Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman  368 pp.

Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina ran the Warsaw Zoo until the Nazis bombed, then invaded the city. Nazi officials confiscated some of the animals for transfer to German zoos. They also staged a brutal "hunting party" where they gunned down many of the remaining animals. Jan was given other jobs within the city but the couple also assisted the massive Polish underground resistance movement and Zegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews. The zoo became a safe house and way station for Jews being smuggled from the Warsaw ghetto on their way to freedom outside of the Nazi territories. People were given animal names and housed in various zoo buildings or the villa that was the Zabinski home. The random accumulation of animals in the household had human names thereby creating one of many levels of deception to protect the escapees. The cool-headedness and quick thinking of Antonina frequently saved them from discovery although both she and Jan kept cyanide pills in case they should ever be captured. Included in the temporary zoo residents are the sculptor, Magdalena Gross and Irena Sendler, who saved the lives of thousands of children during the Nazi occupation. This is a riveting and important piece of history. I never realized the Polish resistance movement was as large and well organized. I listened to the audiobook which was well read by Suzanne Toren. Now I may spend time watching the film version of this story.

This is going to hurt

This is going to hurt: secret diaries of a junior doctor / Adam Kay, 283 pgs.

Heartbreaking and hilarious, this book traces the journey of a young doctor in the UK working for the National Health Service.  NHS is the pride of the country but the doctors working there seem quite abused.  I loved the insights that would be similar for any doctor in training but also value learning more about the system.  Adam Kay has lots of stories and I enjoyed every single one of them.  If medical stuff doesn't gross you out, give this one a try.

Home after dark

Home after dark / David Small, 399 pgs.

Russell's mom runs off with his dad's best friend.  Then he and his dad move from Ohio to California.  He is tossed in with a new crowd and is trying to find his way.  He and his dad rent a room from the Mahs then move to their own place.  Russell makes some friends but is a little wary of all of them, especially bully Kurt.  Then his hard drinking dad leaves.  A teen on his own with no money, he ends up back with the Mahs. Russell has it pretty tough but Small's art makes this an interesting but dark story. 

The care and feeding of ravenously hungry girls

The care and feeding of ravenously hungry girls / Anissa Gray, read by January LaVoy, Bahni Turpin, Dominic Hoffman, and Adenrele Ojo 294 pgs.

The Butler family is sooo dysfunctional.  Which makes for great reading.  Oldest sister Althea and her husband Proctor find themselves jailed for fraud, their twin teenage daughters adrift. Sister Viola is relapsing with her eating disorder after breaking up with her girlfriend.  Lillian is 36, parents dead and no kids of her own but finds herself fully engaged in the "sandwich generation" as she is caring for her nieces and her ex-grandmother-in-law.  Brother Joe is still kind of a jerk but took over his dad's preaching business.  Yes, they all have issues.  Yes, there is a family crisis.  Will they come together?  or will they scatter?  Well written and realistic, the audio version enhances the story thanks to an excellent cast of narrators.

Spur of the Moment

Spur of the Moment by David Linzee (2016) 323 pages

Some weeks ago I read an early mystery by local author David Linzee (Death in Connecticut) and at the suggestion of a colleague, I've read this later one. Renata Radleigh is a British-born opera singer who is in St. Louis to perform a minor role in an unusual take on Carmen. Her brother works as a fundraiser for the St. Louis Opera, and he is ecstatic to have convinced Helen Stromberg-Brand, an Adams University researcher, to make a huge donation that will help the ailing opera company. Renata and her brother Don have a history of antagonism for each other, and she is as surprised as anyone when she attacks officers who come to arrest her brother for Helen's murder. Renata is luckily not charged in the attack, and she begins to make her own inquiries into possible murder suspects, to the annoyance of the detective. The solution to the murder is not at all obvious, not matter what the detective thinks. Helen's marriage was floundering and she had some issues regarding her research into a much-needed drug. She had garnered a named professorship at the university, beating out Ransome Chase, a now-bitter colleague who was working for the eradication of  a different disease. And what's going on with Keith Bryson, a hugely rich venture-capitalist who had partnered in Helen's research?

I found this book an enjoyable read, not only for twists and turns in the solution, but also for the local flavor of the St. Louis area.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Wolf by Rachael Ball, 302 pages.

