Monday, December 31, 2018

Ghost


Ghost by Jason Reynolds, 181 pages.

I listened to this recently on a road-trip with my family.
Here is what I said about this book when I first read it back in August of 2017:
A very good story of a young man who finds his way in the world through track. Ghost remembers running from his father when he was young, but he doesn't realize that running is something that he is good at, and that it can help him, for quite a while. Once he does discover this and finds a place on a good track team, he puts his new-found place in jeopardy with some questionable decisions. I first heard about this when it was recommended by Jacqueline Woodson on PBS last year, and then at the American Library Association conference, Jason Reynolds was everywhere, and the lines were long. So, he's a force in YA literature.

The Stone Crusher: The True Story of a Father and Son's Fight for Survival in Auschwitz

The Stone Crusher: The True Story of a Father and Son's Fight for Survival in Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield, 388 pages.

Just a devastating and haunting look at the lives of Gustav and Kurt Kleinmann and their family. The Kleinmann's were Austrian Jews; the family lived in Vienna, and Gustav had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War, but when the Anschluss came his life and the lives of every member of his family were derailed, uprooted or destroyed.
A remarkably well-written book that follows the disturbingly unique story of a father and son who were both interned in Nazi concentration camps from before the war began until the camps were liberated. Both men faced death constantly and found their own lives balanced on a razor's edge many times. Remarkable and deeply moving.

Binti

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor  90 pp.

I am squeaking one last book into 2018 just under the wire. This brief novella is one of the selections for the Great Stories Club I am leading at Lieberman Learning Center. Binti is of the Himba people in Namib, a race of mathematicians who create technology used throughout the galaxy. She is the first of her race to be accepted into Oomza University on a far away planet. Against her family's wishes she leaves her home to travel to Oomza. The transport is commandeered by a group of Meduse, an alien race seeking to revenge a wrong perpetrated at the university. Binti is the only one who can negotiate a peace and prevent the Meduse from killing everyone at the university including herself. This is a classic science fiction story with an underlying theme of peace between races. I'm looking forward to the discussions with the teens about this story.

My Sister the Serial Killer

My Sister the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, 226 pages.

Korede has always been charged by her mother with looking out for her younger sister, Ayoola. Ayoola's propensity for, what, seeing threats where they aren't, especially from the men she is dating, acting a little rashly when she is upset, tends to put a bit of strain on Korede. Especially since Korede's not a big fan of activities like body disposal. This book was something new for me, or at least it felt new, in the situations it presents and the relatively calm acceptance of the relatively extraordinary by the characters. So, a fresh new voice with something very interesting to say, a quirky look at sibling rivalry, and overall a very good book.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly, 388 pages.

I originally started listening to this to test the Hoopla app on my phone. I was listening to Milkman by Anna Burns but it stopped working and I wanted to see if the problem was in the audio file or in my phone. I grabbed a Michael Connelly book because I always enjoy listening to (or reading) anything Connelly writes. And since after a year or two, I find I have forgotten the beginning of most books, I figured this would be perfect. It took me about an hour or so to figure out both that it was a problem with the file of Milkman, and that I had never read this book. So this was great. Harry Bosch is hired to find whether a dying man did have an heir (his girlfriend was pregnant when his family force them apart), and he is working part-time with the San Fernando Police Department,trying to solve what appears to be a series of rapes. Anyone who knows anything about mysteries or police procedurals knows that Connelly is worth the read. Now I have to figure out to which book I assigned this title in my faulty memory.

Slaughterhouse Five





Slaughterhouse Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut  226 pp.

I first read this Vonnegut classic in the 70s while in high school or college, I don't remember which. Over the years I've read it a couple more times. I was enticed to revisit it, this time on audiobook, after visiting the The National World War II Museum in New Orleans where I found this:
The first thing that came to mind on seeing the display were the words, "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time" followed by "Poo-tee-weet!" Vonnegut's story is partly based on his experience as a POW during the bombing of Dresden experienced by Billy, the protagonist. That story is mixed with an intriguing science fiction tale where Billy is kept in a sort of zoo on the planet Tralfamadore to mate with a former porn star for the entertainment of the Tralfamadorans. Only Vonnegut could take such disparate plot lines and merge them to make a whole story. It will always be a favorite of mine.

