Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ring for Jeeves

Ring for Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse, 256 pages.

A Jeeves and Wooster book without much Wooster. Bertie has lent Jeeves out to Lord Rowcester, who is trying to make a go of it making book on horse races. A good solid addition to the Wodehouse canon. Available on Hoopla as a downloadable audio book. Wodehouse on audio is almost always a treat.

Mr Splitfoot

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, 322 pages.
The novel veers back and forth between a couple of genres, starting off as a tale of two orphans being raised on some weird combination of orphanage and cult, to something near horror, as a weird, off-kilter ghost story. Nat and Ruth were always looking out for each other when they were young and living on the farm. Something separated them when they got older and the next time we see Ruth she's older, mute and leading her pregnant niece on a strange cross-country walking tour.
Strange and kind of wonderfully fun.

Made for love

Made for love / Alissa Nutting, 310 pgs.

This book opens with Hazel, an adult who is moving back with her father, arriving on the same day as his new sex doll.  And, although there are occasional serious topics, there is also a man who loves dolphins (no, really LOVES them), a cabin dweller who might remind of the uni-bomber and a tech wizard/CEO who has inserted a chip in his estranged wife for purposes of mind melding.  I turned each page quickly looking for the next hilarious episode.


Borne / Jeff VanderMeer, read by Bhani Turpin, 323 pgs.

In the future, The Company has ruined most of the world...or what we see of it through the eyes of Rachel, a scavenger, a survivor, a person.  She is living in the wrecked city with Wick. Life is hard.  The city is a scary place because Mord is a destructive large monster in the shape of a bear who can fly and destroys everything in his path.  He is a failed project of The Company. Once when out scavenging, Rachel finds Borne.  She is not sure what Borne is, he seems to be a plant.  Over time, Borne moves around her apartment on his own and develops a personality.  Rachel sees herself as Borne's mother.  But Borne has a problem.  He "tastes" things, he is forever hungry, he is a killer. It is a harsh life but becoming attached to a creature who may kill you is a real weakness. Borne is a threat to the current way of life.  Can any good come from him?

At times, I felt like I didn't really understand what was going on in this book but the narrator, Bhani Turpin is so good, you always want to keep listening.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco, 244 pages.
Drawing on her decade-long career working for Barack Obama, first as a campaign volunteer, and then through many different jobs, like Director of Scheduling and Advance, until she ended as his Deputy Chief of Staff. Mastromonaco is a clever and humane person and this comes across in her writing. Her admiration and appreciation of the 44th President of the United States comes across as well. She tells a lot of great stories that make going into politics as an aide seem like a really good idea. A great read for anyone nostalgic for the long-ago days of 2008-2016.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 444 pages.
I remember, based on the first review thinking that this was going to be a preachy sort of novel, with an angry point of view. It isn't preachy though; it is sort of angry, but the author shows the confusion and the pain behind her character's anger, and her reasons for that anger so well that you are right there with her.
When Starr sees her childhood friend Khalil killed by a police officer she is frightened and somewhat shattered. When it becomes apparent that nothing much will happen to the officer, she becomes more and more angry. Starr must decide what to do, and what she stands for. All of the characters in the book are complex, very few lack nuance.
A remarkable book , very powerful, moving and deep.

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie, 457 pages.

A long, chanted poem, full of pain and longing, by one of America's preeminent poet and novelists, celebrating and excoriating his past, his life on  the reservation, his relationship with white America, his family, and in particular his mother.
Alexie uses humor and shocking revelations as he plays with language, and with memory and with stories told as he tries to sort the "what happened" from the "what might have happened" and the "what we were told happened." Aicoholism, medical issues, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and assorted trauma figure in to the author's life and the lives of everyone around him. His father died after a lifetime of alcoholism, his mother (or maybe it was his grandmother) had something horrible happen in her youth. Alexie tells his story with rage and tears and laughter. He repeats the story with a different ending, with a more frantic and frenetic sort of laugh. It's a beautiful, sad and hypnotic tale. Worth every minute of  reading or listening.

