Monday, October 16, 2017

The Black Tower

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard  352 pp.

What if the young Dauphin Louis Charles, son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had not died in a cell in the notorious "Temple" prison but was smuggled out of the prison and grew to adulthood. That is the premise of this novel. Vidocq, chief of the new plainclothes police force disrupts the quiet life of Hector Carpentier after mistaking him for his late father, a physician while investigating a murder. The senior Carpentier had treated the sick prince in the Temple. Did he, with the help of others, carry him out of the prison inside a hobby horse? If not, then who is the gentle young man rescued by Vidocq and the younger Carpentier? The story has lots of twists and puzzles and the ending leaves you wondering if something like that could have happened and how it would have changed history. 

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton  266 pp.

This is the novel that was the basis for the film by the same name that starred Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. Edward Pierce gathers a collection of thieves to pull off a daring heist. England is in the midst of the Crimean War. Shipments of gold were sent by rail to the coast and then to the Crimea to pay the soldiers. Pierce concocts an audacious plan to steal the gold from the train between the Folkestone Station and the coast. Most of the story is the several months of preparation that is needed to copy the sets of safe keys needed and figure out how to get inside the locked baggage car before the train leaves the station. Crichton loosely based his novel and the subsequent movie on an actual event. The added complications to the plot were creations of Crichton's. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, 286 pages

From the outset, it's obvious that Aza Holmes is not your stereotypical teenage girl. Even while her chatterbox best friend Daisy talks to her about school, boys, work, Star Wars fanfic, and everything else, Aza is trapped inside her own head, worrying about the microbes that are in her stomach, or in the perpetual cut on her callused finger. She tries to be a "normal" kid though: she starts dating Davis (an insanely rich kid whose father disappeared just as his arrest for a white collar crime), she hangs out at Applebee's, she sings along to pop songs while driving her beat-up Toyota.

Plot-wise, it doesn't seem like much happens in this book, though that's probably because so much happens in Aza's head. We, like she, are caught in her thoughts as they spiral tighter and tighter, affecting her physically and emotionally. While the secondary characters are a bit two-dimensional, I'm OK with that because that's kinda how Aza sees them, since she has SO MUCH to deal with just to maintain appearances of a normal life. For those of us who have anxiety, there's a lot we can identify with, even if we don't share Aza's particular intrusive worries. It's a great book, not just to read, but to simply have around.

You Can't Touch My Hair

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson, 285 pages

Comedian, blogger, and actor Phoebe Robinson presents this equally thought-provoking and HI-LARIOUS collection of essays on everything from being a black woman in comedy and how to tell if you're "the black friend" to her personal ranking of the members of U2 based on the order in which she'd like to sleep with them (Larry Mullins Jr. may want to change his name if he wants to move up a notch or two). It's fun, it's informative, it's scattered with plenty of excellent pop culture references, and flat-out great.

Additional recommendation: listen to the audiobook, which Robinson reads herself. From her introduction (where she claims that the book will be 99 percent Miss J from America's Next Top Model "and like, two sentences of Between the World and Me") to her post-credit plea to get the audiobook in the hands of Michelle Obama (this is part of her plan to become Mrs. Obama's new best friend), I was laughing, learning, and loving it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, 488 pages

Every four years, a mysterious School Master kidnaps two children from the idyllic town of Gavaldon, taking them to a two-towered school that helps kids embrace their Good and Evil natures, respectively, and eventually placing them in their own fairy tales. When best friends Sophie and Agatha are kidnapped, they're taken to the school and think they know where they'll end up: beautiful, blonde Sophie is convinced she's a happily-ever-after princess in the making, while creepy loner Agatha is a shoo-in for a wicked witch (she grew up in a graveyard, for crying out loud!). Turns out, the School Master has other ideas, and both girls find themselves outcasts in the opposite schools than they expected.


