Saturday, December 31, 2016

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson, 336 pages.
This was our November, 2016  book discussion title.
Johnson, who as a newly minted lawyer in the mid-1980s volunteered at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, helping death-row inmates who had been at best poorly represented at trial, went on to found the Equal Justice Initiative. Since that time, he and his staff have sent hours, days, months, and years struggling to bring something approaching equal justice to prisoners and accused people all over the U.S., particularly in the south. Over the course of his career Stevenson has worked to free those wrongly convicted and those who have received punishment, sentences out of line with the crimes for which they have been convicted. Unsurprisingly, all of Stevenson's clients are poor, many have mental health issues, many are African-American, and none had received decent representation in their dealings with the courts. Stevenson has pled many cases before the Supreme Court and was instrumental in having the law of the land changed. It is no longer considered constitutional to execute those who are convicted of murders committed when very young, nor is it allowed to sentence these youngsters to die in prison. 13-year-olds can no longer be sentenced to life without parole.
Stevenson tells some harrowing tales, some with situations or outcomes that will make you cry, and some that will allow you to feel a little bit of hope. An excellent book.

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not)

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) by Jason Shiga, 144 pages.

Jimmy lives n Oakland, at home with his mother. He works at the library and he hangs out with his friend Sara. When she decides that she wants more out of life and moves to New York, Jimmy realizes that he may have been in love with her. He writes her a letter and jumps on a bus heading to New York. The bus trip is funny, and the time in New York is bittersweet. This is a different side to Jason  Shiga from the one seen in Demon or in Bookhunter. A nice read.

Wonderings

Wonderings by Kenneth Patchen, 84 pages.
Since it's "one-word title" year for our blogging competition, I decided to read this Kenneth Patchen title that has been sitting on my bookshelve for (literally) decades. Each page is a watercolor illustration done in Patchen's distinctive style (all in black and white in this book), each with an accompanying poem, also in Patchen's distinctive style. I like Patchen's poems generally, especially his longer works. The poems here are brief, lonesome, and elliptic.

Loon: A Marine Story

Loon: A Marine Story by Jack McLean, 256 pages.

McLean was unable to decide how to go about getting into a college that interested him after a difficult (academically) couple of years at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. His classmates, including George W. Bush, were going on to Ivy League colleges and universities, or other top-tier schools, but McLean had left himself with no clear path. As his lack of a plan began to bother his mother, she sarcastically suggested he just join the military in order to avoid the draft. He ended up joining the Marines, unaware that in 1966 and 1967 Marines were going to Vietnam in large numbers. McLean ended up in norther part of South Vietnam, by the Laotian border. He recounts the heavy fighting in his area shortly after he arrived, including one instance when his Captain called in an airstrike on their own position when they had been overrun. McLean stayed in Vietnam until the summer of 1968 and in that fall became the first Vietnam vet to enter Harvard.
An interesting book. I was happy to read it and save it from the nonfiction weed.

March: Books one, two, and three

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, 121 pages

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, 189 pages
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, 246 pages

This award-winning three volume graphic lit series follows the Civil Rights Movement from the point of view of John Lewis, then a member and eventual chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As part of SNCC, Lewis led sit-ins at lunch counters and restaurants throughout the south attempting to end discrimination at these eateries SNCC participants strove to remain calm and nonviolent despite violence visited upon them by whites and the police . The group organized the Freedom rides, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer, both of which again exposed members to beatings from angry white southerners and to frequent arrests.
SNCC was one of the big-six participating groups in the March on Washington of 1963, and Lewis spoke at the event.
Lewis and the artists who created these books have done an excellent job in telling this fascinating story.

Dr. Knox

Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman, 351 pages.

I remember enjoying Thick as Thieves quite a bit, so I was happy to see Spiegelman's latest on the library shelves earlier this year.
Dr. Knox operates a clinic in a poor neighborhood in LA. His operation is barely above water, financially, and he doesn't really need any more trouble, but when a frightened woman abandons her young son (is he her son?) at the clinic one day, and all sorts of scary looking goons, both of the organized crime, and former special-forces varieties start showing up, looking for both the woman and the boy, Knox's protective nature forces him to do the right thing. The right thing starts out to be dangerous and difficult and gets more and more complicated as he attempts to protect the child and reunite him with the woman Knox assumes is the boy's mother. Luckily, Knox knows a few former military types from his days as a borderless Dr in the Central African Republic. Not the most believable tale, but fast-moving and fun to read.