A graphic novel about Hugo, his brother, sister, and mother after Hugo's father dies. Hugo is young and finds it hard to believe that his father is truly gone, and he struggles to find his way. The family has to move, and his siblings and mother are on edge. In their exploration of the new neighborhood they find that the man next door is rumored to be a wolfman and to eat children. The other neighbor, a boy about their age, convinces them to build a time machine, one based on the movie version of the HG Wells story. Interesting, dreamy pencil drawings complement the mood of the story.


Becoming by Michelle Obama, 426 pages

Michelle Obama's book is a joy to read. It is an even greater joy to listen to the former first lady read the audiobook to you. You get the same story either way, but listening to Mrs. Obama read the book, you get the feeling that she is telling the story to you, her good friend. She is an amazing woman who has led a great life, from her parents' apartment in Chicago to Princeton and Harvard Law, to her work at Sidley Austin where she met Harvard Law student Barack Obama.
In recounting their years together, Obama does a great job of balancing the personal and public  / professional.
A truly engaging book and a great account of the recent past.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Looker by Laura Sims, 182 pages

A woman lives alone in an apartment in a cozy, family-filled neighborhood. Just down the street lives a famous actress and her family. The actress's seemingly perfect life captivates the woman, whose life is unraveling. As the woman's world devolves, her obsession with the actress grows, with the tension ratcheting up with each turn of the page. In her debut novel, Sims has created a gripping view of an unnamed woman's evolution from someone who deserves our sympathy to someone whose instability rapidly becomes off-putting at best (and often downright scary). It's tight, it's tense, and — perhaps most disturbingly — believably realistic. I can't wait to see what Sims does next.

Monday, February 25, 2019


Swing by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess, 448 pages.
Noah and Walt have been friends for a long time. They are in high school, but, despite their best efforts, they are not cool. Both would play baseball if they could make the team, and each of them are feeling the pangs of unrequited love.
Noah is in love with his childhood friend Samantha, Sam. Walt falls for Divya, the slightly older woman who works at Out with the Old, the local thrift shop.
Divya shares Walt's taste in music, Sam and Noah share a fondness for poetry and art.

Part of the charm of Alexander's YA writing is the form he uses, the novel length free-verse poem. Many of his works are long, colorful, poems which illuminate the thoughts and feelings of the author's protagonists.

Alexander also uses his stories to subtly recommend his favorite books and music to his readers.
After reading Swing, I have put Dexter Gordon's Go on hold because of  the recommendation by Divya.

Also, I got the last signed copy of Swing for the Library at ALA. I saw the author sitting at a booth with a very short line (which should have been a warning that the line was closed). I got in line and then the three people in front of me and I were informed that the line was indeed closed. I asked if I could just stay in line and tell the author how much I admired his work, and was rewarded with the display copy.


Wrecked: An IQ Novel by Joe Ide, 343 pages.

The third book in Joe Ide's IQ series, Wrecked, does a nice job of continuing the series. Where the second book felt like a bridge between the fresh stand-alone story of  IQ, and the impending series of books-setting up the new partnership between Isaiah and his friend Dodson-the third book takes us in new and interesting directions, as the partnership shows the strain of the two characters differing styles. Isaiah is still the detecting part of the duo, and while some of his deductions seems a little forced, and there is more violence than some might like, this is an interesting and fun read. There are a couple of parallel investigations going on, with Dodson and Isaiah trying to keep their own secrets, but it all works out fairly well. An interesting detective story.


Outliers: the Story of Success / Malcolm Gladwell, read by the author, 309 p.

I can't stay away from Gladwell, his melodic voice, his rational mind, and his engrossing storytelling.  His point in Outliers is that extreme success, of the kind enjoyed by Bill Gates, the Beatles, and the like, is a combination of talent and a particular set of circumstances which lead to the necessary opportunities to exploit that talent.  I found occasional points to disagree with here, but remained enthralled every minute. 

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain: a Novel / James Baldwin, 291 p.

James Baldwin's first novel, and considered largely autobiographical.  It tells the story of John, age 14, as he approaches the time to be baptized and born again.  Baldwin says he wrote the story to understand what happened in his own family, among his preacher-stepfather, eventually institutionalized, his mother, and his aunt.  He manages to tell John's story, while unpacking the complex, tragic stories of his antecedents as well.  Large-minded, compassionate, and graceful, this will be a hard novel to forget.


Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive / Stephanie Land, 270 p. 

