Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, 607 pages.

Toru Okada, unemployed by choice, finds his world going from confusing in a "what am I going to do with my life," and "where did the cat go" sort of way to bewildering and other worldly. He loses his wife, but Toru does not think that Kumiko simply left him, as her family repeatedly tells him. Toru Okada is drawn to a neighboring house, vacant for the past several years, first looking for the cat, then to chat with May Kasahara, a high-school student with dark secrets, and finally by his belief that the answers to his questions can be found at the bottom of the dry well on the property. He is helped along his way by the semi-psychic Creta Kano and her sister Malta Kano.

Loneliness, alienation, sexuality and the incomprehensibility of all that goes on around us are all explored in a carefully muted manner. Throughout this large strange story, Toru Okada is quietly determined to find the answers to the puzzles presented to him. No matter how odd these puzzles appear to be, he approaches them in a matter-of-fact sort of way.
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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hark! A Vagrant

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, 166 pages

New Yorker cartoonist and native Canadian Kate Beaton presents a series of comic strips riffing on history and literature, with a healthy dose of modern-day pop culture thrown in. While it may seem to be solely for the snooty intelligentsia who actually know about Canadian history (so, what, two whole people?), there's plenty for the rest of us. I particularly liked the bits referring to the Bronte sisters, comic book superheroes, and Macbeth, though there's something for the nerd in all of us. Can't wait to check out her second book, Step Aside Pops, which came out last year.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Intern: a doctor's initiation / Sandeep Jauhar, 315 pgs.

I read Dr. Jauhar's books out of order...See my comments on Doctored here. This book tells of the medical internship and residency that put him on the path.  It is mostly a painful memoir...the internship year is a brutal and mostly horrible experience.  Managing tons of patients that you don't really know while learning the basics of medicine is a LOT of pressure. Working 36 hours straight and over 100 hours a week doesn't lend itself to a healthy lifestyle.  Some of the stories here will worry you. I think we all want to believe the system is good and our care is excellent but sometimes that may not be true.  Jauhar tells of a back injury and depression brought on by the crushing responsibility.  The doubts about going into medicine and his future are sometimes difficult to read.  I assume everyone who puts the amount of work it takes into becoming a doctor is SURE of their decision.  But really, doctors are just people like the rest of us.  Plagued with doubt and hoping for the best.  By the second year, when he is a resident, things are much better.  By the time he is ready for a fellowship, he has decided that he made the right choice and medicine is where he belongs.

Of course I read his second book that focuses on doubt again but I'm not going to focus on that here.  This book ends on a high note and Jauhar's writing is strong. Also, it was fun to hear that he is a graduate of Washington University Medical School.

Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town / Sagendorph, Jean, 128 pp.

  • Pudding, most of it flavored with booze
  • Cookies:  vanilla wafers, graham crackers, ladyfingers, or chocolate wafers
  • Whipped cream, also with booze (duh)
  • Fruit (oranges, blackberries, cherries) or candy (malted milk balls, chocolate)
  • Is there any way this could not be good?

The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien  273 pp.

This has been on my "to read" list for a long time and I'm glad I finally read it. O'Brien, a Vietnam War Vet, tells the experiences of a group of people either wholly or partially based on the people he knew and things they did before, during, and after the war. There is violence, tedium, humor, tragedy, boredom, and horror all related to living through an infamous war that, in the opinion of many, the U.S. never should have fought. The main character, also named Tim, details the arrival of his draft notice, what it's like to kill a man, life in the jungles of 'Nam, and so much more. Although categorized as fiction, the reader is left to wonder how much of it is fact. I highly recommend this one.

The Enchantress of Florence

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie  355 pp.

Describing this book is difficult. Rushdie has taken historical figures including Machiavelli and Mughal India's Emperor Akbar and historical events, e.g. the various conflicts between near-eastern Asia and southern Europe, and blended them into a fantastical collection of tales that intertwine into one convoluted story. What makes this amalgam of characters, locations, and time periods work is Rushdie's beautiful use of language. A mysterious blonde man in a multicolored coat arrives in the court of Akbar and spins a tale of Qara Koz, great-aunt of Akbar. Qara Koz is a woman so beautiful men can think of nothing else once they see her. Surrounding her is a life of sex, obsession, and magic that can both elevate and undermine political power and fortune. I found this book to be lush, confusing, and frequently funny. I was occsionally reminded of Baudolino by Umberto Eco. This is not a book you can zip through. It needs concentration on the details to fully appreciate what Rushdie has created.

