Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, 582 pages.
Wilson's new translation of this epic poem is eminently readable and enjoyable. Her introduction explains the poem, its history, its inconsistencies, and the probable history of Homer; not necessarily one poet from one time but a mixture of poets and transcribers over the years and centuries. She says of The Odyssey and The Iliad that, "[t]hese are written texts that display the legacy of a long oral tradition. In important ways the poems are a patchwork."

A great version of a timeless work, one that shows how people's ideas of hospitality, warfare, marriage, and faith have changed and stayed the same. Okay, mostly changed, raiding, the sacking of cities, killing, and raping, aren't considered heroic anymore, but even in the time of Odysseus it was considered somewhat rude to murder all of your guests.
Wilson's Iliad is still years away, but I can't wait. Meanwhile, it's time to go and reread Fagles and Lombardo and maybe explore an older translation or two.

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado, 245 pages

Machado is very exciting author to read or to listen to. The stories in this collection are weird, artful, and amazing. "Especially Heinous" gives an odd, disjointed, disturbing view of the popular TV show Law and Order: SVU. Episode titles are followed by synopses that give a fun-house-mirror continuity to the show, with alternate characters, absurdly grisly crimes, and victims that literally haunt the officers. "The Resident," tells of a writer who must defend her work against verbal attacks, self-doubt and mutilated bunny corpses. The author plays with your sympathies and expectations masterfully.
Reading this shortly after I read Saunder's Tenth of December gave me such a sense of happy wonder at the writers and their store that we are lucky enough to encounter.

Tenth of December: Stories

Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders, read by the author. 251 pages.

What a collection of wonderful, weird stories. The opening story, "Victory Lap," feature so much internal monologue, even when all the characters are there together in a particular scene  that it's somewhat dizzying. I read this, or rather listened to it, after reading Lincoln in the Bardo a couple of times, and loving that.  I was still somehow surprised at how weirdly beautiful all of these stories were. Saunders is a great writer and each of these stories are well-crafted gems.


theMystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh, 1660 pages.
Long, and maybe intricate, maybe gnarled and knotted, this interwoven serices of narratives, conversations, reports, and transcriptions frequently involve characters named "M," Matt, Matthew, or McIntosh, just like the author. M's father is dying. One character has a beautiful wife, but is having an affair with his neighbor's high-school aged daughter, while he endlessly works on a mysterious book, but he remembers none of this. I found it fun and readable, but endlessly confusing. I have before read 1200 pages of a book and thought "there's only about 450 pages left in this book, I hope I figure out what the book's about soon" (I did not figure it out). Reminiscent of Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves if not in style, then at least in it's sense of typographical playfulness, with pages of pictures from old movies and pages of asterisks and other typographical symbols alternately moving the story along and adding to the confusion. Fun to read if you don't mind non-linear,experimental, or just plain odd fiction.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (2015) 308 pages

I don't usually read short story collections, but I found Trigger Warning to be well worth my time, with several vivid stories that can't help but be stuck in my head, often because of their surprising turns. The selections are a pot pourri of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales re-jiggered, and detective. Included is a Dr. Who story called "Nothing O'Clock." As I read the story, I felt as if I were watching an episode of the show. It turns out that Gaiman has loved the Dr. Who television series since he was a small child and eventually wrote episodes for it.

Gaiman's intro to Trigger Warning is every bit as good as one of his stories, starting with a discussion of the definition of trigger warning. Gaiman wondered if people would ever put a trigger warning on his fiction, and then decided to do it himself with the title he chose. It's a good warning to have, since these stories can go any which way! I also appreciated his brief write-ups of every story/poem, enjoying a glimpse of the background behind the selections.

