Friday, November 29, 2019

The Pull of the Moon

The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg (1996) 193 pages

Nan is a fifty year old woman from Boston who abruptly leaves on an extended road trip to find herself. The novel is primarily a gathering of journal entries she makes along the way, along with letters to her husband, Martin. She chooses to travel on small highways and visit small towns, sometimes striking up interactions with strangers. She also ponders her youth, adulthood, motherhood and her marriage in great detail. This was a book that I found hard to set down.

The Missing Madonna

The Missing Madonna by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie (1988) 258 pages

In this installment of the Sister Mary Helen mystery series, Sister Mary Helen and her dear sidekick, Sister Eileen, neglect their college duties somewhat as they search for a missing friend, Erma. Erma, a member of their OWL group (Older Women's League) has disappeared shortly after returning from a trip to New York. Her friends know she had been having some financial trouble. Erma hasn't spoken to anyone directly except her landlord/employer, Al Finn, a guy who is adept at zigzagging his few remaining hairs across his head. Finn says Erma traveled to St Louis to get away from her adult children and to visit a relative, but that relative hasn't heard from Erma. Several members of the OWLs gather, searching for clues along with Erma's rather depressed, dependent daughter. Erma's sons aren't very helpful in the search; the older son, a leather-clad motorcyclist, is most likely to pick fights with the others. The younger son is an artist who seems to be using a lot of pot.

Sister Mary Helen really wants to get her friend, homicide detective Kate Murphy involved in the case, but Kate redirects her to the Ron Honore, a Kojak-like officer in the missing persons department.

The books in this series provide a fast read if you like getting a touch of Catholicism along with your mystery.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here / Kevin Wilson, 254 p.

So glad I read Kara's review of this.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Lillian, a once-promising young woman living a dead-end life who's tapped by her old friend, the wealthy and mysterious Madison, to care for her two stepchildren.  The catch is that the two, Bessie and Roland, have a tendency to ignite, literally, when upset, stressed, or angry.  Will Lillian learn to control their combustibility?  Is there a solution that lies beyond covering them in anti-flammable stunt gel and leaving them in the swimming pool all day?

The tone of this novel is a delightful sweet melancholy.  Wilson has found a near perfect metaphor-that's-not-quite-a-metaphor to express the impact of committing to a child on an adult's life.  Things get hot, messy, and unpredictable. But not necessarily bad.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford, 482 pages

Teagan Frost is the only person she knows who has the power of psychokinesis, a skill she uses on a secret government team that spies on threats to the country. But on this one particularly risky job, someone turns up dead, and in a way that only Teagan could do. Suddenly, she and her team have less than 24 hours to solve the murder and clear her name, otherwise she's back to being poked and prodded by scientists. What results is an action-packed caper that travels all over Los Angeles and features tons of things flying through the air.

It's fun, funny, and a great light read for anyone who ever thought that the X-Men needed to lighten up a bit. My one gripe is that the author is obviously British, with lots of British spellings (kerb instead of curb, cos instead of 'cause) and names for things (pavements instead of sidewalks, trainers instead of sneakers). Generally speaking, Britishisms don't bother me, but when a book is set in Los Angeles and populated largely by non-white characters with criminal backgrounds, it blocks the suspension of belief just enough to be annoying. Otherwise, this was a lot of fun.

Volume Control

Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World / David Owen, 292 p.

Interesting, thoughtfully written overview of current and historic issues surrounding deafness and hearing loss, with a particular focus on the development of assistive technology.  Worth reading, as most of us who have the good fortune of living to old age will experience some level of hearing loss.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano  346 pp.

After a life in Bavaria with her Sicilian husband, the now widowed Auntie Poldi retires to Sicily to live out her life consuming vast amounts of alcohol and quietly fading away. But her handsome handyman disappears and she finds him dead on the beach. Not one to stand on the sidelines, Poldi engages in the investigation much to the dismay of the local detective in charge. But Poldi has set her sights on the detective as a love interest and no one can resist the quirky 60 year old in a red wig. The story is narrated by Poldi's nephew, an aspiring writer. In real life the author indeed had a Bavarian Auntie Poldi who provided the fuel for this series of light and fun mysteries.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Sky is Yours

The Sky is Yours, Chandler Klang Smith, 457 pages

I really enjoyed the world the Smith was building in The Sky is Yours. There were fun elements of a post-apocalypse dragon New-York, loaded with interesting characters and opportunities for things to be built upon. However, the end of the novel just seemed to fizzle a bit, as it seemed to wrap up too neatly, too quickly. All this time was invested in a variety of characters, each of whom you want to know more about, but then the book promptly ends and has a tidy epilogue that feels unpolished in comparison to the rest of the book, as though Smith ran out of steam inches from the finish line. I would highly recommend this book to those that love detailed world building and an interesting premise, though I do wish this had actually been two books set in the same world, with one book building towards the conclusion, and the other book fully following the plot threads that seemed to be snipped a little too early.