The Versions of Us

The Versions of Us (advanced reader edition) by Laura Barnett, 402 pages

Eva and Jim are college students in 1958 when Jim witnesses Eva narrowly dodging a bicycle accident. That much we know. But how Jim and Eva respond to this chance meeting (with Jim helping Eva to her feet, with Eva scowling at him as she cycles away) changes the paths of their lives. The Versions of Us simultaneously tells the story of Eva and Jim in three versions: one where they meet, fall in love and marry right away; one where they run into one another at occasional events over the course of their lives spent with other people; and one where they start dating and then break up for reasons they can't control. It's kind of like that Gwyneth Paltrow movie from years back, Sliding Doors, except that we can't use the length of Eva's hair to help with the continuity of the story.

I'll be completely honest here: this was a really convoluted story. The characters are wonderful, multi-layered. The plots are all fascinating; any one of them would have made a great novel in its own right, had it been fleshed out a little bit more. But it's confusing. The review blurb on the advance reader edition's cover refers to this as a "choose-your-own adventure book in which you don't have to choose." If the criss-crossing storylines bother you, I'd recommend reading it like you would a choose-your-own-adventure story and following one path all the way through and then going back to read another path.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Kitchens of the Great Midwest / J. Ryan Stradal, 312 pp.

Much fiction seems to feature food, cooking and recipes, and most of it doesn't appeal to me - too gimmicky.  So I was a little dubious when Christa raved about Kitchens.  But I should never have doubted.  This is startlingly good, the story of Eva, a cooking prodigy whose life begins in tragic circumstances but doesn't stay that way.  Especially interesting to me was the way Stradal tells Eva's story indirectly through the lives of people she impacts, sometimes peripherally.  And for the record, the food aspect is interesting but almost incidental.  This is really the story of mothers, absent or dead but always missed.  Moving, funny and very smart.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Age of Reptiles: omnibus, volume 1

Age of Reptiles: omnibus, volume 1 / Ricardo  Delgado, 398 pgs.

Beautifully drawn and colored, this collection of comics is a pleasure to page through.  There story is fairly classic...dinosaurs living their lives and staying alive.  Lots of "circle of life" moments with hunting, attacking and feeding but also some lighter moments at rest and play.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dan Gets a Minivan

Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad by Dan Zevin, 217 pages

Dan Zevin is a stay-at-home-dad in Brooklyn, splitting his days between preschool, writing articles for a website he dubs "," and procrastinating. This book sees Zevin taking a look at his life, and the ways it has changed since becoming a dad, including everything from searching for the best best best nanny to figuring out how much he can blame his kid to get out of a ticket in the park (the dog wasn't REALLY off-leash, officer!). Some of it is infinitely relatable; some of it less-so, but if you're a fan of Dave Barry's writing and would like to see how he fares in NYC, give Zevin a try.

The Whites

The Whites / Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt), 333 pages

As gritty as they come. In simple terms this book tells the story of a group of NYC cops who worked together and always had each others backs.  Now it is 20 years later and only one is still a cop but they still keep in touch and have each other's backs.  But the book is so much more.  Perfectly paced, the book continues to reveal the story in such a way as to keep the reader just one short step ahead of the characters.  Billy Graves, the central character is a cop happy to do his job and leave the hot-dogging in his past when his posse of aggressive cohorts were not always beholden to the rules.

Billy's life is complicated.  He is a family man and taking care of his father who is failing from dementia.  When a threat to his family shows up, he goes digging and is a bit frightened by what he finds.  It is difficult to avoid spoilers since so many things in this book that seem like minor details turn out to have great importance.  If you like your crime novels dark, this one could be for you.

Notorious RBG

Notorious RBG: the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg / Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik 236 pgs.

