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AuntMarge64's Club Read for 2011

Club Read 2011

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Edited: May 23, 2011, 8:18am Top

Again this year I'll be keeping track here of my own reading that of my youngest niece, Caitlin. This year her three siblings will also join us, which just tickles me no end.

Our 2010 thread
My 1010 Challenge
My 11 in 11 Challenge

Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 10:10pm Top

1. Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner **** 1/1/11
2. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris ***½ 1/1/11
3. Halo: Ghosts of Onyx by Eric Nylund **** 1/4/11
4. The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt ***½ 1/5/11
5. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #5: Purgatory (novella) **** 1/7/11
6. The Firecracker Boys: H-bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement by Dan O'Neill ****½ 1/18/11
7. Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt **** 1/24/11
8. Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson **** 1/25/11
9. The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran ****½ 1/27/11
10. Five-Star Apps: The Best iPhone and iPad Apps for Work and Play by Glenn Fleishman **** 1/29/11
11. Wanderers of Time by John Wyndham *** 2/1/11
12. Monument by Lloyd Biggle Jr. **** 2/4/11
13. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking **** 2/8/11
14. Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane ***½ 2/13/11
15. Buddhism for Sheep by Chris Riddell *** 2/15/11
16. Still Life by Louise Penny **** 2/22/11
17. At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft **** 2/27/11
18. Red on Red by Edward Conlon *** 3/3/11
19. Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay **** 3/6/11
20. Fields of Grief by Giles Blunt **** 3/10/11
21. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #6: Sentinel (novella) by John Jackson Miller *** 3/13/11
22. The Longest War by Peter Bergen **** 3/16/11
22. Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book **** 3/20/11
23. The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen ***½ 3/21/11
24. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart **** 3/25/11
25. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-Seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves edited by Belinda Hurmence ***½ 3/26/11
26. Amagansett by Mark Mills **** 3/29/11
27. Across the Universe by Beth Revis **** 4/4/11
28. The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison ***** 4/11/11
29. To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay **** 4/16/11
30. The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez ***½ 4/20/11
31. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die edited by Ryan North **** 4/24/11
32. Cold Earth by Sarah Moss **** 5/2/11
33. Doc by Mary Doria Russell **** 5/10/11
34. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett *** 5/16/11
35. Gandhi The Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World by Eknath Easwaran ***** 5/22/11
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry **** 5/26/11
37. The Martian Way and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov ***½ 5/29/11
38. Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison **** 6/8/11
39. Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography by Gerald Gold **** 6/9/11
40. A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic ***½ 6/12/11
41. Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th President, 1850-1853 by Paul Finkelman **** 6/17/11
42. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ***** 6/21/11
43. Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran **** 6/23/11
44. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Conviction by Aaron Allston **** 06/26/11
45. Haunted Ground by Emma Hart **** 7/4/11
46. The Night Season by Chelsea Cain **** 7/6/11
47. The Mantram Handbook by Eknath Easwaran **** 7/11/11
48. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury ***½ 7/13/11
49. Buried Prey by John Sandford ****1/2 7/16/11
50. After Lyletown by K. C. Frederick *** 7/18/11
51. The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson ***½ 7/24/11
52. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin **** 7/26/11
53. The Fallen Angel by David Hewson ****½ 7//31/11
54. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. ***½ 8/6/11
55. The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum ***½ 8/7/11
56. My iPad 2 (covers iOS 4.3) (2nd Edition) by Gary Rosenzweig *** 8/8/11
57. The Bhagavad Gita (Classics of Indian Spirituality) translated by Eknath Easwaran **** 8/8/11
58. Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper ***½ 8/16/11
59. The Undiscovered Country by Eknath Easwaran *** 8/18/11
60. The Landmark Thucydides edited by Robert B. Strassler ***** 8/21/11
61. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini **** 8/23/11
62. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester **** 8/26/11
63. The Interrogation by Thomas H. Cook ** 8/27/11
64. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers *** 8/28/11
65. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank **** 9/3/11
66. Lucifer's Tears by James Thompson **** 9/5/11
67. The Animal Review by Jacob Lentz *** 9/8/11
68. Death At La Fenice by Donna Leon ***½ 9/11/11
69. The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick ***** 9/11/11
70. Premodern Antarctic World Ethnohistory by David L. Lipton ½* 9/12/11
71. Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss ****9/15/11
72. The Postman by David Brin **** 9/20/11
73. Thinking Like a Mountain by Robert Bateman ***9/20/11
74. Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart **** 9/26/11
75. Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series: The 14th President, 1853-1857 by Michael F. Holt **** 9/29/11
76. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #7: Pantheon (novella) **** 9/30/11
77. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl ****½ 10/5/11
78. Fate of the Jedi: Ascension by Christie Golden ****½ 10/12/11
79. Iron House by John Hart ***** 10/13/11
80. The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke ***½ 10/20/11
81. Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson ***½ 10/26/11
82. March of the Penguins by Luc Jacquet **** 10/26/11
83. Fallen by Karen Slaughter **** 11/7/11
84. Maphead by Ken Jennings ***** 11/15/11
85. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson **** 11/20/11
86. Bangs and Whimpers: Stories About the End of the World (Roxbury Park Books) by James Frenkel *** 11/25/11
87. Earth Then and Now by Fred Pearce **** 11/30/11
88. The Presidency of James Buchanan by Elbert B. Smith **** 12/5/11
89. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George **** 12/6/11
90. It's All About the Dress by Randy Fenoli **** 12/10/11
91. Maps of Time by David Christian ***** 12/11/11
92. A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois ***** 12/18/11
93. From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón *** 12/23/11
94. Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan ****½ 12/27/11

1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief, The Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan **** 1/2/11
2. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares ***** 1/6/11
3. Eggs Over Evie by Alison Jackson ***** 1/7/11
4. Twice Upon a Time, No. 2: Sleeping Beauty, the One Who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass ***** 1/27/11
5. New Moon: The Twilight Saga, Book 2 by Stephanie Meyer **** 2/1/11 (It was depressing in the beginning but in the middle and end it became happier.)
6. Forget Me Not by Coleen Paratore ***** 2/11/11
7. Eclipse: The Twilight Saga, Book 3 by Stephanie Meyer ***** 2/15/11
8. Wish I Might by Coleen Paratore ***** 3/10/11
9. The Twilight Saga Eclipse: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion by Mark Cotta Vaz **** 3/13/11
10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry ***** 3/21/11
11. Fast Friends: Tuned In Episode 1 by Julia DeVillers ***** 3/25/11
12. Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass ***** 3/28/11
13. I Am Star: Child of the Holocaust by Inge Auerbacher ****½ 4/7/11
14. New Moon, The Official Illustrated Movie Companion **** 4/8/11
15. Chuck by Peter Johnson ****½ 4/9/11
16. Star Struck: Tuned In Episode 2 by Julia DeVillers ***** 4/22/11
17. Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes **** 4/22/11
18. True Teamwork: Tuned In #3 by Julia DeVillers ***** 5/4/11
19. Music Mania: Tuned in Episode #4 by Julia DeVillers ***** 5/9/11
20. School Spirit: Tuned in Episode #5 by Julia DeVillers ***** 5/10/11
21. Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo ***** 5/11/11
22. Doggie Dreans: Tuned In Episode #6 by Julia DeVillers ***** 5/22/11
23. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo **** 5/22/11
24. Beastly by Alex Flinn ***** 5/26/11
25. Surprise Sleepover: Tuned in #7 by Julia DeVillers ***** 5/31/11
26. Movie Madness: Tuned in #8 by Julia DeVillers ***** 6/1/11
27. Room Redo: Tuned in #9 by Julia DeVillers ***** 6/2/11
28. Pooch Parade: Tuned in #10 by Julia DeVillers ***** 6/3/11
29. Dork Diaries 3: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star by Rachel Renee Russell ***** 6/8/11
30. Beach Blast: Tuned In #11 by Julia DeVillers. *****. 6/9/11
31. Dream Camp: Tuned in #12 by Julia DeVillers ***** 6/10/11
32. First Dance: Tuned In #13 by Julia DeVillers. ***** 6/11/11
33. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore ***** 7/2/11
34. The Boy Next Door by Meggin Cabot ***** 7/23/11
35. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan ***** 7/26/11
36. The Summer of Cotton Candy by Debbie Viguie ***** 8/1/11
37. The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone **** 8/7/11
38. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers ***** 8/28/11
39. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan ***** 9/5/11
40. The Winter of Candy Canes by Debbie Viguie ***** 9/6/11
41. The Spring of Candy Apples by Debbie Viguie ***** 9/8/11
42-48. The Witches of Santa Anna, Books 1-7 by Lauren Barnholdt ***** 9/25/11-9/28/11
49-56. The Witches of Santa Anna, Books 8-15 by Lauren Barnholdt ***** 11/1/11-11/4/11
57. Hatchett by Gary Paulsen *** 11/7/11
58. Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer 10,000 stars! 11/10/11
59. It's All About the Dress by Randy Fenoli **** 12/18/11
60. A Walk to remember by Nicholas Sparks ***** 12/25/11
61. The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore ***** 12/26/11

1. Blood Evidence by Mel Odom **** 1/7/11
2. Blood Lines by Mel Odom **** 1/16/11
3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan ****½ 1/23/11
4. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan **** 1/27/11
5. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Titan by Rick Riordan **** 1/30/11
6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Battle of the Labyrinth ****½ 2/9/11
7. I Am Number 4 by Pittacus Lore **** 2/14/11
8. Courage Tastes of Blood by Florencia E. Mallon **½ 2/17/11
9. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan ***** 2/21/11
10. Becoming Campesinos by Christopher R. Boyer ** 2/28/11
11. How To Train Your Dragon by Cresida Cowell **** 2/28/11
12. Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann ***½ 3/21/11
13. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis **** 3/22/11
14. The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis ***** 4/4/11
15. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain ***** 4/12/11
16. Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book **** 4/25/11
17. A Biography of Donald G. Cook: The First Marine Captured in Vietnam by Donald L. Price ***** 4/27/11
18. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ***** 5/1/11
19. Egyptian Jukebox by Nick Bantock **** 5/11/11
20. Across the Universe by Beth Revis ***** 5/12/11
21. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan ***** 5/14/11
22. The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis **** 5/16/11
23. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson ***** 5/26/11
24. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson **** 6/5/11
25. Room by Emma Donaghue ***** 6/8/11
26. Killer Angels by Michael Shaara ****1/2. 7/2/11
27. The Night Season by Chelsea Cain ***** 7/30/11
28. Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand ***** 9/8/11
29. Don't Leave Me This Way Or When I Get Back On My Feet You'll Be Sorry by Julia Fox Garrison ****½ 9/25/11
30. Two Weeks of Life by Eleanor Blist *** 11/30/11
31. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan ***½ 12/11/11
32. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan ***** 12/19/11
33. Iron House by John Hart ***** 12/27/11

1. Vector zq (Star Wars, The New Jedi Order #1) by R. A. Salvatore ***** 2/24/11
2. Animal Farm by George Orwell *** 2/26/11
3. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare **** 4/20/11
4. Alex Rider: Crocodile Tears by Anthony Harowitz **** 5/12/11
5. Star Wars: The Empire 1-4 ****½ 5/22/11
6. Star Wars: The Empire 5-8 ****½ 5/22/11

