Monday, September 28, 2015

Judge this.

Judge this. / Chip Kidd 125 pgs.

How much does design affect us on a daily basis?  All day every day according to Chip Kidd.  This book is based on a TED talk by Chip where he introduces the concepts of clarity and mystery in design.  Clarity gives us things that are close to unmistakable.  Mystery gives us things that are more fun because they are less revealing.  When to use each of these is important.  It is never good to have an instructional sign end up on the mystery end of the scale.  You really want that to fall on the side of clarity. Kidd gives many examples, improves upon a few and talks about some of his favorite book covers, which he designed.

As usual, Kidd makes it easy for even a dunce like me to understand.  I always appreciate his point of view.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Dead Lands

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy, 401 pages.
A post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The bulk of the story moves with tough-girl Mina Clark and psychically gifted archivist Lewis Meriweather as they lead a group from the shattered remains of St. Louis, now a walled city called Sanctuary, westward in the hopes of finding a flourishing civilization. Mutant carnivores, armies of slavers, and a psychic menace are all in their way. Sort of a mash-up of King's The Stand, McCarthy's The Road, and Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Read it if you love a good post-apocalyptic, dystopian tale, but ones without zombies.Or read it for the St. Louis connection.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Catastrophe 1914: When Europe Went to War

Catastrophe 1914: When Europe Went to War by Max Hastings, 628 pages.

I always enjoy reading histories by Hastings because his works are detailed, balanced, and do a great job of giving a broader picture than many other contemporary historians. Catastrophe devotes a fair amount to the successes of the Russian army, to the battles between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and to the hopeless meandering of the British Expeditionary Force under John French. There's no hagiography with Hastings, he points out the mistakes made by all actors in the drama and does not seem interested in assessing blame because of country of origin. German General Helmuth von Moltke is shown as a man out of his depth, clinging to a plan that was never practical. British Commander in Chief, Field-Marshal Sir John French is shown to be a defeatist, with almost no interest in cooperating with his allies. His subordinate and eventual replacement, General Sir Douglas Haig, while shown to be an opportunist and conniver, has his reputation as a military commander somewhat restored, with the excellent summation: "where no general of any nationality much enhanced his reputation, Haig was an abler soldier than caricature allows."
The text follows a loose chronology, moving through lead up to the war and the war itself, but following on account in one area through to the end before doubling back to cover a simultaneous, but geographically separate situation.
I enjoyed listening to the downloadable audio, admirably read by Simon Vance, but the scope of the book, the names and places covered during this one year (and mostly the last quarter of that year) made keeping it straight very difficult without the text to consult.

Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey

Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey by Bud Shaw, 291 pages.

Bud Shaw trained under Theodore Starzl, the father of liver transplants (I want to say "liver transplant surgery", but that seems to imply that there's some non-surgical form of liver transplant. Also, liver transplant is how the author puts it), beginning in 1981, and became one of the top, if not the top, liver transplant specialists. He recounts many of the memorable episodes from his career in nonlinear chapters that read more like essays or short-stories. There are stories about learning his craft from Starzl, who comes across as a harsh and somewhat unforgiving teacher. And there are stories from his time as an established surgeon in his own right. Most of the stories in this collection that are from an earlier time deal with a much younger Shaw and his parents and the tales revolve around his grief over the loss of his mother when he was thirteen, and the evolving relationship with his father, a general surgeon, and a man Shaw admired and whom he feared disappointing.
In these essays, Shaw holds on tightly to the traumatic failures in the operating room. Liver transplants were exhausting and lasted hours and hours, and even when the operation was going well, things could go suddenly and inexplicably wrong. Shaw gives much less space to the larger number of successes, indicating that at some point in the past the group photo at the annual reunions for survivors had to be broken up into many sub-groups. The author also gives few personal details outside of those about his mother and father. His three wives are mentioned, but little information about them is given. His first marriage dissolved into a celibate separateness, and his second marriage lasted twenty-five years, and his third is ongoing. Odd details are given, but then the story around those details ignored. It is also a bit  jarring when the step-mother who appears in one vignette -- training him on the procedure for scrubbing in to the OR--  is dismissed as a drunk in another essay, with no context given. Overall a well-written, but somewhat melancholy and defensive account of an interesting life.