The author finds herself 32, mother to an infant, Mia, and homeless, after Mia's father's behavior becomes so disturbing they are forced to flee.  Over the years of Mia's infancy in Washington State, Stephanie works frantically to sustain herself and her daughter through carefully maximizing all government benefits available, and working a variety of housecleaning jobs, all while taking online courses in an attempt to move her family on to something better.  Stephanie's book makes clear the effort of conscientiousness and organization required to hold on to those meager benefits, and opens up the feelings of being an anonymous household 'maid,' required to clean the toilets of strangers.  Her exhaustion, vulnerability and loneliness are clear.  Particularly enlightening is a story she tells of being in a grocery store using a WIC coupon and hearing an older man in line behind her shout angrily, "You're welcome," presumably because he felt he should be thanked for contributing to her child's glass of milk. 

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell  436 pp.

While there are masses of books about Winston Churchill not much exists on his wife of  56 years. Beginning with her birth to Lady Blanche Hozier there were questions as to who her father was with three men as possibilities including her legal father Henry Hozier. After spending her teen years in France she met and married Churchill at the age of 23. Her life from then on involved supporting her husband's political ambitions, having a brood of mostly unsuccessful children, championing social causes, and being a moral support to her countrymen during two world wars. As biographies go, this one is adequate but not without mistakes. During the battle of Dunkirk credit for rescuing many of the soldiers was given to the Royal Navy with no mention of the hundreds of civilian craft that assisted in the evacuation. My main quibble was with the classically British take on the U.S. failure to enter World War II early on. A number of times FDR was blamed for refusing to declare war on Germany when constitutionally it is Congress that declares war and a majority of Congress was isolationist at the time. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

My Squirrel Days

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper, 240 pages.
Heartily recommended for fans of Kemper, especially of her portrayal of Kimmy Schmidt. Kemper, as she writes here, seems to be channeling her popular character (or maybe the character is her and accurately portrays her humor). Quite a fun book to read and even more fun to listen to, as Kemper narrates the audio. There is nothing earth-shattering or particularly revelatory here, it is just light, fun reading.
My favorite book by a comedian so far in 2019.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart, 723 pages.

A wonderfully detailed, and accessible biography of America's most popular, iconic, and, arguably, the most consistently fair Supreme Court Justice.
The author met Ginsburg in 1998 or so, and between 2000 and 2006 was able to interview the justice about once per year.
De Hart follows Ginsburg from her childhood in Flatbush, through law school at Harvard and Columbia, her time teaching at Rutgers, and at NYU, and her travels and writing on comparative law. The author does a wonderful job showing Ginsburg as a woman committed to her work and her family as she  began expanding her career and working on cases for the ACLU.
After a series of key cases before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was appointed to the D.C. Circuit in 1980 by Jimmy Carter, and then to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. Throughout all of this De Hart keeps the book moving at a pace that keeps you reading. It's a fascinating story and it is extremely well-told.

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman, 753 pages.

Bergman, a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, presents a detailed, and well-indexed history of the Israeli government's evolving program of assassinations. Targets have varied over the years from very specific individuals, with layers of approval necessary, to the "Grass Widow" method that at times seems like "anyone within a given area with a gun is a target."
It was amazing to see how many future Prime Ministers were involved in the various incarnations of these programs, from Menachem Begin as commander of the Irgun, to former paratrooper Ariel Sharon as IDF commander, and then Defense Minister, to Yitzhak Rabin as defense minister.
From letter bombs (which almost never worked), to the failed tracking a terrorist to Oslo which resulted in the  gunning down the wrong man, to the carefully planned, but almost comically botched poisoning of Khaled Mashal in Jordan right outside of the Hamas offices, the Mossad and Shin Bet were not always as successful as their reputation would indicate.
The more recent methods involving computers, drones, decoys, and shooting blinds seem to be more effective and have a quicker response time, but the morality is perhaps even murkier. This interesting, and provocative book raises many questions.


Binti, Nnedi Okorafor, 98 pages

Binti is just amazing. It's a quick novella, rich in its world without over showing, connecting the reader to Binti, a young woman of the Himba people, who leaves her home and family to study at Oozma University, one of the most prestigious schools in the galaxy. Along the way, her ship is waylaid by a group seeking vengeance against the University, for the callous wrongs committed to them by researchers from the University. Binti must use her wits and diplomacy to navigate the scenario, which is a refreshing change from the ways that science fiction traditionally resolves conflict, with laser sword and plasma bolt. Binti's adherence to her belief and strength of character create an incredibly strong female lead, and I loved the language that Okorafor used to describe the world that Binti lives in.

