Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, 613 pages

Spoilers ahead, but really only if you haven't read the first two.

Jael has marched the Dominion through the portal connecting Eretz and Earth, heading straight for the Vatican City and the Pope. The world whips themselves into a frenzy (angels are real!), especially after he delivers a message: the Beasts are coming.

For Eliza, a scientist working at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, the arrival of the angels and their message means more than just the world going crazy. It's a confirmation that the nightmare that has haunted her life is real, and that the family and life she ran away from is based in truth.

Meanwhile, Karou and the chimaera have joined Akiva and the rest of the Misbegotten, those illegitimate sons and daughters of the former emperor, Joram in the Kirin caves, where they were supposed to meet all those years ago. Their goal is cobble together a fragile peace between two peoples long at war in an effort to bring Jael and his forces back to Eretz, without human weapons. And maybe, for Karou and Akiva, a chance to finally be together, to see their shared dream of peace made real. But unbeknownst to them, the queen of the Stelians searches for the magus whose power threatens to tear down the sky and bring destruction on them all. And she'll do anything and everything in her power to keep that from happening.

Oh my god, this book. THIS BOOK. I'm sorry (that I'm not sorry) for fangirling, but I loved it. I LOVED it. Like, I hugged the book when I finished it, that's how much I loved it. Even with all these different plots (and even adding in a new one!), Laini Taylor managed to give everything its due, wrapping it all up with nary a loose end in sight. Looking at Good Reads, I see that the ending didn't excite or thrill everyone, but I enjoyed it. It's a bit of a non-ending like Twilight, but at least she gives you the courtesy of making that apparent before getting everyone geared up for a big battle and then not delivering. My only problem is that I want more. And she totally left it open for at least another book or two, maybe another trilogy! I just want her to pull a Cassandra Clare and decide that she has more to tell about these characters and act accordingly. But for now, all I have is my imagination, and I guess that will have to do.

Boxers and Saints

Boxers, 325 pages
Saints, 170 pages, both by Gene Luen Yang
2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Boxers and Saints is a story about the Boxer Rebellion in China, but told from both sides. In Boxers, we meet Little Bao, who loves the spring festivals, if only for the operas that are always performed. One day, a foreign devil (a.k.a, a priest) comes to his village and smashes their statue of the god Tu Di Gong. Little Bao's father and the village constable decide to go to the magistrate with their concerns. His father and the constable never make it to the magistrate. Instead, they encounter more foreign devils, soldiers this time, who beat Little Bao's father so badly, he's never the same. So when Red Lantern comes to their village and offers to teach the men kung fu, Little Bao is ready to learn. He soon comes under the tutelage of Master Big Belly, who teaches him the Ritual that allows the gods to possess the body of whoever performs it, giving them their power and strength. Bao in particular is possessed by the spirit of Ch'in Shih-huang, the first emperor of China, who united the land under one name and built the Great Wall. Soon, Bao and his followers, named the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, march towards Peking to take China back from the foreign devils, bringing death to the foreigners and Chinese who have converted to Christianity along the way.

In Saints, we meet Four-girl, named as such because her grandfather refused to give her a proper name, since four in Chinese sounds similar to the word "death" and she was the only child of her mother's to survive for longer than a year. After she accidentally takes the head off Tu Di Gong, her grandfather calls her a devil. Determined to let everyone around her know exactly what she is, she begins contorting her face in what she considers a devilish look. Her mother takes her to an acupuncturist. When she figures out that he has converted to Catholicism and that many consider them to be devils, she decides to convert and become the best devil of them all. She begins seeing Joan of Arc, who encourages her and leads her to teaching orphans in a settlement when Bao and the Society of the Righteous and Harmonius Fist come across them.

I'll admit that I knew very little about the Boxer Rebellion before reading this story. And as I skimmed some Wikipedia articles on the war, I realized that Gene Luen Yang had managed to include so many important aspects of the conflict into the story without making the character development or the overarching story suffer. Despite being on opposite sides of this war, the two main characters are ultimately looking for something to give meaning to their lives and actions. Bao, in his conversations with Ch'in Shih-huang, struggles with doing what is right for China and being a good person. And Four-girl, who is renamed Vibiana upon her baptism, is constantly searching for an identity, especially one that is better than being a devil. The art is lovely, with lots of neutral colors to make the bright colors of the gods more striking and the blood of combat more apparent. This is a bloody war, and the art reflects that, making these books a better fit for older teens. It's a great choice if you're into historical fiction and are ready to try something in a different format, or just have an interest in Chinese history.

