Monday, August 31, 2015

God Help the Child

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, 178 pages
The audio, read by the author, is hypnotic and at times disturbing. Light-skinned Sweetness begins telling the story of how she and her husband saw their relationship fall apart after she gave birth to a very dark-skinned daughter. The child, Lula Ann, grows up knowing that she does not have her mother's love, but not understanding why.
As a successful, but unhappy adult calling herself simply Bride, she must deal with the repercussions of a lie she told in order to win some affection from her mother.
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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 588 pages.

Adichie's compelling tale of a young woman, Ifemelu, who moves from Nigeria to the United States on her own. She leaves behind her mother, father, and her boyfriend. While her aunt is able to help her for a while, Ifemelu soon finds herself on her own in place that is startlingly different from the one she imagined.
She loses her way briefly, before finding her voice as a blogger and must decide which parts of her self and her world to keep and which to put aside. Or something like that. We read this for book group in May, and I find that it has not stuck with me. I enjoyed it.
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The Whartons' stretch book

The Whartons' stretch book / Jim and Phil Wharton 287 pgs.

A comprehensive book detailing the active-isolated stretching method that is promised to increase flexibility and stability.  This book also prescribes specific stretch workouts for whatever sport you enjoy.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 374 pages.
This teen dystopian novel is almost old enough (7 years now) to be called a classic. Katniss Everdeen has gone on to two other books and three movies since this first came out in 2008. My sons and I started listening to this on a drive to Chicago this summer. We didn't finish on that trip and I ended up listening to the book on the way back and forth to work. If you don't know the story, twelve regions of what used to be the United States must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol each year as a tribute. These twenty-four youngsters must compete in the games which give the book and the series (and the series of movies) their title. It's not a nice competition.
The book is worth a read, provided the reader is not squeamish. There is death and despair aplenty in these pages, so younger readers beware. But given that these were all huge bestsellers and enormous hits on the screen, you knew all this already.
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Downloadable audio.

Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me

Things I've learned from women who've dumped me / Ben Karlin et. al 240 pgs.

Hilarious essays by a variety of very funny guys who have, at one time or another, been dumped.  Authors include Stephen Colbert, Bob Odenkirk and Larry Wilmore.  I listened to the audio version of this and laughed out loud.

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Art of War

Art of War - Sun Tzu (Translated  and commentary by by Lionel Giles) 224 pages 

The Art of War is a book about military theory, separated into 13 chapters:
  • Laying Plans
  • Waging War
  • Attack by Stratagem
  • Tactical Dispositions
  • Use of Energy
  • Weak points and Strong
  • Maneuvering an Army
  • Variation of Tactics
  • Army on the March
  • Classification of Terrain
  • Nine Situations
  • Attack by Fire
  • Use of Spies
While it pretty much self-evident that this book is mostly about war tactics and warfare dating back in the Warring States period in China. BUT most of his theory can actually be applied in everyday life and yes, there is a LOT!!! For instance:
"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak." -Sun Tzu

While I really don't have to explain this quote in full detail: "Surprise everybody and Fake it til you make it".   That one of the quotes that literately can be applied in everyday life. From the corporate office to school (especially school *plots revenge on upcoming high school reunion*). Thank God for the commentary too. There were a few parts on this book that had me puzzled until I read the commentary, which gives clarity on particular paragraphs. Suggestion: read a chapter, then read the same chapter with the commentary.

Blacksad: Vol.1 and Vol 2

Blacksad Vol.1 - Writer: Juan Díaz Canales Illustrator: Juanjo Guarnido. 117 pages

Blacksad Vol. 1

John Blacksad, a black anthropomorphic cat private investigator, bargains more than what he can scratch by investigating the murder of his ex, racist child abductors, and nuclear secrets of World War II. Writer Juan Díaz Canales and illustrator Juanjo Guarnido bring this beautiful and yet gritty watercolor crime graphic novel to you.