Delicious in Dungeon, Volumes II and II

Delicious in Dungeon, Volumes II and III, Kui Ryoku, 192 pages each

Kui Ryoku's hilarious take on fantasy dungeon ecology and fantasy tropes continues in these two volumes. The party, led by Laios and his determination to rescue his sister from the belly of a red dragon, encounters a few iconic creatures from fantasy mythos (orcs, mermaids, and zombies), as well as some plays upon Dungeons and Dragons monsters, including everyone's personal favorite, the mimic. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a mimic is a treasure chest shaped monster that eats your face when you try to open it to look at the treasure inside of it. Chilchuck, the resident halfling rogue of the adventuring group, has a healthy fear of them, and of course, he is the one forced to deal with a mimic on his own. Moments of levity abound as the group progresses forward, and a particular favorite of mine occurs when the group washes the dwarf's beard. Seriously, it is a thing, and it is hilarious.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Anne Frank, adapted by Ari Foldman, Illustrations by David Polonsky, 149 pages.

Ari Folman and David Polonsky have produced a wonderfully illustrated version of Anne Frank's famous diary. The rich, colorful drawings enhance the story and bring the iconic book to life for a new audience.
Authorized by the Anne Frank, and using the text from Anne Frank's diary, it is hoped that "it will introduce a new generation of young readers to this classic of Holocaust literature."

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling, 341 pages.

The second book in Rowling's famous series, we listened to this one on a road-trip as the last year ended and the new year began. The audio of the Harry Potter series are read by the incomparable Jim Dale and are a great delight to listen to. In this book, Harry begins his second year at Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione are back, but Harry has not heard from them all summer, due to the interference of a rogue house-elf, Dobby. Dobby spends a lot of time and effort trying to convince Harry to avoid Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister, starts her first year at the school, and she plays a crucial role in the book. Tom Riddle makes his first appearance, and this years DATDA teacher is Gilderoy Lockhart. A fun read.

Friday, February 22, 2019

No Beast So Fierce

No Beast So Fierce: the Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History / Dane Huckelbridge, 280 p.

This very fine work of nonfiction brings to mind John Vaillant's The Tiger, about a man-eating Amur tiger in Russia.  In this case, it's a Bengal, the place is the Himalayan border area of Nepal and India, and the time is 1907.  The Champawat, by most estimates, killed 450 humans over many years before it was hunted and killed by Irish-Indian Jim Corbett.  The author does a great job of pulling apart the environmental and geopolitical factors that pushed the tiger to the edge of its habitat and forced it to turn to humans as its primary food source.  My only criticism, and it's one I make frequently, is...maps.  More maps.  Please!

Early Riser

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde, 402 pages

In a world of increasingly cold and snowy winters, humans hibernate through the four-month winter, relying on fat stores created from lavish meals in autumn; winter body-hair growth; and, for the lucky, a dream-avoiding drug that saves precious calories to survive the brutal season. Oh, and there are a few porters and peacekeeping Consuls who hibernate earlier in the year, specifically so they can protect those who are sleeping deeply through winter. Charlie Worthing is a novice Consul, who becomes marooned in one of the most remote areas of Wales while investigating a viral dream involving a blue Buick, disembodied hands, and a pile of rocks. This obviously has something to do with the pharmaceutical company based in that part of Wales, but before Charlie can figure it out, they start dreaming about blue Buicks too.

Oh, how I've missed Jasper Fforde's kooky and seemingly infinite imagination! Fforde is one of my favorite authors, and it's been six years since his last book, so I honestly would have pounced on his next book if it was simply a list of everything he's had for breakfast in the past year. But Early Riser is so twisty, and fun, and full of odd characters! I love the complex world he's created for Charlie, and I'd love to read more about all of the elements in it, from the Campaign for Real Sleep to HiberTech to the Gronk (these will all make at least a bit of sense when you read the book). My only quibble is with the time of year that this book was released: it's not easy to read a book about hibernating through winter when there's ice and snow outside! Other than that, I'm pleased as punch that the Fforde drought is over!

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Newcomer / Keigo Higashino, translated by Giles Murray, read by P. J. Ochlan, 342 pgs.

Detective Kaga is a new transfer to the Nihonbashi section of Tokyo.  He is on the team investigating the murder of a newly divorced woman in her 40s.  The book takes us through the investigation at a deliberate pace.  Kaga has a good reputation but some wonder if he has lost his fire as they watch him wander around and ask seemingly irrelevant questions.  How will this all end up?  We know the crime will be solved but are kept in the dark about what is important to the case and the connections Kaga makes as he goes.  I liked the way this unfolded and agree with Kara that it reminded me of Agatha Christie.  Well done plot and writing.  I did not enjoy the audio version enough to finish so switched to print.