A Clash of Kings


A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin, fantasy, 1040 pages. 

This was my fall and early winter book for listening to around the house while doing chores and whatnot. Here is what I said about it back in 2011.
The song of ice and fire continues to expand as the story goes on. We don't see much of Robb, though he is always talked about, off fighting and doing well. We meet Stannis, the older of the late King's brothers and are reacquainted with Renly, the younger brother. Both men decide to try for Robb's throne, believing that Joffrey, the boy king is not their borther's legitimate son. With Robb fighting Joffrey's forces and a sneak attack on the north by Balon Greyjoy, this quickly becomes the war of five kings. Catelyn has now lost touch with all of her children, believing some of them to be dead. Jon Snow and the Brothers range far from the wall and encounter a huge army. Oh, yeah and Daenerys is trying to raise an army too.
A little bit too much going on, but fun reading.

The Silkworm and Career of Evil

The Silkworm, 455 pages.
Career of Evil, 497 pages. both by Robert Galbraith.

Books two and three in the Cormoran Strike series. I listened to both of them again in anticipation of the release of the fourth volume, Lethal White. Which was great, by the way. I heartily recommend it and these two as well.

My reviews from years past:


J.K. Rowling's third book writing as Galbraith and it's the best one so far. At least as far as the thriller part of the book is concerned. While I enjoyed reading the first two, and enjoy the lack of progression in the relationship between Cormoran and his partner / secretary, Robin (it depends on who is describing their relationship, and on recent occurrences), this book has the best overall story.
Someone who knows Cormoran, and knows his mother's story, sends Cormoran a leg. It's a human leg and, forensics assures him, was recently attached to a living woman. The note accompanying the leg indicates that the sender wants to ruin Cormoran's life (though it's addressed to Robin), and it makes reference to the band Blue Oyster Cult, an obsession of Cormoran's late mother. The clues leave Strike with a list of four suspects, only one of whom can be eliminated in the first half of the novel. The author does a great job of keeping the suspense going all hte way until the end of the novel. A lot of fun, in a gruesome, body-part filled sort of way.
The second of the J. K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbrarith books featuring detective Comoran Strike, Robin, Matthew
Semi-failed novelist Owen Quine has gone missing and the author's wife hires Strike to try and find him. Quine's latest effort reportedly dished dirt on lots of people in the literary world so that is where Strike investigates. The mystery, though grisly, is satisfying and all of the characters work well. It is a good read.
The little discussions about how crazy authors, agents and publishers are, and the scene where Comoran is leafing through the tabloids, looking for mention of his ex-fiance, when he come across a story about Emma Watson make it fun too.

The Coincidence Makers

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum, 291 pages.
A wonderfully bizarre look at love, coincidence, and imaginary friends.
Sure, it sounds strange when you say it that way, but part of what this book imagines is that coincidences don't just happen, not with out a lot of work going into them anyway. Two coincidence makers, both of whom started out as imaginary friends, must figure out how to move past their own backgrounds and find a connection. It is bizarre book, but very good, very enjoyable.

Campus sexpot

Campus sexpot: a memoir / David Carkeet, 137 pgs.

This memoir uses an interesting device.  In 1962, Carkeet was sixteen when a trashy novel barely disguising his hometown and the people who lived there was published by the former English teacher.  In this book, all the characters are easily identifiable and it created quite a stir.  Carkeet's memoir of his own life compares and contrasts the characters from "Campus sexpot" by the former English teacher to the actual people in his small town of Sonora California.  This works remarkably well and we find that young David is a "good" kid, even though it sometimes seems a strain.  As in most coming of age stories and memoirs, his perspectives and comments are funny, not particularly self aware or maybe not aware much further than his self.  I enjoyed this quick read and found myself smiling a lot as the racy fictional work was debunked by the author.

My sister the serial killer

My sister the serial killer / Oyinkan Braithwaite, 226 pgs.

