Monday, September 30, 2019

The Hike

The Hike by Drew Magary  278 pp.

A man on a business trip with a few hours to kill takes a walk down a path near his hotel. Sounds innocent enough. But then it turns into a surreal acid trip worthy experience with monsters, giants, a 15th century explorer, a hovercraft, and a talking crab. When I started it my reaction was indifferent, then the weirdness began and I was hooked. I don't want to say too much because any explanations would give too much away. The ending was perfect. The audiobook was well narrated by Christopher Lane.


LaGuardia: A Very Modern Story About Immigration by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford & James Devlin, 136 pages

At some point in the future, aliens have started making their way to Earth, and — like so many countries seem to be toward immigrants these days — humans don't seem too excited about sharing their home world. Pregnant and concerned for her alien friend, Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has left Nigeria and smuggled a sentient plant into New York City, seeking refuge with her grandmother, an immigration lawyer. But Future's fiance, Citizen, is still back in Nigeria, and firmly on the other side of the alien immigration discussion.

Yes, it's aliens at the center of this immigration debate, but given our age of travel bans, walls, ICE roundups, and detention centers, LaGuardia hits home. (In fact, it's a bit on-the-nose at times, but really, that certainly doesn't hurt.) The artwork here is fantastic; creative, alive, and perfect for Okorafor's story. A great read.

A Dream About Lightning Bugs

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons by Ben Folds, 311 pages

While he's probably best known for being the titular member of the piano/bass/drums trio Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds has a 30-year history of songwriting and performing some excellent live shows. This book finds Folds looking back on the mistakes he made over those years (his succession of marriages and divorces rivals Elizabeth Taylor's and he's come around to regret some of his onstage antics) as he followed his creative path. This memoir is funny, insightful, inspiring, and, above all, honest. Just like his music. I loved reading it, and I'm now itching to see Folds perform again the next time he's in town.
Science comics: Cats Nature and Nurture / Any Hirsch, 119 pgs.

Loved this comic version of the science of cats.  A great way to sneak in some educational content and, of course, CATS!

I figured I would know most of the stuff covered within but learned plenty about breeds, the history of cats and humans, and the big cats.  Lots of other interesting looking science comics to explore.

Killing Eve: No tomorrow

Killing Eve: No Tomorrow / Like Jennings, 251 pgs.

Villanelle and Eve continue their odd obsession with each other.  How can either of these characters trust the other?  As time goes on they find fewer people they can trust in their organizations.  Eve isn't trained for field operations but finds herself in two of them.  One goes pretty well but the other brings her feeling the air of the bullet meant for her passing her head as she randomly bends down.  Who is compromised?  Who can be trusted?  Thrilling and at the same time a very human story.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Outlaw Marriages

Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter  224 pp.

This is a collection of short bios of couples who lived together as spouses before the times when same sex marriage became legal. The author concluded his book with a mention of his own 35+ year partnership and ultimate marriage to Thomas Grooms. Although published in 2012 the author occasionally uses terminology with regards to sexual orientation that today might be offensive to some but were acceptable in the time of the couples included. The subjects of the book are names that are familiar and others not so well known. The list:

Walt Whitman & Peter Doyle
Martha Carey Thomas & Mamie Swinn
Ned Warren & John Marshall
Mary Rozet Smith & Jane Addams
Bessie Marbury & Esie de Wolfe
J.C. Leyendecker & Charles Beach
Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein
Janet Flanner & Solita Solano
Greta Garbo & Mercedes de Acosta
Aaron Copland & Victor Kraft
Frank Merlo & Tennessee Williams
James Baldwin & Lucien Happersberg
Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns
Ismail Merchant & James Ivory
Frances Clayton & Audre Lorde

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman (2003) 269 pages

Alice Thrift has always been an excellent student, but she is finding that good academics (graduating second in her class at Harvard, for example) isn't enough to make her a good doctor. In fact, she's waiting for the other shoe to drop, doubtful that she'll be asked to stay for a second year in the residency program at the Boston hospital where she has been training. If only she weren't so socially awkward, that could help.

Alice finds herself being wooed by Ray Russo, a 45 year-old candy salesman who says he was widowed in the past year. Ray's kind of a slimy dude, always making a sales pitch, telling lies, or worse, telling everyone he sees that Alice is a doctor. This novel shows the progression of Ray's courtship of Alice, as well as her budding friendships with Leo, a nurse she's sharing an apartment with, as well as a couple of doctors she meets along the way.