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

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley  297 pp.

This is another delightful volume in the "Flavia de Luce" mystery series. It's just before Christmas and, because of financial difficulties, Colonel de Luce has agreed to let a film crew rent Buckshaw Hall as a location for filming a movie featuring the famous Phyllis Wyvern. While the crew moves in, eleven year old Flavia is using her genius for chemistry to rig up a trap to catch Father Christmas to prove he is real in spite of what her older sisters have been telling her. Most of the town of Bishop's Lacey come to Buckshaw for a charity performance by the visiting actors only to be snowed in as a blizzard rages outside. When the inevitable murder victim is found, by Flavia of course, it takes hours for the police to arrive. Of course, the precocious Flavia cannot resist doing her own bit of investigating.

The Girl on the Fridge

The Girl on the Fridge / Etgar Keret 171 pgs.  This collection of short stories is almost as great as his later ones that Kathleen introduced me to.  This author's imagination is amazing and these stories range from immensely entertaining to pretty bizarre. The only problem with the book is that you really need to take a break after a couple of stories and let it sink it.  You just can't race through the book but you really want to read another and another.  Highly recommended.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen, art by Faith Erin Hicks, 288 pages
A 2014 Top Ten Graphic Novel for Teens

The cheerleaders need new uniforms. The robotics club wants to to take their robot to the national championship. There's only enough funding for one group to get what they want.

This means war. Glorious, nerds vs. jocks, all-out-kind-of-war-that-only-happens-in-high-school war.

And Charlie Nolan finds himself caught in the middle. Captain of the basketball team, he was recently dumped by head cheerleader Holly. He's also best friends with robotics club president Nate Harding, unlikely though it seems. Since the student council has been tasked with deciding who gets the money, Nate's idea is to become the new student body president. But when Holly finds out, she and the rest of the cheerleaders nominate Charlie for student body president, making it clear that if he wins, he'll help them get the money. Of course, this doesn't sit well with Nate, and soon the campaigning escalates, though that's putting it mildly (three words: industrial weed killer). Who will win? And will Charlie be able to survive?

This is one of the most fun graphic novels I've read in a long time. Prudence Shen infuses a lot of humor into this story, from the aforementioned industrial weed killer to Nate shouting "Chainsaws, people, we need chainsaws!" in a hardware store. But in the midst of all this teeange angst, there's a more serious thread woven in, as Charlie deals with his parents' divorce. Naturally, Nate is the only one who really knows what's going on with Charlie, and it's those middle-of-the-conversation moments of their friendship that really make their relationship hit home. And Faith Erin Hicks's art is just fantastic. Rendered in black and white, she brings the story to life better than the most well written descriptive paragraph. If you loved, or even just liked, Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, you'll enjoy this.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Challenge)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music that changed the world by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson, Jared Levine 128 pp. 9781770495715

This package could change your concept of music history. Robbie Robertson, former songwriter for legendary band, The Band decided that the younger generation was lacking a history of modern music. He gathered friends and experts from the music industry to narrow a very broad subject to 27 artists. What I love about this book is both its brevity of text and depth of knowledge. Each artist has a full page color portrait, a succinct memory of how this artist touched or related to the author, a couple of pages of text showing how this person was a creative force and then a list of five or so essential songs by the artist. Of course, as soon as you read about each musician, you want to experience their music and Robertson provides you with a taste.  Two compact discs include a pivotal song for each artist. While I am sure many might quibble about performers left out or included, this is an exciting body of work for generations to share.

Coda by Emma Trevayne 309 pages 9780762447282

In this dystopian novel, music is used to control the masses. Original music is strictly forbidden.Anthem starts an underground band even though he knows that punishment will be severe if they are captured.Since he is the de facto head of his family (his father has serious medical and mental problems; mother was executed years ago), it is up to him to care for his younger siblings. He has a new girlfriend, but is afraid to trust her when he finds out her true identity. Her parents are ruling this new world order. Unusual plot. Approved music is like a lethal drug that can fry your brain and personality. After his band is exposed he knows that there is a traitor in the ranks, but who is it? A bit unpolished, just like Anthem's personality.