Vol. 1 is more of the introduction on Blacksad that includes three stories. Story one is more about him investigating the murder of his short-lived ex-girlfriend and previous bodyguard. Story two is what gets you hooked: it deals with interracial segregation,  racism and other deeply depressing issues dealing with the 50's between the disappearance of a young little girl, a mother and a cop deep, dark secret. It also introduces his sidekick Weesly, who happens to be a weasel. Story three deals with the sins of a scientist after World War II and the FBI.

Blackslad Vol 2.: A Silent HellWriter: Juan Díaz Canales Illustrator: Juanjo Guarnido. 112 pages

Blackslad and he partner Weelsly are back at it again, hired by a goat name Faust and who's looking for a jazz-playing drugged addicted boxer named Fletcher. Over the course of the story it gets bloody, (you know about some characters' dark past, including the main character) and then it get really depressing at the end.

Both of these books were awesome: art was beautifully done in watercolor and the stories were really good! Though I really wasn't to into animals "mating" in some parts of the comic (it was for the sake of telling the story I suppose) but again this book was beautifully well done. While only vol 2 only contained one story which didn't quite get me as vol 1., it make up on how he made the book and the watercolor which at this point: Juanjo Guarnido has a place in heaven.

I say give this book a read and have a open mind when it comes to......mating on certain pages

Strong Female Protagonist

Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan, art by Molly Ostertag, 220 pages

Alison Green is our titular protagonist, and Mulligan is not kidding when he calls her strong: Alison has super strength, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, and is pretty darn close to invincible. She's one of thousands of "biodynamic" individuals worldwide and was, at one time, Mega Girl, part of a four-person superhero team called the Guardians. But by the time we meet her, Alison has thrown in the domino mask out of concern that by being a superhero, she's doing humanity a disservice--how will we all learn to fight for a better world if a handful of superhumans are doing it for us?

Mulligan and Ostertag offer up plenty of food for thought here, most of which I haven't really seen in comics before (at least not in the handful of superhero comics I've read). Really, the only thing that bugged me about this book is the glut of footnotey comments at the bottom of each page. Sometimes they're great (particularly when Mulligan and Ostertag offer up their thoughts on the unintentional literary references of the panels on that page), but most of the comments are inane, and pull the reader out of the story. I'd avoid reading them if I were you, at least on the first run-through; save this "director's commentary" for subsequent readings.

In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, 401 pages

In December 1951, an airplane crashed into the small town of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Over the next few months, two more planes followed suit. Adult residents blamed the proximity of the Newark airport; the kids of Elizabeth, perhaps prompted by the proximity of the crash sites to schools, suspected aliens, zombies, or a Communist plot. Told from the point of view of several characters, In the Unlikely Event documents the fear, nutty spiritualism, and everyday life in Elizabeth during that time.

This is the first adult book by Blume that I've read, and I was pleasantly surprised. She did a great job of capturing the hysteria, fear, and recklessness that gripped the community during that period, perhaps because she was a teenager living in Elizabeth when those three planes went down (yeah, that actually happened). I particularly liked the portions of the book told from the point of view of 14-year-old Miri, who I suspect is the most autobiographical character for Blume.But she does a great job with the rest of them too. Well worth a read.

The Triumph of the Moon

The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton  514 pp.

This work is the first full-scale scholarly study of the origins of modern Neo-paganism/pagan witchcraft. The book covers the development of Wicca and its related beliefs from its development in England while debunking a lot of the much published pseudo-history of the beliefs. Included in his extensive research including village cunning folk, Victorian ritual magicians, classicists and archaeologists, leaders of woodcraft and scouting movements, Freemasons, and rural secret societies. Hutton examines the shoddy and in some cases non-existent research done by prominent authors on the subject like Robert Graves (The White Goddess) and Margaret Murray (The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology). He also gives detailed biographical studies of those who actually developed Wicca as it is known today: Gerald Gardner, Dion Fortune, Dorothy Clutterbuck (who was a real person, not someone made up by Gardner although whether or not he learned witchcraft from her is doubtful), Patricia Crowther, Alex Sanders, and others. This is a dense read and one I probably wouldn't have finished had it not been a "homework" assignment.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, 430 pages.
Larson is among the best at writing exciting, readable histories and Dead Wake is among his finest. There's plenty of detail about the Lusitania itself, and rare glimpses into the goings on in the German U-Boat that sunk the ship.
Diana Preston's 2002, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, is another great book on the topic.

