Friday, October 19, 2018

Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House

Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman, 334 pages.
Other than as a Trump surrogate on the campaign trail and then as a person that people I paid attention to were maligning and making fun of, I was unaware of Omarosa. I had never watched The Apprentice (yes, I am bragging about that) and I was unaware of Omarosa's many other accomplishments. I did start the book with a bias against Omarosa, based on her pro-Trump stance and the things people I like and respect said about her, I found myself believing the author a bit after listening to her narrate this book.. She is obviously a smart woman, and she is used to controlling the narrative and convincing people of what she wants them to believe, and though she has an enthusiasm for reality TV and a poor choice in mentors, she comes across as an honest person who has seen the light about Donald's douche-baggery. As the Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, Omarosa is able to give us well-formed opinions about Trump, Pence, Kellyanne, Bannon, and others. While she claims to have lingering respect for some members of Trump's inner circle, Melania, and to some extent Eric, she is now willing to acknowledge that the Trump side is dishonest, cult-like and that Trump is a sexual abuser and that he definitely said the n-word. More interesting than I thought it would be.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

Charlotte Walsh likes to win / Jo Piazza, read by Tavia Gilbert, 310 pgs.

Charlotte Walsh worked her way out of her small town, blue collar beginnings and is a big wig at a California tech company.  She decides that her ability to fix problems is enough of a reason to return home to Pennsylvania and run against the long-time senator of the state.  Surprised by just how quickly the race gets down and dirty, she doubles down and puts her marriage and family at risk.  A timely story of a woman's ambition and politics, Piazza does not shirk from the personal.  Tavia Gilbert does a wonderful job with the audio book making it hard to stop listening.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, 327 pages.
So I am the last one I know among the readers with whom I work to read Eleanor Oliphant. Here is what LindaKathleenChrista, and Kara all had to say about it.
Eleanor, a woman who had had a horrific childhood, slowly comes to a sense of her life over the course of this book. She discovers that she can move on after a disappointing obsession with a local semi-celebrity, and she learns to start interacting with her co-workers. With the help of her new friends and the advice they give, she slowly puts some of her past behind her.
I listened to this book, mainly because I am listening to a lot of books this year, and I really enjoyed Cathleen McCarron's narration. McCarron does a wonderful job showing the cold and distant Oliphant's depth and her hidden warmth.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

West

West / Carys Davies, read by Robert Fass, 149 pgs.

Mule breeder John Cyrus Bellman is itching to find the large animals he has read about.  Bones have been found.  Bellman is a widower and single father of Bess, a 10 year old girl.  She can not join the adventure so is left with Bellman's sister.  Bellman takes out west in a quest that covers uncharted territory and Bess stays home to her own adventure...that of becoming a woman.  The story goes back and forth between the two main characters.  As things go along, we see Bellman as a bit foolish and Bess rightfully wary, but then it all comes together boldly.  I enjoyed the audio book but much is made of Bellman's English origin, I'm not sure this reader captured his essence. 

The PMS Murder

The PMS Murder by Laura Levine (2006) 245 pages


Installment #5 of the Jaine Austen Mystery series, a series new to me, provided just the lightness I was looking for on a day home with a virus. Jaine Austen, a freelance writer in Los Angeles, is living on a shoestring with her overweight cat named Prozac. She meets an out-of-work actress, Pam, in the communal dressing room at the Bargain Barn clothing store and they connect over frustrations with clothing not fitting. Pam invites Jaine to a weekly meeting of the PMS Club, a group of six women and one gay man who gather to "bitch and moan." The first meeting goes well enough that Jaine decides to join the group. However, the second meeting that Jaine attends ends when one of its most annoying members dies, apparently from the guacamole being spiked with a peanut product, something that everyone there knew the woman was allergic to.

When news of the murder hits the front page of the LA Times, along with photos of all the members of the PMS Club, a job offer that Jaine had just received to write a newsletter for a bank is put on hold until after Jaine is no longer a suspect. Jaine decides she needs to find out who the murderer is so that she can get that job at the bank without further delay. I found this to be a very funny "chick flick" kind of book. (Or maybe that's just the cold medicine talking!)

Good Omens

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett  384 pp.

Every so often I have to read this book because it is one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, the anti-Christ is born and then misplaced. A bookstore owning angel and a demon who drives a vintage Bentley are trying to locate the child, who was swapped for the wrong baby at birth, to either stop the end of the world because they both rather like their lives on Earth. Of course there are the Four Horsemen. . . , um, Bikers of the Apocalypse. And a witch descended from Agnes Nutter. It is pretty well summed up in one quote:

"It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people."