Rabbit Cake

Rabbit Cake / Annie Harnett, read by Katie Schorr

Elvis is twelve and has a love of science just like her mother.  Her mother, unfortunately, sleep walked into the river and drowned.  Elvis, her sister Lizzie and her dad are still trying to work their way through the grieving process.  Her school counselor tells her it will take 18 months.  Elvis isn't certain her mother died accidentally. She isn't certain that her teenage sister is going to make it since she too sleep walks, sleep eats, and seems to be making lots of bad choices.  She is certain that her mother was not faithful.  She is able to keep learning about the biology of animal sleep in hopes to finish the book that her mother was writing when she died.  Elvis has a great way of looking at things and is observant in the way of a kid who isn't always sure what she is seeing.  This book sounds sad, and it can be but it also funny, sweet and memorable. The audio book read by Katie Schorr was wonderful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 6: His Last Bow

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 6: His Last Bow read by Stephen Fry  308 pp.

This section comprised several short stories from Holmes' past and "The Last Bow" which puts Holmes into a spy story involving four years of British intelligence that has been gathered to be taken to Germany. After that episode Holmes retires to take up beekeeping and write a definitive book on investigation. The other stories are the usual whodunits involving Italian criminals, stolen plans, a missing person, poisonings, and one where Holmes is apparently near death but still gets his man. I've enjoyed listening to this set of audiobooks and I hope that eventually Audible will get the rights to the last part that is only available in Great Britain.

Easy Soups from Scratch with Quick Breads to Match

Easy Soups from Scratch with Quick Breads to Match: 70 Recipes to Pair and Share / Ivy Manning, 176 p.

The title here says it all, and in this case, delivers on its promise.  A wide range of soup varieties with reliable instructions are on hand; my favorites were tortellini chicken soup with seasonal vegetables (extremely easy), egg and lemon soup with toasted orzo and kale, creamy wild rice and turkey, and beef barley with lots of veggies.  I really appreciated the quick bread pairings, too. I am not much of a baker and a recipe that calls for yeast is generally a recipe I won't use, but this is book full of quick breads which use baking powder or soda and only occasionally call for yeast.  At my house we liked potato rosemary farls, featherlight herb dumplings, pimento cheese biscuits, and best of all, everything rye muffins.

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreason, 227 pages

What a quirky mix of fantastical stories Andreason has presented here, in his debut collection! From dropping a crate of old men into the ocean (so they don't burden their families with dying at home) to a bizarre baptism ritual to a porn star's obsession with the never-landing, always-swooping Rocketboy of her home city to the everyday life of headless Jenny and her put-upon brother, these stories are marvelous. I honestly did not know what I would find when I turned the page, though I was never diasppointed.

Andreason manages to capture the true reactions and emotions of each story's participants in situations that most of us onlookers would find horrific. Take, for example, the titular story, which finds a former naval vessel and its crew slowly sinking in the grasp of a many-tentacled sea creature. The crew has been in this situation for months, and their annoyance and boredom and slowly unraveling psyche comes through loud and clear. I absolutely loved this collection, and I can't wait to read more by Andreason.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Unbelievable: My front-row seat to the craziest campaign in American history / Katy Tur, 293 pgs.

Katy Tur took the assignment to follow a Republican candidate that everyone thought would wash out quickly.  She debated canceling her upcoming vacation but assumed this would be short lived and might give her some interesting opportunities.  535 days later she was at the victory party, exhausted and sick of using dry shampoo.  Along the way, she was witness to the oddest campaign in American history.  A candidate with no political experience and perhaps no interest in the job had no problem energizing the "base" and holding successful rally after rally.  Subjected to threats that required security towards the end of campaign, one supporter actually spit in her face after finding out she was a member of the media.  The book recounts a wild ride that lasted much longer than anyone expected. A great read for anyone interested in campaigns or journalism.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, 341 pages

In his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter is determined to solve the mystery of who (or what) is roaming the school, attacking students at random. Everyone knows it's the Heir of Slytherin controlling a creature that lives in the Chamber of Secrets, and while everyone has their guess about who the Heir might be (some even think it might be Harry himself!), whoever it is has been mighty sneaky. This isn't my favorite of the Harry Potter books (blame the giant spiders for that), but it's fun and adventure-filled and I loved sharing it with my daughter. We particularly enjoyed giggling at the antics of this year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart.