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Ozma of Oz

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 246 pages

This is the third book in the Wizard of Oz series, and is the one upon which the oh-so-creepy Return to Oz movie was based. Simple Kansas girl Dorothy Gale is traveling to Australia when she becomes shipwrecked in the Land of Ev, home to the spooky Wheelers, copper man Tik Tok, and the vain princess with a closet full of heads (so she can pick one each day like Cher picks outfits in Clueless). Anywho, Dorothy and her friends from Oz (who happen to swing by for some reason) embark upon a quest to the Nome King to rescue the royal family of Ev, who are being held captive in his underground lair.

As much as I enjoyed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the subsequent books have really loopy plots that make them tough to follow (at least to my adult brain; my six-year-old son had no problems whatsoever). But the characters are pretty cool, particularly the Hungry Tiger, who sets himself on a vegan diet to keep from eating babies. (Yes, really.) But my biggest issue with this book? The title. Yes, Ozma does appear, but she's more of a supporting character. I'd much rather name it after Dorothy's talking chicken, Billina. But then, I'm not Baum, and I don't have a time machine to go back and convince him of my plan.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 938 pages

While I think I liked last year's Big Book Challenge, Middlemarch, more, I still enjoyed Anna Karenina. The story largely revolves around Anna, her affair with Count Vronsky, and its inevitable fallout, but I found that what kept me coming back was the story of Levin and Kitty. I found myself rooting for those two crazy kids, and that helped balance out some of the awfulness around Anna. While I'm with the crowd that finds Anna annoying, I find I'm still sympathetic to her. She's such a tragic character that I can't help feeling sorry for her, Vronsky, and their child (though I don't feel sorry for Karenin, and I'm not sure I can fully explain why). It's well worth a read, and I can see how it has endured through the years, even if it isn't been my favorite.

Lumberjanes vol. 1

Lumberjanes vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, art by Brooke A. Allen, 128 pages

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are Lumberjanes (sort of like Girl Scouts) spending their summer at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. Things are not quite right at Miss Quinzella's, and the girls soon find themselves on an adventure involving rabid Scouting Lads, secret caves, ancient gods, and an Indiana-Jones style adventure. This book has gotten so much hype, and rightfully so. Originally planned to be just the four issues collected in this volume, its overwhelming success has turned it into an ongoing series for Boom! Box. I mean, they even sell Lumberjanes badges (and I totally want all of them, of course)! There aren't many comics out there featuring a diverse all-girl group of friends as their lead characters, and the fact that this book has been such a runaway success will hopefully mean we'll get more comics like it in the future. If you love action, humor, fun, and friendship to the max, make sure you don't miss out on this one.


Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, 208 pages

A companion to Smile, Telgemeier's other graphic novel memoir, Sisters looks at the relationship between Raina and her younger sister Amara. Framed by a family vacation from San Francisco to Colorado and back again, Raina remembers what life was like growing up with her sister. As an only child, Raina was desperate for sister, but when Amara was born, things ended up differently from what she imagined. While their differences led to lots of squabbles growing up, they find on their trip that sisterhood is stronger and more important than anything else. Sisters is just as charming as Smile, though I had a harder time getting into it, not being the oldest in my family. Regardless, anyone with siblings will be able to relate to Raina and Amara's relationship and the intense love and hate that seems to accompany growing up with siblings.