The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld

The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett,

Bartlett explores the use of the Onion Router (TOR -a system that enables users to communicate anonymously on the internet) and shows how the use of TOR and unindexed webpages facilitates everything from pro-anorexia groups, to illicit drug marketplaces, to bitcoin proponents, to suicide support  and child porn websites. An interesting look under the hood of the internet with interviews by the author of all sorts of people caught up in their own section of the dark net; trolls, programmers, drug dealers, and those with extreme views.
An interesting read.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Loving Day

Loving Day / Mat Johnson 287 pgs.

Warren Duffy is newly divorced and back in his home town after his father passed away.  He inherited a run down "mansion" that his father never rehabbed. By far the biggest change in his life is the discovery of a daughter who was conceived during a short affair in his teen years.  Talia is now a teenager and has been raised white despite Warren identifying as black.  Tal's mom is dead and her grandfather is sick so Warren is a new dad and trying to figure out fatherhood, why his marriage failed and how to describe his relationship with his best friend Tosha.  Add to the mix, a bit of poverty, figuring out how to get Tal to graduate from high school (she dropped out) and how to handle the crack heads who hang out on his property.

Parts of this book are hilarious, parts will make you think, and Warren is a wonderful character who is working on a lot of issues.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

King of the Vagabonds

King of the Vagabonds: The Baroque Cycle #2 by Neal Stephenson  282 pp.

The second book in this series introduces two new characters: Jack Shaftoe aka Half-Cocked Jack aka King of the Vagabonds and Eliza, prisoner of a harem. Jack meets Eliza after stealing a Turkish Vizier's horse to chase an ostrich to steal its feathers to make some cash. He frees Eliza from her captors and they flee the siege of Vienna. Together they travel around Europe. Eliza is the shrewd one and Jack is the muscle. Much is discussed about the business practices of the French and Dutch during the era as Jack and Eliza attempt to make money through various "investments." However Jack is also suffering the effects of last stage syphilis and his mind wanders into fantastical episodes that may or may not be real. Throughout the story they encounter many figures known to history including Winston and John Churchill (ancestors of the 20th century Prime Minister), William of Orange, William and Mary, and many others. Evidently the next book ties together the characters of this book with Daniel Waterhouse and others from the first installment. There is a lot more action in this part than in the first book but the audiobook takes a lot of concentration to keep from getting confused.

All My Friends Are Superheroes

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman, 145 pages

In this short novel, Tom is a regular guy, but everyone he knows has super powers--his wife is The Perfectionist, who makes everything perfect; his best friend is The Amphibian, who has the ability to live in water or land; his ex is Someday, with the dual powers of big dreams and procrastination. At the wedding of Tom and The Perfectionist, the bride's ex-boyfriend Hypno hypnotizes her into believing that Tom is invisible/doesn't exist, placing both of the newlyweds in agony.

This is a cleverly-written fable about the abilities (both good and bad) that people have, and that make them stand out from others. The 10th anniversary edition, which is what we have in our collection, features short bios of other superheroes that either don't show up in the story or are mentioned only in passing. It's smart, it's quick, and it's infinitely relatable.

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, 374 pages

Before you start reading what I wrote about The Eyre Affair, click that link above and read the subject headings associated with this title in our catalog. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Do you see all the disparate topics there? And do you realize that there could be about a dozen more, including (but not limited to): paranormal fiction, time travel, murder, kidnapping, inventions, extinct animals, police work, veterans, and Shakespeare?

