Friday, February 28, 2014

The Days of Anna Madrigal

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin  289 pp.

This is the ninth and final installment in Maupin's Tales of the City series. Mrs. Madrigal, the legendary transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco, is now 92 years old and frail. She no longer grows her own pot to share with her tenants but uses it medicinal since suffering a stroke. She is being cared for by a devoted caretaker named Jake Greenleaf. Her chosen family, former residents of Barbary Lane, have plotted to give her one last hurrah. She ends up on a road trip with Brian and his new wife, who take her back to Winnemucca, where she grew up living in her mother's brothel. Other "family" members, Michael and his husband Ben, Brian's daughter Shawna, and Mary Ann head for the Burning Man festival in Nevada. The trip to Winnemucca reveals the story of Anna/Andy's youth and the tragedy that caused hir to leave town. Some surprises occur but this is mostly a gentle exit for the woman who wants to "leave like a lady." I'm sorry to see the series end but the author leaves the reader still loving Mrs. Madrigal and his other characters. I must go back and reread the previous books.

I met Armistead Maupin in 1999 at the Gateway Men's Chorus concert 'Music for Michael Mouse: Songs Inspired by 'Tales of the City'." He read excerpts from his novels during the concert. And he was friendly and charming and very gracious to his fans.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, 288 pages
A 2014 Printz Honor book

Living in the harsh dystopia of the Motherland, the odds are further stacked against Standish Treadwell: with different colored eyes, he's dyslexic, his parents are gone, and his best friend, Hector, is also missing. Compounding all this is the fact that there is a Moon Man living in his basement when he should be on his way to the moon. Standish doesn't really harbor any illusions that his life will get better, but while Hector was around, he began to allow himself to imagine, dreaming of blasting off to the planet Juniper, where everything would be better. But just as things start to look really bad for him and his grandfather, he comes up with a plan to try and expose the Motherland to the rest of world.

Maggot Moon is an intense and compelling story. Sometimes I enjoy stories that drop me into the action, giving me the back story I need as I continue to read, especially when I'm dropped into such an intriguing world. But I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the story was meant to be some sort of historical fiction, an alternate history, or just using elements of those genres. Trying to figure out where the Motherland was didn't help - Standish's accent and name clearly makes him English, but the names of those who toe the party line were more Germanic; the Motherland salute was also very reminiscent of the Nazis. But those are my issues and not necessarily the story's, and, ultimately, I still found myself wrapped up in Standish's plot to expose the Motherland. Check it out if you're looking for a dystopia that is more in the vein of 1984 or A Brave New World.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Challenge)

1914 / Jean Echenoz 119 pages

The cover says this is a novel; its brevity and spareness put it in another category I don't have a name for.  Interesting and at times quite evocative, this is the story of five young French men from a small town in western France who go to the front.  I learned something interesting about body lice here (a plus), but was a little bored by a description of phantom limb pain.  (This has featured in so many novels that it's difficult to write something new about it; obviously for the sufferers it's important.)  Impossible to feel anything for the characters in this skim-the-surface treatment, but excellent writing.

Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-And-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen / Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion 240 pp.

I apologize in advance for departing from our theme.  Let's say that reading this book was like spying into the kitchens of two cooks and moms who really have their acts together.  If I take home a cookbook and have success with one recipe, I give it a thumbs up.  Keepers provided me with not one, or two, but at least three kitchen successes.  Brennan and Campion have a common-sense approach to cooking family meals: healthy and tasty, but not too difficult.    No cans of soup or casseroles covered with potato chips here, but these recipes yield genuinely yummy stuff in less than an hour, and your kitchen won't be a complete wreck either.  Try skillet lasagna (it really works!), orecchiette with peas and prosciutto, and a casserole whose name I can't remember with Italian sausage and white beans which was fabulous.  --Kathleen

