Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Through the Woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, 208 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens Book

In five short stories, Emily Carroll plays on those basic fears that we all have - fear of the dark, fear of things not easily seen, fear of the woods where strange things can dwell. None of the stories are connected, though they all seem to feature lonely houses tucked away by a forest. Carroll also uses a limited color palette in telling her creepy tales, and it works perfectly. The bright starkness of red against black, white, and other muted but earthy tones definitely helps keep the creep factor going, especially in "A Lady's Hands are Cold" and "The Nesting Place" (speaking of, I've never been more freaked out by an illustration than I have of the monster in "The Nesting Place"). I'll be interested in seeing if any of the stories here get adapted for movies or television, as these stories would be fantastic in a moving medium, as long as the right people do them (of course). If you were a fan of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series and their original art back in the day, then this will be right up your alley.

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

The weight of blood

The weight of blood / Laura McHugh 306 pgs.

Lucy's friend Cheri disappears and is found murdered a year later. Lucy becomes a bit of a Nancy Drew looking for clues to this crime and feeling bad that Cheri's life was so rough and ended so early.  As she is looking, she is also learning about her mother...another woman who disappeared from Henbane, a Missouri community deep in the Ozark Mountains.  This is the first book by Laura McHugh (whom I met at the Missouri Library Association Conference in October) who lives in Columbia, MO.  The plot explores the relationships between parents and children as well as the larger community.  Lucy is motherless but her father and uncle are protective forces in her life.  She is a teenager now and doesn't feel like she needs protection.  But as she explores her history and the fate of Cheri she is bound to uncover some difficult truths that make her question some things she has always believed. This book has a creepy vibe and some disturbing violence but is an interesting read.

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A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, 398 pages

In the universe in which the magician Kell lives, there are multiple Londons, each with their own corresponding world. Kell lives in Red London, a city and world in which magic thrives, but is in balance with the people who live there. There's also White London (a land where the magic has gone sour, turning White London's inhabitants into mean magic junkies ready to do anything for a fix) and Gray London, which is devoid of magic. At one time, there was also Black London, but in that world, magic consumed everything, forcing the remaining Londons to seal their gates in order avoid the same fate. And for the most part, nobody can cross between the Londons. But Kell can, and when he gets mixed up with a Gray London pickpocket and a Black London artifact, he learns that magic always has a price, and the question becomes whether the price is worth it.

I loved the juxtaposition between the multiple Londons, which Schwab created beautifully. Each has its own language, atmosphere, and style, and it's easy to tell which characters belong to which world. (Also, I LOVE Kell's coat, which has multiple sides and styles, depending on how you manipulate it, and allows him to blend in in whichever world he happens to be visiting. I need to get myself one of those.) The book ends in a way that ties up the threads of this story nicely, though it also leaves room for additional exploration of these Londons. If Schwab writes more, I'll happily go along on the adventure.

Ms. Marvel volume 1

Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and art by Adrian Alphona, 120 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels Selection

Kamala Khan would love to be nothing more than your typical New Jersey teen, but as a Muslim and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, she feels like she is constantly at odds with what her parents and religion expect of her and what she wants to do. After being denied permission to go to a party down by the waterfront, she sneaks out. She manages to survive the party okay, but as she walks home, a mysterious fog begins to blanket Jersey City, knocking her out. After a truly strange vision featuring her heroes Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America, she comes to inside of a cocoon, breaks out, and discovers she looks exactly like Ms. Marvel - blond hair, immodest costume, and all. Stumbling back towards home, her body continues to shift from the real Kamala to Ms. Marvel, getting bigger and smaller as she goes. But when she rescues someone from the river while looking like Ms. Marvel, the media takes an interest, and she begins to think she can use her new powers for good. Of course, learning how to use her powers is a whole 'nother story, but what origin story would be complete without the requisite growing pains? Ms. Marvel, vol. 1 is a fun story. Kamala is a great character, a real character whose search for identity rings true of all teens her age. While she struggles with her conservative religion and upbringing, it reads as not much different than any child of immigrant parents struggle with reconciling their beliefs with their American-ness. Adrian Alphona's art is fantastic, full of little details and attitudes that make it great to linger over and really take in. Like all good comics, this one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I'm looking forward to volume 2!

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

The life-changing magic of tidying up

The life-changing magic of tidying up / Marie Kondo 213 pgs.

This little book is one of the most requested right now.  I'm not sure if it is in demand because it promises magic? or if we are all aware we have WAY too much stuff.  Marie Kondo has a system that she says works and that people who use it, don't back slide.  Is that because they are so pleased with their new uncluttered environment that they can't imagine going back?  I'll spoil the surprise, her method includes doing it all at once.  If you do just a little bit at a time, you don't see enough change and often don't continue.  She breaks the tasks up into dealing with categories so, for example, you deal with all of your books first.  A lot of what she says makes sense.  I'm not sure I can do it, but it is worth a try.  I am a believer in the idea that getting your things under control can change your life.