Aimed at middle grade kids, this book offers a great twist on fairy tales and the nature of Good and Evil, though it sometimes comes across as a bit heavy-handed for adult readers. While it's interesting to watch Sophie and Agatha struggle with the roles they've had thrust upon them, most of the characters are a bit two-dimensional (though one could argue that so are most fairy tale characters) and the world, while certainly imaginative, isn't really as richly alive as it could be. That said, there are three more books in the series, and as this one ended on a cliffhanger, I'm definitely going to be picking up the next one to see where the story goes.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Thanks, Obama

Thanks, Obama: My hopey, changey White House years / David Litt, read by the author, 310 pgs.

David Litt started out as a volunteer on the campaign trail for Obama and ended up a speech writer for him.  This book starts on the campaign trail and tells it all, the embarrassing stories, the political triumphs and the losses. Litt has many great stories of being young an foolish at the White House.  He enters hoping to become best friends with the president and leaves feeling like something got accomplished.  Litt wrote speeches for many in the administration but was often the go-to guy for the funny stuff.  He admits to an occasional game addiction and also gives you the straight info on the best bathrooms and lunches at the White House.  This is information you can really use to rate a work place.  Wonder if much has changed there?

Litt does a great job reading this book.  Listen to the audio version if you get the chance.

Bluebird, Bluebird: a Novel

Bluebird, Bluebird: a Novel / Attica Locke,  307 p.

Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger.  He loves being a Ranger, and he's good at it.  He loves Texas, too, and in particular his homeland of East Texas.  But he has no illusions about the difficulties of delivering justice for African-Americans in that corner of the world, and a lot of Bluebird involves Locke's contemplating (through Darren's voice) on the power of home and the pull to remain in places and institutions that are flawed but worth fighting for.

Darren is called to the small town of Lark on US 59, where two people, an African-American man and a young white woman, have turned up dead near the bayou that runs alongside the town.  Can it be a coincidence?  And is it even possible that race does not play a role in these two crimes?  What part does the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas play, happily installed installed as they are in the town's only bar? 

The story rolls out at a leisurely pace; this is not a page-turner.  But it's thoughtful, and definitely evocative of a distinct place.  Darren is a solid, complicated character, and I think we will see more of him.  The story ends on a surprising personal cliffhanger, so stay tuned.

Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 329 p.

The fifth in the Detective Sean Duffy series; these audiobooks, wonderfully read by Gerard Doyle, have been my car companions for months now.

In this title:

As in #3 in this series, In the Morning I'll Be Gone, Detective Sean Duffy is presented with a locked-room mystery.  A woman has been found dead in the courtyard of the local castle, and there's no apparent way the killer could have escaped unseen.  On the plus side, Sean's personal life is about to take a very interesting turn...

In all Detective Sean Duffy novels:

checking under the BMW for mercury tilt bombs
a fabulous supporting cast, including Sergeant McCrabben (Crabby), Duffy's dour Presbyterian sidekick, and attractive neighbor Mrs.Campbell, perpetually horny because her husband is either away or depressed
an encyclopedic display of musical knowledge
a shocking amount of alcohol consumption, even for Ireland
hilarious dialogue
a terrific sense of place

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart, 374 pages

In this third book of the Kopp Sisters series, sheriff's deputy and jail matron Constance comes face-to-face with the morality-driven arrests of young women living on their own in 1916 New Jersey. As she fights for the rights of her charges in court and in society, she's faced with her youngest sister Fleurette leaving home to find her own life (a move that needles at their staid sister Norma, who wants to send the police after the "wayward" Fleurette).

As with the first two books in this series, it's loosely based on a true story: Constance Kopp really was the first female sheriff's deputy in New Jersey, Fleurette really did audition for singing roles with traveling troupes, and Edna and Minnie (the two "wayward" girls Constance fights for in this book) really were arrested for the reasons given in the book. Historical fiction that's based on real people sometimes rankles me because I'm unsure of what's true and what's not. Thankfully, Stewart offers a wealth of historical notes at the end of the book, discussing what's true and what's not (sadly, Norma's pigeon obsession falls in the "not true" category). I loved the first two books, and I love this one.