Beautiful ruins, by Jess Walter

A present-day hapless young man, estranged from his wife and back to living in his parents’ basement developing movie pitches; a seriously ill actress alone in a tiny Italian village in 1962; a famous producer who has had so much “work done” he resembles a smooth-faced troll; a young woman questioning her dream job in Hollywood; a young Italian who has returned from Florence to run his father’s sad little hotel in a dying coastal village; a writer stuck forever in chapter one of the book about “his” war; Dick and Liz – yes, that Dick and Liz – on the set of Cleopatra.  The delight of this novel, which reads like a guilty-pleasure beach book but is far more complex and well-written, is how the author brings all these disparate characters together.  Wise, funny, a little heartbreaking and wonderful.   337 pp.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

One more thing

One more thing: stories and other stories / B.J. Novak 276 pgs

B.J. Novak may be better known as Ryan Howard on the television show The Office but if this book is any indication, soon he will be known as an author first.  I was willing to believe that this wouldn't be that funny or it would be a little too much like a fraternity guy book (and parts of it DID feature fraternity guys).  I was wrong.  It is funny, insightful, deep when it needed to be and shallow when it needed to be.  I'm an even bigger fan now.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fortunately the milk

I listened to this book and thoroughly enjoyed it.  This was my first Neil Gaiman audio book!! Whoo Hoo!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fortunately the milk

Fortunately the milk / Neil Gaiman 101 pgs.

What if your mom goes out of town on a business trip and you dad, who is a good guy but maybe not the "in charge" type, has to go out for some milk and takes a LONG time coming back.  Mostly you are worried about what you are going to eat for breakfast until you realize that you are going to get blamed for his disappearance. I mean, come on, whose fault would it be if not yours?  You and your sister discuss...and then finally he returns with the story of a wild adventure involving hot air balloons, aliens, pirates, dinosaurs, time travel and even more.  It is obvious what trouble it is to get to the store to get some milk or maybe you just don't really believe any of it. 

Listened to the audio that was read by the author.  A charming book

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Cooking Comically

Cooking Comically:  Recipes so easy you'll actually make them / Tyler Capps 186 pgs.

I have to agree with the title.  I've made 4 things from this cook book so far and will be visiting regularly to see what gets added.  I know lots of cook books have photos and simple instructions but there is something pretty great about that little line drawn chef telling me what to do and how easy it will be.

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Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green  221 pp.

John Green is one of my favorite Young Adult authors. His talent for writing the dialogue of teenagers, especially highly intelligent ones, is what makes his books so compelling. When I was a teenager, the kids he writes about are the ones I would have wanted to hang out with. In this novel, Miles transfers to a prep school in Alabama. With the help of his roommate, Chip, he becomes part of a small group who introduce him to drinking, smoking, sex, and pranks. But it is the death of Alaska, the beautiful, but troubled member of the group that changes the trajectory of Miles & Chip's attentions. Their obsessive search for the truth about Alaska's death - accident or suicide? - consumes them and changes their lives. This book won a Michael L. Printz Award for the best teen book in 2006.

Violent Cases

Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman  64 pp.

This is a reissue of a graphic novel based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. The story is narrated by Gaiman who is depicted as being behind bars. The jailed Gaiman reminisces about a time in his childhood when he was cared for by Al Capone's osteopath and witnesses events involving gangsters and a creepy magician. The title references the line "Gangsters had tommy guns,- which they kept in violent cases." It's a dark story and the illustrations by Dave McKean are dark and suit the story well. In addition to the story there are commentaries by Gaiman and Alan Moore as well as alternate cover illustrations.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, 272 pages
2014 Printz Award Winner

In 2073, Eric, a journalist, heads to a small Scandinavian island to write a story about its inhabitants. The residents of Blessed Island never die, but no children are born. The island is also home to a rare orchid, rumored to be a fountain of youth of sorts, yet the islanders seemingly have no desire to exploit this for their own gain. There he meets Merle, and finds himself immediately in love. But he can't shake the feeling of déjà vu, that this has all happened to him before. And it's not until the final moment that he realizes that it has happened before, but maybe not always in the same way or with the same faces.