Fairest by Marissa Meyer, 220 pages

A sorta-prequel, sorta-companion to Meyer's fantastic Lunar Chronicles series, Fairest is the story of the evil Queen Levana. Except she wasn't always so evil, and is as much a victim of her circumstances as she is just messed up. Disfigured at a young age by her older sister, Channary, Levana excels at glamour and takes on a new appearance everyday. But when she develops a crush on Evret, a palace guard, and he seems to reciprocate, she suddenly becomes very obsessed with him, his wife, and their unborn child. And when tragedy strikes him, she does everything she can to make him love her, even to the point of using her Lunar powers to influence him and his actions. Meyer does a great job fleshing out Levana, but doesn't play the villain-isn't-evil-just-misunderstood card like others might have. If you're just getting into the Lunar Chronicles and are thinking about skipping this one, don't. While it stands largely outside of the rest of the story, it does a great job of giving you a sense of Levana's motivation and filling in some of her story that the rest of the books have largely glossed over.

The cartoon introduction to Philosophy

The cartoon introduction to Philosophy / Michael F. Patton & Kevin Cannon 167 pgs.

A basic overview of the major tenets of philosophy and major philosophers with your host Heraclitus (a pre-Socratic philosopher himself). This fabulous introduction takes us through logic, perception, minds, free will, God and ethics.

Looking for a "not too heavy" way to learn more about philosophy?  This book is a great start.

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Hostile Takeover

Hostile Takeover  / Shane Kuhn 246 pgs.

John Lago is back!  And this time he is in love and working on a hostile takeover of HR Inc., the assassins for hire company that places interns in corporate settings to get access to and kill corporate big wigs.  John has some anger issues but he and his perfect partner, Alice, a fellow assassin hook up and make wonderful progress together.  At least until the paranoia and lack of trust sets in.  Lots of newly weds have similar problems but few are determined to kill each other like John and Alice are...But is it TRUE? or is it a setup?  Read to find out the crazy details of some great assignments and how the newlyweds deal with their "issues".

This book book is as fun as the first in the series, The Intern's Handbook

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Far from the madding crowd

Far from the madding crowd / Thomas Hardy 424 pgs.

Bathsheba Everdene is a gentlewoman farmer after she inherits her uncle's farm.  A striking beauty, she attracts men but also values her independence.  She ends up in a love square (three suitors) and makes a less than wise choice.  In the end, he isn't very happy either.  How will this marriage end?  Will Bathsheba end up with someone better or will she go it alone.

This is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel but his first major success.

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The Removers

The Removers / Andrew Meredith 177 pgs.

A thin memoir of a guy who bonds with his distant father when sharing a job picking up dead bodies.  Said father was fired from his job as a professor for sexual misconduct, an act that plunged the family into an odd dysfunction.  The parents decide to stay together "for the kids" but have almost no contact with each other for years aside from sharing space in the same house.  Andrew and his sister are trying to "launch" but are held back by the odd family dynamic and perhaps their other issues that they don't really want to own.

Some interesting parts, some seems like every body's life.

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The free

The Free / Willy Vlautin 312 pgs.

Leroy Kervin is confined to a group home after being injured in Iraq.  His life is difficult even though his mother and, for a long time, his girlfriend do there best by him.  Still, there is nothing to look forward to, he has recovered as much as he ever will.  In an act of desperation, he attempts suicide but fails.  Freddie McCall was the guy on duty when Leroy tried to kill himself.  Freddie is a good guy but his situation is overwhelming.  His wife left, taking his daughters and he is working 2 jobs in an attempt to make ends meet.  Pauline Hawkins is a nurse at the hospital where Leroy ends up.  She is also caring for her mentally ill father who made her life hell growing up.  Pauline prides herself on her professionalism and her ability to block any emotional connection to her patients.  This is mostly a survival technique.  But she is taken by a young runaway who lands in the hospital who could have a better life.  Vlautin does a great job with ordinary people and his writing is extraordinary.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 531 pages.
Doerr, author of the excellent short-story collection, The Shell Collector, wowed readers and critics with his novel that tells the story of Marie-Laure and Werner, two young people caught in the war, both ending up in the island town of St. Malo. Marie-Laure, who lost her sight at a young age, flees to the island with her father as Paris falls to the German army. Father and daughter eventually become separated, and Marie-Laure must learn to navigate the world without him. Werner, an orphan separated from his sister by the war, tries to cope with his role of invading soldier.