Friday, March 16, 2018

This is what happened

This is what happened / Mick Herron, 261 pgs.

Maggie gets recruited to be an informant for the MI5.  She is in the middle of a mission installing software on a machine at a company controlled by Chinese interests.  She is caught by a security guard and detained.  She pulls the fire alarm and escapes but on the way out kills the guard. Mi5 puts her in a safe house.  But time passes and the world changes.  What is going to happen to Maggie?  The story shifts to her "handler" and we find out things aren't actually what they seem.  The story shifts again.  In the end, it is all revealed but along the way you just have to follow along as best you can.  A lot of questions are raised by a story like this.  A decent thriller.

Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, 477 pages

Editor Susan Ryeland has just been given the latest Atticus Pünd whodunnit by her cash-cow author Alan Conway, and immediately settles in to read the book. But just before the killer is revealed, the manuscript ends. When she tries to find the missing pages, she learns that Conway has died suddenly, thrusting her into a mystery of her own.

In Magpie Murders, Horowitz has created a book-within-a-book, a mystery-within-a-mystery, each as compelling as the other. I feel like I'd just read two books when I closed this one: the Agatha Christie-esque Atticus Pünd, and the more modern "real" mystery of Alan Conway's death and missing chapters. In doing so, Horowitz manages to both poke fun at and pay homage to whodunnits. I had a great time with both of these stories, and I highly recommend it to mystery readers.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meditation for fidgety skeptics

Meditation for fidgety skeptics a 10% happier how-to book / Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlye Adler, 287 pgs.

A follow up to Harris' book "10% Happier" that recounted his adoption of a meditation practice after he had an on-air panic attack.  This book answers a lot more questions about how to go about making meditation a "thing" in your own life.  Jeff Warren is the master meditation teacher and Dan is still a hard charging news anchor who doesn't want stuff to get too treacly.  Put them together with a team on a rock and roll rental bus and see what happens!  They travel across the country trying to introduce meditation to the masses.  Part bromance, part science project, part travel memoir, this book will really make you feel like you should give meditation a chance.  I enjoyed listening to the audio book that is read by Dan and Jeff.

So much blue

So much blue / Percival Everett, 242 pgs.

Kevin is an artist who has been working on a painting for a long time that he won't let anyone see.  He wants to be sure nobody EVER sees it and tries to arrange a system by which it will be destroyed when he dies.  In this "present day" scenario, Kevin lives with his wife Linda and their two kids in what seems like an overall happy family existence.  Another part of the book follows a 1979 visit by Kevin and his friend to El Salvador in search of the friend's brother.  The country is falling into civil war and the trip is engulfed in fear and tragedy.  They help dig a grave for a little girl who has been killed by the military.  The horror of what they witness affects Kevin and the trip also leaves him with another personal secret that makes him question the very basic of his personality.  In a third time, 10 years prior to the "present day," Kevin is in Paris for an art opening and has a brief affair with a much younger woman.  He admits to himself during this fling that he has never loved his wife Linda but instead was looking for a place to exist when they married.  He believes he loves this young French woman and at the same time, Linda is in the States worrying that Kevin has started drinking again.  I've done a mediocre job here of summarizing the book but I enjoyed it very much.  Everett has a way of making us feel we really understand Kevin's inner workings.  I'm inclined to praise Everett's writing and ability to make us want everything to be all right with Kevin while we satisfy our voyeuristic tendencies while watching him veer towards becoming a train wreck.

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Dear Fahrenheit 451: love and heartbreak in the stacks: a librarian's love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life / Annie Spence, 244 pgs.

A librarian writes to books, books she loves and books she doesn't like so much.  Some are long term favorites, others have come and gone.  I like the way the author gives us a little insight into her thinking and a little view of her life.  I know it is the librarian in me who thinks this is a great book but it really is a great book.  I'm not going keep a list of her favorites and add them to my list because I plan to consult this book regularly in the future.

All for Nothing

All for Nothing / Walter Kempowski, trans. Anthea Bell, 343 p.