LaRose

LaRose by Louise Erdrich, 373 pages.
 I don't think that I have ever disliked a book by Erdrich. For me, her latest ranks among her best, along with The Master Butcher's Sing Club, and The Round House, and also, I guess, A Plague of Doves. Erdrich is an imaginative, compelling, and enthralling sort of author
When Landreaux Iron takes a shot at a large buck he has been hunting all season, his sense of accomplishment dissolves as he realizes that instead of the buck he has accidentally shot and killed five-year-old Dusty Ravitch, his neighbor's child. Through the whole of the book the two families grapple with the loss of Dusty. LaRose, Landreaux's own five-year-old, takes on the role of son for both families. He is a connection for both families and is, in turn, connected to the LaRoses of generations past, whose stories are woven into the tale.
For some reason I felt compelled to read the one-star reviews of this book on Amazon and to see what sort of things would get good reviews from them. For some, non-readers apparently, five stars meant a really nice pair of yoga pants or a deep-fat fryer. Others who reviewed more books ranged from the crumudgeonly who liked nothing, to enthusiastic readers to whom this book did not speak. Nothing pleases all readers, but I still strongly recommend LaRose.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck, 450 pages.

Rinker sets out to cross the U.S. in a covered wagon with a team of mules, his brother Nick, and Nick's dog, Olive Oyl. Rinker needs to reset his life and to rediscover the sense of adventure that he had lost. The 2000 mile journey helps him reconnect with the person he was when he was younger and helps him reconnect with his brother and with the memory of their father. The trip begins in Missouri and crosses the western half of  the country, slowly and methodically.
Well written, interesting, and more mule-focused than most tales, The Oregon Trail drags a bit sometimes, but is well worth the read. Available on Overdrive in downloadable audio, tooo.

How it went down

How it went down / Kekla Magoon, 326 pgs.

Tariq Johnson is gunned down in the street.  He is a black teen, the shooter is a white man.  In the aftermath, the community is struggling.  This book is told in a variety of viewpoints from people who witnessed the shooting to others who knew Tariq.  Everyone has an interesting perspective but none of these accounts agree.  Was Tariq armed?  Was the shooting justified?  Had Tariq finally joined the gang that had been recruiting him?  Even his best friend is unsure how it went down.

This is the second book of alternating viewpoints that I've read this month and I loved both of them.  This book has many narrators and it is really possible to see all of their viewpoints.  The book really captures the struggles of each person.  Yes, Tariq's shooting is central event of the book but everyone has things going on in their life beyond the shooting.  Powerful writing from an author that is new to me.

My name is Lucy Barton

My name is Lucy Barton / Elizabeth Strout, 193 pgs.

Lucy Barton is in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy...which should have been a couple of days at most.  But she gets an odd infection and her recovery stalls.  She is, in fact, very sick.  She awakes one morning to see her mother at the end of the bed.  She actually hasn't SEEN her mother in many years.  Through the conversations they have and additional explanations from Lucy, we get to see a family with problems.  Lucy grew up almost impossibly poor but has gotten an education and moved on to the big city.  Is her mother resentful? proud? befuddled?  Maybe a little bit of all.  This is another great book by Strout whose "Olive Kitteridge" still stands as one of my favorites.  

The Trials of Apollo

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan, 384 pages.

Riordan starts a new series with the Greek God Apollo cast in the lead. Apollo has been cast out of Olympus and must complete some difficult tasks to get back in Zeus's good graces.

The Nix

The Nix by Nathan Hill, 625 pages.

Well-reviewed book that ended up on a lot of best of the year lists. Hills book involves a boy whose mother leaves him when he is young. As an adult he is offered a chance to restart his life as an author, but only if he is willing to do a hatchet job on his long missing mother. He finds out the convoluted reasons for her leaving along the way. The writing style is very good and it was fun to read, but I didn't love the story.

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Frerick Backman, 353 pages.

