Sunday, March 31, 2019


Penance by Kanae Minato, 229 pages.
An odd, disjointed, angry book that starts with the murder of Emily, a twelve-year-old girl. The murder takes place near where she had been playing with four of her friends. After the murder is discovered, none of the other girls can describe the murderer, event though they had all seen him. And, as it is the festival of Obon, and there are lots of family and friends visiting the small rural town, the police have no luck hunting down the killer. A series of recent doll thefts in the town convince many that the thief and the killer are the same person, but  Emily's mother blames the girls and vows revenge. Her vow, and the letters she writes to the four of them detailing her plans for vengeance don't really help the girls with the trauma they have experienced. Somehow the blame, and the guilt and the lives they live cause the girls to be drawn into weird violent scenarios (that don'r really strike me as particularly probable) that cause them all to have to kill someone themselves. Like I said, a little odd and disjointed.

Fire & Blood

Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin, 706 pages.
This lengthy fictional history starts with the conquest of Westeros by Aegon I. Sure, it goes back a little further and tells, in brief, how Aenar, Aegon's dad, left Valyria right before the fall and started the journey west (I think) with his extended family and his dragons. The rest of the book is interesting and gives a brief glimpse at each of a whole bunch of Targaryens and other Westerosies. There are a lot of conflicts, wars using dragons, fights between family members, fights between family members while riding dragons, and the deaths of all the dragons. Not a great book for an engaging story arc, more of something to be read in short bursts. Fun for fans of the whole Ice and Fire world.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, 870 pages

My daughter and I are up to Book 5 in our trip through Harry Potter's adventures. This book finds Harry experiencing the hormones, angst, and frustrations of being 16, combined with the return of Lord Voldemort, whose existence is vehemently denied by government leaders (much like climate change is an unnamed country across the pond from Harry's homeland, but that's a different story altogether). While this book has the most evil villain in all of the wizarding world, it's also my least favorite of the series, due to a side plot and character that I feel are wholly unecessary, as well as the idiotic voice I chose to employ for the aforementioned villain. (But saying it's my least favorite Harry Potter book is like naming a least favorite tropical vacation site: it's not as good as the rest, but I'm OBVIOUSLY still going to enjoy myself immensely.) Suffice it to say that my vocal chords and I are ready to start on Book 6.

The House of Broken Angels

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea  336 pp.

Big Angel de La Cruz is dying. The patriarch of a large family has gathered them together for the funeral of his mother followed by a celebration of what is to be his last birthday. The multi-generational clan gathers in Big Angel's Southern California home to reminisce reveals stories of their lives, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, and often philosophical. Occasionally I was confused about which way the characters are related but it didn't really matter. A large part of the story focuses on Big Angel's much younger half-brother, Little Angel, who was not brought up with the others. The story is hard to describe but I enjoyed listening to the audiobook.

Miss Julia Paints the Town

Miss Julia Paints the Town by Ann B. Ross (2008) 326 pages

Mrs. Julia Springer Murdoch, aka Miss Julia, is a proper small town activist who is trying to comfort various friends when their husbands leave: one husband wanted a break, another disappeared (apparently with investment money from his neighbors) and another was missing after his car was found smashed up (and empty) over the side of a mountain road. Meanwhile, Miss Julia is also trying to figure out how to stop a big city developer from tearing down the town's old courthouse and replacing it with an eight story condo complex.

Ross's books aren't amazing fast-pace reads, but could be described more aptly as works that immerse one in a modern time that feels like olden days, with characters full of foibles as well as admirable traits ― books that one might read for a change of pace.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Night Train to Memphis

Night Train to Memphis by Elizabeth Peters (1994) 353 pages

Vicky Bliss, a young American historian who works at the National Museum in Munich, is pulled into working as a guest lecturer on an Egyptian luxury cruise tour on the Nile. Intelligence reports indicate that someone on the tour is planning to rob the Cairo Museum. Vicky's job is to see if she recognizes anyone on the cruise who is a likely suspect, since she has had previous adventures escaping from antiquity thieves. Once the tour is underway, she sees John, a former lover who's also a lovable thief, and she suspects he is the probable robber-to-be. Shocked when she learns he has recently married, she tries to avoid him while interacting with the others on the tour.

After the murder of a secret operative who was on board the ship to protect her, it rapidly becomes a challenge to decide who is friend and who is foe. The only one she can really trust is her boss from the museum, Schmidt, who joins the tour late. After more mishaps cancel the rest of the tour, Vicky's life is a series of calamities as she crosses Egypt in an attempt to get back to Cairo before the thief leaves Egypt with a humongous cache of antiquities.

Made in Abyss vol. 2

Made in Abyss vol. 2 by Akihito Tsukushi, 180 pages

In this second volume of Made in Abyss, orphan of the Abyss Riko and robot boy Reg are descending into the Abyss in search of Riko's long-lost Abyss-exploring mother. On the way down, they encounter some dangerous creatures, as well as one of the legendary Abyss explorers, who is fighting some demons of her own. It's a quick read, but one that offers up questions on origin, family, friendship, and risk. I'll soon be delving into volume 3.

