Saturday, August 31, 2019


Turbulence / David Szalay, read by Gabra Zackman, 145 pgs.

Twelve short vignettes that tell a story of a person who has traveled for a variety of reasons.  They interact with each other, mostly tangentially so the thread that connects them is thin.  The characters circle the globe while we briefly circle their situations.  I thought this was brilliant and Gabra Zackman perfectly embodies everyone featured here.

Revenge of a middle aged woman

Revenge of the middle aged woman / Elizabeth Buchan, 341 pgs.

Rose Lloyd gets a double whammy.  Her happy marriage of 25 years turns south and her husband leaves with his much younger lover. Said lover is also Rose's assistant who replaces her when she gets sacked from her job.  Now husband-less and job-less, Rose needs to re-invent herself.  In the end, less reinvention than just living well.  Sure, we have heard over and over how this is the best revenge but I was hoping for something a little more petty. 

The body in question

The body in question / Jill Ciment, read by Hillary Huber, 173 pgs.

A jury is picked for a murder trial.  It is fairly grisly and they are sequestered.  Jurors C2 and F17 start an affair but try to keep it secret.  Does this make them less effective as jurors?  C2 is a photographer and has doubts about the accused.  F17 is a doctor who seems convinced.  The rest of the group is a rag-tag bunch not detailed enough in the story.  The relationship between C2 and F17 then C2 and her husband is a bigger story than the trail itself.  A satisfying thriller.  Hillary Huber is the perfect narrator here.  At times detached and emotionless but able to play each part to perfection.

Moby Dick

Moby Dick / Herman Melville, 654 pgs.

I hate to publish spoilers in my posts there but I don't mind telling you all that Moby Dick is a whale!  Probably not a huge surprise to most of you.  What I did find surprising was the tale of obsession, loyalty and doubt.  Our summer reading selection was one of my favorites.  The detailed descriptions of ship life and whaling were fascinating but most of all I love the idea that when something that is hunted fights back, it can be seen as evil. 

Truffle underground

The truffle underground: a tale of mystery, mayhem and manipulation in the shadowy market of the worlds most expensive fungus / Ryan Jacobs, read by Ari Fliakos, 289 pgs.

Investigative reporter Jacobs digs into the full story surrounding truffles, one of the delicacies that take center stage in high end restaurants.  Truffles are a fungus that is much so there is a fair amount of criminal activity surrounding the trade. Also a lot of fakery and deception.  I found this book so fascinating I could not turn it off and finished it in only 2 days.  Expertly narrated by Ari Fliakos.

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, 522 pages

Did you ever read Harry Potter and think, "Wow, Harry's such a boring 'chosen one.' It'd be so much better if someone actually acknowledge that, as well as the way that Dumbledore seems to just use him for his 'chosen one-ness,' letting him take care of the bad guys instead of better trained adults! Oh, and this whole series would be better if someone acknowledged that there's gotta be something deeper to the mutual obsession between Harry and Draco Malfoy." If so, Rainbow Rowell has answered your call.

In Carry On, "chosen one" Simon Snow is a not-so-great hero, who only survives multiple clashes with dark beings by relying on his much smarter and more talented best friend Penelope Bunce. Snow's roommate is the snobbish, old-magic, old-money Baz Pitch-Grimm, who has sworn to destroy Snow and everything he stands for — complicated only a *little* bit by the fact that Baz is head-over-heels in love with Simon.

This is fun, funny, and refreshing, and I can't believe it's taken me almost five years to read this fantastic book. The sequel, Wayward Son, comes out this fall, and yes, I do have it on request for myself. These books are fantastic.

This Perfect Day

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (1970) 317 pages

Chip (real name: Li RM35M4419) lives in a world where the people are fed, housed, assigned occupations, and given periodic injections to keep them docile. They also must touch scanners that keep track of their location. Their deaths will come at age 62, no matter how good their health.

