Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An extraordinary union

An Extraordinary Union / Alyssa Cole, 258 pgs.

Final book for the Book Riot challenge.  Yea for me! This romance details an inter-racial couple during the Civil War, in the South.  Both are working as spies for the Union and discover each other on accident.  I liked the story, still not a huge fan of "romance" but can certainly see the attraction.  Thanks to Kara for turning me on to this author.

The Public Option

The public option: how to expand freedom, increase opportunity and promote equality / Ganesh Sitaraman and Anne L. Alstott, 284 pgs.

A look at how we can improve options by expanding the public option.  Why do so many American's have no bank accounts? Why does the free market let people down in several arenas?  How can we solve the student debt crisis?  The childcare crisis?  The lack of broadband options in rural areas? The public option can step in and provide high quality options in all these areas. Don't quite get it?  Look at your public library for an example.  Public K-12 schools...so many other well functioning choices.

A Mourning Wedding

A Mourning Wedding by Carola Dunn (2004) 280 pages

Daisy Dalrymple, newly pregnant, is invited to come a few days early to the wedding of her good friend Lucy, to be held at the estate of Lucy's grandfather, the 3rd Earl of Haverhill. What hadn't been counted on was the murder of Lucy's great-aunt, Lady Eva, who collected and documented other people's secrets. When the local police find themselves intimidated while questioning the family, who are of the nobility class, Daisy's husband Alec, of Scotland Yard, is called in. Lucy starts to wonder whether she really wants to get married at all. When another death occurs, and then the bridegroom-to-be is attacked, it's clear that someone in the household–or a guest‒is the murderer. As always, there's something about Daisy that inspires people to talk with her. Her insights, in conjunction with the information that Alec and his crew turn up, helps put the pieces together.

This is what I consider a light read, for times when life is so busy that books must be taken in small doses to fit into the schedule.

Monday, December 30, 2019


Guts by Raina Telgemeier, 211 pages

When she was in fifth grade, Raina Telgemeier began experiencing upset stomachs any time someone was sick near her...or when she thought too much about certain types of food...or when she had to get up in front of her class for a presentation. Her parents took her to the doctor, but they couldn't find anything physically wrong with her — turns out that her upset stomach was a symptom of her anxiety, which she began to fight with the help of a therapist.

In her trademark approachable way, Telgemeier uses her own experiences to create a narrative that is familiar and relatable to everyone who has ever felt stressed out or afraid. She also normalizes therapy for kids, which is super awesome. Ms. Telgemeier, never stop doing the amazing things you do!

The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, 498 pages

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student studying video game design when he discovers a mysterious book in the university library. In reading it, he finds that some of the stories seem to be about him. As he researches the book, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected adventure that takes him first to a masked ball in New York City, and then to a subterranean library filled with mysterious hallways, cats, and a possibly sentient kitchen. And throughout everything are bees, keys, swords, hearts, feathers, and stars.

This meandering book would best be described as a love letter to stories in all their forms, with fantasy and fairy tale tropes abounding. I really really REALLY wanted to love this book as much as I loved Morgenstern's previous novel, The Night Circus, but I just couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. The book starts out feeling like a confusing RPG video game (a la Myst), and lost me with the many threads that were loosely combined in the story. I think the biggest problem though is that I honestly didn't care about the characters. I can read books where I love the characters and I can read books where I hate the characters, but in this one, they were all just... meh. The settings were gorgeously described (I swear I can feel honey on my fingers and in my hair as I type this) and it was wonderfully atmospheric, but the characters and plot just lost me. I'm so sorry that I couldn't love this book the way I wanted to.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Dear Girls

Dear Girls by Ali Wong, 216 pages

In the foreword for this book, Wong notes that she received a letter from her father after his death, telling her about his dreams for her and how much he loves her, but he didn't talk about himself, and she wishes he had. So this book is her collection of letters to her young daughters, telling them about her life and experiences, and the tips she wants to make sure they have. Sweet idea, huh?