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Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner, 241 pages.
Lucas Beauchamp, a black man reviled by his white neighbors for his refusal to feign respect for them, more or less saved Chick Mallison's life when Chick was a boy. A few years later, the now teen-aged Chick still rather reluctantly feels that he owes Lucas a debt. And when Beauchamp is accused of the murder of a white man, Chick has to decide whether to acknowledge his debt to a black man and attempt to help Lucas, or to allow the horrible customs of that time and place prevail. Beauchamp's claims of innocence are ignored by everyone, including Chick's uncle, a rational and fair-minded attorney, and the sheriff, who is portrayed as a reasonable and just man, because of the overwhelming prejudices of the time and place. All of this leaves Chick, who largely shares the views of his white family and friends reluctantly assisting Beauchamp.
Maybe not Faulkner at his best, but certainly at his most accessible, a decent mystery told in the authors inimitable style.
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Power Forward: My Presidential Education by Reggie Love

Power Forward: My Presidential Education by Reggie Love, 213 pages.
Reggie Love had hoped to play in the NFL, but he was willing to start as a pro in the Arena Football League. Somewhere along the way from Duke University to his pro-football dream job, he secured an interview with Illinois Senator Barack Obama and ended up with a job answering and sorting mail for the soon-to-be presidential candidate. Before too long, he was the Senator's personal aide, or body man, with an 18-hour workday, helping make history.
It's a wonderful book by a man who learned a lot from his mother and father, his coaches (especially Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski), and from his boss.
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Disgruntled by Asali Solomon

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon, 285 pages.
When this story begins, Kenya Curtis is eight. She lives with her mother and father in West Philadelphia. Her father, Johnbrown, is a self-described housepainter and philosopher, and her mother, Sheila, is a librarian (yay!).
Johnbrown and Sheila are part of an activist group of like-minded friends that call themselves the Seven Days. They have taken the name of the group from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, and their aim is to advocate for their black neighbors against the injustices they see around them. As the story progresses, and Kenya grows, the group itself, and Kenya's parents find their aims and goals changing and unraveling. Kenya has to find a way to navigate her own life when those around her become, in a variety of ways, unreliable.
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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, 925 pages.
Aomame, a fitness center instructor with a secret side-job / "mission in life," finds herself transported from Japan in 1984 to a slightly off kilter almost Japan; one wherein only she notices the changes. She calls this time and place 1Q84. Aomame is comfortable with the fact that she has never fit in with those around her. Tengo, a writer and "cram school" math teacher, knew Aomame twenty years ago, when they were both ten-year-olds. They shared a brief, strong connection all those years ago that neither has ever forgotten. When the world subtly shifts because of a book written by a seventeen-year-old girl, a book that Tengo secretly revises, both main characters become targeted by a strange religious cult that seeks to undo what Tengo and Aomame have done in the altered world. Convoluted, complex, and sometimes creepy, this is a great book and well worth the time needed to get through all 925pages.
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Monday, March 30, 2015

On Immunity: an inoculation

On Immunity: an inoculation / Eula Biss 205 pgs.

This is a lovely book that explains so many issues surrounding vaccinations and public health.  Biss has taken the time to study the issues in depth, partly as a parent who wanted to do what is best for her son.  The daughter of a doctor, science and research are familiar to her but as a mother, it is sometimes easy to get pulled into doubt when you read about others who question what is best.  What do you owe society?  How much control should the government have in matters that relate to public health?  What is herd immunity, its' benefits and who should be responsible for it?

Biss is very careful with her words and doesn't cast doubters or believers into any pot but seems to encourage conversations and points to the benefits of education and understanding the issues involved.

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The Young Elites

The Young Elites by Marie Lu, 355 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

Many years ago, a sickness swept through the island of Kenettra and through the rest of the world, killing many, and marking the ones that were left. When she was four, Adelina, her sister, and their mother all got sick. Their mother died and Adelina lost an eye, but her sister, Violetta, recovered completely, becoming her father's favorite. Unfortunately for Adelina, she becomes his favorite thing to torment, especially since a malfetto daughter has caused his business to wane. Rumors start to circulate that some of those that recovered from the sickness now possess powers, calling themselves the Young Elites and fighting against the growing distrust and dislike of the malfettos, a fear which has been perpetuated by the king and queen and enforced by the Inquisition. When Adelina overhears her father selling her to a wealthy merchant to be his mistress, she runs away, only to find her father close on her heels. In her desperate struggle to get away, she discovers that she too has powers, terrible ones that can cause illusions and incite fear. Captured by the Inquisition and then saved by the Young Elites, Adelina is determined to become one of them, learning how to use and control her powers. But Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, finds her and forces her to spy for him, using her sister as leverage. Can she gain the trust of the Elites around her, especially that of Enzo, their leader and rightful heir to the Kenettran throne, and control of her powers? Can she come clean about Teren and rescue her sister in time? And what will she do about the growing blackness in her heart?