Fly already

Fly already: stories / Etgar Keret, translated by Sondra Silverston, Nathan Englander, Jessica Cohen, Miriam Shlesinger and Yardenne Greenspan.  Read by a full cast, 209 pgs.

Keret is the master.  There is no weak story in this set, they are all fabulous.  I also applaud the narrators.  Each did a wonderful job and I wanted to listen to all in one sitting.  Perhaps my favorite is the story with the kids who believe the dad who left them came back as a rabbit.  They are SURE the rabbit is their dad but realize this is upsetting to their mother.  Imagine their joy when they meet another kid whose dad became a rabbit...(he is SURE it is his dad because his dad limped due to a war injury and this rabbit also limps). How can anyone find fault with this logic?  This is a fabulous collection of interesting and occasionally odd stories.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Save me from dangerous men

Save me from dangerous men / S. A. Lelchuk, 326 pgs.

Nikki Griffin is a book lover but also in court mandated counseling for her anger issues.  Anger that often leads to violence.  She is pretty good at the violence.  She owns a book store but has a side business "talking" to men who need to hear clearly that they should stop contacting their wives/girlfriends/partners that they have injured.  Things are going well when a corporate CEO asks her to follow an employee suspected of stealing.  Soon enough, she is in deep in a shadowy world she doesn't really understand.  The employee ends up dead and it seems likely that the perps are trying to frame her, somehow.  She does more digging and uncovers a bit of a corporate situation that may lead to international incidents.  Can she outsmart her targets?  Can she survive long enough to do so?  I'm not sure this is a great plot but the writing had me on the edge of my seat.  I wanted to see how things turned out...never once suspecting that Nikki wouldn't come out on top.

Death in a Strange Country

Death in a Strange Country (Commissario Guido Brunetti book 2) by Donna Leon  373 pp.

Commissario Guido Brunetti is awakened at 5 a.m. by a call about a body floating in one of the Venetian canals. The body is that of an American soldier stationed at the base in Vincenza. Once jurisdiction issues are worked out, Brunetti is in charge of the investigation. His boss wants the case closed quickly and keeps insisting it was just a mugging but Brunetti keeps finding more evidence pointing in a different direction. When an army doctor dies of a supposed overdose, Brunetti knows there are other forces at work that are being covered up by the military. A second crime, the art theft & assault at a wealthy industrialist's palazzo points to a repeat offender Brunetti send to prison in the past. In the end, Brunetti is angered by the miscarriage of justice perpetrated by his bosses and the military officials but vigilante justice from an unexpected source and some quiet assistance from his father-in-law, Count Falier, puts him in a much better mood. I am enjoying this series and plan to continue reading it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant / Tony Cliff, 167 pgs.

Delilah Dirk is a hand full.  She is a woman who can defend herself and has a lot going on with needing to steal from thieves, (and others),  break out of prisons and conduct general mayhem.  In this book, Delilah is captured in Constantinople but wastes no time breaking out and stealing some scrolls from the emperor.  Along the way, she saves Erdemoglu Selim.  He is the person held responsible for her escape.  Now he is indebted to her.  They leave Turkey and have some adventure.  Selim finds a nice town to settle in for a nice life.  He stays for less than a year before the  need for additional adventure makes him seek out Delilah again.  Fun book, great art work. 

Fifty things that aren't my fault

Fifty things that aren't my fault: essays from the grown-up years / Cathy Guisewite, 323 pgs.

Cathy is back.  But not comic Cathy, REAL Cathy. A collection of essays from the creator of the comic strip "Cathy."  The voice sounds familiar but now we hear about parenting a teenager and worrying about elderly parents.  There is still some reference to the struggle of maintaining a healthy weight.  Or perhaps how easy it is to NOT maintain a healthy weight.  Cathy is all grown up, just as we knew she would.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Made in Abyss 3

Made in Abyss 3, by Akihito Tsukushi, 180 pages

Intrepid explorer kids Riko and Reg are continuing their trek to the bottom of the (possibly bottomless?) Abyss, in search for Riko's long-lost mother. The deeper they go, the more dangerous the adventure gets, with deadly creatures, giant carnivorous plants, and even some super-spooky humans. And they've long past the point of no return. This is a fun adventure that underscores the importance of friendship, teamwork, and survival at all odds.

How to

How to: absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems / Randall Munroe read by Will Wheaton, 307 pgs.