Midwinterblood is a bit hard to describe, but that doesn't make it any less wonderful. Seven stories, all entertwined, tell the story of Eric and Merle, starting in 2073 and going back through the centuries. Each story contains certain elements: two people named Eric and Merle, the orchid in some form, a hare, a sacrifice (and more I'm probably missing). Collectively, it's a story of a love that endures, but it's not a romance, like you might expect from a young adult novel. And I think that what I love most about it is that it's about this love. It's a quiet book, yet each story is so effused with that love, that when you get to the last story and really get to the heart of why Eric and Merle have endured for so long, you feel sad for what could have been for them, yet happy for what was. Like many other Printz winners, this is one to recommend to anyone you know who doesn't think young adult books are any good, as well as the ones who do.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge)

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld
The collected cartoons from Gauld's run in The Guardian poke fun at famous authors, novels, and plays. He takes common scenes in novels, TV shows, and movies and turns them around in new and funny ways. Very enjoyable.
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Mind MGMT volume 1 by Matt Kindt

Mind MGMT Volume 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt, 200 pages
A YALSA 2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens

Meru, an investigative reporter, is adrift, searching for her next story. Two years ago, she wrote a bestseller, chronicling and solving a string of unsolved murder cases. She sees a news report about the anniversary of Flight 815 (no, not the one from Lost, but just as mysterious), whose passengers and crew all landed with their memories gone, with the exception of one seven year old boy. Even more mysterious is the fact that the plane departed with 121 passengers, yet arrived with 120. She decides to make this her next story, but her agent is skeptical - she's been down this road before, and came back with nothing. But he's willing to let her try again, and off she goes, searching for answers and that missing passenger, Henry Lyme. What she uncovers is the top secret Mind Management program, where gifted children are taught to use their mental prowess to warp the reality of others around them. They calm riots, ease peace talks, and control the public's collective memory through advertising. But some, including their own members, think they've gone too far and should be stopped.

I had heard about this book, but didn't know much about it other than it was pretty well loved by the comics people in my life. But man, am I glad I did. What I loved most was the idea: a shadowy organization, pulling the right strings at the right times to influence the world. And Matt Kindt (who's also a local author!)'s use of watercolors adds to the ethereal, dreamy quality of the story, further heightening Meru's uncertainty about what is happening to her. Kindt also manages to share with you what you need to know, while still leaving some mysteries unsolved to keep you coming back. If you're a fan of Lost or comics like Morning Glories then you definitely need to read this.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives And Times-By James Goss and Steve Tribe

If you like Doctor Who or if you want to get the info on both the classic and new series in one place then take a gander at  Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives And Times, a new overview of  five decades in time and space from authors James Goss and Steve Tribe.


Richly illustrated with articles, pictures and personal recollections from cast members and crew (past and present), this compendium spans the episodes and memorable moments of the first eleven Doctors.

Several former Doctors contribute essays, including Colin Baker, Peter Davison Paul McGann and Matt Smith. Current companion Jenna Coleman also contributes along with former assistants Katy Manning, Nicola Bryant, Lalla Ward, Billie Piper and Bonnie Langford. Strax himself, Dan Starkey also has a submission.

The book also features some wonderful bits from Neil Gaiman,  Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss and classic series scribe Terrance Dicks. New series showrunners Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies also comment on their favorite moments of the program's history.

It's a an easy read with sections covering each of the Eleven Doctors in detail. There's a lot of biographical info,episode guides and behind the scenes stuff. Every Doctor gets his moment in the sun as their respective tenures are stuffed to the gills with facts, photos, press clippings and personal recollections from folks associated with the program’s history.

The book is really dense. There's a lot of glossy photos and archived material to sort through but fans will love it. Plus Goss and Tribe take great relish in trying to solve some of the continuity conundrums left behind from five decades of travels in time and space.

Both writers do a great job of framing the respective eras in their proper context. The result is a spiffy read and well designed book that is tightly paced and well organized.

Travelling in the TARDIS has never been this much fun!  

On The Map-Simon Garfield

In this compelling read about what may first seem to be a dry subject Simon Garfield takes cartography to the streets with a fascinating narrative that reveals the history of many of the world's most interesting maps.

At a time before the Hubble telescope and the tools of modern astronomy their work was Earthcentric. Religion was a big deal and thus Jerusalem was usually at the center or Medieval maps in both the Christian and Muslim worlds.