Well, this is raunchy comedian Ali Wong we're talking about here, so the book also comes with the note that neither of her small daughters are allowed to read it until they're 21, a note that should also serve as a warning to the faint-hearted reader who unsuspectingly picks up this brutally funny and honest book. Personally, I loved the book, and I'd love to read more by Wong. But until that happens, I guess I'll just have to rewatch her Netflix specials.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Aloha Rodeo

Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian cowboys, the world's greatest rodeo, and a hidden history of the American West / David Wolman and Julian Smith, 250 pgs.

Cowboys and the American West.  Of course, Hawaii is a late comer as far as states but the natives had been dealing with cattle for years.  In 1908, three unknown (to the crowds) Hawaiians showed up to the greatest rodeo in the world and walked off with many prizes.  The story here gives a lot of history about cowboys in the American West and cowboys in Hawaii.  I was fascinated by this account...a little slice of history that few are aware existed.


Guts / Raina Telgggemeir, 211 pgs.

Raina is struggling with stomach issues.  She is afraid of getting sick and puking.  She starts to realize maybe her issues are related to stress.  When she has to give a presentation at school, she can't speak in front of the class.  When her grandma has to move into her already crowded family home, she feel sick.  When her best friend announces that she is moving, sick again.  Now she is getting some therapy and is learning to deal with her feelings a little bit.  She makes strides in several areas and things are looking up.  As always, Telgemeier produces a relate-able story with fantastic illustrations. 

Ask again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes / Mary Beth Keane, 390 pages

I love a good dysfunctional family and this book hints about a couple of them.  Two cops are neighbors, one family seems to be thriving, the other is held down by the mentally ill wife who makes life hard for everyone.  The kids from the two houses are allies, best friends, future lovers?  Then tragedy strikes and their relationships are forever changed.  In the dysfunctional house, the mother is put away, the dad disappears and the kid ends up living with his uncle.  In the other house, the family is now coping with injury and trauma. 

This inter-generational story follows these two families and where they end up.  Everyone has some issues but not always the ones you would suspect.  Enjoyable, not too hard-core.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Steven Universe

Steven Universe Vol 1 / Melanie Gillman, illustrated by Katy Farina / 25 pgs.

Steven Universe is a TV star!  Who knew?  In this first volume of the comic reboot, Steven finds a baby bird.  Trying to do the right thing, he puts the bird outside and hopes the mom finds it.  When no mom appears, Steven raises the bird to adulthood.  Cute and likable the story presents Steven as non-binary and makes no assumptions about the bird.


Commute: an illustrated memoir of female shame / Erin Williams, 295 pgs.

We follow the author on her daily commute.  It is the most ordinary of activities but she uses this trip to tell about her past and her present.  A former blackout drunk, she recalls many times waking up with no idea what happened.  She is ashamed of her alcoholism but has found confidence from shedding that need.  She has also found people to help her with the struggles that dot her past.  This is very raw at times.  Over the course of the book she talks about recovery and coping.  How other women have helped her and encouraged her.  Her anger is real and she is not alone which is why she wrote this book.

More fun in the new world

More fun in the new world: the unmaking and legacy of L.A. punk / John Doe with Tom DeSavia and friends, 341 pgs.

Exploring the years 1982 - 1987 and the punk scene in L.A., this book has a host of essays and interviews with people who were on the scene.  I listened to the audio book which was fantastic.  Everyone talking about how they started out, how they got big (or did NOT get big) and how it ended.  Even if you were not a fan of the music, the movement went on to have great influence musically and just as an attitude.  The legacy is interesting but the voices of the people who lived it and their comments are worth a listen.

Ask a manager

Ask a manager: how to navigate clueless colleagues, lunch-stealing bosses and the rest of your life at work / Alison Green, 287 pgs.

I want to admit that I checked this out based on the "lunch-stealing bosses" part of the title.  I've solved that one mostly on my own by bringing undesirable lunches but wanted to read what a pro has to say.  This book is full of practical advice on dealing with work situations but also people in general.  I will have to check out the author's blog when something comes up at work.

