Thursday, April 19, 2018

All the pieces matter

All the pieces matter: the inside story of The Wire / Jonathan Abrams, 345 pgs.

If you love The Wire, then this is a great book for you.  This oral history is a compilations of interviews of many members of the cast, crew, and creators.  It is not something to read if you have not watched the series because it contains an enormous amount of spoilers. The series is considered by many to be the finest to ever air on television but received very little acclaim when it was on the air and was up for only a few awards.  Remarkable writing and acting elevated the stories, each season with a different focus but all set in Baltimore.  Reading this makes me want to re-watch it all from the beginning. 

Bingo Love

Bingo Love / Tee Freanklin, Jenn St-Onge & Joy San, 88 pgs.

Hazel and Mari meet in 1963 as kids at a church bingo.  They are immediately drawn to each other and become best friends. Hazel is interested in more but doesn't want to ruin what they have.  When they are a bit older, (teens), they both realize they have the same feelings.  But their love isn't accepted by their families and they are driven apart.  Both marry and have families and reconnect many years later.  After finding each other again, they decide to divorce their husbands and make a life together.  Making up for lost time, they eventually are accepted by their families and live out their lives together.  A bittersweet story of true love with beautiful art.

The last black unicorn

The last black unicorn / Tiffany Haddish, 278 pgs.

Vanity Fair calls Haddish the "funniest person alive right now" and after listening to her memoir, it is easy to agree with this assessment.  Here Haddish tells about her childhood struggles, her mom's mental illness and her time in the foster care system.  She seems to have no problem triumphing over all of the bad times and and now seeing some of the good times.  Along the way, we hear about her relationships, her family, and her love of dropping the f-bomb.  Listening to even the bad stuff is pretty fun in her voice.  Looks like we will be seeing lots more of this hilarious performer.

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, 661 pages

Small-town innkeeper Kote has a secret. Turns out he's really Kvothe, a man of near-mythical stature throughout the land. People tell stories of the time that he called down a demon to eat up a man who threatened to stab him in a public square if he didn't give up his horse (or perhaps it was a purse of coins in a darkened alley? or maybe it wasn't a demon, but just thunder and lightning?). They tell of his saving a whole town from a ravaging dragon, of singing and performing on a lute so well as to soften the hardest of hearts, of rescuing a woman from a horrific fire and returning her to safety unscathed, and hundreds of other tales.

Who knows how true these stories are? Only Kvothe. And he's ready to tell the tale.

The Name of the Wind is a big doorstop of a book, but it's a story so well-spun that it goes quickly. While parts of this story reminded me of Harry Potter and The Magicians, it bears a much stronger resemblance to Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, both in format as a life story and in many of its elements — childhood tragedy and poverty, an idealized young woman, and an utterly loathsome adversary, among others. It's incredible that this is a debut novel. I'm excited to read the rest of Kvothe's story, which continues in The Wise Man's Fear and the as-yet-unpublished rest of this series.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Even the Dead

Even the Dead: a Quirke Novel / Benjamin Black, 287 p.

Black is the pen name of the acclaimed Irish writer John Banville, a fact it took me a long time to figure out.  His detective is Dublin pathologist Quirke, who at the novel's opening is recovering from neurological damage resulting from being thrown down the steps by thugs (in an earlier novel, presumably).  When a young man is found dead in a fiery car crash and his assistant discovers that his head was bashed in prior to the car crash, Quirke returns from his semi-retired state to investigate.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Enemies, a Love Story

Enemies, a Love Story / Isaac Bashevis Singer, 280 p.

Our April read for the Classics Book Group, this is a darkly funny novel of Herman Broder, an immigrant from Poland now living in 1949 Brooklyn with the pleasures and problems of three wives.  Singer twists a fairly standard situation-comedy setup by making Herman and his three wives all immigrants more or less forced to New York by the Holocaust and its aftermath.  Herman, whose entire family perished,  spent the war hiding in a hayloft, where he was protected by his family's Polish maid, Yadwiga.  He has now married her out of gratitude.  Alas, he can't keep his hands off Masha, who spent years in the camps with her mother, and who is seriously damaged as a result.  Then there's Tamara, Herman's original wife and the mother of his murdered children.  Herman was told she had been killed, but she emerges, having spent years in one of Stalin's labor camps.  Written first in Yiddish and made into a film of the same name.