1. I am Number 4 - Pittacus Lore - ****1/2
2. Dresden Files: White Night - Jim Butcher - ****1/2
3. Dresden Files: Small Favor - Jim Butcher - ****
4. Dresden Files: Turn Coat - Jim Butcher - ****1/2
5. Dresden Files: Changes - Jim Butcher - ****1/2
6. Star Wars: Hard Contact - Karen Traviss - ***
7. Star Wars : Gambit Stealth - Karen Miller - ****1/2
8. Star Wars : Gambit Siege - Karen Miller - ****1/2
9. Star Wars: Target - Alex Wheeler - ***
10. Star Wars: Hostage - Alex Wheeler - ***1/2
11. Star Wars: Renegade - Alex Wheeler - ****
12. Star Wars: Firefight - Alex Wheeler - ***1/2
13. Star Wars: Trapped - Alex Wheeler - ***1/2
14. Star Wars: Uprising - Alex Wheeler - ***
15. The Red Pyramid - Rick Riordan - ****
16. Neverwinter: Gauntlgrym - R. A. Salvatore - **** 5/22/11
17. Iron Man: Five Nightmares - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca - ****1/2
18. Iron Man: Worlds Most Wanted - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca - *****
19. Iron Man: Stark Disassembled - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca - *****
20. Iron Man: Stark Resiliant - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca - *****
21. Iron Man: Fix Me - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca - ***1/2
22. Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine - Matt Fraction & Greg Land - ***1/2
23. X-Men Legacy & New Mutants: Age of X - Mike Carey - ****
24. Uncanny X-Force: Deathlok Nation - Rick Remender - ****
25. Generation Hope: The Future Is a Four Letter Word - Kieron Gillen - ***1/2
26. WarCraft- Curse of the Worgen - Micky Neilson & Ludo Lullabi
27. Mass Effect: Evolution - Mac Walters & Omar Francia ***1/2
28. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Conviction by Aaron Allston **** 05/30/11
29. How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell ***1/2 6/1/11
30. How To Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell ***1/2 6/1/11
31. How To Speak Dragonese by Cressida Cowell **** 6/1/11
32. How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse by Cressida Cowell **** 6/4/11
33. How To Twist a Dragon's Tale by Cressida Cowell **** 6/5/11
34. Captain America Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker **** 6/10/11
35. Captain America Red Menace by Ed Brubaker **** 6/10/11
36. New Avengers: Breakout by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch ***1/2 6/11/11
37. New Avengers: Sentry by Brian Michael Bendis and Steven McNiven ***1/2 6/13/11
38. Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command by Haden Blackman and Rick Leonardi *** 6/13/11
39. Star Wars: Boba Fett and the Ship of Fear by Jeremy Barlow and Daxiong ***1/2 6/13/11
40. Star Wars: Legacy War by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema ***** 6/14/11
41. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins ***** 6/17/11
42. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins ***** 6/20/11
43. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins ***** 6/22/11
44. New Avengers: Secrets and Lies by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch **** 6/22/11
45. New Avengers: The Collective by Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven ***1/2 6/23
46. X-Men Legacy: Age of X Aftermath by Michael Carey **** 6/23/11
47. Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point by Kieron Gillen and Terry Dodson**** 6/23/11
48. Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven **** 6/24/11
49. Captain America: Civil War by Ed Brubaker and Mike Perkins ***1/2 6/25/11
50. New Avengers: Civil War by Brian Michael Bendis *** 6/28/11
51. Civil War: Front Line Vol 1 by Paul Jenkins ***1/2 6/30/11
52. Civil War: Front Line Vol 2 by Paul Jenkins ***1/2 7/1/11
53. Captain America: Death of the Dream by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting ****1/2 7/4/11
54. Captain America: The Burden of Dreams by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting ***** 7/5/11
55. StarCraft: Devils' Due by Christie Golden **** 7/6/11
56. Captain America: The Man Who Bought America by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting *****
57. X-Men: Prelude to Schism by Paul Jenkins ***
58. New Mutants: Unfinished Business by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning *** 7/21/11
59. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire book 1 by George R. R. Martin ***** 7/27/11
60. Dresden Files: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher ****½ 8/6/11
61. TrueBlood: Tainted Blood by Marc Andreyko and Michael McMillian ***1/2 8/5/11
62. How to Train Your Dragon: A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons by Cressida Cowell ***** 8/10/11
63. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Ride a Dragon's Storm by Cressida Cowell ***** 8/12/11
64. The Iron Druid Chronicles: Hounded by Kevin Hearne **** 8/16/11
65. Iron Druid Chronicles: Hexed by Kevin Hearne **** 8/19
66. Iron Druid Chronicles: Hammered by Kevin Hearne ***½ 8/21
67. The Dresden Files: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher ***** 8/26
68. I Am Number Four: The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore ***** 8/29
69. X Men Legacy: Lost Legions by Mike Carey and Khoi Pham ***½
70. New Avengers: Revolution by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu ***½
71. New Avengers: The Trust by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu ****
72. Thor: Part 1 by J Michael Straczynski and Oliver Coipel ****½
73. Thor Vol. 2 by J. Michael Straczynski and Oliver Coipel ****
74. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Ascension by Christie Golden ****½
75. Warcraft: Thrall-Twilight of the Aspects by Christie Golden ****
76. Eragon by Christopher Paolini ***½
77. Eldest by Christopher Paolini ***½
78. Star Wars: Chewbacca and the Slavers of the Shadowlands by Chris Cerasi ***
79. Star Wars: Strange Allies by Ryder Windham ***½
80. Star Wars: The Lost Suns by Alexander Freed ***½
81. Star Wars: Jedi: The Dark Side by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar **½
82. Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu ***½
83. Iron Man 2.0: Palmer Addley is Dead by Nick Spencer **½
84. Fear Itslef by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen ****
85. Uncanny X-Force: Fear Itself by Rob Williams and Simone Bianchi ***
86. Uncanny X-Men: Fear Itself by Kieron Gillen and Greg Land ***½
87. Invincible Iron Man: Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ***
88. X-Men: Schism by Jasson Arron ****½
89. Generation Hope: Schism by Kieron Gillen ***1/2Morning Glories: For a Better Future by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma *****
90. Morning Glories: All Will Be Free by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ****½
91. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini ***½ 11/5/11
92. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini ***** 11/18/11
93. Star Wars: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn ****1/2
94. Star Wars Invasion : Revelations by Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson ****1/2
95. X-Men Legacy: Five Miles South of the Universe by Mike Caren and Steve Kurth ****
96. New Mutants: Fear Itself by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning ***1/2
97. Star Wars Deceived by Paul S Kemp ****
98. Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan ****1/2
99. Uncanny X-Force: Dark Angel Saga by Rick Remender ****1/2
100. Star Wars: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn ****

Dec 17, 2010, 12:25am Top

I am impressed by Caitlin. 96 books! I thought I was a book-reading machine when I was a kid. Obviously, I was really some kind of slacker.

Dec 17, 2010, 9:53am Top

>3 Fourpawz2: Caitlin really is a reading machine, although now that she's in middle school homework takes up a lot more time. But reading is her favorite pastime, and she loves to get a pile of books from the library or pick out a few from Borders. She even gets on BookMooch to look for things, and gives me the books she finishes to list there. For Christmas, Santa is getting her a Kindle, her #1 choice for a gift this year.

Dec 17, 2010, 5:16pm Top

Santa's a good guy. No better present for a BRM.

Jan 1, 2011, 5:56pm Top

96 books is impressive. I was always a big reader, but I don't think I ever got near that number. Also wanted to say that I love seeing what Caitlin is reading - lots of things bring back good memories of when I was reading them.

Edited: Jan 2, 2011, 6:52pm Top

Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner **** 1/1/11

I grew up thinking religion meant teachings of kindness and peace, and that these were among the most central of goals in the earliest forms of most faiths. Naive, I know, but the assumption lingered that it was only later power struggles that led to war and cruelty, after the originator and his closest followers faded into the past. I'm dismayed to say that after reading this book I no longer think this of early Islam.

The author examines Muhammad's life and teachings and the earliest decades after, comparing the primary evidence which is available with the tradition which has grown up around them. The two are quite different in many respects, as might be expected, but what I did find disconcerting was the evidence (both primary and in tradition) that Muhammad actually preached and carried out war as a means of enforcing religious philosophy. (That is not to say he himself had reasons other than religion for doing so, although this may be true.)

Donner gives an overview of the political and religious atmosphere in the Middle East at the time, then goes through the traditional story of Muhammad's life and the founding of Islam. From there he discusses the story as actually available in early texts and other documentation of the time, without the layers of myth and interpretation which have been added. I've been quite surprised at some of this, especially the tradition that Muhammad actually used and preached war as a conversion tactic, although Donner seems uncertain how much of this actually went on. What surprised me was that the religion has developed and promoted the tradition of Muhammad's promotion of war. While Christianity and most (all?) other religions have been used as excuses for war, at least they don't tend to officially claim that it was the founder's intent.

Donner argues that much of 19th and 20th century scholarship is incorrect in its representation of Muhammad (d. 632) and his early successors as having little religious motivation. On the contrary, he finds that the early teachings were pietistic, monotheistic, and eschatological, with early expansion and war seemingly intended to bring as many into God's fold as possible before the last judgment, expected within Muhammad's lifetime or soon thereafter. The earliest documents refer to his followers as Believers and apparently included anyone who was willing to renounce plural deities (including the trinity) and embrace a pious lifestyle. Believers were free to follow their own laws if they were Jews or Christians, and both groups were represented in leadership positions here and there in the new society. There are multiple examples of Believers, including non-Christians, worshipping in the churches of the time. The effort was towards uniting the areas in and surrounding the Middle East and pushing back the Babylonian and Susanian empires, protecting the homeland (Medina, and later Mecca and the surrounding areas) and persuading or forcing the conversion of all inhabitants. It was only after two extensive Civil Wars among the Believers (656-661 and 680-692) that the winners decided they needed to draw lines between those who professed that Muhammad was their prophet and those whose traditions were founded on Moses or Jesus.

Certainly the teachings of Islam, as well as Christianity and probably all other religions, have been used as an excuse for increasing political and economic power. But it was disconcerting to find that Muhammad thought war an acceptable tool, and that this occurred before Islam as a distinct faith had separated itself from other pious peoples (read monotheists) in the area. What this all says about today's situation is unclear, but it's something to consider when trying to understand what Islamic fundamentalists base their arguments on.

The book is very readable, although by the second civil war I found myself somewhat lost among the Arabic names and lineages. Luckily this didn't detract from the central theme and I was able to skim a few pages and get on with it. There are several useful maps and illustrations, as well as a glossary and detailed index.

Jan 2, 2011, 6:30pm Top

>7 auntmarge64:, I already posted compliments on your post in the 75 Book group, but I actually wanted to follow you here, lol.

Was I talking to you or another LT-er about this book previously? Fred Donner was one of my professors in grad school. Made early Islam absolutely fascinating when I expected it to be completely dry. I am so happy that his book is being well-received and getting read.

Jan 2, 2011, 6:52pm Top

>8 fannyprice: - Yup, that was me :)

Jan 2, 2011, 8:58pm Top

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris ***½

This is the first Sedaris I've read, and it was quite amusing. A bit of brain candy, and as I finished each little tale I thought, OK, just one more. Before I knew it, I was done.

In each story a couple of animal characters act out a clever scenario combining human and animal attributes. Some end with a little surprise, some with a pun, some just give a chuckle. Each is illustrated with drawings. My favorites: (1) a sick lab mouse is joined by a healthy one who opines that illness is a result of negative feelings. She suggests the sick mouse take up writing limericks. As the sick mouse gives it a try, two gloved hands enter the picture and inject the healthy mouse with a virus. OK, sounds macabre, but the limerick is a stitch. (2) A great horned owl gives second chances to his prey if they can tell him something interesting. The latest: there is a parasite that lives only in a hippo rectum. Off goes the owl to the zoo, and hilarity results.

Jan 2, 2011, 9:41pm Top

10 - I was so close to picking this one up over Christmas. I'll probably do it next time I see it. Sounds cute.

Jan 2, 2011, 10:01pm Top

If you liked Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk I urge you to try some of the other books by David Sedaris. In my opinion, his collection of essays are much funnier and thought provoking. I especially recommend When You Are Engulfed in Flames, but several of them are very good.

Jan 2, 2011, 10:34pm Top

Great review of Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, I had no idea that was apart of Islam's history. Still a bit naive about religions myself.

Jan 3, 2011, 9:33am Top

>12 shearon: Thanks for the recommendation. A neighbor mentioned she has several of his titles and I'll ask if she has Flames.

>13 stretch: Glad you liked it. It's such an interesting subject.

Jan 3, 2011, 5:34pm Top

I am okay with Sedaris but not driven to read him. I thought these fairy tales sounded interesting, but another reader here found the book too short. Does one get value received for value spent buying and reading this book?


Jan 3, 2011, 6:50pm Top

>15 Mr.Durick: Hi Robert, I'd definitely borrow it from the library or wait for the pb. I got mine from a nice Canadian Bookmoocher who sent me a giftable hardcover. But I'd never have bought it.

Jan 3, 2011, 7:03pm Top

Thanks, I will right now go off to BN.COM and try to put it on my waiting-for-the-paperback wishlist.


Jan 4, 2011, 6:25pm Top

Halo: Ghosts of Onyx by Eric Nylund **** 1/4/11

Once again Nylund hits the target with his elaboration of the story from the Halo video game. Most of the characters are new, or at least new as center of the action, and there is a new breed of Spartans, the genetically altered soldiers who are trying to save humanity from an invading species. The book could probably stand on its own, and it's wonderful space opera.

Edited: Jan 5, 2011, 8:38pm Top

The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt ***½ 1/5/11

Well-written and exciting sequel to Forty Words for Sorrow, which was the first in the Cardinal/Delorme detective series set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario. Two seemingly unrelated murders lead the police to Montreal and a 30-year old separatist plot involving both Canadian and U.S. covert intelligence. The historical detail is fascinating. There is a pleasant karmic twist in store for Cardinal, which fans will be glad to see, but the finale fizzles after a terrific build-up. Still, I'll be happy to read the next in the series and hope to see an ending I can cheer.

Edited: Jan 17, 2011, 9:36pm Top

The Firecracker Boys: H-bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement by Dan O'Neill ****½ 1/18/11

An extremely interesting book about a strange series of events in Alaska during the Cold War.

Edward Teller was a well-known theoretical physicist, "father of the hydrogen bomb", and a pro-weapons activist who promoted various expensive and ultimately failed military technologies, such as Reagan's Star Wars initiative. Teller felt that nuclear bombs should be developed at pretty much whatever the cost, and he loathed efforts to halt nuclear testing. In 1952 he founded the government-sponsored Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (later renamed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), where he pushed the use of thermonuclear bombs for changing the geography of the Earth. Yes, that's right: to move and reform features of the world using fission or, preferably, fusion (hydrogen) bombs.

Teller's pet project: to use nukes to dredge a replacement for the Panama Canal. (He also wanted to send nukes to the moon to see what would happen.) To test for the canal, he proposed blasting a harbor at a small creek on Alaska's North Slope (not far from the Soviet Union - and this in the 1950s) by burying and setting off a string of five large hydrogen bombs. Teller toured the state, trying to sell the idea despite all evidence that there was no economic benefit to be had in an area far from natural resources and where the harbor would be frozen most of the year. Many Alaskans were in favor, including powerful politicians, news editors, and university officials. Only a small group of nearby villagers, supported by a few scientists studying effects on the local biota (including humans) and environmentalists, found much to challenge, and pointed questions were put to Teller and his staff. A tape of a meeting at the nearby village of Point Hope, the focal point of protests, recorded AEC representatives using hyper-technical jargon (in English) to gloss over concerns expressed by locals, most of whom spoke little or no English. They dismissed all fears of fallout and damage to water, air, animals, or health, and they promised the village wouldn't even notice the detonation. Villagers were assured that hunting and fishing would be interrupted only briefly, and rumors that Pacific tests had caused problems for indigenous groups were denied. Probably needless to say, these declarations were blatantly untrue. Operation Chariot was eventually put in abeyance (although never canceled), but as revealed in long-concealed documents released to the author during his research, the government did contaminate the area with radioactive experiments and dumping.

