Monday, August 13, 2018

Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, 466 pages

Once upon a time, a young woman took over her father's faltering money-lending business, and turned out to be much better at the business than him. One day in the forest, the young woman exclaimed that she could turn silver into gold (metaphorically speaking, of course), but an evil king of winter overheard her and kidnapped her on the basis of her alchemical powers.

Once upon a time, the quiet daughter of a duke spent her days in the upper rooms of a castle, awaiting the day that her father and stepmother would marry her off to some distant lord for some political advantage or another. One day, a jeweler came to the duke and sold him some powerful silver jewelry, which the duke used to make a match between the quiet girl and the diabolical tsar.

Both of these stories come together in Novik's Spinning Silver, a fairytale that weaves together Jewish tradition, Eastern European mythology, and more than a bit of feminism through two excellent central characters in Miryem (the moneylender) and Irina (the duke's daughter). I loved the story told here, though Novik's use of shifting first-person perspectives would've been easier to handle had she labeled the sections. But that's a minor quibble with an otherwise wonderful book.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

There There

There There by Tommy Orange, 290 pages.
Through the efforts of a lot of people the Big Oakland Powwow is coming. The characters in Orange's first novel, interrelated in a bunch of different ways, all have their own reasons for heading to A's stadium to participate in this event. Jacquie Red Feather and her younger sister, Viola Victoria Bear Shield, are at the nexus of the novel, and we follow their lives, and the lives of their friends and family, back and forward to see where they have been and where they are going.
Orvil Red Feather and his brothers Loother and Lony live with their grandmother's sister and learn about Native culture from Youtube videos. Tony Loneman struggles with the way people perceive his off-kilter features and the actions he takes. Blue and Edwin both have worked hard to get the Powwow off the ground and they both make unexpected connections there.
A really good book with a few minor flaws; for instance I don't think that 3D printed guns without metal parts are currently capable of semi-auto fire.The book flows along nicely, but the cast of characters in this engaging novel are the best part.


Temperance by Cathy Malkasin, 240 pages.
Pa has convinced everyone that there is an invading enemy who will soon kill them all. He convinces everyone to build the fortress Blessedbowl and to isolate themselves inside. Minerva, one of the children closest to Pa, leads the inhabitants in the years after Blessedbowl is sealed off from the outside world. She builds upon Pa's lies in order to keep the life she has built with Lester from falling apart.
Interesting story and well-done black and white art.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova  210 pp.

The best description for this is middle school angst in graphic novel form. Penelope "Peppi" has a list of "Cardinal Rules for Surviving School" as she begins her first day at a new school. Things immediately go wrong when she trips into a nerdy boy named Jaime and then ends up shoving him when he tries to help her. She really wants to apologize but doesn't have the nerve to approach him. She eventually settles in with a group of friends in the Art Club. But Art Club is in conflict with Science Club, of which Jaime is a member, and things rapidly escalate. Things are ultimately resolved (no spoilers).

Bad News

Bad News (the Patrick Melrose novels book two) by Edward St. Aubyn  256 pp.

One thing positive about this collection of novels is that they very quick to get through. In this one Patrick is in his early twenties. He has traveled to New York City to retrieve the ashes of his late father who everyone tells him was such a wonderful person. A majority of the book is Patrick's out of control drug use and/or his attempts to procure drugs and he takes an insane amount of drugs. The only redeeming quality of the story are his internal stream on consciousness monologues that are intriguing and sometimes humorous. While so far, I'm not fond of this series, I understand that they are the perfect vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch's style of acting. So I soldier on to book three.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Natural Causes

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich, 234 pages

Barbara Ehrenreich has a bit of a beef with the medical industry, and in Natural Causes, she lays it all out. From anti-aging products to unnecessary medical tests to restrictive diets and exercise regimens meant to "add years to your life," Ehrenreich pokes holes in all of them, focusing on the central idea of aging comfortably while realizing that we're all going to die anyway. While I appreciated Ehrenreich's many feminist takes on medical history, as well as her dry sense of humor while discussing the whole "anti-aging" industry, I felt that these belonged to a completely different book from the cell biology that makes up almost half of the volume. That said, I did enjoy this book, and would recommend it to those who are fed up with all of the contradictory health advice we receive on a daily basis.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Never Mind

Never Mind  (the Patrick Melrose novels book one) by Edward St. Aubyn  208 pp.