White tears

White tears / Hari Kunzru, 271 pgs.

Seth is a "nobody."  Socially awkward, almost friendless but into recording and music.  He is befriended by Carter, a trust fund kid who wants for nothing.  They end up in New York and open a recording studio.  It is difficult for Carter to focus on anything but his rare record collection, Seth is trying to run a business.  When Carter becomes obsessed with a recording that Seth made on the street, he loses touch with reality a bit and Seth is left to deal with a parade of interesting and odd people who appear.  A second story is interwoven as one character tells a story of his youth and obsession with blues records whose road trip in the 50's is re-enacted by Seth and Carter's sister.  Symbolic and trippy, it is impossible at times to tell what is real and what is a hallucination.  Not an easy read but interesting.  Not totally sure I understand it but no regrets.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Echo Park

Echo Park / Michael Connelly, read by Len Cariou, 405 p.

Harry Bosch and FBI agent Rachel Walling hunt down an active serial killer while Harry also tries to solve an old case, the disappearance of a young woman. 

Trust No Aunty

Trust No Aunty / Maria Qamar, 178 p.

Qamar is a South Asian artist raised in Canada.  Her graphic novel is a humorous look at growing up in a western country while being part of a traditional family.  An auntie might be an actual aunt, an older cousin, your mother's friend, neighbor, or just a random woman, but she's always got advice for you.  Fun, quick, and enlightening, my favorite section was WTF is "curry," in which she makes fun of Americans and Canadians for what they think they know about South Asian cuisine.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal  298 pp.

This book could have been titled "Erotic Stories BY Punjabi Widows" since that is what happens in the story. Nikki, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is a modern London girl who tries to distance herself from the traditional Sikh culture of her parents. While performing a favor for her sister who has suddenly decided to seek an arranged marriage, Nikki sees a want ad for a writing teacher. What she ends up with is a group of Sikh widows who are expecting to learn basic English, not how to write short stories. But these women have outlandish imaginations and the stories they begin to tell are racy ones. There is danger in these stories from a Sikh men's group who use threats and violence to keep people on a conservative Sikh path. There is also the mystery surrounding the death of a young woman in the community and Nikki's own love story. There is a lot going on in this novel which is entertaining but briefly bogs down in the middle. The writing class widows are very entertaining and the results of their efforts has a positive ending.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mrs. Fletcher

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta (2017) 307 pages

Mrs. Fletcher is a novel for those times when one isn't in need of deep meaning or strong characters. The point of view shifts, switching mostly between that of Eve Fletcher, a 46 year-old divorcee who is sending her only son off to college, and Brendan Fletcher, her son, who is not ready to take his college education seriously.  Peripheral characters include a trans woman who is teaching a course Eve is taking at her local community college; Amanda, a young woman working to present programs at the senior center that Eve directs; Julian, a high school classmate of Brendan's who was traumatized by an event right before his senior year started; and Amber, a student at Brendan's university who, like him, has an autistic sibling.

Eve spends a lot of time trying to explore her sexuality by visiting porn sites and studying videos to learn how to interact with potential partners. Brendan, who was hoping to find a smorgasbord of sexual offerings at college, finds himself isolated and feeling outcast. The story takes us along to see how their decisions pan out.

A Novena for Murder

A Novena for Murder by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie (1984) 232 pages

Always on the lookout for mystery series that I haven't read, I happened upon this Sister Mary Helen Mystery, and it did not disappoint. Our protagonist is a 75 year-old nun who has recently been transferred to a Catholic women's college near San Francisco. A few days after she met a history professor, he is found dead after a mild earthquake, done in by a heavy statue on his bookshelf. Sister Mary Helen, who makes the call to the police, finds herself learning all she can about the case when his death is ruled a homicide.

