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

The Cold Cold Ground

The Cold Cold Ground: a Detective Sean Duffy Novel / Adrian McKinty, read by Gerard Doyle, 320p.

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

In this title:

It's 1981, and Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland is in the thick of 'The Troubles.'  Sean Duffy is the lone Catholic officer at his station and the only Catholic in his housing estate on Coronation Road.  But he has his massive LP collection, his vodka gimlets, his ciggies, and his wicked sense of humor to keep himself sane(-ish).  His case involves an apparent homophobically-motivated serial killer who makes arcane classical music references and commits unfortunate acts with severed body parts.  Still, it's hard to believe any murder in greater Belfast is wholly unconnected to those Troubles, which greatly complicate matters.  Add to that the attractive patho Laura Cathcart and Detective Duffy has a lot to deal with.

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

Armada

Armada by Ernest Cline, 355 pages

Zack Lightman is your average video game-obsessed teen, wondering what in the world he's going to do with his life after he graduates in two months' time. His life gets turned upside down, however, when he learns that all of the sci-fi/alien invasion stuff from his favorite video game is true and that he's being recruited to help save humanity, using those gamer skills that previously seemed useless.

If you're a big gamer and/or have a lot of nostalgia for sci-fi pop culture of the '70s and '80s, you'll probably enjoy this book, which reads like a movie script. I, however, picked this one up based on my enjoyment of Cline's Ready Player One. While it was a good book for the airport, it felt a bit too much like a mish-mash of things that came before, from Ender's Game to Top Gun to the aforementioned Ready Player One. I give it a solid "meh."

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young: a Novel / Gabrielle Zevin, 294 pp.

Aviva Grossman is young and a bit adrift when she signs on as an intern for a  married Florida congressman.  They begin an affair, and when it comes to light - big surprise! - it is the 20-year-old woman whose life is destroyed on social media.  Told from the point of view of Aviva's mother, Aviva's daughter Ruby, and, movingly, the congressman's wife, there are plenty of overt references to The Scarlet Letter here. Other reviews I've read celebrate Zevin's challenge to the slut-shamers out there, and rightly so.  But she's a smart writer and creates a well-rounded character in Aviva, one who was young and foolish but not entirely without agency.  Funny and sweet.  Especially recommended to all those who loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Once a Crooked Man

Once a Crooked Man: a novel by David McCallum  352 pp.

Back in the 1960s there was a television show called "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." in which David McCallum was one of the stars. I admit to having a mad crush (as much as a 9 year old can) on his character Illya Kuryakin. Now that same actor plays Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the show N.C.I.S. and he is still charming, funny, and attractive at age 84. I never would have picked up this audio book had it not been on sale, and read by the author. I was skeptical about it being one more mediocre celebrity authored novel but was pleasantly surprised. The story involves a crime family, the Bruschetti brothers, an investment broker laundering money for the family, and an actor who happens to overhear the Bruschettis plotting a hit. The actor, Harry Murphy, takes it upon himself to warn the intended victim who mistakenly believes Murphy is the Bruschetti's courier sent to pick up thousands of dollars in cash. The Bruschetti brothers just want to get out of the crime business, take the money, and retire before the authorities are on to them. Their broker just wants to keep his involvement under wraps. The whole thing is a comedy of errors with fatalities. I enjoyed it more than I expected.  

The Stranger and the Statesman

The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian by Nina Burleigh  320 pp.

Just as the title says, this is the somewhat convoluted story of how an Englishman's fortune was bequeathed to the fledgling United States for the purpose of founding a "an establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". The biography of James Macie, begins with his birth as the unacknowledged, illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland. Upon the Duke's death Macie began using his father's adopted name of Smithson. Smithson devoted his life to the sciences, geology in particular. Included in his bequest were his notes and collection of rocks and minerals. It is still a matter of conjecture why the unmarried, childless man chose to leave his money to the U.S. The second part of the book involves the Congressional battles over the use and dispersing of the $500,000 fortune left by this total stranger to the United States. Former President and then Congressman, an advocate for the sciences championed the cause but the fortune was nearly lost due to political wrangling but eventually the "castle" was built on the still under construction Washington Mall. This story ends with the fire near the end of the Civil War when the castle was seriously damaged and most of the Smithson collection was lost. The book includes extensive author's notes and a bibliography. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

The marsh king's daughter

The marsh king's daughter / Karen Dionne, read by Emily Rankin, 310 pgs.

Helena is a pretty normal kid, she admires her father and follows him on hunting and fishing trips. She has no interest in learning to cook. She likes the outdoors and reading National Geographic.  She is not particularly close to her mother.  As time goes on, she starts thinking her live is a little odd.  After all, she has never seen any other people besides her parents.  She has only one outfit to wear. Her dad can be extremely cruel in his punishments.  One day when she is twelve, she finds out that her father kidnapped her mother and she is the product of a relationship not exactly built on love.  The cabin they live in was chosen because it is very isolated.  But present day Helena has a husband and a family.  She is making a living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Her life really is pretty normal now.  But everything changes when her father breaks out of prison.  She knows she is the perfect person to track him and find him and that the authorities will have problems. This story turns into a heart stopping thriller.  The audio version is very good, the story is unforgettable.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

American Prometheus

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer  by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin  721 pp.