Perhaps taking all of that into account, it becomes apparent why this book is so hard to describe, but I'll try: Set in an alternate-universe 1980s England, Detective Thursday Next hunts down those suspected of high crimes and misdemeanors related to literature. When the original manuscript of a Dickens novel is stolen without any trace of the culprit, Thursday is pulled into the investigation, which involves a demonic criminal bent on wreaking havoc on classic literature, purely for the sport of it, as well as some slimy war profiteers from the Goliath Corporation who wish to exploit an innocent invention by a pottering old man.

That probably makes no sense, but it's a great book, at the beginning of a great series. It's smart, it's silly, it's a bibliophile's dream. I've read it more times than I can count, and I love it more every time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bream Gives Me Hiccups

Bream Gives Me Hiccups: & Other Stories by Jesse Eisenberg, 273 pages

In his first short story collection, Eisenberg (better known for his acting work in The Social Network, Adventureland, etc.) offers up a range of high-brow and low-brow humor. The titular story is a series of restaurant reviews from a 9-year-old child of divorce, and is one of the longest in the book. My favorites focused on an overbearing mother explaining the ballet to her son; an uncle taking his young nephews neverending "why" WAY too seriously; the final conversations in Pompeii; and Eisenberg's thesaurus- (and tongue-) friendly "Manageable Tongue Twisters." Really, the only weak spot in this collection was "My Roommate Stole My Ramen," a series of letters from a naive college freshman that went on WAY. TOO. LONG. But the rest is fun, smart humor.

You too can have a body like mine

You too can have a body like mine / Alexandra Kleeman 283 pgs.

Not an easy book to summarize, I can say that there are many issues that are featured including consumerism, body image, roommate relationships and disappearing dads.  The dads are disappearing then reappearing a town or 2 away with no memory of their previous family but often living with a new one.

B is A's roommate, C if A's boyfriend.  Both relationships are a little fraught.  A seems in love with C but they mostly spend time together watching TV, porn or having sex.  B is slowly becoming A by cutting her hair in the same style and using A's make-up.  She is a bit needy and always wants to know where A is spending her time and what she is doing.

Kandy Kakes is a product that is often being advertised throughout the book while A is watching TV or grocery shopping.  However, there is a shortage of Kakes when it becomes apparent that someone is emptying all the boxes before they are delivered. A ends up in a cult-like religion that exclusively consumes Kandy Kakes.

Why is any of this important to the story?  I'm not sure I know the answer. This was certainly a unique book and I'm still trying to decide what to think about it.

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Seriously...I'm Kidding

Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, 241 pages

In her third book, Ellen DeGeneres offers up more of her trademark be-nice-to-people humor.  This isn't for people that want an in-depth, warts-and-all memoir, but if you're a fan of Ellen's (c'mon, we can't call her by her last name. It just doesn't sound right, does it?), you'll probably enjoy this book. It's light, it's hilarious, and the audio book, which is read by the author, is definitely worth a listen.

Muse, by Jonathan Galassi

A very clever book by a long-time publisher at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  As an insider in publishing, the author knows all about the personalities the players of various “literary” publishing houses, their competition for best-selling authors who will also garner significant prizes (National Book, Pulitzer, even the Nobel), and their rivalries.  The novel is seen through the eyes of Paul Dukach, who has risen to second in command at Purcell & Stern, whose head, Homer Stern, is larger than life in all respects.  Their closest competitor is the patrician house of Sterling Wainwright, who is the publisher of the most notable female poet of her time, Ida Perkins.  It helps that Ida is also Sterling’s cousin, but Homer and she have also shared “a thing” in the past (one of many such liaisons the notorious poet has engaged in).  Paul is not only entranced with her poetry but with all aspects of her long and eventful life and becomes close to Sterling despite his employment with Stern.  Literary references and in-jokes abound.  And the poetry Galassi has written as Ida’s is pretty good too.  Fun for those interested in the publishing scene, and a good book even if some, or many, of the references go over the reader’s head. Comes complete with a bibliography of Ida’s work.  258 pp.    