Chip's grandfather gave his family members nicknames, which isn't normal in a world where there are only 4 or 5 names used for each gender.  Even more unusual, his grandfather–in spite of having worked on UniComp, the computer system that keeps everything humming along–seems to dislike UniComp, although he doesn't actually say so with words. Likely because of his grandfather's influence, Chip wonders what kind of assignment he would choose, if he could choose. When he voices his thoughts about this, he's considered ill and sent for an extra treatment. As Chip grows older, one of his goals is to find other people who think like him, but to do so in a way to avoid notice and thus extra treatments.

This is the first dystopian novel I ever read, quite a while back. I hadn't realized until recently that Ira Levin is also the author of Rosemary's BabyThe Stepford WivesThe Boys From Brazil and many more.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Moby Dick

Moby Dick: Or, The Whale by Herman Melville  654 pp.

Is a description of the obsessive Captain Ahab's relentless search for the malevolent white whale that took his leg? I originally read this book for high school English class. I wasn't impressed then. I can't say I'm much more impressed with it now. However, I do enjoy attending the Big Book discussions every summer. Participating in the discussions somewhat increased my opinion of Melville's famous tale. And there were many parts of the book that I just didn't remember from reading it as a 16 year old. I can't help thinking Mrs. Maupin would be proud of me for reading it again.

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater   409 pp.

Blue, the daughter of a psychic, has no psychic powers of her own. However, she does have the ability to increase the powers of others just by being near them. She also knows that if ever she kisses her true love, it will cause his death. She is pretty sure this means Gansy, a student at nearby Aglionby, a private school for wealthy boys, whose students are known locally as the "Raven Boys."
Gansy and fellow student, Adam, are searching for a way to access a local ley line which will lead them to Glendower, an ancient Welsh king. In addition to the search there is the discovery of a murder, a student who isn't really alive, an abusive parent, and multiple conflicts between the haves and have nots in the small town of Henrietta, Virginia. This is the first book in a trilogy. It didn't impress me enough to make me want to continue with the other books.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Bend in the Stars

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum, 456 pages

Miriam is the first female surgeon at her hospital in Kovno, a position made possible by her innate skill for medicine paired with intense tutoring (and some personal sacrifice) from her fiance, Yuri. Her brother, Vanya, is one of the great mathematical thinkers of the time, puzzling out relativity at the same time as Einstein. Despite their sizeable talents, the siblings are convinced that the best choice for them is immigrate out of Russia to the United States, something that is becoming increasingly difficult for Russian Jews on the eve of World War I. Vanya is convinced that if he is able to photograph the upcoming solar eclipse — which will illustrate his not-yet-complete equation perfectly — he'll be able to secure passage to the U.S. for his sister and their grandmother, as well as himself. But when all able-bodied Jewish men are conscripted to the Army before he can complete this task, Vanya's plan goes sideways and the family is suddenly on the run in search of safety and science.

I read this book on the recommendation of a long-time patron, and I'm glad I did. Barenbaum's debut novel beautifully weaves together stories of physics and impending war, religious persecution and love, medicine and betrayal. I'd recommend it for fans of All the Light We Cannot See.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy, Martha Wells, 172 pages

Martha Wells' Exit Strategy is the final installment in the Murderbot series. It nicely wraps up all the loose ends and plot lines of the series in a very tidy way. Murderbot's ongoing struggle with its emerging human emotions and difficulty in parsing out human interactions still resonate with me. The entire series has had wonderful quips from Murderbot, and this novella is no exception. There were plenty of times Murderbot made me smirk as I was reading, often at its characterization of an incident.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Jade City

Jade City, Fonda Lee, 495 pages

Fonda Lee's Jade City is a pleasant blend of Godfather and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Family intrigue and clan conflicts are set in a world where a magical jade provides high energy kung fu action. The various character plot lines are well thought out, and the way they interweave is well written. This is the first in a series, and the second book was just published recently. I'm looking forward to starting that book shortly.

The spies of Shilling Lane

The spies of Shilling Lane / Jennifer Ryan, read by Entwistle, Jayne  355 pgs.