Omamori Himari Vol. 1

Omamori Himari Vol. 1 / Milan Matra, 160 pgs.

Yuuto Amakawa is allergic to cats but when Himari, a sword-wielding cat spirit shows up to protect him, he deals with the allergies.  This is some very sexy manga that made my list because of the cat connection.  Not really my cup of tea but love the drawing style.

Monday, December 23, 2019

What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell, 410 pages

In this collection of articles from his New Yorker days, Gladwell examines everyone from Ron Popeil to Cesar Milan, and everything from birth control pills to pit bulls, and he does it all with his trademark curiosity and clarity. While this book is a bit dated now (it came out in 2009), it's still worth a read or a listen — the audiobook is read by the author. Highly recommended.

Manfried Saves the Day

Manfried Saves the Day by Caitlin Major, illustrated by Kelly Bastow, 224 pages

What if, instead of humans having cats for pets, cats had humans for pets? That's the idea behind the Manfried comics, with human-sized cats taking care of their small cat-sized humans (who only say "hey," of course). This book finds Manfried's owners fighting to save the Catlanta Man Shelter from destruction by a developer, who will hand over the rights to the shelter if Manfried wins the annual man show.

It's wonderfully weird, with just a hint of Best of Show to spice things up. If you read it though, beware that the men at the man shelter wear just as much clothing as your average real-life cat does.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, 369 pages

Chloe Brown has always lived a sheltered life at home with her wealthy family, but when she narrowly misses being hit by a drunk driver, her life passes in front of her eyes, and she's not too thrilled with what she sees. Organized woman that she is, she makes a to-do list to help spice up her life, and after she moves out, she discovers that Red, the good-looking superintendent of her building might just be the right guy to help her tick off the items on her list. Too bad falling head-over-heels for the guy isn't on her list.

This is a smart and refreshing romance, focused on someone with chronic pain falling in love with someone who is recovering from an abusive relationship. It's wonderful to see this type of diversity in romance, and I'll be excited to see what Hibbert offers up next.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi  404 pp.

The characters of Children of Blood and Bone return in the battle to bring peace to the land of Orisha. Zélie and Amari brought magic back to Orisha but beyond what they planned. Not only have the maji regained their powers but those with maji ancestry now have powers. Civil war has come to the land with Zélie and Amari battling against Amari's brother, Inin, the new king of Orisha. Inin wants peace but is thwarted in all his attempts and loses the trust of the maji. The powers of both sides have deadly consequences to both sides. Just when you think there will be a resolution to the conflict, a cliffhanger ending leaves the opening for at third book in the series. The audiobook was read by Bahni Turpin who does a masterful job of bringing it to life.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege, 221 pages.
We did this for a special book group earlier this year. It's a very interesting book; the author sees a book by her biological mother and through reading it discovers many things, some disturbing, about her family and her past. Chief among the disturbing things is the fact that her maternal grandfather was Amon Goth, the Butcher of Plaszow. Recommended for readers of memoir, personal history and anyone who likes an interesting story.
Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi, 224 pages.
I reread this during the final committee discussions we were having early in 2019. This is a provocative and engaging book about the state of affairs in Israel and the surrounding Palestinian territories from a man who has been a soldier, a reporter, and the co-director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative at the Shalom Hartman Istitute, and who is the author of 2013's Like Dreamers. 
In a series of letters addressed to "Dear Neighbor," Halevi, an American-born Israeli who moved to Israel in the early 1980s, attempts to explain his, the Israeli, side of the story to his Palestinian neighbors, feeling that the inability to hear each other or to acknowledge each other's humanity is a large part of the continuing problem. Halevi presents his arguments for Israel's right to exist and balances this against what he sees as intransigence on the Palestinian side. His letters are unlikely to sway anyone firmly committed in their beliefs, but he does a good job of explaining the timeline, at least as seen through Israeli eyes.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, 197 pages.