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Downloadable Audio.

All the Old Knives

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer, 294 pages.
Olen Steinhauer is the best of the current crop of thriller writers; we are not counting the dead here, remember.
His most recent work is mostly set in a small neighborhood restaurant, and seems almost to have been written for the stage. Two people meet over dinner; they're former colleagues, former lovers. One is a spy, the other a former spy. One is ostensibly investigating suspicious occurrences from years ago, but may also be trying to reignite the flame between them. Or none of the above; they're both professional liars and maybe killers, and that always makes for an interesting meal.
A good book for those who enjoy intricate plotting and character-driven thrillers!
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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, 451 pages.

The first book in the Barry-Pearson series that re-imagines J.M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan.
These were among the first big books I read to my older kids and we all still enjoyed listening to them while we were on the road this summer. Read by the incomparable Jim Dale.
Imaginative and exciting fun for kids old enough to handle the scary bits. Destined to be a classic.
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The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman (the Oatmeal), 147 pages.
The part about the giant Japanese wasps is the best. Inspirational, but not in the sense that it's actually inspiring me to run. I think about running a little bit more now. Then I go eat something.

A good choice for those who like irreverent, semi-disgusting (in a good way) cartoons.
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Harry Potter books 4 and 6

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 734 pages

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 652 pages

We listened to these books a number of times, most recently on trips to and from Chicago and Arkansas this past spring. These are the fourth and sixth books in the seven book series.They're both read by Jim Dale on the American version of the books on CD (or on downloadable), but we listened to a part of the Half-Blood Prince from an and illegal, unlicensed online copy of the UK version, read by Stephen Fry. For that I am heartily sorry.

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, 334 pages.

The story of Dorrigo Evans was very well-reviewed by Linda, here.
Winner of the 2014 Man Booker prize (the best novel written in English and published in th UK) for 2014. I listened to the audiobook version for most of this story, though as I often do when a book is compelling and I can't wait to hear how it goes, I read quite a bit of it, too. I found narrator David Atlas to be very good reader and heard his voice in my head when reading the text.
A compelling tale of shocking brutality in a Japanese prisoner-of war camp and lost love. A great read for those who love comples characters, and great storytelling, and who are not put off by graphic violence.
By the author of the excellent Gould's Book of Fish.
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Downloadable audiobook.

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, 228 pages

One of those fun, readable grammar books.
Norris, who has worked at the New Yorker since the late 1970s, first in the editorial library, but later as a copy-editor, gives an overview of the proper use of the comma, semi-colon, and dash, and gives spelling advice, all in a manner that is amusing and not at all stuffy. She sings the praises of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and of the vanishing No. 1 pencil in this mixture of memoir and style manual.

I enjoyed immensely; I only wish that some of the wisdom would stick with me.
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My three-year-old suggested leaning the actual copy of the book against the laptop screen, instead of importing a jpeg of the cover for this blog post, She further says of this book:

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq"s Green Zone

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq"s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 320 pages
A damning account of the choices made by the US government immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Originally published in 2006, this book still makes many lists of the best on the extended conflict. Chandrasekaran, a Washington Post correspondent and editor, convincingly makes the case that most of the important decisions were made base on neo-con ideology, regardless of their real-world implications and consequences.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015


Crooked / Austin Grossman 355 pgs.

An alternative history featuring Richard Nixon.  Nixon is one of the most improbable presidents.  This book explains all by revealing the supernatural secret behind his assent to power.  Told in his own words, this remarkable story tells of his assent to power and how it all fell apart.  Was he saving us? or just embarrassing us?