Scorned after her divorce, village Queen bee Mrs. Braithwaite visits London to reconnect with her adult daughter Betty.  She and Betty have not been close lately but Mrs. Braithwaite has a secret to tell her before the village gossip gets to it.  Arriving in London, she finds Betty is missing.  Her landlord and the other girls who rent on Shilling Lane have not seen her for days.  Mrs. Braithwaite takes matters into her own hands and starts investigating.  What she finds is a thrilling story that makes her re-evaluate her life and attitudes.  This book is perfectly narrated by Jayne Entwistle.  Very entertaining.

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful / Nina Stibbe, 279 pgs.

Lizzy is 18 now and finds a job as a dental assistant to JP, a subtly racist dentist who promoted the last assistant to future wife.  Sharp and observant, Lizzy figures out how to do many procedures herself.  She begins a relationship with Andy, the guy who makes and delivers dental appliances to the practice.  In the way that this summary tells nothing important about the book, the inner thoughts of Lizzy and her foray into adulthood in the 1980's make this perfectly relateable.  The real reason to be cheerful here is another great book by Stibbe whom I wish could churn them out a little faster.

The woman in the dunes

The woman in the dunes / Kobo Abe translated by E. Dale Saunders, 239 pgs.

A school teacher and amateur entomologist misses a bus and if forced to seek shelter in an odd sea-side town.  He lodges with a widow who lives at the bottom of a vast sand pit.  When he tries to leave the next day, it becomes apparent that the townspeople have other plans.  He is held captive in the pit with the woman who shovels away at the endlessly sifting sand.  He plots his escape but finds himself in a relationship and with a new understanding of the meaning of life.  Eerie and odd, I'm tempted to watch the movie of the same name to get a better feel for the endless shoveling.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Marriage Clock

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem (2019) 342 pages

Leila Abid is an only child, age 26, still living with her parents as she works as an English teacher. Her parents' long marriage was arranged in India, before their move to the U.S. Their love for each other has them making the case that since Leila hasn't yet found a husband, she should agree to an arranged marriage herself. As the parental pressure ramps up, Leila agrees that if she doesn't find a husband in three months, she will let her parents choose a husband for her. Much of the story follows the various dates she has, including some that her mother insists on arranging for her, and how unsuitable Leila finds them. Some heart-to-heart talks with friends attempt to hone in on qualities that Leila finds important in a potential mate.

I found Leila to be headstrong and opinionated (much like her mother) and hard to sympathize with, especially when she sets herself up for a task that is already difficult, even without such a hard time constraint. However the novel was a fast read and kept my attention while I waited to see whether Leila would indeed find a spouse within three months.

Biloxi: a Novel

Biloxi: a Novel / Mary Miller, 255 p.

Louis McDonald, Jr. is 63 and at loose ends in his Biloxi home.  Retired and lonely since his wife Ellen left him, he impulsively brings home a stray dog, names her Layla, and, little by little, feels a change in himself and the world.  Not at all a sentimental dog story thanks to Louis' flawed personality and Miller's plain-spoken style, this was a realistic, funny, small story about incremental change.  I recommend it.

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012) 337 pages

Get into the mind of a grumpy Swedish man named Ove. He's 59, widowed six months ago, and just was laid off at work to make room for the next generation. Patroling his neighborhood, looking for people who disobey the parking (and other) rules, is no longer going to occupy him enough now that everything else he once did has ended. However, a young family moves in nearby, breaking the rules for bringing a trailer into an area where it shouldn't be, which causes Ove to crab at them, which in turn starts a relationship that the old man can't really extricate himself from. This starts a mass of changes in the way he relates to the rest of the people he interacts with. Interesting writing style which really flows.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

One for Sorrow

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn, 293 pages

It's 1918 and Annie Browne is the new girl at her school when Elsie Schneider decides to be her friend. Trouble is, Elsie is the "weird kid" that nobody else likes, and after an afternoon playing with her, Annie can see why: Elsie is rude, possessive, and mean. Annie is determined to drop her as a friend, and succeeds — until Elsie dies from the Spanish flu and becomes a possessive ghost determined to be Annie's only friends forever.