RBG has a great back story. She was one of nine women in her Harvard law school class of 500 and had to tell the dean that she was interested in law to "know more about what my husband does." Her husband, however, had no illusions and told everyone that she did better than he in school.  This book gives a great overview of RBG as a lawyer, as a judge, as a person.  She is remarkable in so many ways but I'm personally amazed that she works with a trainer and does 20 push ups every day.  Really, she is the total package!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Guilty

The Guilty by David Baldacci  420 pp.

CIA sniper/assassin Will Robie returns to his small hometown in Mississippi because his estranged father, a lawyer and local judge, has been charged with murder. After over twenty years away he finds many things changed but not his father's animosity towards him. He also discovers the existence of a new stepmother and a three year old half brother. In spite of the hard feelings between him and his father, Robie is determined to find the real killer. Soon Robie's partner from the agency, Jessica Reel, arrives to give assistance. They discover old families in the town that have criminal connections kept secret for decades. The twist at the end that reveals the killer was a bit of a surprise. I had previously suspected, then discounted the character who was the real murderer. Baldacci's Will Robie series is one of my favorites.

Taken for Dead

Taken for Dead by Graham Masterton  384 pp.

Irish detective Katie Maguire is one of Ireland's best but she finds herself up against a cruel gang of kidnappers/blackmailers/torturers/murderers, an unknown police insider feeding information to the criminals, and a supervisor who has made it very clear he wants her gone from his department. The gang, calling itself The High Kings of Erin, is kidnapping small business owners for ransom. Even when the ransom is paid the victims suffer torture and death.  In addition to trying to solve the crime, Katie gets involved with the new couple next door, a womanizing, wife-abusing veterinarian and his wife. There is lots of blood, guts, and gore in this tale which isn't surprising from this author.

Undermajordomo Minor

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt, 317 pages

Lucy (short for Lucien) Minor is an aimless young man seeking adventure when the position of undermajordomo becomes available at a rundown castle a few towns over. Lucy takes the job and finds himself in a world of mystery, complete with a war without a point, a Very Big Hole, a beguiling village girl, two of the kindest pickpockets ever, and a truly unorthodox method of sending mail. Through it all runs a thread of dry humor that makes this a fantastically fun read. The odd and endearing characters, the peculiar word choices, the starkly described zany situations make this seem like a prime candidate for a Wes Anderson film adaptation. A lot of fun, and a quick read too.

(P.S. I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover is awesome. It follows in the footsteps of deWitt's Sisters Brothers, a great western novel whose excellent cover design is what prompted me to pick it up in the first place. Props to the graphic designers who created the awesome covers for these awesome books!)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Our souls at night

Our souls at night / Kent Haruf, 179 pgs.

Addie and Louis are two lonely people.  Both have lost their spouses years ago and are currently casual acquaintances.  Addie stops by to visit Louis and proposes a relationship of sorts.  He can come over to her house and they will sleep together and talk.  This just to minimize their loneliness.  Louis accepts and we read about the awkward beginnings of their new relationship.  After dinner, he walks to Addie's house and they have a drink, talk and then head to bed.

Although I found this book to be remarkable, amazingly little happens.  Addie's son is having marital problems so Addie takes care of her grandson for the summer.  She, Louis and the grandson go camping.  Addie takes a neighbor to the grocery store. We learn about Addie and Louis' history through there conversations.

Haruf writes in a very simple and straight forward manner.  I found that I could not put this book down despite the lack of action.  Addie and Louis seem like people you might know, or might become.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Summer before the War: a Novel / Helen Simonson 465 pp. (Advance Reader's Edition)

I very much enjoyed this author's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.  This second novel was still a pleasure, but not quite up to the earlier mark.  Beatrice arrives in Rye in August 1914 to begin teaching Latin at the local grammar school.  She's cautiously accepted into local society by the good-hearted local mover and shaker Agatha Kent and her two nephews Hugh and Daniel.  The hot summer gives way to fall, war is declared, and things happen both silly and serious.  Busybodies gossip and plan a parade; the town takes in seriously traumatized Belgian refugees.  The first 75% of this novel moved extremely slowly and featured what I think of as 'Downton porn,'  that is, great dialogue and period detail without a lot of action.  The last 100 pages finally carried the narrative propulsion of Simonson's earlier novel and made the beginning worth the wait.

