Saturday, October 31, 2015

The bus driver who wanted to be God

The bus driver who wanted to be God / Etgar Keret 130 pgs.

This is Keret's first collection of stories and it is, like the others, pretty fabulous.  The description on the cover says is all "Warped and wonderful short stories."

It is hard to pick a favorite but maybe the one about the guy who tries to hire someone to kill him but he is such a wonderful nice guy, no one will actually do it.  He has tried three times now.  Or maybe the one about the death of Rabin - a cat that is hit by a man on a scooter.

Like Keret's other books, you should read slowly and take many breaks because each story is so full it takes time to understand and digest them.

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The knockoff

The knockoff / Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza 338 pgs.

Imogene Tate returns to work after a bout with cancer to find that the company is going a different direction.  A fashion magazine editor with lots of cred, she finds her magazine has turned into an app and the staff has turned into a tech heavy crew who doesn't care about much past "BUY IT NOW".  The worst, however, is that this transformation has been engineered by Eve, Imogene's former assistant who recently graduated with a Harvard MBA.  Eve is robot like in her demands of staff and very cruel in their treatment.  Imogene isn't the most tech savvy person but is learning fast.  Eve makes a point of naming a toy dinosaur after her but makes the mistake of underestimating Imogene's ability to  adapt and be classy...something that Eve lacks in spades.  Entertaining and tech interesting.  This book can also serve as a "what NOT to do" if you hope to be a good boss.

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Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 463 pages.

Heller's absurd classic about bomber pilots in World War II still resonates strongly fifty-some years (60?, I don't know) after it's release. I first read this in high school and then read it a second time decades later. While I still find it humorous, I didn't remember the depths of despair for almost all of the sympathetic characters. Nor did I remember the level of casual personal violence. It is hard for me to reconcile the lives these characters led with the real experiences of the combatants and civilians caught up in that war. When I read Catch-22 the first time, WWII and its attendant misery seemed impossibly remote. Now, though it all seems contemporary or even ongoing. The book itself, with Yossarian, Dunbar, Nately, Orr, McWatt, A.T. Tappman, and a cast of others lined up on one side and Milo, Ex-PFC Wintergreen, Colonels Korn and Cathcart, Generals, Peckham, Dreedle, and Scheisskopf on the other, careens wildly around the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean. Sometimes the Germans and their anti-aircraft gunners are the enemy, those that are "trying to kill me," but more often the war is fought all around; with the pilots, their aircraft, the Italian civilians, the whores, black marketeers, doctors and nurses, finding violence and a huge amount of senselessness swirling around them.
The introduction to the later editions includes Heller's recollections of how the book was received at the time of the publication. That was a lot of fun to read. Timeless, provocative, and precisely crafted, it is despair leavened with absurd humor.

Why not me?

Why not me? / Mindy Kaling  228 pgs

Mindy Kaling, the likable actress and writer weighs in again with a collection of essays that focus on the things that have happened since her last book.  She is refreshing and realistic and willing to work hard so why shouldn't she be fabulously successful.  Frankly, the chapter about her typical day pretty much exhausted me just by reading it.  If there is anything she needs right now besides an Emmy it is a good nights sleep.


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Saga: Volume Five

Saga: Volume Five by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples,  152 pages.

The fifth installment of a family on the run from two warring empires.
,Alana, a winged soldier from the planet Landfall, and Marko, a horned soldier from Landfall's moon, have been on the run from both sides of the war and from all their collective mercenaries as well.

The Tourist

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, 409 pages.
Milo Weaver is one of an elite, secret group CIA operatives. Even among the Tourist group there are secrets, and learning one particular secret puts Milo's family in jeapardy. A well-paced, well-written thriller that is a satisfying and exciting read. Fans of modern espionage books will really enjoy this one and the rest of the Milo Weaver books.

Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician

Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician by Sandeep Jauhar, 268 pages.

