Friday, February 28, 2020

Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another

Hate Inc.:Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi (2019) 294 pages

Matt Taibbi writes a fast reading, thought-provoking book that I often learned from, more often than not agreed with, and sometimes was upended by. He says that journalists these days are less likely to be the blue collar writers of the past (eg, Mike Royko of Chicago), and in his view, spend more time ridiculing crowds that support Trump, rather than investigating why they support Trump. He presents a case for the news being a consumer product which keeps us coming back for more, as if we were addicted, no matter which side of politics we find ourselves on.

There are anecdotes from Taibbi's interviews as well as observations he had while covering political campaigns for Rolling Stone magazine. One of the chapters that I found most memorable was when he compared news coverage to sports coverage. I thought that was spot-on. Some of his conclusions, though, worked to cast doubt on some of my heroes on the liberal side of the political spectrum, like Adam Schiff and Rachel Maddow. What surprised me most was how hard it was for me to keep my mind open in all directions while I read this book.

As a bonus, there is an interview with Noam Chomsky in an apprendix, which makes me want to read more of Chomsky's work.

An incomplete revenge, by Jacqueline Winspear

A fifth outing for “psychologist and investigator,” Maisie Dobbs.  It is fall 1931, and England is feeling the effects of the deepening world-wide economic depression.  Business has been a little slow, so Maisie is grateful to receive a commission from her friend, James Compton, who is interested in buying a large property, including a successful brickworks, in Kent.  But before finalizing the purchase, he asks her to investigate the rash of petty, and not-so-petty, crimes that have occurred in the near-by village of Heronsdene, including several suspicious fires.  Oddly, the villagers seem to shrug off these events, not even deigning to call the fire department in the closest town to help put the fires out.  Additionally, the village had been damaged by a Zeppelin raid during World War I, resulting in the deaths of three villagers, but no one seems inclined to talk about that either.  In fact, the whole village’s affect is just “off.”  During the time Maisie is investigating, the annual hop harvest is occurring.  This draws both hop-harvesters from an area of London and itinerant “travelers,” gypsies who come each year to earn money by harvesting., so the village is full of strangers as well as locals, which will complicate her inquiries.  I found this to be one of the best of the series, and the details of gypsy life and hop-harvesting fascinating.  Winspear has not only developed an interesting main character, but her backstory of the time in which each book is set has taught me something in each novel.  I plan to continue to follow Maisie’s adventures.  303 pp.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid  391 pp.

Evelyn Hugo is a famous Hollywood bombshell of the mid 1900s. Now in her 80s she hires an unknown journalist named Monique to write her tell all biography. Her legendary beauty and many marriages remind one of Elizabeth Taylor although most comparisons end there. Monique does not understand why she, an unknown magazine staffer was selected for this job. Evelyn is brutally honest about her love life, affairs, marriages of convenience, and navigating the Hollywood machine all which revolve around her on again off again relationship with the one she calls "the love of her life." Evelyn's ruthless ambition brings her success, heartbreak, and lots of money. The surprise ending reveals the reason for Monique as her author of choice. A friend recommended this novel to me but I wasn't sure I would like it. I was surprised to find it so good.

Monday, February 24, 2020


Finder by Suzanne Palmer, 391 pages

Fergus Ferguson is a finder, someone who will track down those things or people that are lost and retrieve them by any means necessary, including illegal methods. When we meet Fergus at the beginning of this book, he has been tasked with finding and returning a stolen spaceship from a barely habitated corner of the universe to the shipbuilders of Pluto. But as he's honing in on the object of his search, an explosion throws Fergus into the middle of a tense political situation. Despite all his best intentions to stick to his mission, he keeps getting pulled back into the fray.

This is an excellent heist novel, complete with inventive ideas, challenging puzzles, narrow escapes, and a resourceful thief. It's also a great science fiction novel, with fully considered space stations, faster-than-light travel, and a well-thought-out history that explains why humans are so far away from Earth. I loved this book, and I would happily read more Finder stories from Palmer.

Hi Five

Hi Five: an IQ novel / Joe Ide, 341 pgs.

I really like IQ and the supporting cast of characters but I fear IQ is getting soft now that we are hearing about his love life. Of course there is no TIME to be soft when the local weapons dealer is trying to keep his daughter out of jail for a murder that she at LEAST witnessed.  Of course there is a story...the daughter has multiple personalities and none of the "alters" was present for the entire event so can't speak to what actually happened.  IQ has to catch the alters as they appear and question them even though they aren't all that forthcoming.  The side stories include interactions with best friend/former partner Dodson who is still struggling finding his place in society.  Junkyard operator TK is interested in a woman and wants to dip his toe into the dating scene.  Grace is back after two years and she and IQ rekindle their love affair.  Will they stick together this time? IQ's love life is the least interesting to me.  Grace as a character is cool but their relationship needs to get settled, I think.  Another interesting Sherlockian tale by Ide.