Rossen to the Rescue: Secrets to Avoiding Scams, Everyday Dangers and Major Catastrophes

Rossen to the Rescue: Secrets to Avoiding Scams, Everyday Dangers and Major Catastrophes  by Jeff Rossen (2017) 245 pages

Not an morning television watcher, I wasn't aware of Jeff Rossen's reports on NBC's The Today Show, where he alerts the public to dangers (big and small), money-saving tips, and more. The book has a potpourri of topics. with a detailed table of contents and a thorough index.

One of the topics that surprised me in particular was the hidden camera report on how maids in a number of different hotels clean your room. (Don't trust the shiny counter and glasses in the bathrooms!) Other tips include how to stop a fire in your kitchen and how to behave if a policeman pulls you over. A surprising piece of info was that the calorie counts on food are allowed by the FDA to be off by as much as 20%. This was a useful, quick read, written in a personal, engaging style.


The Mystery of Three Quarters

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah (2018) 344 pages

I wasn't quite sure how I felt about reading a book featuring Hercule Poirot by an author who is not Agatha Christie. Would it be disloyal to the Dame? Or would it make me feel good that Poirot, one of my favorite crime solvers, continues to use his little grey cells? Could author Sophie Hannah do justice to the character of Poirot? In this book, Hannah's third with Poirot, but the first I've read by her, I would have to say that she does capture Poirot's spirit well, although he seemed a tad more mellow to me than in Christie's portrayals of him. To cover for any differences in the writing style, we're told that the chronicle of this case is written by Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard.

The story begins with four people contacting Poirot because of a letter he ostensibly sent to them, accusing each of them of murdering a wealthy old man, whose death four months previously had been ruled an accident in his bath. Poirot did not know the dead man and had not sent the letters, but is thus sucked in, beginning an investigation over whether Barnabas Pandy, had been in fact murdered, and whether any of the four recipients of the letters had killed him.

My only complaint with the story was the wrap-up at the end, which seemed to take longer than usual. Otherwise, I'd have to say the book worked well.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Saga, vol. 9

Saga, vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples, 152 pages

Let's face it: it's flat-out impossible to give any sort of substance in a summary of this book without spoiling the first eight volumes. Suffice it to say that we're well into this amazing story of star-crossed lovers-turned-parents, and the people who want them dead or captured are closer than they've ever been to tracking down the family.

Now, if you haven't yet, GO READ THIS SERIES. Seriously, it's one of the best (if not THE BEST) comics series out there, and we should all just bow down and worship Fiona Staples at this point because her artwork is so incredible and imaginative and evocative. Yes, there's going to be a big wait now for the next volume, but I already know that it will be well worth it.

How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman (2012) 132 pages

This was my first foray into graphic lit. I don't have a cat, but having heard enough cat stories, I found this book quite funny, especially the subsection, "If we treated our cats like they treat us." Oh, and the section about the Bobcats (two cats named Bob) and their experiences at work. Enough said!




Death at Victoria Dock

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood (1992) 164 pages

The Phryne Fisher murder mystery series was recommended to me by someone who knew I enjoy the Daisy Dalrymple series (by Carola Dunn). This fourth book in the series is set in 1928 in Australia. Phryne (rhymes with "briny") finds her windshield shot out while she's driving near the docks at night. She grabs her gun, but by now, the shooters are too far away to shoot back at them. Then she sees a young man who had been shot during the fray and she holds him as he dies. Thus starts the main storyline. Phyrne has attitude and compassion and the will to rectify wrongs. As she tries to find the killers, she enters the realm of anarchists; the young man was part of the group. Meanwhile, she is called upon by a wealthy man to locate his 14 year old daughter, who has fled from the home of her father, stepmother and brother. That story arc brings us to some questionable relationships in the wealthy home. I found my first experience in the Phryne Fisher series showcases compelling characters, fast action, and a refreshing willingness to explore some once-taboo subjects.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids, Edgar Cantero, 336 pages

Meddling Kids is Cantero's second book in English, and would delight anyone who enjoys the work of Lovecraft and Scooby Doo. The book follows the exploits of the Blyton Summer Detective Club, thirteen years after their last case, where they had inadvertently come across real monsters. The characters are well developed, each a plausible extension of their archetypal counter parts in Scooby Doo. The humor of the novel keeps everything light, and the action sequences are well written. Overall, the novel is fun and a quick read.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, 343 pages

April May is a 23-year-old New Yorker with a BFA and a job she hates when she stumbles upon a huge robot-like sculpture on the sidewalk. She assumes it's a piece of public art, and calls her friend to film a video of her to post on YouTube. Little does she know that's she's actually discovered one of 64 identical items (the Carls, as they come to be known) that appeared simultaneously around the world, prompting a wide array of responses, from fear to conspiracy theories to academic curiosity.