4 3 2 1

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, 866 pages.
This extraordinary novel opens with a joke a that tells how the main character's grandfather, Isaac Reznikoff became Ichabod Ferguson. The joke is repeated near the end of the book, and this framing, and it's accompanying explanation somehow tie together the four different lives of Archie Ferguson. The novel presents four different lives for Archie, four different paths that his life could take based on different decisions made when Archie was still young. Each chapter has four versions, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, then 2.1, etc. (chapter 1 actually has a 1.0, too, before the split)
A phenomenal book, really one of my all-time favorites. Strongly recommended for fans of Kate Atkinson's Life after Life (and, of course, A God in Ruins), David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas, and other literary works with a speculative edge.


Sula by Toni Morrison, 178 pages.
Morrison's second novel, from 1973, is still considered a classic.
The story of two women living in an African-American community in post-World War I Ohio. They are friends with a secret from their childhood; they accidentally caused the death of a younger boy, and that haunts them both. Sula's family swirls in casual violence, her grandmother, Eva, desperate for money to feed her starving children, allegedly let a train amputate her leg for the insurance money, her uncle was killed in a fire, as was her mother, though under drastically different circumstances. Morrison's second novel, it's puzzling to see now, with my clear and wondrous hindsight, that Sula won no major awards. Sure, I can see giving the Pulitzer to The Killer Angels, but two novels won the National Book award that year (and since I haven't read either of them, I won't cast stones), and neither one of those was Sula. Really one of those must-reads.

A View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictions

A View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictions by Neil Gaiman, 522 pages.

I read this collection of essays, book review, movie reviews, and biographical bits early this year and I know that it has stuck with me since I have listened to music he talked about, including Amanda Palmer's band The Dresden Dolls, and I have read 4 or 5 of the books he talked about. Neil Gaiman has a lot of interests and he can make anything interesting.

Saga: Volume 6

Saga: Volume 6 by Fiona Staples and Brian Vaughn, 152 pages
The sixth volume has its focus on Hazel for a good part of the book. She is getting older and going to school.

Volume 7 and 8 are out now too, so soon we'll see where the series goes.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, 293 pages.

Gaiman does a great job recounting the Norse myths and an even better job at reading them on the downloadable audio.
Odin, Thor, Loki, and Ragnorak are all featured here, along with some tellings of tales of dwarves, giants, and the forming of the nine worlds.
A lot of fun.

They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore

They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America by Wesley Lowery, 248 pages.
A reporter for the Washington Post, Lowery tells of the behind the scenes stories of the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore.
Well-researched and well-told.

You'll Grow Out of It

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, 291 pages

In You'll Grow Out of It, Emmy-winning writer (for Inside Amy Schumer) and comedian Jessi Klein presents a series of essays reflecting on her life, from being a tomboy to her obsession with The Bachelor to having a child. Each of the essays is breathtakingly honest and hilarious; when listening to the audiobook (read by Klein), I felt like I was listening to a friend tell me stories over a glass (or three) of wine. A ton of fun.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill  388 pp.

This was a re-read of the 2017 Newbery Award winner in preparation for the first Treehouse Book Club meeting of the school year . . . okay, I listened to it this time. It is the fantasy story of a walled city called The Protectorate where the youngest baby is sacrificed to the evil witch of the woods annually to keep the city safe. Yes, there is a witch, a kindly one named Xan who actually makes sure the babies come to no harm. When she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight and makes it magical she knows she must keep the child and raise it like her own with her companions a swamp monster and a tiny dragon. This is a classic fantasy story with magic, dragons, a rebellion, a battle of good and evil, and a volcano. It's a good story for children and adults.

Careers for Women / Joanna Scott, 295 pp.

A small, unassuming-looking novel full of very big ideas.  I would have missed it entirely if not for the glowing praise from Kate Atkinson on the cover, yet another thing to appreciate about that novelist.

But back to Joanna Scott's excellent, serious, and unique work.  Narrator Maggie Gleason goes to work at New York's Port Authority at a time when working women were called girls.  She works for Mrs. J., a public relations wizard who shows her staff what they (or their daughters) might be: powerful, ambitious, compassionate, and female.  When Mrs. J. hires young Pauline Moreau, formerly a prostitute with a seriously disabled small child, she charges Maggie with helping Pauline to make the adjustment to her new life.

Pauline's backstory involves an executive from Alumacore, an upstate aluminum smelting plant that destroys its local water supply  and the health of a Mohawk community while producing the aluminum used by the Port Authority to build Mrs. J.'s life passion: her 'twins,' those towers in lower Manhattan.  Beautifully constructed and thoughtful, I will be thinking about this story for a long time.

