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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Impossible views of the world, by Lucy Ives



I was captivated in the first few pages by the author’s distinctive style.  Her sentences are complex and her descriptive writing constantly surprises with unusual comparisons and word choices.  Evidently, she is a poet and it shows.  This is her debut novel.  However, by the end of this hybrid mystery/mid-life crisis/critique of art collecting and collectors/expose of the corrupting influences of corporate sponsorship of the arts/etc., etc., I was thoroughly weary and longed for a simple declarative sentence.  Stella Krakus is a curator at a major art museum.  The mystery of her colleague’s suicide, and what led up to it; her troubled relationship with her controlling mother; her awful relationship with her soon to be ex-husband; and her romantic entanglement with the heir apparent to the directorship of the museum got all jumbled up in the plot – not to mention a subplot set in the 1800s -- and I arrived at the denouement clueless as to what had actually transpired.  Maybe it was just me, but I found the novel pretentious and twee.  Perhaps I’d like her poetry better.  293 pp.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chasing Space

Chasing Space: an astronaut's story of grit, grace, and second chances / Leland Melvin, 241 pgs. Read by Ron Butler

This wonderful memoir tells the story of the only person who has caught a pass in the NFL and in space. Leland Melvin has a wonderful attitude and a great life that has taken him around the world on earth and above it.  Taking inspiration from his parents who always encouraged him to succeed in school, in sports and in life, he made the most of his abilities and achieved great things thanks to second chances.  If he at first did not succeed, sometimes is was other people who believed in him and provided those chances.  This is very inspirational and will make you feel like a slacker for not doing more with your life and getting an official portrait with your pets.

It's All in the Timing

It's All in the Timing : Plan, Cook and Serve Great Meals with Confidence / Gail Monaghan, 312 p.

A very useful and accessible cookbook that's organized according to menus for different occasions.  Main dishes, sides, salads and desserts are assembled as part of a bigger menu, with instructions on how to plan ahead and sequence preparation.  Instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the book is well-indexed.  Photos are nice but not plentiful; unlike some cookbooks whose primary focus is aesthetic and aspirational, Monaghan is more focused on the how-tos. Many of the recipes are intensely flavored, so plan accordingly.  Recommended.

My Antonia

My Antonia / Willa Cather, 272 p.

The first title in our new Classics Book Club, to be discussed September 19 at 2pm.  After reading it I have no trouble understanding why this novel is a true classic of American literature, and why so many people have already told me it's one of their favorite books.  Jim, the grandson of successful Nebraska farmers, grows up alongside Antonia, the child of impoverished Czech immigrants.  They have a lifelong connection which survives differences of class, language and religion.  This is a beautiful but not idealized portrait of rural and small town American life at the end of the 19th century.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 319 p.

The sixth (and I hope not the final)  in the Detective Sean Duffy series; these audiobooks, wonderfully read by Gerard Doyle, have been my car companions for months now.

In this title:

Two men have been attacked by crossbows, one fatally.  This is certainly not the paramilitaries' normal MO, but one always has to consider the connection.  Police at the Station is great reading: the novel opens with Sean being led to his own execution.  And if that weren't bad enough, he's having women problems once again, and his higher-ups in the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) seem to have it in for him too.

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

In the Morning I'll Be Gone

In the Morning I'll Be Gone: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 315 p.

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

In this title:

Sean is recruited by MI5 to track down IRA operative Dermot McCann, a recent escapee from the Maze prison, and a former schoolmate of Sean's.  In order to find Dermot, though, Sean must first reconnect with Dermot's family and that of his ex-wife, a woman Sean has history with as well.  An especially well-constructed plot and great suspense.

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

Citizen Vince

Citizen Vince / Jess Walter, 293 pgs.

Vince runs a credit card scam.  He is also a donut maker.  He learned that skill after being sent to training when he entered the witness protection program.  Of course he started up his credit card scam too...I mean, a donut maker doesn't make enough money to pay off debts etc. Life is going pretty good until another wit sec guy shows up and tries to kill Vince.   Vince heads back to New York to figure out how to get the "hit" removed. Turns out, this guy is really into killing people. In the middle of this drama, Vince gets his voter registration card. Something about getting that card moves him to think about politics, voting and the idea of civic duty.  Vince starts to see things differently and begins to think he needs a fresh start.

I think I've done a poor job of summarizing this book but can't say enough about how much I enjoyed it.  Vince is such a wonderful character, flawed but thoughtful.  Sometimes I think that there are a lot of similar books out there but this one is special.

I Hear the Sirens in the Street

I Hear the Sirens in the Street: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 256 p.

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

In this title:

Duffy and Crabby find a torso in a suitcase in an abandoned industrial park.    This would be OK, except that now they have to find out who it belongs to, how it ended up in the suitcase, and, well, where the rest of it might be.  Nothing is quite as it seems in Northern Ireland in the early 80s, not even John Delorean, whose car factory seemed for a time to promise salvation to the local economy.  And why isn't patho Laura Cathcart returning Sean's calls?

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
  • an shocking amount of alcohol consumption, even for Ireland
  • hilarious dialogue
  • a terrific sense of place