Jauhar, who chronicled the beginning of his career in his 2008 book, Intern, here recounts what he sees as the decline in the morale and intellectual climate in his profession. Working as a specialist in heart failure at Long Island Jewish hospital, Jauhar finds that, because of all the changes in healthcare and payment plans over the last several years, he and his family cannot quite afford the life they thought they could on a cardiologist's salary. Many of the medical professionals Dr. Jauhar encounters, especially those who had their hearts set on getting wealthy, become burnt out or resort to complicated, and from the patients point of view, unnecessary, schemes to increase the amount earned per patient seen. Jauhar himself tries several different extracurricular workflows that he hopes will keep him afloat without compromising his ethics too much.
While Jauhar himself read the audio of his first book, Patrick McCarthy reads this one, and while he does an adequate job, the change in voice is a bit jarring.
Jauhar is a very good writer, but he tells a sort of  a grim and dispiriting tale.



Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride, 271 pages.
I read McBride's first novel when it first came out, I remember really liking it. On the second reading, that holds true, I really liked it, but having recently read the author's prize-winning account of John Brown, The Good Lord Bird, which was one of the best books I have read in several years, this debut did suffer a little by comparison. This was still an exciting account of the war in Italy. The main focus comes when four African-American soldiers become separated from their unit during a fierce battle. They find a traumatized orphan, the head of a statue, and, eventually, a group of partisans with secrets of their own. By the time you got to the end of the book, I had long forgotten the twists and turns set up in the very beginning, but it was still a satisfying, though sad, conclusion.
The really great thing about listening to the book was hearing the narration by the awesome Wendell Pierce. He does a great job setting the tone of the book; it is a great read.

Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, pages 514 pages.
The second installment of the Tearling series has Queen Kelsea Glynn trying to find a way to keep her kingdom free and full of the living as the neighboring kingdom, Mortmesne, sends their larger and better equipped army ripping through the Tearling. As Kelsea begins to better understand her own powers, she also finds an odd connection to a woman in her distant past, a woman in the 21st century US.
As original and compelling as the first volume. Fans of fantasy should enjoy this.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, 423 pages.
We listened to this late in the summer and into the fall on some  road trips. I've read Tolkien's books a number of times in the past, but this is the first time I have listened to it. The nicest surprise was hearing all of the poems and songs, which I always skipped over. Inglis, the narrator, gives them all a wonderful rhythm and tune, and makes them enjoyable.
Read by Rob Inglis.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, 273 pages.
This was one of our book discussion selections. Everyone liked it more or less. This series of interconnected stories revolving around different musicians and music industry big-wigs from the 1970s through the present day, presents intricate gems with characters who rise and fall, find their muse and lose it. Egans characters are the best part of these stories.
A really good read for those who enjoy well-crafted stories, music, and character driven tales.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman, 283 pages

Christa did a great wrap-up of the seminal points here, so I won't retread what she wrote, at least not too much. Our narrator, A, has an obsessive roommate, B. Both of them have low self-esteem issues, though it's hard to say who's in worse shape. A also has a boyfriend, C, and their relationship seems to be the textbook definition of dead-end. Then there's a whole bunch of stuff about beauty cream commercials, and the disgusting-sounding (yet somehow really enticing to A) Kandy Kakes, and a lot of talk about oranges. Oh, and a really creepy cult.

I honestly don't know what I think of this book, other than that it's really weird. So if you're up for an odd book, go for it. Just don't expect to crave an orange afterward.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Bride's Story, Volume 6

A Bride's Story, Volume 6 by Kaoru Mori  196 pp.

This is a continuation of the story of Amir and her child husband, Karluk. Karluk is now thirteen and starting to take the idea of manhood seriously, although the marriage has yet to be consummated. Amir's affection for the boy has increased although she treats him more like a younger brother than a husband. The Halgal clan Amir was from has fallen on hard times and is battling with the Badan clan for land for grazing their horses. The Badans have artillery from the Russians and plans to attack the peaceful village where Amir and Karluk live. The agreement between Amir's father and the Badan leader turns out to be a false promise and the battle turns into a disaster. Amir's brother is there to save the day. Once again the pen and ink artwork in this graphic novel is beautifully detailed and is what has drawn me to continue reading this series.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Being Mortal

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande  282 pp.

