Sunday, June 30, 2013


Digger by Ursula Vernon
Volume one-131 pages
Volume two-127 pages
Volume three-156 pages
Volume four-114 pages
Volume five-144 pages
Volume six-159 pages

I wish to add my recommendation to those of my colleagues for this excellent series of graphic novels. The characters and the story are great and the art is wonderful!

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Right as Rain

Right as Rain by George Pelecanos. 332 pages.

All of Pelecanos's books deal, on some level, with relations between people of different races, backgrounds, and outlooks. Right as Rain, the first book featuring Derek Strange and Terry Quinn places the relations between blacks and whites in Washington D.C. in the center of it's main storyline. Strange is hired by the mother of a slain police officer to clear her son's name. He was off-duty at the time of his death, and shot by a fellow DC police officer. The dead officer was black. He was shot while holding a gun on a white civilian.  The officer who shot him was also white, and while he was cleared of all charges, he ended up leaving the force. Because of the murky circumstances surrounding the shooting and the circumstances leading up to it, both officers reputations suffer.
The secondary storyline in Right as Rain was a little less satisfying than most Pelecanos stories.

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Altar of Venus

Altar of Venus by Anonymous. 288 pages.
One of the few works listed with the Erotic Literature subject heading in our Overdrive collection. 

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations by David Ferry. 113 pages.

This beautiful collection of poems is lyrical and accessible to the average reader (maybe I'm giving myself too much credit, reading-level wise). I really enjoyed and heartily recommend this book, even for those who are normally luke-warm about poetry. And it won the 2012 National Book Award for poetry, so I don't think I'm alone here in that opinion.

Hell To Pay

Hell To Pay by George Pelecanos, 344 pages.

Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, both ex-cops now working as private investigators, return in this somewhat grim and noire-ish novel set (as is most of Pelecanos's work) in the meaner streets of our nation's Capitol.
Reading this, it is easy to see why Pelecanos was asked to write so many episodes off HBO's excellent drama The Wire.
The last volume featuring this duo of detectives.
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The Score

The Score by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke, 138 pages.

The graphic novel version of one of Stark's original Parker novels from the 1960's. In this book, Parker and a gang of like-minded individuals plan to rob an isolated town on the night that a large cash shipment arrives. Something goes wrong- but then something always goes wrong in a Parker story.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dave Store Massacre

The Dave Store Massacre by Ron Ebest 219 pgs.

A great book by a local author.  Dave Store does bear some resemblance to a store you might know but I'm sure all of the information contained within this book is purely fictional  The action takes place in Jackson, MO where the workers of the last remaining town enterprise decide to strike.  Chaos ensues.  But this isn't just a story of labor vs. management, there is also a budding romance between the town mayor and the police chief.  Enjoyable book.

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Good Enough

Good Enough by Paula Yoo  322 pp.

Patti's parents want only the best for their daughter so they have raised her under the pressure of being perfect. In her senior year of high school, Patti spends all her time studying, doing practice SAT tests, and practicing her violin all to get her SAT score up to 2300 and earn admission into Harvard/Yale/Princeton. The pressure to be a "Perfect Korean Daughter" is getting to her and she starts to very small ways. She develops a friendship with a new boy, and fellow musician at her school who teaches her about popular music and jams with her without her parents' knowledge. Her Korean-American church friends, who are similarly pressured, help her to sneak off to a concert with her friend. Her ultimate rebellion (if you can really call it that) is applying and auditioning for Juilliard behind her parents' back even though she knows they don't want her to make music her career choice. Of course, Patti gets caught in her deceptions and a confrontation with her parents is inevitable. This debut book by a Korean-American author is very well done and accurately shows the pressures many high school students have placed on them.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, 328 pages

Set in 1986, Eleanor & Park is a first-love story between red-headed, poverty-stricken Eleanor and Park, the only Asian American in Omaha (or so it would seem). The pair first meets on the bus to school, when Park takes pity on the poor new girl and allows her to share a seat with him. Soon, they start bonding over comic books and music. Rowell writes a great slow-burning love story that's also a complete page-turner. It's reminiscent of Daniel Handler's excellent Why We Broke Up, but unlike in that book, the reader doesn't know how this one's going to end. Rowell does a great job keeping us guessing, up to and beyond the last page. I particularly like the fact that this story is told through both main characters' points of view, which adds insight that is lacking in just about every teen love story I've read. It's sweet and kind of sad, but still fills the reader with lots of warm fuzzies.

Maya's Notebook

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende 387 pp.

