe it's a goal that you're just too old and tired to accomplish, an unrequited love you have no chance of winning over, or a cure for a civilization-killing zombie plague: The things that you hope for may be impossible, but that doesn't make them worthless or dumb.  Our aspirations shape us and energize us.  They carry us from what we are to what we can be.  They pull us out of the rigor mortis of normality– that grey haze in which we find ourselves doing the same thing, day after day, because we can and it's easy– and force us to confront both life's limitations and it's possibilities.  

    R's story shows the reader that a life without something impossible to strive for is one that's mostly dead.  True, there's little in the way of pain or fear in that kind of life, but it also lacks the joy and exhilaration that impossible something inspires in you. And sometimes, every once in a while, the impossible turns out not to be.  

    Read this book, you won't regret it. 

P.S.: The movie version comes out next year, here's a link to the trailer:

October Totals

Totals for October.  As always, let me know if you think I made a mistake (math is not my strong point!).  Also, a big welcome to all the new bloggers this month!  Aaron, David F. and Donald all shared their first entries in October, which makes it a big month!


Karen:  11/3372
Christa:  10/2867
Mercedes:  9/3113
Annie:  7/1656
David F.:  1/296
Linda:  6/1755
Kara:  7/1472
Aaron:  1/224
Kathleen:  8/2409
Donald:  2/740
Patrick:  4/1365
Marilyn:  1/558

Total:  67 books, 19,827 pages

Donald wins this month's prize for best entry, and Aaron wins this month's random drawing.  Congrats to everyone for blogging! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan 288 pgs.

This book is so much fun.  Clay Jannon loses his less than satisfying day job as a web designer and ends up the night clerk at this odd bookstore where there is rarely ever a sale but several people come in to borrow from a special collection.  Wonder why this appeals to a librarian so much?  This fast-paced fable entertains and gets you thinking about the value of books and knowledge and also gives you a view of the digital divide.  You know some people aren't Internet addicts by choice.

Sketchbook challenge

The sketchbook challenge:  techniques, prompts, and inspiration for achieving your creative goals  by Sue Bleiweiss 144 pgs.

This book has some great ideas to prompt your creativity.  I'm not much of an artist but thought some of the concepts could be modified for use in any creative pursuit.  I also liked learning about some of the techniques the featured artists used in making their books.  Food for thought.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 419 pages

OK, so I'm reading Gone Girl, thinking "This is an OK story about a guy dealing with and trying to solve his wife's disappearance on their fifth anniversary." It's interesting, how Flynn alternates chapters between the husband Nick's post-disappearance point of view and wife Amy's pre-disappearance diary entries. Nice view of a crumbling marriage, and interesting to think about how the marriage went from the halcyon early days to the monotonous. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

Then  POW! About a third of the way through the book, Flynn whips us around a left-turn so sharp that I've still got whiplash a week later. Totally did not see that coming. I don't want to give anything away, but Flynn is as manipulative in her writing as her characters are to one another. I shouldn't like being manipulated like that, but I do. Awesome book. I'll be interested to hear what the book group thinks of it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shades of Grey--No, not THAT one!

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde  388 pp.

Chromatacia is a dystopian world where people are divided into restricted social castes by their ability to sense color. After the "Something That Happened" people lost the ability to see the full spectrum. The "Colotocracy" that evolved puts people in a strictly regimented hierarchy with Purples at the top and Greys at the bottom, complementary colors are not allowed to mix, and where spoons are of prime importance. The ruling Colour Collective has also instituted successive "Leap Backs" which outlaw more and more technological advances from the time before the "Something...." Eddie Russet is sent to a town on the "outer fringes" where he runs afoul of the local prefects, falls in love with a woman who would just as soon kill him, ends up engaged to a woman he doesn't like, gets sent on a mission that he probably will not survive, discovers horrible things about the collective, and battles man eating plants. Yeah, it's weird, and I kept hoping it would get better. This one falls short of Fforde's "Thursday Next" novels. And I find it strange that this is the second book I've read recently where spoons play an important part.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Only Yesterday / Frederick Lewis Allen

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's by Frederick Lewis Allen, 338 pages, Audio: 11 hours, 38 minutes, Narrator: Grover Gardner

Before reading this book, I knew almost nothing about America in the 1920s (which would have qualified me for a senior position in the Harding administration), and it provided a pleasant and irreverent means of dispelling my ignorance. 