Dressed for Death

Dressed for Death/The Anonymous Venetian (Commissario Brunetti #3) by Donna Leon  287 pp.

Commissario Guido Brunetti hopes for a vacation are disrupted by the discovery of a dead man's body lying in a field in Marghera, on the mainland. The dead man is dressed in the clothing of a woman but  Brunetti suspects that was done after death. While questioning the local male prostitutes he finds his investigation stymied by an influential lawyer whose connection to the crime seems tenuous. In a side plot, Brunetti's boss is dealing with the breakup of his marriage when his wife leaves him for a porn movie producer. And just how the Lega della Moralita (League of Morality) and the Bank of Verona ties in with it all adds another layer to the investigation. This is my new favorite mystery series. That I blogged two books in a row with male prostitutes as a theme is purely serendipitous.

Nothing to see here

Nothing to see here / Kevin Wilson, read by Marin Ireland, 254 pgs.

Lillian and Madison have been friends since high school but haven't seen each other in a long time.  When Lillian gets a request to help Madison, she goes.  Madison is not the high powered wife of a Senator and Lillian works as a cashier.  Madison needs help with her step-kids who are moving in after their mother died.  They need some special care because they occasionally burst into flames. They aren't injured by this but as you can imagine, that does make day-to-day living "interesting."  Everything here is handled like this is odd but not too hard for the characters to handle.  I loved everything about this book. Marin Ireland does a great job with the narration and the way she voices the kids is perfect.

The Devil's Detective

The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth  304 pp.

This story takes place in Hell but it is a sort of post-apocalyptic version of Hell. There is no longer punishments for the sins of the residents other than just surviving in a demon run world of darkness and danger. The human residents have no knowledge of what they did to send them to their infinite dark and disgusting existence. Their only hope is to be one of the random few chosen by the visiting angels to be released into heaven. Thomas Fool is an information officer, i.e. an investigator of deaths. Most deaths are not investigated, only the few "special cases" warrant the services of Fool and his team. A series of gory deaths of "Genevieves" aka male prostitutes. The story is different and grotesque. I admit I probably would not have gotten past the first few chapters had I been reading the physical book. However, the audiobook narration by David Rintoul was excellent and kept me engaged.

My name is Prince

My name is Prince: 25 inspired years: 1991 to 2016 / Randee St. Nicholas, 380 pgs.

Randee St. Nicholas shares some of the many photos she took over 25 years.  But the best part are the personal stories interspersed that give a look into the personality and lifestyle of the musical superstar.  He lived the way he wanted to.  He setup photo shoots sometimes an hour in advance, similar to some of his concerts that were played with very little notice.  I liked reading about his sense of humor and how they had a lot of fun together.  Of course, the photos are wonderful.

Friday, February 21, 2020


Murmur / Will Eaves, 182 pgs.

This is a novel based loosely on the life of Alan Turing, a mathematician who did great work during WWII but was persecuted for being homosexual.  You may have seen that story recounted in the movie "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  This book is probably fantastic but I stopped and started a couple of times and frankly got a little lost along the way.  I think maybe it was just a little too smart for me.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Heart of Junk

Heart of Junk by Luke Geddes, 240 pages

In Geddes' debut novel, Wichita, Kansas, is home to the Heart of America, the largest antique mall in the state. After two decades, however, it's a bit rundown, with more stall vacancies and fewer dealers making rent on time. The only thing that can save the Heart is a visit from TV antiques dealers Mark and Grant, who are driving across the country, filming segments at antique malls. But with a little girl missing in Wichita (a beauty pageant winner, no less!), Mark and Grant are hesitant to feature the town.