Well-worth the read, but be sure to get the updated edition published in 2007. The author follows up on the main players and comments on why his research would not have been possible if he'd written after George W. Bush's policy changes regarding document secrecy. There is a lengthy and detailed footnote section, as well as a bibliography, maps, and an index. Almost every page had my jaw dropping, and anyone nearby would have heard a frequent They did WHAT??? And one question I kept asking myself was: what happened to the residents and neighbors of Nevada, where so many, many detonations occurred between 1951 and 1992.

Jan 18, 2011, 9:40am Top

#20 interesting, auntmarge, will be adding this to my wishlist. Just wanted to let you know that I very much enjoy reading your reviews, especially of your non-fiction choices.

Jan 18, 2011, 1:25pm Top

>21 deebee1: Thanks so much!

Jan 18, 2011, 7:41pm Top

Excellent review auntmarge. I would add this to the wishlist outright if I wasn't so burnt out on the whole atomic bomb theme.

Jan 19, 2011, 11:09pm Top

>23 stretch: It's not exactly my cup of tea, but the idiocy of terraforming with nuclear bombs was something I just couldn't resist.

Jan 23, 2011, 12:23pm Top

20 - Great review, sound very interesting...on the wishlist.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:27pm Top

Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt **** 1/24/11

The third in the Cardinal/Delorme detective series set in Algonquin Bay (read "North Bay") in northern Ontario. Good suspense, with further developments in Cardinal's personal life. Another reviewer of Blunt's work mentioned a tendency for the bad guys, rather than Cardinal and Delorme, to be at the center of the narrative. I took a better look at that in this story and it's true. There's little mystery as to who the bad guys are, so the suspense is how much damage they'll be able to do before stopped. The reader is kept at a greater distance this way, and in this book, especially, Delorme is practically a cipher. Cardinal's "inner workings" are more visible, but no where near as much as the criminals. I have to say that the descriptions of the massive black fly invasion brings back a lot of memories of a vacation I took years ago at a Quebec lake, where the flies were late and I was early: pure misery. Well-done and looking forward to #4.

Edited: Jan 25, 2011, 2:13pm Top

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson **** 1/25/11

This is the third in Robinson's Mars trilogy, a monumental story of human migration to Mars over a 200-year span. Totaling 1700 pages, the trilogy is crammed with ideas about physics, neurology, sociology, identity, ecology, and just about any other sector of human activity and concern. Due to longevity treatments developed by some of the First Hundred settlers (almost all brilliant scientists), some of the group is still living at the end of the story, alongside numerous second, third, and younger generations born on Mars, as well as millions of immigrants from an Earth torn apart by over-population and ecological disaster. Some have left to populate other planets, moons, and asteroids in the solar system, and a few even further. Despite several massive wars, some between factions on Mars (the fight over terraforming being a major focus) and between Mars and Earth (which wants to relieve its population woes with unlimited immigration), a new civilization evolves on Mars: a fascinating amalgam which is clearly Robinson's hope for our future.

The characters are not particularly well-developed, but that hardly matters, because 80-90% of story is taken up with descriptions and theoretical explorations of possible future developments. The writing sometimes seems to go on and on (and on), and at times the reader just wishes the editor had been more brutal with Robinson. But although each volume is less than perfect, they add up to a solid 5 stars as a whole. As irritating as the writing can be, this work will make you think, think, think. And keep a dictionary at hand - Robinson gives no ground in using scientific jargon, some of which I think he may have made up. I used the dictionary function on my Kindle ever page or two and was well-rewarded.

Jan 26, 2011, 6:16pm Top

Hi auntmarge

Excellent review of Blue mars. The series is reckoned to be one of the best in Sci-fi, but like you I think its not an easy read and that's not just because of the science involved. I find his prose a bit clunky at times and yes the books have many longueurs. It feels like a battle to keep going sometimes. It was a battle that I lost half way through Green mars. However they are still sitting on my bookshelves waiting for me to make another attempt when I have the necessary determination

Edited: Jan 27, 2011, 4:49pm Top

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran ****½ 1/27/11

A mesmerizing tale of three people caught in an impossible situation. In 1890, Henry and Margaret Oades and their children move from England to New Zealand as a career move for Henry. They settle in a rather isolated cottage which one day is attacked by Maori tribesmen who kidnap Margaret and the children. Several years later, unable to find his family or to live in New Zealand thinking they're dead, Henry moves to California and tries to make a new life. Six years after the Maori attack, he meets and marries a young widow who is about to have a child. Shortly thereafter, Margaret and the children arrive, having gotten free of their enslavement and followed Henry's trail. The townsfolk turn against the Oades when they are charged with bigamy and adultery.

The joy in this story is the characterization and the details of how each of these plot elements plays out. Different sections are described from the viewpoints of Henry, Margaret, or the second wife, Nancy, and they are all thoughtful and believable. I couldn't put the book down and read it over a day and a half. The inner lives of the women, especially Margaret, are lovingly drawn, and the reader, as a result, is pulled along to find out how each character will react to the results of the court cases.

Edited: Feb 2, 2011, 7:55am Top

Wanderers of Time by John Wyndham *** 2/1/11

Five longish short stories from the 1930s by the author of The Day of the Triffids when he was just starting to get published and still writing under various other names. Included are Wanderers of Time, Derelict of Space, Child of Power, The Last Lunerians, and The Puff Ball Menace. These are minor Wyndham, recommended for those who want to read all of his work or read early works which feed into his masterpieces, Triffids and The Chrysalids.

Edited: Feb 5, 2011, 12:41pm Top

Monument by Lloyd Biggle Jr. **** 2/4/11

Delightful light classic sci fi which could be set anywhere in a not-fully explored planet or galaxy.

Many years have passed since solitary prospector Cern Obrien crashed on Langri, an uncharted planet distant from regular human space lanes. Langri is a paradise, a gorgeous planet with beautiful beaches, exquisite flora, and friendly natives who appear to be descendants of other long-ago shipwrecked humans. But as lovely and unspoiled as the planet seems, there is only one food source which is not poisonous to humans, and the natives live a precarious existence, some years with starvation. Obrien is now an old man, having married and become a highly esteemed member of the group. When he realizes he is dying, he desperately creates a Plan to protect the natives from outsiders, aware that one day Langri will be rediscovered by someone who will want to develop it as a vacation destination, which would destroy the natives' way of life and food source. The requisite developer arrives just after Obrien dies, and the natives put the Plan into action, battling corporate might and a galactic legal system which benefits the already-powerful.

Interesting characters and landscape and just enough tension keep readers moving along as they root for the natives against interlopers who are sometimes predictable but nevertheless very entertaining to cheer against.

Edited: Feb 8, 2011, 1:46pm Top

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking **** 2/8/11

This is one of those books general readers use to give themselves a glimpse of how great minds perceive reality. It's not too long, has humor and easy-to-understand illustrations, and creeps closer and closer to the author's conclusion so gently that as each chapter ends you realize you may not understand the science all that well, but the argument makes sense, at least within it's own logic, and you can actually follow the line of thought.

Here Hawking explains his reasoning for promoting M-theory as a candidate for the "Theory of Everything". Using a lucid history of scientific theory, he traces the work of Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Feynman and others to lead readers out of their familiar paths of understanding and into theories which to our senses seem impossible. Even as readers might be thinking, OK, I've lost the thread, Hawking changes tactics enough to let the reader pause and be ready to go on with just enough comprehension to keep up. It's quite a feat, I think, for him to be able to know what mere mortals (and I'm not being sarcastic here) can tolerate and understand in order for him to not only give us some idea what he's talking about but to get us to trust that it's worth continuing to read.

Feb 8, 2011, 6:47pm Top

Hmm, that's interesting, because one of my main reactions to The Grand Design was that I really didn't think they were explaining things slowly and carefully enough for the reader with no prior physics knowledge to properly understand it. (This is something I was just thinking about again, in fact, having just finished Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell, which I had some similar issues with.) But having a bit of a background in the subject myself, maybe I'm not in the best position to judge; I was mostly relying on my own memories of learning this stuff.

Edited: Feb 8, 2011, 9:07pm Top

>33 bragan: I will say it tested my ability to pay attention, but I also didn't want to stop reading it. Most of the time I was in a state of "for the sake of argument I'll take your word for it", but a few times I actually could see what he was describing. This was especially true with the discussion of how time may be seen to have no beginning by imagining it as curved and in the position to us of how someone who believed the world was flat might have seen a globe showing the South Pole: it's not the beginning or end of the earth, you just go north again.

I did wish he'd expanded on why there are thought to be 10 spatial dimensions. I suppose it's a question of math, but it wasn't presented in a way that I could visualize. Years ago I read P. D. Ouspensky's Tertium Organum (I think that was the one), in which he expounded dimensions beyond the four we commonly accept, and I could actually visualize what he was describing. I didn't get that here. But for some of the concepts Hawking presented, I did get that brief sensation of "getting it". That, to me, made the book successful.

Feb 8, 2011, 9:44pm Top

He's used that visualizing time on the surface of the Earth thing in other books, as well, and it's not hard to see why he keeps coming back to it. It's a really vivid and intuitive way of visualizing something that's hard to make sense of in the abstract.

And I've never quite understood where those extra dimensions come from, myself. I think the answer really is just that it's implied by the math, and the math is a little bit beyond me.

It occurs to me that, although I gave it something of a lukewarm review, you might actually find The Universe in a Nutshell worthwhile. I think it does rather better than The Grand Design at presenting things visually.

Feb 8, 2011, 10:25pm Top

>35 bragan: Thanks for the suggestion. I'll add it to my LT and BookMooch wishlists.

Feb 13, 2011, 7:45pm Top

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane ***½ 2/13/11

I found this 6th Kenzie/Gennaro entry to be somewhat disappointing I love Lee Child's Reacher novels, so I do enjoy the occasional fast-paced, over-the-top suspense novel, especially when the hero's morals, wit, courage and intelligence lead him to a final confrontation with bad guys who deserve what they get . I think here I had trouble connecting to the questionable corners the main character (Kenzie) was willing to cut to justify making a buck: for instance, the willingness to betray people on the behest of rich clients who don't want to be held accountable for their illegal actions. I thought Kenzie was a better person than that, which is what makes these kinds of books so much fun, and perhaps I'm remembering the original five books wrong, but I think there's been a huge change here in his perspective.

Edited: Feb 23, 2011, 9:52am Top

Still Life by Louise Penny **** 2/22/11

A thoroughly enjoyable cozy mystery, a genre I rarely read but was drawn to by rave reviews for this author. I didn't find the mystery very difficult to unravel, but somehow it didn't detract from the immense pleasure I got from this tale of quirky small-town characters. There is a great deal of gentle humor (She was almost certain she was at the right baptism, though she didn't recognize all that many people) and quite a bit of amusing banter between the close-knit group at the center of the story, and also some interesting comments on the French/English tension in Quebec. I spent many summers in rural Quebec from the 50s to 90s and watched first-hand the increase in distrust that developed, although as an American I was excused a bit from the resentment towards the non-French. (Although my English-speaking friends there felt some resentment towards Americans.) Here, one English-Canadian character mentions his own irritation at being unable to have a store sign in his own language, and the main character, a French-Canadian inspector, muses that it was one of the fundamental differences between anglophone and francophone Quebecers; the English believed in individual rights and the French felt they had to protect collective rights. Protect their language and culture.

I was a little disappointed I predicted the solution to the mystery correctly, because I'm not usually good at that and enjoy being surprised, but I will definitely read more in this series to see how these wonderful characters' lives develop.

Feb 23, 2011, 3:56pm Top

38 - Interesting comments on the English/French tension. My cousin was doing some research on the differences between French Quebec and French Louisiana - while Canada allowed the French influence to express itself, the US tried to stamp it out. Both places have major difference culturally because of this - the biggest of which is that very few people in LA still speak French.

Feb 23, 2011, 5:00pm Top

Nice review of Still Life, Louise Penny Something else to add to next months reading

Feb 28, 2011, 3:22pm Top

At The Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft **** 2/27/11

A novella written in the early 1930s and set in Antarctica during that time period. A team of explorers discover a many-millions-of-years old city on the far side of known territory, encountering in the process two ancient races only hinted at in some of the oldest of human mythologies. Usually categorized as horror but to my mind equally science fiction, the story is told in florid language which nevertheless pulls the reader inexorably towards each new dreaded revelation. There are many references to places and myths common in Lovecraft's other works, and familiarity with those might make this more chilling. One aspect I found particularly meaningful was several references to Sir Douglas Mawson (my favorite Antarctic explorer), including a contemporaneous expedition he was on in a nearby area of Antarctica. Lovecraft also worked into the story the then-new theory of continental drift.

All-in-all, quite enjoyable, although I imagined a couple of even more horrible disclosures than those produced by the finale.

Mar 1, 2011, 7:40am Top

Somewhere I've encountered the claim that Lovecraft was among the first to realize that the great antiquity of the Earth, as discovered by modern geology, allowed much more room for horrors to lurk.

"I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why." Such a great first line.

Mar 1, 2011, 10:15am Top

He did seem to relish using the new discoveries. Did you see Guillermo del Toro has a film in the works?

Mar 1, 2011, 6:58pm Top

Interesting about the film. Seems like they'd want to add material - not much actual stuff about people in the story as it stands.

Mar 1, 2011, 7:31pm Top

Yeah, one of the articles I read indicated del Toro is well-known for NOT keeping true to the story. Still, lots of opportunities for special effects.