Notes for the everlost

Notes for the everlost: a field guide to grief / Kate Inglis, 196 pgs.

Premature labor results in two tiny twins, one of whom doesn't have much chance.  Liam dies at the hospital but Ben comes home.  How does a mother cope with this loss?  Not very well despite all the helpful people telling her how it could be worse.  A stunning memoir of loss, grief, love and survival, I hope like hell I never say some of the incredibly stupid things that Inglis endured.  She does recognize that people are very bad at condolences but still recounts a lot of pain brought on by others.  All of this just added to the pain that nature provided.  Much here is helpful for anyone who is experiencing grief.


The burglar

The burglar / Thomas Perry, 288 pgs.

Elle Stowell is good at her job.  She is a burglar.  She can case a joint in no time flat and get in and out quickly.  She is in fantastic shape, a tiny blond 25 year old, she looks like she belongs in the toniest neighborhoods.  In the process of stealing, she stumbles on a murder scene.  It takes her a minute to see the camera that has probably recorded it all.  She ends up only taking the camera.  Now she is being followed.  She isn't sure if it is the cops or somehow related to the murder.  She starts investigating.  The pulse of this book keeps ratcheting up as Elle gets closer to the truth.  Will she figure out who committed the murder and why?  Read to find out.

The travelling cat chronicles

The travelling cat chronicles / Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel, read by George Blagden, 277 pgs.

Satoru is a single guy who adopts an injured stray cat that he had been feeding.  The cat looks a lot like one he had as a child.  Nana (as the cat is dubbed) is precocious and independent.  He narrates a large part of the book telling of his owner and their travels together.  Satoru is looking for a new home for Nana and visits a slew of friends to see if any will be a good fit.  The adventures they have together are sweet and heart warming.  We learn a lot about Satoru and his friends.  I found this quirky little book to be a real treasure.  George Blagden does a convincing job with a cat's voice.

The study of animal languages

The study of animal languages / Lindsay Stern, read by MacLeod Andrews, 229 pgs.

Prue and Ivan are professors, each focusing on language and communication but their marriage is failing as their personal communication is on the fritz.  Ivan is dealing with his father-in-law who wants to hear the big lecture his daughter is delivering.  Father-in-law might be off his meds...but Ivan has kind of always felt like he is probably ok.  He starts on the slippery slope by not being honest with Prue about his time with her dad.  Later, he doesn't clarify that the flowers delivered are NOT from him.  After that, he accidentally overhears a message from an acquaintance of Prue's that leads him to believe she is having an affair.  He decides to confront his nemesis in a public venue and hits him before realizing how wrong his is about the situation.  An interesting view of how misunderstandings grow in the dark.  Prue and Ivan might be perfect for each other or maybe not, but without more communication, they might never know.  The audiobook is well done by MacLeod Andrews.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang  276 pp.

This graphic novel is a wry twist on story of a prince falling in love with commoner when he is supposed to choose a princess for his bride. In this case, the Prince Sebastian is enamored with a dressmaker who designs amazing dresses . . . for him to wear as his alter ego Lady Crystallia. When the dressmaker leaves him to design for a new department store, the prince is bereft. Soon his secret is made public and he runs away. The ending includes a marvelous twist that gives a new look to "happily ever after."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The life and loves of a she-devil

The life and loves of a she-devil / Fay Weldon, 241 pgs.

A dark tale of revenge and scorn.  Ruth is happily married until her husband cheats on her with a popular romance novelist. Her life falls apart as she has no income, no husband, no will to continue...until she decides to get revenge.  The revenge ideas come on strong and fast.  She wants to ruin the husband and his lover. The plans are complicated and time consuming but she has nothing but time.  She is obsessed and quite successful in her plans. An interesting read.

We Cast a Shadow

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, 324 pages

The barest description of this book is simple: A black lawyer is doing everything he can to climb the ranks in his law firm, trying to do what he can to make his young son's life easier, both now and in the future. But the intricacies of what he's doing, what he's trying to do, and the hoops he's willing to jump through are what elevate this book to flat-out amazing.

Set in a future where black Americans are not-exactly-forced to live in fenced-off projects and where it's possible (but VERY expensive) to surgically erase blackness through "demelanization" and plastic surgery, our unnamed protagonist must, in turn, become a stereotype and a token POC to "earn" a promotion that will allow his son to get the procedure that will remove a growing dark birthmark from his lighter-skinned face — despite his white wife's protestations.

