Thursday, March 31, 2016

Confessions of a dangerous mind

Confessions of a dangerous mind: an unauthorized autobiography / Chuck Barris 240 pgs.

This "unauthorized autobiography" tells of Chuck's TV shows, his love life and his life as a CIA hit man.  Chuck was a producer who developed several popular game shows including the Dating Game, the Newlywed Game and the Gong Show.  The book tells that during that time, he was also a CIA agent who did various "jobs" around the world that mostly included killing people.  He kept in touch through his handler "Jim Byrd" and developed a close relationship to him.  Later, a mole is sniffed out and Barris gets the job of dealing out retribution.  This book was made into a motion picture.  Not surprisingly, the CIA had denied any connection to Barris and his employment with them.  Of course that is EXACTLY what you would expect them to do.

A thousand naked strangers

A thousand naked strangers: a paramedic's wild ride to the edge and back / Kevin Hazzard 240 pgs.

Next time I tell a good library story, I'm going to remember this book.  Paramedics ALSO work with the public, all ages, types, income levels, but their "customers" are often in a crisis.  They are injured, near death, possibly already dead.  These people are not at their best.  Hazzard tells some AMAZING stories about his 10 years as an EMT then paramedic.  Some of them are horrible, gross, scary, and worse.  But all have a touch of humanity and humor along with the shocking reality.  I would NEVER make it in a situation where I had to provide emergency care or possibly any type of medical care but I'm certainly happy that there are people doing this job and even happier that Kevin Hazzard decided to write about his experiences.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

American Housewife: Stories / Helen Ellis, 188 p.

Dear Helen Ellis,

Where have you been all my life?  Let me tell you just a few of the things I love about your book:

You wrote a whole story about tampons, and it was fantastic!  (OK, it was really about some other things, but still...)

Most of the husbands in your stories are nice guys.  So it isn't really about them.

Your story How to Be a Grown-Ass Lady: This is advice I really need!  And I do always talk to cabdrivers.

This collection has a story about bras which is witty and sad and one-of-a-kind.  If it were a painting I would hang it on my wall.  (the story, not the bras)

Noonday / Pat Barker, 307 pp.

The final volume in the trilogy which includes Life Class and Toby's Room ends the story of artists Elinor, Paul and Kit, whose story began during the First World War and ends years later, during London's blitz.

I so thoroughly enjoy Barker's writing style that I'm not totally objective; I have to say that this would be a difficult read without having read the first two.  The plot of this is rather thin, extending the dynamics of the love triangle that's existed between the three characters these many years.  A side character of a spirit medium called Bertha feels incomplete here, although she ultimately plays an important role.

The period detail is terrific.  Barker is obviously well-acquainted with first-person accounts of the blitz and the reader has a strong 'you were there' sensation.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, 228 pages. Read by Sunil Mulhotra and Cassandra Campbell.
Brilliant neurosurgical resident (and professor), Kalanithi, finds himself diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer just as his career is about to begin. His priorities shift, naturally enough, and there are many thoughtful, sad moments. That's to be expected, of course. The unexpected sorrow comes when he discovers that in his drive to be the best, and then in his decision to keep his own medical concerns to himself, he had almost destroyed his marriage. He and Lucy must find a way to see some sort of future together even as their options become more and more limited.
 A very moving account of one doctor's illness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution

Genrenauts, Episode 1: The Shootout Solution by Michael Underwood, 154 pages

Leah Tang is failing as a stand-up comedian when a mysterious job offer comes her way, promising high adventure in any number of book and movie genres. Before she knows it, she's off to Western world, on a mission to help save a dusty town from bank-robbing bandits, hanging out in the saloon and learning to fire a six-shooter.

I'll be completely honest here: I wasn't that impressed with this novella. Yes, there were lots of funny bits and references to sci-fi and fantasy pop-culture touchstones, but overall, it was nothing to write home about. I picked this up because I like (OK, love) Jasper Fforde's absurdly clever adventures-in-fictional-worlds Thursday Next series, and I guess I was hoping that this might tide me over until the next Fforde book pops up. Instead, it reads like a ghostly pale imitation of Fforde's wonderful tales. If you've never read Fforde, this might not annoy you as much as it does me, though I'd recommend just picking up Fforde instead. If you're already a fan of Fforde, don't bother with this one. I give it a resounding "meh."


Bettyville by George Hodgman, 278 pages.
George Hodgman, a book and magazine editor in NYC (Simon and Schuster, and Vogue, among others) returns to Paris, Missouri, to care for his aging mother. This is an interesting memoir, particularly because of the author's admitted reticence. He tell tales of his refusal to open up, and yet he seems to be truthful, as far as he can be, with us, his audience. His beloved mother, quickly becoming a shell of her former self, wants to live independently, but can no longer do so. George spoke at the Library in February and he was a wonderful speaker. He shared many of the stories that went into or surrounded those in the book. It was a great talk about a very interesting and engaging book. I look forward to reading his next book.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah, 271 pages.
Sonia Shah, medical writer extraordinaire, presents a compelling account of both historic cholera epidmecs, and more recent events, such as ebola and bired-flu epidemics that have threatened to become pandemics. She traces cholera from its origins in the flooding mangrove swamps in the Sundarbans region of what is now Bangaladesh, to the recent outbreak in Haiti. Shah explains how the Vibrio Cholare bacterium had always been present, occasionally causing illness in those who wandered out into those waters. It wasn't until the vibrio mutated, changed to secrete a strong toxin, and found a way to attach itself to the inner walls of its human host's intestine.
Epidemiologists now live in fear for when the next zoonoses  adapts for human to human transmission.
I look forward to reading her 2010 book, The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years.