I'm going to start by saying this should be required reading in every medical school/intern-residency program. It should also be read by every doctor who deals with any possibly life threatening condition. (Wouldn't that be all of them?) Dr. Gawande researched and experienced the good and bad in the care of the dying in this country with both patients, friends, and family members. He explains how too many in the medical profession are so wrapped up in "fixing diseases" that they overlook what treatment is doing to the person's life and spirit and the lives of their family. He also points out the ways in which the concept of nursing homes fails. Quite a bit of this book is depressing, especially if you've ever experienced a life threatening illness (like me...twice) or care for an older family member (me too, again, with my siblings). Gawande does give hope at the end when he discusses the increasing use of hospice and other alternatives to hospital end of life care. This is an important book for anyone dealing with aging and declining family members and those of us who will be on that downhill slide sooner or later.

Rabid

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, 275
pages

In Rabid, Wasik and Murphy provide an in-depth look at rabies, a ridiculously scary and deadly (still kills almost 100% of those who contract it and are not treated immediately) virus that has plagued the world for millennia. This history looks at the earliest-known descriptions and treatments of rabies and brings us through to the modern-day fight against the disease, spending a full chapter on Louis Pasteur, who created the first rabies vaccine and post-transmission treatment. Wasik and Murphy also spend plenty of time looking at rabies in popular culture, exploring how this, yes, diabolical virus permeated literature from the Brontes to Zora Neale Hurston to Stephen King, and influenced the descriptions of paranormal creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. It all makes for a fascinating and frightening book.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, 409 pages

In Leckie's debut novel, the narrator is Breq, an artificial intelligence that was once the operating system of the Justice of Toren, a large ship full of soldiers, all of which are at our narrator's command. But now that intelligence is trapped inside a single fragile human body, and Breq is bent on taking revenge upon the entity that forced this change. While it could be a typical revenge story, the AI component, as well as the use of only female pronouns (Breq, and the race with which she is most closely associated, don't care about or distinguish genders), give it a bit of a twist. I look forward to seeing what Breq does in the rest of the trilogy.

Mark Rothko: toward the Light in the Chapel / Annie Cohen-Solal 282 pp.

Another Yale University Press title from the Jewish Lives series.  This was originally written in French and translated, as far as I can tell, by the author.  Rothko's story is interesting and multi-faceted, from boyhood in a shtetl in present-day Latvia complete with Talmudic school,  adolescence in Portland, Oregon, to New York artist.  And after reading, I may now be able to look at a Rothko painting and say something besides, "Hunh.  Colored stripes."  But I can't tell if the author simply tried to cover too much in too little space, or if she simply should have allowed someone else to translate, but the text feels full of holes.  Part of the problem is certainly the difficulty in writing about a non-verbal creative process.  An added shortcoming is that long stretches read more like a history of 20th century American art rather than the story of one man.  A book this length requires greater focus, or maybe simply a different focus.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson & David Shannon  48 pp.

Rock 'n 'Roll Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson (guitarist & songwriter for The Band) made his second foray into children's book authorship with this legend from the Iroquois nation. This is not the Longfellow "Hiawatha" redone. Robertson, who is of Cayuga and Mohawk heritage, tells the story he learned as a child from an elder on the Six Nations Grand River Reservation. Up to the 1500s the Iroquois people spent much time in inter-tribal warfare before they joined together to form a confederation. This tale tells how Hiawatha overcame his sorrow at the death of his wife and children to aid the mysterious "Peacemaker" in putting an end to the wars between the tribes. David Shannon's (No, David! & A Bad Case of Stripes) artwork is colorful and dramatic and brings life to the story. Included with the book is a cd of the original song about the Peacemaker written and performed by Robertson.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Final Curtsy

The Final Curtsy by Margaret Rhodes  208 pp.