No matter how many ways I try to type and retype a description of this book, I realize that I'm never going to capture the power of it. All I can say is that, by setting this book in the future, Maurice Carlos Ruffin manages to illustrate the world we live in today better than just about any book I've ever read. This book is incredible, and I'll be shocked if it isn't taught, discussed, and dissected alongside Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Everything Trump Touches Dies

Everything Trump Touches Dies by Rick Wilson (2018) 327 pages

See the players in Donald Trump's campaigning and office-holding from the view of Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and Never Trump-er. He lists the various people (often with biting, but humorous descriptions) both inside Trump's administration and in the world outside, indicating what he sees as wrong about their actions and/or how their associations with Trump have harmed them and their reputations.

By the last section of the book, Wilson's tone becomes deadly serious, listing what changes need to happen to save the Republican Party and the country itself. After his warnings, Wilson does end on a hopeful note. This book is quite a fast read; even though I try to keep up with current events, I learned a lot of behind-the-scenes detail from it.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Bicycle Built for Murder

A Bicycle Built for Murder by Kate Kingsbury (2001) 216 pages

Elizabeth Hartleigh Compton - Lady Elizabeth - is the house-rich, cash-poor owner of the Manor House in Sitting Marsh, a small village in England in World War II. Times are rough - most of the village men are in the military, and food and drink are strictly rationed. American armed forces are stationed in the area, and the girls of the village are meeting them in the pub, causing concern in the village that the Americans, although on England's side in the war, are not to be trusted with their daughters. When Beryl Pierce, a sixteen year old girl, is found murdered, suspicions are aimed at the Americans. The older English men who are left to police the village perhaps aren't well-suited to cracking the case, and Lady Elizabeth tries to solve the murder at the request of Beryl's mother. Meanwhile, her mansion has been requisitioned, per orders of the War Office, for several American officers to live in, because there's not enough room at the base.

This is the first in a series of Manor House Mysteries.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman  304 pp.

Neil Gaiman's love of Norse Mythology comes to life in his retelling of many of the stories of the Gods and their exploits from the creation story through to Ragnarok, the end of the Gods. Included are many of the most popular stories including one of my favorites where Thor dresses as a bride to retrieve Mjollnir, his stolen hammer. Gaiman brings the Gods to life with his lively prose. Listening to the author read this book only adds to the enjoyment of these age-old stories. Previously blogs were written by Patrick, Christa, Joshua, Rob, and Kara.

Bless Me Again, Father

Bless Me Again, Father by Neil Boyd  222 pp.

This is the fifth book in the "Bless Me Father" series and fortunately for me they don't have to be read in order. Each chapter is a new episode in the lives of the irascible and cunning Father Duddleswell and curate Father Neil.  The stories, set in the 1950s, mainly involve the parishioners of St. Jude's and their varied difficulties and quirks and Fr. Duddleswell's conflicts with his housekeeper, the Mother Superior, the Bishop, the local Anglican Church, and the church's money issues. The stories are a bit dated but it's the characters that bring the stories to life.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Fame: the hijacking of reality / Justine Bateman, 204 pgs.

Bateman talks philosophically about fame and its function.  She talks about her own experiences with fame, the good, the bad, the outright ugly.  What is it like for a young girl to be famous?  A young adult?  An adult?  What do you learn from it?  How do you live your life?  Beyond the philosophical are real stories from her life as a famous person and a person whose fame has waned.  I particularly liked the one about her posing on the red carpet and instead of being too short with her time, being asked to move because someone more famous was coming behind her.  After once being the hottest thing, what does that change in attitude do to you?  Have YOU changed at all?  Or is it really just everyone else. Insightful and a little crazy.

Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, 275 pages

In this charming memoir, Kendrick discusses her life as a child actress on Broadway, her move to Los Angeles at the age of 17 (which may explain her decision to move to the most car-necessary city in the country WITHOUT A CAR), and her rise to fame. It's charming, self-deprecating, and fantastic, especially the audiobook, which Kendrick reads herself. 12/10 would watch reality TV with her while wearing sweats.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rock needs river

Rock needs river: a memoir about a very open adoption / Vanessa McGrady, read by the author, 182 pgs.