I read this on the recommendation of my 10-year-old son, who's on a bit of a horror kick. This was a good spooky tale, with plenty of creepy scenes and an ending that was very satisfying. I probably won't be reading more of Hahn's books (I'm far from her target demographic), but I'll happily watch my son devour them.

My Squirrel Days

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper, 240 pages

In this short and funny memoir, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt actress Ellie Kemper offers up stories from her childhood growing up in Ladue; her post-collegiate years doing improv; and her eventual break in Hollywood as "the 18th most popular character on The Office." Her stories are hilarious, awkward, and fun, as is her narration of the book on audio (which I highly recommend). This is an energetic, cheerful, and effervescent memoir that is a perfect break from the world at large. I loved it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, 198 pages

Red and Blue are agents fighting on opposite sides of a never-ending war that spans all of time and the multiverse. They're equally cunning, and when Blue leaves a letter for Red at a site that they've both touched, she means it as a good-natured prod at a talented adversary. But as this letter turns into dozens sent between the two agents, their mutual respect turns to friendship and eventually love, despite the danger of being found out by their superiors.

This epistolary novel is under 200 pages, but demands a slower pace to savor the poetic writing of the authors and the creative delivery of the letters. It's a lovely book, and one that begs to be read aloud — I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn of a stage adaptation. Well worth the read.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

What we owe

What we owe / Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde, read by Rosemary Benson, 200 pgs.

Nahid is fifty and diagnosed with terminal cancer.  She is expected to live only another six months.  She is in a reflective mood and recounts her life.  The story is pretty harsh.  As a young woman, she joined the revolution in Iran.  When faced with the backlash, she and her boyfriend left for Sweden where they were given asylum.  The boyfriend turned into a husband who beat her and the daughter they had together suffered from their bad relationship.  She never felt like she belonged in Sweden, missing her home and her family.  Now her daughter is pregnant.  She wants to live to meet her grandchild but her health is failing fast.  Will she make it?

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined / Steven Pinker, 802 p.

I read this book on and off over a 6-month period, and am so glad I did.  A wide-ranging, heavily researched, yet mostly accessible analysis of the decline of violence throughout the totality of human history.  Pinker is extremely persuasive, and if I had only taken elective Statistics in college I might have a better shot at assessing the contents critically.  It's hard to argue with some of the figures calculating estimated deaths by violence as a proportion of the human population throughout history.  Pinker's explanations are possibly debatable, but are certainly cogently argued.  They include, among many others, the rise of the Leviathan, or state, which holds the monopoly on violence in a given population, the increase in commerce, which creates more win-win situations among groups, the slow feminization of cultures in parts of the world, more widespread capacity for abstract thinking across populations, and my favorite, the spread of literacy and fiction and its natural enhancement of empathetic thinking.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Save me the plums

Save me the plums: my Gourmet memoir / Ruth Reichl, read by the author, 266 pgs.

Ruth Reichl was a restaurant critic when Si Newhouse tapped her to run Gourmet magazine.  She didn't feel qualified, had never been the big boss before, and wasn't interested in the job but they kept after her until she accepted.  Once she was there, it was an obvious fit.  Gourmet Magazine had been a steady influence on her life since childhood but it had become stodgy and predictable.  She had ideas to change it and a staff of creative interested people.  I loved hearing about the adventures at the magazine, the background of her childhood cooking obsession and listening to her voice really made the story resonate.  Recommended to those who like cooking.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, 353 pages

Sisters Edith and Helen have never really gotten along. Older Edith is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, though one that will never hesitate to support her loved ones; younger Helen, however, fell in love with beer the first time she tasted it as a teenager, and (as younger sisters are stereotypically wont to do) focuses on her own dreams and desires in a way that Edith has never considered. When their father wills his farm to Helen and leaves nothing to Edith, their relationship breaks in a way that seems completely irreversible, despite Helen's good fortunes and Edith's tough life of caring for everyone through poverty. Can Edith's beer-brewing granddaughter Diana bring them back together?