The ten loves of Nishino

The ten loves of Nishino / Hiromi Kawakami, 172 pgs.

Each chapter is narrated by a different woman who loved or was loved by Nishino.  Each has a different relationship. Some love Nishino a lot, some he seems to love more. Each is very intrigued with him.  As their relationships wax and wane, the one thing in common is that he expresses to each of them that they are "the one" but breakups are the rule, not continuing.  Each thinks fondly about him in later years but none have regrets. The author does an interesting job of interweaving the stories.  Nishino is hard to know or maybe we know everything.  The book is a bit mysterious how realistic each relationship seems to be.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Red at the bone

Red at the bone / Jacqueline Woodson, 196 pgs.  Read by the author, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small and Bahni Turpin.

Melody is a teen but also the age her mother, Iris, was when she had Melody.  She and her mother aren't close.  Iris went away to college and left Melody with her dad and grandparents.  Although this is the story of the individuals involved - including Melody's dad and the grand parents.  But also, it is an interesting view of teen pregnancy and the effects that linger. Woodson writes so well, even if this isn't your kind of story, you might enjoy reading it.  The audiobook is well done by a cast and Woodson herself.

This Is Pleasure

This Is Pleasure: a Story / Mary Gaitskill, 83 p.

Margot and Quin are long-time friends.  When Quin's career is destroyed by accusations of sexual harassment, his story unfolds in alternating accounts from the two of them.  A near pitch-perfect exploration of our brave new #metoo world, excusing no one but illuminating everything.  I loved it.

The Poet

The Poet by Michael Connelly  510 pp.

I have never read any of Connelly's books before and I'm not sure I will again. Connelly is the author of the Harry Bosch series. This was the first in a series featuring reporter Jack McEvoy. The premise and story are intriguing but the execution is long and drawn out. McEvoy's police detective twin brother commits suicide but McEvoy has a hard time believing it. His investigations turn up a series of other officer suicides all with connections to vicious murders being investigated by those officers. The suicide notes left by the officers all feature quotes from Edgar Allan Poe. McEvoy works with the FBI in finding the killer who has connections to a network of pedophiles. Of course, there is a love interest and an unexpected twist at the end. It just seemed as if the story would never end and I was ready for it to be done about 150 pages before it finally did. The audiobook was well narrated by Buck Schirner.

Wildwood

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, 541 pages

Prue McKeel is your average 12-year-old, riding her bike around her neighborhood of Portland with her baby brother, Mac, on a lovely fall day. Everything changes when Mac is abducted by a murder of crows, who carry him across the river into the Impassable Wilderness. Suddenly, Prue and her classmate Curtis (who tags along, despite Prue's protestations) are embarking on a wilderness rescue mission filled with anthropomorphic animals, an evil witch, coyote soldiers, and a wild group of bandits.

I read this first book of Decemberists' singer Meloy's Wildwood Chronicles to my daughter, who absolutely loved it — though given Meloy's penchant for multisyllabic and archaic words, we had to pause several times for definitions ("phalanx" and "bayonet" come to mind). Despite what she termed "juicy words," she completely fell in love with Prue's strength and resourcefulness, Curtis's haplessness, and the many colorful characters of Wildwood. We'll be starting on the second book directly.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free / Andrew Miller, 410 p.

In the midst of the Napoleonic wars, a young officer is returned to his English home, unconscious and seemingly near death.  The story of the recovery of his body and mind, and what happened in northern Spain to cause his condition, form the core of the novel. As the officer, John Lacroix, travels north to the farthest Scottish isles to rest, he is pursued by events from the war, and by, in particular, a soldier on a mission to exact retribution.   Excellent historical detail and unusual characters make for an often intriguing read. 

The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, 213 pages

After decades serving as butler at Darlington Hall, Mr. Stephens is convinced by his new American employer to take a short holiday, which Stephens sees as an opportunity to visit Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall. During this long drive to visit his former colleague, Stephens reminisces about his years of service to the late Lord Darlington, to whom Stephens was loyal, despite his lordship's many flaws, which become apparent through the course of the book. With page-long paragraphs and almost nonexistent dialogue, it took me a while to settle into this narrative. But once I did, I was swept up by Ishiguro's clever storytelling and characterization. It's no wonder this book has received so many accolades over the years.