This Song Will Save Your Life by Sales, Leila 276pages 9780374351380

15 yr. old Elise is a precocious loner who feels like a total failure. After a summer of trying to reinvent herself, buying the “right” clothes, creating a new “style” and being ridiculed by the cruel social leaders in her school she tries to take her life. Before she slices her wrists, she makes a definitive play list. If there is one thing she is passionate about it is music. It takes a long time to create a list. She calls a classmate who alerts the authorities. Her parents are divorced and she shuffles between her dad, a musician in a one hit band, and her mother, who has a new husband and children. One night she takes a late walk and meets a couple of girls who change her life. They take her to an underground night club and introduce her to the popular buy enigmatic DJ, Char. She loves the music and the way the DJ controls the dance floor. Before you know it, Elise has found a secret identity. Loser student by day, apprentice DJ on Thursday nights. It takes ingenuity to convince her father to change his custody nights so that she can easily get to the nightclub, but how long will her sneak out routine work? Char teaches her more than how to spin a record at his sad little apartment. After their common friend, Pippa leaves town, Char makes the move on the much younger, socially inept girl. A fresh plot by an author who knows her music.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green   305 pgs.

In a moving and off beat story the reader is introduced to Quentin Jacobsen who has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now mysteriously disappeared.  Q soon learns that there are clues to her disappearance- and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer Q gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

This character-driven young adult story was recently optioned for film production.

The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring

The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring by David Michie  232 pp.

The sequel to The Dalai Lama's Cat finds HHC (His Holiness' Cat) a bit out of sorts. The kittens she was expecting at the end of the first book have all been given away to special friends and she is now at loose ends. To make matters worse, His Holiness is going away for several months. Before he leaves the Dalai Lama tells his "Little Snow Lion" to discover, "What makes you purr?" While he is away Rinpoche (another of her nicknames) is left in the capable hands of the monks and her friends at the small cafe/bookshop in McLeod Ganj, the town outside the temple. Through her encounters with angry dogs, strangers, friends, a professor, and a very wise Yogi she learns more about herself than she ever imagined. The side plot about the cafe and the people running it fleshes out the story. This is a sweet book and I hope there will be a third in the series.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Officer and a Spy / Robert Harris 429 p.

Harris has done meticulous research to tell the story of the Dreyfus affair from the point of view of Georges Picquart, the French intelligence chief who risked his career to expose the French army's miscarriage of justice.  I don't know enough about the Dreyfus story to gauge how well Harris has presented the facts of the case, but he has certainly amassed an amazing amount of detail to lend coherence to what must certainly have been a confusing series of events.  Picquart is an interesting character, motivated by no particular affection for Dreyfus but by a (slightly weird)  love of the army and a desire to see it behave honorably.  Very procedural, occasionally a little dry, but a fascinating study in power and the way it makes different people behave. 

Dogs of War

Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan, art by Nathan Fox, 208 pages
A 2014 Top Ten Graphic Novel for Teens

Three stories set during different wars tell of the relationship between soldiers and the dogs that aid them. In World War I, we meet Boots, who helps lead medics to soldiers in need on the battlefield. But she's more than just that - a companion and best friend to Donnie, a medic's assistant, and a spot of light in the otherwise dark and dank trenches of France. Then there's Loki, a mischievous sled dog in Greenland during World War II, who helps his human, Cooper, through a blizzard and away from Nazis after they go to retrieve a pilot from a plane crash. And finally, there's Sheba, trained to find booby traps and alert soldiers to snipers in the jungles of Vietnam. She's sorely missed by Lanford once he gets home and discovers that he hasn't left the war behind. I really enjoyed this set of stories. As Sheila Keenan mentions at the end in her author's note, dogs have been following humans everywhere and providing comfort ever since their domestication. And that's very apparent in these three stories. It's clear that these dogs are more than just fellow soldiers or equipment, like Sheba is classified as during the Vietnam War. A fantastic read for dog-lovers everywhere and especially for kids who enjoy war stories. While the age levels I've seen for this book say it's geared towards kids in grade 7-12, depending on how you feel about pictures of war, older elementary students would be able to handle - and most importantly, enjoy - this great graphic novel.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Challenge)

The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris; fantasy, mythology; 320 pages

This book tells the story of the Norse myths from the villain's point of view.  Though to hear him tell it, Loki was only doing what needed to be done, and really things have been blown out of proportion. 

I freely admit I picked this up because I enjoyed Loki in the recent Marvel movies so much.  And while I'd never read Harris previously, Chocolat is one of my favorite movies, so....