Told through chapters that skip between narrators and time periods, I'll admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book and some of the characters. But as I read, everyone became so realistic to me, and, as more and more beer got brewed, the more I liked it. Perhaps that says something about my beverage choices, but this was a good one, whatever your drinking preferences.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, 759 pages

This book wraps up Harry Potter and Friends' epic fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Death Eaters. This was my eleventy-billionth time reading this book, but the first time my 7-year-old daughter had experienced it, so it was again a wonderful experience. Now the problem becomes: what can we read together that could possibly follow this?

The lager queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota / J. Ryan Stradal, 353 pgs.

Edith and Helen are sisters...not really close but generally it is a loving family.  When their dad leaves everything to younger sister Helen, she builds a beer dynasty with her husband.  Edith spends her life struggling.  She has two kids but when her husband gets early onset dementia, she ends up supporting herself on very low pay jobs.  She makes great pies but can't turn that into a good living.  When her daughter and son-in-law are killed in a tragic car accident, she takes in her granddaughter Diana.  Money is even tighter but Diana is helping out as much as a high school kid can. Diana works at a brewery and finds she is good at making beer.  When her boss has to sell, she takes over and is soon struggling to make her business work.  Things take a turn for the better when her grandma and friends come in to help her out.  Love this story from Stradal, it is as good as his first.  We just need the next book a little quicker this time.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes

From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes by Robert Clary (2001) 214 pages

I grew up watching the TV series Hogan's Heroes and my kids enjoyed watching it on DVD decades later. I sometimes wondered whether those who were harmed by the Germans in WWII found the show to be insensitive or inappropriate. Little did I know that Robert Clary (born Robert Max Widerman), who played Louis Lebeau on Hogan's Heroes, was himself a survivor of German camps, from age 16 to 19. I hadn't known much about him other than his role on Hogan's Heroes, and I enjoyed reading about his life, but was especially struck by his time in Paris when the German occupation started, through the deportation of his family, and his regrouping after the war. Later, I was interested in the descriptions of his years working on Hogan's Heroes, as well in later years when he became active in speaking to groups of children about the Holocaust.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Bad Tidings

Bad Tidings by Nick Oldham (2013) 220 pages

When Henry Christie, a Detective Superintendent in Lancashire, England, is ready to leave for the Christmas holiday with his sweetheart, his boss entices him to stay on the job. The lure: to see if he can catch a serial killer that has struck on at least the past two Christmas Eves. Each of the murders began as a missing persons case, and when the bodies were found a week later, it was clear the victims had been tortured and shot, their mouths stuffed with bird feathers.

Henry can't help but take the bait, finding two of his colleagues to work on these cold cases with him. While they scan lists of missing persons, they also search for commonalities between the victims. Meanwhile, two crime families celebrate the holidays by warring openly. Henry spends plenty of time zooming across the county in his Audi, going to crime scenes and following up on leads. Several people are killed. This series, by a former cop, definitely has its share of gore.

Friday, August 16, 2019

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry  by Fredrik Backman (2015) 372 pages

Precocious Elsa, seven years old, is often the adult to her grandmother's inner child. They share a made-up language as well as a make-believe universe. When her grandmother dies of cancer, Elsa is left with a treasure hunt of sorts, with letters to find and deliver to people her grandmother had known, most from their apartment building. Some of the letters are very difficult for Elsa to deliver, going to people like the man she'd dubbed The Monster. Delivering these letters gives Elsa a view into parts of her grandmother's life she never knew about.

In addition to mourning the loss of her fiercest champion, Elsa is not looking forward to the birth of her half-sibling, or to returning to school‒where she is constantly bullied for being different‒after the winter holiday.