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson  324 pp.

This has been on my "to read" list for a long time. I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner. This is such a fun book. Bryson details his travels about his adopted homeland of England traveling by foot mostly but taking the odd bus, train, or ferry when necessary. He gives droll descriptions of the small towns and their inhabitants and revels in the scenery to be found in the remotest of locations. Other times he rants about the curious inability to get to nearby places without roundabout trips via bus or train. In between he provides tongue-in-cheek commentary on such things as peculiar town names (Farleigh Wallop, Pinhead, West Stuttering...), inexplicable guest house "instructions", surly, entertaining, and/or just odd people he encountered, and other characteristics that make Britain British. I found myself laughing out loud during many parts of this book. This one is well worth giving a go.

The Red Garden

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman  270 pp.

This touching novel covers 200 years in the lives of the residents of Blackwell, Massachusetts from its founding by a determined English women who battled the elements and bears. The characters connect, either through direct family connections, friendships, and marriages. Central to the story is the mysterious garden/burial ground on the property of the town founder's home. The garden has existed almost from the beginning of settlers arriving and has mysteriously red soil that soon only grows red flowers and vegetables, even ones that should be green. The town itself goes through many changes including the arrival of Johnny Appleseed who plants the orchard of what would come to be known as Blackwell's None Better apples. There are births and deaths, arrivals and disappearances, ghosts, and the occasional strange happenings. I enjoyed this book better than the other Hoffman novels I've read.

Hunger makes me a modern girl

Hunger makes me a modern girl by Carrie Brownstein 256 pgs.

Sleater-Kinney always struck me as being a great band even though I never saw them play live.  Founding member Brownstein talks a bit about her childhood and formative years.  Her family, like all others, had their issues and problems.  She was interested in music at a young age but any musical education is unclear.  Did she teach herself the guitar after a few lessons with her neighbor?  Is there more to the foundation of the music the band plays?  It was unclear to me after reading the book.  What was clear is the punishment involved in touring.  As a young unknown band, you have no money, no "help" and spend nights where ever you can find a place to lay your head.  As you start to make it, the schedule is punishing on any "normal" life, relationships, pets, even home ownership.  I've often wondered what it would be like to be on the road and now I think I have a much better understanding.  This book covers the band and we hear nothing about Brownstein's time after aside from her volunteering at a humane society and a horrifying story about the fate of one of her pets.

Any fan of the band or Carrie will enjoy this account.

American Housewife

American Housewife / Helen Ellis 188 pgs.

This book is wonderfully funny. A collection of stories, each one better than the previous one. It is pretty impossible to pick your favorite because they are all so good but who can resist "Take it from cats" or "The fitter"?  Probably nobody could.  Thank you Kara for recommending this book, it is my favorite of the year so far.  Do yourself a favor and give it a read.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Mary Beard

As British classicist Mary Beard points out, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The title of her book, “SPQR,” translates into Senate and People of Rome, and refers specifically to the early days of the Roman Republic, which, as Beard points out, began to gestate at the same time as its rival Greek Republic.

This early period, when Rome was ruled as a body politic rather than a lone charismatic leader, has often been glossed over historically in favor of more glamorous version of historical fact. This is where Beard steps in and turns things around. Under her hand, Rome comes to life, revealing an interesting bundle of facts often overlooked by archaeologists and historians.

Rome was not an easy place to live. Yet Beard digs beneath the folklore and popular misconceptions to give her readers a real feel for what its citizens went through in their daily lives.

There have been scores of books written about Ancient Rome, however Beard’s is different in that it focuses mainly on the first millennium of the city.  This allows her to cover a lot of ground and tell readers about the heavy-hitters (Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Spartacus, Nero, Caligula and Caligula just to name a few) of the age while also focusing on the importance of Cicero in creating what would become an empire for the ages.

While it is in no shape or form a light read, Beard’s book delves deeply into the social aspects of Roman society, most notably slavery, judicial power and the role of women. and children.

Completely exhaustive and fascinating, “SPQR” delivers a fresh perspective on the ascension of Rome as a military and political dynasty which sheds new light on the power and glory that would become the infamous Roman Empire.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Crooked House

The Crooked House by Christobel Kent, 357 pages.

Alison has spent a long time trying not to get too close to anyone. She has a good reason. When she was fourteen her family was taken from her, and she has never quite recovered from that traumatic night. Her new boyfriend Paul has secrets of his own, and with their shared reluctance to share details, she starts to believe that she may have finally found something, someone. Paul convinces her to accompany him to a friend's wedding even though it's taking place in Saltleigh, the marshy seaside village where Alison had lived in the titular house with her family, when she still had a family. The book draws you in, and if the characters actions don't always make sense, they have enough craziness and buried pain so that you can at least see the point behind their vain hopes and muddled plans. By the end, though, it was just a little too convoluted. The very end was about two twists to far for my tastes, and the clues buried in the flashes of repressed memory, seem a little too deliberately placed, with the narrative misdirection standing out from the story instead of flowing along with it. A fun, if somewhat unsatisfying read.