Harris' books is a bit of a departure from some of her previous novels, but it works.  It's a fun retelling of some of the more famous Norse myths, in modern language and with a heavy dose of snark from Our Humble Narrator.  That said, while I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it wasn't a fast read.  The chapters are short and each one is the equivalent of one story, so it's very episodic book  I was happy to pick it back up again each time, but after I finished my lunch, I didn't feel like I needed to rush home and read more to find out what happens (this is a problem when you retell a story that's 2000+ years old).  I did love Loki's voice, and found myself hoping that maybe Ragnarok would turn out differently.  I'd love to read more in this vein--and I find myself kind of missing my Humble Narrator now that the book's over. 

Batman: No Man's Land, vol 1

Batman:  No Man's Land volume 1 (various authors and artists); graphic novel; 200 pages

Following the devastating earthquake from Cataclysm, Gotham is struggling to get back on its feet when the unthinkable happens:  the US government declares the city unsalvageable, orders and evacuation, and seals the remains off.  Of course there are a fair number of people who chose not to leave the city, including most of its crime bosses, police force, and masked vigilantes.

Reading this arc requires a little suspension of disbelief.  I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that the government would disown the DCU equivalent to New York City, however bad the damage from the quake (this is especially had to fathom after seeing how the whole country pulled together after Hurricaine Katrina).  But they don't just disown it--they actually seal it off, trapping the remaining residents inside and turning away any kind of food or supplies that humanitarian groups try to send in.  It doesn't make any sense, but when this book opens, Gotham has already been shut down, so we don't' get to see the rationale behind that decision (this is another case where I think someone has fallen down on the job of collecting these titles; clearly SOMETHING pretty big happened between Cataclysm and No Man's Land, but that wasn't included in the trade for some reason.  I feel like this a scheme from someone else's villain--it has a Lex Luthor vibe to it--but it would have been nice to at least get an explanation in the summary at the beginning). 

So when this book opens, Gotham has already become a classic dystopia in the three months since the quake.  The city is divided between gangs and crime bosses who rule like kings over their respective territories, while the residents just struggle to survive in a city with swiftly dwindling resources.  There are two arcs in this volume:  one just introduces the situation as it currently stands, and follows GCPD (now little different from any of the other street gangs) as they try to take back the city one block at a time; the second arc is more psychological, and follows Scarecrow as he insinuates himself into a church-run refugee center and starts to plant the seeds of chaos.  This volume also marks the first appearance of the new Batgirl, though her identity has yet to be revealed (I'm guessing this is the Cassandra Cain incarnation, since she seems way to competent to be Stephanie Brown). 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Batman: Cataclysm

Batman:  Cataclysm by Chuck Dixon and many, many others; graphic novel; 320 pages. 

Gotham is still recovering from the devastating plague from Contagion, when a catastrophic earthquake suddenly hits the city.  Cataclysm follows the heroes of the Bat-family as they try to save a city that may not be able to be saved. 

My original plan for this weekend was to start the No Man's Land story, but I realized that I should do this right and start at the beginning.  Of course, if I was really doing this right, I'd have started with Contagion, but I have to wait for that one to arrive via interlibrary loan (I'll review it later this summer!). 

I enjoyed Cataclysm a lot more than I expected, partly because the book doesn't focus exclusively on Batman.  In fact, Batman is missing for large chunks of the story, to the extent that the other characters wonder if he's alive or dead.  The storytelling was really well-done here:  many issues contained several small, three-to-five page stories told from the victims' point of view.  So we get the story as seen by the mother trapped under a car with her son, or the family caught in the basement of their building while it slowly floods from a broken water main.  And while most of those stories end with Nightwing or Batman rescuing the narrators, there is a surprisingly large number of civilian deaths in this collection.  Which adds to the realism, if nothing else.  The few appearances from Batman's Rogue's Gallery are brief--enough to hint at things to come, but not enough to take the spotlight off the real devastation.   (Some favorite appearances include a wonderfully amoral voice-over from Ra's al Ghul which just begs to be read aloud, and a three-page mini-story showing the Penguin choosing who to save--only those whose skills he thinks he can use.  On the non-villain side of things, I also had a lot of fun with the encounter between Harvey Bullock and Anarky at the start of the book). 