If you have 10 seconds to make it to your appointment and you are a mile away, can you make it on time?  Well, not very easily because humans aren't comfortable at speeds that produce more than 1 G of force.  So, getting up to speed and then slowing down will take more than 10 seconds.  Can you make an emergency landing on a submarine?  A ski jump? Randall Munroe is the guy with all these questions and the time on his hands to figure out the answers.  Highly entertaining.  Will Wheaton does his best nerd for the narration of this book but I had to take a look at the comics.

Herman Melville's Moby Dick

Herman Melville's Moby Dick / Chaboute, 256 pgs.

This graphic novel of Moby Dick is fabulous.  The story is faithful to the original book although somewhat abridged.  The illustrations of the characters look exactly how I imagined them.  I have to give props Queequeg especially.  The whale and the hunt are particularly exciting to read.  Not as good as Melville's original but a wonderful supplement.

The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, 275 pages

In this 2011 book, journalist Ronson examines psychopathy by looking at everything from the DSM-IV and Scientology (the first of which doesn't count psychopathy as a mental illness and the second of which doesn't count, well, anything as a mental illness) to Bob Hare's psychopathy checklist, which is used by professionals to determine if someone is or is not a psychopath. This book is equal parts fascinating and horrifying, particularly after Ronson learns how to use Hare's checklist and begins using it on everyone from himself to the business leaders he interviews. But Ronson also does plenty of self-checking with this new "power," which is definitely necessary (and may be lacking in some of those who wield it in the field). A captivating book.

The global economy

The global economy as you've never seen it / Thomas Ramge and Jan Schwochow, 205 pgs.

Only 205 pages?  I thought I could read this in an evening.  But each page is packed with graphs, data, info-graphics.  I couldn't read more than a few pages each night because I had to ponder the information contained.  Great for econ nerds and probably lots of other nerds too.

Hollow Kingdom

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton, 308 pages

A mysterious fast-acting illness has gripped the human population of the world, turning them into zombies. The non-human animals of the world are unaffected, except that all the boundaries created by humans are now moot, allowing them to roam free. Well, with the exception of the domesticated animals, which are now trapped inside their homes with no way out.

This strange mix of Day of the Dead and The Incredible Journey (yes, I cribbed that from a cover blurb, but it's SO SPOT-ON) is narrated entirely by animals, and mostly by the Seattle-based domesticated crow, S.T., whose full name is just as foul-mouthed as he is. This book is in turn hilarious, horrifying, and introspective, taking on issues such as family, identity, and the environment. As most zombie-centric stories go, this one got a little over-the-top for me by the end, but that's a me problem, not a book problem. I loved this, and I loved S.T.

The Second Biggest Nothing

The Second Biggest Nothing by Colin Cotterill  254 pp.

This is the 14th book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. It is now 1980 and the Laos government is celebrating their 5th year of communist rule. As part of the two week celebration journalists from around the world have been invited to observe how well Laos is doing (not that well). Retired national coroner, Dr. Siri, his wife, and his best friend Civilai along with the other regulars in the series are trying to solve the mystery of the threatening messages the doctor receives. He has less than two weeks to find the culprit to protect his loved ones and himself from death. The story flashes back to Dr. Siri's past as he tries to figure out who holds such an extreme grudge against him. No spoilers but unfortunately, not everyone escapes unscathed in this episode. I look forward to episode 15 but wonder just how long the series can continue since Dr. Siri is nearly eighty years old. Note: Don't start reading this in the evening if you want to get to bed at a decent hour.

The Soul of a Chef

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman  370 pp.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started this book but it wasn't what I found. It is interesting but does not contain anything unexpected. The first part of the book is Ruhlman's account of observing the grueling ten day Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America. The second and third parts are profiles of two renowned American chefs, Michael Symon of Lolita, Mabel's BBQ, and B Spot Burgers in Cleveland and other restaurants across the country and Thomas Keller of the famed California restaurant The French Laundry. Ruhlman, who trained as a chef, gives insights to his subjects that another author may have missed. However, the third section seemed to drag. But that may be because Keller is not as dynamic and lively a personality as Symon. Since I travel to Cleveland a couple times a year I hope get the chance to dine at one of Symon's restaurants.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (2008) 322 pages

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie celebrate each wedding anniversary by staying at an isolated Canadian resort called Manoir Bellechase. This time while they're there, another family is staying there as well, having a reunion of sorts, although the family members don't seem to like one another very much. The old mother is there with her second husband and her four adult children, ready to unveil a statue of her first husband, which will be permanently installed on the grounds of the resort. The statue is huge and the man's eyes are sorrowful. Sometime during the night after the statue is unveiled, one of the daughters, Julie, is crushed by the statue. This was not an accident. The question is not only who would have murdered her (suspects in her own family are plentiful), but how did the murderer manage to make the statue topple, something so large that a crane was needed to set it into place on its base.