Sister Mary Helen's propensity to judge potential suspects by their eyes is reminiscent of Agatha Christy's Miss Marple, as is her careful reasoning, with a tiny hint of busybody thrown in for good measure. The police investigators, Kate Murphy and Dennis Gallagher are believably portrayed, as is the live-in boyfriend of Detective Murphy. The author, Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, did not shy away from depicting their home sharing without the benefit of marriage. The author has passed on, but the other 10 books she wrote in this series have caught my interest.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Dogist Puppies

The Dogist Puppies / Elias Weiss Friedman, 303 p.

The cover pretty much says it all here.  Almost as good as chocolate or wine, and no calories!

The Trespasser

The Trespasser: a Novel / Tana French, read by Hilda Fay, 449 p.

Featuring Dublin Murder Squad detective Antoinette Conway solving the murder of  the young and pretty Aislinn Murray, found dead in her flat.  All signs point to the new boyfriend, but Antoinette Conway isn't convinced.  A well-constructed case with a satisfying resolution, but for my taste there was too much emphasis placed on Conway's struggles with her fellow detectives. 

The Black Box

The Black Box: a Novel / Michael Connelly, read by Michael McConnohie, 403 p.

Harry Bosch's work in the LAPD's Open Unsolved Unit leads him to a case that originated during the Los Angeles riots.  A Danish journalist was found murdered during the riots and the case was never solved. Harry's work leads in unexpected directions.

The Crossing

The Crossing: a Novel / Michael Connelly, read by Titus Welliver , 388 p.

Harry Bosch is retired from the LAPD and working as a private detective when he gets a plea from his half-brother Mickey Haller, known as Lincoln Lawyer.  Mickey needs Harry's help in proving the innocence of his client.

The Burning Room

The Burning Room: a Novel / Michael Connelly, read by Titus Welliver, 388 p.

Harry Bosch works with his new LAPD partner Lucia Soto to solve a murder in which the victim, a mariachi player, dies 9 years after being shot.  The case is cold but not so cold that Harry can't solve it...

The Wrong Side of Good-Bye

The Wrong Side of Good-Bye: a Bosch Novel / Michael Connelly, read by Titus Welliver,  392 p.

Harry Bosch hunts for the possible long-lost heir to the fortune of a reclusive, Howard Hughes-like figure, while also working as a volunteer for the small police department of San Fernando, where he tracks a nasty serial rapist.  Titus Welliver is my favorite Connelly reader.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Narrows

The Narrows: a Harry Bosch Novel, read by Len Cariou, 404 p.

Harry Bosch: Michael Connelly and Harry Bosch don't need me to sing their praises, but I'll do it anyway.  When I first tried a Bosch novel a few years ago, I found Harry a bit too aggressive, brusque and humorless for my taste.  Now this LA detective, aggressive, brusque, humorless and fanatical in his pursuit of justice and eradication of evil, is just what I need.  His cases are complex but not far-fetched, and do a terrific job of highlighting corruption in the police, Los Angeles municipal government, the FBI, and, occasionally, the military.  Better still is Connelly's astute portrayal of the ways that pettiness, cowardice and overblown ambition - in the police and elsewhere - make things easier for the real bad guys to operate.  I love the sense of place here, a smoggy, grubby, but still glamorous Los Angeles, and Harry's complicated relationships with his daughter and co-workers.  Bibliotherapy for a bad-guy era.

The Narrows: Harry and FBI colleague Rachel Walling pursue serial killer The Poet into the Nevada desert and beyond.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Dune by Frank Herbert  883 pp.

This is and probably will always be my favorite science fiction novel. I first read it when I was in college and used to get it out every five years or so to re-read. It has been a much longer time since the last time I read it so this time I opted for the audio version with multiple voiced narration by some of the experts in the trade: Scott Brick, Simon Vance, Orlagh Cassidy, and others. Once again I lost myself in the tale of the desert planet Arrakis, addictive spice, the battle between the ruling royal houses, enormous sand worms, and the religious fervor surrounding the messianic Paul Muad'dib. It seems the 21 hours of listening flew by. Dune is also the source for the mantra that got me through cancer treatment:
"I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."