Ayoola is beautiful, fun and popular.  Men are drawn to her.  They dream of her company.  Her sister Korede is nothing like her.  She is a hard worker and doesn't attract attention. Ayoola depends a LOT on her sister, however.  Whenever a man gets too serious with her, she has a habit of killing them.  She tells her sister that he threatened her or hit her when her sister comes to clean up the mess.  Korede always comes and Ayoola doesn't seem open to changing her habits.  Now Ayoola has weaved her spell on a doctor at Korede's job.  A man she herself is attracted to.  What should she do?  Is blood thicker than water?  Will Korede continue being an enabler?  I think you better read for yourself.  Love this debut and looking forward to more from the author.

Sadness is a White Bird

Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, 274 pages.

The title gives it away that this is, ultimately, a sad book. Nimreen and Laith, Palestinian twins (adults, of course), and Jonathan, an Israeili man, become friends, close friends, more than friends, and then it all goes terribly wrong.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, 244 pages

As the daughter of Russian immigrant single mom, young Vera had trouble fitting in with her wealthier all-American classmates, all of whom spent their summers experiencing the traditional wonders of sleep-away camp, something she knows her mom won't go for. But when she learns about a Russian Orthodox camp, Vera convinces her mom to send her and her younger brother there for a few weeks over the summer. Turns out, Vera doesn't fit in there too much either. In this semi-autobiographical story, Brosgol presents a fun, funny, and nearly universal story of awkwardness, smelly pit toilets, and fear of creepy-crawly forest creatures. It's fantastic.

Glass Houses

Glass Houses by Louise Penny, 391 pages.

It's the end of the year and I don't find myself a fan of the Inspector Gamache series, so, there.

The Actor's Life

The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer, 255 pages

It seems that celebrity memoirs are a dime a dozen (though that doesn't seem to stop me from gobbling them up). This book, however, is part memoir, yes, but mostly it's a guide to the acting business. Best known for her role as Pam on The Office, Fischer discusses tips for building a resume, getting the right head shots, finding an agent and/or manager, and properly detecting scams. Scattered throughout all of these tips are anecdotes from Fischer's acting life, illustrating her points and giving readers fun insights into the native St. Louisan's experiences. It's fun, it's fresh, and it's informative. Even though I have no intention of leaving librarianship to become an actor, I very much enjoyed this book.

Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, 333 pages

When he was young, George Washington Black was a field slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados. He was plucked from that misery (though still officially a slave) by Christopher "Titch" Wilde, a man of science and the brother of Wash's owner, who enlisted Wash to be his assistant. But an unexpected event causes Wash and Titch to flee Barbados to the frozen tundra of Canada, starting Wash on a new life dedicated to scientific observation and illustration. Along his journey, Wash slowly learns to look at the people in his life with the same critical eye that he uses when he draws mollusks and flowers. It's a wonderful journey of discovery, beautifully told. Edugyan shows masterful skill in weaving together the story of an escaped slave and the story of groundbreaking scientific history and invention. This is a great book, and it's no wonder it has received so many accolades. More are sure to come.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, 734 pages

Harry's in his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and through an odd fluke, he ends up as the fourth champion in the Triwizard Tournament, despite the fact that he's three years too young and, as the name implies, there are only supposed to be THREE champions. As expected, he's flung into a series of dangerous magical adventures that he must use his (or Hermoine's) wits, bravery, and skills to fight through. This is my millionth (approximately) time through this book, but it was my daughter's first time, and she loved it. As soon as we closed this one, she ran off to grab the fifth book. These books just do not get old.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Your Oasis on Flame Lake

Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik (1997) 296 pages

This story, set in small town Minnesota, focuses on two families handling a variety of issues, including marriage, divorce, body image, teenage emotions, infidelity, the aftermath of tragedy, and more. The point of view changes at each chapter, with five people supplying points of view: BiDi, who looks as good at 40 as she did in high school, and who seems bent on reshaping her 14-year-old daughter; Sergio, second husband of BiDi, who adores both her and her daughter Francesca; Devera, who is finding her life too predictable; Devera's husband Dick, a salesman who loves to clown around and has a special talent at changing song lyrics for comedic effect; and my favorite, Darcy, a preteen who relishes being in the spotlight when her parents open their basement as a nightclub for friends. Darcy often seems the most rational of all the characters.