Life and Fate

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, 880 pages.
I started reading this when I found it on a display that Kathleen or Christa had made for last year's summer reading book, Anna Karenina. I think it was the iconic photo on the cover of two Soviet soldiers during the battle for Berlin that first drew me to the book. I read the first chapter or two and then checked it back in. I tried again a little while later, once translated books started counting for double points in our reading challenge. I think that I started reading it in earnest after seeing Grossman and his war writings discussed while reading Nicholas Stargardt's The German War this past January. Reading this massive work was slow going, though; the characters' Russian names,their diminutives and patronymics can be confusing, plus, while the time-span over the course of the novel is relatively short, the book jumps around geographically, from Stalingrad to Moscow, from the death camps, to POW camps, to the Gulag. But mostly it was the sheer number of characters that had me turning to the back of the book, to scan through the handy and comprehensive list of participants. Once I had everyone straight, the story went more quickly.
Life and Fate follows Viktor Shtrum, his wife Lyudmila, her siblings, all of their children, and Viktor's colleagues during the later war years as the fate of Stalingrad, and the war itself are in the balance. The book explores how they all live their lives caught between Stalin and Hitler between victory and disaster. Vicktor's Jewish heritage adds a layer of complication to his life, as Russian anti-Semitism does little to reassure those trying to escape Hitler's minions. Victor's mother, caught behind the German lines, and sent to a concentration camp bravely decides to accompany a lonely little boy when there was still a chance that she could save herself.
It is a book that tells us that no matter what horrific situations one finds oneself in, there is almost always some hope and something worth fighting for, and that conversely, when life is seemingly at its best there is always room for despair. It's a sweeping torrent that carries you along. A fascinating writer and an excellent book. Well worth the time.
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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, 282 pages.

Gawande, a surgeon, staff writer for The New Yorker, and author of  2002's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, and two other books, looks at how we as Americans face the end of life. Whether it is the care of the elderly, or catastrophic illness in younger people, medicine has significantly altered where we die and how we die. In many cases despite our lengthened lifespans how we die has changed for the worse, even if death comes later for most of us than it did for our forebears.
Gawande compares our twentieth century idea of nursing homes and intrusive medical-centered care to how we faced the end of life throughout most of human history and how more recent innovations in care can provided a setting that allows the patient more control over their own end.
Assisted living in its original incarnation, small patient-centered housing facilities, and quality hospice care can all help ease the physical suffering and loss of self-worth that can accompany nursing care. A thoughtful, intelligent look at an issue that most of us will face for ourselves or for our family members. Gawande is an excellent writer, and this is a timely thought provoking book.
We had a excellent book discussion about this in March.

The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, narrated by Zach Villa, 303 pages.

Really well-paced thriller that worked for me. I liked the characters and I liked how even the seemingly extraneous plot pieces fit well into the story and moved it along. Joe runs off to college as soon as he is able, leaving his alcoholic bi-polar mother and his autistic brother behind. It's his first foray into freedom and he doesn't get far enough and as the book opens, his mother is manipulating him back into their rather toxic relationship.
Joe is working a couple of jobs, and has never been a stellar student, plus he registered at the last minute and all the good classes are full. He ends up in an English class he doesn't care about. It's no surprise that he has put off his biography assignment for longer than he should. He supposed to write about an older person who has had an interesting life. After checking at a local nursing home to see if he can set up a interview with someone there he ends up talking to Carl. Carl, it turns out, has served thirty years for a rape / murder. It was a gruesome crime, but Joe's unfazed. It's a little contrived how this all comes together, how the book gets started, but the rest of the book more than makes up for this mildly clunkybit of plot. Joe's relationships with his mother and brother are solid, and he becomes a much more sympathetic character as he realizes where his loyalties lie, and what he must do to be true to himself. His growing relationships with both Carl and with his neighbor, Lila, bring out the best in him. There are just enough plot twists, and the author sells you on the story, helping you leap over any plot holes.
I really enjoyed this.

A Song for the Brokenhearted

A Song for the Brokenhearted by William Shaw, 403 pages

London detective Cathal Breen is recovering from an on-the-job gunshot wound and is slowly going insane at his friend Helen Tozer's remote family farm. No wonder then that he starts investigating the bizarre unsolved murder of Helen's sister, who was found mutilated on the family farm four years earlier. The investigation soon picks up when another body turns up, and soon Breen is going undercover at drug parties and delving into British colonialism in Africa, all in the hopes of catching the killer.

This is the third book in Shaw's Breen and Tozer series, though I've not read the first two. Doesn't really matter though. By-the-books Breen and women's libber Tozer are are interesting match, and I love the feel of the late 1960s that comes alive in this book. Still not sure why the book has the title it does, but hey, it's a good book.

A curious mind

A curious mind: the secret to a bigger life / Brian Grazer adn Charles Fishman, 305 pgs.

Brian Grazer, the successful movie producer, discusses his relationship with curiosity.  As a boy, he was encouraged by his grandmother to ask questions and being curious is a hallmark of his personality and a key to his success.  Throughout his life he has made a point to talk to a variety of people through chance meetings or arranged ones.  He tells of spending a year or more trying to arrange some meetings where he is asking for nothing more than a conversation with the person. He emphasizes that he wants to talk about THEM, not himself.  He doesn't want advice, a job or a favor, just the chance to ask about things that are interesting to him.  An interesting book although a little too often about his hair.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

13 ways of looking at the fat girl

13 ways of looking at the fat girl / Mona Awad 214 pgs.

Lizzie's a fat teen whose only goal seems to be to lose weight.  She starts a long distance relationship with Tom and becomes more serious about losing weight.  This book is 13 chapters about Lizzie, Liz, Elizabeth (her preferred name changes often) and her relationship with her body, her parents, the man in her life.  The cover blurb says "This book sparkles with wit..." and there are some fun parts.  But in general, I think it is just kind of depressing and seems all too real.


Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater, 238 pages

British food writer Nigel Slater offers up a memoir of growing up, framed by the touchstone foods of his youth. Everything from the trifle his dad used to make at Christmas to the spaghetti he had for the first time as a kid (that story's fantastic) to the steak Diane he always wanted but never got to try to the titular toast, which his mother burned EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. she made it. It's an interesting way to present a memoir, and one that's quite appropriate given the role food has played, and continues to play, in Slater's life. It's also an interesting book, full of great stories (I'm completely OK with never eating seafood cocktail, at least as prepared at the hotel Slater once worked at), though at times it got a bit disjointed. Overall, I enjoyed it. And now I must eat some toast.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I'll go home then; it's warm and has chairs

I'll go home then; it's warm and has chairs: the unpublished emails / David Thorne 239 pgs.

David Thorne is back with another book of emails, childhood stories, and interactions with neighbors and businesses that are priceless.  He still works with Simon, a guy who I assume is the "Dwight" of the office, David being the "Jim."  David delights in pushing Simon who has now taken to filling our HR complaints about David. The forms are all included and they are priceless.  In other news, David has moved to the states and gotten a dog.  That doesn't sound like much but it is great in context.

Plus, how do you beat the cover?  Only if the snowboarding, astronaut cat had a book maybe?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, 512 pages

I'm going to start this out by linking to my post about A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in this series, as it's absolutely impossible to read A Gathering of Shadows without first reading that one. For the Cliff's Notes version... Kell is an uber-powerful magician in Red London, one of four Londons in this series, each of which has its own degree of magic (Red London has lots of magic all over the place; Gray London is like our world and has none; White London has just enough magic to make its inhabitants vampires/junkies for the stuff; Black London abused its magic and collapsed upon itself), and Kell's the only person around who can travel between the different Londons. Lila Bard is a pickpocket from Gray London who hitched a ride into Red London in the first book, but has joined a pirate crew in the second. Finally, we've got the royal family of Red London (with whom Kell lives), who are preparing for a magical tournament that seems to be the Olympics of that particular world.

I enjoyed this book, particularly the parts that focused on Lila, whose scrappiness and stubbornness make her a really likeable (if not always relatable) character. I also liked the mystery of Alucard* Emery, Lila's pirate captain who is not at all who he seems. That said, this isn't as strong as the first book in the series, particularly in the sections that take place in White London, and Kell's awesome coat doesn't get as much play in this book. That also said, I'm definitely going to read the next book in this series...because this one ended on a cliffhanger. Sigh.

*Is Schwab a fan of Dracula, of Castlevania, or both? Inquiring minds want to know!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The 6:41 to Paris / Jean-Philippe Blondel, trans. Alison Anderson, 146 pp.

What Kara and Christa said!

In others words, this is a startlingly suspenseful and entirely engrossing book.  Cecile and Philippe, each 47 years old, were lovers 27 years earlier.  They find themselves seated next to each other on a train.  Will they speak?  Shout?  What are they afraid of?  Who is Mathieu?  And what exactly happened on that fateful trip to London?

Told in back-and-forth points of view between the two characters, Blondel has terrific mastery of the interior processes of these distinct people.  I was rather blown away by his grasp of the connections between our present and past selves.  And he does a superb job of laying out that space between the indifference of our children and the recalcitrance of our parents (I'm paraphrasing...can't find the quote) which characterizes a certain time of life.  I hope Blondel writes many more novels, and very soon.

Franny and Zooey

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger  201 pp.

I read this book in high school 40 something years ago and frankly didn't remember a whole lot about it. The book is made up of a short story, "Franny" and a novella, "Zooey." Franny and Zooey are two of the Glass siblings who grew up in a family of highly intelligent kids who were featured on a genius kids radio show. Now all grown up, Franny attends college and has become obsessed with a short book The Way of the Pilgrim and the concept of praying without ceasing. A discussion of this with a boyfriend in a restaurant reveals that he is more interested in himself and getting to a football game. In the novella, Zooey, now an actor, is portrayed soaking in the bathtub, reading an old letter from his brother Buddy. His mother intrudes, demanding that Zooey try to help Franny who has suffered an emotional breakdown. There is much discussion of Buddy's reclusiveness and another brother, Seymour, who took his own life years before. Finally Zooey retreats into the bedroom once shared by Buddy and Seymour to read the philosophical quotes tacked to their door. Eventually he calls Franny for further philosophical discussion. I probably didn't remember much from my first read because I didn't understand it then. While I understand it now I am not very impressed.

The Man from Beijing

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell  365 pp.

What starts out as an intriguing murder mystery about a brutal mass murder in a small Swedish village veers into an unbelievable plot about revenge for one man's evil one hundred years prior. Judge Birgitta Roslin becomes involved in the crime investigation when she realizes that two of the victims are her foster grandparents. After subsequent brush-offs by the police, Roslin begins investigating on her own during the time she is conveniently off work due to a heart condition. Her investigation takes her to China before the story then moves to Africa. This novel is a far cry from Mankell's Wallander novels and I found it very disappointing.

Harriet the Invincible

Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon  247 pp.