While this one didn't grab me immediately like Lu's first book, Legend, I enjoyed it nonetheless. Adelina is a broken, messed up character, and Lu does a good job bringing her struggle to life as Adelina becomes more and more engrained into the Elites, and the stakes get higher and higher if they discover her spying before she has a chance to come clean. There are some pretty obvious parallels going on between the treatment of the malfettos and real-life events like the Holocaust, but what that aspect reminded me the most of was the X-Men, most likely due to the superpowers. I'm curious to see where this story goes, especially after the ending and the epilogue that followed. It's a solid story that will work well for teens and those who make a habit of reading YA.

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

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 225 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

Prior to the release of this book, most of the reviews mentioned that the reveal was a huge, never-see-it-coming type of twist. Normally whenever I see multiple sources mentioning something like that, I get a little skeptical. I've read enough YA by now that usually I can figure out, or at least make a really good guess about, what's going to happen at the end. Not so with We Were Liars. It lived up to its twist-ending hype, and a lot of that has to do with how well E. Lockhart has crafted this story. Cady is the first grandchild of a very prominent, very rich New England family, the Sinclairs. Every summer, the entire family descends upon Beechwood Island, not far from Martha's Vineyard. The Liars - Cady, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat - are finally back together. But the summer the Liars are fifteen, things change. Eight months before, their grandmother dies, and their grandfather seems shakier and less himself. Right at the start of summer, Cady's father reveals he's been having an affair and leaves. Gat, whose uncle Ed is dating Cady's aunt Carrie and has been coming to the island since they were eight, feels even more like an outsider when he and Cady start to fall in love, and her grandfather shows increasing disapproval. Things seem more and more tense, until one night, something happens. Cady takes a swim in nothing more than her underwear, deep out into the ocean, and is found huddled on the beach with little to no memory of what happened. Taken to the hospital, they can't find a whole lot wrong with her, but she must have hit her head at some point because she begins to suffer horrible migraines. She constantly asks her mother what happened the day she must have hit her head, and her mother finally tells her that she has to remember on her own, that she can't tell Cady anymore because Cady always forgets. So the summer she's seventeen, she finally returns to Beechwood Island, ready to remember. And what she remembers might finally stick, might change her irrevocably. Cady is a perfect unreliable narrator, and Lockhart does a fantastic job taking the reader along as Cady works out the puzzle that is her memory and the changes to her behavior and the rest of her family's behavior. Despite being the epitome of the snooty rich family with secrets behind the perfect faƧade, the Sinclairs never feel like a caricature or a satirization. A perfect, twisty mystery that will likely gut-punch you with the truth in the end. Definitely not one to miss.

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

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein  321 pp.

Enzo, a Labrador/terrier mix (named for Enzo Ferrari) is the narrator and devoted companion of the story of race car driver Denny Swift. With great insight and a point of view that only a dog could have, Enzo tells Denny's story, recounting his successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies with compassion and philosophical reflection. Enzo also expresses frustration at his inability to communicate with words and his lack of thumbs. The story begins with an elderly Enzo contemplating his own end and his hopes to be reincarnated as a man before telling his life story with Denny from his adoption as a puppy, Denny's marriage, the birth of a daughter, and the tragedy that follows. Enzo has that innate canine ability to judge who is and isn't a good person and laments his inability to protect Denny from those who wish him harm. This book will leave you wondering what your pet is really thinking about you. 

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda  272 pp.

Actor Alan Alda, born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo, tells the story of his life from his days as a young boy traveling the vaudeville circuit with his parents. Yes, they did have the family dog, Rhapsody (named for his father Robert Alda's film "Rhapsody in Blue") stuffed with garish results. After surviving a string of bad tutors, Catholic School, Fordham University, and travels in Europe, Alan set his sights on writing and acting with mixed results. Until his acting career took off he worked a series of odd jobs including driving a cab and as a clown who appeared at business openings. When he was offered the role of Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H. his life and career changed forever. After that show ended he wrote, acted, and produced movies and became the host of the popular PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. Since then he has had recurring roles in a number of television shows. Alda tells his life story in a matter-of-fact style while being able to look at his past with humor. But he doesn't gloss over the hard parts: his mother's alcoholism and mental illness, his bout with polio and the painful treatments, counting pennies to pay the rent, and nearly dying of an obstructed bowel while on location in Chile. This isn't a scandalous tell all because Alda is not that kind of guy. His home is still in New Jersey where he raised three daughters with his wife of 58 years. He is now the grandfather of eight.