Each chapter focuses on a different member of the Heart of America community, from by-the-book busybody Margaret to recently widowed Ronald to Barbie-obsessed Delores to disaffected teen Ellie to newbies Lee and Seymour, a couple of over-the-hill punks who have reluctantly come to Wichita after the death of Lee's estranged mother. These are all kooky characters, each with their own obsessions (both junk-wise and otherwise), and their stories make for a highly entertaining read. Fans of quirky books and unforgettable characters will love this one.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The world that we knew, by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman’s newest work reminds me a bit of The book thief, in which Death appears as the narrator and is an almost sympathetic presence.  In Hoffman’s novel, which also takes place during World War II, primarily in occupied France, there is a female golem.  This (wo)man-made creature has many mystical gifts but lacks a human soul.  The golem is named Ava, a young, strong woman in appearance, that Ettie, a rabbi’s daughter, has brought into being to protect Hanni’s twelve-year-old daughter, Lea, as she travels alone from Berlin to escape the Nazi death camps.  As part of the payment for performing the rites, Ettie also demands train tickets out of Germany for herself and her favorite sister.  Despite the horrors surrounding the protagonists, there are many lyrical passages that serve as a counterpoint to the grief and death everywhere as well as strong elements of magical realism throughout the book.  I found this very effective in creating a different atmosphere from the many, many novels about the Holocaust, and it is one of the best I have read.  It will break your heart, but also give you hope.  365 pp.

All this can be yours

All this could be yours / Jami Attenberg, read by Therese Plummer, 299 pgs.

Always a fan of a dysfunctional family story, this one MIGHT be a little too far. This family consists of a very bad guy who marries a cold woman who has two kids that they ignore or abuse.  Where do you go from here?  The two kids marry and have children of their own.  We peak into the family life and flashback to how it started. We travel into the next generation.  The story here is interesting at times, bu often unfocused.  There are ancillary characters that we get to know a little bit about then they just disappear.  I didn't love this but didn't hate it either.  I think this was a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America by Bill Geist, 195 pages

In this short memoir, TV host Geist reflects on the six summers he spent working at his uncle's lodge at the Lake of the Ozarks. Back in the early 1960s, Geist's uncle wasn't much concerned about his underage employees coming to work hungover or offending anyone with the kitschy Native American-lite decor of his Tomahawk Lodge. But those summers certainly made for some great stories and created the foundation for Geist's lifelong interest in kitsch and oddballs. If you're looking for insight into the minds of Ozarks tourists and a deep examination of the relationship between Ozarks natives and the tourism industry, you certainly won't find it here. Instead, you'll find a man's memories of hot and humid summers doing all manner of disgusting work and having the time of his life while doing so. It's an entertaining read.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang, 350 pages

In this collection of short (and one long) stories, Chiang presents a wide range of thought-provoking tales, from the Middle Eastern-set first story examining the implications of communicating with your past or future self to the final story of the ethical complications of communicating with a version of yourself in a parallel universe. But they're not all about your self messing with your other self — other stories consider the role of Earth in the universe as created by God, the nature of digital pets/children in the wider world, and why we are so determined to search for intelligent life in outer space instead of right here on Earth. Without exception, these are fantastic stories and I'd recommend them to anyone.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Nature of the Beast

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (2015) 376 pages

Laurent is an energetically imaginative child who has worn out the villagers of Three Pines with his constant stories about what he has found, so they basically ignore the nine-year-old when he runs into the bistro shouting about a huge gun with a monster on it. When the child goes missing and is later found dead the next day, it is thought be be an accident alongside the road. When a search in the woods results in an amazing discovery of weaponry from decades prior, all kinds of questions arise, including: Is this why Laurent is dead? Does the discovery continue to present a danger?

Because a mystery with Armand Gamache is never just one mystery, we also learn about a play that is about to be performed in the village, a play that the director found in her uncle's belongings after his death. In spite of the humor within the script, there is a dark story behind it.

Although Armand Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie retired when they moved to the village, Gamache is very much involved in learning what is going on. Working with Isabelle Lacoste, the new head of homicide for the Sȗreté du Québec, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache's former second-in-command, a gut-wrenching decision needs to be made in order to prevent grave horror. 

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...And Other things You Can't Ask Martha

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...And Other things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr (2014) 238 pages

I'm on my second reading of this sassy "how to clean it" book. Great fun, and it's loaded with information that I don't want to forget, in case I need help to clean up my kitchen, bathroom, car, laundry, etc. Kerr gives brand name help and also tells us how to make our own cleaners using vinegar or ammonia. (Plus she tells us what NOT to mix, as ammonia and bleach are a lethal combination.) And she keeps us laughing all the way.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Trust Exercise

Trust Exercise / Susan Choi, 257 pgs.