I feel this story depicts the inner working of a child's mind so well. Backman's first novel, A Man Called Ove is now on my "must-read" list.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

California Pottery: from Missions to Modernism

California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism / Bill Stern w/ photos by Peter Brenner, 119 pgs.

While doing some research on a set of dishes my aunt passed down, I came across this book that tells the history of California pottery, an industry that soared in the early to mid 20th century.  The number of companies producing pottery was ever growing with many using skilled people to paint their creations.  Hand work that made pieces very distinct and special even though they were basically mass produced.  As production headed overseas, many of the companies folded in the late 50's and 60's.  An interesting tale and the photos are divine.

The Battle of Arnhem

The Battle of Arnhem: the Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II / Antony Beevor, read by Sean Barrett, 459 pp.

An excellent audiobook, very ably read by Sean Barrett, whose contents would be better absorbed through reading the print and looking at the maps and diagrams...

Having said that, I still appreciated Beevor's account of the Allies' September 1944 push to cross the Rhine in the Netherlands and the resulting military failure and humanitarian crisis to which it contributed.  He does a wonderful job interweaving technical details, military reports, and diary accounts of top military brass on both sides, ordinary soldiers, and Dutch civilians.  While I am unlikely to retain much of the nuts and bolts detail, his accounts of the misery and courage of ordinary Dutch individuals as their occupied communities were briefly liberated only to be re-occupied won't be easily forgotten. 

Hope Rides Again

Hope Rides Again by Andrew Shaffer, 284 pages

In this followup to last year's Hope Never Dies, Shaffer once again puts too-cool Obama and folksy Biden on the crime-solving beat. But unlike their previous detective work in Delaware, this case embroils them in the seedier side of Chicago, complete with gangs, corruption, and the St. Patrick's Day parade.

It's not quite as wonderful as the first book in this series — perhaps because the narrator's real-life counterpart is on the campaign trail, making the Obama-Biden bromance of meme-dom that provides the basis for the fictional versions less believable — but I did enjoy the inclusion of Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Biden's ceaseless desire for ice cream. And, of course, a round of applause to the cover artist, who has once again made a fantastic, heroic portrait of our 44th president.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart, 381 pages

In this botanical encyclopedia, Stewart discusses the many plants that are malted, distilled, pressed, fermented, and otherwise manipulated to make the intoxicating alcoholic beverages of the world. In doing so, she offers brief histories of each plant, explains how it's manipulated and imbibed, details where and how the plant grows (with tips on how to grow your own, if you so choose), and provides cocktail recipes.

While it probably isn't meant to be read straight through, I did so (well, I listened to the audiobook, but you get the point), and spent my drives home prepping my palate for the next mixed drink I'd try from Stewart's book. This had something for everyone, from the casual tippler to the seasoned bartender to the thirsty librarian. I loved it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez, 344 pages

Julia's older sister Olga died unexpectedly, throwing her family into isolating grief. Olga was always the good girl, the one who got along with her parents and did what was expected of a Mexican daughter. So now Julia finds herself bearing the weight of two daughters' worth of expectations from her traditional mother, who doesn't understand her younger daughter's dreams and ambitions. This is a wonderful book about imperfections, grief, and family, featuring a girl with undocumented parents. I love the way it addresses everything head-on — from teenage romance to immigration to depression to poverty — without ever becoming heavy-handed. The blurb on the back covers it: this is a perfect book about imperfection.

Ten Loves of Nishino

The Ten Loves of Nishino / Hiromi Kawakami, trans. Alison Markin Powell, 172 p.

Nishino's story is told through the eyes of ten of his lovers.  A gentle and good-natured Lothario, he never comes entirely into focus, but it's an interesting reading exercise to try to see him.  More intriguing is the space he occupies, always temporarily, in the lives of these ten women.  Odd, sensual, and intriguing. 


Thud! A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett  439 pp.