Allen covers the last few years of the Wilson administration through the beginning of the Great Depression, but while he discusses some of the more noteworthy political events/scandals of the time, the book also covers the social and cultural aspects of life in the 1920s.  Only Yesterday synopsis of the 1920s reminded me so much of the last decade I was shocked to discover the book was written in 1931. 

Allen writes like a friend, like someone sitting in the armchair across from you, telling you a story.  Gardner, the narrator, perfectly captures his acerbic wit, at times adding a cadence that reminds one of the local yenta dishing out some juicy gossip.  I highly recommend it. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Batman: Death by Design/Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor

Batman:  Death by Design by Chip Kidd (writer) and Dave Taylor (art); graphic novel; 112 pages

A quick, fun story set early in Batman's career.  On the eve of the demolition of Wayne Central Station, the deteriorating landmark built by Bruce Wayne's father, a massive crane collapse injures dozens in downtown Gotham.  Batman must juggle his investigation into this "accident" with his fight to demolish his father's last gift to Gotham and replace it with a more modern (and structurally stable) design.

The art in this volume was NOT my thing.  It's all pencil sketches, which were then "inked" with graphite, so while it fits the theme of the story (the whole thing looks like something from an architectural draughtsman), it just wasn't my cup of tea.  The story is fun (in a Golden Age kind of way), but some of the storytelling devices they use weren't quite right (as an example:  at one point, Bruce Wayne tells someone that his schedule is "erratic"; the next page flashes to "Two weeks later" and shows Batman battling the Penguin; the next  page begins with "back to now" and cuts back to the previous conversation.  I get the idea, but it could have been handled better.  Then again, I might be a nit-picking English major...). 

The Raven Boys/Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle book 1); young adult, fantasy; 416 pages

Blue has grown up as the only normal person in a house full of psychics.  All her life she's been told that the first time she kisses her true love, he will die.  It never seemed real to Blue, until she encounters the spirit of a young man in a churchyard, who is destined to either be her true love, or to be killed by her own hand.  The tiny town of Henrietta, VA, doesn't have much claim to fame:  just the elite boy's boarding school (Aglionby, whose crest--a raven--gives its students their nicknames, Raven Boys).  Blue's ghost is a Raven Boy, and Raven Boys seldom interact with townies, so it should be easy to avoid them, shouldn't it? 

As you can imagine, the story doesn't really take off until Blue inevitably crosses paths with a group of Raven Boys:  Adam, a local boy attending Aglionby on scholarship; Ronan, whose father died the year before under mysterious circumstances; Noah, a quiet shadow of a teenager; and Gansey, a wealthy treasure hunter who's set his sights on Henrietta as his next big discovery.  Gansey has enlisted his friends to help him find the burial place of Glendower, a half-mythical Welsh king believed to be buried in the mountains of Virginia.  Legend has it that the person who wakes the sleeping king with be granted a powerful gift, and as Gansey's group (aided by Blue) draws closer to the truth, they start to encounter other, darker searchers in competition. 

I admit, I was underwhelmed with Stiefvater's last few books, but I was so in love with her contributions to The Curiosities, that I decided to give her another try.  What I figured out is that I just need to be more patient with her longer books:  I loved this, but it's not a fast read by any stretch of the imagination.  There's not a lot of action here, but there's enough great character development and real life issues to make it a compelling read. It was worth reading the whole book just to get some of the gorgeous imagery that's included here (Cabeswater, in particular is amazing!).  There's a lot of groundwork laid in this volume, and while the ending was a little cloudy, I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in this series. 

When Fairies Go Bad

When Fairies Go Bad (Dragonbreath #7) by Ursula Vernon   201 pp.