Another home run by Grossman, who also wrote Soon I will be Invincible.  Looking forward to the movie!

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Thirty-three Teeth

Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill  238 pp.

This is the second book in the "Dr. Siri Investigates" series. By all standards the aged Dr. Siri Paiboun should be retired. Because he is one of the few doctors who have not fled newly communist Laos, he has been given the post of National Coroner. There he deals with the laughable bureaucracy, unusual cases, an ancient spirit that lives in his body, and his ambitious nurse Dtui. In this episode Siri is given the job of determining the nationality of two charred helicopter crash victims connected to the deposed royal family, find the source of the horrific deaths of women mauled by what appears to be a large animal (possibly a missing bear?), and if that wasn't enough, people are hurling themselves off a ministry building. Nurse Dtui plays an important role as co-investigator which ultimately puts her life in jeopardy. The story is intriguing but it's the characters that make this series so enjoyable.

Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper  112 pp.

I read this on Kara's recommendation and she has covered everything I would say about it and more. The only thing I can add is that I enjoyed it and I'll be recommending it to kids interested in graphic novels.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 938 pages
This year's summer reading big-book, UCPL's fifth, and the first one that I finished before the third discussion. I have always claimed that I read this long ago, and I remembered much of the first half, but the second half of the book seems utterly unfamiliar. Sure, I knew the ending, and there's not much to Levin and Kitty's story that will stick with me for decades to come. Levin's religious awakening didn't seem to be as compelling as any of the long, novel length scenes earlier in the book: the reaping with the peasants, Vronsky and Anna's time in Italy, Stiva, Levin, and annoying friend out hunting. Those were all almost stories unto themselves.
Maybe the most readable of the five big books we have done, but it;s no War and Peace. 
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, audiobook read by Jim Dale. 341 pages.

We listened to the second in the Harry Potter series while driving around California on vacation this summer. A great read for a long car ride. Also our first time in a modern vehicle where we could listen to the MP3 instead of the CD. We are very 21st century now.
We love the books and Jim Dale is the best reader ever.
Book on CD in our catalog.

The book.

Downloadable audio.


DMZ: The Deluxe Edition, Book One

DMZ: The Deluxe Edition, Book One by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, 304 pages.
Graphic novel series about an intern photographer sent into the war zone that Manhattan has become in the not too distant future. The art and the story are both pretty good.
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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh, 277 pages.
A great medical memoir from a British Neurosurgeon. The stories highlight some of the differences between the British and American medical system and the differences in medical training in the two countries. Each chapter revolves around a specific case with a grim diagnosis, Pineocytoma, Ependymoma, and Medullablastoma for example. Marsh takes the reader through the case and tells what happened to the patient.
Well-written and sympathetic tales from a caring surgeon. Marsh does long for the day when as a surgeon he could get his way in the medical environment because he was the surgeon. There are many more layers of bureaucracy in British medicine now, and tantrums no longer have a positive outcome for the surgeon or the patient.
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Redeployment by Phil Klay

Redeployment by Phil Klay, 291 pages.
An excellent selection of short stories about U. S. soldiers and Marines, some serving in Iraq and some attempting to return to civilian life.
Each story in this collection is wonderful in its own way.
An added plus is the excellent list of books in the acknowledgements section Everything about this collection is very strongly recommended.
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Old Filth

Old Filth by Jane Gardam, 290 pages.
The first book in a trilogy following the life of Sir Edward Feathers, "Old Filth." The story, well-crafted and quietly moving, moves back and forth in time, starting with Feathers as an old retiree in the English countryside and jumping to his childhood. Seemingly happy when he was raised by Malay servants, young Feathers then became "an orphan of the Raj," wherein he (like many other children of colonial officials) was fostered out to a household in Britain, and endured a less prosaic upbringing.  The story skips back and forth. An engaging story. I am looking forward to reading the second book, The Man in the Wooden Hat.
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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, 204 pages

This relatively short book, the working title of which was Jews with Swords, is set in and around the year 950. Zelikman and Amram, two con-men and fighters have to make their way to Khazaria to save the rightful ruler. Lots of fun.
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Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle #1 by Neal Stephenson  334 pp.