In many cases cartographers were shaping the way people got around the world by using the Bible, known trade routes and traditional lore as navigation tools.

As maps became more vital they were placed in places of honor like monasteries, libraries or in the collection of learned nobles. As centuries passed maps became a reference guide of sorts for seeing how people throughout time viewed the world they lived in.

Garfield breaks his book down into digestible chapters focusing, in most cases, on a particular map. He then provides context for fascinating stories about how men like Claudius Ptolemy, Matthew Paris, Marco Polo and Winston Churchill influenced the the people of their times by making and studying maps.

Proving the world was round opened up a completely new world view to the travelers of the fifteenth century. As seafarers and explorers changed the configuration of the known world the globe became a new tool in cartography. The development of globes meant that the adventurous could now use expanded map techniques as a guide to a challenging new world.

The rules changed, as noted in Garfield's richly detailed history of all things map, when modern technology and advanced scientific study allowed for doctors to map the human brain.While not geographical in nature, mapping the brain allowed its own world of exploration that offered findings just as significant as the first globes.

Garfield's journey  also answers some intriguing questions as the book progresses, namely
why dragons are on maps, how maps were copied and most of all how they can be used as a barometer of their eras.

The future of maps and how they affect our changing times is also discussed and it is quite clear that Mr. Garfield is worried that our modern age will make the maps we know now obsolete.

On The Map ambitiously covers a lot of ground while focusing on the weird, strange, interesting and  historical world of maps. What all this means is that Garfield has used the field of cartography as a jumping off point for understanding how we have viewed our world throughout history and shape our lives as humans.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Cress by Marissa Meyer, 550 pages
Book 3 in the Lunar Chronicles

Since this is the third book in this series, spoilers ahead if you haven't read Cinder (book 1) or Scarlet (book 2).

Our story so far: Cinder, a mechanic and a cyborg living in New Beijing, finds her life turned upside down after discovering she could be the lost Lunar princess, Selene. Naturally, she finds out that she's Lunar for sure in front of the current queen of Luna (a civilization living on the moon, with many of its denizens capable of the power to manipulate how others see them, as well as their actions and feelings), Levana, who tried to kill her years ago, and Prince Kai, the leader of the Eastern Commonwealth and a guy she kinda likes.  Kai imprisons her to avoid a showdown between Earth and Luna, but she manages to break out with some help, picking up a dashing American soldier turned thief, Carswell Thorne, who conveniently happens to have a very nice spaceship, along the way. On the run, they connect with Scarlet, a French farm girl and pilot, and Wolf, a special operative of Luna, one of many secretly transported to Earth to help carry out a worldwide attack (he has defected, obviously).  After escaping yet again, they make contact with Cress.

Cress has been locked in a satellite, working for Queen Levana's right hand woman, Sybil Mira, for several years, deflecting Earth satellites' attention from Lunar ships and intercepting information from those in government.  It's lonely, with only the occasional nerve-wracking visit from Mistress Sybil as her only interaction; otherwise, she's kept company with shows and news from Earth, and the system she programmed at twelve to help keep her active.  So when she makes contact with Cinder and her crew, she jumps at the chance to be rescued.  Of course, it all goes wrong when Sybil decides to show up at the same time, capturing Scarlet, and locking Cress and Carswell in the satellite and sending it to Earth.  With everything gone wrong, Cinder heads for the only other person she thinks can help, while still working on a plan that will hopefully save both Earth and Luna from Queen Levana.