Mar 2, 2011, 7:22am Top

This Tor.com article points to an ebook the author has put together with Lovecraft's complete works. It's in MOBI and EPUB formats, so should be useable for Kindle, Nook or iPad. Having the electronic versions at hand, she counted the most frequent words (other than "the" and the like, I suppose). "Hideous" is number one.

Mar 2, 2011, 2:43pm Top

De-lurking to say w00t for all that reading in msg #2!

You might be interested in some fun stats that Amazon compiles for most books -- eg if you go to Amazon’s page for At the Mountains of Madness and scroll down past the customer reviews to the “Inside This Book” section, click on Concordance to see a cloud (as links) of the book’s 100 “most frequently used words.” Right below are interesting text/readability stats. Addicting!

Edited: Mar 3, 2011, 10:40pm Top

>46 dukedom_enough:, 47

Hi Detail and Dukedom - thanks for the info! Lovecraft does indeed relish highly-descriptive and dramatic language.

I just found and ordered a book entitled Mountains of Madness: A Scientist's Odyssey in Antarctica. Apparently the author, a paleontologist on his first trip to Antarctica, refers to Lovecraft's story along the way. Should be interesting....

Mar 3, 2011, 10:35pm Top

Red on Red by Edward Conlon *** 3/3/11

Two mismatched New York City detectives test their partnership and explore what they are willing to do to succeed at their jobs and personal lives. Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of introspective Nick, newly separated from his wife, living with his aging father near the precinct house, and a mess of guilt and self-doubt. Recruited by Internal Affairs, he discovers too late that his target is his partner, the boisterous Esposito, happily married and living upstate with his wife and 3 sons, but aggressive, outspoken, and always looking for new conquests, be they women or deals to move cases along. Over several months, a group of cases become interwoven and consume Nick and Espo, testing their new-found friendship and expectations.

The author is a NYC detective himself, and clearly he has had to think through many of the issues explored here. This book is NOT a mystery or suspense novel. It is a character-driven study of life as a detective on the streets of an often ugly city. There is some action, but the story is frequently punctuated with lengthy internal dialogues as Nick struggles to decide what he wants as a husband, lover, son, and cop. Esposito is actually a more interesting character, because we are left to think through his motivations and desires ourselves. Most of the story takes place in far upper Manhattan, north of the GW Bridge, which is an interesting change from the typically-portrayed locales farther south. The writing is evocative, but the interruptions for Nick's internal struggles result in a curious lack of drama when the book is taken as a whole.

Mar 4, 2011, 11:45am Top

Mountains of Madness does indeed sound interesting. I've added it to my wishlist now. There's just something utterly fascinating about Antarctica.

Personally, I've always had an odd relationship to Lovecraft. I seem to enjoy adaptations and other people's interpretations of his ideas more than the originals, and while a little of Lovecraft's writing goes a long way for me, I could watch/read parodies of it all day. Which reminds me that I really need to get around to reading Lovecraft Unbound.

Mar 6, 2011, 11:31am Top

Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay **** 3/6/11

Nine stories of life among every-day folk in Kathmandu (Nepal), each tale rich with detail and lovingly presented without a wasted word. I was mesmerized by the characters and their religious and cultural connections, as well as the universality of their worries and problems. Highly recommended.

Edited: Mar 11, 2011, 9:59am Top

Fields of Grief by Giles Blunt **** 3/10/11

The fourth in the Cardinal/Delorme detective series set in northern Ontario, and easily the most emotionally difficult to read. Two main themes permeate the story: suicide and long-term child molestation by a beloved family member. The physical details are not particularly graphic in description, but the emotional toll on the victims and their families affect the reader enormously. This is especially true of the descriptions of family grief following suicide, a young victim's dread and confusion during years of rape, and the horror of watching a predator leisurely plan for a new conquest after the first child has grown too old for him. This book is heart-breaking in many ways and truly depressed me. But, and this is a big but, for readers of the series this is a must-read because what happens here is integral to the lives of the main characters. (And for that reason, a reader new to the series should not start here.)

Blunt's descriptions of the bad guys' motives often bore me, and that's true here, too, except for the chilling portrayal of the child molester. All-in-all, this is probably the best of the series to date because of its emotional impact, but I do think that if Blunt would keep his attention on the cops he'd have more cohesive and dramatic stories - and perhaps a commercial hit series on his hands.

Mar 14, 2011, 12:20am Top

41 - Sounds interesting. I'm always drawn to Arctic and Antarctic stories.

51 - That one goes on the wishlist.

Edited: Mar 18, 2011, 8:44pm Top

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda by Peter Bergen **** 3/16/11

Bergen, a CNN analyst and one of the few Western journalists to actually interview Osama bin Laden (in 1997), has written about bin Laden and al-Qaeda extensively. Here he provides a narrative of the historical and philosophical background to 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, current to mid-2010. The final chapter summarizes the failed search for bin Laden and what the likely effects would be in the event of his (a) continuing to evade searchers, (b) being caught alive, or (c) being killed.

I have great respect for Bergen, who, in his writings and appearances on CNN, seems to have no ax to grind assessing both the successes and failures of Bush Jr., Obama, bin Laden, and U.S. foreign policy and intelligence services. For instance, he gives bin Laden his due in the success of expanding his organization, while outlining the serious mistakes he's made which have reduced the power of his message and turned many would-be supporters away from him in disgust. Bush is castigated for allowing the U.S. response to 9/11 to deteriorate into a mistaken war fought badly, but the troop surge of 2007 is seen as a success. Obama's decision-making processes over the first 18 months of his presidency are examined, but few conclusions are drawn, given the lag-time in how Bush's actions were felt far into the Obama administration and then the lag-time for Obama's own decisions to take effect. It is particularly interesting to read Bergen's comparisons of the two wars and the two countries affected, and his analysis of the difficulties in dealing with Pakistan, which is both an ally and a haven for terrorists.

Much of this is familiar, of course. But I found it useful to read it in a single narrative, with intelligent commentary from a knowledgeable source, giving me some new perspectives with which to watch the news out of the Middle East. Heavily sourced, several maps.

Mar 22, 2011, 10:24pm Top

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen ***½ 3/21/11

In 1918, Commonwealth is a young logging town in rural Washington, founded by a mill owner and his socialist wife sickened by anti-union violence. They are determined to give workers a greater share in profits and improved living and work conditions, a stance which has made them hated by mill owners in nearby towns. When the Spanish Flu breaks out, the town votes to isolate itself to avoid contagion, stationing armed men to guard the road. While ignorance of the flu's cause leads to tragedies within the town, the sheriff and the largest mill owner from a nearby town decide to attack, the former suspicious of the town's patriotism and the latter determined to destroy the town's lure to his own workers.

Interesting historical fiction, although the characterizations tend to be limited somewhat to good guys and bad guys. Some actions of the main characters, particularly those townsfolk who don't approve of the temporary quarantine, make no sense and seem to be included just to raise tension. However, the story kept me wanting to read to find out what happened, and I'll read more by this author.

Edited: Mar 25, 2011, 9:29pm Top

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart **** 3/25/11

Making his way home to San Francisco from a mountain retreat, a graduate student discovers that a plague has wiped out most of humanity. With plentiful supplies everywhere, and power and running water still functioning, Ish drives to the East Coast and back to determine what has happened in other parts of the country. Along the way he meets a very few others, living alone or in groups of two or three, but most of these have been driven mad by the "Great Disaster". It isn't until he's been back in California for several months that he meets another survivor in the area, a woman 10 years his senior, with whom he begins a new life. A few other survivors find them, and the Tribe forges a life, having children and trying to keep humanity from dying out altogether.

The story is told through Ish's eyes and follows him for the rest of his long life, during which he successfully guides the Tribe so that by his death there are several hundred in the group. Ish is a worrier, and through his internal struggles we see how a future with only a handful of humans remaining might unfold and what human life might change to be. Most interesting are the issues of passing along the history, curiosity, imagination and technology of the modern world. Is there a point in trying? How would a new generation relate to a world of which only a few aging adults have any memory and whose successes are impossible to use? What would be the best way to prepare them to survive, and what role and value would there be for old morality, superstition, and law?

These are fascinating questions, and Stewart gives the reader a huge amount to think about. Published in 1949, the novel has many mid-century quirks. And anyone who has read Kim Stanley Robinson knows how internal dialogues can see interminable. But, as with Robinson, if the reader forges ahead there are wealth of insights to be had, and this can be very rewarding indeed.

Mar 25, 2011, 9:37pm Top

I think I was looking for something like what you have described Earth Abides to be when I read Stephen King's fat book and was disappointed. This has gone onto my wishlist. There's a copy at a brick and mortar in town.



Mar 26, 2011, 9:31am Top

Hi Robert,

According to Wikipedia, King has actually stated that Earth Abides was an inspiration for The Stand, so this might be exactly what you're looking for.


Mar 27, 2011, 7:12pm Top

Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-Seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves edited by Belinda Hurmence ***½ 3/26/11

This little book brings together 27 oral histories collected by the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s. All of the interviewees were in their 80s or older at the time, and were at least 10 years of age at the end of the Civil War. The editor includes a thoughtful introduction in which she considers possible reasons the ex-slaves, almost to a person, remembered their days in servitude as "the good old days", when they were happier and certainly more secure than at any time since.

Each person talks randomly about his or her memories, rather than being guided by a list of questions. The stories are, individually and collectively, incredibly depressing in their solicitude for ex-owners and their matter-of-fact descriptions of treatment and living standards. There is little outrage, almost a lassitude regarding slavery vs. freedom as a concept, perhaps a result of these people having been raised in slavery and being ill-prepared to make their own way during Reconstruction and after. Yankees, the KKK, and slave patrollers are viewed with equal negativity.

An interesting but disturbing detour around the intervening 80 years of political correctness.

Mar 30, 2011, 6:08pm Top

Amagansett by Mark Mills **** 3/29/11

A mystery set in 1947 on the far eastern shore of Long Island (NY), where the worlds of centuries-old local fishing families and very rich newcomers cross after a body washes ashore one morning. The main characters are a fisherman newly returned from the war in Europe and a detective recently relocated from New York City. Each is convinced the woman who drowned was murdered, although the fisherman, a settled-down Jack Reacher-type, has more motivation for thinking so and more success at piecing together what happened to her. Lots of local color and fishing lore, and a satisfying mystery.

Mar 31, 2011, 10:28pm Top

I'm in a reading slump - I can't decide if I'm just in a mood and nothing appeals to me, or if the problem's with what I'm picking up to read. In the last week I've abandoned:

When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie (way too repetitive and silly)

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis -ditto - and how disappointing after reading all the kudos....

Someone Knows My Name aka The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill - the narrator's voice irritated the hell out of me - and it was another well-reviewed book, too

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer - couldn't relate to any of the characters - and didn't want to

And now I'm questioning whether I want to finish The Ten most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson

I'm miserable!!! Will I ever find another book to love?

Edited: Apr 1, 2011, 1:55am Top

Well, I wasn't that excited about Someone Knows My Name either. I think the author tried to take on too much history and I remember thinking that Property, which I read about the same time, had a much smaller story, but had a larger impact on me. And I don't remember hating The Doomsday Book, but it certainly didn't go in my "favorites" collection, and I sure wouldn't call it great literature. My own mood can for sure determine whether I love or hate a book, but I've also definitely learned which LT-ers are most apt to recommend books that I'll love too. Better luck on your next choice!

Apr 1, 2011, 5:44am Top

I can understand why you thought The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis was silly. I managed to get through it because I thought that her depiction of the medieval village was so good. The story set in Oxford in 2054 however was very silly and the writing was not only repetitive but sloppy.

Perhaps you need to read a book by an author that you have previously enjoyed. Hope you find something interesting soon because I do like your reviews.

Apr 1, 2011, 8:55am Top

>59 auntmarge64: Before Freedom
sounds very interesting, do you remember how you learned about this book? It reminds how short history is -- less than the length of my mom's life back to the 1930s when these were written, then just another lifespan back to slavery. I've been watching some '60s sitcom reruns where it's sometimes apparent how recent WWII was.

Apr 1, 2011, 9:37am Top

>62 bonniebooks:, 63 Glad it's not just me! I'm going to keep going with The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments and I've started The Martians, a companion volume to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. I'll just have to be patient and let them sink in. I think the weather must be getting to me - it's April 1 and snowing outside (I'm in NW New Jersey).

Bonnie, thanks for the suggestion of Property. I'll take a look.

>64 detailmuse: I ran across Before Freedom at a book sale and thought it looked interesting. I love book sales - the most amazing things pop up. And regarding how close historic times really are - absolutely! When my own parents were born the Titanic had just sunk and women couldn't vote, and my mother's first teaching contract prohibited her marrying on pain of dismissal (you can see how that went ).

Apr 2, 2011, 5:05pm Top

Ack! I!m not suggesting Property to you. I'm not sure you would like it any better; I just used it as an example because I read them so close together.

Apr 2, 2011, 6:40pm Top

Apr 2, 2011, 7:11pm Top

I have Someone Knows My Name on my TBR list. I don't know when I will get around to reading it, but I am interested in knowing what was annoying about the narrator.

Edited: Apr 4, 2011, 8:26am Top

>68 krazy4katz: The narrator is a child, and her voice seemed too earnest and obvious to me - an adult voice trying to describe what it would have been like for a child, but succeeding instead in including way too much not to be boring. It didn't ring true to me. I thought maybe it would mature as the book went on so skipped ahead a few times, but it never seemed more adult to me. As I said, maybe I'm just in a difficult mood at the moment - although I did like Room, narrated by a 6-year old, and today I started Across the Universe, narrated by two teenagers, and it's also working for me.