An elegant, intriguing chronicle of the flight of an aristocratic ethnic German family living in East Prussia in January 1945.  They live dreamily in the Georgenhof, the ancestral estate, meeting neighbors and hangers on, asking, "Do you think the Russians will really come?  What is to be done?"  Rapidly and yet subtly, their lazy upper-class idyll devolves into violence and terror, as hundreds of people begin to stream west in an attempt to make it back home to the Reich.  Kempowski in no way excuses these characters, who went along with the Nazi regime in an indifferent, almost dopey manner, but he humanizes them, a powerful and enlightening trick.  In its wide cast of eccentrics, thieves, and martyrs, portrayed in objective and frequently comical thumbnail sketches, the novel reminds me of the Canterbury Tales.  Lots of talking and very little progress.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 5: The Valley of Fear

Sherlock Holmes (Unabridged) Part 5: The Valley of Fear read by Stephen Fry  320 pp.

The Valley of Fear was the last stand alone Sherlock Holmes novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this mystery Holmes received a coded message from an agent of the infamous Professor Moriarty. By the time he decodes the message and learns that he must go to Mr. John Douglas at Birlstone Manor House, Mr. Douglas has already been murdered by an unknown person with a shotgun blast to the face. The victim bears an unusual mark on his arm, branded there years before. Suspicion falls upon a house guest but there is not enough evidence to prove it. The twist at the end makes this one of the more enjoyable stories. 


Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less by C. Spike Trotman, art by Diana Nock, 166 pages

OK, I've found my new go-to graduation gift. This slim volume is chock full of money-saving tips on all aspects of life, from housing to health insurance to getting around town. There are even lists of the basic tools that should make up a toolbox and kitchen gear that's necessary to get cooking at home (and recipes!). Trotman packs a lot of text in, sometimes overpowering Nock's art, but really there's nothing that I would edit out. This is a reference that everyone who's starting out on their own should have on their bookshelf.

Modern Retro Home

Modern Retro Home : Tips and Inspiration for Creating Great Mid-Century Styles / Jason Grant, 255 p.

Gorgeous photos and some fun design ideas.  Can't really see putting much into practice, but fun to page through.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Start Without Me

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman (2017), 276 pages

Adam is a recovering alcoholic who was invited to his family's Thanksgiving gathering across the country eight months after going through rehab, and he thinks that his family expects him to fail. After arriving at his parents' home in the late evening, he flees from it in the early morning after accidentally breaking the coffee pot, expecting that they'll blame it on a relapse. He returns his rental car and is eating at a hotel restaurant near the airport, planning to skip Thanksgiving with his family after all.

Marissa, a fight attendant, has just finished working an overnight shift and is struggling with whether to secretly abort her fetus, the result of a fling with an ex-boyfriend, and pretend all is well with her husband, the son of an extremely wealthy senator and his antagonistic wife. She is expected to arrive at the in-laws' home in time for a photo shoot (for the senator's annual mailing) and Thanksgiving meal. Meanwhile, Marissa's been estranged from her own mother for 5 years in an attempt to escape the ravages of her mother's own alcoholism. She's at the same hotel restaurant as Adam, getting coffee to prepare for her long drive to her husband's family mansion.

Initially, I thought that the set-up for the novel took too long, but later I appreciated the care taken by the author. Over the course of a very long Thanksgiving day, Adam and Marissa travel together, learning about each other and buoying each other up, but also sometimes getting extremely annoyed by each other. When their respective family members make their appearances in the story, we get a better sense of the difficulties they've experienced and their need to figure out what comes next in their lives.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, 266 pages

A train traveling between Istanboul and Paris gets stuck in the snow. Usually this would be an inconvenience to passengers making connections, but it is something significantly more inconvenient when one of the passengers turns up dead. Suddenly, everyone on the train is a suspect in the murder, which renowned detective Hercule Poirot decides to solve while they await rescue. This is a classic story, and an excellent one. This was my second time reading it, though the first sharing it with my son, who gamely suffered through my butchering of several French phrases to experience his first Agatha Christie. We both loved sharing our guesses throughout the book, and we loved the big reveal that showed just how wrong we were. It is the first of many many Agatha Christies in our future.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Late Show

The Late Show / Michael Connelly, read by Katherine Moennig, 436 p.