The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, 341 pages

Irene is a Librarian for the Invisible Library, a huge collection of books that tie together and stabilize alternate worlds. Fresh off a harrowing mission, Irene is given a new apprentice, Kai, and tossed back into the field to retrieve a specific copy of a collection of fairy tales. Upon entering the new alternate world — a steampunky Victorian-era London, complete with annoyingly elaborate dresses and a Sherlockian detective — Irene realizes that this simple mission is a lot more dangerous than it seems, as is Kai. Soon she's solving the murder of a vampire and fending off fae, werewolves, and rogue Librarians.

I've read this book before, and it holds up on a second reading. This is such a fun adventure, in a world so fully realized and fun, with fantastic characters. Ah, I love this book (and the series it kicks off). I can't wait to hear what the Orcs & Aliens have to say about it in April!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Educated, by Tara Westover

I disparaged the premise of Where the crawdads sing in an earlier review.  I questioned the ability of a young girl to stay alive alone in a marsh, educate herself, and become a published scholar at twenty.  I was forced to reconsider after subsequently reading this memoir in which Tara Westover basically does all that – but without Spanish moss and humidity.  Growing up rural Idaho, in a household dominated by her father, an off-the-grid fundamentalist Mormon survivalist, Tara survived not only a brutal upbringing but being denied formal education.   This gripping story of her, and a couple of her siblings, escape through self-education and an amazing will to survive proves that it is possible.  But it comes with much cost to family relationships.  Worth the buzz, but difficult to read.  352 pp.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Cassandra

The Cassandra / Sharma Shields, read by Sophie Amoss, 281 pgs.

An interesting story set in WWII era.  Mildred is a typist at a facility who is developing plutonium.  She also has visions and can often see the future of individuals and more.  She is seen as a bit of a kook by her peers.   Like Cassandra in mythology, people do not believe her.  This historical fiction is based on research about the facility depicted in the book.  Mildred has a hard time but the bigger picture is about the inhumanity of war and the social structure of the time.  A really interesting book.  The narration is good.  I’m was not familiar with Sophie Amass but she did a great job depicting Mildred as a wise yet naive young woman. Thanks to Kara for recommending this book.

Braiding Sweetgrass

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer  391 pp.

Dr. Kimmerer is a botanist and plant scientist and a professor in the SUNY Environmental and Forest Biology Department. She is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and learned about Native plant science from her family and tribal elders. Using her scientific and traditional knowledge, Kimmerer explains how living beings, including plants and animals, rely on each other for growth and survival, and how the current methods of farming, logging, industry, and construction have destroyed the fragile connections between all living things leading to environmental catastrophes and climate change. She also describes programs she has developed where botany students spend an extended time in a wilderness area studying and tabulating plant information while learning the ancient Native ways of survival and living a hunter-gatherer existence and the importance of being connected to the natural world. I have been recommending this book before I even finished it. I listened to the audiobook which is read by the author. 

American by day, by Derek B. Miller

This sequel to Norwegian by night brings back the character of Sigrid Ødegård, Chief Inspector in Oslo, Norway.  In the earlier book, Sigrid has been forced to shoot a suspect, a rare occurrence in Norway, and it has left her shaken.  When she visits her father on his farm for a little R and R, she is horrified to learn that her brother Marcus, who has been estranged from his father since their mother’s death from cancer when he was twelve and Sigrid six, has disappeared.  For the past eighteen years he has lived in the United States.  Most recently he seems to have found a job at a university he enjoys, and perhaps love.  He has even reconnected by mail with his father. Now everything has come apart and Marcus may be implicated in a murder.  Within a day, Sigrid is on her way to small-town upstate New York to find him.  Miller is a gifted writer and this novel is just as full of unusual characters as the first book, as well as being an interesting critique of American gun culture and race relations.  His observations on both Norwegian and American values are very insightful.  I recommend both of the books highly.  338 pp.

Good riddance, by Elinor Lipman

Daphne Martich’s mother, who has recently died, specifically left her copy of the 1963 high school yearbook of the school she long taught at to her older daughter.  As a young, new teacher, she was the yearbook adviser and this year’s copy was dedicated to her by her students.  Additionally, her mother over the years has attended all the reunions of this class, and seemingly has annotated the yearbook after each one – sometimes not too flatteringly.   Under the spell of “uncluttering,” Daphne throws the yearbook into the apartment building’s recycling bin.  There it is discovered by her neighbor, who styles herself a documentary filmmaker, and she decides this yearbook holds secrets that will make an interesting movie.  Daphne is, of course, alarmed.  What kind of light will this cast on her mother, and on the students of that class?  It isn’t only those students whose life will be exposed, but secrets from Daphne’s own family will be revealed.  288 pp.