I'll be interested in what you think when you read it.

Edited: Aug 2, 2011, 6:11pm Top

Across the Universe by Beth Revis **** 4/4/11

Amy, a teenager cryogenically frozen along with her parents for a long trip from Earth to Alpha Centauri, awakens aboard the spaceship 50 years early. She finds a monoethnic society dominated by the tyrannical Eldest, whose student and heir, Elder, is smitten with Amy and begins to question his upbringing, even as more of the frozen are unplugged and several die. Someone is trying to sabotage the ship, or the colonists, or Eldest's rule, or all three. Amy and Elder work together to discover the murderer and unravel the mysteries of a ship filled with drugged workers and a hospital where those with creativity and curiosity are isolated and labeled insane. The first in a trilogy.

A quick read, lots of action, interesting characters, and a chilling (really!) portrayal of cryogenics. Teens will eat this up, and adults with a sci fi and dystopic bent to their reading will enjoy it too.

Apr 12, 2011, 5:50pm Top

The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison ***** 4/11/11

Although this book won an Edgar Award for best first novel, it is much less a mystery than a story steeped in the mysteries of Tibetan culture and portraying the mistreatment of Tibetans by the Chinese since their invasion. The main character is Shan, a Chinese investigator imprisoned on a Tibetan work gang after his work threatens a Beijing official. Most of the other prisoners are Tibetan monks incarcerated for resisting the invasion, and Shan has learned a deep reverence for the monks and their ways. When a headless corpse is found near the road the work gang is building, Shan is required by the local Chinese colonel to investigate under the resentful eye of a prison guard and a co-opted ex-monk.

The mystery is satisfying, but it is the portrayal of the characters and culture which fascinates. The author has traveled frequently to China but supports Tibet. He shows a country and people literally raped, for control, for hate, for gold and natural resources. The damage done to Tibetan monasteries and cultural treasures has been immeasurable, the people killed, imprisoned, and reduced to second-class servitude. Throughout the story, some of the reasons for this - greed, corruption, a burgeoning Chinese population and, especially, a soulless bureaucracy - are explored as Shan maneuvers to find the killer before an innocent man is convicted.

A winner in every way.

Apr 12, 2011, 6:22pm Top

The Skull Mantra is now on my wishlist; unfortunately there's a lot ahead of it.


Apr 12, 2011, 7:21pm Top

Ah, but once you get to it there are five sequels

Apr 17, 2011, 10:59am Top

To Dance With the White Dog by Terry Kay **** 4/16/11

A gentle short novel which follows the final years of an elderly widower in rural Georgia. Told almost entirely from the old man's point of view, he and his family grapple with his wish to remain independent, with the children constantly checking on (and annoying) him and worrying among themselves over each detail of his activities. Meanwhile, Sam adopts a stray dog which others think may be imaginary, putters around his arbor with his walker, and makes plans to sneak away for a 60-year class reunion. With humor and compassion, the author has fictionalized details from his own parents' lives, and anyone who has (or is) an elderly family member will recognize the truths so fondly laid out. Highly recommended.

Apr 20, 2011, 4:26pm Top

Are you out of your slump? What a horrible thing, to not enjoy several books in quick succession. Possibly that will be included in the fourth level of hell.

Apr 20, 2011, 6:02pm Top

>75 RidgewayGirl:. Yes, I guess I am. Right now I'm reading The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez, which I'm finding myself unable to put down. So glad to get back on track!

Apr 21, 2011, 10:46am Top

The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez ***½ 4/20/11

An interesting tale of a writer who tries to unravel the truth between two opposite but equally believable versions of a series of deaths. The narrator is approached by woman whose secretarial services he had shared briefly ten years earlier with a famous novelist. She is a wreck and believes that the novelist has been slowly killing off her family in revenge for an action which led to the death of his young daughter. The writer approaches the novelist and hears a completely different interpretation of the events, and his involvement causes further tragedy. Not a major novel, but an intense reading experience for a few hours.

Apr 21, 2011, 8:37pm Top

>74 auntmarge64: To Dance With the White Dog
onto the wishlist, I do love a good aging story.

Apr 26, 2011, 8:32am Top

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die edited by Ryan North **** 4/24/11

An intriguing collection of stories written to explore a single premise: a machine is developed which can predict with 100% accuracy how someone will die. Not when or where, only how, but with a twist: the predictions are often plays on words, so that, for instance, "Old Age" might mean one's own age, or the age of the hit-and-run driver, or that of the building that comes crashing down. Think of all the variations on "Joy": a heart attack, a jealous husband finding the wife with her lover, or, perhaps, the name of the drunk driver or bomber. In general, society doesn't react well to the machine, and many people don't, either. Of course, the biggest question is whether you, the reader, would take the test. Makes you think.

A few of the stories are predictable but several of them are side-splittingly funny and, as a whole, it's a hard collection to put down. There's even one which is so short the title is longer - and it's a hoot. And the best news: the collection is available for free download at http://machineofdeath.net/ebook.

Apr 26, 2011, 10:43am Top

The Machine of death sound intriguing and thanks fot the heads up on where to download!

Apr 27, 2011, 12:21pm Top

ditto what stretch said!

Apr 27, 2011, 1:56pm Top

You're most welcome! It's so nice to find free books that are worth reading. I'll look forward to both of your comments when you get to it.

May 4, 2011, 9:59am Top

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss **** 5/2/11

An epistolary suspense novel set in Greenland, where a small group of archeologists excavating Viking burials loses contact with the outside world, where a pandemic has been spreading. One of them starts to dream of the buried, who were murdered centuries ago, and her certainty of their presence begins to affect the others as they wait anxiously for the day a plane is scheduled to pick them up. Each of them writes a letter to someone from home describing events from his/her perspective and advancing the story bit by bit. Until the last couple of pages it is uncertain whether they will die in Greenland's winter or be rescued, and the tension is delicious.

May 7, 2011, 2:19pm Top

>82 auntmarge64: They've been releasing author-read podcasts of the stories, a couple a month -- imaginative! Just bought the Kindle ebook to read on my iPod Touch.

May 17, 2011, 8:29am Top

Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell **** 5/10/11

A brilliant fictional portrait of Doc Holliday, whose reputation as a gunslinger has overshadowed most other interesting aspects of his life: that he was a well-thought-of dentist and a charming Southerner in a part of the country filled with less savory types, and that he valued friendship, loyalty, culture and manners above all else.

Most of the book takes place in Dodge City, before Holliday and the Earps made their ill-fated move to Tombstone. Katie Elder (here referred to as Kate Harony), the Mastersons, and Wyatt, James and Morgan Earp are primary characters, as are several fictional additions used to illustrate Holliday's habits and personality. Other than Holliday's own, the fullest treatment is given to Wyatt Earp, who doesn't cut nearly as intriguing a figure, but the portrait of their developing friendship is beautifully laid out. Unfortunately, the fictional characters, in particular a young multi-racial murder victim and a Jesuit priest, are two of the most engaging subjects - unfortunate because they were fictional, which called into question the details they represented in Holliday's depiction.

Dodge City comes alive, with its primitive conditions, whorehouses and gambling halls, corrupt politicians, and brutal police (including the Earps and Mastersons), but most vividly and movingly limned are the realities of life with tuberculosis in the 19th century. My view of Holliday will forever be colored by Dennis Quaid's portrayal in the film "Wyatt Earp", for which he appeared in character at about 139 lbs, but Doc has added texture to that memorable figure.

I'd hate to visit Dodge City in its heyday, but to observe the real Holliday, now that would be a treat.

May 17, 2011, 11:52am Top

I enjoyed your review of Doc: A Novel, Mary Doria Russell. I would be tempted to buy it, but there is so much in my TBR pile.

May 18, 2011, 10:28am Top

>86 baswood: It was interesting, but not a must-read for the general reader. Folks who are interested in the Old West or Kansas or historical fiction would be be the most likely audience.

May 18, 2011, 10:51am Top

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett *** 5/17/11

A middling post-apocalyptic novel about two New Mennonite boys who find a forbidden radio and manage to hear part of a message, after which they run away from home to find the legendary Bartorstown, supposedly an actual city in which scientists struggle to bring back the technological world of the pre-Destruction. A leisurely, not particularly suspenseful tale.

May 23, 2011, 9:49am Top

Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World by Eknath Easwaran ***** 5/22/11

In its simplicity, this book is profound. Commemorating an exhibit of photos and quotes, and interspersed with commentary by Eknath Easwaran, this brief collection goes straight to the heart of Gandhi's philosophy and shocks the Western reader with the enormity of his vision, perseverance and success. Gandhi's observation of the limits of violence as a tool for social change, as well contemplation of the lessons in the Bhagavad Gita, led him to renounce personal gain and devote his life to the poor and oppressed, by living their life and by applying non-violence to every corner of his life, thought and action, whether in political, social or private matters. His belief in the power of refusal to submit to unfair laws, coupled with a willingness to suffer the consequences without anger or violence, broke the governments of South Africa and colonial India. He and his followers simply wore them out.

Easwaran was a beloved teacher of passage meditation, as well as an interpreter of Indian writings. His organization, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in California, continues to publish his books under the Nilgiri Press imprint. This is the 4th edition of "Gandhi the Man", and includes essays on Ahimsa and Satyagraha, a detailed chronology, maps, many photos, an index, and a bibliography and reading list.

Very highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Gandhi, India, British South Africa, passive resistance, Hinduism, or meditation. I will go back to it many times, even just to browse the quotes, which are fodder for years of contemplation. What a gift this book has been.

May 26, 2011, 9:21pm Top

Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying, 3rd Edition by Derek Humphry **** 5/26/11

The founder of the Hemlock Society, which was dedicated to helping terminally-ill patients find a decent way to end their lives if they so chose, presents a compassionate and clear overview of the legal and medical issues facing patients, caregivers, and medical personnel. He also briefly discusses various means of suicide and euthanasia and dispels many myths about what works well and what doesn't. The book is somewhat repetitive and fairly simple to read, possibly in response to the needs of the expected user, who would likely be suffering both physically and emotionally. Certainly a one-of-a-kind book, with wide-ranging appeal in a culture in which the dying have so few options for a dignified, quick and painless end.

May 30, 2011, 9:12am Top

The Martian Way and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov ***½ 5/29/11

Four stories from the early 1950s, two each featuring humans exploring space and aliens exploring (presumably) Earth. Quirky, especially those starring the aliens, and quite enjoyable.

Edited: Jun 9, 2011, 8:01am Top

Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison **** 6/8/11

This the second in a 6-book series set in Tibet and featuring a Han Chinese investigator sent to a hard labor camp for looking too closely into official corruption in Beijing. The story takes up a few months after Shan has been unofficially released (technically he is an escaped criminal) after 3 years, and the hidden lamas who have been sheltering and teaching him send him to an area just north of Tibet where a lama is missing, a teacher murdered, and several orphan boys living among the herding tribes are being hunted down and killed. It took only about 100 pages to figure out why the children are a target (one is a reincarnate lama), but that didn't detract from how interesting the story is, or the suspense over whether the specific child will survive.

As in the first installment, the focus is on the damage done by the Chinese invasion, especially to tribal and religious life: tribes and families broken up and forced to give up their herds and nomadic life; temples, monasteries and religious artwork destroyed; and lamas, nuns and other practitioners killed outright or tortured and enslaved in work camps. Those few allowed to continue as monks are licensed by the government, which is dedicated to squelching Tibetan identity or, failing that, to finding a way to use what remains to strengthen China's hold. Honestly, it's sickening, and now every time I see something "Made in China" I'm reminded that, in China, "made by" now includes anything made by Tibetans, whether by slave labor or by invasion survivors forced into this "people's" society. Read this only if you don't mind being outraged.

The author includes a glossary and a narrative bibliography for those who wish to followup on the factual background of the novel. One of the incidental subjects in the book is collectors dedicated to making up whole choruses of crickets which have different songs. The bibliography includes a book on this too, which is neat.

Jun 10, 2011, 9:18am Top

Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography by Gerald Gold **** 6/9/11

100+ b&w photos, many full page, interspersed throughout a brief biography. Perhaps most interesting is the closing photo essay by Richard Attenbourough describing the his 20-year effort to film Gandhi's life. The pictures he provides are side by side historical photos and stills from the film to show the extent gone to to be accurate. For anyone who's seen the film, of course, Ben Kinsley's performance is eerie it's so spot-on, but here we see how this realism extended to other individuals and to major scenes such as the Salt March and the funeral procession, for which Attenborough brought in 300,000 Indian extras, including 85,000 from the countryside. What a thrill it must have been to Gandhi's countrymen to participate in such an event!

So, a keeper for my collection, and rewarding for anyone interested in Gandhi, or even Attenborough. The written biography would be a good starting point for older students and others looking for a basic text. It will almost certainly move the reader to rent the film, even if it's been seen before.

Jun 12, 2011, 7:34pm Top

A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic ***½ 6/12/11

This is a very discomforting novel about extreme bullying: of a young boy by schoolmates, of a teacher by his students and colleagues, and of a policewoman by her colleagues. The story is told mostly in the form of witness interviews taken by the policewoman after the teacher opens fire at a school assembly, killing students, another teacher, and himself. This indirect approach to the story is intriguing, but the scale of bullying among such a small group seemed overdone, and the ending was too abrupt for the emotion it should have generated.

Edited: Jun 18, 2011, 7:32am Top

Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th President, 1850-1853 by Paul Finkelman **** 6/17/11

Well!!! This turned out to be one of the most interesting presidential biographies I've read so far.

Finkelman vehemently disagrees with Robert Rayback about Fillmore's philosophy, intentions, and political successes (or not). Simply put, this is a scathing 137-page indictment of a man the author sees as the day's ultimate doughface (Northerner with Southern sympathies) and future Copperhead (Northerner with Confederate sympathies).