Long ago in the Koom Valley of Ankh-Morpork a huge battle took place between the dwarves and the trolls. There has been animosity between them ever since. A dwarf named Grag Hamcrusher has been attempting to incite unrest between the trolls and dwarves until he is found bashed to death with a troll club left by his side. It is up to Commander Sam Vines of the City Watch to solve the murder before there is another war. What he discovers is a secretly built labyrinth of mines beneath the city which holds mysterious clues to the killing. While busy solving the murder, Vines insists on being home promptly at 6 p.m. every night to read "Where's My Cow" to his young son. This is classic Pratchett with all the strangeness and humor you expect. It's not my favorite of the series but it is still good. If you are keeping track, this is book 34 in the Discworld series and book 7 in the City Watch branch of the series.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Source

The Source (Witching Savannah, #2) by J.D. Horn  352 pp.

This book picks up where The Line ended. Mercy Taylor is the new anchor for the line of witch families but, because of her lack of training in the magical arts, she has a lot of catching up to do. Her twin sister Maisie is still missing and Mercy is attempting to use her limited magical skills to search for her. Mercy is also pregnant by her boyfriend, Peter Tierney and she has mixed feelings about their upcoming marriage. When Mercy's supposedly dead mother appears Mercy begins to question everything she has been told by the family for her entire life. Is The Line what she had been lead to believe or is it really evil as her mother claims. And then there is the secret she learns about Peter which will affect their child. Stay tuned for the next episode. The audiobook is well performed by Shannon McManus.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Reasons to Be Cheerful

Reasons to Be Cheerful / Nina Stibbe, 279 p.

Following up the wonderful Paradise Lodge, we have more adventures of Lizzy Vogel, now 18 and living on her own in 'the city' (Leicestershire), and working as a dental assistant. It was great spending time with these characters again, especially Lizzy's deeply dysfunctional mother, and if the story has fewer laugh-out-loud moments than its predecessor it's still worthwhile.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, 446 pages

The half-goblin third son of an elvish emperor's cast-off fourth wife, Maia has no expectation of ever becoming the ruler of the Elflands. But then his father and two half-brothers are killed in a zeppelin crash, and, unlikely as EVERYONE finds it, Maia is suddenly the new emperor. The Goblin Emperor follows Maia's awkward transition from banished embarrassment to imperial rule, and bring along a surprising amount of hope for the future of the Elflands. Perhaps because of his rough upbringing, Maia is kind, thoughtful, and, yes, naive — but he also takes the unwanted job seriously, and wants the best for the empire. While the names and speaking styles were confusing, I very much enjoyed this book, and I look forward to discussing it with the Orcs & Aliens on Monday.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Wayward Children Series

Beneath the Sugar Sky (157 pages)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones (190 pages)
In an Absent Dream (187 pages)

Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series explores what happens to children who go to Narnia when they return to Earth.I read the first book in the series (Every Heart a Doorway) as part of the science fiction/fantasy book club at the library, and since then have worked through the other three. They are all stand alone novels, with a different focal character, though there are recurring characters that help to tie everything together. Each book was good in it's own right, but Down Among the Sticks and Bones was probably my favorite among them. I loved the setting in that novel, and the interplay between the two focal characters (Jack and Jill) and their character growth was wonderfully written.

The library of lost and found

The library of lost and found / Phaedra Patrick, read by Imogen Church, 348 pgs.

Martha Storm volunteers at her local library and spends her time helping others.  One day a book shows up that is inscribed to her from her dead grandmother...but years after her grandmother died.  She digs around and discovers that granny isn't really dead but had been disowned by the family when Martha was a girl.  They reconnect and she discovers many other family secrets and shifts her focus back to herself...discovering a new freedom.  Imogen Church does a great job with the narration of this book but the story is pretty predictable.

Make time

Make time: how to focus on what matters every day / Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, 387 pgs.

The authors give 87 tactics to help you focus, reflect and energize your work.  Both admit that all 87 are not for everyone (not even them) but encourage you to try some of them and see how they work for you.  The take away for me is to avoid "infinity pools" that take up your time...of course they are talking mostly about social media and other media.  Pick a highlight each day. This is the thing that you are going to make your number on priority.  It will give you a sense of accomplishment or joy to complete this task or work towards a larger goal. Think carefully about what you pick.  Some solid advice and ideas.