I am a big fan of this quirky kid's series. In this episode, Danny Dragonbreath's mother is lured into a fairy ring of mushrooms and disappears. Danny, his best friend Wendell the iguana, and Christiana the crested lizard set out to save her. They first consult Danny's great-grandfather, who is a bit hard of hearing and thinks Wendell's name is Wanda. He gives the kids instructions on how to get to and navigate the world of Faerie (you can get there on the bus) and the tools needed to deal with the residents there. It all involves spoons and a magic incantation. Along the way they meet odd characters who try to stop them from their mission. And Danny is getting a little better (very little) at breathing fire. All ends up well as long as you don't need a spoon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marie Curie and her daughters

Marie Curie and her daughters: the private lives of science's first family by Shelley Emling

Marie Curie is really the "mother" of science...but even that description implies that she was an impressive woman scientist when in actuality, she was an impressive scientist and the woman part has little to do with it.

Marie won two Nobel prizes, each in a different scientific field.  She was dedicated to education, her family and improving opportunities for women in the sciences.  Her daughters are also very impressive.  Irene went on to win her own Nobel Prize and Eve was a successful writer and was also called the First Lady of UNICEF.  She was a world traveler and advocate for peace, children and human rights.  Eve was also the only one of the family that did not suffer from some form of radiation poisoning.

This is a great book that focuses on the relationships of Marie and her daughters but also talks about their innovative work and accomplishments.  Inspiring.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wood Finishing 101: The Step-by-Step Guide by Bob Flexner

Wood Finishing 101: The Step-by-Step Guide by Bob Flexner

As a recent transplant with few belongings, I found myself in need of furniture for my new apartment. Despite my plush salary from the library, I surprisingly didn't have enough Benjamins in the bank to lavish my space with goodies from World Market. Frustrated with the quality of items in the free section on Craigslist and the Goodwill Outlet Store, I decided to try making some of my own furniture from scrap wood. I've been carpentry-curious for a while, but had never taken the full plunge into the woodworking world, largely because it seemed so overwhelming. This book is great for beginners like me! It has pictures with step-by-step guides for each type of job. Many books that claim to have "beginner" projects in them still use jargon that make me feel like I'll never be able to learn on my own. This book breaks down all the intricate details into understandable language. It was just what I needed to get the ball rolling on my first project and helped me gain the confidence to explore even further.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman  325 pp.

This was a re-read of Gaiman's Newbery Award winner in preparation of my upcoming Treehouse Book Club discussion. A murderer stabs a father, mother, and daughter to death but the toddler escapes to a nearby cemetery where he is taken in by the residents, ghosts from various eras in history. The boy has been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a ghost couple, who give him the name of Nobody Owens, nicknamed Bod. The murderer is part of a sinister group that still wants the child dead but as long as he is under the protection of the cemetery they can't find him. Bod learns various ghostly skills from his fellow cemetery dwellers even though he is a live boy. Eventually he wants to go to school in the town. Becoming known in the town ultimately brings about the showdown with the evil Jacks. This book is entertaining and intriguing and worthy of its award. This edition also includes Gaiman's answers to questions he received from children and his Newbery acceptance speech.

A bad day for mercy

A bad day for mercy by Sophie Littlefield 260 pgs.

Stella Hardesty is at it again.  This time her sister calls with a family problem.  She received her step-son's ear in a package asking for $30,000.  Could Stella look into this for her?  Of course things turn out "interesting" and Stella has a good time with a teen age stowaway, the step nephew and his new girlfriend.  Oh yea, the girlfriend is married and her husband turns up dead...gee, I wonder who is responsible?

Still loving this series and anxiously wanting Stella to get laid.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Locke and Key. Volume 5. Clockworks

Locke and Key. Volume 5. Clockworks written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez, 152 pages

FINALLY a backstory! Don't get me wrong, this series is fantastic. But for some time now, I've been wondering about how all of these magic keys and Zack/scary echo lady/Dodge came to be. The antics of Tyler, Kinsey and Bode (who's no longer quite himself) take a backseat here, as Tyler and Kinsey have stumbled on a time-machine key that takes them back to the origins of the Omega Key, the rest of the keys and Keyhouse itself. This is an excellent installation in the series, and yes, definitely much needed, considering the story's due to wrap up in Volume 6. Can't wait to read it, but I'll be sad when this tale comes to an end.