Great Swedish book that I had heard about. Found it on Hoopla and listened to it while installing a door. A humorous compelling story of a man who decides that there's no reason to go on living now that his beloved wife is dead. Through a series of neighborhood misunderstandings and strange interactions he finds out that he should keep going.


How to Talk to Girls at Parties

How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman, 64 pages.

Neil Gaiman's classic short story told in graphic novel form. Illustrated by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.

Ghosts

Ghosts by Reina Telgemeier, 256 pages

Juvenile graphic novel that I totally read and enjoyed.

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, 331 pages. translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
The first book of Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet is quite a good book. Set in a poor neighborhood near Naples, it tells the story of the two brightest children in the school, Elena and Lila. The book follows the two of them and their friendship as they go through school and grow to adulthood.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Inimitable Jeeves

The Inimitable Jeeves by PG Wodehouse, 220 pages.
Any Wodehouse is good Wodehouse, but the Jeeves and Wooster stories are the best. The audio, regardless of who is reading the book, is always good. I don't know why. Maybe anyone who can do an upper-class British voice can read British humor well. This collection of linked stories follows Bertie Wooster, his butler Jeeves, and Bertie's friend, Bingo Little, as Bingo falls in love repeatedly, wanting desperately to find the one, while Bertie attempts to stop his string of accidental engagements. Always good fun.

Soon I Will Be Invincible

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, 287 pages.

Doctor Impossible is a super-genius, a super-villain extraordinaire. He knows many things, among them he knows, in his scared schoolboy heart of hearts is that he will never really take over the world, that he will never really be invincible. He just can't stop trying though. Half of the book is told from his point of view. He is a sweet,sad, angry man, wistful and aware of (and ashamed of) his own flaws and failings, but he has chosen to be a villain, and he is going to see it through.
The other half of the book is told from the point of view of Fatale, newest member of the new Champions. She's a cyborg agent who doesn't remember the details of her life before the accident that led to her transformation. She also has some anger issues. The NSA let her go, and after freelancing for a while, she happy to have joined the newly reformed Champions.
Corefire, leader of the original Champions, may have been a victim of foul play, leading to a showdown between the forces of good and evil.
Smart, self-aware, and always funny. Great on audio, too.

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir, 369 pages.
I read this back in 2014 (but didn't blog about it) after Christa had recommended it (I think, it was long ago). I read it again this year after my sons and I watched the movie and after my younger son started reading the book.
Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer on a mission to Mars, ends up stranded on the red planet when the rest of the crew leaves him behind, believing him already dead, as they are forced to abort their mission.
Watney is a great character and it's great fun to read his mission logs as he attempts to figure out: 1. how to let people on earth know he's still alive, 2. how long it will take for someone to come and get him, and 3. how he can possibly survive that long without starving, dying of thirst, or running out of heat, oxygen, or some other item essential for life. Mark figures out the possible solutions, does the math, and gets a plan in place. He then deals with the unexpected circumstances that derail his carefully thought-out plan and tries to figure out how to survive the new, even more dire situation.
A great read.

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, 272 pages.

I've read a bunch of Kate DiCamillo's books to my children. This was the first that I have read (or rather listened to) by myself. DiCamillo's books are always interesting even as they are all very different from one another.
Raymie Clarke's father has left home to be with a dental hygienist, and Raymie believes that if he were to see in the newspaper that she has won the upcoming Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, that he would surely realize what a mistake he has made and he'll return and everything will be alright again. Since she has no idea how to go about winning the contest, she enrolls in classes offered by a local legend in the pageant-winning world in order to learn baton twirling and whatnot. In those classes she meets the two girls who become her friends, Beverly and Louisiana. Each girl is as quirky as Raymie, and though they each have their own agenda, Louisiana to win the contest for the money, and Beverly to sabotage the contest, they join forces to help one another.
A very good book.
This was a Christmas gift for several family members.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden, 298 pages.