This is a memoir by a cousin of of Queen Elizabeth II. Margaret is the daughter of the 16th Lord Elphinstone and Lady Mary Bowes-Lyon, sister of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Margaret grew up with the current queen and her sister as playmates. Later she went on to work for MI6 during World War II. She married Denys Rhodes who she met during that time and they spent a lot of time in world travels which occasionally found them in dangerous situations during political unrest in Asia and later, Africa. After the death of her husband she took a position as a "Woman of the Bedchamber", a cross between lady-in-waiting and companion to the Queen Mother, accompanying her at public appearances and assisting with entertaining. The title of the book refers to the last curtsy Rhodes gave the Queen Mum as she left the bedchamber of the dead queen. This is a light read. Rhodes debunks a lot of the commonly held ideas about the royals always being stuffy, prim, and proper with tales of hunts and outings where the entourage was dressed in all manner of scruffy "country clothes" and returning home filthy and mud stained. But this isn't a book about royal scandals. The author goes out of her way to avoid those topics. There are several photographs of Rhodes with the two Elizabeths and her family members.

The Sword of Summer

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan, 497 pages.
The first in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series.
Riordan begins a new series focusing on the Norse Gods and he does it as well as he did with the Greek Gods (the Percy Jackson series), the Egyptian Gods (the Kane chronicles), and the Roman Gods (that other series the name of which escapes me). My sons love all of Riordan's books and we listened to this on a recent trip to South Bend, Indiana (Go, Irish!). We were skeptical at first, the narrator seemed a poor choice, but the story was so compelling that we soon stopped complaining and just listened. There are Valkries, svartalfar, elves, and all sorts of mythical giants and other creatures, all busily trying to help or hinder a homeless kid from New York as he begins an epic quest. A fun read.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry, 546 pages.
Barry does have an epic going here. He starts with some facts about the Great War and the flu, and then he doubles back and gives us the history of medicine up to that point. He then presents a fascinating section on William Welch and the other medical luminaries from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were changing the way medical science was researched and the way in which medical care was given. Barry does a wonderful job of bringing these researchers and practitioners to life. As he takes us into the early stages of the epidemic, we also make acquaintance with the political movers and shakers of the time, so many of whom seemed to go out of their respective ways to make things worse when the "plague" hit. A really fascinating book, with so much detail, but with so much of the story still barely covered. Modern research indicates that as many as 100 million people died during the course of the pandemic, and most of those deaths took place far from the United States (though the Spanish Flu started here). Untold millions died in India, China, Russia (already wracked by revolution), and in parts of the world whose inhabitants rarely encountered flu. These regions are mentioned, but are not the focus of the book.
There is a fair amount of repetition in the text. I listened to a good deal of this book on audio, so that actually helped a bit with all the names, places, and numbers. Probably a better book to read so that you can keep the vast cast straight. A landmark book, ably read by Scott Brick.

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton, 166 pages
An excellent collection of comics from Canadian artist, Kate Beaton. Beaton finds her inspiration in literature, history, and old photos, and popular culture. She often mixes these all together with hilarious results, as with the Jane Austen / X-Files mashup, "House Full of Mulders".
Goofy and thoughtful, Beaton's comics often reference literary classics that I have not yet gotten around to reading, and in this volume she builds a series of strips around a classic of which, I swear, I have heard nothing, Kokoro. We have the book at UCPL, and it is in translation, so now I'll have to read it.
The comics can also be found at harkavagrant.com.

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy, 294 pages.
Unlike several other books by physicians that I have read recently Tweedy's seems mostly positive. He doesn't spend much time talking about how the changes in health care have ruined medicine. He focuses more on the disparity of care that has existed for Black Americans, and the disparities that can still be found, despite improvements.
Interesting and readable,even if it is not the best of the recent crop of medical memoirs the author does tread new ground and seems to keep his sense of curiosity intact. He also refrains from displaying the omniscience that some long-time practitioners let creep into their narratives.
Tweedy seems to have a positive outlook on health care overall.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The girl in the spider's web

The girl in the spider's web / David Lagercrantz 400 pgs.