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, 273 pages.
A lot of the stories,vignettes, and the people in them in Gordon's memoir lead you to beleive that the author assumes that the reader knows a fair amount about her, about Sonic Youth, the band she co-founded, and about her ex-husband, Thurston. This was not the case for me, I'm aware of the band, but am not familiar with their music, nor did I know anything about Gordon. She's an interesting writer, and her interests range widely. Gordon is an accomplished visual artist, has had her own fashion line,  worked on a number of interesting and groundbreaking projects in No Wave and Alternative music (and she does seem to care way more than I do about the difference between punk, hardcore, new wave, no wave, and alternative).
Gordon met and worked with a lot of interesting people, but most of them come and go quickly in her account. Her paranoid-schizophrenic older brother looms large in her life, as does her Sonic Youth co-founder and husband (now ex-husband), Thurston Moore. There's an odd, "I don't want to talk about it" vibe to Gordon's account of her marriage's end, and Sonic Youth, and touring and performing with the band don't seem to be the focus of her life or of this book.
An interesting account of one artist's life, and a great portrait of the New York art and music scenes in the eighties and nineties.
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling

How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling, 271 pages

A collection of the author's weekly columns from the Guardian's weekly Weekend magazine. Most of the columns focus on Dowling's family life, his own ineptitude and his wife. They're all funny, but reading them all in one sitting sort of wears on you.
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Ghettoside: A True Story of Crime in America by Jill Leovy

Ghettoside: A True Story of Crime in America by Jill Leovy, 366 pages.
A fascinating, timely account of murder in Los Angeles, focusing largely on homicides in the African American community.
LA Times Reporter Leovy had started the Los Angeles Times' Homicide Report blog several years ago, using it as a forum to acknowledge every murder committed in Los Angeles County, to give "a story for every victim." In the book, the author starts with a similar approach but then switches gears and digs deeply into the story of one particular murder, and focuses on one particular detective.While this approach is still very interesting and compellingly readable, it weakens the book, taking it from the great down to merely good. Ghettoside is at its best when the author is looking at all the stories, exploring and explaining (at least in part) the long history of racism, discrimination, and poverty in Los Angeles that created both the shockingly high murder rate for young black men and the indifferent response by the public and the police to those murders. Still I strongly recommended the book for anyone seeking rational discussion of the high rates of violent crime in poorer communities around the country, and the seemingly uncaring response by the surrounding community and some police departments.
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The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, 66 pages.
Neil Gaiman's illustrated version of the sleeping beauty fairy tale, wherein the endless sleeping spreads outward from the castle where beauty lays to the surrounding lands. This version of the story is richly illustrated by Chris Riddell. All of the major characters in Gaiman's telling are female: victim, villain, and hero. An engaging tale.

"The Sleeper and the Spindle" also appears as a story in Gaiman's most recent collection of stories, Trigger Warning.

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Saga: volumes 1-4 by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Saga: by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples. volumes one through four, 604 pages. (v-1,160 pages, v-2,152 pages, v-3,152 pages, v-4,144 pages).
Marko, one of the ram-horned, Wreath-born folk, and Alana, one of the winged folk from Landfall, meet while serving in their respective armed forces. Despite the long-standing war between their two races and the many problems they know they will face, they decide to make a go of it together. Once word gets out about them, they find themselves tracked all over the universe by bounty hunters, royalty from one side or the other, angry parents, and ex-girlfriends. Well written, well illlustrated and always interesting. I look forward to volume five.

Volume 1 in catalog.
Volume 2 in catalog.
Volume 3 in catalog.
Volume 4 in catalog.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry / Gabrielle Zevin; 260 pp.

Just the book I was looking for. AJ Fikry is a young, misanthropic widower and owner of  Island Books, a not-so-successful bookstore.  He has a prized volume of Poe which disappears.  And at nearly the same time, something very special appears in his store which changes everything.  Sections are headed with AJ's short story recommendations, as they relate to themes in his life and the novel. An unapologetic feel-good which is smart enough to be a complete pleasure.  Recommended for part or full-time bookworms.

Orphan Sky / Ella Leya; 356 pp.

What do you think of when you think of Baku, Azerbaijan?  In my case, the answer is, "Not much."  And so I was pleased to find this novel set in 1970s Soviet Baku, reading being vastly cheaper than travel, plus there are no uncomfortable coach seats.    Leila is a fifteen-year-old piano prodigy and daughter of two well-connected parents.  To demonstrate her commitment to Farhad, the head of her Komsomol (Soviet youth organization), she agrees to spy on a young man who hangs out in a music store and who is believed to be involved in anti-Communist activities.  The young man, Tahir, introduces Leila to famous defector Vladimir Horowitz while chatting her up with his soulful eyes, and the rest is history. Well-intentioned, with interesting local color and nice insight into the musical life, but wholly predictable and by the end, very tiresome.

Freedom / Jonathan Franzen 562 pp.

I read this book compulsively, yet somewhat miserably, until the end when I was no longer miserable but extremely glad I had invested my time.  Walter and Patty Berglund raise their children in a comfortable home in St. Paul.  They have a serious marital problem.  They move, change jobs, their kids grow up, and after things happen, they decide how to handle their problem.  Or, as the narrator reflects often, they decide how to live, and what to do with their freedom.

