Saturday, February 28, 2015

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, 759 pages.
The final chapter in the Harry Potter series, this one wraps up the war in the wizarding world between Voldemort's forces of evil, and Dumbledore's forces of love and good. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to strike off on their own in order to find the things that Dumbledore had been seeking. There's a bit of whining on the part of each of the main characters, and the first half of  book unfolds slowly. In retrospect you can understand and appreciate the author's reluctance to wrap it up. The publication of this book was the end of more than one era. There were the huge pre-orders and lines at bookstores as the onsale date approached, and not too many people were using their ereaders then.

The downloadable book was read by the incomparable Jim Dale.
Check our catalog.

Downloadable audiobook.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, 282 pages.

Gawande, a surgeon, staff writer for The New Yorker, and author of  2002's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, and two other books, looks at how we as Americans look at the care of the elderly, and how the end of life has changed for the worse, even as it comes later for most of us than it did for our forebears.
Gawande compares our twentieth century idea of nursing homes and intrusive assisted-care to more recent innovations in care provided in a setting that allows the patient more control over their own lives.
 A thoughtful, intelligent look at an issue that most of us will face ourselves or for our family members. Gawande is an excellent writer.
The excellent downloadable audio is about 9 hours long and is read by Robert Petkoff.
Check our catalog.

Downloadable Audio.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 324 pages.
The book that was once considered a classic, now often reviled because of its author's views on homosexuality and gay marriage. I had read the book years ago, and then watched the recent movie version on dvd. The movie was okay, and watching in it the story (book version) of Ender Wiggin came back to me. The movie, it turns out, was rather faithful to that book. Ender is younger in the book than he is portrayed in the movie, and the violence between the children is a bit more brutal, but other than that this tale of young children training in battle schools to help humanity defeat the alien horde is about the same in both versions. It's a good book, and should appeal to kids who don't feel they fit in, but given what I've read about the author, it wasn't good enough to make me want to read more in this series.

The audiobook is read by Stefan Rudnicki and Harlan Ellison.
Check our catalog.

Jack Carter's Law by Ted Lewis

Jack Carter's Law by Ted Lewis, 213 pages.
The second in the Carter series, it's actually a prequel to Get Carter. The title character is unchanged from the first book, taciturn, unafraid of violence or causing others harm, and unwilling to take too much grief from anyone. It's not a particularly great book, but it's a fast read with no surprises. Good for fans of crime fiction.

Check our catalog.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead, 234 pages.
A really good read from the author of the novels The Intuitionist, Zone One, and the memoir Sag Harbor. Whitehead starts by giving the reader a brief look into his current, rather lonely life. His wife has recently moved out, and Whitehead now sees his young daughter every other day. Whitehead admits to being a man for whom strong emotion is not something he shows, and talks about how this is an asset when playing poker, but on the negative side of the ledger when it comes to romance and relationships.
Sent by Grantland magazine to Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker, Whitehead hopes to tell a tale similar to James McManus's Positively Fifth Street, intrepid reporter gets staked to play the big game and ends up in the final round playing for the big money.
Whitehead and his people, his fellow Anhedonians, know in their hearts that this won't end well.
There's lots of reading about poker and plenty of practice games and the author tries to learn all there is to know about the game before tournament play starts.
Whitehead consults old friends, new poker acquaintances, and poker coaches and even a yoga instructor on his way to the
Fans of Whitehead, fans of books about poker, and those who enjoy a good memoir will find something of value here. A well written book.
Check our catalog.

My Latest Grievance

My Latest Grievance / Elinor Lipman 243 pgs.

Frederica Hatch is a high school student who has lived on a college campus with her parents who are professors and dorm house parents.  When an interesting new found relative shows up for a job on campus, things get more interesting.  Laura Lee French is a second cousin but was, at one time married to Frederica's father.  Laura Lee has a sense of style and drama unlike anyone else on campus and fairly quickly starts an affair with the college president.