Talking to strangers

Talking to strangers: what we should know about the people we don't know / Malcolm Gladwell, read by the author and a cast of others, 386 pgs.

You meet someone who is quite different from yourself.  Maybe from a different culture, maybe a different age group or ethnicity.  What could go wrong with your communications?  Plenty!  In this book, Gladwell looks into the psychology behind how we evaluate strangers, how we communicate with them and what we think we know about them.  The problem is that study after study says we are mostly wrong about what we think we know.  But not just you and I.  Police officers, judges, spy bosses, planners, even psychologist.  There are enough examples here to make you rethink a lot of your own attitudes.  If the CIA can't find double agents and they have people there whose SOLE JOB is to find double agents, what chance to the rest of us have?  There is a lot here that could/should disturb you.  The audio version is fantastic...using, whenever possible, the real voices of people Gladwell writes about.

X

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon  348 pp.

This is an award winning novelized biography of the man who would become Malcolm X. Written by one of his daughters and based on Malcolm Little/El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz's diaries and interviews with friends and family. The book covers his childhood through the teen years to his imprisonment for burglary at age 21 where he converted to Islam and studied the works of men like Marcus Garvey who his parents followed. Appended material expands on his life after prison and his work with the Nation of Islam which he left to create the Organization for African-American Unity. This YA novel is interesting and I learned much about Malcolm X that I did not know. And it fulfilled the last title I needed for the 2019 A to Z Book Challenge. I downloaded the book via Overdrive.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Twilight Man

The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi  176 pp.

This is a biographical graphic novel about the life of Rod Serling from his days as a paratrooper in World War II to his creation of iconic television from the early days of the medium. Serling was the consummate workaholic from his teenage years. He pushed himself and his superiors to get into the paratroopers even though at 5"4" he did not make the height requirement. In the early days of television he frequently butted heads with his superiors over censorship and commercialism. The creation of his popular "Twilight Zone" program was a way to get around restrictions against stories about race and discrimination by setting the stories in the future with alien societies. His work ethic, writing several scripts at the same time while smoking up to four packs a day ultimately killed him at age 50. Shadmi has done an excellent job of portraying Serling's intensity and frustrations as well as his enjoyment of the good life after his successes.

Monday, November 18, 2019

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel, 425 pages.

Richtel, a reporter who has written several novels and the nonfiction work, A Deadly Wandering, the account of fatal car crash, centers this work on the immune system and advances in immunology. He tells the stories of four people, a government attorney who contracted AIDS back in the mid-1980s, a professional golfer with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and two people who, for the love of god, I no longer recall (wait, I just remembered the main one--the author's high-school buddy who has developed a particularly aggressive cancer). He tells their stories, not only their lives, but the stories of their diagnosis and treatment.
With the four parallel stories and with the narrative history of immunology woven in there, Richtel does a good job of keeping the reader interested.
A decent introduction to immunology, written in an engaging and accessible style.

The Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, 166 pages

During the Atlantic slave trade, pregnant slaves were thrown overboard from ships, as they were loud, distracting, and needed more resources than other slaves. Solomon's groundbreaking novella — and the great song of the same name by experimental rap group clipping. — take this horrifying history and posit that perhaps the unborn children of the drowned were born as water-breathing wajinru that create a society at the bottom of the ocean. Even better, a society that is free of the memories of their forbears and the horrors of slavery.

Well, free, except for one. Yetu is the latest historian for the wajinru, tasked with being the sole vessel for her people's cultural memory except for an annual remembrance, in which she temporarily shares the information with everyone else. Yetu hates her role, which has forced her to bear something that is unbearable for a single person, and yearns to escape.

I won't continue with the plot any more than that. What I will say is that this is an amazing novella that explores collective memory, the physical and emotional toll of bearing witness to ancestral mistreatment, and the problem with completely forgetting the past. It's by no means an easy read, but it is a fantastic one and one that I highly recommend. It's amazing how much Solomon packs into such a short book.

Do Nothing!

Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader by J. Keith Murnighan, 224 pages

In this short book, Murnighan examines ways to get rid of micromanagement and focus on the real job of being a manager: leading your team. He discusses empathy, getting used to not doing the stuff that got you hired for the management job (for example, being great at IT might get you the job of the IT manager, but once you take the promotion, you'll just be overseeing someone else doing the actual IT work), and generally refocusing on what will best make your team work effectively. It's an interesting book, and while a lot of it seems obvious, it's not — I didn't think of any of this "obvious" stuff until Murnighan mentioned it. So it's well worth perusing, though I'd love to see an update, as a lot has changed since the book was first published in 2012.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (2010) 371 pages

Chief Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Inspector Beauvoir, are each recovering from near-fatal injuries from a rescue mission to save one of their officers who was taken hostage. The story of the hostage situation is handled via  flashbacks. Gamache is trying to deal with the psychological fallout from the rescue mission while visiting his mentor, Emile Comeau, now retired and living in Quebec City. Gamache is drawn into helping as a civilian on a murder case there. Meanwhile, Inspector Beauvoir, at Gamache's request, is in the village of Three Pines, reconsidering the murder case that ended with the conviction of Olivier BrulĂ©, the owner of the Bistro.

This story reverberates in subsequent Penny books, and is the reason I decided to read the series in order (even though the books can each be read as stand-alones). Penny captures the reasoning and the emotions of those involved in these cases, and draws the reader into some of Quebec City's history from the time of Samuel de Champlain in the 17th century and the continuing struggles between those of French and English descent that continue to the present day.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Guns of August

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman  658 pp.

This book about the lead up to and the first month of World War I won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962. It's hard to fathom just how much occurred during the brief time following the death of Edward VII and the beginning of the war and in the first month of hostilities. Tuchman pulled no punches when it came to portraying the arrogance and selfishness of those in command on both sides and the deadly retaliation by the Germans on anyone who opposed them. The Germans thought defeating France and Belgium would take a matter of days. France, Belgium, and Britain proved to be a stronger adversary than expected in spite of the infighting among commanders. I listened to the audio version and it was helpful to have a map of Belgium and France handy to understand where things were happening.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death by Caitlin Doughty  222 pp.

I admit I enjoyed this book a little too much. Mortician Caitlin Doughty answers questions asked by children about death. She provides facts and humor to answer questions about keeping bones and skulls, if you swallowed unpopped popcorn before you die would it pop when you are cremated, why dead bodies get wrapped in plastic, and much more. This book answered one question I had wondered about for years (yes, I'm weird): how many calories are in the human body? (125,822 for an average sized male.) If you are really really squeamish I would pass this one by, otherwise it's worth reading.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White, 473 pages

Nilah Brio is the best racer in the universe, the pride of Lang Autosports, drawing adoring fans and big bucks sponsorships on every planet she drives on. But during one of her races, she and another racer become trapped in a time-locked spell cast by a spooky old lady that leaves the other racer dead and Nilah teleported to the bad part of town with nobody to trust. Before long, however, she meets up with Boots, a former fighter pilot-turned-celebrity who now sells not-always-correct maps to treasure hunters. Boots is on the run from the many treasure hunters she's duped when she and Nilah meet, and unfortunately, that's when Boots' former captain and crew catch up with her, taking Boots and Nilah aboard the Capricious as they search for the Harrow, a legendary warship that may not even exist. But the spooky old lady is hot on their heels, and way more dangerous than any of them suspected.

OK, that's probably a bit confusing, and it's not even close to the full plot of the book. But holy cow, is this a fun book! One of the blurbs on the back of the book compares it to the gone-too-soon western-in-space TV show Firefly (which is one of my favorites), and it's definitely an apt comparison. I had a bit of trouble making the characters magical capabilities mesh with the galaxy-jumping setting, but once I got that sorted in my head, this was a fantastic adventure. I'll definitely be reading the rest of this trilogy! Recommended for fans of Becky Chambers, Firefly, and not-always-legal capers.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dead Souls

Dead Souls by Ian Rankin  406 pp.

I haven't read many of the books in the Inspector Rebus series but I generally enjoy them because Rebus is far from the perfect cop. This episode, however, was hard to get through. There are so many story lines going on it was hard to keep track of all the characters. A police colleague of Rebus's committed suicide with no explanation, a known pedophile has come under Rebus's suspicions, a released convicted murderer deported from the U.S. is targeting Rebus and his friends and family, the son of old friends has gone missing, and Rebus's love life becomes convoluted. To add to my confusion the pedophile is named Darren and the missing man is named Damon. Everything is resolved satisfactorily at the end but it was a slog to get there. 

Bloomland

Bloomland / John Englehardt, 195 pgs.