Detective Renee Ballard works the night shift, where she is forced to begin cases but never allowed to finish them, as she is forced to turn her work over to the day shift every morning.  Ballard is highly skilled but has been exiled to the night shift because of a sexual harassment complaint filed against a supervisor.  But Ballard refuses to let go of two cases that begin on the same night, one involving a night club shooting that killed five people, and another involving the brutal beating of a transgender prostitute.  Ballard is a terrific character - a former Hawaiian, she unwinds every morning by doing some intense surfing while her loyal dog, Lola, waits for her on the beach.  Moennig's reading voice tracked perfectly with the character, making a thoroughly enjoyable listen.


Antigone / Sophocles, various translations, 101 p.

Greek drama from 5th century BCE and read by the classics book group.  Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and his wife/mother Jocasta, defies King Creon and demands a proper burial for her rebel brother Polyneices.  The price for her demand is high, but she refuses to back down, thereby becoming one of literature's first female badasses.  Hooray!

Kristin Lavransdatter 2 and 3

Kristin Lavransdatter 2: The Wife and 3: The Cross / Sigrid Undset, trans. by Tiina Nunnally, 861 p.

The remainder of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, following The Bridal Wreath, was indeed more enjoyable via the recent translation by Tiina Nunnally, as I had hoped it would be.  Part two sees Kristin through the births of her many children and the terror, illness, grief and joy that accompany that process.  Throughout, medieval Norwegian politics become important; Kristin's noble but rash husband Erlend becomes embroiled in a succession plot that turns out disastrously, with lasting repercussions for their marriage.  Part 3 shows us Kristin's sons growing to adulthood; each young man is a distinct, believable and interesting character, and each impacts the marriage between Kristin and Erlend.  For my money, this is possibly the best, truest picture of a marriage I've ever read in fiction.  The trilogy ends as the Black Death makes its way across Europe and arrives on Norway's shores.  Undset won the Nobel Prize; now that I've finished the trilogy I have no trouble understanding why.  A tremendous work.


Cane / Jean Toomer, 245 p.

 A classic of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a wonderfully weird combination of prose, poetry, drama and song, which evokes small-town rural Georgia in the 1920s with a gorgeous vividness.  The writing, in all forms, is sensual - that is, it constructs the setting in a way that incorporates all the senses, almost as if the reader could taste the air. 

Difficult to summarize, the work incorporates the author's experiences as a light-skinned urban northerner who moves to Georgia to teach.  One of the members of our Classics Book Group observed correctly, I think, that the poetry is especially strong, as in "Her Lips Are Copper Wire:"

whisper of yellow globes
gleaming on lamp-posts that sway
like bootleg licker drinkers in the fog

and let your breath be moist against me
like bright beads on yellow globes

telephone the power-house
that the main wires are insulate

(her words play softly up and down
dewy corridors of billboards)

then with your tongue remove the tape
and press your lips to mine
till they are incandescent

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan  328 pp.

Lydia "Smith" works at a bookshop near the Denver train station. When one of the store "regulars" a.k.a. the "BookFrogs" hangs himself in an upstairs room he leaves his meager personal possessions to his favorite bookseller, Lydia. Lydia soon finds herself in a mystery sparked by Joey Molina's puzzling items that were meant for her to find and figure out. She is shocked to discover a connection to her previous life as Lydia Gladwell, the young survivor of a bloody unsolved crime. What starts out as a simple story of a tragic friendship evolves into a full blown mystery with multiple victims and suspects. The author uses flashbacks to Lydia's childhood to expand the suspense. I picked this up because I enjoy stories involving bookshops and stayed for the mystery.

Get Well Soon

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them / Jennifer Wright, 320 p.

This title was on the nightstand, next to Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine and Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World.  My husband glanced at this trio and said, "Honey, what is wrong with you?"