The Hemingway files, by H. K. Bush

Bush is an English professor at St. Louis University.  This is his first novel, however, he evidently has written extensively about Mark Twain, Lincoln, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as other American literary figures.  He seems to have an intimate knowledge of Japan as well from his time as a Senior Fellow at Waseda Institute in Tokyo.  This intriguing novel may be a bit slow-moving for some readers, but I enjoyed the gradual, almost teasing, revelations that lead up to its conclusion.  It is a book within a book.  Professor Martin Dean receives a manuscript from his former student and protégé, Jack Springs, after Jack’s untimely death from prostate cancer.  Dean, in his early seventies, has maintained an epistolary friendship with Jack in the twenty or so years after he graduated.  At loose ends immediately after receiving his Ph.D., Jack accepted a two-year position teaching English in Japan. In the manuscript, Jack details his experiences there, particularly his growing relationship with an elderly scholar and collector of American manuscripts, Goto-san.  One by one, Goto reveals some of his treasures – rare signed first editions of major authors, unique and unknown manuscripts, and finally, the Hemingway files.  Jack, and ultimately Dean, will come to possess some of these priceless items, but how were they obtained, can anyone “own” these materials, and other ethical questions are raised at the end of the book.  I liked it a lot, but am actually going to write the author about one amazing mistake on page 213 where Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, is described as “a pretty teenager growing up in Chicago.”  Argh!!  With his extensive knowledge of American letters and Hemingway, Bush must certainly know that Hadley, like two of the later three of Hemingway’s wives, was from St. Louis.  354 pp.

The girl who wrote in silk, by Kelli Estes

A suggested title from my book club.  The history behind this novel, which alternates between events in the Seattle area during the late 1800s and present day, was unknown to me and enlightening.  When Inara Erickson, great-great-great-granddaughter of shipping magnate Duncan Campbell, inherits his estate, Rothesay, from her Aunt Dahlia, she is on the verge of accepting a prestigious management job with Starbucks.  It will fit her skills as a recent graduate in international business.  Her father, who has had something to do with the job offer, is excited to see his daughter follow his footsteps into the world of commerce and dismayed when she decides, after visiting the property and learning her aunt had hoped she might turn it into a Bed and Breakfast establishment, that she is completely taken with that idea.  Now uncertain that she really wants the Starbuck’s job, she decides to turn the old property into a boutique hotel.  Her father agrees to help finance the project believing that she will tire of it and that it will be in good shape to ultimately be sold.  As a girl, Inara loved summering on Orcas Island where the estate is located and it also holds dear, yet painful memories, of her mother, who died tragically young there in an automobile accident.  While rehabbing the property, Inara discovers, hidden under a stair tread, an ornately embroidered sleeve from what appears to be a traditional Chinese garment.  From there on, the novel alternates between Inara’s life and that of the sleeve’s creator, Mei Lein, the lone survivor on a ship filled with Chinese, who were forcibly expelled from Seattle not long after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Loaded onto a steamship, the passengers are told they are being deported to China, but the ship’s captain actually throws these hundreds of people overboard as soon as he is in the straits of San Juan de Fuca.  Researching the provenance of the sleeve she has found, Inara enlists the help of a young Chinese-American professor, slowly discovers the tragic history of Mei Lein, the hidden history of her family, and, well, perhaps you can guess the outcome.  A pleasant read but just a step above an ordinary romance novel.  388 pp.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, 346 pages.
Shetterly focuses on four African-American women who were hired by the NACA, and the organization that followed it, NASA. Approximately 1,000 women with math and engineering skills were hired as computers during World War II, the Cold War, and during the space program. Of those, some were African American and Shetterly focuses on telling the stories of four of those women.

Things from the Flood

Things from the Flood by Simon Stalenhag, 129 pages.
The follow-up to Tales from the Loop continues with the artwork and stories from a familiar landscape strewn with abandoned alien technology.

The Dry

The Dry by Jane Hunter, 328 pages.

An Australian federal investigator is called back to his childhood hometown, also the scene of an unsolved murder for which he was and still is a suspect. Aaron Falk must return to the town where his girlfriend was murdered when their childhood friend Luke apparently killed his wife and child and then committed suicide. Aaron doesn't believe that Luke, who was also Aaron's alibi for the long ago murder, would do such a thing, but there are a lot of secrets to be uncovered.