It is finals week at a fictional southern university when a shooting takes place in the library.  This book follows three characters who are affected by the shooting.  Rose is a freshman who is trying to shed her difficult childhood.  Eddie teaches English and is trying to save his marriage...or maybe just figure out his marriage.  Eli is also a student but he becomes the shooter.  The story moves forward and backward focusing on a different character each chapter.  I had some confusion trying to follow who was doing the talking as it bounced around from 2nd person POV.  But the overall story is interesting and the characters are memorable.  The shooter's story, is perhaps the most compelling.

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei  192 pp.

Kara blogged about this book in September and pretty much said what I would. I was fortunate to see George Takei at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in 2016. He told the story of his family's internment in camps during World War II. This graphic novel tells that same story and most of it I remembered from his talk. As Kara said, this is important reading for everyone in these times of ICE and immigrant detainment.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Eyes to the wind

Eyes to the wind: a memoir of love and death, hope and resistance / Ady Barkan, read by Bradley Whitford, 281 pages

I picked this up not realizing that Ady Barkan is a well known political activist and social justice warrior.  Diagnosed with ALS at age 32, this is also a memoir of dealing with the physical issues related to the disease that is incurable.  Not wanting to give up on the work he was doing, he expanded his scope to include healthcare initiatives and the importance of continuing many of the provisions of Obamacare.  I enjoyed hearing about Fed-up, a campaign to reform the Federal Reserve.  Bradley Whitford narrates and does a good job.  Recommended to anyone interested in political resistance or even just finding meaning in life.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Brutal Telling

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (2009) 372 pages

A hermit living in a simple log cabin in the Canadian woods near the village of Three Pines is visited regularly by Olivier Brulé, who runs the local bistro. When the hermit ends up dead, found in Olivier's bistro, no one else knows who he was, and Olivier doesn't tell anyone that he knew the man. This is just the start of the lies and secrets that Chief Inspector Gamache and his team need to work through to solve this murder. They learn that the man hadn't been killed in the bistro. When they finally find the crime scene, they discover that the hermit had been using priceless crystal and china for his meals, he played a valuable violin, he read books that were valuable first editions, and he'd stuffed money in the cracks between the logs to keep out drafts. Where did he get his money and treasures? Some intriguing carvings depicting people on a journey, made by the hermit, tell parts of a story that sends Gamache on a journey to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia to learn more about totem poles and cabin-building.

There is much acrimony between Olivier and a married couple who have moved to Three Pines to open a hotel/spa. Chief Inspector Gamache delves into whether their ill-will somehow factors into the murder.

As always in the village of Three Pines, there are additional storylines that add fullness to Penny's work, including ones with Clara, a middle-aged artist ready for her break-out moment and crotchety old Ruth, a renowned poet with a horrible attitude. The Brutal Telling is the 5th book in this series.


Bad Unicorn

Bad Unicorn, Platte F. Clark, 423 pages

Bad Unicorn, written by Platte F. Clark, is an uproarious good time. It follows Max Spencer and his friends as they are flung forward in time by a magical book that only Max can read, a future in which robots rule the world, and a carnivorous unicorn named Princess the Destroyer is hunting them down. It has a dual plot line set up, with chapter alternating between Max's story and Princess's rise to power and hunt for Max. It's hilarious, full of warped fantasy tropes and clever word play. Max is also really easy to root for, as he's a lovable, awkward kid who really is unsure of what he is supposed to be doing, but keeps trying his hardest to keep everyone safe and alive. This is also the first in a completed series, and would be a definite interest to those young readers that are pushing the skill level between juvenile chapter books and young adult.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson  308 pp.

During the Great Depression the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project was created to bring books to the poor mountain people of the state. In this novel Cussy Mary Carter is one of a group of women who rode from shack to shack delivering books, magazines, newspapers, and human contact. Cussy is also one of the "Blue People" of Kentucky, suffering from the recessive gene disorder methemoglobinemia. Because of their skin color the "Blues" were discriminated against and viewed with suspicion the same as the African-Americans in the region. Cussy and her father live a life of poverty even though he works hard as a coal miner. Cussy is proud of her work and does her best for the people she serves often going above and beyond her duties by bringing food to the starving, medical aid to the ill, and providing companionship to the lonely in spite of her personal hardships. It's a nice story of some little known topics with a little romance on the side. Incidentally the area around Troublesome Creek is where many of the real "Blue People" lived.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

What if this were enough?

What if this were enough?: essays / Heather Havrilesky, 228 pgs.