As usual, author Lorna Landvik's character development feels true: the characters deal with the consequences of their own actions, as well as with whatever else life sends their way. Even the most annoying characters become people with whom I can sympathize, while some of the most likable characters show that they are, yes, imperfect humans.

Alice Isn't Dead

Christa summarized the plot very well in her review of the book last week. Click this link to read her review. This book is based on a podcast by the same name. It follows the same plot but changes certain aspects to work better within a novel format. I am an avid fan of the podcast (and subsequent novels) Welcome to Night Vale and so was instantly hooked when the authors released the Alice Isn't Dead podcast.

I don't even know how to convey how much I adored this book. Its exploration of human nature, mental health, and the nature of relationships made me examine on my own experiences. It is a book that I am going to reflect upon for a long time.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity / C.S. Lewis, read by Geoffrey Howard, 227 p.

I was halfway through this when I realized that I had read it long ago.  I finished it anyway, and generally enjoyed Geoffrey Howard's reading and his rendering of Lewis' often humorously dry apology for his faith.  While generally peripheral to the discussion, the occasional sexism and homophobia are jarring, ugly, and of wholly human (with a little 'h') provenance.  The Man in question had far more interesting things on His mind.

The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier: a Novel / Daniel Mason, 323 p.

Lucius is the youngest son of a prominent Viennese family.  His family believes his passion for medical studies is beneath them; on the other hand, his academic work gives him little opportunity to embarrass his socially polished relations with his awkward manners.  When war breaks out in 1914, Lucius leaves school to serve in a field hospital.  The hospital turns out to be a half-bombed church, staffed by himself, a nursing sister, Margarete, and a handful of orderlies.

Both Lucius and Margarete are sufficiently quirky and drawn with such depth that the more pedestrian 'horrors of war' story remains quite interesting.  The author is a psychiatrist, and he brings his knowledge to bear on descriptions of Lucius grappling with soldiers with head injuries and shell-shock. A recommended work of historical fiction.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Getting Old Can Kill You

Getting Old Can Kill You by Rita Lakin (2011)  273 pages 

This new-to-me mystery series, set in a retirement community in Florida, is the seventh in the Gladdy Gold series. The main character, 75-year-old Gladdy, and her 73-year-old sister Evvie, are just finishing their double honeymoon, and find that their their three cohorts in mystery-solving have decided to create their own detective agency, fearful that the newlyweds will have their husbands join the original agency, Gladdy Gold and Associates. To prepare for opening their own agency, the three others sign up for detective school in a sketchy part of town, taking 3 buses to get there, until they find Rico, an engaging young Latino who's willing to be their driver. In the meantime, Arlene, who lives in their retirement community, has found that her former best friend, Joyce, who'd stolen her husband 55 years ago, seems to be stalking her. When Joyce is found dead, Arlene is the obvious suspect. The two sets of sleuths team up to solve the murder.

One reviewer indicates that Gladdy is a Yiddish Miss Marple, to which I'd say I'd been hoping for even more Yiddish-isms. This book is not excellent literature, but it is a fast, fun read; just what I was looking for.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sophia of Silicon Valley

 Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen (2018) 349 pages


I had a love/hate relationship with this book. During my reading of it, I stopped to read another book or two. At 200 pages in, I was still not sure if I would finish it or cut-and-run. What was keeping me reading? Sophia, a young Chinese-American woman with a history of diabetes is pursuing a career in investor relations with tech companies in Silicon Valley. She still lives with her parents, immigrants who have succeeded in their adopted country, but who coddle their daughter because of her health condition. Family dynamics play a large role in Sophia's personality. Sophia seems to excel at her career, but opposing forces battle it out in her head: Self-sufficiency versus traditional life with marriage, husband taking care of her, and children. Sophia wasn't that likable to me, but the story line worked and the writing flowed. I did complete the book, and it both does AND does not resonate with me. Perhaps that's a mark of a talented writer?


Penelope Lemon: Game on!

Penelope Lemon: Game On! / Inman Majors, 221 pgs.

Penelope is a newly divorced 40 year old who is living in her mom's basement and waiting tables.  She is trying to get back on her feet and get a place for her and her 9 year old son Theo.  Theo inherited his dad's athletic ability...Penelope can take care of  herself.  With two ex-husbands and a couple of good friends who think she needs their advice, Penelope is actually doing pretty good on her own.  With a delightful cast of quirky characters, this one is a winner.  Light and FUNNY, you will end up rooting for Penelope and looking forward to her next adventure.