I read this when the movie came out in early 2019 and then again with our book group when UMSL chose it as their Common Read. We read it, we showed the movie version, there were speakers about the book and about the author at UMSL and at Wash U. Our book group liked it quite a bit. There are very strong characters and the plight of the main characters is upsetting and told in such a way that the novel flows quickly. Fonny and Tish have embarked on a shared life together after having been friends their whole lives. There is a bit of drama from each of their families, but the focus quickly shifts to a racist police officer in the neighborhood who is intent upon ruining Fonny's life. A great novel.


Melmoth by Sarah Perry, 271 pages.
I read this for a committee I was on in 2018. Well I read most of it in 2018 and then finished it in 2019. There's a being out of legend that causes one (or tries to convince one) to wander in despair for time without measure. Melmoth is that character's name and it first appeared in 1820 in Gothic novel. In this story / version, Melmoth had been mentioned in certain biblical tales and other legends and stories that our protagonist finds in the library while she is researching. She soon meets someone who has interacted with Melmoth and soon our protagonist is herself in danger.
It was a good book, but a lot of it has faded from my memory and I am here at the end of the year with some 100 books to still blog about so . . .
That's what I recall and there's no time now to go back and find out.more about it. Sorta scary, good pacing, interesting plot.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, 312 pages.

I can't believe that it took me so long to read this book. It's been on my list of to-be-read since it came out in 2010. Every word of it rings more true now than it seemed to (to me, in my bubble, anyway). Everything about this book is devastating. I feel like I have heard every (well, almost every) part of this book before, in one forma or another, but having all of the details of how racist, horrible and unfair our justice system is shocking and  depressing. Alexander does an excellent job of marshaling her facts and lays out a compelling case that things must change.

The Friend

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, 212 pages.

Short, sweet, and moving. The story of a dead author, his close friend, his ex-wives, and his dog.

So, I'm down to ten days left in the year and somewhere about one hundred books or so to blog about.

I enjoyed this book, but have to admit that I don't remember much of the plot at the remove of several months.

Affairs, friendship and a dog. Well-written and fun to read.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Are You Listening?

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden, 305 pages

Eighteen-year-old Bea is running away when she meets up with her neighbor, Lou, who is taking what she says is a short trip to visit her aunt. Lou takes Bea in, Bea finds a cat, and they end up taking a rambling, surreal road trip. Yes, that's the basic plot of this beautiful graphic novel, but this book is SO MUCH MORE than that. As they drive, Bea and Lou open up to one another, forging a close, inexplicable bond that will last much longer than the road trip. This is a book about escape, about trust, about facing your demons, and about a magical cat. It's wonderful.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Drug Dealer, MD

Drug Dealer, MD / Anna Lembke, 172 pgs.

We can read a lot about the epidemic of addition to prescription pain medication.  I've read and blogged about several books within the last year or so.  This book is a little different.  Lembke treats addicts but only after educating herself after medical school and residency.  When she started out, she specifically said she would NO treat addicts because she felt like she didn't have the training necessary.  She learned pretty quickly that many of her patients were addicted to something and that almost NO one was there to treat them.  This book is a fascinating look at how we have developed a system that has directly lead to many of the problems we are facing now.  Can this be fixed?  Will it be fixed?  When everything focuses on money instead of treatment, there isn't a lot of room for reform.  This is a through-provoking work that deserves to be read widely.

Excuse me

Excuse me: cartoons, complaints, and notes to self / Liana Finck, 399 pgs.

I looked up a review of this book who describes the drawings here as "shaky sketch style" which is a perfect description.  Sure, this isn't the best "art" that I've seen but still better than what I could do ;-)

The content here is pretty priceless.  Many of the comics have very few words but convey a lot.  Also included are some charts that wordier but have a way of boiling down an issue.  For example the chart of birth control methods and the reality of how their effect. 