At first I could not discern the link.  How does this collection relate?  Then I went back to the title and realized how it says it all.  Topics range from relationships to pop culture to family life.  Sometimes it is a matter of perspective.  Do we really need to spend a lot of our time every day being told that we need to change, improve, buy better stuff?  Sometimes we need to look around and at ourselves and be happy with what we see.  The author is an advice columnist so is well acquainted with human struggles.  I'm sure some of her comparisons and comments went over my head but lots of it strikes me as very wise. Interesting and relevant.

Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, 254 pages

When Lillian was a teenager, she received a scholarship to attend a boarding school. There she quickly became best friends with Madison, her beautiful, talented, and equally weird roommate. But then Madison got caught with drugs, and Madison's rich dad paid off Lillian to take the fall and get expelled instead. Somehow, the two girls managed to stay friends, writing letter to one another over the next 20 years as Madison became the third wife of a senator and Lillian lived with her mom and worked one short-term job after another. But then Madison asked Lillian to come be the governess for her step-children, a task made all the more challenging by the fact that the two kids burst into flames whenever they get riled up. But Lillian goes.

This is a fantastic story of friendship, of self-doubt, and of found family. And it's funny as hell. Highly recommended.

Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big

Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed (2000) 39 pages

This is the final of the three picture books I read by a favorite cartoonist. When Edwurd Fudwupper lies about an item he broke, he blames it on aliens. A nosey neighbor hears his claims and spreads the rumor until an alien finally shows up to find out who started the lie. Edwurd's sister Fannie tries to save him, even though he never really appreciated her. The pictures are so cartoonishly funny.

Mars Needs Moms!

Mars Needs Moms! by Berkeley Breathed (2007) 44 pages


Another picture book by one of my favorite cartoonists. Milo is a boy who doesn't appreciate his mother. When she sends him to bed without his supper for dyeing his sister fuchsia, as well as for sassing off at her, he's wakes up in the night and sees his mother being kidnapped by Martians. He follows along to see why the Martians would need her. The pictures are filled with charming details.

Pete & Pickles

Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed (2008) 48 pages


Somehow I had missed the fact that a favorite cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County fame, had also created picture books for children. Pictures with exquisite details depict Pete, a pig with a very routine life and Pickles, a circus elephant who escapes the sad conditions of her confinement by hiding out at Pete's home. Pickles is quickly recaptured, but Pete finds her. The sweet story includes hints that Pete is still grieving the loss of his spouse, Paprika, but a crisis shows him how much he has come to love Pickles.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Olive, Again

Olive, Again: a Novel / Elizabeth Strout, 289 p.

She's back!  Olive is, of course, Olive Kitteridge, the main character (and title) of Strout's Pulitzer-winning book.  Strout is also the author of the wonderful My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible.

Structured similarly to the earlier work, this latest is a collection of loosely interlinked stories set in coastal Crosby, Maine.  While Olive is frequently only peripheral to a story, her narrative is advanced throughout the course of the book, from her widowhood from Henry, her first husband, to - well, you'll have to read it to see where life takes Olive.

I think of Strout as the master of that weird spot in human life that might be called the fulcrum: that place where we wobble and balance between loving and hating, between wisdom and foolishness, between disappointment and hope.  The stories are immediately absorbing, and realistically depict characters from across the class spectrum.  I love her writing, and while Olive, Again is not quite as strong as her earlier novel, it's still a great pleasure.

A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, 352 pages

In the years before World War II, American Virginia Hall rejected the traditional housewife role her parents wanted for her and decided that she wanted to work abroad for U.S. intelligence community. She applied for, and was subsequently rejected for, every job that wasn't secretarial, eventually taking one of those secretary positions just so she could make it to Europe. Despite the boring work that was given to her, Hall never gave up on her ambitions, and ended up becoming a spy for England's Special Operations Executive in France. During her years in France (which took her through the end of WWII) the misogyny surrounding her was astounding, even as she built networks of informants, evaded the Gestapo, broke several of her colleagues out of prison, planned sabotage missions of German forces, and provided intelligence that helped Allied forces liberate France. Oh, and she did all that with a prosthetic foot that most of her colleagues didn't know about.

If she was alive today, Hall would probably be a bit miffed that Purnell had written this book about her — she wasn't one for glory or accolades, going so far as to never discuss her role in the war with relatives or even colleagues. But thank goodness this book was written! It's wonderful that this amazing woman's story has come to light. She's inspiring, her story is jaw-dropping, and her impact on the intelligence community continues on to this day. This is a fantastic story told in a fantastic book.