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Undermajordomo Minor: a Novel / Patrick deWitt 317 pp.

Lucien Minor leaves his sad home in the town of Bury to serve as Undermajordomo to the Majordomo of the Castle von Aux, far away in the eastern mountains. The work is easy but the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. Ominous figures performing disgusting deeds appear in the night. Things improve for Lucy when he meets Klara, but rumors of his predecessor's disappearance into the Very Large Hole and threats from Klara's other suitor, the soldier Adolphus, keep the proceedings interesting.

This is a strange but lovely fairy tale, told in rhythmic, almost musical language. The best part was the way it sneaked up on me, morphing from a quirky little story into something moving and sweet.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

We live in water

We live in water / Jess Walter 177 pgs.

A fabulous collection of short stories, mostly set in Walter's hometown Spokane, WA.  It is difficult to pick a favorite but Don't Eat Cat is certainly up there.  Life is different now that a large population has been infected with hypo-endocrinal-thyro-encephalitis, a disease that leaves you with translucent skin, rotting teeth, skim-milk eyes - aka: Full zombie.  The line "But hiring zombies for food service?  I just think that's wrong." gives you a taste of the awesomeness of this story.  The narrator is just trying to get a coffee and the "infected" barista is unable to make that happen.  Turns out, those who are infected really want to eat cats and have to be re-trained frequently to keep them from doing so.

But this is just one of the many gems in this book.  I listened to the audio and it was wonderful.

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Sick in the head

Sick in the head: conversations about life and comedy / Judd Apatow 497 pgs.

Judd Apatow parlayed his high school radio show into opportunities to talk to big time comedians.  He was a total comedy nerd and worked his way to comedy master.  These interviews, some of which date back to the early 80's, reveal a LOT about Apatow and much about the subjects too.  There are really a lot of great interviews here if you are a person who cares at all about comedy.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

As If!

As If! The Oral History of Clueless by Jen Chaney, 322 pages

Twenty years ago, the director of Fast Times at Ridgemont High made a movie about a spoiled rich girl in Beverly Hills as she attempts to navigate high school. That movie was Clueless, which became a cultural touchstone for the 1990s, inspiring fashion (despite being satirized heavily in the movie) and slang terms, as well as launching the careers of Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, and Donald Faison. As If! is a collection of interviews from the cast and crew of the movie, reflecting on the making of Clueless and the impact it had on their lives.

Full disclosure: I LOVE this movie. Although I was never a girlie-girl like Cher and Dionne (I would have NO IDEA what to do with a closet like Cher's... probably fill it with overalls and Chuck Taylors), I was obsessed with this movie when it came out. I can't even count the number of times I watched it as a teenager, and even now, I'd watch it in a heartbeat if it was suggested. (Heck, I may have to watch it again tonight.) With that in mind, I very much enjoyed reading this oral history, even though there were no giant bombshell revelations; on the contrary, the filming went smoothly and under budget, and all the young actors got along swimmingly.

If you loved the movie like I did, by all means, read this book. If you never got the appeal, whatever. I'm Audi.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho 364 pages 9780670785391

I was not sure that I was up for another "dying teenager" book...but that is not what this book is about. Yes, Oliver has a rare illness, "Kleine-Levin Syndrome". He falls asleep for long periods of time (several weeks) and when he wakes up he has no memory of the lapsed time. This illness occurs primarily to young adolescent males.  His best friend, Althea finds it difficult to wait out these spells. Both of them come from fragmented homes. His father died while he was very young and her mother abandoned Althea with her husband.Oliver's mom insists that Oliver take part in a clinical study with the hope that he can find answers about his medical problem. He is upset about the study, how his illness will affect his senior year (and future) and also a recent discovery of a change in his relationship with Althea. He heads off to New York leaving Althea totally in the dark. Lots of angst and no pat solutions. Meaty book by a first time author.

Secondhand Souls

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore  335 pp.