Finck is a genius at boiling down issues and shedding light on them.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy by Alex White, 532 pages

The ragtag crew of the Capricious is back at it, fighting evil and doing it in not-so-legal ways. In this followup to A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, the crew is hunting down the gods of the Harrow, the uber-powerful cartel that is destroying life galaxy-wide for their own magical benefit. This quest finds them attempting to infiltrate a cult, hunt down a turncoat treasure hunter, and take out another god, creating a quite the adventure. This series is definitely not going to win any awards, but boy howdy, is it fun!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Dad Is Fat

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, 274 pages

In this book, Gaffigan offers up his humorous opinion on all things related to parenting a passel of small children, from becoming parents to losing sleep to having the audacity to have five kids in New York City. I listened to the audiobook on a drive with my parents and kids, and we all enjoyed Gaffigan's "clean" brand of comedy, though there were a few dicey moments when he talked about Santa's lack of reality, as it were. A fun, light book to be enjoyed by all.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julia Berry  368 pp.

St, Ethelreda's School for Girls has suffered an unfortunate incident when the headmistress, Mrs. Placket, and her unpleasant brother are poisoned at Sunday dinner. The seven teenage students decide to hide the deaths to prevent being sent home to their parents. Then they have to convince the locals that nothing is wrong at the school while the girls try to solve the murder and other mysterious goings on. They manage to hide the truth by dressing one of the girls as Mrs. Placket and spreading the story that her brother has gone to India to aid a sick nephew. Then things begin to go awry. Although somewhat predictable - I figured out the murderer early on - it is a fun story, if unrealistic. The audiobook is read by Jayne Entwhistle who also does the Flavia deLuce series which gave the feel that this book is a Flavia wanna-be.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Dealing With Dragons

Dealing With Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede, 212 pages

Dealing With Dragons was one of my favorite books when I was in the third grade, and is the first novel in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. This series and Brian Jacques's Redwall series gave me a firm love of fantasy novels, and what I loved most about this series in particular is that the protagonist, Princess Cimorene is quick witted and practical. She solves her problems by being clever and knowing Latin and magic and how to organize a library and treasure room. As an adult, revisiting this book, it was exactly what I wanted to sit down and read for the evening. Wrede has made a wonderful world with this series, and I recommend that anyone who has an interest to pick this up. It is the bee's knees.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Last Anniversary

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (2005) 388 pages

Sophie is thirty-nine, starting to despair of finding a husband and having a baby, keenly aware that her biological clock is ticking. She broke up with her boyfriend Thomas three years ago and hasn't had luck finding anyone else. She learns that Connie, an old woman she had met through Thomas just a few times, has died, leaving Sophie her home on Scribbly Gum Island, a small island within commuting distance of Sophie's human resources job on the Australian mainland. It turns out that almost everyone in Thomas's family had really taken to her, especially Connie, who helped raise Thomas's grandmother.

Sophie is subsequently pulled in to life on the island which is notable for a mystery that had occurred 73 years prior: Connie and her sister Rose found a baby in their grandfather's old home which was rented out, who had apparently been abandoned by her parents. They raised the baby, naming her Enigma, and then capitalized on the mystery by keeping the home as it was and showing it to tour groups and selling related merchandise. Sophie's geniality helps her gather hints that indicate more is known about the disappearance of Enigma's parents than is being said openly.

This book, by the author of Big Little Lies, is like an upscale soap opera, with surprises galore. Tantalizing hints come regularly. When I thought all was said and done, even the last page knocked me for a loop. Great read!

The Butchering Art

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris  304 pp.

This is not a book to read or listen to while having lunch but I did it anyway. The history of the medical and surgical professions in the 1800s is horrifying to those of us used to the rigors of germ prevention and sterile practice of modern medicine. Physicians and surgeons didn't wash their hands before or after examinations and used no anesthesia. Surgical instruments were not cleaned between uses. The concept of germs was, in most cases, disbelieved by most in the profession and those promoting the importance of cleanliness were even laughed at. Doctors in other parts of Europe began to adopt sanitary practices long before those in Britain. Rivalry between Lister and other prominent physicians presented further obstacles to the adoption of his methods. Slowly the idea that microbes were the cause of infections and deadly sepsis became the standard and surgery was no longer an almost guaranteed death sentence. Lister was eventually lauded for his work and received many international awards. While frequently gross and gory, this is a well written history of Lister's challenges and accomplishments. Aside from one error where the narrator misspoke and said 1967 and 1968 instead of 1867 and 1868 the audiobook is very well done. It is read by Ralph Lister and I'm still researching whether he is related to Joseph Lister.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The world as it is

The world as it is: inside the Obama White House / Ben Rhodes, 470 pgs.