I feel like I didn't manage this book very well.  I started then stopped and it took awhile to get back to it.  In the end, I enjoyed it.  Three sections from three different perspectives, the first part seemed too long, the second about right, the third too short. An interesting conceit that may have been better all at once.  The characters all attend a well known "arts" high school but the setting is secondary to what happens to the characters.  In the end, we aren't exactly sure what to believe, the first section being a story written by one of the characters, the second, a reaction to that story and the third, seemingly "real life."  See, I'm a little confused even after reading.  Some reviews say the ending makes the "puzzle fall into place."  Sure, maybe, or maybe it brings more questions.

Normal People

Normal People / Sally Rooney, read by  Aoife McMahon, 273 pgs.

Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other at school although they are engaged in a heated physical relationship outside of school.  Marianne is an odd ball, no real friends and always unwilling to conform.  Connell is a popular jock with lots of friends.  Somehow, they connect to each other and Marianne convinces Connell to attend college together.  There, the tables have turned a bit.  Connell is the outsider and Marianne has friends. But this book isn't really about their relationships with other people, it is about their relationship with each other.  Their love affair comes and goes but there connection is solid.  What does their future hold?  Why do they belong to each other in a way like no others?  I was entranced by this story and the audio version is very well done.

Dear girls

Dear girls : intimate tales, untold secrets & advice for living your best life / Ali Wong, read by the author 229 pgs.

Ali Wong is hilarious and filthy.  Her comedy is raw and outrageous.  She comments on all of it in this book that she writes to her daughters.  The family parts are sweet and nuanced.  Ali Wong is a hard working mom who is making things happen for herself.  I have nothing but admiration for her and enjoyed immensely hearing this book in her own voice.  Although some of her stuff makes me feel like a puritan, she is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  We are lucky to have her.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Muralist

The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro 352 pp.

This captivating tale alternates between the early days of World War II and the present. Alizée Benoit is an artist working in the WPA mural project. Among her co-artists are those who would later be famous like her lover Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Lee Krasner who all would further the Abstract Expressionist movement. Alizée is also dealing with trying to get members of her Jewish family out of Europe before they fall victims to Hitler's regime. She finds an artistic patron and political ally in Eleanor Roosevelt who Alizée hopes can help her. In contemporary time, Alizée's niece, Danielle, is working at Christie's auction house when she discovers fragments of a painting attached to the back of paintings by the Abstract Expressionists and investigates the possibility that they were done by the aunt who had disappeared from New York in the early 1940s. Her investigation leads her to museums, archives, and eventually to Europe to find the startling answer to the mystery of  Alizée. I had trouble getting into this story at first and it took a few chapters to capture my interest. I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Authors

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Authors (and Their Muses) by Terry-Lynne DeFino  336 pp.

The Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly was created as a place for famous authors to live out their last years. Alfonse Carducci, a literary giant, now frail and declining, has come there to live out his last days. He is suffering from writer's block but with the help of other residents from the literary world he begins to write again, a novel done in round robin style with a few other residents. Carducci's newly found muse is Cecibel, a young woman whose face was seriously damaged in the car accident that killed her sister. Encountering her favorite author is life changing for both Carducci and Cecibel. The story alternates between life in the home and the chapters of the novel the authors are creating. Neither part is exceptional but it's a nice story.

The river, by Peter Heller

This short book will seize you like the whitewater rapids it chronicles and propel you through it at breakneck speed.  Jack and Wynn are best friends who met at Dartmouth.  Jack grew up on a ranch out west, Wynn in rural New England, and they share a love of adventure, exploration, and the natural world.  Unlike the more clueless men in Deliverance, which one cannot help but being reminded of, the two college juniors have a deep knowledge of survival in the wilderness, are gifted fly fishermen, and, in Jack’s case, a born hunter.  They set off on a two-week canoe trip north towards Hudson Bay deep in the Canadian wilderness in late August.  So confident of their skills and careful preparation of supplies are they that they put a little more spice into the adventure by distaining to take a satellite phone with them.  Several days out, as they begin to approach the more challenging parts of the river, they run into a pair of drunks camping along the river and later, as they paddle past another encampment, hear sounds of a quarrel between a man and a woman.  However, it is the natural world that worries them at first – they have spotted signs of a massive wildfire on the horizon and know that they must pick up speed to outrun it.  The real problem will turn out to be human. Lyrical descriptions of fishing, observing birds, and savoring sleeping under the Milky Way will give way to violence, from both nature and man, and a decision that will change lives.  Intense.  253 pp.