This fun story was a hoot to listen to via audio.

check our catalog


Jackaby by William Ritter, 299 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

Abigail Rook, newly in the States after a meandering journey that started with her taking her tuition money and leaving school prematurely (and without the knowledge of her parents), finds herself in want of a job. After several inquiries (and several dead ends), she sees a posting for "investigative services - assistant wanted", decides to take a shot at it and soon finds herself in the employ of R.F. Jackaby, detective. Jackaby is prickly, obtuse to the needs of others, but he has a rare ability to see through illusions, which means he sees all manner of supernatural types where others naturally can't. Of course, this puts him at odds with the local police department as he's always butting into their investigations. This time, a reporter close to the police commissioner is brutally murdered, and Jackaby and Abigail are in the thick of it. Can they determine who the killer is before he kills again, even as Inspector Marlowe tries to foil them at every turn?

The description on the inside flap ended with "Doctor Who meets Sherlock," and while I haven't seen enough or know enough about Doctor Who to determine if that's an apt comparison, Jackaby, as a character, definitely has a very Sherlockian feel to him. Abigail is clearly the Watson to his Holmes, but she has a healthy dose of adventuring spirit in her DNA, so she is the perfect counterbalance and compliment to his near-myopic search for the truth. Ritter has also populated his world with plenty of interesting characters, like Jenny, a ghost who lives in Jackaby's house, as well as Douglas, Jackaby's former investigative assistant who got turned into a duck. This book is kind of a romp, if that makes sense, and feels almost like a cozy mystery at times. I really enjoyed it, and kind of liked that it's being set up as a more traditional series, as opposed to a trilogy with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Jackaby might not completely scratch your Sherlock itch while we wait for more episodes, but it'll at least relieve it for a little while.

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

I Remember Nothing

I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron, 137 pages

Two years before she died, screenwriter/journalist/director Nora Ephron published this collection of essays discussing her fading memory, divorce, and a favorite family legend, among other things. The book is sharp, funny, and everything you'd expect from the woman who wrote When Harry Met Sally. My favorites were "My Life as an Heiress" and "My Life as a Meatloaf," which makes it seem like I like those stories because of their name, but that's not it at all. They're just excellent tales, masterfully told. I also recommend listening to the audiobook, which Ephron reads herself.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Watch Me

Watch Me by Anjelica Huston  389 pp.

Huston's memoir chronicles her rise from fashion modeling at age 22 through her development into a popular and Academy Award winning actor.. The book begins with the end of her five year relationship with photographer Bob Richardson, 23 years her senior. There was a stormy seventeen year relationship with Jack Nicholson. At the encouragement of friends but not her father, director John Huston, or Nicholson, she began acting classes.  Huston's career in film was lackluster until "Prizzi's Honor" which starred Nicholson and was directed by her father. She ended up with an Academy Award for her supporting role as Maerose Prizzi. After that her career took off and she writes of her work with a string of great directors including Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, and many others. She writes lovingly of her father and his death in 1987 and of her first and only marriage to sculptor Robert Graham at age 41. I listened to the audiobook which was an uneven reading by the author.

The Gauguin Connection

The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan  426 pp.

This is the first book in mystery series featuring and narrated by insurance investigator Dr. Genevieve Lenard. Genevieve is a world renowned expert in nonverbal communication, has a genius I.Q and amazing analytical skills. However great her abilities, social and business interaction are difficult because she must also cope with her high functioning autism. Most of her work is done sitting at computers for hours at a time analyzing a wide range of information. To relax and rejuvenate her thought processes she transcribes Mozart compositions from memory, sometimes for hours at a time. When assisting in an investigation for a government agency, Genevieve finds herself in a situation that complete disrupts her incredibly organized life and forces her to deal with people on a level she has always avoided. Soon she's deep into investigating stolen weapons, forged artworks, murdered artists/forgers, and a charitable foundation that somehow connects it all. It is Genevieve's thought processes and how she deals with them that make this a page turner. This was a free Kindle download from BookBub but it introduced me to a series I will probably continue reading.


Rules by Cynthia Lord  200 pp.

This was a re-read in preparation for the March Treehouse Book Club. Twelve year old Catherine keeps a list of rules of behavior she tries to teach her autistic brother, David. She is frequently embarrassed by his failure to understand how social interaction "should" be handled. When she befriends a wheelchair bound boy who speaks by pointing at pictures in a book, Catherine begins to understand that "normal" isn't a fixed standard and that different is not necessarily wrong.

When the Doves Disappeared / Sofi Oksanen 303 p.