This is the first book in Vernon's new "Hamster Princess" series. It is a fractured fairy tale version of Sleeping Beauty starring Princess Harriet, a hamster, who is cursed on her christening day by the evil fairy Ratshade. Because she only has until age 12 before the curse takes place and is apparently invincible until then, Harriet, a most un-princesslike princess, goes off on quests riding her quail, Mumfrey. She travels the land defeating all manner of evils and converting them to vegetarianism. In one more twist of the classic story, she ends up awake while the rest of the royal court falls asleep. She must then seek out a prince to kiss everyone in the castle to wake them up. I am a big fan of Vernon's work (Dragonbreath, Digger) and this one is just as entertaining.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A manual for cleaning women

A manual for cleaning women / Lucia Berlin 428 pgs.

A collection of short stories from an author who died too young.  These stories have recurring characters and are places and times similar to the author's life.  It took me awhile to notice the connections but only because I read only one story a night so I could savor each of them.  All were enjoyable.  Although addiction and failed relationships are a theme, there is a bit of joy or humor even in the most depressing stories.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City / Matthew Desmond, 406 pp. (advance reader's edition)

Desmond is an academic but he's written a compelling, almost addictive book. He embedded himself in the lives of a variety of residents of Milwaukee, all of them straddling the line between homelessness and being precariously housed. Some are white residents of a trailer park, others are African American inner-city residents. He uncovers truths that are not especially astonishing: everyone suffers, but blacks suffer in greater numbers and more intensely, many landlords are predatory, families with children are at greatest risk of eviction, police and court practices work against the tenants, and most importantly, there are horribly high numbers of people whose incomes are such that they effectively have no chance of maintaining secure housing. Rents are simply too high, and these families are on track for eviction from the moment they move in.

This was often uncomfortable reading; I felt like I was watching reality TV and occasionally enjoying the drama more than I should. Desmond can only have presented a fraction of the individuals and situations he observed and sometimes I wondered at his choices. He follows Crystal, for example, whose violent behavior and serious mental illness push the narrative outside the bounds of his thesis; Crystal would likely be frequently homeless even if our country adopted Desmond's sensible recommendations for alleviating the crisis: widespread use of vouchers such that no family need spend more than 30% of its income on housing, controls on pricing and discrimination, and more thoughtful enforcement of building codes such that maintaining safe properties remains profitable.

Still, this is undeniably an impressive and important work. I was gratified to see Desmond use the word brutality to describe the treatment of poor tenants. It's entirely appropriate.

One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

One Hundred Poems from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth, 148 pages.
Rexroth's book of translated poems includes 35 written by Tu Fu a scholar who wrote in the 700s. Rexroth refers to Tu Fu as "the greatest non-epic, non dramatic poet who has survived in any language."

Tu Fu:

A hawk hovers in the air.
Two white gulls float on the stream.
Soaring with the wind, it is easy
To drop and seize
Birds who foolishly drift with the current.
Where the dew sparkles in the grass,
The spider's web waits for its prey.
The processes of nature resemble the business of men.
I stand alone with ten thousand sorrows.

The other seventy or so poems are a variety of poets of the Sung dynasty, who wrote between 1000 and the 1200s.

This from Su Tung Po:
I fish for minnows in the lake.
Just born, they have no fear of man.
And those who have learned,
Never come back to warn them.

Rexroth's explanatory notes are illuminating, though at times seem disdainful (of the presumptive audience, not of the poets or poems). The poet states that ". . . I do not consider these notes at all necessary. They just seem to be the custom."
The book also features a select bibliography which includes a succinct comments by Rexroth about each work; from one-word judgements like "excellent," or "fair," or "biased" to the longer notes like "the less said the better" about Ezra Pound's The Classic Anthology.
Beautiful poems.

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Every anxious wave

Every anxious wave / Mo Daviau 276 pgs.

Karl and Lena are supposed to be together but time isn't always on their side.  Sometimes the time isn't right, sometimes they are overcome by other needs, sometimes their time travel is difficult.  Yes, time travel plays a big part in their relationship.  Karl has a wormhole in his closet and loses his friend Wayne to the year 980.  He hires Lena to get him back.  Lena is a working on her physics Phd but has some other issues.  She is, of course, VERY interested in the worm hole and its implications.  She sees this as an opportunity to go back and correct a few things that went wrong in her life.  Each time it changes her relationship with Karl.  And eventually they don't really know each other because her life has taken a totally new path.  But never fear...Glory, Karl's eventual step daughter is monitoring the situation from the future and taking care to make sure it all works out.

Very fun book to read...Karl and Lena are fans of indie bands and there is a lot of name dropping of bands and songs.  There are so many people who will like this book, hats off to Mo Daviau for writing it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedics Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedics Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard, 261 pages.
A fast-paced account of Hazzard's time working as an EMT and then a Paramedic in Atlanta. After studying for several months and becoming an EMT, Hazzard spent about a decade driving an ambulance; first for a private company, then for Fulton County. Once he became a Paramedic, he got his dream job,working for Grady Hospital in Atlanta. The bulk of his career was spent at Grady, and his best stories come from there. There are a lot of crazy vignettes about his own mistakes and misadventures, and a lot of stories about his colleagues, the various bureacracies (his one-time partner, a great Paramedic, was fired for making t-shirts for the ambulance crews, violating the county's copyright), and, of course, the patients.
A quick, engaging read. Reccommended!
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Hold Me Closer

Hold Me Closer: the Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan  200 pp.