Lisbeth Salander is back!  Along with all your other favorite characters.  This time Lisbeth is involved with a shadowy group of hackers, murderers, and all around thugs.  Is this group a remnant of the crime syndicate her father used to run?  Of course Lisbeth is involved in a few other things too.  Mikael Blomkvist and the entire Millennium magazine staff is in financial hot water.  They accepted some money from an investor who is turning out to be a bit of a control freak and general ass hole.  Mikael thinks maybe it is time to end the magazine or he needs to come up with one heck of a scoop to increase revenues.

With many plot twists and some new interesting characters (plus MOST of the old favorites), new author David Lagercrantz does a good job of continuing the Millennium series.  I think Stieg Larsson would be ok with this book.  It isn't perfect but has many of the features that made the earlier trilogy a hit.  Plus, it is the first book in a long time that I could not put down.

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Step Aside, Pops

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton  168 pp.

Subtitled "A Hark! A Vagrant Collection", Beaton has created another satirical collection of comics that touch on literature, mythology, famous people, and society with mixed results. Many didn't impress me much and others were just okay. I think the take-offs on the "Nancy Drew" book covers, "Wuthering Heights," and "Founding Fathers (in a Mall)" were my favorites.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Soon I will be invincible


Soon I will be invincible / Austin Grossman 237 pgs.

I can't get enough of this book told from the viewpoint of a villain Dr. Impossible - the smartest man in the world, and Fatale - a cyborg billed as the "next generation of warfare" and new member of the "New Champions".  The last couple of times I read this book, I raved about Dr. Impossible.  He is still impossibly funny to me but this time around I really have a new appreciation for Fatale.  She is the new girl in the club and is worried about making friends, being accepted and maybe getting some action from fellow team mate and all around hottie, Blackworlf.  There are so many great lines in this book but it adds up to more than just great lines...even the super heroes among us have the same doubts, struggles and issues.  Grossman does a wonderful job of telling a very human story with extraordinary characters.  Still waiting for the movie version of this book!

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Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams / Woody Holton 483 pgs.

The second first lady, Abigail Adams was a woman of many strong opinions that she shared freely with family, friends and acquaintances.  Abigail had strong opinions about women and the rights that were denied to them.  She was a great advocate of education for girls and a proponent of women owning their own property...something that was a bit of a legal quagmire at the time.  Through her uncle who acted as her "agent" she invested in government bonds and made a tidy sum for her family which she considered her own. She was devoted to her husband and those feelings certainly went both directions.

Also the mother of the sixth president, some of her other children brought more heartache than acclaim. This book reveals much of the lady herself through extensive letters and diaries.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The secret history of Wonder Woman

The secret history of Wonder Woman / Jill Lepore 416 pgs.

Suffrage, women's rights, feminism and Wonder Woman are all featured in this book about the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marsden.  Marsden was an interesting character with a family life that deserves to be chronicled in a book.  Marsden was highly educated but had problems holding a steady job.  His number one occupation often seemed to be self promotion.  He developed an early version of a lie detector test but in addition to monitoring some physical phenomenon, it required Marsden to interpret answers from the subject.  He was a psychologist and a lawyer, a professor and a writer...none of which supported his family.  He was a smart man who was supported financially and emotionally by the women in his life, I found the story very interesting.

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Mess

Mess: one man's struggle to clean up his house and his act / Barry Yourgrau 276 pgs.

Always willing to judge a book by its cover, this one really spoke to me. The piles of newspapers making up the word "Mess" reminds me of the challenges I read about in Stuff: compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee.  This book, however, is better because it is a first person account of a very challenging living arrangement that prevented the author from having things fixed in his apartment and threatened his romantic relationship one day when his girlfriend stopped by and he wouldn't let her in his abode.  I could relate to almost all of the reasons the author kept the things that he did and have a lot of empathy for his situation.

This book is funny, endearing, and very readable.