Rx: a graphic memoir

Rx: a graphic memoir / Rachel Lindsay, 254 pgs.

Rachel Lindsay was managing her mental illness with medication and therapy when she had a bit of a breakdown.  This memoir depicts that breakdown and the immediate aftermath. Although this is a very personal story, she also talks a bit about the vicious cycle of insurance, medication, choices that really aren't choices.  I loved the illustrations and Rachel's story. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Holidays on Ice

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (1997) 123 pages


This short book contains six Christmas season stories by David Sedaris. Some are quite funny, but others are just weird, as with the story Christmas Means Giving, in which two wealthy neighbors compete to outdo each other in gift-giving, in rather odd ways. SantaLand Diaries had snippets of a young man's experiences working as an elf at Macy's during the Christmas season. The same day I read that story, I heard excerpts of it on NPR. Funny coincidence.


Influenza: the Hundred-year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History

Influenza: the Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History / Jeremy Brown, 258 p.

In the past several years there's been some terrific writing done on the 1918 influenza pandemic; I heartily recommend both Laura Spinney's Pale Rider and John Barry's The Great Influenza for deep dives into the historical pandemic, and I'll add Dr. Brown's work, too, although its emphasis differs from the others.  Brown looks at what's happened since 1918 and the steps scientists and governments have taken to get us ready for the next round.  Influenza takes an even-handed look at controversial topics such as flu vaccine, which is handled very differently from one country to another, or antivirals such as Tamiflu, which is, depending on the source, a lobbyist-enriching hoax, or a solid contribution to humanity's defense.  I especially appreciated the chapter entitled "The Business of Flu" for its exploration of the ways in which the profit motive influences human behavior with important impacts on the health of nations.

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman  135 pp.

This continues the story of the author's father, Vladek Spiegelman, continuing from where the first book ended, with Valdek and Anja at the gates of Auschwitz. Depictions of life in the concentration/extermination camp are suitably dark. By probing into his father's story, the author learns the reasons for much of his father's behavior. Scenes from the holocaust are juxtaposed against scenes of Vladek's and Art's stormy relationship in the 1980s. It is not an easy book to read because of the subject matter and the bare, traumatic truth within. This is one of the books being read for the Great Stories Club at the Lieberman  Learning Center. I look forward discussing it with the teens.

Census

Census / Jesse Ball, read by Chris Andrew Ciulla, 250 pages

An interesting book that features a father-son relationship, the adult son has Down syndrome and the father is coming close to death.  Who will take care of his son, an adult child who has brought so much joy to him?  He takes a job as a census taker for a shadowy governmental agency and leaves town with his son to travel north to collect data and see the countryside.  This trip frames experiences between the two and other people they meet along the way.  Family history is woven into the story through people they meet and memories.  This is a beautifully told story that really revolves around the father and son. 

Alice isn't dead

Alice isn't dead / Joseph Fink, 323 pgs.

Keisha Taylor is living a great life. She and her wife Alice make a great couple.  Then Alice disappears. She is presumed dead.  But before grieving is complete, Keisha catches sight of Alice on the news.  She is just in the crowd at a scene.  Now Keisha is on the road looking for Alice. She is a long distance trucker and stumbles into discovering a set of murders done by a serial killer.  Or is it killers?  Now things get a little wacky.  Keisha discovers a lot of inner strength and is eventually reunited with Alice.  They work with a group who have a hand in paranormal war between the killers and a shadow company who is trying to protect civilians.  Nothing is as it seems.  Spooky and a little horrifying. 

Odalisque

Odalisque (Book 3 of Volume 1 of the Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson  303 pp.