Sounds simple, and in a way it is.  It strikes me that this is a very straightforward story, and yet it's a rare one.  The language is free of quirks, (perhaps it's the Midwestern ear), and the psychology is almost perfect.  What's refreshing is what I'll call its non-ironic quality.  So much fiction seems to say:  "See how terrible life is, but how cleverly I expose this terrible-ness and laugh at it."  Freedom exposes life as difficult, and occasionally terrible, but suggests that maybe if we try very hard, life can also be good.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Martina, the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Agra Deedy 29 p 9781561453993

In this retelling of a Cuban folktale, Martina takes courtship advice from her wise grandmother. I neglected to mention that Martina was a lovely cockroach. Her suitors include a pig, a rooster, a lizard and a mouse. Despite initial misgivings, she administers "The Coffee Test" to each and discovers their true colors. The ending is a witty turnaround and quite sweet. Bold illustrations by Michael Austin makes this visually and literally appealing -- even if you do not like cockroaches!

Audrey Cow by Dan Bar-El 230 p 9781770496026

The subtitle is : "An oral account of a most daring escape, based more or less on a true story". Several narrators band together to tell this rather tall tale inspired by Charlene Mooken, a thousand-pound Charolais cow that escaped the slaughterhouse in 2002. Among the narrators are: the heroine, Audrey, the cow; Eddie, a true blue dog and loyal friend to Audrey; Roy, a rather clever, horse; Boris, a heroic skunk. Each tell their piece of the story, namely Audrey's bold bid for freedom. Like Charlotte, of the classic Charlotte's Web, Audrey dares to dream big. With the help of mostly four footed friends, Audrey out thinks the much slower witted humans and bumbling investigators. Charming.

The Big Nap by Bruce Hale 110 p 0152025219

This is one of a dry, tongue-in-cheek detective series starring a "Sam Spadish" private eye, Chet Gecko. Yes, Chet is indeed a gecko. With the help of his trusted sidekick Natalie, a mockingbird, they set out to discover what is behind strange changes in the student body at Emerson Hicky Elementary. This 2002 story was ahead of the current zombie craze. The zombies at school are not blood crazed, just acting like mindless goody-goodies. Clever wordplay might lead the reader to read other titles in this series excellent for 3 - 5th graders.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman, 147 pages

Cartoonist Matthew Iman has a collection of comics, stories and various oddities on his website, The Oatmeal. In this book Inman talks about his love and hate relationship with running, personal journey of losing weight, and the other interesting topics that somewhat seems useless (but it relevant) all in a illustrated novel. With the University City Memorial Day run coming up soon (which you can sign up here), I decided to take a gander to read this book.

Most people (including myself) have one thing about running or just personal fitness they hate: the initial start which is a self-induced form of procrastination. Iman hit most topics on why he started to run, his flaws, how to mentally prepare yourself how to prepare to run, and get prepped for marathons. He also talks about how people think of the gym (which more or less is true), and Japanese Giants Hornets....gawd like there are enough things I'm already scared of like most insects especially spiders, snakes, and the state of Florida as it it.

But not a bad book if you interested in running and need something to laugh at to pass the time.   

Missing Reels

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme, 341 pages

Ceinwen Reilly works in a vintage clothing store and is obsessed with old movies, almost exclusively watching films produced in the 1950s or earlier, and dressing the part in '40s-era clothes. Perhaps because she has such a starry-eyed, romantic view of the world, Ceinwen suspects her downstairs neighbor Miriam is a silent film starlet, after all, she is a beautiful elderly woman with style to rival Grace Kelly. In a plot reminiscent of Old Hollywood, Ceinwen drags her mathematician boyfriend Matthew along on a wild search for a silent film that is believed to be lost... and which just may feature Miriam.

I loved this book. It's a great tribute to old movies, as well as a bit of a love letter to New York City. It makes me want to do a Katharine Hepburn movie marathon.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me

The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David Stewart McLean, 292 pages

On October 17, 2003, David McLean woke up in a busy train station in India with no idea who or where he was, nor why he might be there. This book chronicles his confusion and slow recovery from amnesia, brought on by an allergic reaction to the anti-malarial drug lariam. The process is slow, and filled with confusion, fear, depression, embarrassment, self-doubt, and no small amount of acting. At times, the book seemed too novel-like, particularly as McLean described, in detail, his hallucinations just after coming to in the train station. However, this was a captivating memoir, and worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Redeployment / Phil Klay 291 pgs.

A collection of short stories loosely tied together by the second Iraq War.  This book takes you to a place most of us have not been.  How does it feel when you make your first kill?  How does it feel when you kill a child?  How does it feel when you go home after being at war and being under stress for months and months?  These stories give you a little bit on insight based on a variety of characters in different roles during the war.  There are times when I was reading this that it was painful.  There were times when you just feel so strongly for the character in the story and there are times when you dislike the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  In the end, I'm not exactly sure what insights I gained but I feel like reading this book was worthwhile.