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The Diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray, 578 pages

Evie O'Neill is a thoroughly modern girl - bobbed hair, flapper style, and a desire to have nothing but fun. When her ability to hold objects and divine the owner's secrets from them gets her in trouble in her hometown of Zenith, Ohio, her parents send her to stay in New York with her uncle until things quiet down. But trading in the Midwest for the skyscrapers of fabulous, fashionable New York is hardly a punishment for Evie, even if she is stuck working with her uncle Will and his staid assistant Jericho in the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Soon she's zipping around town, hanging out with Ziegfeld dancer Theta and her best pal Henry, figuring out how to get her friend Mabel into Jericho's arms, and avoiding that wretched sneak thief Sam Lloyd at all costs. Meanwhile, Memphis Campbell, a Harlem numbers runner with aspirations of being a poet, keeps dreaming about a tall figure standing at a crossroads and an eye with a lightning bolt under it, which is thoroughly disconcerting. And a killer with a penchant for the occult is stalking the streets of New York, making Evie, Jericho, Will, and Sam race against time to stop him.

This was a re-read for me in preparation for the sequel, but I still enjoyed it. Bray is building a very lush world that is grounded in the history of the 20s but with the added element of the supernatural, and it's a great melding. One thing I appreciate more and more each time I've read this book is that the killer gets creepier and creepier, and the overarching mystery put into motion gets more and more intriguing. Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors, and while I've only just started on Lair of Dreams, I'm looking forward to what she comes up with next.

Luka and the Fire of Life

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie  240 pp.

After seeing the horrendous treatment of the animals of the "Great Rings of Fire" circus, young Luka Khalifa curses the circus owner. The curse causes the destruction of the circus. A month later Luka's father falls into a coma as a result of a curse placed by the owner of the destroyed circus. Luka heads off on a quest to retrieve the "Fire of Life" which is the only way to save his father's life. Accompanying Luka on his journey are a dog named Bear and a bear named Dog, two of the escaped circus animals. They are led by Nobodaddy, a hologram-ish representation of Luka's father who gains more substance as his father grows closer to death. Along the way they join up with a variety of magical beings who assist him in his quest against sinister rats, old Aztec gods, deities of extinct civilizations, and others. Rushdie includes elements of mythology, video games, and pop culture throughout the story at random moments. At one point there is a brief reference the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Who and his Tardis appearing, vanishing, and reappearing, Doc Brown from "Back to the Future," and the dwarves from Time Bandits dropping from the sky all along the River of Time. This was closely followed by the Eddies in the river, specifically known as Nelson, Duane, and Fisher. These and other random bits of humor pop up in the story but you have to be paying close attention to catch them. Somehow this mashup of fantasy, mythology, magical realism, and heroic quest all works to make a fascinating, if sometimes confusing story. It was written as a children's book but I know of few children who would really "get" it.

Red Queen

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, 383 pages

Mare's world isn't just stratified by the haves and have nots, but by the color of blood. If you have silver blood, then you have all the wealth, prosperity, and power in world - both the power to rule, but also physical power in the form of a special ability. But if your blood is red, then your life is not much more than a fight to survive. Mare is a Red. Her three older brothers have all been sent to the frontlines of Norta's never-ending war, and unless a miracle happens, she will likely be next. After a series of unfortunate events, she finds herself where she thought she would never be - with a job, working for the Silvers attending the Queenstrial. As the favored silver daughters demonstrate their abilities for the king and queen, hoping to be picked for betrothal to Cal, the crown prince, an accident happens, and Mare finds herself plummeting to an early death by electrified shield. Except she doesn't die. It's determined that she is something new and different and scary for the silvers in power - a Red with silver abilities, specifically the ability to manipulate and use electricity. And so she is thrust into the world of the silvers, hiding in plain sight, so to speak, as the betrothed of the younger prince, Maven. But when she's contacted by the Red Guard, a group of guerrilla fighters determined to take down the system oppressing them, she decides to work for them and help them further their cause. But trust in a world of secrets, lies, and machinations is a fragile thing to maintain.