Vivian Apple at the end of the world

Vivian Apple at the end of the world / Katie Coyle 264 pgs.

Vivian Apple is not a believer in the book of Frick, the evangelical religious craze that is predicting the end of the world.  But first, the "true believers" are going to be saved during the rapture...the date of which is well known.  Vivian has never been a believer but her parents are baptized into the faith.  She is among the surprised that find a hole in the ceiling and her parents gone, theoretically saved.

Vivian teams up with her best friend Harp, (her parents ALSO disappeared) and they embark on a trans continental trip to find out what is really happening.

I don't read a lot of YA books but this one has many of the traits that make it YA...young protagonists, teen angst, relationship woes.  At first, this book followed these plot lines pretty well but later in the book there are some twists and turns that take it up a notch.  In the end, Vivian figures a lot out and makes great strides in "finding" herself.  I liked this much more than the average YA book and feel like Katie Coyle is an author to watch.

The secret world of sleep

The secret world of sleep: the surprising science of the mind at rest / Penelope Lewis, 200 pgs.

This book covers a lot of new information about the role sleep plays in our lives.  Sleeping is plays a huge role in your ability to learn, cope, and keep your brain working.  Sleep plays a role in creativity and memory.  This book covers what goes on in your brain while you sleep on a physiological and the biology of the brain cell structure.  It explains the different stages of sleep and how you can spend a long night sleeping but not feel rested, alternately, a shorter nights sleep can work wonders.  The very last chapter discusses strategies for dealing with sleeplessness.  By the time you get to the end, you realize just how important good sleep is to your overall well being and how serious it is to the maintenance and the function of your brain.

Penelope Lewis does a great job making the science accessible and includes some simple drawings to convey the facts about the importance of sleep.

The story of my teeth

The story of my teeth / Valeria Luiselli,  195 pgs.

"Absurd and eccentric" is my twitter ready review of this book.  The titular teeth belong to Gustavo "Highway" Sánchez Sánchez who is an auctioneer and collector.  He auctions off his own teeth to afford a set that supposedly belonged to Marilyn Monroe.  He is very happy with Marilyn's teeth but through a disastrous reunion with his son, ends up losing the teeth.

Interspersed with philosophical insights, science, literary comments and Highways love of life, this book is one that is hard to put down once you start.

The Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah, 440 pages

Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol are sisters with a rough past when World War II comes to France. With a husband fighting and a young daughter at home, Vianne wants to make as few waves as possible in the hopes of keeping her small family alive through the war. Young and headstrong, Isabelle was born to make waves, and is unable to stand by as Nazis move into their small French town (and into Vianne's home); she has to do something to fight for France. The Nightingale is the story of war, and what is right, which can mean different things to different people. Hannah has created a thought-provoking, innately readable tale. It's well worth checking out.

Monday, January 18, 2016

After the Quake: Stories

After the Quake: Stories by Haruki Murakami, 181 pages. Translated by Jay Rubin, audio read by Rupert Degas and Teresa Gallagher.

Six brief stories, all in some way revolving around the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, by one of the world's great writers. "UFO in Kushiro" tels the story of a man whose wife leaves him after the quake, accusing him in a letter of having nothing inside him. Events later in the story reinforce her claims.
The first half of the book is very good, but the second half, containing the stories "Thailand," "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo," and "Honey Pie," is even better. The stories are strong, resonant with odd details, and filled with deep repressed feelings. Each of these tales has there own unique charm. The stories dwell on their character's unrelieved loneliness, their own emptiness, and the failed communications in their lives. The characters each attempt to restore normalcy and balance to their post-quake existences.
I particularly liked that the character Frog, in the story "Super Frog saves Tokyo" tries to impress on his human counterpart the importance of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, 440 pages.

Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac lost their mother in 1924, and when she was gone their world fell apart. By 1939, when the novel begins, Vianne is married and now has an eight-year-old daughter. Vianne and Isabelle, now 18, have never been able to reconcile themselves to their loss nor to their father's rejection of them, and the subsequent splintering of their own relationship.
As the war begins and the German army comes, the sisters must decide where their loyalties lie, with whom they must keep faith, and must continually decide what they are willing to do in order to survive and protect what they hold dear.
Fans of All the Light We Cannot See and fans of well-written historical fiction will certainly enjoy this.

The man of Independence

The man of Independence / Jonathan Daniels, 384 pgs.

This book was written while Truman was still president.  It gives a bit of a biography of Truman and then talks at length about his time in office as a county judge, senator, vice president and president.  Truman kind of defines the guy who was in the right place at the right time when Roosevelt was running for his final term but worried he would not live to complete his term.  He and Truman were not particularly friendly but had great respect for each other.  Truman supported the New Deal and also headed up an important committee during the war that made sure money was not wasted and that contracts were upheld for military spending.  This committee was credited with saving billions of dollars.

This book doesn't touch much on his relationships outside of politics.  It was interesting reading a contemporary book of a historical figure from the mid century.  A nice addition to my list of Truman books.

Kitchens of the great Midwest

Kitchens of the great Midwest / J. Ryan Stradal 312 pg.

Eva Thorvald is a 6' 2" "super taster."  Even  as a baby she had a discerning palate and as she gets older she becomes a successful chef and all around good person.  Abandoned by her mother as a baby, she is adopted by her uncle and his wife after her father dies.  The stories of her family life, relationships and food are interesting and although many are sweet, they avoid becoming too sentimental.  Eva is a person who figures things out and get what she wants but in the best way.  I listened to the audio version and enjoyed it immensely.  I then got the print book because there are recipes included and I'm a complete sucker for those.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy literary fiction that is mostly realistic and ends on a high note.

How to start a fire

How to start a fire / Lisa Lutz 339 pgs.

What is the meaning of friendship?  And how much do we need our friends?  College roommates Anna, Kate and Georgiana are thrown together but then spend their lives "being there" for each other.  This book is a series of back and forth (in time) incidents that define their relationships by examples.  Anna is sort of the ring leader who will do anything on a dare...or even without the dare.  She also has a terrible substance abuse problem that haunts her until she is finally forced to recognize that it has to be corrected.  Kate is sweet and creative and thinks her life is on autopilots.  She will take over her grandfather's deli/cafe.  Georgiana is athletic and outdoorsy but makes really bad choices when it comes to men.  Throughout the book, the three help each other and hurt each other (ok, mostly Anna does the hurting) but they stick together because no one knows them like the other 2 do.

Enjoyable and in many ways realistic.

After the golden age

After the golden age / Carrie Vaughn, 304 pgs.

Celia West has super heroes for parents but inherited no superpowers of her own besides resentment.  Her relationship with her father, in particular is prickly even now that she is an adult and is no longer working for the super villain in town. Yes, one way to get back at her parents was to join the other team for awhile.  After that, she ran off and got an accounting degree and now she is working to trace the assets of said super villain who has been caught and is in jail.  Her ability to ask the right questions and get access to information leads her down a path that explains where all these super powers came from...of course it is an uncomfortable journey.

I read this because it was suggested for those who liked "Soon I will be Invincible."  This is a cute story but falls short of greatness.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl  79 pp

This is a Roald Dahl book I was unfamiliar with so I decided to read it. Of course, it is classic Dahl, complete with his over the top language and lists of unusual things. A boy named Billy is intrigued by a tall abandoned building which used to be a sweet shop. Soon the building has new owners, a window washing company run by a giraffe, a pelican, and a monkey. The usual Dahl silliness ensues and the animals end up in the employ of a duke with dirty windows. After capturing a burgler, the window washers are made full time residents at the manor and the duke reopens the sweet shop for Billy. Although I'm not too sure I'd want any candies called Devil Drenchers, Frothblowers, or Spitsizzlers.