I was intrigued by Oksanen's 2010 novel Purge.  Doves revisits that novel's setting, Talinn, Estonia, during and after WWII, with significant stylistic differences.  Edgar and Roland are cousins who take very different paths through their country's history in these years.  Estonia was independent, then Soviet, then part of  Nazi territory, then very briefly independent again, and finally Soviet until the USSR collapsed.  Between them is Juudit, Edgar's wife and dear friend of Roland's fiancee.  An incredibly complex and often confusing story that is part murder mystery, part spy thriller, with a stunning resolution.  The point of view is especially striking.  Oksanen is Finnish-Estonian and paints the Nazis as only one of a series of regimes interested in stomping on her people rather than ultimate villains.

Occasionally this was a choppy read, almost as if it had been over-edited to maintain suspense.  (I almost always wish novels had been more heavily edited.)  Perhaps the background is simply more familiar to Eastern Europeans.  I ended up reading several Wikipedia articles on Estonia at the mid-point because I was struggling to follow the narrative.  I recommend it anyway - the most chilling thing I've read in quite awhile.

What’s so funny? My hilarious life by Tim Conway 9781476726502 245 pages

Listen don’t read this book! A co-worker recommended this audiobook. I downloaded it to my nifty waterproof shuffle and attempted to listen to it while snorkeling in St. Thomas. It was so funny, I couldn’t help laughing. Each time I laughed, the seal broke and ocean water would flood my mask.  After three watery episodes, I gave up and listened only on dry land.
Tim Conway has had a long, funny career on radio, and film, but is probably best known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. He has a very down to earth attitude and is quite generous with praise for his mentors and co-performers. Listening to this book made me want to take a look at the Carol Burnett collection. So many books to read, so many dvds to watch…

Fosse by Sam Wasson 9780547553290 723 pages

Bob Fosse was a larger than life phenomenon: dancer, choreographer and director. This hefty book sets out to be the definitive biography of this complex and conflicted superstar. I find it amazing that this winner of so many awards could be so insecure. Forced to be a breadwinner at an early age, he was exposed to the underside of strip joints, and bars while quite young. Although he seemed unable to be faithful to one woman for any length of time, he was beloved by many and forgiven by most of them. While a lengthy read, the book never dragged. Now, I want to revisit Fosse in film with a dvd festival of his classic films.

Most talkative: stories from the front lines of pop culture by Andy Cohen 9781427222589 273 pages

Let me say up front that I do not watch reality television. I have never watched a BRAVO program; I was drawn to the book by hearing about a local kid who made it to the big time. Andy Cohen may not be everyone’s cup of tea. He is loud and brash (I listened to this audiobook rather than read it). But he is quite entertaining in a somewhat flamboyant manner. He gives the unvarnished tale of how he left St. Louis for a stint as an intern with CBS This Morning which was not a good fit for him before  creating Top Chef and the Real Housewives franchise. He is obsessed with pop culture, tv soaps, celebrities, and shares his experiences coming out of the closet. After listening to his book I still don’t watch reality tv, but I am tempted to return to Allen Foods to try to spot his relatives.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Silence once begun

Silence once begun / Jesse Ball 232 pgs.

Set in Japan, this book tells the story of the mysterious prisoner Oda Sotatsu who signed a confession linking him to the disappearance of many older people who were never found. The prisoner refuses to discuss the case and ends up on a hunger strike before being executed for the crime.  Many years later, the journalist is trying to put together the pieces of the case and the people involved.  He interviews surviving family and friends and looks for two key figures from the time.  I thought I knew what was going on in this book but at the end, it took an unexpected turn.  The format is interesting including transcripts of interviews and some of the authors thoughts.  I overlooked this book when it came in so I'm glad the Tournament of Books highlighted it.

check our catalog

Doctor Who, vol. 1: Winter's Dawn, Season's End

Doctor Who, vol. 1: Winter's Dawn, Season's End, 408 pages

Originally published as single-issue comics, this weighty volume follows the Tenth Doctor (the one portrayed by David Tennant) in a meandering tale that takes him from a silent-movie set in 1926 to about 10 years ago in London, and to an unnamed planet 4000 years in the future. He picks up a couple of new companions for the adventure, finds a new scheming villain, and meets up with some old-favorite races, like the Judoon and the Sontarans.