Red Queen is a hard book for me to judge, and if the reviews on Goodreads are any indication, I'm not the only one. While reading it, I found myself greatly enjoying it, but when I wasn't reading it, it was largely forgettable. Part of the reason why probably has to do with the fact that it seems to mash together elements of several other popular YA series (Bardugo's Grisha trilogy and The Hunger Games for sure come to mind) with the more unique elements of the world Aveyard is creating. It has a weird almost love square at play between Mare and the other male main characters her age that was sometimes intriguing, but not enough to get me to root hard for anyone. I figured out the reveal at the end fairly early, but the twist took me surprisingly longer to figure out. It definitely benefits from Aveyard's skills as a scriptwriter. Despite the feeling of having read much of this before, she kept the plot moving perfectly, so it should adapt to the big screen without much of a challenge. So basically I enjoyed it, but there wasn't much there to make it a stand-out for me. Pick it up if you're a die-hard YA fan like me, but otherwise, you're not missing much.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Peggy Guggenheim: the Shock of the Modern / Francine Prose 211pp.

Like Einstein: His Space and TimesDavid: the Divided Heart, and others, this title is part of Yale's Jewish Lives series.  And what a life!  Peggy, niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim and born near the turn of the last century, devoted her life and wealth to collecting, promoting, and exhibiting some of the most important artists of the century: Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, and many others.  She rescued her large collection, one of the most important of the time, from the Nazis, thereby tilting the course of art history.  And although self-conscious about her physical appearance, she collected important men just as assiduously as artworks.  There were affairs with Samuel Beckett and Yves Tanguy, and I lost count of the marriages.  I am a long-time fan of Francine Prose, and she's painted a fascinating portrait of a strange, insecure, and daring woman.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Snuff

Snuff by Terry Pratchett  398 pp.

Sam Vines, the commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, has been coerced into taking a vacation by his wife, Lady Sybil. But policing is in his blood and it's not long before there is a dead body to investigate, even though Vines is out of his jurisdiction.This is just the thing to get him away from the balls and tea parties his wife drags him to, not to mention the restricted diet that has taken away his beloved bacon sandwiches. With the help of his loyal (and deadly) manservant and the local, if inept, constable Vines finds himself investigating the wholesale enslavement and genocide of Goblins and up against the locals in charge. This is a great combination: a of who-done-it and the bizarre and humorous society of Discworld. The audiobook was a great way to pass the time on a 550 mile road trip.

Lair of Dreams

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, 613 pages

A couple years ago, I described the first book in this series (The Diviners) as something akin to taking Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Scooby Gang and plopping them in the middle of New York City in the 1920s. After reading this second book, I'm sticking by that description but adding the phrase "more diverse" to the mix. Set in 1927, Lair of Dreams finds our Diviners in the middle of a mysterious sleeping sickness epidemic that has New York City baffled and ready to blame anyone, especially the immigrants whose neighborhoods seemed to be the source of the deadly disease. Enter Henry, a gay, piano-playing "dream walker" who enters into the dream world to find his long-lost love, Louis. While searching for Louis, he finds another dream walker, Ling Chan, a half-Chinese science geek who has the ability to speak to the dead through dreams. Together, Henry and Ling have to figure out how to stop the dreams that are killing New Yorkers left and right.

The first book in this series focused on different Diviners, namely flapper and object-reader Evie O'Neill, who certainly appears in this book, often soused on bootleg gin. Evie's sparkling ways were a highlight of the first book, and while her parts are certainly fun here (and she does know Henry, though she doesn't spend time with him), they're almost a distraction from the actual story of Henry and Ling. It almost feels like Bray wanted to write a totally different story without Evie and the other Diviners from the first book, but felt like she couldn't write one in the same world without connecting everyone in some way. Perhaps all this will come together later on in the series. I'll continue reading it because the setting and 1920s slang are so positutely cool, though this one pales in comparison to The Diviners.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Girl at war, by Sara Novic



Another well-written book to come out of the conflicts in the Balkans during the end of the last century.  Ana Juric’s family lives in Zagreb and their world is torn apart when Ana is ten years old.   As war draws closer, the family’s life is further complicated by the illness of Ana’s nine-month-old sister, Rahela.  When a chance opens up to take Rahela to Sarajevo and from there send her to America for treatment, they feel they must take it.  But on the way back home, the family is ambushed and Ana is the sole survivor.  The novel then shifts to Ana’s life in America and how she came to be there and living in the same household that welcomed her sister five years earlier.  Her difficulty in reconciling her losses in Croatia and what she had to do to survive there with the present day comfort of a stable existence is the core of the book.  316 pp.