The 6:41 to Paris

The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillippe Blondel, translated by Alison Anderson, 146 pages

On a packed commuter train to Paris, Cecile is sitting by the sole open seat when a man sits down next to her. As fate would have it, the man is Phillippe, a man she dated briefly 27 years earlier. But this is no sunny trip down memory lane: their short affair ended in brutal humiliation for Cecile, and impacted both of their lives in ways they would never have imagined. Taking place entirely on the 90-minute train ride, The 6:41 to Paris jumps between the thoughts of Cecile and Phillippe, who are unsure of how to interact (or even if they should) given their painful history. For a short book set almost entirely in the minds of the two main characters, this is a surprisingly suspenseful tale, as Blondel masterfully uses their emotions to drop hints about their past before revealing it in the final pages of the book. This is an excellent short read. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, 228 pages

Structured as a series of letters to different men in her life, Dear Mr. You is Parker's memoir of her private life. The men she writes to are never identified by name; rather she writes to "Oyster-Picker" or "Doctor" or "In Case of Emergency." It's well-written (and well-read, as Parker reads the audiobook, which is how I experienced it), with lots of close examination of her life, but something about this grated on me. The fact that no names are ever mentioned, nor any story really put in context, makes it feel as if Parker is forcing an air of mystery. Also, the feminist in me (which, let's face it, is a pretty big part of me) keeps screaming "but why is she defining her whole life by the men in her life?!?!?" Even accepting the somewhat-odd format of this memoir, why can't she include some of the women who have undoubtedly had some effect on her? If you're a huge fan of Mary-Louise Parker, give this a read. Otherwise, feel free to skip it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Well of Lost Plots

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde, 375 pages

In the third book in Fforde's Thursday Next series, "real person" Thursday has fled to the world of fiction to escape the Goliath Corporation and other adversaries. Through fiction's Character Exchange Program, she has settled into an unpublished novel for what she thinks will be a comfy respite from the real world. However, that's the furthest thing from what actually happens: Thursday's working on becoming a full Jurisfiction agent (the police of the fictional world), the novel she's in is set to be demolished unless something drastic happens, and one of her real-world adversaries has planted a mind-worm in her brain to torture Thursday into insanity. Like all the books in this series, it's a convoluted plot in a nearly-indescribable setting, but it's ridiculously fun. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this is my favorite of the series, in part because the creativity is amplified in the within-fiction setting. This is the book that made me first read Anna Karenina and Rebecca, and it's put Wuthering Heights and all manner of Jane Austen back on my to-read list. It's simply fantastic.

Agony / Mark Beyer, introduction by Colson Whitehead, 173 pp.

This is a re-release of a title from the 80s published by New York Review Comic, part of New York Review of Books.  Colson Whitehead thinks it's great.  I think I am missing the graphic lit gene.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende  336 pp.

Isabel Allende is probably my all-time favorite author. Once again she has crafted a novel that is captivating, touching, and entertaining. Essentially it's a story of people living dual lives. Irina, who escapes an impoverished life in Moldova only to land it a more horrible life in the U.S. before becoming a personal assistant to elderly Alma Belasco. Young Alma is sent to the home of her uncle and aunt before the occupation Poland. She lives a life of wealth and privilege while holding on to a love forbidden by society of the time. Ichimei is the son of the Belasco's gardener whose friendship/love for Alma is sustained throughout his life. In the end more secrets about the lives of these people are revealed. This one is a winner.

City of Glass

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare, 541 pages

The third book in the Mortal Instruments series finds the Shadowhunters gathering in the titular city of glass, Alicante, ancestral home of the Nephilim (uber-powerful angel-descendants) that include most of the main characters in this series. The evil Valentine is gaining power and has threatened to summon demons to destroy the city and the Nephilim. My description of this book isn't really doing it justice, though that's probably because it's the third book in a series and I don't want to give away anything that might spoil the first two. I will say that had Cassandra Clare not decided to write another one after this, City of Glass would have been a good end to the series; that said, I'm happy to keep reading about Clary, Jace, and their supernatural crew.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A banquet of consequences, by Elizabeth George