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle was published in three volumes containing eight books. Audible has divided them into the individual books. I listened to the first two quite awhile ago and just resumed with Odalisque.  This book takes place mainly in England, Holland, and France during the late 17th century and includes the War of the English Succession. It follows the activities of the character Daniel Waterhouse, a natural philosopher and English Dissenter who opposed the church's involvement in nonreligious things while not joining the Pilgrims or other dissenting denominations. The other character who plays a prominent role in the story is Eliza, a spy for William of Orange who masquerades as an aristocrat. Many of the other characters portrayed are historical figures, e.g. Isaac Newton, King James II, King Louis XIV, William of Orange, Gottfried Leibniz, John Locke, John Churchill (1st Duke of Marlborough) among many others. The story improves as it goes on and the narration by Simon Prebble, Katherine Kellgren, and Kevin Pariseau is well done but I am as yet undecided whether I will invest the time needed to continue with the other volumes.

Vanishing twins

Vanishing twins / Leah Dieterich, 295 pgs.

The idea of vanishing twins...that many of us are in utero with a twin early on but as time goes on, one "twin" disappears or is absorbed back into the mother.  Dieterich feels like she has been missing a twin her whole life.  Aside from this, this is a memoir of her early life and marriage to a man she feels connected to like a twin. During her marriage, she and her husband decide to be "open" and she embarks on some relationships with other woman...ostensibly at first to become a threesome but as time goes on, it obvious these women are not interested in this arrangement and really, neither is she. The exploration of the relationships, the author's sexuality and the limits of her relationship with her husband is interesting.  I also enjoyed the relationship with her co-worker.  Her team at work (advertising) whom she has a close sibling like relationship testing the limits of the professional situation at the office.  On the one hand, she seems to have so many people that she is "twinning" with, she seems to find the lost twin (if it even existed). Of course, there is always drama when relationship limits are tested although it seems remarkably subtle to me.  Dieterich is a lovely writer and I found myself lost in this book.

You don't look your age...and other fairy tales

You don't look your age...and other fairy tales / Sheila Nevins, read by a full cast, 255 pgs.

I was delighted by this collection of essays read by a full cast of super famous people.  I mean, Meryl Streep does great audio books too!  I guess nobody is surprised by that.  Sheila Nevins is an award winning producer and documentarian but these fantastic little slices of life deal a lot with being a working mom, an aging woman in a youth obsessed field, and just living life.  Once I started, I couldn't stop listening.


Monday, December 24, 2018

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, 171 pages

What a wonderfully quirky set of short stories! Maud is almost 90 years old and lives alone in an apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden. She travels on her own from time to time and generally avoids her neighbors (who, on the whole, resent the deal that allows her to live rent-free in a huge apartment in an expensive building). And she also has no qualms about killing someone who annoys her.

In a note at the end of the book, Tursten writes that she created the first of these stories when she decided to take a break from writing about someone solving crime — apparently she liked the bad guy angle enough to return from time to time. And it's a good thing she did! These stories made me giggle, though I definitely wouldn't want to live next door to Maud.

The Witch Boy

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, 210 pages

Aster is part of an interesting family: in the grand tradition of his heritage, all of the girls are taught from a young age to become witches while the boys are prepared for the day that they learn to shape shift into wild animals. But unlike all of his male cousins, Aster has none of the early signs of shape shifting and prefers to spend his time listening in on the girls' lessons for witchcraft. He tries to talk to his mom about it, but all she does is tell him about his great uncle, whose interest in witchcraft turned him into a demon, and then forbid Aster to speak of it. It's only through a chance friendship with a sports-loving girl who lives nearby that Aster's able to find a way to talk about his problems.

This is a wonderful story of a boy learning to accept himself for who he is, despite his family and the culture in which he was raised. While I'm pretty sure it was meant as a metaphor for LGBTQ kids, Aster's story also applies to anybody whose interests lie outside the narrow roles given to them by their family or friends or society in general. Ostertag has created a fantastic character in Aster, and I'm curious to see how the rest of his journey goes in future volumes.

The Mortal Word

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman, 433 pages

In the fifth book of her Invisible Library series, Cogman sends Librarian (read: spy) Irene Winters and her Sherlock-esque friend Peregrine Vale into a world stuck in 1890s Paris. The chaotic Fae and orderly dragons are there to negotiate a peace treaty — with the help of the neutral Library, of course — when the right-hand man of one of the dragon leaders is murdered. Irene and Vale must determine who's responsible without derailing the peace talks, a task made infinitely more difficult in the presence of an irritable weather-changing dragon and several powerful Fae, one of whom is legendary for her creative methods of killing anyone who looks at her sideways. All in all, it's another fun chapter in Irene's story, and I will keep reading these until the cows come home.