The author accompanies two journalists, Sarah and Alex, from the multimedia journalism collective, the Seattle Globalist, on their self-assigned journey through the countries named in the subtitle. Traveling with them is Sarah's friend Ben, a former Marine who had served in Iraq. The journalists want to interview refugees in the three countries they will visit, and Sarah also wants to interview Ben, seemingly to get him to agree that she is right about the war in all its facets and that she is also right about why he joined the Marines. Ben ostensibly wants to get a fuller perspective on the war, and he's also getting college credit. The author wants to write this book about the experience. She does a wonderful job of relating the difficult stories of many of the displaced people that Sarah and Alex meet and interview. Glidden is doing this at one remove, painting and presenting the journalists as they interview and as they discuss what they think the story is. You see hints of their preconceived notions and their bits of bias. Glidden also does not shy away from the stories that make her uncomfortable; people who blame America and Americans for their situations, and Ben and Sarah's ongoing conversation that seems to frustrate all in the group.
I was amazed to find that all of the art Glidden presents consists of hand-painted watercolors. I don't know what I thought the illustrations were before I found that out, didn't give it enough thought, I guess. Books like this, a work of graphic non-fiction that tells a interesting story while also containing such well-crafted art are amazing to me, being so far beyond what I could imagine doing.


Dragonfish

Dragonfish by Vu Tran, 298 pages.
Vietnamese refugees whose paths cross through the years on different continents try and keep their secrets and get on with their lives.
I know that I enjoyed this book, but it has faded from my memory a bit. It is a one-word title though.

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil:The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil:The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown by Lezley McSpadden and Lyah Beth LeFlore, 272 pages.

Michael Brown's mother tells her own story and the story of her son. She tells us about her background, how she met Mike's father and what Mike Brown was like as a child and a teen. She tells the dizzying, wrenching story of a mother who loses a child and then finds herself, and those she loves, at a cultural flashpoint. She recounts the events of August 2014 as she tries to find out what happened to her son, why it happened, and who, if anyone, will try to bring sense, order, and justice back into her shattered life.

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Anthony Beevor, 624 pages.

Beevor can always be counted on to give the details of a large military operation or field of battle from a wide variety of points of view. He explores the invasion of Normandy from the viewpoint of French civilians, partisans, German officers and soldiers, allied officers and soldiers, and politicians and leaders of all participating countries. He has no favorites and he is critical of leaders of both sides. Beevor will always tell you something you have not heard before and is always worth reading.

The Man Who Smiled

The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell  336 pp.

This book is one of the earlier ones in the Kurt Wallender series. Wallender has been on a leave of absence from the Ystad Police Department after a shooting incident that left him shaken and questioning his abilities. He is planning to retire when a friend approaches him about investigating the mysterious death of his father and law partner and is also murdered Wallender abruptly changes his retirement plans to investigate. The pittance of evidence leads him to a millionaire industrialist with a "too clean" reputation. The challenge is to find concrete evidence to charge him. Wallender wades through the investigation and his personal demons with the assistance of a young policewoman who, though being "fresh from the academy" is dedicated and savvy. The ending is a bit lackluster and leaves some unanswered questions. I listened to the audio book version and the narration was not stellar. The recording edits were very obvious and occasionally there were extra noises like the narrator swallowing (!).

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill  307 pp.

This is Book 9 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. Dr. Siri is finally retired from his job as the Coroner of Laos and has plans to enjoy his retirement now that he is in his late 70s. Once again he gets pulled into a mystery involving the body of the missing brother of an official. The investigation has been fueled by the supposed clairvoyance of a woman who was once killed and burned on a funeral pyre only to return to life with her new seer skills. While Siri is involved in the investigation his wife, Madame Daeng, is being stalked by an old French lover from her days as an operative for the Pathet Lao. Her prior life is revealed bit by bit in journal entries she is writing for Siri. Of course, Siri discovers the true reason for the search for the dead man's body and it has nothing to do with brotherly love. While there are appearances by some of the regular characters in the series, they do not play a prominent part in this story.