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The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  316 pp.

In England just before the war against Hitler began, nine year old Ada lives in forced confinement by an abusive mother who is embarrassed by Ada's  crippled foot. When Ada's young brother, Jamie, is  to be sent to live in the country to protect them from the bombing, Ada sneaks out and crawls to the railway station to go with him. They end up with a woman who, though she did not want to take them in, ends up changing their lives and giving Ada hope that her foot can be improved via surgery. This is a touching story with many themes worthy of discussion. I hope to use it in my kids' book club. 

A Test of Wills

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd  320 pp.

This is the first book in the "Inspector Ian Rutledge" mystery series. In 1919 Britain is recovering from the devastation of World War I. Inspector Rutledge has returned to work at Scotland Yard after serving in France and suffering shell shock, what we now call PTSD. For Rutledge it takes the from of a voice he hears in his head, the voice of a soldier he served with. When a popular colonel is killed on his estate in Warwickshire Rutledge is sent to investigate by a superior who hopes Rutledge will fail and be dismissed. The prime suspect is a decorated war hero and friend of the Prince of Wales. As Rutledge investigates he finds many other suspects including two other villagers suffering from shell shock. While Rutledge investigates the back story of the voice in Rutledge's head is revealed to the reader. The ending is a twist and I thought it a bit of a stretch but still left me wanting to read more in the series.  

A brave man seven storeys tall

A brave man seven storeys tall / Will Chancellor  379 pages

Owen Burr is on his way to the Olympics for the second time.  A 6' 7" water polo powerhouse, he is injured in his last college match and needs to reinvent himself.  He decides to become an artist and ends up in Berlin.  Things are a little odd there and he is exploited by an artist who has made a name for himself.  He falls in love.  In the meantime, his father is a bit frantic looking for him.  Seems like Owen hasn't really been keeping in touch.  His dad is a classics professor whose life hasn't turned out as he had hoped.  In looking for Owen, he has an adventure of his own.  In the end, father and son find each other.

This is a real simplification of the plot but contains all the basic elements.  This father and son have had a non-traditional relationship and maybe have never related well but love each other deeply.  By searching for their own identity, they find themselves and each other.  I enjoyed the book and the odd directions it took.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle

Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle by Tom Venuto, 384 pages

Tom Venuto, a nutrition researcher and natural, "steroid-free" bodybuilder, has broken down this book on how to lose weight and gain muscle plus get that summer body that you always wanted (which, you know summer is right around the corner).  One thing I gotta say about this book, this book is awesome for people who want to actually lose weight, training to be a world star athlete or need some direction to start: cause finding to a workout plan is already hard as it is. I say this book is the way to go!!!!

The break down of this book suggest that you go on chapter 17 (pg. 304) while reading the book to get started working out immediately while reading the book from chapter 1. I totally agree. But if you're older or not familiar with working out, then I suggest consulting your doctor, and going to the burnthebodyfeedthemuscle.com free tools section to see how the workouts are done (and YouTube some exercises to make sure you doing the exercises right). The book is so easy to read compared to other exercises books I read (currently I'm reading The New Modern Encyclopedia Of Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is 800 pages and is good if you seriously wanna be a bodybuilder or get toned, but for beginners and for leisure get this book). This book simplifies diet, which is definitely important, and debunks the myth on weights in general (which is more faster to lose weight than doing cardio) and why most females are scared of weights.

From personal experience: I did read this book and I still heavily reference it every day. And I do gotta say, it does works and my secret for gaining muscle. I would put a before and after pic but I don't want a our library have a high data plan and learning my lesson while after what I did to Fraggle Rock. But I feel awesome most times and glad I read this book.

The Crossover

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 240 pages
2015 Newbery Medal Winner
A 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

 Josh and his twin brother, Jordan (better known as JB), are teen basketball phenoms. Basketball is as vital and natural to them as breathing, which isn't surprising given that their father played professionally overseas before deciding to retire at a young age. This year, their team has a real chance at winning the county championship, especially since Josh and JB are playing the best they've ever played. But growing up (and in the case of identical twins, starting to grow apart) takes its toll on the young boys. Josh feels left out when JB starts dating a new girl at their school, pushing down his anger until it explodes on the court. He also can't ignore the increasingly louder arguments between his parents over his father's health. Josh pours it all into poetry, telling the story in verse, while playing it out on the court. In fact, Kwame Alexander's decision to write The Crossover in verse format is a great one, infusing the scenes where Josh and JB are playing in games with a hip-hop swagger, playing with font sizes, styles, and spacing to create an image of the action. It adds to the vulnerability that Josh is feeling about JB and his father's not-totally-obvious decline in health. My only complaint is that it feels like a lot gets packed into a short amount of time and then ends before the reader has time to process all that happened (though after reveling in the 500-plus pages of All the Light We Cannot See, this feels like an unfair observation to make, so it's probably just me and not the book). This is a great book, perfect for middle-grade readers, and definitely worthy of its accolades.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Brewer of Preston

The Brewer of Preston by Andrea Camilleri, 75 of 245 pages

Written by the author of the Detective Montalbano series, The Brewer of Preston focuses on a small town in 1870s Italy, where a prefect has inexplicably mandated that a mediocre opera be performed to debut the town's new theater. But many of those in the town have decided to protest the performance.