This is another good novel by one of my favorite authors. It doesn't surpass my favorite (Portrait in Sepia) but it ranks with her better books. Troubled nineteen year old Maya Vidal is given the task of keeping a journal. She prefers to call it a notebook. In it she recounts the events in her life that led up to her living on the Chilean island of Chiloe, hiding out from the police and criminals who are searching for her. Maya was raised in Berkeley by her unconventional grandparents, Nini and Popo. After the death of her beloved Popo Maya's life goes off the rails. Eventually she is homeless, drug addicted and on the run from the members of an international counterfeit ring in Las Vegas. Her gritty life on the street contrasts with her life in the small island village her grandmother sends her to after rehab. Allende doesn't pull any punches in describing the seamier side of Maya's life and the parts that take place in Chile are reminiscent of her earlier novels.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

May we be forgiven, by A. M. Homes

By page 15, George Silver, a wealthy and successful TV network executive, has run a stoplight, killing two out of three occupants in a van; been arrested and released; and has come home and dealt a fatal blow to his wife.  But this isn’t his story, it’s his brother Harold’s.  Although Harold, a rather colorless history professor specializing in Richard Nixon and his era, is the older brother by 11 months, acquaintances always assume successful, and volatile, George is the elder.  To say Harold’s life changes radically after his brother is committed to a series of bizarre institutions while awaiting trial would be an understatement.  Almost 500 pages and a year after the opening events, Harold has been divorced by his wife;  dabbled in Internet sex; taken on his brother’s adolescent son and daughter as well as the child left orphaned by the crash and elderly parents of a mysterious and casual sexual partner; been involved in international intrigue; lost his teaching position; and on and on.  Somehow, Homes pulls this all off although one does feel that Job had it easy compared to Harold. Nate and Ashley, George’s children are particularly well-drawn.  The dark spirit of Nixon hangs over the tale.  Odd, often funny, and a page-turner.  480 pp.

Alphabet Juice

Alphabet Juice: the energies, gists, and spirits of letters, words and combinations thereof: their roots, bones, innards, piths, pips, and secret parts, tinctures, tonics, and essences; with examples of their usage foul and savory by Roy Blount, Jr., 364 pages, 4 discs on audiobook

Would you look at that title? It's obvious right there that Blount loves his words, and the rest of the book offers plenty of evidence to back up that assumption. Blount delves into the history of each letter in the English alphabet, and expounds upon the etymology of select words that start with or feature each letter. Sounds like it could be bland, but it's not; instead, it's full of snarkiness and amusing anecdotes (for example, the chapter on W has a story about Wilt Chamberlain and his discussion of "neologism" includes a detour through the writings of Pauline Kael) with more than a touch of crotchety grammarian sniping. 

This is a fascinating book, made all the better in audio format. Blount's southern twang is on full display as he reads the book, and his use of onomatopoeia makes me wonder how this would even fare as a silent read. If nothing else, the reader would find him or herself mouthing along with the buzzes, pssts, and gargles (I know that's what I was doing in the car).

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz 0743564340 355 pages. audiobook read by Ari Graynor

Let me start this with a mea culpa. I never read abridged books. I never choose abridged audiobooks… but, until I was getting the bibliographic information for this, I discovered that this 6 disc audiobook was in fact an abridged work. Nevermind. Ari Graynor does a stellar job reading this book about a “wild family”. They have a family business – Spellman Investigations. Izzy, the narrator began working for her parents when she was 12; she is now 28 and ready to leave the business. She blames her family for her unlucky love life – she loses her boyfriend when he discovers that she did a background check on him and his family. After all, her parents do bug her bedroom and have no qualms about tailing her. It is actually the parents’ adversion to dentists that ruins her latest relationship. Her younger sister, Rae (14) disappears. It could be because she likes to “tail strangers” or perhaps she hangs out at unsavory dives after curfew. I learned my lesson. I am checking out the sequel to read, but I do recommend the Ari Graynor’s version for your intro to a non-typical, but highly entertaining detective family.

Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly illustrated by Clint Young 281 pages 9780805094138

One of the wildest characters in children’s lit is the irrepressible Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Jacqueline Kelly, Newbery Honor winning author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has resurrected Toad for a new adventure.  Toad has acquired a hot air balloon – but not quite learned how to pilot such a vehicle.  He cajoles Mole to join him for the chance to “fly” above the treetops. Needless to say, their flight is a wild one and triggers a nefarious plot by a group of weasels. Utterly charming, the author includes “helpful commentary, explanatory footnotes, and translation from the English Language into American”.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Batman: International

Batman:  International by Alan Grant, et al.; graphic novel; 168 pages

This book collects several story arcs and spans several decades, which makes it a really interesting study in Batman-through-the-ages.  Each arc is set abroad, when Batman (traveling as Bruce Wayne, of course) gets caught up in something in a strange city.  We get to see Batman in exotic locales like Edinburgh, Barcelona, and....somewhere in China, though that arc is sadly vague on the detail of place. 

This is a hard collection to review, because each arc is so vastly different from the other two.  My favorite is the first, in which Bruce Wayne faces off against a villain bent on destroying the McDubh clan of Scotland (who also happen to be Wayne's own extended family).  There are a lot of conspiracy elements in this one, which made it a fun read (bonus points for including Rosslyn Chapel before Dan Brown made it famous).  This arc is also interesting because it might be the first mention of Azrael, the brainwashed assassin we'll later know as Jean-Paul Valley in the Knightfall storyline.