Friday, February 14, 2020

One long river of song, by Brian Doyle

This collection of essays is balm in these contentious times.  Doyle, a devout but not stuffy Catholic, spent most of his all-too-short life editing Portland Magazine.  But his essays appeared in many other well-respected journals, in Best American Essays, and won awards such as the John Burroughs Medal and four Pushcart Prizes.  I had, however, never heard of him before reading a review of this book.  This lovingly collated collection of his best writing on nature, spirituality, and most of all, family, should bring him to the attention of many others who haven’t had the pleasure of reading his work.  He died at just 60.  An almost totemic animal for him is the hawk, in fact, all raptors.  Their soaring, effortless flights, baleful glares, fierceness, and wildness never ceased to enthrall him.  You’ll feel better if you read these short, beautifully crafted meditations.   Trust me.   248 pp.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Do you mind if I cancel?

Do you mind if I cancel? / Gary Janetti, read by the author 159 pgs.

Janetti is a successful writer and producer but it wasn't always that way.  Starting out, he insisted he was a writer but it took several years for him to put a word on paper.  Instead he worked odd jobs, temped, was a hotel bell boy and more.  In his mind, this was "research" but there was also that niggling doubt that the research was really just his life.  Obviously he moved past that stage.  Now his resume includes writing and producing shows like Family Guy, Will & Grace and Vicious.  This book is a short memoir of a life that in some ways very typical, in others, very extraordinary.  I loved almost every word and appreciated hearing the authors own voice in the audio version.

A Man Lay Dead

A Man Lay Dead (Roderick Alleyn #1) by Ngaio Marsh  176 pp.

Years ago I read quite a few of the Inspector Alleyn mysteries. Evidently I never read the very first one because it was entirely unfamiliar to me. The story is a typical English country house weekend party murder mystery. They are ubiquitous in the Brit mystery genre. Five guests are invited to the home of Sir Hubert Handesley. The weekend's entertainment is to be the parlor game "Murder" where one person has been secretly selected as the "murderer" who then chooses a "victim." When the lights go off and the gong is sounded the guests are to assemble to solve the murder. However, when the lights are turned back on they discover an actual corpse of one of the invited guests. Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard arrives to solve the crime. A garden-variety whodunit.

Olive, again, by Elizabeth Strout

What a delight to come across the story Motherless child in the New Yorker a few months back and discover that Strout had returned to her best-known character, Olive Kitteredge.  I couldn’t say “most-beloved,” because Olive is a decidedly hard person to love, or even like for that matter.  Flinty as the Maine coast, abrupt, without social graces, but somehow she speaks to us. This baker’s dozen of new stories, some centering on Olive and others with her as a peripheral character, picks up where the previous novel left off.  She’s 86 by the end of the book and amazed to realize she really will die someday, probably soon.  Yet she continues on.  We won’t see her like again soon.  A worthy successor to the Pulitzer Prize winning early book.  289 pp.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Come Tumbling Down

Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire, 206 pages

Another book in the Wayward Children series, and this one focuses on Jack and Jill, two of my favorite characters in the series. I love the nods to Cthulu/Elder Gods mythos that are placed in the setting with this book, with the introduction of the Drowned Gods of The Moors. Like always, I want more in this series, but the wonderful thing is the McGuire is a prolific writer, and we are going to definitely get more in this series. I cannot wait.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Upright Women Wanted

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey, 176 pages

After years of admiring the roving librarians of the Southwest, Esther has finally stowed away in their wagon in the hopes of becoming one of them. But as she soon finds out, being a librarian is a lot more complicated than delivering Approved Materials to the small towns of Arizona and New Mexico. Instead, the community of librarians is full of subversive lesbians and non-binary folks who are not accepted elsewhere, and must fight for their existence against bandits and sheriffs alike.

I love the idea of casting librarians as subversive agents against the state, and I dug the characters Gailey created. But they were a bit heavy-handed on the belonging-to-a-community elements. I get it — Gailey was reflecting on their own journey to self-acceptance, and I certainly don't begrudge them the mission to make sure others see themselves — but I also felt like it was hammered in so hard that I have a bit of a headache now. All in all though, I enjoyed the book, and I'd love to see Gailey continue with these characters in future novellas.

A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay  423 pp.