Beautiful on the outside

Beautiful on the outside / Adam Rippon, read by the author, 246 pgs.

America's sweetheart delivers!  Funny, heart warming, honest, and sassy. Olympic medals could be in your future too.  Adam gives up the details on how to be a successful athlete.  It boils down to having talent, working your ass off and banishing your mental demons. See how easy?  Along the way, it helps to have support from your family and friends and a sense of humor to help you cope.  Rippon was the first out gay athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics for the U.S. thus also the first to win a medal.  He has overcome some obstacles but his story is mostly a testament to hard work. Fun listening to hear about everything in his own voice.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, 359 pages

Bangkok of the future is terrifying — climate change has made the tropical climate more extreme; bioterrorism has decimated the population with plagues; foreign GMO agriculture companies dangle plague-resistant crops as bait for bribes; fossil fuels are all but gone and what energy resources remain are tightly controlled; and the ministries of Trade and Environment have created warring (and corrupt) factions within government, destabilizing an already precarious situation. This novel simultaneously follows:
  • one of those foreign GMO guys as he attempts to track down Thailand's seedbank while keeping up appearances of running a spring factory;
  • the refugee manager of that spring factory, who is always keeping an eye out for himself first;
  • the titular windup girl, a New Person genetically inclined to please her human master, whether she wants to or not; and
  • a pair of Environment Ministry officers, one of whom is something of a state-sponsored environmental terrorist against the Trade Ministry.
Is it hard to keep all of this straight? Yup. Are any of the characters particularly likeable? Not really. Is the payoff worth it? Eh, still up in the air about that. The last 80-100 pages of this book are really compelling, and focus on a few characters that are barely mentioned in the first 250 pages. The unevenness of this book drives me nuts and makes me wonder how this tied for the 2010 Hugo for Best Novel. It was OK, at best.

Will my cat eat my eyeballs?

Will my cat eat my eyeballs?: big questions from tiny mortals about death / Caitlin Doughty, 222 pgs.

Funeral director Doughty compiled questions from kids relating to death and the immediate after.  Here she answers them with facts and humor.  Kids ask the funniest things...but we are all thinking them.  In the titular essay, your cat may well eat your eyeballs but will probably start with softer skin first.  So goodbye lips!

Lots of fun to read even though you might get squeamish a few times.

Testimony

Testimony: A Memoir by Robbie Robertson  500 pp.

I am a big fan of guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson and this book opened my eyes to his amazing talent and life. Jaime Royal "Robbie" Klegerman Robertson grew up in Toronto. His mother was Cayuga and Mohawk and his father was a Jewish gambler by the name of Klegerman who was killed in an auto accident. He grew up using his stepfather's last name, Robertson. After playing in local bands he left Toronto at sixteen and headed south to be a musician. He ended up with Rockabilly legend, Ronnie Hawkins band The Hawks where he met drummer Levon Helm who would become a lifelong friend. The Hawks split from Hawkins and became the legendary group The Band who toured with Bob Dylan during the controversial 1966 tour and played with a wide range of amazing musicians. The book follows the development of The Band from their residency at Big Pink, the house/studio in Woodstock, N.Y. (and the base for the album titled "Music from Big Pink") to their relocation in Malibu, California. I did not realize how many well known songs recorded by big name performers were written by Robertson. Sadly the book ends after the "The Last Waltz", The Band's swansong album and film with only brief mentions of some of his work with other performers. It does not extend into his work on several film scores and the development of his Native American group The Red Road Ensemble and his albums focusing on his Native American ancestry among other recordings and performances. The book starts out slow but picks up speed once The Band is established.

A Year in Provence

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle  220 pp.

My first exposure to A Year in Provence was as a television series starring John Thaw (Inspector Morse). The saga of the Mayles first year living in Provence is chronicled in a chapter a month. They find themselves investing in many renovations to their 200 year old house while dealing with bewildering and amusing episodes of cultural differences with their neighbors. Their solution to get all the contractors to finish their work before Christmas is unique and amusing. In spite of the difficulties, they learn to love their new home and find much enjoyment in the food, wine, and characters who befriend them.

The Royal Art of Poison

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman  304 pp.

Royalty throughout the world feared assassination by poison. They employed servants to taste their food, check their clothing and bedding, and even their chamber pots. While many did succumb to poisoning by their enemies, many were poisoned by elements of their daily lives. Toxins and filth in in their homes were prevalent, including excrement in the hallways and corners. The medical profession was more likely to cause harm than good with their potentially deadly concoctions. Even commonly used cosmetics and beauty regimens could have deadly effects. Mercury, Arsenic, Lead, and other toxins were rubbed on skin and taken internally. The last section of the book chronicles actual poisonings of prominent persons and how they suffered and died. In spite of the grim topic this book is alternately cringeworthy and amusing while being informative.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Dutch House

The Dutch House: a Novel / Ann Patchett, 337 p.