This Pulitzer Prize winning biography covers the life and work of the brilliant physicist who led the work to create the atomic bomb during World War II only to be unjustly turned against by the very government he served. Oppenheimer was a fascinating, highly intelligent, albeit somewhat dysfunctional man. He suffered through anti-Semitism in his career as a university professor before settling into his job at the radiation lab of U.C.-Berkeley. It was there, during the Great Depression, that he became acquainted with many members of the Communist Party. Although he never joined the party himself, these friendships and acquaintances would come back to haunt him during his work on the Manhattan Project through to the era of McCarthyism. One man, Lewis Strauss with the help of infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, fueled the unreasonable accusations against Oppenheimer and, after a travesty of a hearing, had him removed from his position on the Atomic Energy Commission. This is a long and detailed account of a fascinating, if troubled man.    

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Leaving the world

Leaving the world / Douglas Kennedy, 480 pgs.

Jane Howard's parents are a horrible example of a marriage and of parenting.  At 13, she announces she will never get married or have children.  Soon after, her father leaves and her mother blames her for his departure.  After a rough childhood, she ends up at Harvard and has a long term affair with her married adviser.  He ends up dead and she is at wits end.  Working now as a professor, she meets Theo and ends up pregnant.  Motherhood is a blessing but Theo is a bit of an ass and Jane ends up bankrupt.  After tragedy hits again, Jane "disappears" from her former life and ends up in Calgary.  She becomes obsessed with a child abduction case and gets involved, mush to the chagrin of the police who are running the investigation.  Although well written, I found the character of Jane to be mostly infuriating.  She is smart and accomplished but continues to make some of the dumbest choices. When events occur, her reactions are bizarre and don't seem the least bit possible.  Can't say I would recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The reason you're alive

The reason you're alive / Matthew Quick, read by R. C. Bray, 226 pgs.

David Granger is a 68 year old veteran of the Vietnam War.  He is in a minor car wreck which leads to the discovery of a brain tumor.  This book is his narrative about his life post war. He believes he is talking to a government agency but isn't really sure. In fact, brain surgery has given him a few moments of hesitation as he distrusts some of his brain's work.  Granger is dealing with a few other issues, a semi-estranged son, the lingering grief from the death of his wife, and some guilt about the horrible things he did in the war.  When prompted by fellow vet and friend to look up an old nemesis, David sees that he should do this but has many doubts that it will turn out well.  Granger is a one of a kind character, gruff, unwilling to couch anything he thinks into a politically correct package and still a little crazy from the war.  This book is expertly narrated by R. C. Bray.  The audio version is definitely worth your time.

Midnight at the bright ideas bookstore

Midnight at the bright ideas bookstore / Matthew Sullivan, 328 pgs.

Lydia has some childhood trauma in her background but has managed to put it aside.  She is living an unassuming life in Denver where she works in a bookstore.  In some ways working with books seems inevitable because she is the child of a librarian.  But Lydia is also great with the customers, including the BookFrogs, a group who use the store as a home base.  One in particular, Joey, is close to her and when he ends his life, she finds has inherited his estate. Not much there for except books and some clues that lead Lydia to do some detective work. Many signs point to the childhood she has willingly left behind, forcing to confront past issues.

The author is married to a librarian so gets many details so right. I thank Kathleen for recommending this one.

Artemis

Artemis / Andy Weir, 304 pgs.

Jazz Bashara is a porter on the moon.  She also has a pretty robust smuggling business that supplements her meager income.  A resident of the moon city Artemis since age six, she has very little memory of her life on earth.  Her father is a respected welder and sometimes critic of Jazz's rebellious life and attitude. When Jazz gets mixed up in a plan to force the sale of a aluminum mining operation, things go south and her big payday ends with a murder.  Jazz is now on the run and trying to figure out how to make things right.  With a stable of interesting friends and a deep understanding of the things that make living on the moon a bit different, this modern day heroine is fun to get to know.  Laced with physics lessons and engineering details, fans of Weir's earlier book will find this similarly engaging.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kiss Carlo, by Andriana Trigiani



The novels of Andriana Trigiani are a guilty pleasure.  It’s hard to look like you're reading serious literary fiction when the dust jacket is covered in pink flowers, has a script font, and features a model wearing a Balenciaga gown from the cover of a 1951 Harper’s Bazaar.  But Trigiani really is a good writer with a vivid eye for color, fashion, and a wicked appreciation of the foibles of her characters.  Her plots, usually romantic, draw on her own Italian family and heritage.  You feel as if you have been invited to dinner at a big, boisterous table with wonderful food.  This outing, set just after World War II, was more formulaic than some of her earlier work, and the plot depends too much on a silly impersonation of an Italian ambassador. Nicky Castone is an orphan cousin raised by one branch of the big Palazzini family.  He’s been engaged through the war years and beyond to Peachy DePIno, who isn’t getting any younger and is growing impatient for her Big Italian Wedding.  Nicky is somewhat conflicted about his choice of a bride and taken aback by the elaborate preparations.  He drives a cab by day and moonlights as a prompter and jack-or-all-trades at a struggling old theater run by Calla Borelli, which was founded by her aging father.  There he catches the acting bug when he is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in the final act of Twelfth Night.  Peachy is not keen.  Several other candidates for Nicky’s affections are presented – will he end up with any of them?  Will he end up with the right one?  Of course he will.  532 pp.