The Mathematician's Shiva

The Mathematician's Shiva: a novel by Stuart Rojstaczer  366 pp.

Rachela Karnokovitch, survived a rough childhood in Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II. In spite of her beginnings she became a brilliant and world renowned mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin. She dies peacefully with her family surrounding her. Her son, Sasha, her husband, and other family members plan a quiet funeral and shiva only to have their plans disrupted by the arrival of masses of mathematician's who revered and/or hated her. All believe she has taken the solution to the million dollar Navier-Stokes Prize problem to her grave. Her son has found no evidence of it. However, there is her memoir about her life during the war, written in Polish that Sasha painstakingly translates. Besides the collection of socially inept mathematician's, the arrival of Sasha's daughter and granddaughter, neither of whom he has met before, adds another wrinkle to the proceeds. There is subtle humor, reluctant romance, and heartwarming moments. The book is well written and so believable that at one point I had to check to make sure this was a fictional story and not a son's true memoir of his mother.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Address

The Address by Fiona Davis  354 pp.

Sara Smythe is an Englishwoman with a good job as the head housekeeper in a pricey London hotel in 1884. Staying at the hotel is American architect Theodore Camden, who is currently working on plans for an apartment house in New York City. Camden offers her a lucrative position at the building which will be known as The Dakota and a ticket for the ocean voyage. Sara travels to America to take her place as the "Managerette" of the building. Her life takes a downward turn after a wrongful accusation of theft, exoneration, and the murder of Theodore Camden. Fast forward 100 years to a young woman named Bailey Camden who is fresh out of rehab and trying to regain her footing in the world of interior design by helping her cousin "remodel" the Camden apartment in the Dakota. The stories of the two women intersect when Bailey finds trunks full of Camden possessions from the previous century which only raises more questions about her great-grandfather's murder and her position in the Camden family. The story alternates between the centuries and, while the premise is intriguing, it is too often predictable. The author's notes list the references on The Dakota she used in writing the story which includes Life at the Dakota. In addition the author admits altering the timing of some historic events such as the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York and reporter Nellie Bly's famous undercover stay at the Blackwell's Island lunatic asylum.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Brimstone

Brimstone by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child  497 pp.

Brimstone is the fifth book in the Pendergast series. FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast and Sergeant Vincent D'Agosta reunite in trying to solve a series of bizarre deaths that appear to have resulted from a pact with the Devil. The investigation takes them from New York to Florence, Italy in search of the cause. Meanwhile, Captain Laura Hayward remains in NYC dealing with a messianic drifter who has stirred up a belief that the deaths are a sign the Apocalypse is imminent. In the middle of all of this is a tale of a priceless Stradivarius violin. There are literary references to Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." And I'm pretty sure the part about Sergeant D'Agosta losing the tip of a finger is an homage to Preston's own childhood episode found in the amusing biography of the author found here. 

Read My Pins

Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box by Madeleine Albright 176 pp.

Former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright is a collector of pins and brooches. Most of her collection is costume jewelry with some more expensive pieces. Some she purchased, others were gifted to her. The collection itself is not particularly remarkable. The intriguing part was how she used her pins as tools in her diplomatic duties. Frequently, her stance on issues was displayed right there on her dress or suit. The press learned to check on her jewelry before important meetings and negotiations. This is a quick, light read.

Life at the Dakota

Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address  241 pp.

This book was published back in 1979 so it is far from being up to date in the tale of the famous/infamous Dakota apartment house on Central Park West. It includes the history of the building from the beginning when that part of town was a lesser location than the more prestigious East Side of Manhattan. There are anecdotes about the residents who lived their over the years, the famous and not so famous. There is much about the management and mismanagement of the building over the years and the battle to turn it into a cooperative apartment. The author was less than complimentary about some of the famous residents including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I wonder if his attitude would be different had he written the book after Lennon's murder outside the building in 1980. All in all, this is a so-so book.