The other two arcs were less exciting:  shorter stories and less appealing art made them forgettable.  Still this volume is well worth picking up for the first collection alone, or for anyone who might be interested in see Batman out of his native Gotham.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 406 pgs.

Vida Winter is the most popular author in the world.  She writes engaging stories and pretty much everyone has read her books.  Ms Winter is a bit of recluse but over the years, she has done several interviews, each of which has given the opportunity to provide a completely different and outlandish life history for herself.  Now the great author is nearing the end of her life.  She decides it is the time to tell the truth and thus hires a young biographer, Margaret Lea to tell her story.  Ms Lea and Ms Winter have more in common than meets the eye. Both have tragedy in their past that profoundly effects them but they are strong, intelligent and have coping skills. This is their story.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell 367 pp.

This latest book is also the end of the Kurt Wallender series. The title initially refers to retired high ranking naval officer H√Ękan von Enke who goes missing. As the story progresses it becomes obvious that the "troubled man" also describes Wallender himself. (An Amazon review said the title should have been "The Troubled Men") Wallender is not officially investigating the disappearance but has been working on it unofficially in cooperation with the authorities. The missing man in question is the future father-in-law of Wallender's daughter, Linda. Eventually von Enke's wife Louise goes missing and is later found dead. But where is von Enke and is he dead or alive? While all this is happening Wallender discovers connections to Cold War espionage from the 1960s-1980s. Throughout the book Wallender is dealing with multiple health issues, including memory black outs, and contemplating his descent into old age and eventual death. The birth of his granddaughter fuels his fears of dying. No spoilers here but I was disappointed in the very end of the book. There is a sudden shift from being inside Wallender's thoughts to the author just telling in rather drab and tacked on terms about the end of Wallender's career.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dad is fat

Dad is fat/Jim Gaffigan 274 pgs.

What should you do if one of your kids leaves a note that says, "Dad is fat" in a place where you can find it?  Perhaps your self esteem is so damaged that you end up laying around in  a depressed coma or if you are Jim Gaffigan, you write a book about how you love to eat and also love your kids, even the one who wrote the note.  Gaffigan is a stand up comedian and actor whose act is considered "clean" and whose family has grown to 5 children ages 8 to 6 months.  In the 8 years of reproductive madness, he and his wife have not moved from their original two bedroom apartment in New York City.  This book talks about the trials and tribulations of living in a small apartment in NYC with 5 kids and life before the kids.  It is pretty hilarious and I'm not even a fat dad.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dancers among us

Dancers among us: a celebration of joy in the everyday/ Jordan Matter 231 pgs.

This is a photo project that captures dancers "doing their thing" in everyday situations. The photos are staged, of course but they are not manipulated.  Everything you see was there and every situation was the result of the dancer themselves, no special equipment, no trampolines, etc.  The results are amazing.  The notes at the end about the photographs were really fun to read. I enjoyed hearing how many time "security" was called or the photographer and his subjects were threatened with police, etc. Inspiring book.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Man in the empty suit

Man in the empty suit/Sean Ferrell 306 pgs.

If you were a time traveler and a self proclaimed genius, how might you spend your time?  Going back in time and viewing significant events (check), going to the future and checking out what is happening (check), going to your own birthday party every year and spending it with a lot of yourself at different ages (check).  The year the narrator turns 39 is a significant one. He shows up in the best looking, best fitting suit ever and is king of the party...except for when he finds his 40 year old self dead...the victim of a gunshot wound.  This is also the first year anyone else is at the party.  The beautiful and mysterious Lily shows up, clearly invited, but by whom?  Some of the elders are very protective of her but some are clearly "untethered" from him and thus not really his future self.  The dead body DOES seem to be his future self so he has a year to solve this crime AND prevent it.  As with any time travel story, this one makes you think.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mary Coin, by Marissa Silver

The second novel revolving around photography I’ve read recently (Eight girls taking pictures being the other).  Both also are fictionalized accounts of real people and events.  The frame tale of this story concerns Walker Dodge, who in the first pages is going to see his dying father in California, and in the final chapters, after his father’s death, discovers the possible connection between his family and one of the most well-known American photographs, “Migrant Mother,” taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression.  The center of the book is its title character, “Mary Coin,” based on Florence Owens Thompson, the real subject of the photograph, and “Vera Dare,” the author’s imagined Dorothea Lange. In fact, a minor criticism of the book is that I got so caught up in their story, that when the action shifted back to near-present time almost 200 pages later, I briefly couldn’t remember who “Walker Dodge” was.  Obviously Mary Coin had a very difficult life as an Okie struggling to raise six children as a migrant worker in California.  But Vera Dodge’s was no walk in the park either.  The intersection of their lives produces the iconic photograph.  The description of the lives migrants lived (and I suspect still live in some areas) involve the reader in their struggles.  And the philosophical meaning photographs,  such as “Migrant Mother," is “an alchemy of fact and invention that produces something recognizable as the truth.  But it is not the truth.”  Neither is this book, but it could have been.  Recommended.  323 pp.