This is a companion to one of my favorite YA books, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. That novel was written by my two favorite YA authors, Levithan and John Green. In Will Grayson... the large, gay, football playing Tiny Cooper writes and directs an autobiographical musical play about his big gay life. Hold Me Closer is the script of that musical complete with song lyrics and some added commentary. The only thing I wish it had was the music to the songs. The play chronicles Tiny's life and mainly focuses on his search for a partner to love. One of the musical numbers is a parade of his ex-boyfriends telling the reason things didn't work out with each of them. An appearance by the ghost of Oscar Wilde who tries to council Tiny is an added bonus. There are some thoughtful lessons in this short book but Levithan doesn't beat you over the head with them. I especially liked Tiny's former babysitter telling him that you aren't less of a person if you are not one half of a couple. You don't have to read Will Grayson... before you read this but it will add more depth if you have.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Every Anxious Wave

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau, 276 pages

If you could go back in time and see one concert, which one would it be? The question is a great conversation starter, and, if you have a music-obsessed crowd, fuel for hours of hypothetical discussions and arguments. But when bartender and former punk guitarist Karl Bender stumbles across a wormhole in his closet (he literally stumbles into it, landing at a years-ago concert), the question moves out of hypothetical and into the possible, and Karl starts earning some extra cash by sending deep-pocketed music fans back in time. But things go awry when Karl's friend Wayne accidentally ends up in 980 instead of 1980, leading Karl to enlist Lena, a tattooed punk physicist, to rescue his friend.

This is a fun book, particularly if you're a music fan and enjoy time travel stories. Daviau raises a lot of questions about how our actions affect others and events in the future. And I certainly spent a lot of time pondering the which bands I would go back in time to see. A good debut novel from Daviau. I look forward to seeing what else she has to offer.

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr, 474 pages.

Bob Mehr, who it seems, is normally a columnist and writer of liner notes, does a really good job on a readable, informative, and consistently even story of my favorite band from the 1980s. I saw the book on the review shelf and put it on request because it was about the Replacements. I was a little dismayed when I saw that it was 474 pages long, and more dismayed when I realized how little white space there was; we're talking narrow margins and a small font. How could someone write so many words about a band? I figured it would be repetitive, and in the end, boring, despite it's subject, but I was wrong.
Mehr constructs the book carefully, with each new situation, each chapter starting with a brief bio of the person introduced. He begins with the parents of the band members, then the four Replacements, their friends, lovers, management, and their musical contemporaries. They all get an introduction and all get their say. There are no real heroes here. The book is by no means a hatchet job, though the truth, as Mehr tells it, could easily support one. The author does attempt to answer, in a sympathetic way, the question of how a band which so many people thought would succeed in a big way actively and aggressively avoided that success. How four people who were all capable of playing so well together always let it all fall apart. It's a fascinating story, and a pretty sad one.  The sadness begins with founding guitarist Bob Stinson, who died in 1995. Bob lived with the scars of being abused as a child, and then struggled with substance abuse, violent tendencies, and mental illness all his adult life, and it took a heavy toll on his music and his life. The whole band was right there with him in a lot of ways and seemed to relish living out their reputation as the most dysfunctional hyper-talented band going. They drank pretty much constantly, until they couldn't anymore. Paul Westerberg, the most famous of the Replacements, struggled with depression, along with his drug problems and alcoholism. Tommy Stinson, Bob's younger brother, started playing with the band when he was twelve, and dropped out of high-school during his sophomore year in order to tour nationally with the band. He waited a year or two before becoming a full-fledged member of the chemically-fueled destructive team, but he caught up quickly. Alcohol and drugs aside, the band seemed determined, throughout their existence, to go out of their way defy the advice of anyone and everyone in the business, to slap away any helping hand offered, and to sabotage themselves and their careers with their fans, radio stations (including Lin Bremer and Johnny Mars at WXRT in Chicago) their own lmanagement team, and their record label; all in colorful and almost unforgivable ways. Eventually they seem to turn on each other. There's never any real redemptive moment for anyone, but that seems to be the way the band wanted it.
Interesting stuff.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

750 years in Paris

750 years in Paris / Vincent Mahe 124 pgs.

An architecture history of one building in Paris over 750 years with fabulously detailed drawings showing the effects of social events on the site.  I really like the use of everyday animals in the earlier years, dogs and cats in the later years.  Very fun book.

A Tale of Two Cats

A tale of two cats / Allen Dodd & Ivy Dodd 122 pgs.

Allen and Ivy moved from the city onto some acreage in Maine.  Their house and barn were over-run with mice and other pests.  Everyone said they needed a cat but they were dubious.  Then a cat showed up and adopted them.  Cassius was out in the cold and had some health issues.  They let him in and took him to the vet and in return, Cassius worked and cleared out everything that needed to go.  Later, they were talked into taking a kitten and Toby became the junior partner after rigorous training by Cassius.

People with cats won't find anything new here but it is a cute story.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Willful Disregard: a Novel about Love / Lena Andersson, trans. by Sarah Death, 196 pp.

A very simple story: woman meets a man, falls for him mind and body, and he doesn't want her (except for the occasional body business).  She wants him to the exclusion of everything; she can't have him; it's excruciating. Most of us have been there at least once, so where's the story?

Yet I devoured this short novel. The reader cringes with every foolish step the main character takes, willing her to step back from the psychological cliff even while we know (again, because we've been there) she won't. She analyzes her mistakes in painful detail, dismissing the advice of what she calls the 'girlfriend chorus.' Unusual and dark.

The Guest Room

The Guest Room: a novel by Chris Bohjalian  318 pp.