The Summer before the War

The Summer before the War by Helen Simonson, 479 pages
Beatrice Nash, whose father died and left her with far less than she thought she would have, has to find a job in pre-World War I England. She finds a home, friends and possibly love in her new home in the village of Rye, but then the looming war intervenes.
By the author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide

Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide by Josh Katz, 203 pages.

A collection of essays about regionalisms throughout the US. Katz discusses where we use sneakers, or gym shoes; garage sale, or yard sale; or, as in the title, where we say y'all or youse.
He shows the regional choices on maps with darker colors indicating heavier usage.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, 144 pages.
Mariko Tamaki and her cousin Jillian teamed up to produce this 2008 graphic novel about the life of Canadian teen, nicknamed Skim. She goes to an all-girls Catholic School, thinks of herself as a practicing Wiccan, and a bit of a goth. Skim and her best friend are beginning to drift apart just as Skim longs to be closer to one of her teachers.
A well-done book.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 974 pages.
Our seventh big-book summer is over and we finally got to a Dickens novel.
I can't remember if this is the novel that my sister got when she was very young, or if it was Oliver Twist, either way there was always a fair amount of Dickens around the house when I was growing up, and I always meant to read it, but never quite got around to it. I read (along with about half of everybody, it seems) Great Expectations in High School, but then didn't read any of Dickens's larger novels until the 1990s when I read, and quite enjoyed, Bleak House. The characters in Copperfield, especially Traddles, Aunt Betsey, and the Micawbers are quite charming. Uriah Heep is as bad as you'd ever heard. David's obliviousness to Agnes and his own heart are a bit hard to take after a while, but all-in-all a good read.

Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers

Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers by Guenter Lewy, 195 pages.
Lewy seems to be wanting to get to some definitive answers as to the motives of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, without going too far in any one direction. The book is massively sourced and footnoted,  with  over 30 pages of source material, and 156 footnotes in the second chapter alone. At the same time, with only 136 pages of text including the introduction, he doesn't seem to leave himself a lot of room to explore his several topics in depth.
He covers the concentration camps, deaths by shootings, the development of more efficient ways of killing (seeking to avoid stresses on the killers), the hunt for and trials of those responsible, all while trying to give individual and group motivations for killing thousands and thousands of people. An interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying book.


Whereas: Poems by Layli Long Soldier, 101 pages.

The poets words play with form and formality as single percussive words and short sharp sentences give way to missives, sections of treaties, and paragraphs of declarations.
While grief and betrayal haunt many of the verses, playfulness resides within many others.
All is experienced
somebody told me.
I am glad that I like this books as I will now have to purchase what remains of it after our Newfie / Rottweiler chewed it up.

Pioneers: The First Breach

Pioneers: The First Breach by S. An-sky, translated from the Yiddish by Rose Waldman, 221 pages.
Set in the 1870s during the time of the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, this was written in 1903 and published in different forms several times in the early 20th Century, Waldman's translation is the first in English for this novel by the prolific Jewish writer (most famous, perhaps, for his play The Dybbuk). 
Zahman Itzkowitz was an orphan who found a new, though not altogether comfortable, home as a Yeshiva student. Naturally curious and relatively bright, he, along with almost all of his fellow students in the Yeshiva at Vitebsk,  became interested in learning more about the world outside of their community as the Haskalah swept through Jewish communities. Turning away from their religious studies, the boys at the Vitebsk Yeshiva risk being seen as heretics by their community. When Itzkowitz is forced to leave Vitebsk and the Yeshiva he travels to Miloslavka and becomes a tutor to the children of the village, teaching Russian, Yiddish, math, a little geography and anything else that will bring in a few kopecks. As he settles in Milslavka Itzkowitz must decide who he is and what he believes.

Jade Dragon Mountain / Elsa Hart, 321 pp.

First in the mystery series featuring former eighteenth-century Beijing court librarian Li Du and his storytelling companion Hamza, I enjoyed this nearly as much as the second series title: The White Mirror.  Here Li Du travels to Dayan, a remote Chinese city on the Tibetan border, just as the town is frantically preparing for the arrival of the emperor in anticipation of a solar eclipse.  In the compound of the town magistrate a Jesuit priest is found murdered, and Li Du refuses to let the crime be swept under the rug.  Learned, fun, and filled with the same local flavor as the second novel.  I hope we won't have to wait long for number 3.