This is the sequel to A Dirty Job where Charlie Asher becomes a Death Merchant who collects the soul vessels of the dead and is the father of Sophie who is the Illuminatus/Death embodied. Charlie is trapped in the body of a "meat puppet", a squirrel like creature who is holding his soul until Charlie's girlfriend, and former Buddhist nun, Audrey finds a suitable human body for him. Sophie's protectors, two enormous dogs known as the Hellhounds, have disappeared. The Emperor of San Francisco calls together the few remaining Death Merchants to discuss the problem of souls not being collected. Then a painter on the Golden Gate Bridge discovers souls living there. Add in a taser wielding Banshee, a flock(?) of other meat puppets, and Death Merchant Minty Fresh's cousin, Lemon Fresh, who is trying capture the souls for nefarious reasons and you have classic Moore craziness. And there is a bonus appearance by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. (They really exist and I know some of those guys.) This one could be read as a stand alone but it's best that you read A Dirty Job first.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Two Across

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch, 293 pages

At the age of 15, Vera and Stanley became rare co-champions of the National Spelling Bee, essentially packaging them together in the public eye for the rest of their lives. Three years after their win, Stanley, in a desperate attempt to avoid further academia (which had previously been foisted upon him by his hermit mother), suggests a scam wedding to Vera, so that he can pursue his true passion: building crossword puzzles. Vera agrees to the fraud, with more than a little hope that Stanley will reciprocate the crush she has on him. Instead, they're stuck together and constantly on the run (often Vera running from Stanley) as the con gets trickier and trickier to maintain.

I loved the premise for this book, Bartsch's first. It's maddening how Vera and Stanley dance around each others' feelings, but that's OK, it's how this book is meant to be. I also loved their shared nerdiness about spelling, crosswords, trivia, and math, which permeates almost all elements of their story. If the book has any fault, it's in the ending, which seems a bit abrupt. However, the story's still a wonderful one and fans of wordplay (or Wordplay, the documentary about crosswords) will love it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

When to Rob a Bank . . . And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants

When to Rob a Bank . . . And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, 387 pages.

A book composed of selections from the last several years of posts on the Freakonomics blog  There are short chapters on everything from libraries, about which they are wrong, (Look, I've offered as much data on this topic as they did), to gas prices, to prostitution (a Freakonomics staple). I listened to this on audio so I could not view any data that may have been given and, so, it often seemed that either they were not really making their case on a particular topic, or that the readers (Levitt, Dubner, and guests), weren't pointing out what data was presented in the print version. Mostly fun. If you haven't been reading the blog and enjoyed the other Freakonomics titles, then this is the book for you.

Pretty Is: a Novel / Maggie Mitchell 306 pp.

This received a strong review in the NYT.  I wouldn't say it didn't deserve it, only that I was less impacted than the reviewer.  At age 12, Lois and Carly May are kidnapped and driven across country by a stranger who keeps them in a cabin in the woods for months.  They are reunited as adult women when a film is made about their story.  An unusual plot keeps the reader guessing, or at least head-scratching, throughout.  Mitchell has given a lot of thought to female sexual power and she makes sharp observations about beauty and attraction.  Very smart, even if it occasionally misses the mark in terms of suspense and plotting.

The Things We Cherished / Pam Jenoff 288 pp.

A decent if forgettable World War II-era romance and legal thriller.  Charlotte Gold is a Philadelphia attorney persuaded to assist in the defense of an aged man on trial at the Hague for war crimes. The period drama is well-imagined but the contemporary romance, in which Charlotte falls for the brother of her old fiance, is a bit contrived.  (He likes you, you like him, you're not getting any younger, go to bed already...)

The Girl from the Garden / Parnaz Foroutan 271pp.