I don't know enough about Fillmore or the time period to make a judgment on which author sees Fillmore more clearly, but Finkelman is certainly convincing. First, there is a lengthy and informative summary of the personal, historical and political background leading up to Fillmore's nomination for Vice President. Then comes a vivid dissection of his political ineptness, moral failings (he hated and acted against pretty much everyone who wasn't white, Protestant, and a citizen, as well as abolitionists of all creeds), and collaboration with Daniel Webster to push through the Compromise of 1850 and the beefed up Fugitive Slave Act. Finkelman discusses Fillmore's intense effort to appease extreme Southerners and the dramatic imbalance between what the Northerners and Southerners received in the final Compromise, with the South receiving pretty much everything it wanted and the North receiving nothing it wouldn't have had anyway, including a free California. There is an extended discussion of the damage done to the black community with the suspension of habeas corpus for people claimed as runaways (including kidnapped free blacks and fugitives with free spouses and children) and various court cases in which people of both races were charged with treason for aiding escaped slaves. Meanwhile, cases involving actual treason and threats to national security and international relations (private invasions of Cuba, threats of war by the new state of Texas) were smoothed over with little ado. Finkelman, a specialist in American legal history, race, and constitutional law, clearly sees the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as Fillmore's chief claim to ignominy, while recognizing the resultant increase in Northern anti-slavery efforts.

Finkelman does give Fillmore credit for several "visionary" ideas (for example, movements towards a transcontinental railroad and towards the opening of Japan to American diplomacy and trade). But the lasting impression is of a man with little pity and few values besides maintenance of business and property rights. What a stinker.

Jun 18, 2011, 4:41am Top

#95 But the lasting impressions of a man with little pity and few values besides maintenance of business and property rights

Hmm.... you could say this about most politicians today. Enjoyed the review.

Jun 18, 2011, 7:29am Top

>95 auntmarge64: So true, so true.

Jun 21, 2011, 9:27am Top

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ***** 6/21/11

What a treat this book is! Part suspense, part fantasy, and beguilingly unique.

A teenage boy (Jacob) finds his dying grandfather, who used to tell fantastic stories of his childhood at a strange island orphanage in Wales and illustrate his tales with photos of odd-looking children and descriptions of monsters. The grandfather pleads with him to go to the island where he'll be safe, whispers some enigmatic phrases and then "I should've told you a long time ago" and dies, and as Jacob copes with his grief, he determines to travel to the island and search out the truth. What he finds will forever change his life.

Magical, thrilling, and lovingly illustrated with the photos and letters described in the story. This is one of those books that will appeal to adults and older kids equally, and I'm going to pass it on to my 11- and 20-year old nieces and see what they think.

Jul 4, 2011, 10:25pm Top

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart **** 7/4/11

The first in a mystery series set in Ireland and starring an Irish archaeologist and an American pathologist. Here, the head of a woman is found in a bog, drawing the two scientists into a search for her ancient identity as well as into a more recent mystery: the disappearance of the young wife and child of the local landowner, upon whom suspicion has centered. The historical background, and especially the details concerning bog bodies, is very interesting, and the book has a wonderful final twist. The characterization is not quite as successful, with some less-than-convincing explanations of behavior which seems rather gratuitous. However, I enjoyed this quite well enough to read the sequel, which is already on my shelves.

Jul 7, 2011, 9:00pm Top

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain **** 7/6/11

WOW! This new thriller by the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series grabs the reader and never lets go. Lowell is mentioned only in passing, and here Archie shows his potential to carry a series on his own. Reminiscent of Lucas Davenport in several ways, Archie leads a team of detectives on the very worst of cases, even as he continues to struggle to overcome the damage done when Gretchen Lowell kidnapped and tortured him.

During a massive flood in Portland, Oregon, a serial killer using tiny but extremely lethal octopuses is killing people and dumping their bodies in the floodwaters. As the water rises, the banks of the Willamette River become a very dangerous place to be, whether as a civilian or a cop.

Don't start this if you have anything else to do.

Jul 11, 2011, 12:22pm Top

I've finished two more books by Eknath Easwaran (his first name was Easwaran, but for some reason it's written this way). He was a teacher who used passage meditation as the focus of a group of spiritual practices he recommended to his students, who were in the U.S. In passage meditation, a prayer or reading recognized for its spiritual power is memorized and then repeated slowly and silently for a half hour each day to drive it into the consciousness. The mantram (mantra) is used to calm the mind at other times of the day. The books are easy to read, address many common concerns, and use examples which will be familiar to Western readers. Very useful.

Passage Meditation **** 6/23/11

The Mantram Handbook **** 7/11/11

Jul 13, 2011, 10:06pm Top

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury ***½ 7/13/11

A group of linked short stories written in the 1940s and 1950 and describing a group of colonizing missions to Mars. Human reactions to the Martians and their culture are predictably destructive, whether through violence or carelessness. It is Bradbury's imagining of the Martians and their effect on the men and women who travel there that make the collection well worth the read.

Jul 14, 2011, 4:40am Top

I remember The Martian chronicles with some fondness, when I read them in the 1960's I thought they were excellent science fiction stories'. I wonder what I would think of them now?

Jul 14, 2011, 8:30am Top

>103 baswood: For one thing, very minimalistic if you've read Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy.

Jul 18, 2011, 1:44pm Top

After Lyletown by K. C. Frederick (touchstone not working) *** 7/18/11

Years after participating in the planning (but not implementation) of a botched 60s political action, a 40-something lawyer (Alan) hears from the only member of the group to be caught and serve time. Rory has never told the police that Alan was part of the group, and Alan is afraid Rory is planning to blackmail him. He feels he no choice but to meet him.

It's a great setup for a thriller, but this is a character study of Alan instead. As such, it has some wonderful descriptions of the thought processes and experiences of those who were college students during the time and trying to find a way to "make a difference". And the chapter on the death of Alan's best friend is completely believable, especially Alan's inability to let his friend talk openly about his fear.

Although this is a short novel (243 pages), it feels padded, although this may be a function of the marketing, which seems to promise more drama. There is moving and sometimes lyrical narrative but little drama, so don't read it for excitement.

Edited: Aug 2, 2011, 5:57pm Top

The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson ***½ 7/24/11

I'm both elated and depressed at finally finishing Robinson's Martian trilogy-plus. It's been a long, LONG voyage, and the ideas he offers and the characters who span the story have become very real to me.

This fourth book is a series of short stories, some poems, and even a few scientific reports (all done within the Martian world Robinson created), and they add some interesting alternatives and information on major and minor characters and theories. If you've read the trilogy proper, do tack this on to your TBR list. If not, don't, because it will make little sense.

Aug 2, 2011, 5:06pm Top

Hi Margaret, found you and have you starred! I love your reviews--the perfect length for me.

Aug 9, 2011, 8:15am Top

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin **** 7/26/11

In Portland, OR, in the near-future (our near past - this was written in 1971), George Orr discovers his dreams are changing reality and turns to drugs to quell them. He is sent to a psychiatrist, whose response is to start experimenting with George's dreams to design his own utopian world. With reality changing every day, but his memories encompassing all the realities simultaneously, George desperately searches for some way to stop the doctor, to whom the authorities continue to send him. LeGuin makes George's experience quite vivid for the reader, who soon finds herself unable to put the book down until George either succeeds or fades into madness, and the world into chaos.

Aug 9, 2011, 9:33pm Top

The Fallen Angel by David Hewson ****½ 7/31/11

The 10th in the Nic Costa detective series set in Rome. All of the Costa mysteries are littered with references to the architecture, history and landscape of Rome, and maps would be helpful, but the stories are so interesting that this is a minor criticism. Here, Costa and his team are at odds with each over what to do about a man who falls to his death and a family who won't cooperate. Especially as the mystery nears its end, it is obvious that each layer they discover is a coverup for another, and the end is a doozy. Delicious!

Edited: Aug 9, 2011, 9:39pm Top

My iPad 2 (covers iOS 4.3) (2nd Edition) by Gary Rosenzweig. *** 8/8/11

This is a very basic guide and will be most useful to brand new iPad users. I did learn a few shortcuts, though, and the illustrations are very clear.

Aug 9, 2011, 10:04pm Top

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt ***½ 8/6/11

How often can you claim that a western about two hired killers is charming and funny? And, it's longlisted for the Booker Prize.

Told from the viewpoint of the younger brother, Eli, overweight and yearning for a quieter life, the story follows the pair as they travel from Oregon to California to kill a man for their boss, for whom they've done many other "assignments". They meet quite an assortment of odd characters, and their adventures and mishaps explore the wildness of life in the old West. Most amusingly, Eli discovers tooth brushing, with which he becomes enamored. Fortunes come and go with alarming ease, as does life and death. And redemption stalks the brothers, to Eli's delight and his brother's dismay. Well worth the read.

Edited: Aug 9, 2011, 10:28pm Top

The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum ***½ 8/7/11

Poor Gene Myers is really confused. The novel he's writing seems to be coming true, and as a result his daughter is doing Internet porn and the country has elected a president who believes that to bring paradise to Earth, most of the people on it have to die, so he and his cabinet have started WWIII. (Not to worry, though - the Prez has learned that life after death is wonderful, so he's really doing those billions of folks a favor.) Meanwhile, Gene starts dreaming of people he realizes are actual people (or he's inventing them, although he never seems to know which it is.) Either way, they begin to meet to figure out how to stop the President and the war.

Clever, inventive, and amusing. And free on the Internet, so enjoy! Download at www.theamericanbookofthedead.com or via Amazon for the Kindle or Kindle app. (I have no connection to the author except as a random reader.)

Aug 9, 2011, 10:49pm Top

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran **** 8/8/11

A lovely translation (and introduction) by a beloved meditation teacher and admirer of Gandhi (for whom devotion to the Bhagavad Gita was the guiding force in his life). Each chapter is prefaced with an informative essay by Diana Morrison.

Aug 11, 2011, 12:06am Top

Thanks for the reviews, auntmarge. Several of these look very interesting.

Aug 16, 2011, 6:09pm Top

Free books are good, and to top it off The American Book of the Dead sounds good. I'll be downloading it on my Kindle.

Edited: Aug 16, 2011, 8:20pm Top

Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper *** 8/16/11

This is a novella originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1957. I discovered it on a free audio book site and finished reading it on my Kindle (it's available free from both Amazon and Gutenberg).

An advance group of scientists, military, and civilians begins uncovering a Martian city which died out 50,000 years ago. One archaeologist believes she has a (very long) shot at deciphering Martian writing but needs a big find: a Rosetta stone which gives humans even a few words they can be sure of for building a vocabulary. Her colleagues are generally discouraging, but she perseveres - and has good luck. Typical 50s SF, with women called "girls" and smoking allowed in the rooms being excavated. Still, neat to read, and certainly a quick one for a sci fi category.

Aug 22, 2011, 8:51am Top

The Landmark Thucydides edited by Robert B. Strassler ***** 8/21/11

This is a magnificent edition of one of the pillars of ancient history, making it accessible and useful for both lay and professional readers. I read the Kindle edition on the iPad alongside the print version (700+ pages), the first for ease of use, the second for the footnotes, which are not tied to the text in the Kindle edition, while in the print version they are included on each page.

This edition begins with 20 pages of introductory notes, a dated outline of the text, and then the 8 books, each heavily footnoted, sourced and laced with maps. The maps alone make the edition worth its hefty price tag, but following the text there are 11 appendices, a glossary, bibliographies of ancient and modern sources, a 70-page annotated index, and a directory to place names mentioned in the text. There is also a 20-page chart and timeline of the theaters of operation during the war.

The appendices are footnoted, sourced, and, in some cases, illustrated with maps and drawings. I've starred those which would be particularly useful to lay readers if read before the history proper:

The Athenian Government in Thucydides *
The Athenian Empire in Thucydides *
Spartan Institutions in Thucydides *
The Peloponnesian League in Thucydides *
The Persians in Thucydides *
Land Warfare in Thucydides *
Trireme Warfare in Thucydides *
Dialectics and Ethnic Groups in Thucydides
Religious Festivals in Thucydides
Classical Greek Currency in Thucydides
Calendars and Dating Systems in Thucydides

This will be "the" translation to read for many years to come.

Aug 23, 2011, 9:14pm Top

Two books for which I'm not going to write detailed reviews:

The Undiscovered Country: Exploring the Promise of Death by Eknath Easwaran *** 8/18/11

A short, useful restatement of the author's teachings on death and reincarnation.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini **** 8/23/11

So much has been written about this book I probably have little to add. I found this a somewhat forced and predictable story used to give a human face to the last few decades of Afghan history. Hosseini is such a gifted storyteller that the book was hard to put down, yet I also skimmed long sections. The main male character was probably the most hateful protagonist I can remember since reading The Color Purple when it was first published, and the plight of women in Taliban-controlled Kabul was extremely difficult to read. So, four stars for the book's power. Unlike some other reviewers, though, I preferred The Kite Runner.

Aug 24, 2011, 9:06am Top

A Thousand Splendid Suns
Ditto your comments. Hosseini's second novel felt a lot like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun: history delivery device.

Aug 27, 2011, 8:56am Top

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester **** 8/26/11

Brilliant but not very pleasant SF classic in which a wronged everyman wrecks vengeance in a future where humans can instantly transport themselves around the globe. Written in the 1950s, the book has aged very, very well, with just a few anachronistic references to break the spell. You'll be dazzled by Bester's vision, but don't expect to like any, and I mean any, of the characters.