Behold the Dreamers / Imbolo Mbue, 382 pp., read by Prentice Onayemi

A timely and well-told tale, this is the latest Oprah pick, as well as the selection for September for the U City Book Group.  Jende Jonga is a Cameroonian immigrant to New York who lands a job as chauffeur to a high-level executive at Lehman Brothers in 2007.  He and his wife and son feel that they may finally be on the path to security when the economy collapses and their entwined relationships with Jende's employer and his family threaten their situation.  Although the plot of the novel holds few surprises, and the wealthy Edwards family who employ the Jongas are superficially drawn, I loved the story of Jende and his family.  Believable characters and a balanced and humane view of the immigrant experience make this a worthwhile read, and the audio is a pleasure.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, 490 pages.
Following members of the family from the early 1900s through 1989, Pachinko follows the descendants of  an aging fisherman and his wife. They are able to arrange a marriage for their only surviving son, Hoonie, born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot, to the youngest daughter of poor farmer. Yangjin, the bride, and her daughter, Sunja, form the center of the sweeping epic.

Deftly written with characters you really care about, Pachinko tells the story of Koreans living under Japanese rule through the war, and then under the revised rules after the second World War and the Korean War.

Everybody's Fool

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo, 477 pages.
Sully, Ruth, Rub Squeers, and Carl Roebuck all return from Russo's classic 1993 novel, Nobody's Fool. Doug Raymer is back as well. He had a brief role as the police officer with a grudge against Sully in the original. Now in addition to being a main character, he's chief of police and Sully is the least of his many worries. Raymer's wife died suddenly as she was leaving him. He found her note. right after finding her body. Her sudden death, and the as-yet unknown identity of the man she was leaving him for, haunt him.
Sully has problems of his own, he's having health problems, and his relationship with Ruth may be over. Run's psycho son-in-law has it in for Sully as well.
The book is a big comfortable reunion with wonderfully drawn characters. I don't know how it would read as a stand-alone but it is a great experience for anyone who liked the first one.

Demon: Volume 2 and 3

Demon: Volume 2 by Jason Shiga, 214 pages a
Demon: Volume 3 by Jason Shiga, 200 pages.

Shiga's demented series, about a man who finds that he is actually a demon who takes over the nearest body when his previous body dies, roars on in the next two installments.
It raises the question of how the one proto-demon was able to end his string of lives, while the main character almost always finds a thin-sliver of a way to hold onto his existence.
Violent, relentless, and absurd, Shiga is definitely worth the read for those who don't mind cartoon sex and violence.

Cat is art spelled wrong

Cat is art spelled wrong / Essays by various authors, 171 pages.

Raise your hand if you think there are still not enough cat videos available online.  This collection of essays discusses cat vids as art, cat vids as time wasters and everything else you can think of about cats and the videos we obsessively watch.  Much of what can be said about cats also includes personal history, poetics, memes, Instagram, community, politics, celebrity and what makes a cat the cutest despots.

The idea for this book started with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and their Internet Cat Video Festival.  The festival has been around for years now and shared with other museums.  To the shock of all involved, the first festival was a huge hit and each subsequent very well attended.

Lets face it, in addition to ruling the internet, cats also pretty much rule the world!


Plutona by Jeff Lemire, 152 pages.

Grim and sort of unhappy, this graphic novel follows five teens as they try to figure out what they should do with the body of a super hero that they have found. Not something I enjoyed.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds, 181 pages.
A very good story of a young man who finds his way in the world through track. Ghost remembers running from his father when he was young, but he doesn't realize that running is something that he is good at, and that it can help him, for quite a while. Once he does discover this and finds a place on a good track team, he puts his new-found place in jeopardy with some questionable decisions. I first heard about this when it was recommended by Jacqueline Woodson on PBS last year, and then at the American Library Association conference, Jason Reynolds was everywhere, and the lines were long. So, he's a force in YA literature.

The Late Show

The Late Show by Michael Connelly, 405 pages.