That said, this is still a Batman story, and so it needs a main villain.  That villain is an opportunist going by "Quakemaster" who takes quickly claims responsibility for the quake and threatens to cause another if his demands are not met.  No one knows whether he's bluffing or actually capable of causing another earthquake, so on top of saving the millions of people who are trapped or injured, and stopping the gangs of looters roving the streets, Batman & Co. also have to track down and stop this guy before he can cause more panic. 

As with most cross-over events, the art her varies widely as we jump from title to title, as did the writing.  I got another glimpse of Stephanie Brown in the Spoiler story included here, and I continue to be unimpressed by her as a character. I know that this story has to occur before the War Games series, but I wonder how closely they follow one another.  Because I find it hard to believe that Batman, the man who came up with what-if scenarios and game plans for every possible catastrophe that could happen in Gotham didn't have a plan for this.  Especially since we learn in the first act that Bruce Wayne has been expecting the quake to hit for some time, and has even gone so far as to hire a seismologist to monitor the fault lines near Gotham.   He'd even retroactively earthquake-proofed all Wayne Inc.-owned buildings on Gotham (with the exception of Wayne Manor, because he didn't want a work crew finding about that whole Bat-Cave situation.  Oops). 

Now, on to No Man's Land. 

Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals / Wendy Jones 235 p.

Set in a village in Wales just after WWI, this is a small story told well.  Wilfred foolishly proposes to a young woman, then almost immediately meets 'the one.'  He must somehow extricate himself, but the process will be complicated.  Only a few characters populate the story, and there aren't many surprises, but it's thoughtful and deeper than it at first appears. 

Reasons My Kid is Crying / Greg Pembroke 201 p.

The fine print underneath the photo of this toddler, obviously in supreme agony, says "We gave him delicious pudding."  Every page of this adorable book, culled from Pembroke's Tumblr on the same topic, is a hoot. 

Awkward Family Holiday Photos / Mike Bender 204 p.

Not as funny as it sounds - the pictures are good, but the commentary is only meh.  It makes a difference, apparently.

War Brothers

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, art by Daniel Lafrance, 176 pages
A 2014 YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens

War Brothers is the graphic novel adaptation of the novel of the same name by Sharon McKay. Jacob is a young boy living in Uganda under the continual threat of abduction by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. He loves and excels at math, and is excited to start the new school year with his friends. But despite the extra guards his wealthy father hired to protect his school, Kony's army raids the school, taking the boys and forcing them into the army. Led through the jungle on a grueling march to continually evade the Ugandan army, he's told that only soldiers eat, drink, get weapons, and live comfortably. But to become a soldier, he must be willing to follow orders, even if it means killing innocent people. Jacob struggles with doing what is right and surviving before deciding to escape.

This graphic novel is an interesting snapshot into what life in the LRA is like. Admittedly, my only exposure to the LRA and the situation in Uganda is from Invisible Children and its divisive #Kony2012 campaign, so reading this story was enlightening. Sharon McKay interviewed many former child soldiers before writing this story, and she does a good job giving Jacob real thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, the story fell a little flat for me. Everything moves so quick that it's hard to connect with the other characters and really grasp the gravity of the situation. Given that it's an adaptation, this might be something that is better executed in the novel. Overall, it's a fascinating story about an ongoing tragedy that many are unaware of.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Challenge)

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Carré
224 pages

I read this book a few years back, and just finished revisiting it.  Nothing's changed, it's still awesome.

Alec Leamas is a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service during the Cold War.  Operating from Berlin, all of his agents in Eastern Germany have been neutralized, and now he heads back to London  to spend the remainder of his service as a washed-up paper-pusher.  The director of the Circus, as it is colloquially known,  has another proposition for Alec - an operation to take down the ruthless head of the East German intelligence service.  What follows is a deftly executed and thrilling spy procedural, emphasizing a war of the minds rather than devolving into the gung-ho gadgetry contemporarily associated with spy fiction.

The author, John Le Carré, actually had a career in the British intelligence apparatus.  Contrary to what I would prejudge about the writing ability of someone who spent his life in government bureaucracy, Le Carré has true literary talent.  I cannot overstate how well this story is written.  The prose is clear, descriptive, and focused - meaning he never digresses into exploring extraneous characters or sub-plots, nor does he attempt some greater geopolitical moralizing.  I appreciate that.   What I appreciate more is Le Carré doesn't underestimate the intelligence of the reader; he utilizes a subtle, ironic tone to indicate that things aren't as they appear to be.  The third person narrative doesn't give us a full picture of what's going on, but rather places us right next to Alec in a cloudy world of deception and compartmentalization where we as readers are at times necessarily "lost", just like Alec is.  Never is being "lost" a deterrent or frustrating, because the plot unfolds suavely and yet brutally, like a gentlemanly interrogation, each layer of deception being peeled back beautifully until we reach a climactic moment of revelation that absolutely has to be experienced to be appreciated.  It's genius. 