I started on this pentalogy before tackling the Showtime series "Patrick Melrose" starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This first book was quite dull until about half way through. In it we are introduced to  Patrick Melrose, the child, who lives with his horrible parents. His father is abusive to both his wife and son, and anyone else he can get away with. Patrick's beloved mother is an alcoholic who drinks because her husband is so awful to her. She is clueless about the seriousness of the abuse to Patrick. The couple socializes with several equally messed up people who end up looking saint-like in comparison to Patrick's father. It is a scathing assailment on the European upper classe. Apparently this series is semi-autobiographical and St. Aubyn uses this volume to suggest a cause for Patrick's problems in adulthood.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926) 221 pages

This is one of the few books by Agatha Christie where I remembered who the murderer was. Even though I've now read it at least three times, I continue to enjoy this Hercule Poirot mystery.

Doctor James Sheppard is a friend of Roger Ackroyd, who is killed with a Tunisian dagger from his own collection. When Ackroyd's niece pleads with Poirot to take the case, he agrees to come out of retirement in this small village called King's Abbot. Instead of Poirot's longtime associate Hastings narrating this story, Doctor Sheppard tells the story of the murder investigation. It's a tale not only of murder, but also blackmail, suicide and a missing person. We see Poirot's meticulous use of his "little grey cells" (plus his somewhat over-sized ego) to sort it all out. If you read it, you'll see why it's such a memorable book.

Red Joan

Red Joan / Jennie Rooney, 390 p.

Inspired by the true story of an English spy for the Soviets who was unmasked at the age of 87.  Joan studies physics at Cambridge in the 30s and meets charismatic cousins Leo and Sonya, Russian-born and dedicated to the Communist cause.  Joan is sympathetic to the ideology but is also entranced by her new friends.  During the war she takes a job in a secret lab dedicated to producing a British atomic bomb, and gradually Joan succumbs to her friends' pressure to help the Russians obtain their own weapon.  Well plotted and told, but the science reads at a middle-school level, making it hard to believe that Joan could really be a scientist.  There is also one historical howler: Rooney apparently believes that it was Hoover who dropped the bomb rather than the man from Missouri.  Otherwise very enjoyable historical fiction and soon to be a film starring Judi Dench.


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think / Hans Rosling,  342 p.

"How many of the world's one-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?

20 percent
50 percent
80 percent"

Rosling spent his career accumulating and disseminating statistical information about world health and living standards, and in so doing he learned that a lot of us have a pessimistic view of things that doesn't square with reality.  He formulated a short quiz of questions like the one above, and found that the great majority of "developed world" citizens (a descriptor he would like to eliminate) score worse than chimpanzees.  His concern is that this skewed worldview effects decisions and planning within governmental and business organizations to everyone's detriment.  Why, for example, are Kotex and other companies that manufacture sanitary products striving mightily to craft new products to appeal to the US and European market, when there are really no new customers to be gained there?  They should instead be focusing on developing cheaper but still effective products for the African and Asian market, where there is currently a massive upswing in the numbers of women leaving home to go to school and work.  The book is full of such observations, as well as persuasive data and illustrative anecdotes.  Very strongly recommended. 


Dietland / Sarai Walker, 310 pgs.