Laura & Emma

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead, 334 pages

Laura grew up in the lap of luxury in New York City's Upper East Side, going to a private girls' school, getting a cushy job planning events at a private library supported by her uber-wealthy family. And then, when she's in her 30s, Laura has a one-night-stand that results in the birth of Emma. Against all expectations, Laura assumes the life of a single mom and raises her daughter in the same high society in which she was brought up (though she does try to infuse as much of her liberal mindset as possible in her daughter).

In her debut novel, Greathead offers up not one, but two coming-of-age stories: that of Emma and that of her mother, who takes most of Emma's childhood to really figure out who she really is. It's an interesting story, told in short vignettes representing most years between 1980 and 1995. Through this construction, the reader never really gets to know any of the characters closely; instead, they're more like casual acquaintances you keep bumping into over many years. But there's plenty to think about regarding Laura's social status and the politics of the era, sprinkled with Greathead's dry humor. I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, 449 pages

Malcolm is an 11-year-old boy, living in Oxford, helping his parents out at their inn and pub, and floating along the neighboring river on his trusty canoe. But when a mysterious baby is dropped off with the nuns of the neighboring priory at the same time that a militant religious group starts recruiting members at his elementary school, Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, suspect something is up. Before long, Malcolm is feeding information to a spy while keeping a close watch on the baby, Lyra, going so far as to take her away in his boat when Oxford experiences the worst flood it has ever seen.

This is the first book in Pullman's companion series to His Dark Materials, and readers of that series will definitely recognize Lyra from that trilogy. As the first book in this trilogy, the book closes with more questions than it started, and I can only hope that the answers will reveal themselves in upcoming volumes. Because this one was good, and I can't wait to read the next one.

Bingo Love

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin  84 pp.

This small graphic novel tells the bittersweet story of Hazel and Mary who meet as teenagers while at Bingo with their grandmothers. The girls fall in love but their parents drive them apart. They meet again fifty years later, again at Bingo, and their romance is rekindled. Sweet, sad, & touching.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleansing: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson  118 pp.

I am currently in the midst of clearing out my late mother's home of 63 years as well as trying to clear out my own home to downsize. There are plenty of helpful tips, the most important being that your children don't want your old crap. Christa reviewed this book previously and has pretty much covered it, including my favorite quote from the book. In spite of the title, there is nothing morbid about it.

The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin

Would you want to know the exact date of your death?  Perhaps the four Gold children were too young to understand the consequences of learning their death dates from a mysterious fortune teller.  The oldest, Varya, is only thirteen. Eleven-year-old Daniel, the next in line, has overheard people talking about this psychic and thinks they, including Klara, nine, and Simon, just seven, should pay her a visit.  Varya is relieved to learn that she will live to be 88, but the others are more reluctant to share their dates.  The book follows their lives, some short.  Simon at sixteen runs off with eighteen-year-old Klara to San Francisco, where he will fall victim to the emerging AIDS epidemic and Klara will seek to make her name as a magician.  Daniel becomes a doctor, and as a scientist, thinks he will escape the fate assigned to him – but like an appointment in Samarra, it finds him.  Varya copes by also becoming a scientist who studies longevity using primates as research models.  An odd book.  343 pp.

The long way home, by Louise Penny

Surely you didn’t think that Inspector Gemache was going to be able to relax into a peaceful retirement in Three Pines after the dramatic conclusion of the previous book.  Of course not.  Reluctantly he and Jean-Guy Beauvoir are drawn into a troubling local event.  Their friend, the artist Clara Morrow, is worried that her husband, Peter, hasn’t shown up as they had agreed on the one year anniversary of their separation.  Regardless of whether the meeting would have led to a reconciliation or not, she is certain he wouldn’t miss their reunion unless something was badly wrong.  Onward.  373 pp.