I can't answer that question, but I can say that Get Well Soon is great nonfiction, combining extensive research with humor and attitude.  The focus is on human behavior in the face of epidemics, and how rational, calm, humane responses ameliorate conditions, regardless of the level of scientific knowledge.  If the book were lousy I would still like it for the terrific sketch of Father (now saint) Damien of Molokai, who ministered to the lepers on Hawaii's remote colony and who is one of humanity's greats.  But it's not a lousy book!  The thesis is well-supported, the information is fascinating, and the writing is zingy.  Highly recommended.

How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time: a Novel / Matt Haig, 325 p.

Like Dara Horn's Eternal Life, we have another novel in which a character has been alive far longer than he'd like.  In this case Tom, who grew up in Elizabethan England, has had enough of loving and leaving people, and of the effort involved in creating new identities in obscure pockets of the globe.  Worse still is his membership in the sinister Albatross Society, whose members share his condition and who police the planet for other potential members in order to keep the group 'safe' from the predations of witch-hunters and, in the modern era, genetic scientists.  When Tom meets French teacher Camille while working at a London school in the present day, he is forced to consider whether it isn't time to share his secret. Sweet and engaging.


Asymmetry: a Novel / Lisa Halliday, 275 p.

If you're reading this blog, you read a lot of books.  So do I.  And these days I find the single most important feature of a book  isn't beautiful writing, or great characters, or cultural resonance, or plot twists, or any other identifiable feature.  It's this: when I'm reading, is the outside world blocked out temporarily?  Do I keep reading long past bedtime? Do I turn pages without noticing?

The books that fill that particular bill are, these days, rare, but Asymmetry is one.  I can't tell you why.  We have two seemingly unrelated stories.  The first is the story of Alice, a young editor who has a long, sweet and complicated affair with a much older writer of the Updike-ish variety, set in approximately 2002.  The second story belongs to Amar, an academic Iraqi-American who spins out the narrative of his family while waiting in a Heathrow holding room while his passport is scrutinized, this in late 2008. 

The key that links these two unrelated people is certainly the title word, although that's an oversimplification.  The narratives are riddled with lopsided power relationships, but there's more at work here that I can't put my finger on.  Now that I've written my own review, I'm looking forward to reading what other readers think.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances

Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances by Leland Melvin, 241 pages. Narrated by Ron Butler.
Leland Melvin has lead an amazing and inspirational life. He has degrees in chemistry and in "materials science engineering," he played, briefly, in the NFL, and worked as a NASA astronaut, going on two shuttle flights. Along the way he also composed with Pharrell Williams, met the Obamas several times, and hosted a TV show.
He does a good job of sharing his inspirational story, emphasizing the roles of bot perseverance and serendipity in his life, and he gives a great deal of credit to his parents. A fun book to read or to listen to.


Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, 301 pages.

Jack, a pharma pirate in a dystopian future world, realizes that her life has changed for the worse when a bad batch of a  new proprietary drug she had reverse engineered seems to be behind a string of recent deaths. Jack makes her living stealing top-selling compounds of from big-pharma companies, and then figuring out how to manufacture those drugs herself. She focuses on popular new drugs like "Zacuity," a productivity enhancer. Once she can produce a copy, she sells them on the black market, and uses the rather large profits to fund the production of life-saving drugs for the poorer segments of the population.
A well-constructed world and a fast-paced plot make this a very good read. The audio is ably narrated by Jennifer Ikeda.

Stay with Me

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo, 260 pages.

Yejide and Akin met in college. They're leading a modern sort of life in Ilesa, Nigeria, and are as in love as they can be. But as the years go by and the couple has difficulty having children, secrets, betrayal and the ideas held by Akin's family drive some significant wedges between the two. As the couple eventually welcome children into their lives, tragic events, and some of Akin's family members, conspire to drive them further apart.
Beautifully drawn characters and an excellent sense of place make this a riveting novel.
The audio is narrated by the always excellent Adjoa Andoh.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Last Black Unicorn

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, 278 pages.