I am generally wary of novels with fruit on the cover.  They tend to be heartwarming family sagas, for which I reached my quota in about 1994.  But this story was something darker and stranger than its cover or title would anticipate, centering on an early 20th-century Jewish-Iranian family, and told through the recollections of one family daughter living in contemporary Los Angeles.   Asher marries Rakhel, but they fail to have a child, while Asher's brother Ibrahim and his wife happily await their first.  Asher's and Ibrahim's choices following the grief of the couple's infertility set up a twisted, dark revenge scenario, oddly believable and braided with strands from Old Testament greatest hits: the wisdom of Solomon, Abraham's sacrifice, Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah.  Foroutan is skilled and compelling, but this is one bleak landscape.  The moral of the story: hug a gynecologist today! (A pat on the back to a psychiatrist and a suffragette would not go amiss, either.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What pet should I get?

What pet should I get? / Dr. Seuss 40 pgs.

This gem was discovered in the papers of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) just a couple of years ago even  though he passed away in 1991.  In this book, a pair of siblings are allowed to choose a pet but only one.  They find many options at the pet store and it is difficult for them to choose.  Of course there are the standard types of pets and also some very special Seuss creations as well.

Wonderful for all fans of Dr. Seuss.

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Fables 21 & 22

Fables, vol. 21: Happily Ever After by Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, art by a whole pile of people, 194 pages
Fables, vol. 22: Farewell by Bill Willingham, art by a whole pile of people, 160 pages

What can I say about these final two volumes in the epic Fables series? Willingham wraps up his huge series with plenty of fanfare and fighting, and quite a bit of death (and Death, whose appearance makes for a hilarious highlight in the final volume). To be completely honest, I feel like the series itself went on longer than it should have, and the last volume DEFINITELY did. The main story line was peppered with final bows from characters, in two-to-three page tales: "The Last Grimble Story," "The Last Beauty and the Beast Story," "The Last Three Blind Mice Story," etc. I get wanting to say goodbye, and yes, some of the stories were good, but Willingham was milking it. 

That said, I never would have read all the way through to the last page if this wasn't a fantastic series. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in trying out graphic novels.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Challenge year totals and new wild cards!

The official Missouri Book Challenge year has finished, and we're now 9 days into the next challenge year. Here are the final totals for the year, which ran Sept. 1, 2014-Aug. 31, 2015:

Amy  52/15,411
Christa  113/31,784
K  6/1,305
Kara  87/24,038
Karen  84/25,864
Kathleen  57/18,271
Linda  46/16,169
Marilyn  12/3,338
Natalie  1/192
Patrick  95/33,591
Rob  1/430

Grand total: 554 books/170,393 pages/11 bloggers

No, these aren't the wild Cards we're talking about.

2014-2015 wild cards: 
12 books originally published more than 100 years ago
27 books told from an animal's point of view
6 bloggers who have worked here for 5 years or more

During the 2015-2016 challenge year, we get extra points for books that feature diseases or medicine; books that have been translated from another language; and for bloggers who were born outside of Missouri. Please tag your posts with "disease" or "translated" if your book applies!

The Seven Good Years

The Seven Good Years / Etgar Keret 177 pgs.

The seven good years are those between the birth of his son and the death of his father.  Like Keret's fiction, this book is a series of short essays that are broken up into "years".  Some essays are about his family, some about very random events, all are pure genius.  He tells of his trip to Europe as a kid and the thing that left the biggest impression that he was given a tiny can of Coca-Cola and a mini box of cornflakes on the airplane. He doesn't want to brag but he has managed a special status among parents at the playground because he is a man who is hardly ever working.  When asked by his mother about the game Angry Birds, he learns the slightly distressing fact that his wife that she plays because "I love killing things."

Keret has become one of my all time favorites.  I have Kathleen to thank for introducing him to me.