The One-in-a-Million Boy

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood, 323 pages

Ms. Ona Vitkus is 104 years old, and the local boy scout troop has just foisted another of its members on her to help out around the house. But this boy is different: he's what so many people dub "an old soul," obsessed with world records and collecting merit badges, and a friendship develops between them. But when the boy dies suddenly (I'm not spoiling anything by saying this — you find this out within the first three pages), his somewhat flaky father takes over his weekly visits to Ms. Vitkus, leading to a friendship that neither of them could have anticipated.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend with whom I share an affinity for books about quirky friendships and odd people. This book (which mixes prose chapters with one-sided interview transcripts and lists of Guinness World Records) certainly fits the bill, and is definitely one I'd recommend. That said, it hit a bit too close to home for me to fully appreciate it for what it is — the unnamed kid is uncannily similar to my similarly aged son (including the fact that both have librarians for mothers) and Ms. Vitkus reminds me of my 104-year-old grandmother — and instead left me a bit unsettled.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The little hotel

The little hotel / Christina Stead, 216 pgs.

Kathleen wrote about this book here which certainly made me interested.  The setting is a little hotel where all kinds of things are happening.  Who knew so much went on at a place like that?  It sort of reminds me of the library.  People come and go but there is a crew who stays the whole time.  The young proprietress is working hard with her husband to keep the place running, dealing with staff, guest and all the crazy things that go along with the human condition.  This is just one long chapter about a time period in the hotel and all that happens.  It is so much fun to read and I think I enjoyed every page.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September totals!

A new blogging year has begun! If you haven't blogged in a while, now's the time to start up again.

Our wild card categories are books featuring pirates and books with a name in the title, as well as left-handed bloggers.

On to the totals:

Christa  15/4475
Kara  9/2497
Karen  6/2526
Kathleen  10/2985
Linda  4/1744

Total: 44/14,227

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Herman Melville's Moby Dick

Herman Melville's Moby Dick by Chaboute, 256 pages.

Chaboute's black ink drawings are really spectacular. His drawings and the edited text of Melville's classic novel really bring this abbreviated version to life. Or so I assume, because I have never read the original. I'm waiting until we do Moby Dick for our big-book summer read for that. This graphic novel comes to life, anyway. Ishmael and Queequeg meet when they share a room at the Spouter Inn. After a misunderstanding when they meet, Queequeg adopts Ishmael and helps him get a berth on Captain Ahab's ship, the Pequod. The rest of the story moves along, as I am told the original novel does not. So good for Chaboute. He makes it seem like this classic novel should move well up on the must-read list.

Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski



The few times the narrator of this novel is named, his name is Mischa. And, indeed, as one learns from the author in the end notes, the book began life as a non-fiction history of the conversion of the Lisu people in northern Thailand to Christianity.  In a vision or dream, not unlike some that occur in the novel, the author decided instead to write a work of fiction, a sort of mystery story.  But the mystery of why Martiya van der Leun, an anthropologist studying the Dyalo tribe in Thailand, murders David Walker, the charismatic son of a missionary family that has been converting people in southeast Asia for literally generations, is not the main plotline of the book.  It is an exploration of faith, customs, and the infinite variety and sameness of the human race.  Mischa has gone to Thailand with his girlfriend – they’re both recent graduates at loose ends and with low job prospects when she gets a position teaching English in a private elementary school.  When he works at all, he engages in journalism for hire, writing reviews of art, music, and whatever’s on offer.  A college friend, Josh, also in the area, relates some of Martiya's story to Mischa.  She has been in prison for murder for over ten years without support.  Her aunt asks Josh to contact Martiya in prison to let her know her uncle has died and left her money.  This inheritance turns out to allow her to resume her scholarly writing in prison.  A year later, Josh receives two manuscripts from Martiya to send to important anthropology journals.  Not long afterward, she commits suicide.  Caught up in the story, Mischa goes on a quest to try to understand how she came to live so long with the Daylo villagers and what really happened, both to David Walker and to her.  Along the way, he encounters memorable characters such as Farts-a-lot, Sings Soft, and the entire Walker missionary clan.  And Rice, with a capital R.  The author says his influences include Nigel Bagley, whose wonderful Not a hazardous sport and Ceremony were two books I read when they came out in the mid-eighties.  I thoroughly enjoyed them and recommend both them and this book to you.  320 pp.