While his team investigates all the details of the family and the staff at the resort, Chief Inspector Gamache spends his time listening carefully to the people involved, looking for the grievances and hurts that grow over time until they can turn into the making of a murderer. This is particularly difficult for him to learn with a family so divided and antagonistic that it doesn't seem that they are as interested in finding the murderer as in continuing their blame games from childhood and keeping their secrets unshared.

A Rule Against Murder is the 4th book in this series.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Jilo (Witching Savannah Book 4) by J.D. Horn   368 pp.

I recently blogged about the last book in the Witching Savannah trilogy. This book, while called the 4th book is actually a prequel to the other three. This book is essentially the biography of Mother Jilo, the Hoodoo Root doctor featured in the series. The Taylor family who are the focus of the trilogy have only a small part in this story. Jilo is one of a family of magic practitioners who was born with powerful magic. However, her grandmother tried to shield her from her powers and Jilo grows up knowing nothing of her abilities. It is only when evil threatens her and her family
that she takes up the mantle of magic worker and becomes Mother Jilo to the city of Savannah. This episode was better than the third book but still seemed to be lacking something I can't quite explain.

Friday, September 20, 2019

City of girls

City of Girls / Elizabeth Gilbert, read by Blair Brown, 470 pgs.

A fantastic story of Vivian Morris' life.  Who is Vivian?  Well, she is a fantastic seamstress who worked for her aunt Peg who owned a small theater in New York City.  She grew up there, discovering all the things a nice girl should not do.  Her family would/did heartily disapprove of her life style. But as time goes on, she learns a lot about her self and others.  Now she is ninety-five and telling her life story to Angela, the daughter of the only man she ever loved.  Frank knew her brother in the war but he was so injured that he now can't tolerate the human touch.  He is anxious and can't sit still.  He is a beat cop because it is the only thing he can do that keeps him outside and moving.  Frank and Vivian are not lovers but they are friends...something they value much more than a physical relationship.  I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did.  Blair Brown is the perfect narrator and the audio book is well paced and a total pleasure.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The dry heart

The dry heart / Natalia Ginzburg, 88 pgs.

The first page reveals a murder and the remaining pages talk about why...while not really talking about why.  Suffice it to say it isn't the happiest of marriages.  But the writing is subtle as it reveals disappointment, rage, and sadness so deep it can only lead to the shot.  The plot is simple and the story is short but the writing is sweet.

The lonesome bodybuilder

The lonesome bodybuilder: stories / Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda, read by a full case, 219 pgs.

Eleven stories that are wonderfully quirky and sly.  The titular bodybuilder is a woman in a loveless marriage.  She gets quite buff but her husband does not even notice. Will they be able to recover? A woman working in a clothing boutique goes the extra mile to be sure her customer is satisfied. A newly wed notices she and her husband starting to look alike.  Where will the similarities end?  Each story offers an odd glimpse into lives that seem average on the outside but reveal something much more interesting.  The cast does a great job making each selection special on the audio recording.

The Grammarians

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine, 258 pages

As children, Laurel and Daphne are as close as twins can be — sharing everything from their identical red hair to a room to a secret language. They also share a deep love of words and grammar, something forged by their father at a young age when he brought home the massive Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, second edition. This love of words carried them through college and into the "real world," where they still lived together and got jobs that utilized their grammatical skills. But then, their lives began to diverge as they got married and had families of their own, culminating in a years-long rift caused by the same dictionary that spawned their love of words. This is an interesting tale of sisterhood, of love, of language, of family. There's something that I can't quite relate to in the story, though I think it's because the bond between Laurel and Daphne is something that I simply can't grasp — and, not being a twin myself, I don't know that I'm supposed to. I'd recommend this to fans of the English language and dysfunctional family stories.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Everything That Rises Must Converge / Flannery O'Connor, 269 pages


This is a collection of stories that O'Connor was working on when she died of lupus at the age of 39, in 1964.  How to describe them?  The protagonists are often horrible people who experience brief opportunities to grow.  Generally, they do not take advantage of these opportunities.  They or others die hideously violent deaths in surprise twist endings.  (I may have blunted the surprise a little - sorry.)