Ben Rhodes is often said to be the guy whose thoughts most closely matched Obama's.  I don't know if that is true but this book makes me think it is possible.  Rhodes worked at the White House for all 8 years and reveals a lot of his interactions with Obama and the work he did.  His focus was foreign policy so that is the bulk of what is covered.  An interesting account of someone who was there for a significant part of presidential history.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson  499 pp.

This is a convoluted description because of avoiding spoilers. In a future incarnation of Earth, a nanotechnologist named John Hackworth makes an illegal copy of a state-of-the-art interactive device called the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" with the intent of giving it to his young daughter. Before he can give it to her he is robbed of it by a gang of street urchins. One of the gang gives the book to his younger sister, Nell who rapidly finds herself engrossed almost to the point of addiction. The book is intended to guide the young women to "interesting lives." The Earth of the Diamond Age, where it is cheaper to make windows from sheets of diamond instead of glass, is divided into differing branches or tribes of society called phyles and the thetes, or those without a tribe. The prominent phyles are the Neo-Victorian New Atlantis, the Han (Chinese Celestial Kingdom), and the Nippon (Japanese) with many lesser phyles intermingled in their societies. With the help of the primer and Miranda, the actor who embodies its contents, Nell grows into a strong, self-sufficient, and worthy leader who becomes the leader of thousands of young women raised on the primer. I am undecided where to place this one in my " Best Stephenson Books" list. It's somewhere in the middle, better than his Baroque Cycle but not as good as Reamde, Fall, and Snow Crash

This Was Our Pact

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, 329 pages

Every year on the autumnal equinox, Ben's town launches lanterns into the river and Ben and his pals follow them on their bikes for a while. But this year, Ben and his buddies are determined to follow the lanterns all the way to their final destination to see if the lanterns end up beached on the side of the river somewhere or if they really do travel to the sky to join the stars (which is what local legend says). What results, however, is an unexpected friendship and adventure for Ben and the slightly-too-nerdy Nathaniel, as they meet a bear and a crazy witch, and get hopelessly lost in the interim. It's a fantastic story, beautifully told.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, 289 pages

Freddy Riley is head-over-heels in love with her girlfriend, Laura Dean. Laura is hot, popular, and worships Freddy... except when she doesn't...which seems to happen a lot. Like when they met up at the Valentine's Day dance only for Laura to go off and start making out with another girl in a supply closet and broke up with Freddy the next day. But then Laura comes back and Freddy can't say no.

This is a painfully realistic look at teenage relationships and how confusing and consuming they can be. I loved the artwork and the complexity of the characters, and while Laura certainly comes off as a villain  — and adult me is screaming at Freddy to FOR CRYING OUT LOUD dump this chick for good! — the creators also make sure that Freddy comes to that realization on her own, in her own time. In less-deft hands, the process would be rushed and the story would suffer. A great book, and one I'd highly recommend to anyone in Freddy's shoes.

Spur of the moment

Spur of the moment / David Linzee, 323 pgs.

Renata Radleigh is a mezzo-soprano visiting St. Louis to sing in an avant-garde production of Carmen.  She got the job based on her connection with her brother, the development director for the opera company.  Don and Renata aren't really close, there is plenty of simmering sibling tension but when Don is accused of murdering a big donor, Renata brings out her inner sleuth and starts trying to clear his name.  I loved this layered mystery that introduces us to interesting characters and builds suspense until the very end.  Renata is very much an amateur here but I look forward to seeing her in the next book in the series.