This memoir traces the author's childhood and family background leading up to the adoption of her daughter.  This is where it gets interesting because the adoption was "open" and the birth parents are a part of her life.  So much a part, they lived with her and the child for awhile after they became homeless.  Interesting in so many ways telling of the ebb and flow of the relationship between the new parents and the birth parents.  The audio version is very good.  I was reluctant to stop listening.

Pie Squared

Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies / Cathy Barrow, 321 p.

A slab pie has a rectangular crust rolled out to 11"x15" rather than the standard round.  The key difference, apart from the fact that I found it a little harder to roll those rectangles, is that slabs are shallower pies, resulting in a different (and better!) filling-to-crust ratio.  Following Barrow's instructions to the letter leads to almost-crispy crusts which really shine when paired with her interesting filling combos.  I tried spinach artichoke, asparagus and fontina, and Italian sausage and tomato, all of which were yummy.  The rectangular shape and shallower depth also make the savories more suitable to be served as canapes, although mine did just fine as dinner. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Severance by Ling Ma, 291 pages

When Shen Fever hits, Candace Chen is middle management, serving as the liaison between publishers and book manufacturers in China. She has no relatives in the U.S. (and only distant ones in China), she's just broken up with her boyfriend of five years, she has no place to go. So she keeps going to work. Even when everyone else in New York City leaves (or has become fevered), she keeps going to the office. Eventually, the lifestyle becomes unsustainable and Candace finally leaves town, hooking up with a small band of survivors heading west to "The Facility" where they can live safely in the long-term.

Bouncing back and forth in time from before and after the pandemic, this post-apocalyptic novel is a study in routine, in humanity, in solitude, and in self-sufficiency. This was an odd book, and I'll be musing on it for some time to come. I'd recommend it for fans of Station Eleven and The Dog Stars.

Forever and a day

Forever and a day: a James Bond novel / Anthony Horowitz, read by Matthew Goode, 288 pgs.

007 is dead.  This is the start of the book.  The 00 program is new, in fact, just 3 agents and now one is dead.  This introduces a new agent, just promoted.  His name is James Bond.  He wants to keep the 007 designation because the man who was killed was his friend.  His first assignment is get to the bottom of that murder.  We meet James Bond.  He is debonair but young.  He has confidence but is still figuring things out.  He doesn't have a lot of experience.  This book is a prequel "Casino Royale." Ian Fleming's first Bond book.  Horowitz grabs the mantle and does a good job.  Sure, there are a few things that make no sense for the least twice there are comments about smoking being a dirty habit.  Did anyone say that in the 50's?  In the end, Bond solves the mystery, gets the woman, and kills a few people.  I doubt that can be dubbed a spoiler.  The narration is well done by Matthew Goode.  Great for Bond fans.

David and Goliath

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants / Malcolm Gladwell, read by the author, 305 p.

Could dyslexia be an advantage?  How about childhood trauma? or religious persecution?  David and Goliath is an exploration of the ways in which humans fail to calculate where true power lies, as the Philistines did in the Bible story of the title.  Using the narrative of a preteen girls' basketball team of inexperienced players whose coach, from India, knew nothing about the game, Gladwell explores what really constitutes strength and weakness.  In the case of the basketball team, by analyzing the game and weighing up the skill sets of his players, the coach brought his rag-tag team to the national championships by exploiting the weaknesses of their more skilled opponents through the continuous and energetic use of the full-court press. 

Gladwell goes on tell us about those who succeeded in other arenas not by playing better but by playing harder or differently: a pediatric leukemia specialist whose horrible childhood enabled him to take great risks in pursuit of new treatments, dyslexic men who went on to become successful Hollywood moguls and Wall Street brokers, and a stubborn French Huguenot who fearlessly defied the Nazis.  In each case, Gladwell's unique perspective and narrative gifts keep the listener on the edge of her seat. 

The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin  346 pp.

This book was not what I expected but I enjoyed it. The four Gold siblings, two boys and two girls, sneak out to visit a fortune teller and are told when they will die. Even though they think what they were told is all phony, those revelations go on to affect their lives. Only one was given the prediction of a long life. Simon, the youngest and sister Klara escape to the west coast for the party culture and show business, Daniel, the elder brother, becomes an army doctor, while older sister, Varya, does longevity research. The book explores the question "Are we the victims or the perpetrators of our own fate?" I listened to the downloadable audiobook which is well read by Maggie Hoffman.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Rule of the Bone

Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks, 390 pages

I originally read Russell Banks's Rule of the Bone in high school, and at the time thought the protagonist Chapman, AKA The Bone, was underwhelming and I did not understand why he seemed so blank at the start of the book. Rereading it now, fifteen years and a lot of life experience later, I can understand the "blank" qualities he exhibited, that he just seemed to follow along with the events that were occurring around, and how he never really seemed to understand right from wrong. His lack of world and life experiences that are positive contrast strongly with what he feels should be right, and that is a lot of where his internal conflicts come from. He goes from homeless, drug addled teen and criminal, to a young man who finally understands that life outlooks come from role models and experiences, and even negative experiences can create positive changes in one's life. His sometimes rambling and unreliable nature as a narrator are showcased in the way that Banks writes, in train of thought sentences that expand and contract based upon the actions of Chappie. While an enjoyable read, some of the topics Banks hits upon (child abuse, drug abuse, murder) may be a bit much for some readers.

Artificial Condition

Artificial Condition, Martha Wells, 160 pages

Artificial Condition is the second entry in Martha Wells's Murderbot series, and it is just as wonderful as the first novella. Her prose is quick and snappy, easy to read and enjoy in a sitting or two. Artificial Condition follows Murderbot after it has left the team it was paired with in All Systems Red. Stowing away on a research transport, it hires itself out as a private security agent in order to get to the bottom of the events that led it to hack its governing module, a piece of hardware that should force it to follow human directives and be unaware of the world around it in any capacity beyond that of a security drone. The research transport has an AI that quickly bonds with Murderbot, much to Murderbot's occasional displeasure. The only downside to Wells's work so far has been that I found the ending, much like the first, to come too abruptly. I felt like the novella could use another twenty to thirty pages to wind down. That said, I already have the third one on request from our library.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (2011) 339 pages

Another author and series new to me are Louise Penny and her 7th installment in the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series. (Apparently I never start with the first book in a series.) Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team investigate the murder of a woman found in the garden of Clara Morrow, a woman who'd just celebrated her first art show just shy of age 50. Three Pines, a small Canadian village, has a variety of residents and visitors who came to the party at Clara's home after her art show opening, which provides an ample number of suspects. It turns out that the murdered woman, Lillian, had been best friend to Clara in her youth, until Lillian's jealousy over Clara's artistic skills had turned toxic. The murder investigation is in itself fascinating. However, a backstory into a traumatic event in the not-so-long-ago past of Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, is also compelling. The character development rings so true. Penny's writing style forced me to slow down just a bit in order to appreciate her craft: those numerous times when a turn-of-phrase makes me wish I had such skills. A perfect read on a cold winter day...

Friday, February 8, 2019


Unleashed by David Rosenfelt (2013) 308 pages

In Rosenfelt's eleventh installment of the Andy Carpenter mystery series, Andy (a criminal defense attorney) finds himself reluctantly taking on Denise Price as a client. She's been accused of poisoning her wealthy husband with botulism shortly before he flew his airplane, causing him to crash after becoming paralyzed by the toxin mid-flight. Meanwhile, a foreign terrorist plot is quietly taking shape as ex-military artillery experts are recruited to bring down prominent targets simultaneously in several cities across the U.S. As Andy's team investigates, looking for evidence that Denise is innocent of murder, some business associates of her husband are found dead. When the team follows the money to see where it leads, they begin to see hints that something big is being planned.

Andy's chapters are written in an engaging first-person narrative, while we're kept informed of the terrorist plot development by a third-person narrator. Unleashed is a fast read, with humor, suspense and some surprising twists.

Clutter Busting

Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer (2009) 219 pages

Clutter Busting is yet another good book on letting go of all the things that one does not need. Palmer emphasizes enjoying now and not living in the past. He tells us we don't need to have more things to be better. Indeed, it's all the stuff we have that keeps us from being happy. To this point, Palmer shares interactions he has had with several clients.

Palmer delves into the psychological aspects of why we collect stuff as much as he gets into making decisions on what to get rid of. There's a nice five-page "Summary of Clutter-Busting Principles" at the end of the book that sums up his methods nicely.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer

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

Korede is the ultimate put-upon sibling. Korede has always taken care of Ayoola, her beautiful and spoiled little sister, even when Ayoola kills her boyfriend and calls her big sister to help clean up. After this happens for the third time, Korede's misgivings about her sister begin to weigh on her, especially when Ayoola sets her sights on Korede's handsome coworker. This darkly funny and haunting debut novel explores the inexplicable bond between sisters, creating a book that almost everyone with a younger sibling can identify with (even if our little sisters aren't murderers). This was an excellent book, and I look forward to reading more of Braithwaite's books in the future.