The road not taken: Finding America in the poem everyone loves and almost everyone gets wrong, by David Orr



No, no, no…. not the road less traveled – that’s Scott Peck’s bestselling self-help book, the title of hundreds of other articles and books, and the penultimate line in Robert Frost’s enormously popular poem, titled The road not taken.  Orr, poetry critic of the New York Times Book Review, has written an accessible exploration of this poem.  Under former Poet Laureate Robert Pinskey’s “Favorite Poem Project,” this poem was far and away the “favorite” of Americans.  But what does it really mean?  Orr’s book is divided into four parts, “The poet,” which gives an fascinating biographical background of Frost; “The Poem,” an explication of the structure and meaning of the work; and “The Choice” and “The Chooser,” an exploration of the ambiguity of the poem’s final line.  Scholarly, yet at times laugh-out-loud witty, a real delight for anyone who enjoys poetry.  172 pp.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern  384 pp.

A mysterious circus appears in random places with no warning. It is a fantastic collection of intriguing performances that is only open at night. But the circus is only a background for a competition between magicians. Celia and Marco are pitted against each other in a magical battle to the death set up by Celia's magician father and his magical rival who plucked Marco from an orphanage to train. Both of the young people have been well trained in the use of magic. But, of course, they fall in love which makes the fight to the death impossible for both. This book got mixed reviews and I am on the fence about it. There is much here to like. But the story often drags and the love story is predictable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More: a Novel / Hakan Gunday, 398 pp.

Gaza is in the family business.  In his case, that would be smuggling desperate humans, mostly from Afghanistan, through Turkey and onto to boats in the Aegean, destination Greece.  The novel begins in his young adolescence.  In an almost Holden Caulfield-like voice, he describes his abusive father and the pain of being a child forced to shackle, manipulate and control people in the direst of circumstances.  Initially I found the writing tremendously powerful.  And Gaza's odyssey, which involves being buried in a pile of corpses, commitment to a mental institution, and participating in lynch mobs, is certainly imaginative and strange.  But, as I have complained in the past, piling atrocity upon mayhem upon sadism seems to me a kind of writerly failure, like interspersing your writing with f-bombs.  After awhile it isn't shocking or moving; it's only dull.

Terrific, then disappointing.

Culdesac

Culdesac by Robert Repino, 110 pages

This novella is a follow-up to Repino's Mort(e), which begins a war between animals and humans, sparked by a biological change in the animals that allowed them to grow, walk on their hind legs, and have complex intelligent thought. Culdesac takes place during the war, and focuses on the titular bobcat, who leads an elite strike force that paves the way for the animal army. The whole of the novella takes place in a small town that Culdesac's force has secured for the animals, though some of the animal residents (being former doted-upon pets) aren't sure of their loyalties.

If you wrap your mind around the incredibly odd premise, it's an intriguing series. I liked Culdesac better than Mort(e), mainly because the biological change has already happened and the parameters are already set; this one reads more as a wartime/post-apocalyptic novel instead of sci-fi (but with, you know, animals).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Good on Paper

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor, 299 pages

Once a Dante scholar and poetry translator, now Shira's trudging through the last few months of 1999, moving from one disappointing temp job to another while she and her daughter live rent-free with Ahmad, her gay best friend. Out of nowhere, a Nobel Prize-winning poet contacts her and asks him to translate his latest poetry work from Italian to English. Shira scoops up the job, plunges into the work, and slowly comes to the realization that the work is completely untranslatable. Throw in some drama with the local bookstore owner and Ahmad, and suddenly everything is falling to pieces around Shira.

This book took some work getting into, what with all the Dante and obscure poetry exposition going on at the beginning. However, once Shira started getting into the guts of the translation attempt, the story picked up quite a bit. I enjoyed how Cantor played with language, much like Romei, the Nobel laureate does in her story. It's not a book for everyone, but it is enjoyable.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flying Couch

Flying Couch: a graphic memoir / Amy Kurzweil, 291 pgs.

Kurzweil's memoir includes her story as well as that of her mother and grandmother. By far the most compelling story is that of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who managed to pass for a gentile during the war.  The grandmother is now a woman with many quirks who doesn't care about showing them off to people.  She is really a character.  Kurzweil's mother is also interesting.  She is a therapist and understands a lot of what her daughter is going through but is pretty careful not to act too "know it all."  Amy herself is trying to find her way.  Growing up and experiencing life as a young adult.  I liked the different perspectives and struggles of these women.