War on Peace

War on Peace: the end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence / Ronan Farrow, 425

What happens when the diplomats get fired?  The military rules the relationships between the U.S. and other countries.  How long will it take to rebuild a diplomatic corps?  It could take decades.  People need lots of experience to actually be effective at international relations. These aren't theoretical questions, Farrow's account of the state of the Department of State doesn't give you a lot of hope that we will be able to negotiate out way out of much.  Hopefully this will all change in the near future and the U.S. can again become a world leader.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Hollow Kingdom

Hollow Kingdom / Kira Jane Buxton, read by Robert Petkoff, 308 pgs.

After you read a bunch of post-apocalyptic fiction, you find they all have one thing in common...they are real bummers.  This one is different.  S.T. is our main narrator.  He is sad that his companion Big Jim seems to have bit the dust.  He takes on care of Dennis, Big Jim's dog. S. T. is a crow...and all of the other characters in this charming tale are other animals who are making their way in the post human world.  The audio version is perfectly narrated by Robert Petkoff who was born for this job.


Stalingrad: the Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 / Antony Beevor,  493 p.

Once again, Antony Beevor does not disappoint.  After devoting a good many hours to Vasily Grossman's fictional Stalingrad and Life and Fate, it was fitting to round out my reading with Beevor's fascinating work.  As in his recent The Battle of Arnhem, Beevor beautifully weaves a mountain of research with first-person accounts from both sides of the conflict to create a view of this decisive battle that is both panoramic and minutely detailed.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Grossman's journalism was an important source for Beevor.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Quietly in Their Sleep

Quietly in Their Sleep (Commissario Brunetti, Book 6) by Donna Leon  310 pp.

The more I read this series the more I like it. Commissario Guido Brunetti is not your average police procedural character. He is for the most part a gentle man, devoted to his family, and intent on doing the best he can for the victims of crimes while concealing a toughness that will rise when needed. In this episode he is approached by a former nun who once cared for his mother in a nursing home. She has abandoned her calling due to fears that criminal actions by her superiors have caused the death of a number of patients for their inheritances. Brunetti investigates but finds no discrepancies until the woman is nearly killed. In the mean time there is the problem of his teenage daughter's religion teacher, a priest with an unhealthy attraction to young girls. Secret societies, religious fanatics, and unethical clergy combine to make this a difficult case to crack. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Raisins and Almonds

Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood (©2002; US edition 2007) 207 pages

In this novel set in the late 1920s, Phryne Fisher, a young Australian detective, is asked to investigate the murder of a man who died in a bookshop. The woman who owns the shop, Sylvia Lee, has been arrested, mostly because she seemed too calm when handling the aftermath of her customer's death. Ben Abrahams, her rich Jewish landlord, also the father of a young man Phryne currently has her appetite set on, has asked Phryne to solve the murder.

The dead man was Jewish, and in his wallet were several letters in a different language, plus scraps of parchment with unusual drawings. Phryne, her beau Simon, and much of her household get into sorting out the facts. Phryne meets a cantankerous Rabbi, as well as several young men in the Jewish community who seem to be withholding information that could help solve the case, even as Phryne's knowledge of the Jewish religion increases and issues of Zionism are hashed out.

I especially enjoyed this book since I recently finished watching all three seasons of the "Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries" on dvd, based roughly on Greenwood's books.



Smile by Raina Telgemeier, 213 pages

When she was 12, Raina Telgemeier tripped and knocked out her two front teeth, setting off a four-year orthodontic ordeal to make her smile somewhat normal again. Of course, that time also coincided with becoming a teenager and all of the drama that comes with it.

In Smile, Telgemeier presents a smart, funny, relatable, and beautifully drawn memoir. This is another comic that I can't believe it's taken me this long to read. Both of my kids love this book, and I can completely see why this book is so insanely popular. I'd recommend it, but as my children tell me, I was probably the last person on the planet to catch on to this awesome book. *shrug* There goes my "cool mom" badge.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, 310 pages

Drew is in town for his ex-girlfriend's wedding...where he's dateless...and a groomsman... when he gets stuck in an elevator with Alexa. After a bit of flirting about cheese and crackers, the elevator starts back up, they exit, and before he can talk himself out of it, Drew asks Alexa to be his plus-one for the wedding festivities. But what's supposed to be a couple of fun nights and nothing more turns into a weekends-only fling that... might be more than that?