Neal Stephenson is known for writing lengthy tomes. Quicksilver as published in book form is the first volume of The Baroque Cycle. This volime is made up of three books, the first of which is called, oddly enough, Quicksilver. The Audible version I listened to was just the first book which I did not realize when I started it. This book is the story about Daniel Waterhouse, friend of Isaac Newton and other members of the Royal Academy. Daniel is the son of one of the Puritan revolutionaries that helped Cromwell who by this part of the story has been killed and Charles II was on the throne. Essentially Daniel's tale is a trek through the scientific developments of the time period. Many of these experiments included the use of Mercury, aka Quicksilver. But quicksilver can also apply to the mercurial nature by which Daniel navigates his adventures that lead him to the Colonies and back again to England. He is brought back to England by Enoch Root (a character from Stephenson's Cryptonomican which I haven't read yet). An escalating battle between Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, both independent inventors of Calculus, threatens to send the study of science back centuries if Daniel doesn't mediate the feud. This is typical Stephenson, wordy, esoteric, humorous, frequently confusing, and thought provoking. On to book two. 

Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, art by Raul the Third, 112 pages

So stop me if you've heard this one before: An impala, a mosquito and an octopus walk into a garage... No? Well, that's the beginning of Lowriders in Space, an AWESOME graphic novel for kids that explores lowrider cars and their link to Mexican-American culture. The three animal friends work together in the garage of car dealership, but dream of opening their own garage to customize cars and build their own lowrider. Can a competition to build a car be the key to getting their startup dinero? (Previous word is in Spanish because Camper sprinkles the story with Spanish words and phrases, because she's awesome like that.)

Seriously, this is a great book. I loved the story of friendship and teamwork set against a zany plot (they actually go into space, you guys!) and chock-full of Mexican-American cultural references. My favorite part though? The artwork by Raul the Third is flat-out stunning, and what makes it even more impressive is the fact that it's all done with Bic pens. In an author's note at the end, Raul the Third writes that he wanted to go back to his draw-with-anything-available roots when illustrating this book. It's a great message for kids: that you don't need fancy expensive art supplies to do something awesome.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tara Road, by Maeve Binchy

More “beach reading” (in my case, lake reading) from the Grand Rapids MN Public Library’s annual book sale at “Tall Timber Days.”  Ria has lead a seemingly happy life with husband, Danny, a successful real estate agent, and their two children, Annie and Brian, on Tara Road.  They have renovated a large Victorian house in a section of Dublin which is undergoing gentrification.  The book starts very slowly with various characters being introduced and the first half could have condensed into a much shorter section. Finally, by page 225, Ria and Danny are having dinner at a fine restaurant, where Ria hopes to bring up the topic of having another child, when Danny reveals that he is leaving Ria to live with his much younger, pregnant girlfriend.  Devastated and overwhelmed, Ria makes a snap decision to do a summer “house exchange” with an American woman who lives in Stoneyfield CT.  Marilyn Vine had contacted her, having remembered meeting Danny ten years earlier on a trip to Ireland, seeking his advice on finding someone interested in such an exchange.  Marilyn has her own sorrow as well.  The second half of the book is actually very good.  The two women find themselves thrust not only into a new life, but into the established one of their counterpart on the opposite side of the ocean.  Annie and Brian are torn between the lives they used to know and what their lives may become with a stepmother not much older than Annie and a new sibling on the way.  By the end of the novel, one really cares about all of the characters.  I particularly loved the hapless young Brian, always able to say the absolute wrong thing with the best of intentions, and the remarkably ugly dog, Pliers.  648 pp.