The reason why

The reason why / Vickie M. Stringer, read by liKane, 291 pages

Chino is a street level drug dealer and Pam is a college girl attending Ohio State.  They meet at a club in Columbus and fall for each other pretty quick. Chino is a rising star in his business and Pam enjoys the money and prestige it brings.  Pretty soon she is skipping classes and distancing herself from her family in Detriot.  She starts to question her relationship when Chino gets busted during a shootout.  What about her dreams of having a life like her parents?  Suburban house, stability and low risk lifestyle?  Chino says he wants that too but is it really possible to get out of the game?  While Chino is in jail, Pam seeks refuge with her friend Erik, a friendly guy from school.  Unfortunately, one of the crew sees them together and now Chino thinks she is cheating.  It doesn't take a genius to see there is trouble afoot for our young lovers.  Soon Chino meets Tracey and others and the conflict erupts.  Events happen that make going back impossible.  Lots of action and an ending that isn't unexpected.

Alone

Alone by Chaboute, 367 pages.
Very detailed, evocative, and moving black-ink drawings that tell the story of a disfigured man who has spent his life alone on a deserted island. His parents had tended the lighthouse there; before they died they had arranged for supplies to be delivered regularly for their son.
He has spent his time with a dictionary, items that have washed up out of the sea, and his imagination. When the boat that has delivered supplies for many years takes on a new crew member things begin to change for the protagonist. The drawings outpace the story, but still a worthwhile read.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Draw you weapons

Draw your weapons / Sarah Sentilles, 320 pgs.

A meditation on war, suffering, objecting and art.  This book primarily focuses on the story of two people, a World War II conscientious objector and an Iraq War veteran who was stationed at Abu Ghraib prison.  Yet somehow, so much more is covered.  Sentilles moves from one part to the next at a clip but somehow it all comes together to make an impressive whole.  The language is wonderful and the purpose of the words is obvious.  At times it so dark you feel like you can't continue reading but then something wonderful is folded in.  I'm doing a terrible job of selling this book but it may be the first one I've read in awhile that changed me.  There is so much to this, it also rate a re-read in a not distant future.

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum, 319 pages

A lot of books about Prohibition Era New York focus on the speakeasies and criminal element. The Poisoner's Handbook does that too, but looks at these elements through the lens of forensic medicine, which was in its infancy at that time. Blum zeroes in on Charles Norris (the city's first scientifically trained medical examiner) and his protegee, Alexander Gettler, the city's first toxicologist, as they worked to analyze the many poisons that killed New York City's residents. From arsenic to methyl alcohol, Blum tells the story of how Norris and Gettler fought city politics and public opinion to get the straight facts on each poison, giving examples of how the poisons worked and specific instances in which they were used. It's a fascinating tale, and will appeal to fans of The Disappearing Spoon and Stiff.

The Hidden Staircase

The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene, 182 pages

In the second Nancy Drew mystery, our young sleuth is tasked with catching a "ghost" at the manor house of her friend's aunt, while her father tracks down a shifty property owner involved in a railroad development deal. When Nancy's dad goes missing, the two plots become intertwined, and Nancy's on a race against the clock to find her dad and stop the "haunting" before her friend's aunt is forced to sell her house.