This book, at least as far as I read it, had some funny situations, as well as the promise of a charming tale. However, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I think it would be better suited to someone who has a greater knowledge of and investment in the unification of Italy in the 1800s, neither of which describe me. Perhaps I'll give it a go later on, but as it was, I had too many other books in my to-read pile.

The Room

The Room by Jonas Karlsson, 190 pages

Bjorn works in a nondescript open-plan office, and has his eye on climbing the corporate ladder. If only his coworkers weren't so annoying, wasting time and letting their messy piles of paperwork spill onto Bjorn's desk. But one day, Bjorn notices a room near the elevator, one that nobody else seems to notice but that serves as a calming and more productive workspace for Bjorn. The fact that Bjorn keeps visiting the room is bound to become a source of contention in the office, and sure enough it does, though not at all in the way Bjorn expects.

This is a quick read, but it's an excellent examination of mental health, particularly in an office environment. In writing this from Bjorn's point of view, Karlsson raises some interesting questions about mental health that would make this a great pick for a book club. I'd also recommend it to those who enjoyed The Rosie Project or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 531 pages
A 2015 Alex Award Winner

I think I'm the last person on the team to read this, plus it's incredibly popular, so I'll avoid the summary and go straight to my thoughts. It's absolutely easy to see why this book has so much buzz. It's a story about the beauty and mysteries of the world that surrounds us, and how war can tear that apart. It's about how war ultimately is about the ones that are left alive at the end of it, and how the experience of war can resonate across lifetimes. The writing is gorgeous, almost lush at times, and the back and forth from Marie-Laure to Werner works perfectly. Get on the request list for this one before the inevitable movie adaptation comes out (in fact, I think it's long enough that you'll still be cutting it close!).

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Get In Trouble

Get In Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link, 336 pages

In her newest short story collection, Link offers up some intriguing glimpses into new worlds, including a few that include superheroes as just another sector of the population, one in which teenage girls obsessed with ancient Egyptian culture have convinced their parents to build pyramids for them after death, and one full of pocket universes. Perhaps my favorite was the Bradbury-inspired "Two Houses," which centers on the crew of a long-range spaceship telling ghost stories. While I wasn't quite ready for the sci-fi-heavy stories, I enjoyed them. Those who enjoyed George Saunders' Tenth of December will like this collection too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 531 pages

A blind young French girl and her father, the keeper of the keys at a Parisian museum, flee their home as the German occupation of France begins in World War II. A young German orphan with an uncanny knack for radio technology quickly rises to the elite of Nazi training camps. A middle-aged Nazi jeweler is on the hunt for a legendary diamond that he believes can cure his ailments. The three stories cross, dance around each other, and intertwine in Doerr's beautifully written book. Told in short episodes at different times during the war, All the Light We Cannot See offers a tale of two children affected by World War II and how both became involved in something much bigger than they ever expected. This is simply a lovely book. No wonder it's so in demand.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, 303 pages.
The author of the famous XKCD web-comic, and its younger weekly web-partner, What If, puts a great deal of thought into answering such questions as "what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?" His answer to this one posits that with the ball moving at 600 million miles per hour, the plasmised air, and disintegrating baseball, bat, and batter, would result in the destruction of everything within a mile or so, and would cause Major League Baseball rule 6.08b to be invoked, with the most probable outcome being the batter ruled hit by the pitch. Who knew?
Other outcomes are not quite so dire. Swimming in a spent nuclear fuel rod containment pool should be fine, if everything is stored properly, you keep far enough from the fuel, and the angry guards don't cause you harm.
There are 37 or so questions answered, often with additional scenarios considered if the answer to the original question lacks sufficient drama. There are also special short answers to questions the author finds disturbing.
Great for reading aloud to annoy your friends and family! Highly recommended.

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The Chicken Squad

The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin  95 pp.

This book is hilarious. Four chicks solve the mystery of the big, scary, round thing in the yard. When Tail, the squirrel, runs into the coop terrified of the strange object he has seen the chicks decide to figure out what it is and how to get rid of it. After questioning the frequently fainting squirrel, they decide that a UFO has landed to capture them and fear their mother has already fallen victim to the aliens. The intrepid chicks embark on a mission to defeat the intruders. Using their chicken ingenuity they launch an assault on the frightening object which happens to be a barbecue pit full of hot dogs. The story includes an introduction and epilogue by J.J. Tully, retired search-and-rescue dog.

The Children Act

The Children Act by Ian McEwan  221 pp.