American Cookie

American Cookie: The Snaps, Drops, Jumbles, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations by Anne Byrn, 312 pages

Oh my gosh, this is an awesome book. Not only does Byrn present some truly fantastic cookie recipes (Santa is going to LOVE the gingerbread cookies and the Gourmet chocolate cookies tonight), she also presents the stories behind the cookies. This includes the original Girl Scout cookie recipe, favorites of various White House chefs, and the traditional cookies that we've all grown to love. I will definitely be owning this fascinating and fun cookbook.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm by Tana French, 509 pages.

Toby is taking some time to recover from the injuries he suffered during a very violent burglary. He doesn't feel quite himself, still a little shaky, as it were. Toby decides to move in with his terminally ill uncle and help while he himself sorts thing out and gives himself some time. While there, a long buried secret comes to light and many members of the family, a nice middle-class British family, with lots of perqs and privileges, have to revise their stories about the past. Tana French does an excellent job in keeping the twists and turns coming, right up to the end. No one is as innocent as they would like you to think. Tana French is always good.

Rising out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

Rising out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow, 304 pages.

Derek Black is the son of Don Black, the founder of the Stormfront website. Derek grew up as the young prince of the neo-nazi movement in the United States. David Duke was his godfather and the family spent summers at white power rallys and the like. Strangely, when Derek went off to college and met people of different religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds, he slowly realized that he was wrong about a lot of things. This book traces Derek's growth from being a racist pos. An interesting story, well told.

Meddling Kids


Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero, 322 pages


So, I started out excited for this book. I grew up watching old Scooby Doo episodes and enjoyed the absurdity. I was expecting the same here and didn't quite get what I was hoping for. The characters had their own emotional turmoil and there was excellent character development throughout the book - that part I loved. But the ending did not really make sense to me, both in the problem and solution. This is probably better suited for someone who likes extreme levels of absurdity and books that end at a whiplash speed. It could just be that it wasn't my cup of tea but I would say 7/10 on my scale.  Good but not great.

John Woman

John Woman by Walter Mosley, 377 pages.

Wow, what a weird trip this book is. John Woman, aka Cornelius Jones, aka CC has led an interesting life. We meet him as a teen, he is living with his father, who can't work due to an operation. Cornelius begins working his father's shifts at the silent movie theater so that his father doesn't lose his job. Shortly after this, when his mom has disappeared with her mobster boyfriend and his dad is dying, Cornelius finds himself defending himself and acting in a way that changes his life and his perception of himself. From that moment, he is changed and when his father dies shortly after, he changes his name as well, eventually becoming the title character.
As John Woman, college professor, he attempts to rewrite history in a way that is closer to his understanding of it. Woman must decide what to do about the offers he is receiving from a strange cult-like organization and he must decide how far he wants to go in coming to terms with his past. Multi-layered, complicated and sometimes difficult to process.

Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward, 420 pages.
Woodward's book opens with Steve Bannon meeting Trump several years before the 2016 campaign. From the opening we are treated to a listing of the ways in which Donald Trump is and was not prepared to lead anything more complicated than a  tv show or a rather corrupt real estate company. We hear from Bannon, Pruitt, Mnuchin, and many others. Fear seems, in retrospect, to be a rather optimistic view of the Trump administration. Still, an instructive read.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Soon I will be invincible

Soon I will be invincible / Austin Grossman, read by J. Paul Boehmer and Coleen Marlo, 287 pgs.

I circle back around to this often but still find new things to like.  Dr. Impossible is still evil and Fatale is still looking for love but this time I appreciated the perfection of the relationship between Fatale and Lilly.  They are outsiders together.  New to the team, one is a "convert" she has fairly recently been in cahoots with Dr. Impossible.  Fatale is still new enough to her cyborg body that she is figuring things out.  She wants to belong but there is a lot of undercurrent on the New Champions team that has just been formed.  I like learning how many of the back stories are pure marketing.  I like the way this book looks at the forces that form us.  It is still great and I'm sure this isn't my last reading/listening.