Aug 27, 2011, 8:56am Top

The Interrogation by Thomas H. Cook ** 8/27/11

A depressing book about one night in a police station, as two cops try to wrangle a confession out of a homeless man they are convinced murdered a little girl. Other characters float in and out of the story with the promise that all of it will come together in the end, but while there is a hint of closure, even a neatly wrapped up ending would not make this book satisfying. All the characters are either sad, suffering, or mindlessly violent, whether cop or civilian. All-in-all, a nasty little read I wish I'd avoided.

Aug 27, 2011, 10:17am Top

#119 - ouch. I do agree that A thousand Splendid Suns was forced, and, IMO, a failure. I think Hoseini found (and was aware of) some his limits while writing, at least that was my impression.

Catching-up, by the way.

Aug 27, 2011, 10:46am Top

>122 dchaikin:. What made you think he was aware of them? Just wondering.....

Aug 27, 2011, 11:22am Top

The unfixed problems forced through (plot felt tangled and overly extended), and the admission of exhaustion in the acknowledgements...also the likelihood that he rushed/forced it out to capitalize on the success of his first book.

Aug 27, 2011, 1:01pm Top

>124 dchaikin:. Ah, I hadn't read the acknowledgements. It's a shame, really, because he is so talented. Mariam's story was so interesting, and then the story got lost.

Aug 27, 2011, 3:43pm Top

It's been some time since I've read the books, but I remember I was left with the impression that he is a partial talent. I felt that he excelled in certainty and knowns (his version of circa-1970's Afghanistan and his immigrant experience) but had trouble when he ventured away from there. In hindsight, I think he literary depth was limited...I've been trying to word this to stay within my knowledge base, but can't seem to find the right vagaries. Suffice it to say, I'm not really qualified to make these judgements.

Aug 27, 2011, 4:02pm Top

I also like Mariam's story but I found the writing too flowery overall. I'm enjoying your reviews, Margaret. Keep up the good work!

Edited: Aug 31, 2011, 9:41pm Top

The Presidency of Franklin Pierce by Larry Gara * 8/31/11

Simply awful. Reads like a bunch of term paper note cards strung together with little order or thought to organization. Boring, hard to follow, and worst of all, almost no information on Pierce. Most of the narrative concerns the political parties and personalities which existed at the time Pierce was President, with Pierce himself mentioned only peripherally. I read just over half and decided to try Michael F. Holt's Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series instead. What are the odds they'd both be so bad? To be continued.....

Sep 4, 2011, 12:56pm Top

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank **** 9/3/11

This classic of the late 1950s, a story of post-nuclear war survival in the U.S., is fairly dated in social mores (especially attitudes towards the sexes and black and white race relations), and characterization is minimal, but it still holds the reader's attention to the end. Having read this while we had a 2-day power outage after Hurricane Irene, I find myself still thinking about life without amenities, and in the book, of course, that includes safe water, food, and protection.

Edited: Sep 7, 2011, 10:56am Top

Lucifer's Tears by James Thompson **** 9/5/11

The second in a series starring a Finnish detective and written by an American who has lived in Finland for twelve years now.

Here Inspector Kari Vaara and his very pregnant American wife Kate have moved to Helsinki, and throughout the book they are both tortured by doubt and guilt over events in their pasts. Kari investigates two interesting but seemingly unrelated cases which begin to coalesce: war crimes accusations against a 90-year old Finnish hero (and parenthetically against Kari's own beloved grandfather) and the torture-murder of the wife of a wealthy Russian businessman. Kate hosts her siblings from the U.S. on their first visit, and here is where the book's main problems lie: the visit of the Ugly Americans. The sister is a bitter, fundamentalist Christian who disapproves of just about everything about Finland and her sister's life. The brother is an alcoholic drug abuser who gets in constant trouble from which Kari has to quietly rescue him with the hope of saving Kate stress (and a miscarriage). It's altogether too much "troubled relative" drama, and while I'm not a fan of moralistic preaching or evangelism, even I found the portrayal irritating and unnecessary.

Still, Kari is a complex character and Finland is not a very familiar venue for American readers, and I hope the series will continue for a good long time.

Sep 12, 2011, 7:32pm Top

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers *** 8/28/11

This short YA novel is told entirely in a series of notes written between a mother and her 15-year old daughter. It's a clever idea, but the seriousness of the topic which develops (the mother's cancer) and the length of the notes (sometimes paragraphs and paragraphs), seemed unrealistic. Really, no matter how busy people are, they find time to sit down and talk when there's serious illness, right, and not just write notes?

Anyway, I gave it to my 11-year old niece to read and she loved it and has kept my copy. However, she also found the long notes unrealistic.

The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity, and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature by Jacob Lentz *** 9/8/11

A silly but amusing group of short essays on animals the authors find particularly noteworthy (or not....): among others, the lady bug, alpaca, king cobra, wildebeest, garden snail, panda, great white shark, and my fave, the hippo. Of course I turned to this last one immediately and was greeted by several photos with humorous captions and an unfavorable comparison to Dexter (who at least leaves innocent witnesses alive). Each animal is graded based on the authors' rather fluctuating system (the hippo got a D-, the lady bug an A-). All-in-all, cute and worth a browse, especially if your favorite is there to be poked fun at.

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon ***½ 9/11/11

It's such a treat to discover new-to-me authors who have lots of sequels under their belts. I finally gave Donna Leon and try, and it's rewarding to see there are nineteen (count 'em, 19!) sequels to date.

This series centers on Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police. He's happily married and a father, doesn't have many personal quirks, and is simply a hardworking and smart cop who concentrates on following up on details. This isn't a thriller, which is how I'd describe David Hewson's detective stories set in Rome (the Nic Costa series, of which I'm a huge fan) - it's a straight-forward mystery, fairly low-key and told with some humor (for instance, Guido frequently makes, and wins, bets with himself about what his idiot of a boss will say next). Relaxing and well-told, and with a satisfying conclusion. Aaaahhh.......

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick ***** 9/11/11

This is the kind of writing readers hope to find and savor. Each word is evocative and perfect, and in 70 pages Ozick gives us what other authors struggle to do in hundreds: a story and character we'll never forget and always treasure. Thank you, thank you, labfs39 for recommending this!!!

The book opens with a short story limning the experience of Rosa, who, with her 14-year old niece (Stella) and infant daughter (Magda), is force-marched from Warsaw to a death camp. In a thoughtless act of self-preservation, Stella brings about events which ruin Rose's and Magda's lives. The second story, a novella, picks up Rosa's life as a crazy older woman living in Miami years later. She is supported from New York by Stella, who alternately berates her and encourages her to get on with her life. But as crazy as she is, Rosa often seems to be the one who truly sees reality.

For anyone thinking this will be a depressing read, I can only say, "give it a try". By the end of the short story you won't be able to forego reading about Rosa's future. Simply gorgeous storytelling.

Sep 12, 2011, 9:56pm Top

nice reviews here! I agree, the notes on the refrigerator book seems a tad gimmicky. congrats on discovering a new author-- I love your enthusiasm. I'm definitely going to look for the Ozick.

Sep 12, 2011, 10:24pm Top

>132 GCPLreader: I'll watch for your thoughts on the Ozick. I've never read her work before and have now requested a copy of The Messiah of Stockholm. Have you read her before?

Sep 13, 2011, 6:40am Top

I'm encouraged to give The shawl a try from your review.

I love the Donna Leon books set in Venice. I have read several and some are very good indeed. Happy reading.

Sep 20, 2011, 7:08am Top

Maragaret, The Shawl sounds intriguing. I've read The Messiah of Stockholm. I picked up a copy a at a used bookstore when I was in grad school, having never heard of Ozick before. It was much more literary than anything else I was reading at the time, and left me thinking.

Oct 2, 2011, 10:15pm Top

I'm quite behind on reviews but am hoping to get caught up, in no particular order. The first might be titled "Gee, Margaret, why don't you tell us what you really think?"

Premodern Antarctic World Ethnohistory by David L. Lipton a half-star, 9/12/11

The concept here is actually quite interesting: collect together references, from all times and peoples, to what has been known or theorized about the southern-most part of the world. (Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean Antarctica, because for all but the last couple of hundred years there was no proof of what existed south of inhabited land, or whether there was land there at all.)

There are, indeed, some nuggets buried here, but the execution is the equivalent of a junior high term paper cobbled together from sources gathered from a hasty search of the public library's catalog. The writing is repetitive and full of editing errors, and the sources consulted are generally secondary. The book is short to begin with but feels padded. The author describes himself as an "independent scholar" and an Antarcticanist, a term with exactly five entries on Google. He seems to be a hobbyist who felt the desire to put into print all the references he discovered in his amateur search, and while it's a noble gesture, the book is really of no value, because what those few nuggets are buried in is a pile of pretty much useless information which would mislead anyone using the book for research. In fact, this is probably the sole book I've ever simply tossed instead of passing along to a book sale, library, or book trading site.

Oct 3, 2011, 8:59am Top

Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss **** 9/15/11

A delightful British take on correct and (often completely unrelated) current usage of the . , ; : ? - ... and !

Along the way, we learn something of the history of punctuation as well as the author's thoughts on how "correct" is even now changing, and she has some choice words for the havoc being wrought by the shortcuts we take in our mobile communications. I'm a semi-stickler, myself. I try hard to use those little fellows correctly, because I think they are really, REALLY important in expressing meaning, but on my cell phone, not so much. Maybe we'll end up with two well-thought-out systems of punctuation depending on what device we're using to compose.

Edited: Oct 3, 2011, 4:10pm Top

The Postman by David Brin **** 9/20/11

A decade and a half after worldwide nuclear war, a survivor, running through an Oregon forest to escape bandits, stumbles across a jeep and the skeleton of a mailman from the early years of the apocalypse, when there was still a semblance of government. He takes the uniform, hat, and boots to replace what has been stolen, and also a bag of mail, addressed years ago to people probably long dead. To ensure his welcome at suspicious settlements, he pretends to be a representative of a rebuilt government mail service and manages to find a few addressees still alive in the area. As his cover story becomes accepted, he in turn is forced to accept new letters bound for the areas toward which he is traveling, and without intending to, he begins to forge connections between some of the villages. His travels lead him westward toward the Pacific, and he eventually becomes entangled with a town seemingly being led by a smart computer and with a survivalist group determined to destroy everything not in its control.

I avoided reading this for years because of the terrible reviews of the Costner film (although I've seen more positive ones lately), and it was pleasant to discover a worthwhile post-apocalyptic tale under all the baggage. It's just a good old-fashioned story with some hope for humanity mixed in.

Oct 3, 2011, 4:22pm Top

Thinking Like a Mountain by Robert Bateman *** 9/20/11

A tiny book of short essays by Canadian naturalist painter Bateman, who is a favorite with my family. Topics generally center around the environment. Some essays take the form of stories from his past and observations he made regarding the effects of human activity on the land and animals around us; others are his thoughts on the damage we are doing and the dangers he sees in continuing on our present course. Bateman lives in British Columbia and is not entirely averse to logging and other human activities, but he proposes a more thoughtful approach, with the goal of prolonging both our resources and the diversity of our habitat. Some of the chapters are quite interesting, others a bit preachy, but the tidbits about his life and what he has seen change since he was a boy wandering the wild areas around Toronto are very interesting, especially for fans. Illustrated with his own black and white sketches.

Oct 5, 2011, 6:51pm Top

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl ****½ 10/5/11

An intriguing historical drama and thriller with wonderful characterizations and a big surprise to answer the question, "Who done it?"

As the pioneering graduating class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prepares for finals in 1868, the first two of a series of unexplained disasters occur in Boston: during a foggy night a group of ships simultaneously lose compass bearings and crash, and a few days later all the glass in the financial district turns to liquid, causing freak injuries and panic. The seniors at the Institute, still fighting to prove that their school is worthy of its existence, brainstorm to work backwards from the events to explain what could have caused them and discover the perpetrator. Among this group are an ex-Union soldier/machinist on scholarship, two wealthy students, and the first woman student, who is forced to take classes and do laboratory work in private. The struggles between nascent unions, industrialists, scientists, and the classes, as well the social mores of the time, provide a colorful backdrop as the terror escalates and the Institute is blamed.

Simply wonderful storytelling. (Note: don't read the historical afterword until you've read the book - some of the details are more enjoyably discovered as the story unfolds.)

Oct 13, 2011, 5:43pm Top

Iron House by John Hart ***** 10/13/11

A suspense novel with ALL the ingredients: pitch perfect dialogue, unceasing suspense from beginning to end, terrific characters, and a very satisfying end.

30-something hitman Michael wants out of "the life" to begin anew with his unsuspecting girlfriend Elena and the baby she is carrying. He is given permission by the man for whom he works, but that man is dying, and his heir apparent, his only son and a man embittered by the father's paternal love for Michael, vows revenge. As he comes after Michael and Elena, he also threatens to harm Michael's brother, Julian, whom Michael hasn't seen since they were abused boys at an orphanage in the mountains of North Carolina. The last time they were together was the day they were to be adopted, the day Michael ran and took the blame for a murder 9-year old Julian had just committed to save himself from a boy literally torturing him. Now Michael heads to North Carolina to protect Julian and face the reaction Elena will have to the truth about who he really is.

Think Reacher/Davenport/Dexter in one. Hart has outdone himself. Perfect.

Oct 13, 2011, 6:01pm Top

Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series: The 14th President, 1853-1857 by Michael F. Holt **** 9/29/11

Unlike Larry Gara's book The Presidency of Franklin Pierce (see #128 above), this entry in The American Presidents Series is actually about Pierce, and it does a very good job of giving the reader some insight into Pierce's personal and political lives and failures. Pierce is often touted as one of the worst of our leaders and a leading candidate for "The President Who Did the Most to Bring On the Civil War". If you're reading through the presidents, give this one a try - short, well-written, enough detail to get on to #15 (Buchanan) and then to the main course: Lincoln and his era.