In general, I like Chris Bohjalian's books but this is far from my favorite. A successful banker allows his ne'er-do-well brother's bachelor party to be held in his Bronxville home. Richard Chapman's wife and daughter leave to spend the night at his mother-in-law's while the revelry occurs. What was supposed to be a night of drinking and entertainment by strippers turns into a bloodbath when one of the girls (prostitutes, not strippers) attacks their "bodyguards" with a kitchen knife. The house becomes a crime scene, the bad press puts Richard's lucrative job in jeopardy, his marriage is self-destructing, and the "friend" who arranged for the strippers/prostitutes is trying to blackmail him. Somehow, Bohjalian never seems to evoke sympathy for the characters, especially Richard. While the ending is a bit of a surprise, it wasn't enough to raise my opinion of this book. The Sandcastle Girls and The Light in the Ruins are better selections from the author's repertoire.

A Touch of Stardust

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott, 296 pages

Julie Crawford is a Midwestern girl who sets off for California to make it big in movies. But she has no interest in being a starlet; rather, she plans to be a screenwriter, despite the uphill battle she faces as a woman in the mostly-male world of 1930s Hollywood. Set during the filming of Gone With the Wind and featuring several of the actors and actresses who were involved in the movie (as well as Carole Lombard, who married Clark Gable during filming), A Touch of Stardust offers a wide-eyed look at the magic of movie-making, as well as a look beneath the surface to the misogynistic, racist, and anti-Semitic world in which these movies were made. A well-written, quick-reading book, perfect for fans of old Hollywood.

The Capitalist

The Capitalist by Peter Steiner, 294 pages.
I glanced at what I thought what I thought was a great review of this title on the back from the magazine Booklist. When I was about half way through, and didn't quite think that the book was all that great, I looked again and saw that the review was about the author overall, and not about this book.
There are little hints of what seem like laziness, phoning it in; a couple of the characters seem almost caricatures, and one character's gun is described as a ". . .cold blue steel, a Glock .45. . ." which is an odd description for a type of gun that is famous for being made out of a nylon polymer. There are some complicated plot twists, and clashes between characters which all seem to go nowhere. Overall the book is okay, but not one to seek out unless you're already a Steiner fan.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray
Robert Schnakenberg
Quirk Books

2016 is an election year, which means everywhere you go there’s an overload of rhetoric. However the one thing that everyone can get on board for is that Bill Murray is an American Treasure. With “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray” fans of all ages are treated to an encyclopedic examination of the actor, his roles, his co-stars and his odd antics.

From “Gung Ho to Garfield,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” to “Ghostbusters” author Robert Schnakenberg gives us a thorough examination of Murray’s career as a comic, actor and celebrity goofball.

The book describes Murray’s films while also giving readers short bios on his family, friends and major influences, all of which help us get inside the mind of this great talent.

In a spring filled with intense nonfiction, scores of biographies and more emotionally gripping works of fiction than you can shake a stick at it’s great to have this amazingly frivolous read to lighten the long days.
It’s an election year, which means everywhere you go there’s an overload of rhetoric. However the one thing that everyone can get on board for is that Bill Murray is an American Treasure. With “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray” fans of all ages are treated to an encyclopedic examination of the actor, his roles, his co-stars and his odd antics.
From “Gung Ho to Garfield,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” to “Ghostbusters” author Robert Schnakenberg gives us a great overview of his career while also getting pretty deep into the actor’s life off-screen. He also features short bios on his family, friends and major influences, providing us with a light overview of what makes him tick and why he remains relevant.
- See more at:
It’s an election year, which means everywhere you go there’s an overload of rhetoric. However the one thing that everyone can get on board for is that Bill Murray is an American Treasure. With “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray” fans of all ages are treated to an encyclopedic examination of the actor, his roles, his co-stars and his odd antics.
From “Gung Ho to Garfield,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” to “Ghostbusters” author Robert Schnakenberg gives us a great overview of his career while also getting pretty deep into the actor’s life off-screen. He also features short bios on his family, friends and major influences, providing us with a light overview of what makes him tick and why he remains relevant.
- See more at:
The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray”
Robert Schnakenberg, Quirk Books
It’s an election year, which means everywhere you go there’s an overload of rhetoric. However the one thing that everyone can get on board for is that Bill Murray is an American Treasure. With “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray” fans of all ages are treated to an encyclopedic examination of the actor, his roles, his co-stars and his odd antics.
From “Gung Ho to Garfield,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” to “Ghostbusters” author Robert Schnakenberg gives us a great overview of his career while also getting pretty deep into the actor’s life off-screen. He also features short bios on his family, friends and major influences, providing us with a light overview of what makes him tick and why he remains relevant.
- See more at:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ordinary Light: A Memoir

Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith, 349 pages
The Pulitzer-Prize winning poet recounts the death of her mother from cancer, and then loops around to tell the story of her childhood, her home, and her family. Smith's voice is so clear and precise; both listening to her read her memoir and reading the book itsel, are a joyful experience. Smith is adept at telling the story at one remove, at looking at her younger self with understanding and wry humor; realizing that even the smartest among us are foolish at times, especially when we are young. Her recounting of her almost-affair with her high-school English teacher, and the judgement she was subjected to several years later by members f her mother's church, are well-crafted, tinged with nostalgia and somehow sad and funny.
The book is moving, lyrical and beautifully written, I enjoyed it.
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Tales from the Loop

Tales from the Loop by Simon Stalenhag, 126 pages.
This Swedish book is fascinating. The paintings are of a sort-of everyday rural Sweden, but they  are transformed into extraordinary landscapes by the addition of a variety of unusual objects, the debris left behind after the building of an imaginary particle accelerator, strange space-junk, superannuated robots, and ancient beasts that have wandered in through a tear in the fabric. Lots of fun.
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A little life

A little life / Hanya Yanagihara 720 pgs.