Gumption

Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman, 382 pages

In his second book, Offerman (best known as Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation) presents profiles of 21 Americans that he believes personify gumption. His profiles include everyone from Rushmore-ified presidents George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt to contemporary politician Barney Frank, from farmer and novelist Wendell Berry to avante garde artist Yoko Ono.

It's an interesting collection of people, and I was constantly surprised with Offerman's choices, some of which I completely agreed with (Carol Burnett, Eleanor Roosevelt), some of which left me confused (I get that he's a woodworker, but really, the founder of a handmade tool company? That doesn't really scream "gumption" to me, at least not any more than any other hipstery businessman.) I appreciated Offerman's humor (especially in the audiobook, which he reads himself), though by the end, his verbosity was starting to wear on me. (The man has obviously never heard the old journalism adage, "Don't use a dollar word when a nickel word will do.") All in all, an entertaining and illuminating look at some often-overlooked Americans.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo

Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo by Boris Fishman, 321 pages

Maya and Alex immigrated to the U.S. when they were children, met as young adults and quickly married. After a few years, they realized they couldn't have children and, despite her husband's reservations, Maya and Alex adopt a baby from a young couple from Montana, vowing to never tell the child of his biological parents. Fast-forward eight years, and when the young Max begins acting oddly (eating grass, wandering among deer in their New Jersey backyard, running away to look at rocks in a stream), Maya determines that they need to track down his biological parents in order to understand their son.

It's an odd story of family, of adopted cultures, of not fitting in. I'm honestly not sure what I thought of this book, though I know I'll be ruminating on it for quite some time. Which I guess is a good thing.

Battle of the Labyrinth

Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan, 361 pages

Troublemaker and son of Poseidon, Percy Jackson once again finds himself fighting monsters on a quest to save Camp Half-Blood, home-away-from-home for Percy and his demigod pals. This time, he and his friends are on a dual mission in the mythical maze of King Minos, searching for Daedalus and the lost god Pan. This one seems to be even more action-packed than the first three books in this series, ramping up toward the series' end in The Last Olympian. Great fun!

Who I Am

Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend  538 pp.

I've been a fan of The Who literally since childhood and remember being a very angry 13 year old because my older brother got a ticket (Under the Tent!) to see them at the Mississippi River Festival in 1971 and didn't get one for me. But I'm not bitter (much) and I finally got to see them live in 1980.
All venting aside, this book is a detailed and extensive memoir (the original manuscript was over 700 pages) by Who guitarist Pete Townshend. He begins with his childhood in Chiswick with his musician parents. Later Townshend attended art school but later joined a band with Roger Daltrey which would ultimately become The Who. Townshend writes a lot about his work developing major musical events such as the rock opera "Tommy" among others. He was the first to use guitar feedback as a tool in his compositions among other innovations. He speaks briefly about various mystical experiences he had beginning in childhood which led him to write some of his music. His penchant to mysticism led him to the teachings of spiritual teacher, Meher Baba, who had a lifelong influence on Townshend's creative life but not on his abuse of drugs and alcohol. Townshend presents his life and work in this book, warts and all. I listened to the audio version read by the author and other than the occasional odd laugh, it is well done.

Leonard

Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner  278 pp.

Leonard Nimoy was more than an actor, he was a Renaissance Man. He was well educated in multiple disciplines, a stage, screen, and movie actor, acting teacher, writer, poet, photographer, and motion picture director. Shatner reflects all that in this book. However, Shatner also desperately tries to show that the similarities in their early lives make them alike when he pales in comparison to Nimoy. They didn't actually become friends until after the end of the Star Trek series when they both began making the rounds of the Star Trek conventions. I made the mistake of listening to the audiobook version read very unevenly by the author. At times the narration was rushed. Other times Shatner lapsed into his "Kirk-ish" way of reciting his lines. However, Shatner is honest about their disagreements, problems in the filming of the various incarnations of Star Trek, and he and Nimoy's problems with alcohol. I also enjoyed the nice things Shatner had to say about DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy). While I can recommend the book for fans of Leonard Nimoy and/or Star Trek, I can't recommend the audio version.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Siracusa

Siracusa / Delia Ephron 288 pgs.