Basically, I love this series.  Fairy tale retellings are some of my favorite kinds of stories, and Marissa Meyer's futuristic take on Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and now Rapunzel are fantastic.  What amazes me the most is how she has been able to add in more and more characters and their various back stories without clogging up the main story arc or slowing down the pace at all. She's constructed this believable future world, filled with not only cyborgs like Cinder, but androids and hovercars and ID chips, using them to highlight issues like inequality, poverty, and immigration, that are perennial.  And then, of course, there's the usual will-they-or-won't-they romantic moments, which are always fun.  If everything I've been saying sounds good to you, definitely check them out. You'll find yourself impatiently waiting for the release of Winter next year just like the rest of us.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row by John Grisham, 446 pages.
The second Jake Brigance book, following A Time to Kill, returns to Clanton, Mississippi a couple of years later. Jake and his wife are still waiting on the insurance money from their house fire. Jake hasn't had any big cases since the Hailey trial featured in the last book, and money is tight. When the towns most reclusive citizen kills himself, renounces his will at the last minute with a hand written replacement, names Jake his estate's attorney from beyond the grave, and turns out to have a fortune beyond the imaginings of any of the town's citizens, things look as though they're going to get interesting. They never really do, though. Grisham struggles to makes sure we know how truly decent his flawed characters are, lets us know how much we should really admire them, when they're really neither admirable or interesting.  The author telegraphs his plot twists, making sure we know what's coming, seemingly to make the reader feel clever, but its sort of annoying. Everyone loves a good Grisham book, though. Am I right?

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  302 pp.

This was on my "one of these days I need to read that" list. In the early 1960s fourteen year old Lily runs away from her abusive father with Rosaleen, their housekeeper who is in trouble with the law after being beaten while trying to register to vote. Lily's mother died by Lily's hand in an accidental shooting when Lily was four. The only place she can connect to her mother is the town of Tiburon, South Carolina, the place that is written on the back of a Black Madonna picture that belonged to her mother. Lily ends up at the home of a family of black women beekeepers who teach her about life, love, the problems of southern African-Americans during the Civil Rights battles, standing up for oneself, and bees, of course. It's a good story although there were times when the predictability of the story nearly stopped me from reading it. 

A Game of Lies: A Hannah Vogel Novel by Rebecca Cantrell 318 pages 9780765327338

So, how topical. A spy novel set during the World Series. Well, not the current World Series, actually the 1936 Berlin Olympics.Today, the world fears terrorism; back then, the "good spies" were fighting the Nazis. Hannah Vogel, part-time spy & part time journalist, has a meeting scheduled with her mentor at the Olympic Stadium. The meeting is interrupted by his sudden death. Although Hannah has left her son and lover in the safety of Switzerland, she feels compelled to solve the mysterious death of Weill as well as collecting Nazi secrets. She is traveling under an assumed name and fears that someone from her past live will reveal her identity.Her relationship with friends and colleagues is murky and the SS officer acting as her cover lover has become an alcoholic. History, intrigue, sports and a bit of romance makes this a winning game to read.

I don't know

I don't know: in praise of admitting ignorance (except when you shouldn't) / Leah Hager Cohen 116 pgs.

I've long been a fan of admitting I don't know but still have the desire now and then to feign knowledge if there is a possibility of feeling uncomfortably stupid. Leah Hager Cohen talks about this and other reasons why we don't want to admit that we just don't know something.  Of course there is the OTHER side of the coin...we know but don't want to admit it.  For example, we know someone is wrong or someone is being treated poorly but we ignore it.  Loved this book and feel better for being very familiar with admitting when I don't know.

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Strings Attached

Strings Attached by Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky 324 pp.

Having played violin in my younger days, this book revived many memories, good and bad, of past music teachers. This is the story of a feared and beloved music teacher told by a former student and one of the man's daughters. Jerome (call me Jerry) Kupchynsky was a tyrant to his students but taught them more than just music. Born in the Ukraine, he was a survivor of a Nazi labor camp who came to the U.S., taught music in a school and gave private lessons, cared for an invalid wife, raised his daughters, and searched for one who went missing. He was feared and loved by his students, many of whom gathered together to remember him after his death. He was one of those teachers students never forget and it's a fascinating story.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction

How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction by Robert Martin, 304 pages.
We hear from and sort through the work of a wide variety of geneticists, anthropologists, zoologists, crazy, crazy child-rearing experts, eugenicists, chronobiologists, and reproductive biologists. Among many others. Martin explores what we know, what we think  we know, and what we don't know about sperm and egg cells, conception and pregnancy, and the evolution of a large brain. He circles back to human beings in every chapter, but he compares and contrasts behavior, anatomy, and physiology  among mammals, especially primates. There's more about tree-shrews here than in most books. You learn that among mammals, shorter pregnancies or gestation periods are usually indicative of hairless, altricial  offspring, offspring who will require more care. Longer gestation usually means a more well-developed infant, one capable of more independent movement and able to provide some amount of care for itself.
Human offspring, despite the relatively long gestation period are often considered altricial. The offspring of many other primates are much further along the road toward independence than human babies.
Martin does a very good job sifting through conflicting results, and conclusions poorly derived, from decades of studies.
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Before Happiness

Before happiness / Shawn Achor 252 pgs.

A great followup to his earlier book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor continues on his quest to give us the tools we need to have more positive lives.  This book talks about positive change and gives you concrete examples of things you can do to take charge and improve your happiness quotient.  I really liked Shawn's first book and this one continues with the same style using humor, real examples, and  research findings to make the case for the suggestions contained in this book.

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At night we walk in circles

At night we walk in circles / Daniel Alarcon 374 pgs.

Nelson is an acting student at the conservatory.  His life is typical for his age, confused about relationships, going through changes, not quite sure of a direction or a goal.  Then he joins a traveling theater group and starts a lengthy trip throughout the country performing an old play with a history.  Eventually the team lands in T---- an unnamed town with significance to one of the troop.  While there, Nelson is mistaken for a dead man and ends up with a interesting role.  Although it is supposed to be temporary, his stay lingers and he loses patience.  He bolts to return home with the hope of rekindling his relationship with a woman he broke with before departing.  He is quickly sucked into some strange situations and things end badly.  Or maybe they don't.  It took me awhile to get into this book but at some point, had a hard time putting it down.

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The ocean at the end of the lane

The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman 181 pgs.

Who knows the accuracy of memories of events that occur at age 7.  In this book, our young narrator is telling the story of his neighbor friend Lettie Hempstock who was a wise eleven when he was seven.  They had some adventures that are a bit fuzzy for him as an adult.  But when he visits Hempstock farm again as an adult, it all comes to him as he sits in front of the pond at the end of the lane.  The magic is an accepted reality for a seven year old bookish boy.  The story is large yet personal as Lettie saves his life and then disappears. 

Road Dogs

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard, 262 pages.
Bank robber extraordinaire, Jack Foley (last seen in 1996's Out of Sight) is able to get his thirty-year sentence reduced, and a couple of other charges dropped thanks to a lawyer hired by his road-dog, Cundo, last of the cocaine cowboys. Cundo is doing seven-and-a-half years on a murder charge that this same lawyer, Megan Norris, got reduced from first to second-degree. A road-dog, apparently, is the one with whom you serve time, the one who has your back, if you are not part of a gang. Foley has the charm, and Cundo has the money to keep them relatively trouble-free in Florida's Glade's Correctional. So the trouble starts once they get out. Cundo's girlfriend, Dawn, who may or may not be a psychic, may or may not be waiting to steal his money, is at the heart of the trouble. And Cundo himself, who may or may not expect Foley to come up with some way of repaying the tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer's fees, is a troubling question mark for Foley as well. Vintage Leaonard.
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

How to get filthy rich in rising Asia

How to get filthy rich in rising Asia / Mohsin Hamid 228 pgs.

Similar to Hamid's earlier book "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" we don't ever know the name of the narrator of this book.  His true love is always called "the pretty girl". And yet, we don't need to know his name to learn a lot from him.  I'm not sure if I could get filthy rich based on his lessons but they seem pretty consistent.  Our unnamed narrator starts out delivering videos for a small business owner then starts his own bottled water business.  He grows his business into a large conglomerate and over the years marries, has a son, becomes richer, and then fails.  He has learned many lessons, however, and is willing to share them with us.