The Chicken Chronicles

The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the angels who have returned my memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses, and Babe by Alice Walker  186 pp.

Yes, the title of this is nearly as long as the book itself. This book was created from Walker's blogs about her chickens who became like family members to her. She named them, observed them, respected them, grew to love them, mourned the ones who died, and wrote "letters" home to them while on trips abroad, telling them of meetings with the Dalai Lama and others. The lives of the chickens become a metaphor for the joys and struggles of life itself. And, as the title says, the chickens become a vehicle that sparks memories of Walker's past that she had forgotten. This book is charming, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and will probably teach you more about chickens than you ever wanted to know, unless you decide to raise them.

My contact with chickens pretty much ended at age four when my grandmother built a new house and no longer had a chicken yard. I do have memories of gathering eggs with her, watching her mix up mash, and feeding them. My brother and sister remember her killing chickens for dinner but they are several years older than me. I don't know that Grandma ever sat in the yard just observing the chickens while pondering their lives like Walker. I'm pretty sure she would have viewed it as a waste of time.

Do Not Ask What Good We Do

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives by Robert Draper, 352 pages, Audio: 11 hours and 18 minutes

First, if you're not familiar with audiobooks, 11 hours may seem like a lot of book.  It's not.  In fact, it's of barely middling length (for comparison, Justin Cronin's behemoth tome The Passage weighs in at a few minutes shy of 37 hours).  That said, this book hits the ground running with an engaging narrative of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle and felt far shorter than 11 hours.

That's an impressive accomplishment, considering the book's subject is Congress.  Remember the old joke about the horse and the camel?  "The horse is an animal, designed by God; the camel is is a horse, designed by committee."  Well, Congress is a committee, designed by committee.  It's an...inelegant body, which makes understanding its internal processes difficult.  This book isn't an intricate dissection of parliamentary minutiae, it simply shows how the institution works, and how it doesn't. 

At the end of the book you'll find yourself hoping that Draper writes a sequel.  You'll want to know what happens next to the Congressmen he covers in-depth throughout the book.  I can overstate how rare it is find someone who makes Congress interesting.  Draper makes it fascinating. 

A Robert Kaplan Double Feature

This post reviews the two following books:  
Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground  448 pages, Audio: 18 hours, 38 minutes;
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground
448 pages, Audio: 17 hours, 10 minutes
by Robert Kaplan,

The Good 
                Kaplan gives an interesting introduction to how the American military operates at the lowest levels.  Both books give a great deal of attention to the cultural differences in the various military branches, and the differences in lifestyle that each service imposes: the high-tech claustrophobia of a Navy submarine, the spartan austerity of a Marine Corps barracks, and the relative opulence of an Army or Air Force base.  If you're a layman, like me, you'll walk away from this book with a better understanding of how a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman lives and works, and also how he or she tends to view the world. 

The Bad
              Try as hard as I might, I couldn't easily discern Kaplan's political inclinations, which is to his credit.   What comes through loud and clear, however, is a vague but disturbingly intense form of uber-patriotism which makes me imagine Kaplan violently bursting into tears every time he sees a Norman Rockwell painting.  He views American military history through thoroughly rose-colored glasses, explicitly subscribing to the view that wherever the American military goes, Freedom follows.  Somehow I suspect a few people in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar (as well as anyone living on an Indian reservation) might disagree. 

          I recommend both books, but set your bull filter to high whenever Kaplan meanders away from the gritty details of military life and starts musing upon grand strategy, politics and history. For a more in-depth (and learned) critique of Kaplan's work see Tom Bissell's piece "Euphorias of Perrier: The Case Against Robert D. Kaplan" in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2006, Vol. 82 Issue 3, p235-252.