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London's Family Court division. She is intelligent, talented, and dedicated to her profession. When marital difficulties arise she throws herself into her work with even more focus. One high profile case is in the forefront, the case of a Jehovah's Witness parents refusing to allow a teen-aged son, dying from leukemia, to get the treatment he needs because it requires blood transfusions. Despite her efforts to remain detached, her ruling on this case sets a string of unintended events in motion that change the lives of all involved. All of this leads to Fiona making an examination of her life and the choices she has made. This is a "quiet" book with little action and lots of internal soliloquies. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman  66 pp.

This brief fairy tale is a twisting of the Snow White and Sleeping Beauty stories without the need for rescuing princes. In fact, the only males of any consequence in the tale are the dwarves that travel with the dark haired queen to the castle engulfed in thorns to rescue (or not) the sleeping woman inside. The story is not what you expect and it is enhanced by the detailed pen and ink artwork by Chris Riddell.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden, 259 pages

We all know the movie The Princess Bride. The story of love, adventure, sword-fighting, giants, Rodents of Unusual Size, six-fingered men, and miracles hit movie theaters in 1987, receiving great reviews and tepid attendance, but over the past 28 years, has grown into a family classic through VHS and DVD. In this book, Elwes (or Westley, as he's better known to fans of the movie) presents his memoir of the making of the movie, starting from casting and taking us all the way through to the 25th anniversary celebration. Peppered throughout are anecdotes provided by others involved with the movie, including director Rob Reiner, author/screenwriter William Goldman, and actors Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), and Carol Kane (Valerie).

I listened to the audiobook of this and it was AWESOME. Several of the added anecdotes were read by the person who provided them, which lent a documentary feel to the audiobook. I particularly loved hearing Rob Reiner give voice to his own anecdotes, especially a gem about his weirdest Princess Bride-fan encounter, which had me in tears I was laughing so hard. This is probably my favorite audiobook that I've listened to. Even without the added voices, I'd decided not long into listening that Cary Elwes should read ALL audiobooks and/or come to my house to read bedtime stories.

What really struck me, however, was how each person involved with the movie has carried it with them fondly over these last three decades. As Elwes notes toward the end of the book, the movie was made with love, and it shows, both on the screen and in this memoir. Well worth reading, or better yet, listening to.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir, 384 pages
A 2015 Alex Award Winner

Mark Watney was dead when the rest of the crew aborted their mission due to a horrible dust storm on Mars and evacuated back to their spaceship. Except he wasn't, mostly due to a lot of weird circumstances that managed to keep him alive (though, of course, his biometric scanner stopped working, so that's why his crew thought he was dead), despite the puncture in his suit caused by a piece of antenna ripped off the communications equipment by the storm. Now Mark is faced with surviving on an inhospitable planet all by himself, with nobody knowing that he's actually alive, and with little chance of him making it back home. But Mark is a botanist and a mechanical engineer, and he's surrounded by equipment designed and tested by the best minds science has to offer. As long as he can make it to the site of the next Mars mission, he might survive...

I really enjoyed this one. Despite Mark's predicament, he manages to calm down from his initial despair and start pulling a plan together that just might save him. And he does it all with a very self-deprecating sense of humor. Weir writes the first chapter or so of the book in what is essentially blog format, and it works really well in establishing him as a character. But we also get all sides of this - spoiler alert - NASA's, once they figure out he's still alive, and the rest of the crew, once they're finally told. By the end of the book, I was just like everyone else in the story, eager to see what would happen next, and if he could make it as NASA and the rest of the world pull together to bring him home. The science-y parts are possibly a little too science-y (I kind of skimmed past them a bit), but you definitely get a sense that Weir knows what he's talking about. Don't let the hard science keep you from reading this one.

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

The Sellout

The Sellout by Paul Beatty, 288 pages

The premise of The Sellout is set up in the prologue: our narrator, a 20-something black man raised on a farm in the middle of the Los Angeles hood, is on trial before the Supreme Court for slave-owning and segregating the local high school. The rest of the book lays out the story of how this situation came to be, complete with  and

Beatty offers up a biting satire with oversized characters (such as the "slave," Hominy Jenkins, a former Little Rascal who's still stuck in the old and jaw-droppingly racist days of Hollywood) and absurd situations to shed light on racial issues. I found myself snorting with laughter many times while reading this book, partly because these characters and plot points are so ridiculous and partly because Beatty's observations are so head-on. While I thought this was an excellent book, the drug use and language mean it's definitely not for everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Family furnishings, by Alice Munro

A collection of selected stories from 1995 – 2014.  As Munro stated that she was done with writing, it can be presumed to be one of her final collections – although a recent story says she is quoted as saying, “Every day I have mixed messages to myself over whether I will retire. I have promised to retire but now and then I get an idea."  However, at 82, it is likely that there won’t be a huge outpouring from this Nobel-winner.  She is simply the best and I’m grateful she has been so prolific.  Her stories benefit from re-reading, and I had read many of these when they came out.  616 pp.