Two couples vacation together in Italy.  Michael and Lizzy live in new York, Finn and Taylor live in Portland, Maine.  Their connection is loose, Lizzy and Finn dated many years before but they have vacationed together several times since.  Finn and Taylor are accompanied by their shy 10 year old, Snow.  Snow is beautiful (like Taylor) but is so over protected by her mother she feels little need to speak.  Each chapter in this book is told in alternating viewpoints of the adults.  Each marriage has its struggles, each person is hiding something or hiding from something.  What started out as an interesting meditation on relationships then turns to a darker reality when an event rocks the world of everyone in the book.  I listened to the audio version of this book voiced by four great actors including John Slattery (Roger from Mad Men), and his wife Talia Balsam (Mona from Mad Men).  Great stuff.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Public library and other stories

Public library and other stories / Ali Smith, 221 pgs.

A tribute to public libraries with stories that are beautiful and interesting.  Between each story is a short interview of someone telling about what the library means to them or how they used the library as a kid.  These little interviews are wonderful and we learn that Kate Atkinson used the York City Children's Library and credits it with making her a writer.

Public Libraries are being closed and de-funded in the UK and this book was written as a tribute and protest against more closings. The stories all deal with the power and magic of books and words.  This is a wonderful book for anyone who loves libraries, reading, and books.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The tourist

The tourist / Robert Dickinson, 342 pgs.

 This is one of those books that makes me sad.  I read the blurb and was so interested but then read the book and was confounded.  This seems like the type of book I should love but instead I could not figure out what was going on for the majority of the pages.  Chapters are from the perspective of different characters but I, frequently, couldn't figure out what character.  Is this someone who has appeared before or someone new?  I finished the book hoping that SOMETHING would appear to tie the whole thing together but alas, it was not meant to be.  I looked at reviews on GoodReads and was a bit relieved to find out I'm not the only one with this problem.  Perhaps a great book for someone else.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman  372 pp.

Elsa is a bright seven year old who people call "different." She is bullied at school and tries to hide it from her parents and her grandmother. Elsa's grandmother is her best friend, companion, and protector. Grandmother is also quite bonkers and does things like climbing the zoo fence after hours and throwing poo at a policeman and shooting people with a paintball gun from her balcony. She has also led an amazing life that Elsa knows nothing about. Grandmother also regales Elsa with tales of a mysterious land where everyone is "different" and no on has to act normal. When Grandmother dies she leaves Elsa a mission to deliver letters to people she has wronged in some way. While delivering these letters Elsa learns much about the people who live in their apartment building and how they are connected to her, her grandmother, and each other. There is sadness, humor, and much that is touching in this story that mostly turns out well.

Judas / Amos Oz, 305 pp.

It is 1959 in Jerusalem when Shmuel Ash goes adrift.  His girlfriend has left him and he no longer has funds to continue his graduate studies.  So he takes a job as a companion to Gershom Wald, an elderly man who lives with a mysterious woman named Atalia in an old Jerusalem home.  Wald and Atalia are secretive.  What is their relationship?  Why are they so extraordinarily isolated?   The three principals reveal secrets slowly throughout this novel.

Shmuel's graduate research was on Jewish views of Jesus and the role of Judas in the story of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.  In Shmuel's musings, Oz opens up the character of Judas and connects him to 20th century Israeli politics and the founding of the state of Israel.  Even deeper, the novel reflects on what it means to be a traitor.  While the humanizing of Judas and alternative versions of his story are not new in literature (or in song...), this subtle, layered, almost delicate novel refreshes the view and resonates.  Recommended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Very Russian Christmas: the Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time / New Vessel Press, 147 pp.

I was enchanted by this collection with its quirky cover art, attractive binding, and quality paper.  This is a gathering of stories by known names such as Tolstoy and Chekhov and Soviet-era names that were new to me, such as Korolenko and Lukashevich, with a variety of translators.   I was still enchanted after reading, but be warned...nobody says, "God bless us, everyone," here.  It's Russia, it's winter, and life is tough.  Stuff happens, even at Christmas.

I enjoyed every page, but my favorite was Chekhov's A Woman's Kingdom, in which Anna Akimovna, the proprietress of a factory inherited from her uncle, contemplates her single life, the condition of her workers, and the meaning of the Christmas holiday over Christmas Eve and day.  Compact yet richly detailed.