In a fictional land reminiscent of Renaissance Italy, a man named Guidanio "Danio" Cerra looks back on his life. The educated son of a tailor is in the service of a ruling count and first encounters Adria Ripoli, a noblewoman who has given up a life of comfort for one of danger. After she murders the evil count, Danio aids in her escape and goes on to lead a long life of travel, intrigue, and conflict while managing to keep himself mostly out of danger as kingdoms war around him. He encounters Adria and a healer woman at various times in his adventures. The story is beautifully crafted even though it is written as a series of somewhat random episodes in Danio's life rather than a linear plot. It is told in an almost quiet manner, as if the reader is sitting listening to Danio's tale, complete with occasional repetitions that occur in such settings. The audiobook is well read by Simon Vance.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Department of sensitive things, by Alexander McCall Smith

Having not blogged about this book back which I read a while back, I found it had left virtually no trace in my mind until I reread the jacket blurb.  Smith is a prolific and much beloved author of several different series, and I thoroughly enjoyed his take on Jane Austen’s Emma.  However, other books of his I have read have similarly left my memory almost as soon as I finished them.  If he’s your cup of tea, however, you may enjoy this faux Scandinavian noir mystery featuring Detective Ulf Varg (whose name literally translates as “Wolf Wolf”), the first of yet another proposed series.  240 pp.

Anna Karenina in 100 Sketches

Anna Karenina in 100 Sketches, adapted by A.R. Eguiguren  (2010) 128 pages

Knowledge about Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was just one of the gaps in my education, so when I saw this short book in the UCPL Graphic Lit section, I checked it out. The characters are drawn simply, as humans with heads of rats. A much simplified rendition of a complex story, it seems well done. But of course I'd have to read the original Anna Karenina with its 800+ pages in order to be sure.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The body: A guide for occupants, by Bill Bryson

Bryson, who has written entertaining and enlightening books on such varied topics as human habitation (“ At home”), the English language (“Mother tongue”), and world history (“The history of everything), as well as the wonderful “A walk in the woods,” his hilarious account of walking the Appalachian Trail, here turns his attention to the one thing all of us possess and can relate to, our bodies.  Although necessarily superficial, it is a informative overview of our bodies’ systems, how they work, what makes them fall apart, and how we all, ultimately, will die.  Both fascinating and informative.  387 pp.

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 270 pages

A lifelong occupant of Chinatown, Willis Wu has played bit parts in the scenes taking place around him. He's been Generic Asian Kid, Generic Asian Man, and even worked his way up to Ethnic Guest Star, though he's always fallen short of his true goal: Kung Fu Guy.

In this sharp and clever book, Yu uses a film script format to skewer Hollywood stereotypes and lay bare the everyday discrimination faced by Asian Americans. And it's ridiculously witty to boot. Consider this an early front-runner in my Best-of-2020 list.

Such a fun age, by Kiley Reid

Emira Tucker is almost 26.  Although the first in her family to graduate from college, she has yet to assume what she considers an adult life.  Working two part-time jobs, one as a typist and another as a babysitter for a well-to-do Philadelphia couple with a toddler, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’s worried about soon being thrown off her parents’ health insurance.  The girls’ mother, Alix Chamberlain, has fashioned a successful career as a blogger/influencer and founder of LetHer Speak , but is similarly in a stalled place.  She’s accepted a book advance for a collection of her best and most influential letters but has yet to write a word.  Her husband, Peter, recently relocated the family to Philadelphia from NYC, a move Alix is unhappy about since it has separated her from a supportive group of friends and brought her back near Allentown, PA, where she grew up and fled from after a disastrous senior year in high school.  When there is a crisis at the Chamberlain home late one night, Alix calls Emira to ask her to take Briar away for a bit while the police are there.  Agreeing to her request, Emira takes Briar to an up-scale grocery store where the security guard accuses African-American Emira of kidnapping blond Briar.  This sets in motion the chain of events that develop both the plot and thematic ideas that underpin it.  Alix’s efforts to befriend Emira and prove how “woke” she is will backfire spectacularly.  White readers will squirm at her condescending and tone-deaf efforts, which is the author’s intention.  An engaging story with a message that is not heavy-handed.  Talkative, quirky little Briar, adored by Emira and largely ignored by her mother, in many ways steals the show.  310 pp.

Cloud atlas, by David Mitchell

This long (509 pages in tiny type), multi-faceted novel requires a good investment in time and concentration, most of which is amply rewarded.  Like a Russian doll, several different stories are nestled inside the book.  They range genre-wise from an adventure tale, to a Chandleresque mystery, dystopian future story, and science fiction novel, each with a distinct voice and, sometimes, its own particular vocabulary.  Entering at one end, the tales reach the center then spiral out towards the beginning again. The various parts are related to each other thematically and through reoccurring characters, many of whom sport a distinctive comet-shaped birthmark.  Not for everyone, but I’m glad I tackled it.  As I said, 509 pp.

Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, 240 pages

Originally published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave recounts free New Yorker Solomon Northup's experiences being kidnapped and sold into slavery. His experiences are described in rich detail, explaining the work expected, the punishments enacted, the daily schedules, the agricultural processes, the rare celebrations...all described plainly, clearly, and with little emotion, except when talking about his family back home. It's an incredible account, a horrifying story, and a wonderful historical document. I highly recommend reading this, or even better, listening to the audiobook, which is performed exquisitely by Louis Gossett, Jr.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore  304 pp.

This is not great literature. This is a B movie in book form with a character who is a former B movie actor. That is not a criticism because it is funny, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  Pine Cove, California has become inhabited by prehistoric sea beast that is attracted to the Blues music of a visitor named Catfish. After mistaking a fuel truck for a mate, with explosive results, the beast is befriended by Molly, the B movie actor. She names him Steve. Meanwhile town constable Theo Crowe, who is more often high than not, is investigating a local suicide and the disappearance of various townsfolk. Then there is the local psychiatrist who decides to change her patients anti-depressants to placebos. When the entire town becomes obsessed with sex, is the cause the beast or the placebos? And there is the Sheriff, Theo's boss, who is involved in some very shady dealings. Silly and fun.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

At Weddings and Wakes

At Weddings and Wakes: a Novel / Alice McDermott, 213 p.

Four adult sisters and their stepmother nurse grievances and drink heavily in the Brooklyn apartment where they grew up.  Their relationships are viewed through the eyes of the three young children of  Lucy, one of the sisters.  Sounds boring but, as with everything McDermott, it's fascinating, incisive, funny, melancholy, and familiar. 

The lost words, by Robert Macfarlane (Author), Jackie Morris (Illustrator)

In 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary chose to drop a couple score of words having to do with nature, such as acorn, raven, and otter, in order to make room for more “modern” terms, such as blog, chatroom, and database.  This hefty (12” x 18”, 4 pound) book is the author and artist’s response to this decision.  They seek, gorgeously, to bring these nature terms back to life through intricate drawings and lovely poetry.  Obviously meant to be shared with children, although you’ll need a strong pair of arms, it is also a delight for adults.  The deepening divide between contemporary children and the natural world is a great concern to many, including me.  Like Last child in the woods, it eloquently makes a case for the importance of our connection to nature if we are to be fully human.  128 pp.

The Nickel boys, by Colson Whitehead

A short, devastating book based on real events that happened at a “school for boys” in Florida.  The Nickel Academy is a segregated reform school near Tallahassee.  Generations of juveniles have been incarcerated there until they either served out their terms, aged out of the system, or, in some cases, mysteriously disappeared.  No one has an easy time there, but the black inmates fair far worse. After the school closes in contemporary times, its graveyard is exhumed for relocation since the area is being redeveloped.  A young woman archeology student notices that “the dirt looked wrong” in areas outside of the official graveyard.  These indentations turn out to be the unmarked graves of those who disappeared.  This is the story of two of those boys.  Tautly written, full of memorable characters, and a reminder of how far we still have to come to reach any kind of racial justice.  Deserves all the critical acclaim it has received, both for the story and for the outstanding writing.  213 pp.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

10 minutes and 38 seconds in this strange world, by Elif Shafak

Leila, a murdered prostitute in Istanbul, finds that the moment her heart stops does not truly mark her death.  During the next ten minutes, as cells slowly shut down, she reviews her 40+ years of life.  It has been a hard one.  Born in the eastern Turkey city of Van to her father’s second wife, she is immediately passed off to his barren first wife to raise.  Her mother is “Auntie.”  This is just the first of many secrets that she and her friends have.  For although she has had a difficult life, it has not been without friends, all of whom are also outcasts in some way – an immigrant prostitute from Africa, a trans woman, a Turk born in Germany who is returned to his native country later, leaving him somewhat countryless, a dwarf…  The first two-thirds of the novel are not just about her life, but that of modern secular Turkey and particularly the ancient city of Istanbul, spanning two continents and a crossroads of history for hundreds of years.  After her final thoughts, the second half becomes a somewhat madcap escapade in which her friends rally around to rescue her from the sad Cemetery of the Companionless and give her a proper funeral.  Recommended on many levels.  311 pp.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2) by Louise Penny  311 pp.