Oct 13, 2011, 10:06pm Top

I read the essay Thinking like a Mountain in college, I didn't know there was a collection of essays. I'll have to be on a look out for this in the nature section, excellent review.

Nov 7, 2011, 8:34pm Top

Just a few short notes. I'm trying to catch up on life after 5 days with no power, and thanking my lucky stars it didn't happen in January.

The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke ***½ 10/20/11
Enjoyable early 1950s SF which raises an issue explored much more deeply in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy: how would the human cultures on Earth and a newly-colonized planet relate to each other? What would the parent planet expect as repayment for its investment, and how would the developing culture react to that pressure and to the desire to forge its own destiny?

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson ***½ 10/26/11

And speaking of Robinson, here is his take on the environmental issues surrounding a potential non-renewal of the Antarctic Treaty System, which sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on that continent. (Wikipedia, 2011). This is typical Robinson, full of ideas but rather infuriating to read because of how he does go on (and on) to make his points, but for those with an interest in the continent, it's got a lot to offer. Robinson spent time there as part of the U.S. Antarctic Program's Artists and Writers' Program.

March of the Penguins by Luc Jacquet **** 10/26/11
Although certainly no substitute for seeing the film, this companion book includes gorgeous photos, most especially of the forms and colors of Antarctic ice. I had read that the blues of the ice include shades seen nowhere else, and the photos included here took my breath away. One example can be seen in the first picture here: http://enticingthelight.com/2009/03/14/great-nature-photography-found-inmarch-of...

Fallen by Karen Slaughter **** 11/7/11

Thankfully, Slaughter keeps the characters' self-loathing and -doubt to a minimum here, as the romance between Will Trent and Sara Linton ratchets up during a massive kidnapping and murder case. One of the best in the series.

Nov 8, 2011, 9:34am Top

5 days with no power
That's hugely disruptive, glad it wasn't dangerous for you and that you're back on track.

btw per your review, I have The Shawl queued up on audio for an upcoming road trip, looking forward to it.

Nov 8, 2011, 4:10pm Top

>145 detailmuse: It was pretty brutal, with mornings in the house at 39F. Like I said, luckily it wasn't January, or all the pipes would have burst. Some folks here still have no power after 10 days. I did think a lot about Antarctic explorers, though.

Hope you find The Shawl rewarding. I can't say "hope you enjoy it", because it's not that kind of story.

Nov 17, 2011, 10:28am Top

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings ***** 11/16/11

A delightful book about maps and the people who love them. Jennings, well-known from "Jeopardy", was himself a map freak even as a child, and his author photo shows him at age 5 or so, beaming as he looks through his favorite atlas.

Topics range from an overview of map types (how about one made of sticks to guide Pacific islanders via ocean currents?), to the deplorable lack of map knowledge in an age of GPS, to the myriad ways maps are being used today: for example, geocaching (treasure-hunting based on map clues, for which there is now a scout merit badge). There are lots of fascinating examples of geographical oddities mixed in, and many times I picked up my iPad to read up on things such as the world's largest triple island (an island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island on a lake - I think that's the right number of each....)

There's even a discussion of the different ways in which men and women use and perceive maps. Let me ask you: if you're a woman, do you use your GPS with the car symbol always heading in one direction (up, for me) and the map moving to accommodate it? Or, if a man, would you rather have the map always with north on the top and the car symbol swiveling to make that possible?

Jennings writes with humor and intelligence, and I have a hard time imagining how this book could have been more entertaining or informative for a general audience.

Nov 17, 2011, 3:55pm Top

I have put the paperback version of Maphead on my 'Forthcoming' wishlist (2012 sometime). Thank you.

When I was working at a private pilot's license that I never got, I was told in ground school to hold the map always oriented to the direction you were headed, the female way, by a gruff old man who turned out not to be a competent teacher but thought he was. Anyway as a naval aviator I held the map with north at the top, the male way, and always got where I wanted to go. I never assumed that one way was inherently better than the other and never suspected that the distinction would be along sexual lines.

We called maps 'charts' in the Navy.

(I eventually got a commercial rating and then an airline transport pilot rating, but I never had a private license or a single engine license.)


Nov 19, 2011, 8:54am Top

I do remember Ken Jennings's triumph on Jeopardy and after seeing him speak of his book recently on CSPAN's BookTV and reading your review, it looks like a real winner. Hope you are well, Margaret. great reviews as always!

Nov 19, 2011, 10:01am Top

>148 Mr.Durick:, 149 Will be watching for your reviews "down the road" (heh, heh, heh).

Nov 27, 2011, 9:54am Top

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson **** 11/20/11

One clear night, three teenagers are hanging out on the lawn when the stars and moon disappear. Not much changes for humanity, because the tides continue to come in and out, and there is still a sun, albeit a fake one, which brings light, heat and the seasons. Behind the scenes, scientists begin probing the barrier, and their discoveries have huge import for human understanding of the future (or lack thereof) for life on Earth. The three teens grow up and take their places in life: one a brilliant scientist involved with unraveling the mysteries of the Spin, one (the narrator) a physician who stays close and ministers to him, and one who takes the religious approach to coping with the apparent intentionality of the masking of Earth.

Wonderful storytelling with clever flights of scientific fancy. Although the first in a trilogy, this also stands complete as a story. There is one big gap in reasoning towards the end which left me hanging a bit in trying to suspend disbelief, but perhaps I'm wrong and it will be cleared up in a sequel. Otherwise, a most enjoyable read.

Bangs and Whimpers: Stories About the End of the World (Roxbury Park Books) edited by James Frenkel *** 11/25/11

A collection of short stories from 19 luminaries of the science fiction world. Each story explores the end of the world, or of humanity, and they are in turns funny or tragic, mostly concerning the reaction the characters have to realizing what's happening. Maybe it's my general apathy towards short stories, but I found the group of very mixed success, although there are a few winners here.

Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 1:11pm Top

Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World by Fred Pearce **** 11/30/11

An oversized book stuffed with before and after images of places around the world which have been altered dramatically over the last few decades due to environmental change, war, urbanization, natural disasters, deliberate land transformation, and cultural activities. Pictures are matched as closely as possible to exact sites and angles, with a mixture of satellite images, street level shots, and panoramic photos.

Some of the changes are to be expected (melting glaciers, growth of cities, aerial views of bomb damage), while others are a surprise (disappearance of huge lakes, deforestation, the effects of a volcano on the paradise of Montserrat).

Very effective and a keeper for future perusal.

The Presidency of James Buchanan by Elbert B. Smith **** 12/5/11

Dense, readable, and informative, with detailed background on the coming of the Civil War and Lincoln's arrival on the national scene. Most interesting to me was Smith's discussion of why the South was so incensed by the North's refusal to give their moral blessing to slavery, and Buchanan's insistence on a Southern right to such approval. A little too much protesting, IMHO, if they all were really secure in their ethical stance in support of slavery. A very satisfying introduction to national politics of the time.

Edited: Dec 11, 2011, 9:48pm Top

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George **** 12/6/11

What a treat to discover a new suspense series to read, and one with sixteen sequels, to boot. The detectives are based in Scotland Yard, and each has a troubling and complicated past, partially revealed as the plot thickens. (Presumably, and hopefully, more is filled in as the series progresses.) The crime here is pretty gruesome (a daughter has apparently beheaded her father), but the real horror becomes apparent only bit by bit, truly a delight for suspense fans.

There are some problems I hope wear off in future volumes: another woman detective who loathes herself? Oh, please…..! And a ridiculous American of a type I’ve never run into, and I know some pips (and I’m an American, too) – simply a superfluous characterization which might have been excusable if it furthered the plot, but, alas, not at all.

But those caveats aside, I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of the next in the series, which is on its way to me now.

It's All About the Dress: Savvy Secrets, Priceless Advice, and Inspiring Stories to Help you Find "The One" by Randy Fenoli **** 12/10/11

Do you love “Say Yes to the Dress”, weddings, gorgeous gowns, all of the above? Then this is the book for you! Randy Fenoli, the fashion director at the massive Kleinfeld bridal salon in Manhattan, and a charmer himself, presents the basics of shopping for a bridal gown, illustrated with beautiful photos of himself (), real brides, and the dresses they found through working with him. Delightful.

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History by David Christian ****½ 12/11/11

I hardly know where to begin with this book, because it gathers so many threads and gives the reader so many directions to think about and investigate. I’ve taken the last year to read a couple of chapters a month, and I still find myself going back over some of the observations and connections made and seeing the world around me in different ways.

David Christian is probably the best-known teacher of Big History, and this book is possibly the Bible of the field. Big History looks at ALL of history, from the Big Bang to modern life and its trajectory, as one area of study encompassing all fields of scientific and historical research. This book approaches our present by beginning with the formation of the universe, through the development of galaxies and our solar system, our sun, and our planet, and then life itself. As the narrative moves forward in time the history slows down, so that life on Earth, especially human life, is examined in more detail. A major focus is the impact of humanity on the pace of natural changes to the planet and other species (most obviously in climate change and species extinctions), but much of Christian’s emphasis is on the extraordinary swiftness of the evolution of humanity itself and consideration of whether we can survive our success. The last chapter takes an admittedly weak stab at forecasting the future, but the rest of the book is a treasure trove.

Dec 12, 2011, 8:25am Top

I have Maps of Time sitting on a shelf...I'm a bit in awe of your year-long paced effort.

Dec 12, 2011, 6:25pm Top

It to took a better part of a year to digest Maps of Time. Every little small chunk and chapter there's something to think about. Plus, unlike Jared Diamond who in my opinion spends a lot of time hammering out examples of a single thesis, which is not a bad thing by any means, but David Christian builds upon the basic tentants to construct a new pointview and a new prespective on the same old tired subjects. I almost want to start re-reading the book now. Almost ;)

Dec 12, 2011, 11:14pm Top

>154 dchaikin: Taking a year to read it was the only way I could face it. I'm so glad I did, though.

Which leads me to:

>155 stretch: Re-reading it? Probably not in my future, either. I like Jared Diamond too, but as you say, this is different. Christian opens up so many avenues to explore that it'll take me years to follow up.

Dec 15, 2011, 10:07am Top

auntmarge and stretch -- you've hooked me on Maps of Time and on the reading-over-a-year plan. I have another paced read going on (Rural Free, monthly essays about life on a 1960s Midwest farm) but it's lightweight.

You've also interested me in Earth Then and Now -- the aerial photography brings to mind the land development in Alex MacLean's Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point and the history of New York City in Eric Sanderson's Mannahatta.

Dec 17, 2011, 12:39pm Top

>157 detailmuse: - I have Mannahatta on my bookshelf but so far, alas, unread. Have you read The Island at the Center of the World?

Dec 19, 2011, 8:18pm Top

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois ***** 12/18/11

In 2006, Irina, a young American professor facing the imminent onset of hereditary Huntington’s disease, says goodbye to all she knows and travels to Russia to ask a question of Aleksandr Bezetov, a middle-aged chess champion and dissident challenging Putin in an upcoming election. The question concerns how one proceeds in the face of certain defeat, and years earlier her father, as his own disease was upon him, wrote to ask this of a much younger Bezetov. Bezetov never answered the letter, and Irina sees her quest as a means of giving some focus and meaning to her life. She also needs time to think about how to handle her certain decline: specifically, how to decide when to end its progression so she does not die as her father did, with mind and body long depleted. Irina’s narrative begins in 2006 and Bezetov’s in 1979, and they are told in alternating chapters which come closer in time as the book proceeds.

At first it seems Aleksandr’s tale will be the more memorable of the two, with its marvelous description of life in the late Soviet era and the awakening of his political consciousness, and with Irina’s simply a framework for his story. But Irina’s question, and her musings about life and death even as she struggles to make sense of modern Russia, become extremely meaningful for both characters and for the reader. Irina and Alexsandr are delineated fully, and I came away feeling I knew them both very well. Irina’s search and Alexsandr’s answer move them towards their individual destinies, and the story resolves with a wholeness which feels perfect. Very, very highly recommended.

Dec 19, 2011, 10:27pm Top

Such an interesting premise. Noting your recommendation.

Dec 20, 2011, 1:49pm Top

>158 auntmarge64: I'll have to take a look. Next up for me re: Manhattan is Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

Great review, A Partial History of Lost Causes sounds wonderful.

Dec 24, 2011, 9:35am Top

From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón *** 12/23/11

A bleak tale of early 17th century Iceland, told by an old man banished to solitary exile after his conviction for witchcraft. The story is told primarily in a stream-of-consciousness, and there is little that is positive or beautiful in Jónas Pálmason's mind or memory. I think there are some readers who will find this story fascinating for its imagery and imagination, but I could not appreciate the unremitting grimness.

Dec 28, 2011, 9:03am Top

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan ****½ 12/27/11

A complicated thriller and first in a series starring David Loogan, whose own identity is shrouded in mystery. Loogan has been living only a short time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he is offered a position as an editor at a mystery magazine. One evening his boss, with whom he’s become friends, asks him to help him bury the body of a burglar he’s killed during break-in, and he agrees. This important plot element, early in the book, never did square quite right with me, especially as I got to like Loogan’s character, but I got sucked in anyway. Soon the bodies are dropping and the possibilities of who-done-it, who-might-be-next, who Loogan really is, and how he and the detective, herself an intriguing character, will solve the crimes without Loogan ending up in prison, keep multiplying. Well-done dialogue and characterization. Other than that detail about Loogan helping bury the body instead of calling the cops, or even just refusing, my only complaint was that the complications did seem to get drawn out a bit to my taste, but for all that, this was still a winner.

Group: Club Read 2011

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