O'Connor is considered great by many people who know a lot more than I do, but I struggled to love these stories.  They are nearly perfectly crafted and one reads them quickly, even easily.  They are frequently extremely funny, and I will concede that O'Connor was an extraordinary observer.  As awful as the people in her stories are, they feel organic and strangely believable.  But she pulls no punches whatsoever when it comes to describing racial attitudes in the '60s south, and reading much of the (realistic) dialogue made me feel nauseated.  If she was too honest about her time and place, that's no failing.  But I was glad to turn the last page.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I know what I saw

I know what I saw: modern-day  encounters with monsters of new urban legend and ancient lore / Linda S. Godfrey, read by Gabra Zackman, 322 pgs.

Basically this is a long list about first hand sightings of mysterious creatures.  Bigfoot, Momo, or whatever you call him/her makes an appearance but so do a whole lot of other unusual creatures.  Stick people, dog women, cave creatures, werewolves, dire dogs, the list is not short.  I loved the way each encounter is handled and the citations included.  Gabra Zackman does a brilliant job narrating.

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, art by Harmony Becker, 192 pages

In this graphic memoir, Takei recounts his years spent in two Japanese internment camps during World War II. He was a small child when his family was sent first to Rowher and then to Tule Lake, so he didn't really understand what was going on — though he had a better idea when the camps finally closed and his family was left to reintegrate into society on their own. Throughout the book, Takei explains clearly and calmly how this experience affected his family, and how it led him to a lifetime of campaigning for civil liberties and human rights. The book comes at the perfect time, as so many of Takei's experiences are being echoed in ICE roundups, in Muslim travel bans, and in refugee detainment on the Mexican border. This is essential reading for Americans of all ages.

Summer Lightning

Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse  316 pp.

This is one of the series of books and stories that revolve around Blandings Castle and its inhabitants. Lord Emsworth, the master of the castle is absent minded and frequently confused. He cares only about his award winning pig, the Empress, and worries that his rival, Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe will produce a pig that outshines his. Meanwhile Emsworth's brother, Galahad, is writing a tell-all memoir that could prove to be an embarrassment to the family and get them ostracized by their friends. Emsworth's sister, Lady Constance is a domineering old bat who is chatelaine of the castle and sends many residents into hiding to avoid her. Adding to the chaos are two romantic crises involving younger members of the family, a shady private detective, Lord Emsworth's secretary who may or may not be mad, the theft of the Empress, and a butler who probably deserves sainthood after dealing with all of them. This is classic Wodehouse and a great deal of fun. The audiobook was narrated by John Wells who does a masterful job of voicing the characters.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Jade War

Jade War, Fonda Lee, 590 pages

Jade War is the second novel in Fonda Lee's Green Bone saga, and it picks up shortly after the first book ends, with the ensemble cast having arrived where they were headed at the end of Jade City. The story is a bit slower in pace, as the characters spend more time setting up plans and putting plans into motion, which makes sense in the context that they are realizing that their actions now have moved from impacting their local communities to being international quasi-crime bosses. The continued themes centering around the importance of family, cultures of violence, and the attended costs of belonging to a super judicial clan of Kung Fu masters. This is decidedly not light-hearted fantasy fare, as things often seem to move from bad to worse for the characters, and every action the characters take seems to come at a great personal cost. Relationships crumble, families and clans are torn apart, and the Kaul family that is at the heart of the story seem to barely hold on in each situation they end up in.

The Sol Majestic

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, 384 pages

Savor Station is a remote space station best known for The Sol Majestic, the most exclusive restaurant in the universe. People will travel light years to visit, and reservations are made years in advance. But Kenna doesn't know about The Sol Majestic when he arrives. He's a starving teenager, dragged from station to station by his parents, who are attempting to fulfill the Inevitable Philosophies of their religion while haranguing Kenna for not yet coming up with his own Philosophy. Yet by pure dumb luck, Kenna finds himself in the kitchen of The Sol Majestic, falling in love with the work the chefs perform every day and falling in love with one chef in particular, an indentured servant named Benzo. Soon the fate of Kenna's as-yet-unknown Inevitable Philosophy and the grandiose-but-bleeding-money restaurant are intertwined, causing Kenna to doubt the religion of his parents as well as his own humanity.