Plum has spent her life being fat but now she is scheduled for surgery.  Once she gets the surgery, she will lost lots of weight, wear stylish clothing and go by her given name, Alicia.  Plum works for a fashion magazine but she works from home.  She responds to letters sent to her boss by young women and girls who have a variety of problems.  She isn't an advice columnist, she responds directly to the emails in the "voice" of Kitty, her boss.  One day, it registers with Plum that she is being followed.  She ends up getting involved in a feminist group and moving into a house that used to serve wayward teens.  She starts a new program that really focuses on life changes.  She starts seeing herself as a person, not just a fat person.  In other world news, a radical group is forcing changes in advertising and publishing.  No more sexist photos of women only.  Is this movement related to the group Plum is living with?  What does it all mean?  You won't get any spoilers from me.  Read it yourself!

The infographic guide to personal finance

The infographic guide to personal finance: a visual reference for everything you need to know / Michele Cagan & Elisabeth Lariviere, 127 pgs.

An interesting way to look at personal finance, a topic so few seem to find interesting.  This is so visually attractive, it might trick you into learning something!  This book would go great with "The index card: why personal finance doesn't have to be complicated" for people who are starting to get their personal finances in order and looking towards their financial future.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Strange Practice

Strange Practice: A Dr. Greta Helsing novel by Vivian Shaw  385 pp.

Dr. Greta Helsing has the unusual medical practice of treating the undead seeing a variety of supernatural creatures like vampires, ghouls, banshees, mummies, etc. When a mysterious cult targets both the living and the undead she sets about to stop them before they destroy her practice and her undead friends. When they come for her, it becomes personal. The premise of this book is great, the execution not quite. There's nothing wrong with the story or the writing but I finished reading with the feeling that it could have been so much more. The ending is an obvious lead to a second book.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Blueberry Muffin Murder

Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joann Fluke (2002) 328 pages

Continuing my quest to check out mystery series that I'm unfamiliar with, I chose this one, the third in the Hannah Swenson Mystery series. Hannah Swenson owns a shop called The Cookie Jar, located in a small town in bitterly cold Minnesota. The town has prepared for a Winter Carnival, which is ready to get underway when a famous guest, Connie Mac--who has a cable TV cooking show--comes to town to support a fundraiser. Connie Mac disappoints people when they quickly realize that she is not the amiable person she appears to be on her show. When she is murdered in Hannah's shop, Hannah (of course!) tries to learn who the murderer could be. Meanwhile, Hannah's affections are torn between two men; the town's chief detective and the town's dentist. (Always need to have that sexual tension going on!) Hannah's sister Andrea, a real estate agent, is very helpful to Hannah, while their mother is definitely not.

After a slow first chapter, the book's pace picked up and kept me interested through to the end. It was a bonus to have 8 recipes in the book. I'm open to reading more from this series.


Provenance by Ann Leckie, 439 pages

In an attempt to get her mother's attention and prove that she's a capable adult, Ingray makes the risky move of buying a political opponent's child out of prison, sure that she can maneuver this act into the recovery of stolen artifacts and ensure her mother's political prowess. Things don't exactly go to plan, however, and Ingray and the former prisoner find themselves mired in a controversy that involves murder and several species of angry aliens.

This was a much lighter book than I expected, given the weight of Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I very much enjoyed the characters, particularly Ingray, whose vulnerabilities and stubbornness rang incredibly true to me. I can't wait to discuss this next week for the Orcs & Aliens book group!

West winging it

West winging it: an un-presidential memoir / Pat Cunnane, 310 pgs.

The inside scoop from a kid who started as an intern and worked his way up to a writer for President Obama.  Pat Cunane has a wonderful ability to make fun of himself while appreciating every minute spent in the White House but never overselling his importance.  I loved the "little stories" the best.  Once Pat slammed a door in VP Biden's face and then apologized to his assistant.  He hesitated to be in the frame of a picture taken of his fiance and the president, just in case their relationship didn't work out (he sweetly wanted HER to have a memory with the president).  The attempt to get Pope Francis to bless him by sneezing in his presence is pure genius.  Traveling with the president and wrangling the press sounds like a job only for the young and agile. Not a hard hitting political story, but very fun to read.

Last things

Last things: a graphic memoir of loss and love / Marissa Moss, 173 pgs.