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The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year by Matt McCarthy, 323 pages

In The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, McCarthy documents his intern year as a medical resident, starting with his first shaky, uncertain days and carrying through to the competency he feels at the end of a rough, sleepless year. And he recalls it in such an easygoing, sometimes-humorous, sometimes-horrified style that the story just sucks you in. As weird as it may sound, I loved reading about his mistakes and the very human ways in which he responded to them (second-guessing himself, freaking out). Doctors can seem robotic in their interactions, particularly when they have so many people to see in such a short period of time, so it's good to see the experiences of the first year, where they're scared and worried (but still under strict supervision). A great book, well worth checking out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fairest vol. 5

Fairest, vol. 5: The Clamour for Glamour by Mark Buckingham, art by Russ Braun, 160 pages

Focusing on the Fables' Farm creatures and their wish for transforming spells, this is the last installment of the Fairest spin-off, which is supposed to feature the women of Fables. Problem is, this volume (like the one before it) doesn't. Instead, our narrator through the glamour lottery is a grouchy male sunflower; a second story line focuses on Reynard Fox, whose glamour was the root of all the transformation-related problems at the farm. These wouldn't be bad story lines for Fables, but Fairest is not the right place for them, particularly when there are so many female fables who deserve for their own stories to be told. I'm not too sad that this series has come to an end.

Double Whammy

Double Whammy by Carl Hiaasen  320 pp.

This is an early novel by Hiaasen but the premise is similar to his other Florida based stories. Detective/photographer R.J. Decker is hired by a wealthy to investigate cheating in the world of bass fishing competitions.  The prime suspect in the corruption is the star of a fishing show produced by a big religious television network run by The Reverend Weeb, a not-so-pure evangelist. When a body is found connected with the tournaments Decker finds himself deep in a murder investigation after first being a suspect. With the help of his ex-wife and Hiaasen's recurring character, the Everglades hermit/former Florida governor known as Skink, the story gets even more convoluted and funny while more dead bodies appear. Of course, Skink is the hero of it all. And as an added bonus, devoted Hiaasen readers learn how Skink lost his eye.

The Book of Speculation

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, 339 pages

The son of a carnival mermaid and brother of a tarot reader, Simon Watson is a reference librarian who's about to get laid off (damn budget cuts) when he receives an old, mysterious book in the mail. It's the log book and diary from a traveling circus dating back to the 1770s, and a rare books dealer has sent it to Simon because Simon's grandmother is mentioned. As he starts digging into the book, Simon realizes that the women of his family have all died in the same unlikely manner... and on the same day of the year. Alternating with the chapters about Simon and his dive into history, Swyler presents the story of Amos, a mute wild boy-turned-tarot reader whose story is told in Simon's mysterious book.

The story took a while to get going, but once it did, I really enjoyed it, particularly the historical chapters (I had trouble suspending disbelief when it came to Simon's assertion that a reference librarian has no need to be a "people person."), though once Simon's sister Enola and her electrically charged boyfriend Doyle show up, the modern chapters get a bit more interesting. Well worth the read though, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else Swyler has up her sleeve.

Monday, September 7, 2015

In the unlikely event, by Judy Blume

I hadn’t read any of Blume’s adult fiction before, but this was well-reviewed and is based on actual events in her own life.  Probably not the very best selection to read on a longish plane trip as it revolves around not one but three planes crashing into Elizabeth NJ, where Blume grew up, within a few short months of each other beginning in December 1951.  Part of its charm, for many of her generation, will be the evocation of that time through ads, jingles, and other current events besides the plane crashes.  It also brought back to me the concept of a “non-sked” airline, a term I hadn’t heard since my father worked as an airlines schedules analyst for United Airlines at that time.  A truly terrifying concept – cheap fares on ill-maintained planes which make up their own schedules pretty much on a whim.  Whatever you may think about the trials of air travel today, at least in this country it’s no longer the Wild West out there.  Miri, at fifteen, witnesses two of these crashes and is intimately involved with several people whose lives are changed by these tragedies.  She also experiences her first real love, learns secrets about her single mother, and deals with the loss of close friendships.  A good read but never rises above a middling YA novel.  402 pp.