This book is a love letter to food, to determination, to hardworking labor. In rebelling against his parents' prohibitions against manual labor and mixing with the commoners, Kenna learns about the universe around him as well as about himself. So in that sense, it's a fairly standard coming-of-age tale. But it also delves into the concepts of knowledge, of power, of honesty, of skill, and of time itself. While parts felt a bit slow to me, I ended up loving this book and the way it resolved itself. I'm so glad Ferrett Steinmetz decided to keep writing and created this book.

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead / Olga Tokarczuk, 274 p.

Janina lives in a lonely Polish village near the Czech border.  She has few neighbors, and there are fewer all the time, as they keep turning up dead.  Stranger still, their deaths involve the presence of deer, foxes, and other wild animals of the region who are frequently hunted by the residents.  Could the animals be taking revenge?  Between helping her friend Dizzy translate William Blake and constructing elaborate horoscope predictions, Janina decides to solve the mystery herself, with interesting consequences.  Not quite what I expected, and not sure what I think.

After the Funeral

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie   191 pp.

I read all the Christie mysteries (yes, all 82 of them) many years ago but the title of this one didn't spark any memories when I found the audiobook available for 99 cents. And it was read by Hugh Fraser who played Hastings in the PBS Poirot series with David Suchet so why not revisit it? It's a typical Christie-type mystery: large manor house, wealthy family, death of eldest brother, etc. But at the reading of the will the sister comments "But he was murdered, wasn't he?" When she is brutally murdered the following day. When the family lawyer's investigations come to a dead end, he enlists the help of Hercule Poirot who, of course, solves the mystery. Eventually I came to remember the story but not the solution so it was almost like a new book to me.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Spark of Light

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018) 369 pages

Author Jodi Picoult's thorough research brings to life just about every aspect that relates to abortion in her powerful novel, A Spark of Light. A cast of characters converges at an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, the last open clinic in the state: A gunman, a hostage negotiator (who learns that his daughter and sister are hostages in the clinic), a doctor who performs abortions, the various staff members of the clinic, and most tellingly, the different life situations and needs that bring patients (and pro-life activists) to the clinic.

The story starts at almost the end of the hostage negotiations, then each chapter drops back in time by one hour, revealing the mindsets, histories, and surprises that bring each person to life, before the jump to the finale. Masterful, suspenseful, real.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (2007) 311 pages

In this third book in Penny's Inspector Gamache series, Madeleine Farreau, a woman that seems well-loved in the small village of Three Pines, dies during a seance in the very spooky Hadley house. When Inspector Gamache comes onto the scene, he has a good handful of suspects who had been at the seance, including a psychic and Tarot card reader, Jeanne Chauvet. Did Madeleine really die of fright or was her death a murder?

Meanwhile, while he works on the case, several different newspapers publish misleading information about him and his family, smearing their reputations. He thinks it's because of the work he'd done in the not-so-distant past, ousting some corrupt officials from the Sûreté du Québec. But if all the corrupt officials have been jailed, who is planting these outrageous stories in the media? Gamache has his own mystery to deal with as he explores Madeleine's death.

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) 295 pages

Don Tillman is an Australian genetics professor who exhibits Asperger's syndrome. He decides to construct a questionnaire to administer to women in an attempt to find a wife. When he meets Rosie, it's clear she is not at all suitable for him, but he irrationally finds her compelling, and works with her in an attempt to find out who her father is. His first-person account is written in his very precise tone which I found quite entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading the sequels, The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Result.

Wild card info

Hey Bloggers! We're nearly two weeks into the 2019-2020 book challenge year, and we have wild card categories!! As you might guess, these are listed on the Wild Card Categories page for future reference, but I've also included them here:
  • Books with either a ? or ! in the title — This is pretty straightforward: is the title an exclamation, complete with an exclamation point? Is it a question, complete with a question mark? Then it counts. If the answer to either of those questions is no, then nope, it doesn't.
  • Books in which the author's last name includes a double letter — We're looking for two of the same letter in a row, like Clooney or Pitt (but authors, not actors). But remember, only the last name counts, so, to continue with the Ocean's 11 theme, Matt Damon doesn't count.
  • Bloggers whose first name OR last name is longer than 7 letters — This is an either/or situation, so you can't combine first and last.
Read on, blog on, and let me know if there's anyone who needs a bit of prodding to get blogging. As I'm sure you're aware, I can be really obnoxious persuasive when I need to be.