My 9-year-old son is hooked on these classic mysteries, and while I'm a bit flummoxed how estate law (from the first book) and shady real estate practices are so captivating for a modern kid, I'm happy to share a bit of my own childhood with him. On to The Bungalow Mystery!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Red-Haired Woman: a Novel

The Red-Haired Woman: a Novel / Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap,  253 p.

I loved Pamuk's 2004 novel Snow but was disappointed with his latest, the story of a boy apprenticed to a master well-digger and the intense bond he develops toward his master.  The novel examines the Oedipus story, as well as Turkish myths about fathers and sons.  As a concept the story is interesting, but as a novel, I couldn't find a reason to invest in any of the characters.  An intelligent but emotionally chilly story.

Gun Street Girl

Gun Street Girl: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 313 pp.

The fourth in the Detective Sean Duffy series; these audiobooks, wonderfully read by Gerard Doyle, have been my car companions for months now.

In this title:

An affluent middle-aged couple is found shot to death; the adult son turns up shortly afterward, an apparent suicide.  Simple enough, but to Duffy's experienced eye, the dead parents' crime scene looks too professional.  Something just doesn't add up, and Duffy is determined to get to the bottom of it.  He's a little busy, though, what with MI5 pressuring him to leave the police force behind for good...


In all Detective Sean Duffy novels:

checking under the BMW for mercury tilt bombs
a fabulous supporting cast, including Sergeant Crabben (Crabby), Duffy's dour Presbyterian sidekick, and attractive neighbor Mrs.Campbell, perpetually horny because her husband is either away or depressed
an encyclopedic display of musical knowledge
a shocking amount of alcohol consumption, even for Ireland
hilarious dialogue
a terrific sense of place

Thursday, September 28, 2017

American War

American War / Omar El Akkad, read by Dion Graham, 333 pg.

The story of the second American civil war that lingers for years as the Blues fight the Reds.  This story focuses on the Chestnut family who, in the beginning, are looking for a way out of the south.  The parents want a better future for their three children.  Unfortunately father Benjamin dies while trying to secure the papers needed.  The remaining Chestnuts end up in a refugee camp. This is where twins Sarat and Dana, and brother Simon do most of their growing up.  When the camp is attacked, somehow the three Chestnut kids survive although Simon is forever altered. Sarat becomes the toughest combatant in the south after being trained by a shady character who picks her out of the refugee camp.  Sarat performs a deed that changes the direction of the war., then later changes the entire country.  This book is told by her nephew, a man who has a heavy family history to bear.  The audio version narrated by Dion Graham is wonderful.  A powerful story that doesn't contain much sugar.

Waypoint Kangaroo

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen, 312 pages

Interstellar spy Kangaroo has just come off a rough mission when his boss sends him on a mandatory vacation aboard the Dejah Thoris, an Earth-to-Mars cruise ship. While Kangaroo attempts to adjust to the round-the-clock buffets and activity schedule, it becomes apparent that something is afoot aboard the Dejah Thoris, and since he's having such a hard time being on vacation, Kangaroo begins meddling, offering up his high-tech physical enhancements and his wormhole-like "pocket" superpower to help out, while still attempting to stay undercover.

In his debut novel, Chen has created a space caper that's fun, action-packed, and filled with a diverse cast of characters led by the wise-cracking Kangaroo. I will admit that some thing that I kept expecting to have happen DIDN'T, which I guess says something about Chen's ability to fool me (though I'll also note that my expectation was for a particular character to be a bit less two-dimensional, so I'm not entirely pleased with Chen's plot deke). Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'll definitely be picking up the second volume, Kangaroo Too, which came out this summer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The coldest city

The coldest city / Antony Johnston, illustrated by Sam Hart, 171 pgs.