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I unequivocally recommend it. 

Greek Passion / Nikos Kazantzakis 432 p.

I am a Kazantzakis junkie.  This author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ wrote a novelization of the life of Francis of Assisi - Saint Francis: a Novel - which is one of my all-time favorites.  Greek Passion was less enjoyable but still interesting, a reworking of the Gospel Passion in a small Greek village controlled by the Turks during the Ottoman period.  I liked it for its extremely vivid depiction of the setting; on the other hand, the development of the characters to represent various Gospel figures felt sometimes forced and cookie-cutterish.  I did like the Pilate figure, the Turkish governor, fat, drunken and debauched, with no more concern for his subjects than animals but powerfully motivated to keep the peace.

Castle of Whispers / Carole Martinez 181 p.

Esclarmonde is the beloved only daughter of a powerful knight of Medieval France.  When she's forced to the altar to marry a man she detests, Esclarmonde makes a dramatic move to escape.  Although she enters a cloistered existence, she becomes the center of high drama in her village. And, intriguingly, her disdained fiance becomes a musical troubadour who remains faithful to her.  Conveying a sense of religious hysteria and superstition with lyrical writing, this is a highly unusual story. 

Perfect / Byron Hemmings 385 pp.

12-year-old Byron has a seemingly idyllic life in 1970s England, until one morning he and his mother have an accident.  Or do they?  Byron struggles to understand what's happened, while his mother slowly falls apart.  Poignant but not depressing, and a little mysterious, this is a sweet, sensitive story of a boy in over his head and the adults who fail him.  Much of the drama centers around the musical afternoons of piano playing and singing that his mother organizes with her new, possibly malevolent, friend.

Notes from the Internet apocalypse

Notes from the Internet apocalypse / Wayne Gladstone 224 pgs.

What if we woke up one morning and the Internet was gone?  You would probably think that it will be back soon.  What if time passes and it becomes obvious it isn't coming back.  You might go searching for it.  If you did, you would find groups of people gathering and stating their thoughts that they WOULD be tweeting if the Internet was around.  Stray cats would be scarce as they would have been picked up by youtube fanatics and forced to wear outfits and do cute things.  Porn lovers...well, you can imagine the growth industry THERE.  One good thing - increased demand for librarians!  People still have questions they need answered.  Gladstone is determined to find the Internet, a psychic freelance librarian named Jeeves decides he is the Internet Messiah.  Jeeves gains a following after predicting the death of a famous television host and suddenly everyone is looking for Gladstone.  This book is an adventure and a hoot.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Still life with bread crumbs, by Anna Quindlen

Having just finished a real life memoir about finding oneself in mid-life through a retreat to the woods (Out of the woods, a memoir of wayfaring, by Lynn Darling), I was quite startled to find almost the same theme in the new novel by Anna Quindlen.  Like her real-life counterpart, Rebecca Winter has rented a rural house, sight unseen, largely because it is what she can afford and what is available.  It comes with a raft of problems and resident raccoon in the attic through which she meets a local roofer, Jim.  Rebecca is 60 and has had a successful career as a photographer, best known for the eponymous “Still life with breadcrumbs,” which has become a feminist icon.  But life and art have moved on and she is wondering “what’s next.”  This quietly romantic story is really quite lovely.  272 pp.

Out of the woods: a memoir of wayfaring, by Lynn Darling

This could have been just another mid-life-crisis-move-to-the-country-and-simplify-your-life memoir, but it is much more than that.  When her daughter leaves for college, Darling, who was widowed ten years earlier, finds she has fallen “off her own map….Now what?”  The cranky off-the-grid house she chooses to rent is a challenge in itself.  She gets a dog for company and fears he hates her.  She has always gotten lost, and now she gets epically lost in the woods.  She is just beginning to get her bearings and settle into her new life when, mid-way through the book, it takes a turn for the worse as she is diagnosed with breast cancer.  How she finds her way, both through illness and in the woods, makes for an exceptional story.  270 pp.