Unmasked: A Memoir by Andrew Lloyd Webber  544 pp.

This memoir by the world's most successful composer of musicals covers Lloyd Webber's life and career from childhood through the production of "Phantom of the Opera." Much of the book is about his youth and education - he was an Oxford University dropout - while the rest covers, in detail, the creation and production of his works beginning with "The Likes of Us." While the process of creating and bringing a major musical production to the stage is interesting, the book gets repetitive as it goes through six major productions and five minor ones. He wrote candidly about his personal life including the dumping of his first wife for the young Sarah Brightman who became his muse for "Phantom". I listened to the audiobook version read by Derek Perkins with the Forward and Afterward read by Lloyd-Webber. Their voices are so similar I felt like it was all read by the author.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, 146 pages

Eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood lives with her sister, Constance, and their senile uncle Julian. The trio has lived alone in a secluded mansion for six years, ever since the rest of their family died from arsenic poisoning during dinner. That event and the Blackwoods' subsequent agoraphobia has created animosity between most of the neighboring village's residents and Merricat, the only Blackwood who will leave their land. But when they're at home, Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian feel safe. Until their cousin Charles turns up, upsetting their world and leading to further catastrophe.

This is a moody, atmospheric tale that gets creepier and creepier as it goes. It's the first Jackson I've read, though it will certainly not be the last. She does such a wonderful job of creating a spooky story without any supernatural beings. No wonder she's referred to as a master of the genre!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In pain

In pain: a bioethicist's personal struggle with opioids / Travis Rieder, read by the author, 297 pgs.

Rieder was in a motorcycle accident and hurt his foot badly enough to require 6 surgeries.  This book talks about his struggles with the health care system and specifically the lack of assistance from any of his doctors when it was time to STOP taking opioids that were prescribed for his pain.  He was not an addict...he didn't want to take the medications any more but his body was dependent on them.  He went through a hellish month of withdrawal wherein he considered suicide and basically sat at home and cried.  He describes it as the worst flu he had ever had times 100.  In the end, there were other issues with his care but this one was the biggest. When he called doctors to get help, they told him, 'Just start taking the medicine again if it is so bad." Thus pushing the ball down the field and having to repeat the withdrawal process at a later date.  Rieder did not find that advice very helpful. The kicker here is Rieder works for John Hopkins.  He is not a medical doctor but a Phd. who studies and writes about medical ethics.  If this guy can't get good care, what chance do the rest of us have? 

The Color of Christ

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward J. Blum, 340 pages

Fun fact: Jesus Christ's physical description isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible. So where did all these images of Christ as a tall, long-haired white guy come from? Well, that's just one of the questions that Blum answers in The Color of Christ. This history lesson also examines the ways that religious and cultural leaders, as well as artists of all kinds, have manipulated the description of Christ over the centuries, generally speaking to better further their own agendas, dating back hundreds of years. This is a fascinating book, one that appeals to anyone who has wondered how both sides of the Civil War claimed to have Jesus on their side, and opposing sides of racial topics (from slavery to Obama's election in 2008) have felt inspiration from the son of God.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Careful what you wish for

Careful what you wish for / Hallie Ephron, 288 pgs.

Emily Harlow has quit teaching and is now a professional organizer.  Perfect job for a woman who is married to a "collector" who might really just be a hoarder. She and her partner are starting out and taking pretty much every job so are excited to get a referral to help a woman clean out her garage before they finish their CURRENT job of helping a widow clean out a surprise storage unit.  Things get interesting pretty quick as the garage job is a woman who is clearly in a bad marriage and a dead body is found in the storage unit.  Then the police come knocking...Emily is on the security camera at the storage place going into the unit after hours.  But she wasn't there.  Is this a setup?  What is going on?  Who can she trust to help her get to the bottom of it?  Like all good heroines, she does the legwork herself.  Interesting premise and it did spark joy for me.

The Unhoneymooners

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, 400 pages

Olive Torres has never been as lucky as her charmed twin sister, Ami, who managed to finance her entire wedding and honeymoon by winning contests. But the twins' luck may be changing: maid of honor Olive and her nemesis, best man Ethan, are the only two people who manage to avoid getting sick from the (free) seafood buffet. In keeping with her thriftiness, Ami insists that Olive and the evil Ethan (who's the groom's brother, and thus has the same last name) take the (free) honeymoon trip to Maui.