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, The Correspondents, Staff and Guests

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, The Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith, 459 pages.
Chronological account of the show told through interviews with the people listed above. It starts as Craig Kilburn leaves the show and comedian and failed talk-show host Stewart takes over. Stewart isn't happy with the dynamics of the show he has inherited, but the writers and producers resist the changes. Everyone's view of what was happening is presented, sometimes with rebuttal from others, sometimes with the support of others. As the story grows longer, its great to have the index in the back so you can reread parts by the less famous to see their story told over time. Lost of interesting show history, interesting squabbles among the famous and less famous. A really great read for fans of the show.

Demon

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga,  166 pages
Jimmy Yee finds out that he either is a demon or is possessed by a demon in a difficult way. After a botched armed robbery, he kills himself. When he awakes, unmarked from the killing, he kill himself again. It's only after several suicides that he realizes what must be happening. Soon government agents, who also realize who he must be, are after Jimmy as he jumps from body to body, leaving carnage in is wake.
Part of a multi-volume series. I look forward to seeing where this goes.

IQ

IQ by Joe Ide, 321 pages.

Isaiah Quintabe, the IQ from the title, has been on his own since he was in high-school. He made some bad decisions back then and has been making himself pay for them ever since. His payment back to the community takes the form of using his deductive powers and solving their problems, helping his friends and neighbors to find a little bit of justice in an unfair world. Comparisons between IQ and Sherlock Holmes, both in the book itself and in reviews of the book led me to think that he would be a different character, he's more tenacious, but has less of that flash f instant recognition of what is important than the Baker Street detective, IQ's Watson, Dodson, "a member in good standing of the H-Town Deuce Trey Crip Violators', an ex-con who has been in his life since they were both in high school, is an interesting character, unique among sidekicks. A very good read. I look forward to seeing more in the series.

The Association of Small Bombs

 The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan, 288 pages.

The Khurana boys, Tushar and Takul, are sent to the market, along with their friend Mansoor, to bring home the family television from the repair shop. Their paths cross that of Shockie, a Kashmiri separatist and bomb maker,  and the rest of the book lives in the sad, debilitating aftermath of the blast that fateful day.
The families of the boys spend the rest of the book looking back, wondering why this happened, wondering why they did the little things they did. Mansoor, who survives, lives with his trauma, his injuries end up crippling his career as a programmer. He wandeers around life a bit listlessly, and finally enounters someone, a former friend, who has joined the bombers.
Shckie and his cohorts get to tell their stories, their motivations nad their dreams for the future. As individuals they are sympathetic, though they ignore the suffering they cause.
Everyone in the book confidently gives voice to the most absurd theories, convinced they are right about the government, the bombers, health, wealth, and happiness. It is a very well-written, but relentlessly grim book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Little History of Religion / Richard Holloway, 244 pp.

Holloway has accomplished the seemingly impossible here, putting together a thoughtful, interesting, intelligent and extraordinarily readable overview.  The author is Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  I'm not sure what that means, but I can say that his approach is even-handed nevertheless.  I especially appreciated the treatment of traditions such as Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism which, though relatively small in number of adherents, are large in their impact on human thought.  (The Jains influenced Gandhi and MLK...did you know that?)


Monday, December 12, 2016

Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, 318 pages

Richard Mayhew is a regular bloke, just living his life in London when he quite literally stumbles across an injured girl on the sidewalk. Trying to be a good Samaritan, he takes her to his nearby apartment to try to patch her up, and this act causes his world to turn upside down. Suddenly, he is invisible to other Londoners, though the girl, Door, has a couple of unsavory followers that can unfortunately still see him. As he follows Door to a whole new subterranean world of London Below, he's fighting for his life, both physically and materialistically.

That's a horrible way of describing Gaiman's wonderful book, full of wonderful (if not altogether trustworthy) characters. I loved the Marquis de Carabas, a swashbuckling rake who trades on stolen goods and favors; and the unsavory assassins/torturers Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, whose bad jokes and mannerisms add some moments of levity to a book that could be a bit bleak otherwise. Another fantastic, magical tale from Mr. Gaiman, which is exactly what I expected.