The valedictorian of being dead

The valedictorian of being dead: the true story of dying ten times to live / Heather B. Armstrong, read by the author. 254 pgs.

Suffering from depression and wishing to be dead, the author realizes she has to stick around to take care of her kids.  But every day is tough for this single mother who would rather be dead.  She checks in with her doctor and is referred to a new experimental treatment.  Instead of electroshock therapy, a new protocol of inducing a coma like state for 15+ minutes is thought to have similar effects.  The author is the third candidate accepted for the trial.  She gets 10 treatments using anesthesia medications that are stronger than used to do surgery on something close to brain dead.  This memoir recounts the time before, during and immediately after the treatment. Read by the author, this a powerful memoir.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Why read Moby-dick

Why read Moby-dick? / Nathaniel Philbrick, read by the author, 131 pgs.

Lacking the motivation to dig into our summer reading selection, I started by listening to this.  Philbrick has wonderful strong opinions and background on the book.  He says it is the greatest American novel!  Is it?  I'm not sure but after hearing the impassioned opinions, I'm certainly willing to find out. ONWARD!

The unhoneymooners

The Unhoneymooners / Christina Lauren read by Cynthia Farrell, 400 pgs.

Ethan and Olive are NOT fact they are pretty much enemies.  But as sister of the bride and brother of the groom, they run into each other.  No more than at the wedding itself.  Ami and Dane are the cutest couple and the maid of honor and best man can barely tolerate each other.  But then, fate throws them together on a honeymoon trip that they can't refuse.  Never trust the seafood buffet is what we learn at the reception.  Now Ethan and Olive are trying to avoid each other while sharing a room.  Once again, fate intervenes and they have to fake being newlywed to Olive's new boss and Ethan's old girlfriend.  As luck would have it, they find they don't really hate each other that much after all.  I listened to the audio version of this book and it was a lot of fun.  The plot isn't unexpected but the path to get to the end is fun.

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore  479 pp.

This is a well researched and written account of the tragic lives and deaths of the young women who worked painting luminous dials for watches, clocks, and military instruments. During World War I and into the 1920s and 30s young women (the youngest was 14) were hired to paint radium paint onto the dials of the timepieces and other gauges. Most of the women worked in plants in New Jersey, but their also factories in other places including the small town of Ottawa, Illinois. Unbeknownst to the young women the radium was insidiously entering their bodies ultimately causing a variety of ailments and death. The companies involved denied, and later lied, that the paint was safe and the women's illnesses had nothing to do with their employment. After many failed court cases the women from Ottawa were finally successful and received a small amount toward their medical bills. The lawsuits led to the development of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Moore focuses on the lives and struggles of several of the women to personalize what could be a very dry story. As I said, this is a tragic story, and there were still industrial radium poisonings happening as late as 1978.  I remember my father talking about the young women who died from painting watch dials when production of them finally ceased in the 1970s.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2006) 313 pages

CC de Poitiers was a difficult woman, constantly berating her husband, lover and young daughter. It wasn't that surprising that she was murdered, but the circumstances were: She was electrocuted during a curling event on a frozen lake on an especially bitter day, in the view of many people. A number of factors had to be right for the electrocution to happen: the murdered woman had to have bare hands on a frigid Canadian morning, while wearing boots with metal cleats on them while touching a metal chair that the current was sent through. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, while employing his team to get all the evidence and learn all they can about the dead woman, spends time getting to know all he can about the people who knew CC, confident that if he can get people to talk in an informal setting, he can learn who had reason to murder her. Author Penny never gives us just one case, though. Woven within the story is Gamache's interest in another case that later appears to be connected: a homeless woman whose name is not even fully known (just "L") who was murdered outside a store in Montreal.

This is the second book in this series.