A personal story of the author's struggles when her husband was diagnosed with a very fast moving type of ALS. The struggle to cope with the diagnosis is made worse by the speed of decline.  With three young sons, the world is turned upside down very quickly.  The reaction of the author and her husband were very different.  He refused to accept help and threw himself into finishing his life long project, a scholarly book that he had been working on for sixteen years.  The book took priority over his family and that decision left a lot of hurt for years to come.  Of course the author knew her husband loved her and the kids but just couldn't deal with the situation.  However, the kids were too young to understand. This is one of those stories you hope to never be able to relate to very closely.  Beautifully done.


#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line by David Hogg and Lauren Hogg, 165 pages

David and Lauren Hogg are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the February 14 mass shooting that killed 17 of their classmates and spawned the March For Our Lives movement. In this short book, the siblings candidly discuss their experiences before, during, and after the shooting, including their roles in the now-nationwide movement for stricter gun control. While it's heart-wrenching to read, it is encouraging to hear them discuss this topic in their own voices and with such poise. Here's to their generation and the power they bring with them: may you accomplish what so many have failed to do before!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, 334 pages.
An absolutely riveting account of the author's live growing up in an isolated home on a mountain in Idaho. Westover's parent's are super-devout Mormons. Maybe theirs was moreof a sort of a family-only splinter group, since Westover's father seems to disagree with everyone about what it is, precisely, that God wants from his flock.

Westover is a compelling storyteller, taking the reader past the edge of comfort, as she recounts scenes of violence and tragedy she encountered in her family life. Early on, I found myself hoping that Westover was another James Frey, making up the horror out of whole-cloth, or at least exaggerating, but that seems not to be the case, and I was soon caught up in the story, believing it all, especially as family member started telling their own versions of the same stories.
A great read.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

How to stop time

How to stop time / Matt Haig, read by Mark Meadows

A charming book about Tom, a guy who ages but after about age 10, he ages VERY slowly.  He figures about one year for every 15 years so at 439, he looks like he is nearing 40.  His first job was playing the lute in the orchestra of some young playwright named Shakespeare and he has learned to play another 25 instruments or so. There is an organization for people like him that help him relocate and get new identification papers, etc. every 8 years are so.  In present day, he is a HS history teacher.  He is able to really sell history since, in reality, he has lived much of it. After a rough start he excels at connecting with his students. Of course there is other drama, love and a re-connection with an old friend and his daughter.  The audio version is a lot of fun.

One great line, "I have no idea if anything I have said to Anton has got through.  I have only been alive for four hundred and thirty-nine years, which is of course nowhere near long enough to understand the minimal facial expressions of the average teenage boy."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Other Woman

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva  476 pp.

This is the 18th book in the Gabriel Allon series and no, Gabriel is not having an affair although the title might suggest that. Silva has looked to the past to create a story of Russian double agents within Britain's MI6 intelligence organization. In 1963, Kim Philby defected to the U.S.S.R. after being one of a handful of Soviet spies working within British Intelligence. Fast forward to the current day and Philby's legacy is in line to become the next head of MI6. After a disastrous defection attempt by a Russian agent brings Israeli Intelligence under fire, Allon, now the head of Mossad, becomes directly involved in the investigation which just might destroy his career and that of Graham Seymour, head of MI6. I am a big fan of the Allon series but this is not my favorite. I can't say exactly what the problem is with this one, but it seems as if something was missing. However, one brief sentence points to the possibility of this enemy reentering Allon's life. And once again I will wait another year for the next installment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

July totals!

Friendly reminder that we only have ONE MONTH LEFT to get extra points for pirate books and
books with names in the title, so if you've read anything that fits either of those criteria, BLOG ABOUT IT. (And not just on a Wednesday.)

Christa  17/4405
Jan  7/1691
Kara  13/3752
Karen C  8/3119
Kathleen  7/1968
Linda  4/1432
Patrick  22/7178

Total: 78/23,545