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Flyover lives, by Diane Johnson

Johnson grew up not far from here, in Moline, Illinois, one of the “quad cities” on the Mississippi.  Like many born and bred in the “flyover states,” she could hardly wait to leave.  As her life, lived primarily in Paris and California winds down, she revisits her youth and begins to explore her ancestors’ lives, aided by some old letters and journals.  Raised in the forties and early fifties, she chronicles her own experiences as well, including her summer in New York as one of the Mademoiselle's junior editors, where Sylvia Plath was the star.  She was married before twenty and the mother of four not long afterwards.  The book is a curious kind of memoir mixing her genealogical research, her childhood and teenage years, and then jumping into a couple of chapters that feel thrown in to show just how far she came from downstate Illinois.  I knew her work primarily through Lesser lives, a fascinating look at the women who were the associated with some famous male authors of the Victorian period and which came out during the early years of the feminist movement.   I didn’t know her other novels and biographies, nor that she had written the screenplay for The Shining, and worked with Kubrick, Coppola, and Nichols.  But the random insertion of these name-dropping chapters towards the end takes away from the assumed thesis of her book.  263 pp.

God Got a Dog

God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant 56 pp.

This is a revised version of the 2003 book God Went to Beauty School. In a series of poems, God comes to Earth to get a perspective on life as we experience it. God is depicted as male and female as well as different races. Some of God's experiences include becoming a manicurist, cooking, writing a book and a fan letter, skating, getting in a bar fight, and more. The poems are funny, thoughtful, and entertaining.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eleanor and Park / Rainbow Rowell 328 pp.

Eleanor and Park meet on the school bus and can't stand each other.  Eleanor wears bizarre clothes and doesn't seem to care about her appearance.  Park is aloof and buried in his comic books.  A few bus rides and a little chemistry later things change.  Rowell captures the intensity of high school love perfectly, and I liked her characters.  Park's parents, who Eleanor compares to the Cleavers, are nicely flawed but decent.  Eleanor's evil stepfather makes for a believable mix of light and dark in this enjoyable romance.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book (No, Not That One) by Howard of Warwick 300 pp.

To say this is a loose version of the aftermath of the 1066 Battle of Hastings is being generous. William, Duke of Normandy just might have won a major battle if he can only find the body of King Harold, who may or may not have been shot through the eye with an arrow. He has been given a body with an arrow in its eye but it is not the King. He sends a small band of men on a secret mission to find the King under the guise of taking a survey of England. To say they are inept is being generous. Add in a few Monty Pythonesque vikings, miscellaneous Saxons and some pretty useless horses and you have the makings of a medieval comedy. Includes some laugh-out-loud moments and a quite a bit of silliness. Fans of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" will enjoy this one. This is part of a series of medieval satires available on Kindle.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 328 pgs.

Eleanor is new to the school, Park is a guy who likes to keep his head down and be quiet.  It seems inevitable that they will end up together when Park grudgingly makes room for Eleanor on the bus.  Typical teen angst/love story.  Add a creepy step dad and away we go!

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

A glass of blessings, by Barbara Pym

OK everyone; it is time to re-re-discover Barbara Pym!  When my book club chose this book, I was surprised to find only one copy in the MLC, and it one of her best.  A copy or two of each of her other titles can be found scattered about.  And that is too bad.  Her main titles were published in the 1950’s but her 1963 novel was rejected by her long-time publisher and others.  She was devastated.  However, she shot to fame in the 1977 when two noted authors named her as one of the most underrated authors of the century in the Times Literary Supplement.  Her books were all republished and I believe I read all of them at that time.  Luckily she lived to see her work warmly received before her death in 1980.  Now, time has passed her by again.  A master of the quiet parish novel set in mid-century Britain; she truly does merit the comparison to Jane Austen.  In A glass of blessings, we follow Wilmet Forsyth, a thirtyish married woman, through the course of a year or so.  Childless, unemployed, and slightly bored with her civil servant husband (who she met ten years previously as a dashing officer in Italy during World War II) , she toys with the idea of having a mild sort of affair with the brother of a good friend, with that friend’s husband, or perhaps with the handsome new parish priest at St. Luke’s.  She attends St. Luke’s because her local church is insufficiently “high” enough for her tastes.  With gentle humor and a keen eye for human foibles, Pym’s writing struck me again as both very modern and very of Austen’s time.   My cup of tea.  256 pp.