Compared to the long-running TV series, neither the story nor the artwork is particularly up to snuff, in part because so many artists are involved (depicting a character based on an actual human is certainly difficult, and the artists here had varying degrees of success). I also feel that Doctor Who is best presented in an episodic manner, which isn't really done here. Yes, there are characters and villains that appear and disappear/are vanquished at different points, much like the TV show, but unlike the TV iteration, this comes across as a run-on sentence. But for those of us who love the Tenth Doctor, we'll take any opportunity we can get to go on an adventure with the Doctor.

 *For those who are fans of the show, this takes place after Tennant's episodes with Donna Noble, but before the TV movies where he travels solo.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories by MariNaomi

Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories by MariNaomi, 381 pages.
Most of the autobiographical stories here are intimate, while still seeming brief, and incomplete, as if the reader is assumed to already be familiar with the characters, and the back-story involved. This sounds critical, but it isn't really. MariNaomi's story-telling style works well, and most of the vignettes are engaging and enjoyable. You are coming in during the middle of the movie, so just enjoy it.
The art works well and enhances the tales without overwhelming them. I remember the stories as if I read them alone without the art. The story about the author and her childhood friends going to a party with the members of Duran Duran had a nice visual twist at the end.
Check our catalog.

Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline  278 pp.

Seventeen year old Molly has bounced around the foster care system and is close to aging out. Her latest placement is less than ideal and there is conflict between Molly and her foster mother. After being caught stealing she has agreed to do community service work to keep herself out of juvie. Vivian is an elderly woman who agrees to let Molly do her community service work helping her clean out her attic. Molly feels there is no one who could possibly understand her situation but while unpacking boxes she learns of Vivian's life story. Vivian came to the states as a child, an immigrant from Ireland. After the death of most of her family and the hospitalization of her mother, Vivian, then called Niamh, finds herself the ward of the Children's Aid Society that sends her and other "orphans" to Minnesota to be given to families who want children, mostly as farmhands or servants. With her name changed to Dorothy, Vivian lands in multiple bad situations before finding a true home and a new name once again. The story of the similar challenges faced by these women and the friendship that emerges despite the age difference is compelling.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris, 275 pages

This book is typical David Sedaris. And I mean that in the best possible way. Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls is filled with essays on everyday things like dentists, taxidermy, littering, and colonoscopies, and each story is marked by Sedaris' wry humor. I particularly liked his musings on air travel (I was actually laughing out loud--sitting in traffic by myself and undoubtedly scaring the driver of the vehicle next to me--at that one), as well as his reflections on his book tours.

This is a great collection, and an excellent addition to the Sedaris canon.

The Rosie Effect

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, 344 pages

In this sequel to The Rosie Project, geneticist Don Tillman and his (spoiler alert if you haven't read the first book!) wife, Rosie, are in New York, working and studying at Columbia University. Rosie is midway through her psychology and internal medicine double-PhD studies when she announces that she's pregnant. Logical and clinical as always, Don immediately begins adjusting schedules, making spreadsheets, and preparing nutritious meals for Rosie to prepare for the baby's arrival. As you could probably guess, this straightforward and emotionless approach rankles Rosie, and adds to the stress that Don is attempting to relieve.

I really liked The Rosie Project, and while some of the things I enjoyed there are in The Rosie Effect, I can't say that I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first book. Part of what made the first book sparkle so much is the interplay between Don and Rosie; in this one, while Rosie and her condition are central to the book, Rosie herself is largely absent. Instead, we end up relying on a cast of supporting characters that, while occasionally amusing or engaging (particularly rock star George), pale in comparison to the Rosie that we fell in love with in The Rosie Project. Too much Don and not enough Rosie equals one frustrated reader. Read it if you want, but it's probably just as worthwhile to reread the first book.


Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, 323 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens

Katie, a talented chef, is about to make one of her biggest dreams a reality with the opening of her own restaurant. Everyone at Seconds knows that she's leaving, but she's feeling kind of stuck between two places - between Seconds and her new place, between being a young adult and a real adult. After an accident that she inadvertently caused happens, Katie, feeling awful, half-remembers a dream of a mysterious figure sitting on top of her dresser telling her that if things go wrong, don't forget, before the figure jumps into her dresser drawer. Taking a look inside, she finds a small box containing one mushroom, a notebook, and a set of instructions on what to do for a second chance. She decides to try it, and while sleeping, she has a dream about the evening before where she makes all the right decisions and keeps the accident from happening. She's even more amazed when she awakes to discover that the accident never happened in real life. Excited by the thought of being able to do things over, Katie finds more mushrooms and begins using them whenever things go wrong, despite the warnings from the mysterious figure. Soon her world is practically unrecognizable and becoming more and more unstable. Can she fix it in time, or is she doomed?

Seconds is a fantastic story, and Bryan Lee O'Malley manages to capture that angst about getting older that seems to hit twenty-somethings perfectly in Katie. Her insecurity about her future and the decisions she is making is what drives her to keep using the mushrooms. And who wouldn't? Seconds is a much more serious story than Scott Pilgrim, but it's not without humor (Katie's constantly responding to the narrator, often out loud, which confuses the others). O'Malley's chibi-ish style is even more chibi here, as Katie is drawn almost comically petite compared to some of the other characters (especially waitress Hazel and ex-boyfriend Max), and there's a heavy dose of red in the coloring that almost makes the art glow. It's a good story about change and how second chances can be nice but can also make things worse.

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

A Man Called Ove / Fredrik Backman 337p.

From the land that brought us Ingmar Bergman (remember the one with the grim reaper and his scythe?) and ultra-noir crime fiction comes an unapologetic feel-good read.  Ove is a crusty widower with decidedly strong opinions on everything.  Just when he's decided that life is winding down, he becomes enmeshed in a series of distractions from his neighbors who are so incompetent that Ove is obliged to help them.  He's also adopted by a battle-scarred cat.  The story arc is wholly predictable but the situations are comically dry and Ove himself is adorable. (But he might kill you if you told him that.)  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It's a pleasure you don't have to feel guilty about.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: a Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League / Jeff Hobbs 406 pp.

This may be the saddest book I've ever read.  Robert Peace grew up in a hard but not desperate neighborhood in Newark.  He was blessed with a mother of extreme dedication and strength who scraped to put Robert through solid Catholic schools.  This, combined with Robert's evident powerful intellect and capacity to work fiendishly hard saw him through a Yale bachelor's degree, funded by a wealthy donor to his high school.  He graduated with a degree in hard science, debt-free.  So far so good.  But Robert, who was also good-looking, athletic, compassionate and a born leader, carried substantial psychic debt.  Hobbs was his roommate at Yale for four years and traces Rob's life from birth until his heartbreaking death, nine years after college graduation.  Hobbs is incredibly sensitive, mostly avoiding the temptation to make Robert a symbol of wider social ills.  He paints an individual human being so clearly that the reader feels his death as a personal loss.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry / Rachel Joyce 320 pp.

Look at this attractive cover image, and note the cheerfully unwieldy title.  Add a map of England tracing Harold's pilgrimage covered with lighthearted graphics and you know you're going to be reading a sweet, fun little tale, right?

So much for books and covers and all that.  What a downer!  Harold and his wife live quietly in southern England.  That is, they hardly speak to one another.  One day, Harold receives a letter from a former co-worker, who is dying in the far north of England.  Harold owes a debt to this woman, Queenie, although the reader won't learn why for a long while.  He spontaneously decides that the best way to make good on his obligations is to walk the 600 miles to see her. The novel is beautifully written and very engaging.  I can't criticize anything about it except its deeply melancholic tone.

Euphoria, by Lily King

Nell, an anthropologist, describes the first moment she gets “a handle” on a new place she is studying (no matter how elusory that understanding may turn out to be) thus, “But at that moment the place feels entirely yours.  It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”  The character of Nell is based on the early life of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, who’s Coming of age in Samoa was published in 1928 and remains influential and controversial to this day.  The novel is set in New Guinea in the early 1930’s and loosely based on real events and relationships from that period in Mead’s life.  It is an intense and gripping read with an alternative history ending.  It made me want to go back and reread Mead’s Blackberry winter, but not necessarily Coming of age in Samoa.255 pp.