Crime writer Connelly introduces a new character in this his thirtieth novel. Renee Ballard is working the late show, midnight to eight, as a detective in the Hollywood station. She almost never gets to see a case through to the end, and her partner has no interest in doing police-work. Ballard had been a rising star in Robbery and Homicide before a dispute with her superior officer, couple with a betrayal by her partner led to her exile.
When a big murder case comes her way at the same time as a seemingly unsolvable assault case, Ballard looks for a way to find meaning in her work again.
Tightly written and a lot of fun to read. Fans of Connelly or fans of crime fiction will definitely enjoy this one.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

The fourth of the Detective Sean Duffy novels begins with a fictional account of Muhammad Ali’s visit to Belfast. And while this did not actually happen (there’s an explanation in the afterword), this book, like the others in the series, is firmly grounded in 1980s Belfast. What starts with the missing wallet of a member of a Swedish trade mission and moves on to the mysterious suicide of a financial reporter ends up with the beginnings uncovering of a ring of pedophiles that rocked Ireland and Great Britain. Sean tries to balance the awful discoveries he makes with the chaos of his private life. Well-written and engaging, maybe not the best of the Duffy novels, but still a lot better than most crime fiction.

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

Churchill and Orwell; The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks, 339 pages.

Thomas Franks does a credible job creating a readable, well-paced parallel biography of two
Englishmen, one celebrated as the greatest leader of his time, and the other only beginning to be noticed as a great writer during his lifetime.
We see each from the time of his childhood, through lean years wherein neither man seemed destined for greatness, and through the years of their great works. Ricks does a good job of keeping it all fresh and new.

My Name is Red

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, 417 pages. Translated from the Turkish by Erda Goknar. Narrated by John Lee.

Set in 16th century Istanbul and told from multiple points of view, Nobel Laureate Pamuk's hypnotic novel about murder on the fault-line between east and west. The sultan has hired the kingdom's best miniaturists to illuminate a history of his kingdom. Some see the depictions created as heresy. When one of the miniaturists is murdered, the others are all suspects. A wild assortment of narrators tell this beautiful tale.

New York 2140

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, 613 pages.
Two coders living on a rooftop in the flooded remains of Manhattan in the year 2140, believe that they have found a way to change some of society's fundamental rules. Turns out they are wrong, and they quickly realize this. In the aftermath of the events resulting from their mishap, Amelia Black, star of an internet wildlife rescue show; Gen Octaviasdottir; a police inspector, Franklin Garr, Lord of the Intertidal, an quant; and Charlotte Armstrong, a politically connected activist, all cross paths. Things do begin to change then in this enjoyable, but somewhat didactic tale of a future and waterlogged NYC.

What We Lose: a Novel / Zinzi Clemmons, 213 pp.

A coming-of-age novel, of sorts, written in an interesting blogger-ish style.  Thandi is the daughter of a South African mom and an American dad who grows up in metro Philadelphia.  The central event is the untimely death of Thandi's mother.  Vignettes from the narrator's life, out of sequence, woven with historical blurbs (with photos and graphs) about various topics: Winnie Mandela, mortality rates among African-Americans, mathematics.

When the English Fall / David Williams, 242 pp.

An Amish community in Pennsylvania watches the night sky dance with angels on the horizon, like the Northern Lights, and then strange things begin to happen.  Planes fall from the sky; the roads go quiet; the 'English' neighbors' tractors and refrigerators no longer work.  When the English Fall tells a story of the apocalypse in the form of a massive solar flare and its aftermath from the point of view of those who are at first only minimally impacted by the events.  But as food grows scarce among 'the English,' the community is forced to reckon with danger and violence that no longer respects the Amish boundaries.  A first novel that is remarkably good: eerie, suspenseful, believable and smart.

Monday, August 28, 2017

David Copperfield / Charles Dickens, 891 pp.

Not my favorite Dickens, but I still loved this.  For me the flaw here is Agnes, too perfect to be real.  Later heroines such as Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Lizzie Hexam (Our Mutual Friend) are very good but imperfect, which makes for much better reading.

The best part of reading the novel this time is hearing what our many terrific summer readers thought of the story.  Take a look at our summer reading blog to learn more!