I am late to the bandwagon of Inspector Gamache fans. So far I am enjoying them. In this episode Gamache returns to the small Quebec town of Three Pines to investigate the murder of CC de Poitiers, a recent arrival in Three Pines. CC is a woman no one, including her husband, her emotional abused daughter, and town residents liked.  Gamache is called on to investigate the murder, an electrocution which took place in front of most of the townfolk at the annual holiday curling tournament. In addition, he is investigating the death of a bag woman whose case was inexplicably moved into the cold cases sooner than it should have been. The investigation is hampered by the brutally cold Quebec winter. I figured out the killer long before the ending but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the story.


Rosewater by Tade Thompson, 423 pages

Kaaro is a "sensitive," a rare person who has the ability to read other people's minds, and for the last several years, he's worked on behalf of the Nigerian government's Section 45, digging into the minds of criminals. But something or someone seems to be killing off the other sensitives, and Kaaro is determined to not share their fate. As a backdrop to all of this is Wormwood, the glowing alien biodome that appeared in Rosewater a dozen years ago, sparking electricity and occasionally healing people who come in contact with it, but otherwise just lurking.

Hopping back and forth in Kaaro's timeline, this book is a bit confusing, particularly as it involves many of the same characters in both periods, none of them developed too well. And Kaaro, as a character, isn't a particularly likable guy: his morals shift (seemingly at random) and his most prominent character feature is his apathy. But there's something to be said for following a character like this in dangerous and mysterious situations, as the mysteries remain for the reader throughout the book. I'm looking forward to discussing this with the Orcs & Aliens book group next week.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Go with the Flow

Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann, 336 pages

High school sophomore Sasha is the new girl at school and hasn't really even made friends yet when she gets her period for the first time in horribly embarrassing fashion. Luckily, fellow sophomores Abby, Brit, and Christine are there and happy to help her out, starting a fast friendship and a fight to get free menstrual products in the school's bathrooms. 

Periods are part of life for half the population and they should be talked about, and not in just hushed whispers in bathrooms. This book is about that, but more than anything, it’s about friendship. I'd recommend this to anyone who menstruates, or cares about someone who has or will ever have a period. I'd also recommend it to those who haven't yet reached that point, but will soon find themselves seeking pads and tampons from the stranger in the stall next door.

January totals!

Christa  12/3966
Jan  6/1768
Kara  12/3570
Karen  9/3672
Kathleen  2/596
Linda  5/1907

Total: 46/15,479

P.S. If you haven't blogged in a while, or you've always been interested in blogging (or in getting me off your case about blogging), now is an excellent time to join the blogging team!

The Bully Pulpit

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin  910 pp.

I will admit right here that if I tried to read the physical book instead of the audiobook, read by actor Edward Herrmann, I never would have finished it. It is interesting and I learned a lot about the Progressive era of American politics at the turn of the 20th century. Part of the incentive to read it is the Pulitzer Prize winning author whose meticulous research and balanced view of events is evidenced in all her books. The stories of Teddy Roosevelt's and W.H. Taft's friendship and the rise in their careers is well told, with much I never heard before. The rupture of the friendship during the brutal 1912 Presidential campaign shows a side of Roosevelt not usually depicted in biographies. Added to the stories of these larger than life men is a chronicle of the rise of investigative journalism, the muckrakers, and its effect on the politics of the time. The focus on publisher S.S. McClure and his exemplary fleet of writers which included Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Alan White. If this tome does nothing else, it shows that history indeed repeats itself and the political battles of the early 1900s are very similar to what is happening today.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014) 373 pages

In this tenth book in the Inspector Gamache series, Armand Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, have retired and moved to Three Pines, a small village in Canada, an hour or two outside Montreal. Gamache is still fighting the demons that led to his retirement, both physical and mental.

A year prior to the events in this story, Clara, an artist who was finally recognized for her work at age 50, sent away her husband, Peter. It was apparent that Peter was jealous of his wife's newfound success. They had agreed that he would return in exactly one year and they would meet and decide if they still had a future together. However, it's now a year later and he has not shown up. Clara finally asks Gamache to help her find Peter. Gamache and his former second-in-commend, Beauvoir, work together to find the pieces of Peter's journey over the past year, and with Clara making the decisions, they set out to find him, traveling up the St. Lawrence River via car, airplane and boat. Clara does not know if her relationship with Peter can be saved, but she feels that she will know when she sees him. As they close in on finding him, they begin to realize that there has been a crime and the journey takes on urgency.

As always, Penny develops her characters fully; I feel as if I know these people. The dialogue is true, and the meshing of the people–and sometimes the annoyances they have with each other–are real.