With the Berlin Wall coming down in the background, this cold war spy tale has a British agent in Berlin.  Trying to track down a highly secret list of international agents, Lorraine Broughten is sent in to recover the list.  She is posing as a civil servant lawyer but it not met with open arms by the station agent in Berlin.  Trying to track down the list, an priceless item that hasn't hit the streets, she uncovers other "interesting" activities.  Spy vs spy and someone has to lose.  Lorraine leaves the city alive but many others are dead in her wake.  I still love the cold war era stuff.  This book was recently made into the movie "Atomic Blonde."

Less

Less / Andrew Sean Greer, 263 pgs.

Arthur Less is on the run, sort of.  He is trying to escape the wedding of an ex so accepts EVERY invitation he receives to assure he will be out of the country on the wedding day.  This book recounts his travels, includes some background on Less himself and shows us an interesting, slightly sad-sack character.  Less is pretty awesome to me in the way that he isn't too self aware.  He spends a mint in Paris buying new clothes from a tailor thinking he is very French chic until he is identified as an American at a party with strangers.  At this point he realizes the tailor sold him what HE considered to be the quintessential American outfit.  I loved so many of the small moments in the book because Less thinks he is doing one thing but doesn't really have the knowledge to DO that thing and is quite stymied.  But in the end, he isn't too upset about it, he sort of just rolls with the punches.  There are so many tiny moments in this book that are perfectly rendered that it is an easy title to recommend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wonder Woman Warbringer

Wonder Woman Warbringer / Leigh Bardugo, 369 pgs.

A teenage Diana gets involved saving a girl, Alia,  from a shipwreck off her home island.  This is not allowed, of course, and to make matters worse, the girl is a warbringer.  This means she is one of an ancient line that brings chaos and war to the world.  Unfortunately, she is also a sweet and smart teen age girl who knows nothing of her "powers". Diana decides to try to break the curse which involves bathing in a a Greek spring.  Somehow she and Alia end up in New York City and meet up with family and friends.  The struggle to get to Greece brings out a lot of people who wish harm on Alia.  The book has some exciting moments and shows Diana thinking for herself and making choices that aren't in keeping with the laws of her land and her mother.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin, 294 pages

When Aviva Grossman was a 20-year-old congressional intern, she became the Monica Lewinsky of south Florida, thanks to a sex scandal with her charismatic (and married) congressman. Fifteen years and a name change later, Jane Young is a successful business woman in Maine, raising her precocious daughter alone, and avoiding anything that might hint at her scandalous past. It's a story we're all familiar with — the politician and the impressionable young woman —but Zevin tells it solely from the points of view of the women involved: the intern, her mother, the congressman's wife, the intern's daughter. It's a refreshing, complex take on the tale, and a much-needed take-down of slut-shaming.

When the English Fall

When the English Fall by David Williams, 242 pages

When a celestial event knocks out all the modern technology, Jacob and his family are personally unaffected — they are Amish, after all. However, as the English (as the Amish call the rest of us) continue to slide away from civilization, they bring their needs, fears, and hostility to the Amish, forcing Jacob and his community to confront their fears and their faith as they move forward. This is a new twist on apocalyptic novels, though it's incredible that this hasn't been covered before. An excellent examination of the heart of religion, community, and humanity in the face of the unknown.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles



Although A gentleman in Moscow presents a somewhat sunnier view of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the grimness of the Stalin years, and the onset of the Cold War than seems strictly merited, this book is utterly charming.  One falls in love with the indomitable Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who in 1922, at age 28, becomes a permanent guest (under house arrest) at the historic and luxurious Metropol Hotel in central Moscow.  As a member of the nobility and “Former Person,” his fame as the author of the 1913 poem, Where is it now? both causes his situation and perhaps saves him from a more dire fate, or at least Siberia, when he is called before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.  Making the best of his situation over the next decades, the Count settles into his routine, befriends various occupants of the famed hotel, and has lasting influence on all those he comes in contact with.  The book is filled with a cast of memorable characters, wry wit, and lovely writing.  It is a delight and surprise.  462 pp.