Canada by Mike Myers, 294 pages

Actor and comedian Mike Myers is a proud Canadian. Born and raised outside of Toronto, Myers is Canadian through and through. His book, Canada, is part memoir (focusing primarily on his childhood in Canada, though certainly touching on his Hollywood career), part history of late 20th Century Canadian pop culture. As someone who grew up 1. watching Myers on Saturday Night Live, and 2. living really close to Canada, I loved this book. I enjoyed the anecdotes about hockey, and the shout-outs to other Canadians in Hollywood, and the dissection of Canada's grammatical identity. This book puts Canada on a pedestal — and Canada probably feels a little awkward about that, but that's OK, eh?

The Yard

The Yard (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad) by Alex Grecian  422 pp.

The Murder Squad of Victorian London's Scotland Yard has been unsuccessful in catching Jack the Ripper. Now a new series of killings has them on edge since it is members of their own group of twelve detectives that are targeted. The body of one was found stabbed multiple times and left in a trunk. Now it is up to brand new detective Walter Day to find the killer with the assistance of the Yard's first forensic pathologist. While this is happening there is another killer or killers targeting men with beards and the matter of a dead child in a chimney. Soon another detective is killed. Day and other members of the squad and several constables risk life and limb to solve the murders. This is a true page-turner, long, in depth and rich in detail and action.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, 463 pages

In Thunderstruck, Larson expertly interweaves the tale of innovator Guglielmo Marconi's quest to create instantaneous transatlantic wireless communication and that of the unhappily married Dr. Hawley Crippen, who eventually becomes the most unlikely murderer of the Edwardian era. It's a fascinating tale, wonderfully told. And props to Bob Balaban, who narrated the audiobook, to which I listened. Excellent all around.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 891 pages

Presented as the life story of David Copperfield, this sizeable tome follows our protagonist through his life's many experiences (not sure I'd go so far as to call them adventures), and his interactions with many vibrant characters. These characters — especially his great aunt Betsy Trotwood, his wife Dora, the amoral Steerforth, and the villainous Uriah Heep — are excellently drawn, and make the book worth reading. David and the much-adored angelic Agnes are some of the blandest characters I've ever read, and the plot doesn't really move too much. But when Dickens' secondary characters appear, that's when the reading is good. I don't know that I would have read this if it wasn't our Big Book for this summer, but I'm glad I did read it.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 891 pgs.

This is Dickens' eighth novel, originally serialized over many months.  Thus reading it in one summer makes us "binge" readers!  The book follows the life of David Copperfield, whom we meet as a young child.  His father died before he was born but he is doted on by his loving mother and Peggoty, the faithful household servant.  When an evil step-father shows up, David's life changes for the worst and tragedy occurs when his mother dies.  Now an orphan, David struggles to subsist and finally travels by foot to appeal to his aunt for assistance.  Betsy Trotwood is eccentric, independent and welcomes David into her life. At this point, things are looking up.  The story follows David into adult life as he makes his way surrounded by good people and bad.  He is the central character but is often less interesting than those around him.  I was taken by the story from the start and enjoyed this novel throughout.

How to be a dictator

How to be a dictator: an irreverent guide / Mikal Hem, translated by Hester Velmas read by Ramiz Monsef

A compendium of bad behavior of current and former dictators, this book gives you a guide to becoming a dictator yourself.  There are lots of benefits that some with the job but a few drawbacks too.  Many end up overthrown or dead but the lucky ones rule til a natural death at a ripe old age and pass the job along to one of their coddled kids.  I'm sure this was a lot funnier a year ago.  Reading it today is a bit frightening.  Enjoyed the audio version.

The Rat Catchers' Olympics

The Rat Catchers' Olympics by Colin Cotterill  278 pp,

This is book is the twelfth in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. In 1980 the Olympic Games in Moscow were boycotted by the U.S. and other countries. Countries that never competed before are invited to join the games and Laos is one of them. Dr. Siri, his wife Madame Daeng, and Nurse Dtui travel to Moscow with the small team as their medical staff. Sudden suspicious personnel changes to the Laos team spark Dr. Siri's curiosity. Soon deaths, blackmail, and threats become their focus with Inspector Phosey investigating threats in Laos and making coded phone calls to the others in Moscow. While the investigating proceeds there is a humorous unofficial "Olympic" rat catching contest after it is learned that a total of three "professional rat catchers" are competing in other events in the games. It's an interesting look at relations between then communist countries and an entertaining book in general.