Tiffany Haddish's account of her life is both amazing and unique. She has had a surprisingly large amount of pain in her life. The accident that almost killed her mother, that led to Tiffany's stint in foster care, may have been part of a murder plot. That is unusual, and you know, might mess you up a bit. Part of the continued surprise of this book is that, as the author says and her co-writer states in the acknowledgements, Tiffany tells all the stories. She doesn't name names, but she does tell what happened, whether the stories present her in the best light or not. She tells the story of her marriage to an abusive stalker-ish ex-policeman, how he mistreated her, how he beat her, and she does a good job of explaining why she went back to him. Her account of her relationship with her co-worker Roscoe is also devastating, sad and, because she is telling the story, it's funny. The story of what she refers to as her most messed up relationship, with long time boyfriend Titus, is also a hilarious train-wreck. Train-wrecks, of course aren't funny. They're tragic. But if Tiffany Haddish was to tell you the story of a very tragic train-wreck, you would be laughing. A very interesting book. You really want everything to continue to work out for the author.

Lair of Dreams: A Diviners novel

Lair of Dreams: A Diviners Novel by Libba Bray, 613 pages.

Evie O'Neill is back in the second Diviners novel. She and all her friends battle a strange ghost that traps people in their dreams. The city is paralyzed by this sleeping sickness. Bray does a good job of presenting a diverse cast of characters, but they all lean somewhat towards melodrama. I had listened to the first diviners novel back in 2013 while I was wandering around Xian, so I have fond memories of that book. I listened to this one too, but it never really brought me in. I am kind of surprised that I listened to the third book too.
Capably narrated by January Levoy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, 90 pages

A young Namibian woman and mathematician, Binti is the first of the Himba people to be accepted to the prestigious Oomza University. Against her family's wishes, Binti boards a ship to another planet to attend the university. But before she can arrive at her dream university, the ship is attacked by the Meduse, a jellyfish-like race with a grudge against the Khoush, the human race that makes up the entire population of the ship, save Binti. What follows is a survival story, but also a story of identity, strength, heritage, and politics.

With a fairly simple plot and writing style, Okorafor packs quite the punch in these 90 pages. There's a lot to think about simmering below the surface — from race to cultural identity to microaggressions to family to individuality. I found it fascinating, and I can't wait to read the second volume. I'm also really looking forward to our discussion of this book at the Orcs & Aliens book group on Monday.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, 333 pages

Before I start my brief summary of this excellent novel, I'd like to direct your attention to the labels that accompany this blog post. That's a pretty crazy mix of stuff, right? Keep that in mind as I attempt to sum up a book and a world that's nearly impossible to describe in anything shorter than Gladstone's novel.

OK. Here goes nothing.

Shortly after her unceremonious "graduation" from the Hidden Schools of craft, Tara Abernathy is picked up by Craftwoman Elayne Kevarian to investigate the death of a god, Kos, on behalf of the clergy that leads the fire god's worshipers. But before they arrive, the man Tara and Ms. Kevarian were planning on consulting is found murdered with a blood-spattered gargoyle (hey, they're alive in this world!) standing over him. Soon, they're on a quest to solve the murders of both Ms. Kevarian's acquaintance and Kos, and, oh yeah, resurrect the god. To make everything even harder, throw in a powerful Craft rival, a vampire pirate, and a hardened agent of Justice who happens to be addicted to vampires.

That's a really poor description of the intricate world and characters that Gladstone created in this book. Suffice it to say that Gladstone's characters, world, and plot are all incredibly well conceived and realized and no secondhand description will suffice. It's just a great book.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente  247 pp.

September is a bored twelve year old girl who lives in Omaha. Her father is off fighting a war and her mother works in a factory. One night the Green Wind comes to her window and offers to take her to Fairyland on the back of his leopard. Thus begins the fanciful story of the girl's magical travels in the land of mysterious beings and a young, but evil Marquess. After September befriends a friendly Wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library) named A-through-L and a Marid named Saturday. the Marquess takes them prisoner and forces September to do her bidding in exchange for their release. Fairyland is full of many magical beings including a golem made of soap (named Lye, of course), the Nasnas who have only the right or left half of a body, sentient antique furniture, and others. The story is convoluted while still maintaining a discernible course and the ending obviously is set up for a sequel. There are now five books in the series.