In his debut novel, Green manages to create a fun and funny, adventure-filled novel that also manages to hit on so many timely topics, including the polarization of debate, fear of the unknown, social media trolls, extremists, the dehumanization of famous people, the rapid news cycle... It's really a great book, one that makes me want to see what else Green comes up with in the future. Though hopefully his next novel won't launch an earworm that will take, by conservative estimations, six years to dislodge itself from my brain. ("Call Me Maybe"? Really, Hank?)

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Secrets of Wishtide

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders  334 pp.

Mrs. Laetitia Rodd is a fifty-two year old widow who lives a modest, quiet life with her landlady in London. Her brother, Frederick is a criminal barrister who occasional enlists his sister's help with discreet inquiries for his clients. Laetitia takes a position as governess to the Calderstone family to investigate the son's inappropriate relationship with a woman with a past. Once that case is seemingly resolved the murders begin and Laetitia ends up in that investigation. This is the first book in a series but I was not particularly impressed with it. It's not that there is anything wrong in particular but I found the story to be so-so. 

Hope Never Dies

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer, 301 pages

In this wonderfully refreshing mystery novel, former Vice President Joe Biden is chilling at home in Delaware eight months after leaving office, grousing to himself about Barack Obama's post-presidential celebrity-filled, globe-trotting adventures, when he learns that his favorite Amtrak conductor has died under mysterious circumstances. And who should be the one to deliver this news but 44 himself, appearing in Biden's yard in the dead of night with a Secret Service agent named Steve. From that moment on, Biden and Obama are on the case, dragging poor Steve through rough neighborhoods, into the den of a biker gang, and, of course, to the Amtrak station.

Oh, how I needed this book right now. This campy and cozy mystery is exactly the heroic story that's needed in today's messy political climate. (Just look at that cover! Isn't that enough to tell you how great it is?) Shaffer plays on the shoot-from-the-hip, everybody's-favorite-uncle persona of Biden and the lovingly-put-upon, smarter-than-your-average-bear persona of Obama that spawned a thousand memes. I hope that Shaffer writes more of these, and I hope that they gain enough readers that someone, somewhere convinces Joe Biden to do the audiobook.

Calypso

Calypso by David Sedaris, 259 pages

In his latest collection of essays, David Sedaris ruminates on everything from aging to foreign traffic insults to relatives visiting from beyond the grave to his addiction to his Fitbit. Many of these essays focus on his family, including his nonagenarian father and his late sister Tiffany, who took her own life in 2013. While the essays still crackle with Sedaris' trademark humor, there's a degree of introspection here that doesn't always appear in his previous collections. That said, it is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by the author. A must if you're a fan of David Sedaris.

Transcription

Transcription by Kate Atkinson, 343 pages.

It's getting to the point that knowing that there is a new book by Atkinson coming can be a light off in the distance that keeps me going.
And while Transcription doesn't necessarily transcend all other recent fiction, in the way that Life After Life or A God in Ruins both did (admit it, they did), Transcription, with its switchbacks, slow motion pursuit, and plot-twists and turns, certainly equals those titles in (or at least near) the top tier of current fiction in the way that the best of the Jackson Brody novels always did. Juliet At loose ends after the death of her mother, Armstrong finds herself working for MI5. It's 1940 in Endland, and the 18-year-old is set to transcribing the secretly made recordings of meetings of Nazi sympathizers. Armstrong mus make decisions concerning the fates of those she is observing, her coworkers, and agents she hardly knows. Juliet discovers the layers of loyalty and betrayal that exist or that seem to exist. Her choices continue to impact her life as the story continues five years after the war's end. All of the characters are nuanced and finely drawn, and all of the situations and settings are shrouded in a foggy ambiguity. Armstrong, who seems so much older than eighteen, with a confidence that never seems misplaced, but oftne is, must decide who to believe and which path to follow. Fascinating.
The audio is very well narrated by Fenella Woolgar.

Severance

Severance by Ling Ma, 291 pages.

I love post-apocalyptic novels that are less about the grim struggle and more about the nostalgia, and are quietly reflective on the smaller things that were lost, more about the continuity of small sadness after the world has come crashing down. Station Eleven and Colson Whitehead's magnificent Zone One stand out in this sub-genre. And now Severance is there too. This is a character-driven piece of Post-A fiction and Candace is a quiet, likable, and compelling central character.
Candace is rooted in her small apartment in New York, still stuck in the loss of her parents and in the sense that she disappointed them. As Shen fever takes hold, and the world starts falling apart, Candace is left with her job, her photo-blog, and her failing relationship with Jonathan. The book cuts back and forth through time, settling at times in scenes of memory; Candace's parents and their journey to America, and their ongoing battle about staying or returning to Fuzhou, or the recent past with Jonathan, and her work on the Gemstone Bible, or settling into the present with Candace's role as a reluctant member of a survivalist group / low-rent cult, following the not-so-charismatic Bob on his quest to relocate to the mythical and sad "facility" somewhere outside of Chicago. A quietly great book.

Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, 173 pages.

After reluctantly returning home after a stint in the underworld, Nancy finds herself shipped off to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for children trying to readjust to life on the everyday earth after having traveled to any one of  a number of fantasy realms. Nancy wants to return to the underworld and her beloved lord of the dead, but finds her quest interrupted by the murders of several of her fellow students. Initially suspected by her classmates, Nancy joins forces with some new-found friends and attempts to stop the carnage. Interesting and fun to read.

Cherry

Cherry by Nico Walker, 317 pages.
A great, somewhat depressing, and moving debut novel by a man who, like his main character, served as a soldier in Iraq, was a heroin addict and a bank robber.
Adrift as a teen in Ohio, the narrator joins the army, not out of a surfeit of patriotism, but more because his girlfriend has changed schools and is due to leave him. Soon he is off to Iraq as a medic, but he doesn't find much in the Army or in Iraq that inspires him. There is no heroism or patriotic awakening in the narrator's experience, it's mostly grim, stupid and wasteful. Once back home, and reunited with his wife, the narrator mostly focuses on his opiod addiction. That's where the bank robbery comes in. Walker presents his characters with a grim humor and empathy and makes the book a compelling read.

A Place for Us

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, 385 pages.

The story opens with Amir returning for his sister Hadia
's wedding and then jumps back to Amir, Hadia, and Huda's childhood in California. Their parents, Layla and Rafiq, are devout Muslims and strict parents. Huda and Hadia do their best to please their parents, but Amir chafes at their rules and rebels. Amir blames himself for a lot of his failings as a dutiful son, but as we hear their stories and see the crossroads traveled by the family and the choices they make, we realize that not all the fault is his. But, honestly, most of it is. A pretty good book.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Star of the North

Star of the North / D. B. John, Narrated by Linda Park, 402 pages

Years after her twin sister disappeared from a South Korean beach, Professor Jenna Williams gets word that she may have been part of a North Korean program to kidnap outsiders and learn their secrets. Originally not too excited about it, she quits her University job and goes into training with the CIA.  We also meet Colonel Cho in North Korea, he too is a twin who keeps learning even more disturbing things about the government he serves.  Mrs. Moon is a former prisoner, recently freed who is trying to make her way in North Korea.  The intersection of these main characters is interesting. Sometimes an action thriller, sometimes a more intimate story, this political story will keep you interested.

My ex-life, by Stephen McCauley


And ex-wife.  Although this novel does read a bit like it is soon to be made into a motion picture, as others by the author evidently have been, it is a clever and insightful.  David Hedge’s comfortable life in the Bay Area has run into several roadblocks lately – the departure of his long-time boyfriend and the possible sale of his remarkably affordable and spacious carriage house with a view are just two of his problems.  He was briefly married to Julie Fiske when young, and is surprised to hear from her after many years.  His job is counselling high school students applying to colleges and Julie’s daughter, Mandy, is in dire need of help.  So, for that matter, is Julie – her husband has not only left her for another woman, but is demanding she either buy him out or sell their rambling and ramshackle house, which she is using as an illegal Airbnb.  She’s a mess and so is the house.  David, actually glad to have a reason to at least temporarily run away from his problems in San Francisco, offers to fly out to the Boston area, drive up to the resort town where she lives, and lend a hand. Meanwhile, Mandy, a moody and solitary girl, has fallen into an unsavory relationship with a local character.   324 pages later, things are better for all concerned.

Meet me at the museum, by Anne Youngson


A charming epistolary novel in the manner of 84 Charing Cross Road and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Tina Hopgood, a British woman in late middle age, writes to the Aarhus Museum in Denmark where the “Tollund Man” is on display.  P. V. Glob wrote a book called The bog people in 1969 about this amazingly well-preserved Fourth Century BCE specimen and his milieu and she hopes he is still at the museum and can answer a few questions.  They are rather existential questions, having to do, among other things, with her and her best friend’s plans to visit the Tollund Man someday, which has been rendered impossible by her friend’s recent death.  A polite curator replies that Glob died in 1985, but he will try to answer her queries.  And so develops an increasingly intimate conversation between Anders Larsen, the curator, who recently lost his beloved, troubled wife, and Tina, wife of a stolid farmer who she married because she got pregnant at nineteen.  Her life has been full, and not without its pleasures, but it is clear that she is isolated geographically and emotionally and disappointed in more than just not having seen the Tollund Man.  This debut novel by a 70- year-old author gives hope to all late-bloomers.  Lovely book.  272 pp.