This is a quick, cute, sexy read. I loved Alexa and Drew as individual characters, and as a couple. I particularly enjoyed seeing a smart, funny, short and curvy protagonist getting the admiration she deserves from a hot doctor. 😉 An excellent choice for someone looking for a more diverse romance novel.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Sarah Jane

Sarah Jane: a Novel / James Sallis, 207 p.

The title character is made sheriff of her small town when her boss Cal, the former sheriff, disappears.  Sarah Jane has led a complex life, including time in the military, working as a chef, and a disastrous marriage.  Told in back-and -forths between Sarah's past and present in a gritty, laconic, 'seen it all' style that's elliptical enough that reading it is a bit like peering at an object through smudged glass.   Interesting, but a little hard to follow.  And there's far too high a casualty count per number of pages, which violates my "Arundhati Roy Syndrome" rule for fiction.  For more discussion of this  rule,read here and here

The Midnight Zoo

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett  217 pp.

This is one of the selections for the Treehouse Book Club. It's the story of three Romany Children who escape after the Nazis attack their caravan and they witness the killing of a family member and the arrest of the others from a hiding place in the woods. Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas take their infant sister and scavenge ruined villages for food and items to sell to get milk for the baby. They ultimately arrive at a small zoo, abandoned except for its animals, a lioness, a monkey, a chamois, a wolf, a boar, a seal, an eagle, a bear, a llama, and a kangaroo. During the children's one night with the animals, the animals share their stories with the children. In the end, the children escape with the animals, or do they? This book is a look at the futility and cruelty of war through a lens of magical realism.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson, 128 pages

College freshman Doreen Green is a regular-sized woman who has the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel of her size (and also a tail). With her best sidekick squirrel Tippy Toe and the help of the squirrels of the world, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl defeats the baddest baddies in all of New York City, and the galaxy, through some unorthodox means — squirrel suits and reasoning. This is an awesome, upbeat take on the superhero genre, and I'm kicking myself for taking this long to get around to reading it. More Squirrel Girl books are in my future!

The Man Who Played with Fire

The Man Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson's Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin by Jan Stocklassa  495 pp.

I'm going to start out by saying I enjoyed Stieg Larrson's novels about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had high hopes that the same would be true about this book. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 was an important unsolved crime so the story should have been intriguing. Yes, there are interesting parts but as a whole I found the book boring and couldn't wait to be done with it. I actually fell asleep a number of times while listening to the audiobook but persevered by going back to the last part I remembered and continuing from there. In my opinion Stocklassa failed in his attempt to bring Larsson's quest for the killer to life.

Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, 287 pages

After devastating floods wipe out most of North America, the Navajo reservation of what used to be the American Southwest is one of few places spared. But as the floods wiped out so much of humanity, the ancient Navajo gods and monsters have returned to wreak havoc. Maggie is a tracker and slayer of monsters, trading her skills for jewelry, blankets, and even the rare can of coffee. But recently, the horrors have begun ramping up, with a witch creating zombie-like monsters to ravage towns. Could Maggie's immortal monster-slaying former mentor be behind it? And what does trickster Coyote have to do with it?

The fusion of post-apocalyptic and ancient mythology in this book is amazing, and Roanhorse does a wonderful job of creating both complex characters and an action-packed story. I can't wait to discuss this with the Orcs & Aliens book group on Monday night, nor can I wait to read the sequel!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Twisted Ones

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, 385 p.

An extremely pragmatic freelance editor goes to rural North Carolina to clean out the house her unlikable grandmother had lived in. She finds, um, things she did not expect. I don’t read much horror, but I liked this a lot. There’s a nice mix of this-thing-is-impossible and this-thing-is-evil; some emotional horror and some biological horror. The narrator’s voice is the best part, though; there's a lot of humor amongst the horror.

(And she makes it clear in the first chapter that the dog lives, so you're safe on that front.)

T. Kingfisher is a pen name of Ursula Vernon.