My grandfather would have shot me

My grandfather would have shot me: a black woman discovers her family's Nazi past / Jennifer Teege & Nikola Sellmair, read by Robin Miles, 221 pgs.

Others have already written about this book so I'll focus here on how hard it must be to discover that your family history contains such a horrible person.  I mean, we all laugh about discovering the horse thief 4 generations back but what about a cruel murderer?  Jennifer Teege is in an odd position when she accidentally discovers a book that informs her of her family history.  As if there isn't enough weird stuff in life!  This is a woman who studied in Israel and speaks Hebrew.  All of that happened before she discovered her heritage.  Another small but interesting part is her telling of her adopted dad spending his final days trying to justify his own parents complicit attitudes during the war.  They were not active participants but fans. Years later, trying to deal with that was difficult for him...and that isn't even close to Jennifer's situation.  Interesting and I agree with Reneise, not for the lighthearted. 

Hounded

Hounded by David Rosenfelt (2014) 313 pages

Defense attorney Andy Carpenter receives a call from a good friend of his who is a cop, to come to a crime scene and to be sure to bring his girlfriend Laurie. At the crime scene, they learn that an eight-year old boy named Ricky was upstairs in his house when his dad, Danny, was shot. The boy is now orphaned. They learn that Pete, the cop, had arrived just moments after the murder, after receiving a text, ostensibly from Danny, who was a friend of his. Now Pete is accused of the murder. He pleads for Andy and Laurie to care for Ricky and his Basset hound while they also investigate the murder and defend him in court.

When Pete and Andy hear that Danny had recently fingered Pete as a drug dealer, they don't believe that Danny did so willingly. Andy and Laurie get to work, along with their team, locating information to use in Pete's defense for the trial. What follows is one of the most engaging mysteries I've read, filled with humor and multiple surprises.

Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter Mystery series was not on my radar until now; this is the 12th book in a series that's grown to 18.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway / Ruth Ware, read by Imogen Church, 368 p.

An atmospheric but not quite cozy mystery set in Brighton and Cornwall.  Hal (Harriet) Westaway is 21 and all alone in the world since the accidental death of her mother 3 years earlier. She barely scrapes by as a Tarot reader on the Brighton pier, if 'scraping by' describes receiving late-night visits from terrifying loan shark enforcers.  When a letter arrives from a solicitor, telling her she's been named in the will of a Mrs. Westaway she's never heard of, Hal's situation is so dire that she persuades herself that it's worth the trip to Penzance to investigate.  There she finds a tumbling-down estate by the sea, a nasty housekeeper, and three bitterly angry men, brothers, who have a stake in the estate. 

Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger


This deceptively charming novel has hidden depths, like Lake Superior, which is a main character in the book.  Virgil Wander is a middle-aged man stuck in the dying, bad luck,  mining town of Greenstone, Minnesota.  It is north of Duluth on the rocky shores of this great inland sea, and as the story opens, Virgil has just miraculously been saved from certain death when his Pontiac sails off a road into the lake.  Rescued by Marcus Jetty, who owns the local salvage and junk yard, he is dazed by the experience but slowly regaining his strength and the words he has lost to mild traumatic brain injury.  He runs the local failing cinema, the Empress Theater, which he lives above.  He also functions as the City Clerk. It is significant that the road he ran off is Highway 61, and yes, Bob Dylan does wander into the story, as does Rune, a kite-flying Norwegian seeking  information about the son he never knew he had.   That son, Alex Sandstrom, a minor league baseball phenom, disappeared in a light plane over the lake years before the main action of the story, leaving behind his beautiful wife, Nadine, and son, Bjorn, now a teenager.  There is more than a hint of Lake Woebegone in the book, but Enger is a more compassionate and interesting writer than Kellior, who can veer from saccharine into nasty and scatological.  Not that I don’t still enjoy Garrison, who is now in disgrace…  In addition to a Field of Dreams and The natural  vibes, there’s also a mythic Moby Dick like sturgeon; an evil filmmaker, who seems always to be in town when bad things happen; and the unique Rune who, like his name, is magical.  A lovely book in many ways – recommended.  300 pp.