The story of four friends who meet in college, this is a hard book to read.  Each of the friends have some "issues" but no one as much as Jude, whose childhood was hopefully something you can only read in a fiction book. Pain and suffering are Jude's hallmarks.  Even when he is happy, he feels like he doesn't deserve to be.

A hefty book at 720 pages, this follows the group from college through their 50's. They fight, get back together, stage interventions for each other when necessary, and become successful.

This book has gotten a lot of attention and it is pretty amazing. Filled with insights into people's true feelings and ideas, their worries and self loathing.  It is difficult to read at times when we learn about Jude's childhood but even more so when he confesses that he feels like he didn't merit any better treatment.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

love in lower-case / francesc miralles, trans. by Julie Wark, 224 pp.

A light love story, set in Barcelona and featuring a self-isolated language professor, a cat, a conspiracy theorist, and others.  Sweet, with loads of literary and classical music references.  The Barcelona setting is distinctive.

A Load of Hooey

A Load of Hooey: A Collection of New Short Humor Fiction by Bob Odenkirk, 139 pages

Former SNL writer and Mr. Show co-creator Bob Odenkirk presents a collection of humor sketches in A Load of Hooey. The topics range from a man explaining how he got each one of his impressive ab muscles to an imagined conversation between Jesus and Lazarus to a series of "unabridged" famous quotes. As you might imagine, these are hilarious. My favorites were Odenkirk's "transcript" of Martin Luther King Jr.'s worst speech ever, the aforementioned conversation between Jesus and Lazarus, and the Seussian poem about a man finding a Jackson Pollock painting in his grandma's basement. It's great fun, particularly if you listen to the audiobook, which features Odenkirk, David Cross, and Brian Posehn, among others.

The Private Eye

The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente,
A very imaginative, colorful, and fully-realized tale of a semi-dystopian future wherein the internet has been abandoned, everyone leads a masked existence with their own secret identity, and journalists have taken the place of government authorities.
A private investigator (now an illegal occupation) reluctantly seeks to uncover the truth of the murder of a former client. Aided by the victim's sister, his own grandfather, and a gung-ho assistant, P.I. becomes involved in something much larger than a simple murder, and must confront his own secrets as well as those of the society in which he lives.
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The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project by Robert Boynton, 271 pages.
Boynton, a journalist who has worked for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, tells a fascinating story Japanese citizens who were kidnapped and spirited away to North Korea during the 1970s. Boynton's telling of the tale is a little flat, and does not quite make a fascinating read. He was able to interview several of the abductees after their return, and he was able to talk with many government officials in Japan and South Korea. The narrative itself bogs down a bit, with a fair amount of speculation that leaves the reader wanting more detail, more confirmation (of some of the stories), and more spark. A decent book and an interesting subject.

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, 266 pages.
A fun, funny, and engaging graphic novel about two graduates of the local  institution of law enforcement. They had been great friends, more than that even, but then their was an incident and their paths split. Lord Ballister Blackheart chose (or was forced onto by circumstance) the path of villany, while Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin is the hero of the kingdom.
They clash often, they are adversaries, but the situation between them is somewhat stable. When Nimona arrives on the scene the dynamic shifts. Ostensibly Blackheart's sidekick, Nimona is far more than she seems, and soon becomes the story's center.
A satisfying tale with great art. Highly recommended.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, 320 pages

LeGuin's first book in the Earthsea series focuses on the training and self-discovery of the great mage Ged. His journey takes him from a small poor hamlet to a school of magical training, where he unleashes a dark power that threatens to take over Ged, and possibly all of Earthsea. Throw in some dragons and the obligatory quest, and you've got a classic high fantasy tale.

This had long been on my to-read list, and I'm glad I finally picked it up. I'm curious to see how the rest of this series shakes out, and I'm equally curious to see the Studio Ghibli film adaptation, which, I suspect, is excellent. This story seems like an excellent fit for Goro Miyazaki's storytelling style.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Avenue of Mysteries

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving  460 pp.

This is the richly detailed, convoluted tale of Juan Diego Guerrero, who was raised a "dump kid" in Oaxaca, Mexico with his younger sister, Lupe, a mind reader with a speech impediment who thinks she knows the future. Juan Diego teaches himself to read in both Spanish and English from books he salvages from the flames of the dump and ultimately becomes a rather successful author. The story jumps between Juan Diego's life as a boy in Oaxaca, the accident that left him with a crippled foot, to his trip to the Philippines as an old man with a few stops in his brief encounter with a circus and his life in Iowa after being adopted by Eduardo, a former priest wanna-be and his transgendered partner. Then there are the two mysterious women who take control of Juan Diego and interrupt his visit with a former student in the Philippines. Throughout the novel there is much discussion and argument about various facets of the Catholic religion and the worship of Mary/Our Lady of Guadalupe along with a "miracle" or two. Much of the story of Juan Diego's childhood is in the form of the dreams he has when he doesn't take his beta-blocker prescription. He also gets much use from his Viagra prescription with the mysterious mother and daughter. Irving has filled this novel with a wide assortment of characters all of which add to the tale of Juan Diego. The book got mixed reviews but I liked it.