Since this is a romance novel, it's obvious from the get-go that Olive and Ethan are going to fall for one another once they reach the tropical isle. And they do so through a series of awkward, steamy, hilarious, and sometimes heartfelt interludes. I loved this frothy and fun read, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a bit of an escape.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Sky Is Yours

The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith, 457 pages

Take Manhattan, and throw in the following elements in equal parts:
  • horrific prison mismanagement (think a walled-in neighborhood where all criminals, regardless of crime, are thrown together); 
  • a disturbing fascination with reality TV and technology; 
  • a hopelessly romantic teenage girl whose only purpose is to be married off to a rich husband;
  • and a freaked out kid who grew up on a trash island.
Mix well and cook with intermittent fire provided by two ever-circling dragons flying above the city.

Makes: one cynical, funny science fiction novel. Devour at will.

I read this book for the first time last year, and blogged about it here. I feel much the same on this reread as I did then (still loved it, still tickled pink at the character names), so I won't say much more in this post. I'm curious to see what the Orcs & Aliens think of it tonight though.

A Queer and Pleasant Danger

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir by Kate Bornstein  258 pp.

I must admit that the only reason I picked this book was to fill the "Q" slot in an "A to Z Title Challenge". However, I found it to be an interesting, if not great, book. Kate Bornstein is the transgender author of Gender Outlaw. This book chronicles her entry into the all consuming world of Scientology which lead them (then known as Al Bornstein) into the upper echelons of L. Ron Hubbard's cult dynasty all the while fighting the internal battle of gender dysphoria. After leaving Scientology Bornstein makes the decision to have reassignment surgery and becomes a woman in body while identifying as gender non-conforming. Parts of their story are disturbing and not for the faint of heart.

The Void

The Void (Witching Savannah Book 3) by J.D. Horn  322 pp.

In this third (and final?) installment, Mercy and her husband, Peter, are awaiting the arrival of baby Colin. However, Savannah has been rocked by the dismemberment death of a woman whose body parts have been found in seemingly random parts of the city. Soon demonic beings from the previous books reappear and it is clear that someone or a group of someones want to destroy Mercy and her baby. The Taylor family must join forces against those intent on destroying them. The ending is less than satisfactory with history changing so that Mercy never existed but the baby does as the child of her twin sister. And then Mercy returns. It seems the author was unable to decide on an ending and mashed together multiple options to a unfortunate conclusion.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The bride test

The Bride Test / Helen Hoang, read by Emily Woo Zeller, 304 pgs.

Stuck in a dead end job in Viet Nam, My jumps at the change to make a better life for herself and her family by accepting a trip to California.  Khai's mom has been looking for a wife for him.  He is autistic so has a hard time making personal connections.  Predictably, he is at first against the match but then falls for her.  There aren't any surprises here but interesting by featuring a romantic story involving an autistic character and a hard working immigrant.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Digital minimalism

Digital minimalism: choosing a focused life in a noisy world / Cal Newport, 294 pgs.

Can you live without social media?  Can you live without your phone?  SHOULD you live without either?  Cal Newport makes the case that moderation is the key here and that social media addiction makes you feel less connected.  He thinks you should try a media "diet." Don't get rid of your phone, get rid of the apps.  He makes a case for cultivating other hobbies and spending time alone, reflecting and thinking.  Common sense advice to improve your life.

Dog Tags

Dog Tags by David Rosenfelt (2010) 360 pages

Andy Carpenter is an independently wealthy defense attorney who takes only the cases that really interest him. If a dog is connected to the case, he is interested. In this case, Billy Zimmerman, an army veteran who lost his leg in Iraq, returned to the US after his injury, only to find that his police job wasn't waiting for him anymore. He was able to keep Milo, the beloved police dog he'd worked with, now that Milo was considered too old for police work. Billy trained Milo to work a few thefts with him to survive. But when Billy found his former Army commander acting suspiciously and chose to send Milo after him to get an envelope out of his hands, the Army commander was shot by someone else and Milo took off with the envelope. Billy waited with the dead man, only to be arrested for his murder.

Andy Carpenter first took the case to protect the dog, and later Billy. What looks like a revenge murder (Billy supposedly killing his commander because he thought the commander cost him his leg in Iraq) turns into an international intrigue with several murders and something big on the horizon that must be stopped, if only Andy's team (and the FBI) could figure out what it is.

I've found Andy Carpenter mysteries to be fast-paced reads; some chapters with Andy's first person accounts and others with a third person description of other events to add background and suspense.