Siblings Maeve and Danny spend early childhood in The Dutch House, a spectacular Philadelphia mansion.  They live there with their distant father and two loving servants after their mother disappears.  Maeve becomes a surrogate mother to Danny in their mother's absence, and life is good until their Dad surprises them with stepmother Andrea, a cartoon-like evil figure straight out of the Brothers Grimm. 

As they move into adulthood, Maeve and Danny remain extremely close to one another, and unable to leave the bitterness of their childhoods behind.  When their mother surfaces many years later, their equilibrium is tested. 

I loved aspects of this novel; Patchett's writing is always a pleasure, and Maeve and Danny's relationship is beautifully rendered.  Other elements were unsatisfying, though: the stereotypical Andrea was hard to believe, and the saintly (and complicated) mother Elna never came into focus.  Ultimately, while the surface plot of the novel seems to say that materialism is empty, the characters' lives revolve around material achievement in a way that gives the reading an incoherent feel.

The Sentence is Death

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz (2019) 373 pages

Another "meta" kind of murder mystery by Horowitz, in which he places his real self, the man who has many screenwriting credits and has written scads of youth novels and a handful of novels geared to adults. The beginning is a continuation of his book The Word is Murder, but there's no need to have read that book to enjoy this one. In this story, he continues his association with Daniel Hawthorne, an ex-cop who works with the police department when there are particularly tough murder cases to solve. A wealthy divorce attorney, Richard Pryce, has been murdered after being threatened by Akira Anno, the spouse of someone he was representing. But there are several other candidates for suspicion, including his client, Adrian Lockwood and Pryce's own spouse Stephen. Pryce was also a party to a caving accident in which a college friend died many years ago, which puts another line of investigation into the spotlight.

Hawthorne wants Horowitz to merely write about the case and not to interject his own questions when a witness is interrogated. Horowitz can't help but throw in a few questions, and sometimes his questions give info to the witnesses that cause problems down the road. Horowitz has his flaws, which are both annoying and endearing. Hawthorne remains somewhat of an enigma.
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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Advice for future corpses

Advice for future corpses (and those who love them): a practical perspective on death and dying / Sallie Tisdale, 240 pgs.

The title tells it all.  I have no spoilers here except to tell you what a deeply careful and practical book this is.  The audience is everyone and the content is helpful and clear eyed.  The author's insights and advice are good for avoiding saying the really dumb thing to a person who is mourning all the way to those who need to plan for their eventual end.  Experience has taught her much but there is still room for not knowing things too.  Many of us end up typical in the end.  If you want a preview read this book.  If you are dealing with a loved one, read this book.  If you need to develop your own end of life plans, read this book.  I think you get the idea.

Call your daughter home

Call your daughter home / Deb Spera, read by Robin Miles, Adenrele Ojo, and Brittany Pressley 347 pgs.

A trio of Southern women in the years leading up to the great depression.  They are known to each other but not exactly friends.  Rhetta works for Annie who hires Gertrude.  All are dealing with difficult circumstances with dramatic stories to be revealed.  In the end their relationships matter.  At times difficult to listen to, you can't help but admire the backbone of each of these characters.  The narration is expertly done.

High Achiever

High Achiever: the incredible true story of one addict's double life / Tiffany Jenkins, read by the author 369 pgs.

Falling deeper into addiction while outwardly living a happy life with her boyfriend who was a deputy sheriff, the need for drugs put the author on the path of stealing and turning tricks for her next hit.  Employed as a manager in a restaurant, everything comes crashing down one day when the cops who she personally knew, came to her house and put her in cuffs. Accustomed to talking her way out of any situation, it took awhile before she realized this was serious.  Time in jail was difficult, if not only for the detox.  Jenkins had now dropped from head cheerleader to inmate.  She went through many tough times that are not sugar coated in this book but mostly reveals her story with humor and candor.  Read by the author, the audio version is well worth your time.

Friday, November 1, 2019

October totals!

Christa  15/4419

Jan  5/1565
Kara  10/3367
Karen  14/4268
Kathleen  6/2746

Total: 50/16,365

And Kathleen gets a gold star because ALL of her books hit a wild card!