I continue to look forward to the release of a new novel in this series, although I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with it after a favorite character was killed off.  As always, the book is long and the action is slowed down by the author’s keen observation of the world around the characters, yet it propelled me along, reading quickly to find out what happens next.  I suspect some readers (not me) are put off by the forward motion of the plot being interrupted by this kind of thing: “India loved what rainfall did to the streets in the waning daylight of autumn, making the headlamps of passing cars seem to flicker like hesitant beacons –“ and on in this vein for a whole paragraph before advancing the action.  “Charlie was waiting for her.”  This passage was selected by simply opening the book at random.  The reoccurring characters of Thomas Lynley, Barbara Havers, and others add to the enjoyment of the series, although George, an American, does rather overdo the Briticisms a bit in an effort to make the book more English.  Could do without Havers’ recurring “clobber” for one thing.  Another feature of George’s books is the frequent use of very odd, often kinky, sexual motivations of the perpetrators of the crimes being investigated.  This book was no exception.  The plot is complex and the ending surprising.  Meanwhile, will Havers get herself back in the department head’s good graces, pull herself together and dress better, or find love?  Will patrician Lynley deepen his involvement with a zoo vet from a poverty-stricken background?  Does punishing the right person for the wrong reason ring true?  Stay tuned for the next installment. 575 pp.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

If the raindrops united

If the raindrops united / Judah Friedlander 208 pgs.

This collection of drawings and cartoons has some hits and some misses.  Judah Friedlander is a comedian who also stared in 30 Rock but we librarians know him best from his FIRST book which was highly successful here "How to beat up anybody."

I think my favorite is his self portrait that appears on the cover.  It gives me hope for my future as an artist.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A murder in passing

A murder in passing / Mark de Castrique 255 pgs.

Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are still going strong in this (the fourth) book about their detective agency and relationship.  Right now they aren't overly busy so are out with the local mushroom hunting group when Sam stumbles upon a skeleton in a rotted tree stump.  Soon after, Lucille and her daughter show up looking for help locating an old photo by a famous photographer that was stolen 40 years prior.  What do these incidents have to do with each other?  Well, lets say they aren't a complete coincidence.  Set in Asheville, NC, these books give a satisfying mix of local color, mystery, and character development.

Down and out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and out in the Magic Kingdom / Cory Doctorow 208 pgs.

This book, set sometime in the future where the world has evolved and gone beyond some of the problems we have today.  People are immortal...they can back up their brains and be restored in clones and all kinds of hacks and updates can be done to their bodies. Julius is the narrator of this tale.  He is over a century old and living his best life at Disney World.  He has a young beautiful girlfriend and a best friend, Dan. But all is not great at the Magic Kingdom, Julius fears that evil Debra is trying to take over Liberty Square.  Julius is murdered (but quickly restored) but the disruption is enough to allow Debra to make changes in the Hall of Presidents.  Now Julius is afraid Debra is marching towards his baby, Haunted Mansion.  Julius is probably losing his mind but ignores pleas to refresh himself because his last backup will mean he forgets that previous year with friend Dan.  Is Julius really losing it or is there an overthrow afoot?  Read to find out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max

Lumberjanes vol. 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, art by Brooke Allen,
112 pages

In volume 2, we're back at the most awesome girl-powered summer camp ever, and the Roanoke bunkmates (Mal, Molly, Jo, Ripley, and April) are again finding themselves mixed up in wild adventures with velociraptors, goddesses, truly shocking lightning bugs, and friendship bracelets. This is smart, funny, and a great entrance point for tweens wanting to check out some graphic novels, though it's plenty of fun for adults too.

Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the shore / Haruki Murakami 436 pgs.

Somewhere I read this book described as a metaphysical mind-blower and that seems like a perfect description.  Like many of Murakami's other books (each, that I've loved), you really don't know what is going to happen and sometimes not even how things relate to the story.  This book largely follows two characters whose stories are related but don't intersect too much.  Kafka is a 15 year old runaway and Nakata is an older guy who isn't very smart following a childhood accident.  Nakata's talent is his ability to talk to cats and so there are many in the book.  Kafka finds refuge in a library. Seemingly this is a book written to appeal to librarians!