A little life, by Hanya Yanagihara



Is anything but a little book at 720 dense pages and weighing in at 2.3 pounds.  In addition to the sheer bulk of the book, the emotional impact of the novel is hard to handle.   It follows the friendship of four men who meet in college through several decades – the time period, although contemporary, is not moored by references to current events that would allow the reader to place it exactly.  Similarly, although the reader comes to know all four men intimately, none of them are described in detail.  Even after a hundred or more pages, I was uncertain as to their ethnicity and appearance, which leaves one to concentrate more on their inner lives and their relationships.   But this vagueness does not mean that the characters are meant to be representative types, each is a fully drawn individual.  JB becomes a prominent visual artist; Malcolm, an architect; Willem, a sought-after actor; and Jude, the center of the book, a talented lawyer who ends up defending corporations.  The three others are protective of Jude, who walks with difficulty after what he describes as “an automobile accident.” He is reticent about other events in his early years and seems to have no family.  Jude’s story is slowly revealed in all its pain and horror.  His coping mechanism, injuring himself by cutting, becomes more and more understandable.  I found the book both hard to put down and difficult to continue reading.   Recommended with reservations – it is an upsetting novel.  720 pp.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Farther Away / Jonathan Franzen 321 pp.

A collection of essays and long book reviews from 2005-ish until publication in 2012. Most notably there are Franzen's eulogy for David Foster Wallace and a long essay he wrote about grieving his friend which involved a trip to a remote Chilean island. I gather that some thought Franzen may have been too honest in his assessment of his friend, or insufficiently hagiographic. Not knowing a great deal about DFW but being well-acquainted with loving a sick and self-destructive human being, I would say that Franzen was extremely generous. And in general I noticed in this collection how frequently he writes about love: of parents, siblings, and friends, in addition to the kind between partners. Given that the long novel Freedom was, to my view, an examination of how human beings can do the work of loving one another, I find this focus beautifully old-fashioned in a way that compensates for some of the grumpier pieces, on technology, for example. The book reviews have expanded my to-read list: Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, Paula Fox's Desperate Characters, and The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim.

Self-inflicted wounds

Self-inflicted wounds: heartwarming tales of epic humiliation / Aisha Tyler 252 pgs.

Aisha Tyler voices the ass-kicked Lana Kane on Archer and is kind of an ass-kicker in real life.  This book is a collection of stories from her life where things didn't exactly work out as planned.  Many are sweet and from her youth and very relate-able to anyone who grew up in the last couple of centuries.  Reared by her dad after her parents divorced, they have a great relationship and there is very little trauma to report...aside from the time she snuck out of the house or the first time she asked a boy out on a date.  The stories of her deciding to become a stand-up comedian are great...sometimes things just take work.

We all make mistakes, and you can only hope that some of yours are as funny as Tyler's.

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Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, 169 pages.

In this collection of poems and essays Rankine, former National Book award judge and 2014 NBA nominee, probes the absurd and the ordinary things that people do and say about race. She examines slights, insults, accusations, and innuendos (some very real, some inadvertant, misunderstood, or ambiguous), from her point of view and the point of view of several other narrators or voices. Racist comments overheard, ambiguous looks and responses from white colleagues and disrespect from clerks, strangers, and passersby are parsed and pondered.
Brief but compelling.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things / Jenny Lawson 329 pgs.

Jenny Lawson is crazy...in the best way possible.  In this book Jenny talks a lot about mental illness, ADD, depression, anxiety disorders...you know, all the funniest stuff.  And Jenny has every right to talk about these topics because she suffers from all of them.  Of course as you read some of these hilarious chapters, you wonder if "suffers" is the best way to describe it.  Alas, the realities are occasionally daunting instead of entertaining.  Life was Jenny was perfectly summed up by her husband, Victor when he said "Life without you might be easier, but it wouldn't be better."

I think the only way this book could be better is if it was LONGER.

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