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, 482 pages

This third Peter Pan prequel from Barry and Pearson finds Peter once again helping out Molly and the Starcatchers, this time traveling to the desert country of Rundoon, where the diabolical Emperor Zarboff... well, honestly I can't exactly remember what he was trying to do, just that it involved starstuff, monkeys, and a rocket. Oh, and he had Peter's orphan pals as slaves. Really, at this point, the plot doesn't matter as much as the fact that the story makes my family laugh, especially when there's a flying ship and Captain Hook running around in his underpants involved.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February totals!

Christa  11/2858
Jan  3/846
Kara  10/2921
Karen C  5/2069
Kathleen  3/902
Linda  4/1111
Patrick  4/1379

TOTAL:  40/12,086

"Dreaming The Beatles: The Love Story Of One Band And The Whole World” By Rob Sheffield

As Rolling Stone writer and novelist Rob Sheffield reminds us, the influence of The Beatles in today’s modern music world cannot be understated.

Fascinated by the cultural legacy of the Fab Four, Sheffield explores theme from multiple angles, resulting in 35 pointed and informative essays that sift through the detritus of distorted facts, myths and legends of the last five decades to provide readers with a comprehensive history of the band and why they still matter.

Sheffield, (who also authored “Love is A Mixtape” and “Talking To Girls About Duran Duran” takes us along for the band’s  worldwide ascent to cultural eternity without being over gracious or heavy handed.

Sheffield also digs into how their music was created musically and philosophically, recognizing that The Beatles never shied away from trying ‘difficult things’ as artists. For Sheffield, The Beatles defied the confines of pop music composition while also taking risks with their adventurous album production.

All of this makes for a fascinating study of how the band absorbed their influences and then siphoned them into their music. “Dreaming The Beatles” is loaded with interesting bits and pieces about the making of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “The White Album” the tenuous “Let It Be” and the messy skirmishes with Capitol Records over the of the American release ofRevolver.”

The book also represents a time capsule for Sheffield who vividly recounts his experiences with the music of The Beatles and how it lives inside of him today.

Charming, informative and affectionate “Dreaming The Beatles” examines how the Liverpool Lads conquered the world and why they remain so endearing to generations of fans around the world whose adoration, curiosity and devotion has never wavered.

Depeche Mode "Monument" by Dennis Burmeister and Sascha Lange

Depeche Mode
Dennis Burmeister & Sascha Lange
Akashic Books

Anytime a band gets the coffee table treatment it’s a pretty big deal.  These monstrosities often legitimize a legaxy of sorts while also serving as a special treat for long time fans.

This brings us to “Monument” a massive examination of all things Depeche Mode compiled by German uber designer Burmeister and Lange, a fellow fan and historian of contemporary youth culture.

Together the tandem has given fans an ultra-detailed visual representation of Depeche Mode’s work nestled alongside articles chronicling their history. More than a simple scrapbook, the book gathers a concise narrative beginning with their formation in Basildon to the present.  Within its pages are the authors collection of promo photos, artwork, press releases and concert posters, each used to frame
the complicated and turbulent history of Depeche Mode.

“Monument” also examines creative process for each album, concert video and world tour. It also dives into the prickly terrain of why Vincent Clarke and Alan Wilder left the band. If that was not enough it also dives into their respective side project and solo work.

Originally released in Germany, “Monument” is equal parts recollection and affection, spanning the band’s origins in synth pop to their evolution as a post-punk trio whose grimy beats have signified multiple shifts in sound.

“Monument” also documents the relationship between the band and their fans via a presentation of nearly every aspect of their recorded catalogue (albums, singles, remixes and promos).

Stuffed with information and glossy design, “Monument” goes out of its way to please both casual fans and serious collectors.