As with all of Murakami's books, I feel very happy to read them and I'm also very confident that I'm missing out on tons of hidden meaning and larger lessons.  I still think he is an amazing author.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945, Citizens and Soldiers

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945, Citizens and Soldiers by Nicholas Stargardt, 704 pages.
Stargardt presents the Second World War through the eyes of German citizens and soldiers. He uses the letters and diaries of Germans from that time, as well as newspaper accounts, and reports to the government from the SD and their informants. Particular use is made by the author of several series of letters from a variety of German citizens. Ernst Guicking, a soldier, marries Irene Reizt. a florist, during the war. We see snippets of conversation from them in letters, describing life at the front and the situation at home. Hans Albring and Eugen Altrogge, two young soldiers, reveal their initial enthusiasm for the cause and their belief in the righteousness of Germany's efforts, but then also their growing difficulty in accepting all aspects of the war. The letters and accounts of pro-Nazis like Liselotte Purper, a journalist actively engaged in state-sponsored propaganda, are balanced against accounts of those who were against the government, like Victor Klemperer, a Jewish convert to Protestantism who managed to survive the war in Germany (and who later published his diaries as I Will Bear Witness).
The letters, documents and news stories show that many Germans, even those without enthusiasm for the Nazis, strongly supported the war, and believed that Germany was surrounded by enemies and under attack. While there were many instances of doubt  expressed concerning the details of nationally disseminated  propaganda, there was a strong belief in the "Jewish Bolshevism" behind the attacks on Germany (including the allied bombing campaign against German cities). This was tempered by a fairly widespread acknowledgement that the increasing destruction of German cities as the war progressed could be seen as just retribution for "what we did to the Jews".
The SD reports on what German citizens were saying, and resulting court documents could be quite revealing, too. In Germany criticism of the war, "defeatism," could be a very serious matter.  A citizen's past and beliefs could ameliorate the punishment though; someone with a national socialist background, or a family member serving in the army who was heard making statements against the party or its leaders would find themselves in far less trouble than a known trade-unionist or former communist making the same comments.
Interesting throughout, the narrative never bogs down. A very good book.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ms. Marvel: Last Days

Ms. Marvel, volume 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona, 120 pages

In the continuing adventures of Muslim-Pakistani-American-teen-turned-superhero Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel is now delving into some BIG ISSUES, including a planet hanging over Manhattan and, perhaps more intriguingly, some nefarious baddies who are attempting to turn Kamala's brother from a peaceful and devoted Muslim into a superpowered world-domination machine. Throw in a best friend with a big crush and an appearance from the original Ms. Marvel, and you've got yet another great installment in this series. Good stuff.

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir, 387 pages

Thanks to a freak accident during a Mars exploration mission, astronaut Mark Watney is left alone on the red planet, presumed dead by his crew and the rest of Earth until a satellite image catches a glimpse of him. What follows is a prolonged battle for survival on Watney's part, and a desperate race against time for NASA scientists who are determined to rescue him before he runs out of food and life-support systems. While the book starts out fairly hard-sciencey (holy cow, there are a lot of math problems involving potatoes and water and carbon dioxide), Weir tempers the occasionally mind-numbing equations with Watney's self-deprecating humor and running commentary on the entertainment choices of the rest of his crew. It's a gripping, fast read once you get used to the math stuff, and a great first book for Weir.

Monday, January 4, 2016

December 2015 totals!

 Amy 2/724
Christa 12/3107
Kara 12/3833
Karen 5/1733
Kathleen 9/2340
Linda 6/1933
Patrick 25/7816

Total: 71/21,486

A manual for cleaning women, by Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin died in 2004 and this large selection of her short stories did not appear until ten years later.  What a shame she didn’t know how widely read and appreciated her work would become through this collection.  But the book itself benefits from access to her complete works and the arrangement of the stories, which may or may not be close to the order in which they were written, because the recurring characters in many of them grow and develop almost like a memoir.  The incidents are in large part taken from her own colorful and difficult life, but really are literary fiction not autobiography.  Ranging from western mining towns, to Mexico, Chile, the Bay Area, and New York City, they evoke the places she lived as well as the experiences she had.  She’s wonderfully observant of both the human condition and the natural world.  I loved them.  415 pp.