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Aunt Marge and the kids read in 2015

Club Read 2015

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Dec 21, 2014, 6:36pm Top

I'm back with various nieces and nephews for 2015. They love the challenge among themselves and check in regularly to see standings and to send me titles and ratings for books read. We range in age from 14 to 66 and have been doing Club Read together for several years.

Our 2014 Club Read thread
Our 2013 Club Read thread
Our 2012 Club Read thread
Our 2011 Club Read thread
Our 2010 Club Read thread

Edited: Dec 30, 2015, 9:41pm Top


1. Buried Prey by John Sandford ****½
2. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher ***½
3. The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill ****½
4. George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series by James Mann ***½
5. Stolen Prey by John Sandford ****
6. Lila by Marilynne Robinson *****
7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ***½
8. March (Book One) by John Lewis *****
9. God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell **
10. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong *****
11. The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim ***½
12. Violins of Hope by James Grymes ****
13. Roots of Ancient Greek Civilization: The Influence of Old Europe by Harald Haarmann ***½
14. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell ***½
15. Antarctic Penguins: A Study of Their Social Habits by George Murray Levick *****
16. Dinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo ****½
17. The Road Past Altamont by Gabrielle Roy ****
18. The Accidental Superpower ****½
19. Surveyor by G. W. Hawkes ****
20. Random Harvest by James Hilton ****
21. Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong ****
22. Descent by Tim Johnston ****½
23. Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz ****
24. Quarantine by Jim Crace ***½
25. The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier *****
26. Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter ***
27. Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon ***
28. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard *****
29. Antarctic Bestiary by Monika Schillat ***
30. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather ***
31. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson ***½
32. Terrors of Ice and Darkness by Christoph Ransmayr ****
33. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton *****
34. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad *****
35. Gathering Prey by John Sandford ****½
36. March Book 2 by John Lewis *****
37. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut ****
38. The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka ****
39. Edward Wilson's Birds of the Antarctic by Edward Adrian Wilson ****½
40. The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace ****
41. The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen ****
42. Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith ****
43. The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman ****
44. The Last Bookstore in America by Amy Stewart *****
45. The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution by Dennis Danielson *****
46. Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning ***½
47. Trust No One by Paul Cleave *****
48. The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 3) ****½
49. Seveneves by Neil Stephenson *****
50. Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton *****
51. Zoo by James Patterson **
52. The End is Nigh ((The Apocalypse Triptych Book 1) ***½
53. The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2) ***½
54. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert ****
55. Act of God by Jill Ciment ***½
56. Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West by Jeffery Paine ****
57. The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich **
58. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates ****
59. What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas ****
60. City of Echoes by Robert Ellis ***½
61. Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade ****
62. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson ****
63. The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness by Rabbi James Cohn
64. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith *****
65. Silkworm by Robert Galbraith ****
66. Among the Tibetans by Isabella L. Bird ****
67. Unthinkable and Incomprehensible by Rog Phillips ***½
68. Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney ***
69. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel ****
70. Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne ***½
71. Saturn Run by John Sandford ****
72. The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers **½
73. Halbman Steals Home by B. Glen Rotchin ***
74. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout *****
75. Red Rising by Pierce Brown *****
76. Golden Son by Pierce Brown ****
77. The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz ***
78. Make Me by Lee Child *****
79. Abstracts from the 2013 Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies ed. by Marcel Kuijsten ****
80. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith *****
81. A Far Sunset by Edmund Cooper ****
82. Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin ****
83. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes *****
84. The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons ****
85. Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht *****
86. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass *****
87. Tau Zero by Poul Anderson ****
88. The Blind Geometer by Kim Stanley Robinson ***
89. Colossus by D. F. Jones ****
90. Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig ****½
91. The Fall of Colossus by D. F. Jones ***½
92. Colossus and the Crab by D. F. Jones ****
93. Half Way Home by Hugh Howey ****
94. Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey *****
95. Tears in the Grass by Lynda A. Archer ****
96. Mars Quake by Jon Batson ***
97. The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson ****
98. Miasma (Star Trek: The Original Series) by Greg Cox **
99. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin ****½
100. Earth Has Been Found by D. F. Jones ***½
101. Shikasta by Doris Lessing ****
102. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon ****

Short Stories
1. The Box: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
2. Glitch: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
3. Second Suicide: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
4. The Walk Up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey ***½
5. Desolation Road: A Short Story by Andrew E. Kaufman ***½
6. The Old Martians by Rog Phillips ***
7. Cube Root of Conquest by Rog Phillips **½
8. Tillie by Rog Phillips ***
9. The New Atlantis by Ursula LeGuin ***½
10. The Return From Rainbow Bridge by Kim Stanley Robinson ***
11. The Gallery by Rog Phillips ***
12. The Unthinking Destroyer by Rog Phillips **
13. Ye of Little Faith by Rog Phillips ***½
14. Fermat's Last Theorem of Robotics by Michael Galloway **

1. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore ****
2. American Sniper by Chris Kyle ****
3. Suspect by Michael Robotham **
4. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey *****
5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson *****
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell ½*
7. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini ****
8. What If ... Everyone Knew Your Name by Sara James **
9. The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore *****
10. The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks *****
11. Tease by Amanda Maciel **
12. The Rise of Nine by Pitticus Lore ****
13. Room by Emma Donoghue ***
14. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein *****
15. The Taker by J. M. Steele ****
16. The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos **
17. Hold Still by Nina Lacour ***
18. Forbidden by Tabitha Susuma **
19. Nobody by Jennifer Barnes *****
20. The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott ***½
21. The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner ***
22. Rules of Prey by John Sandford ****
23. What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas ***½
24. Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella ****
25. Before I Sleep by S. J. Watson ****
26. Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara *****
27. The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu ****
28. Love Story by Erich Segal *****
29. The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore *****
30. I Am Number Four: The Lost Files - The Legacies by Pitticus Lore ***
31. Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen ***½

1. If I Stay by Gayle Forman ****½
2. The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan ***½
3. Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer ***
4. The Martian by Andy Weir *****
5. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin ****½

1. The Revenge of Seven by Pittacus Lore ****
2. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin ****
3. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin ****½
4. Charon's Claw by R. A. Salvatore ***
5. Green Arrow: Kingdom by Andrew Kreisberg ***
6. Amazing Spider-Man: Spider Verse by Dan Slott ****
7. Morning Glories: Assembly by Nick Spencer ***
8. Thor Volume 1: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron ****
9. Uncanny X-Men Volume 5: The Omega Mutant by Brian Michael Bendis ***½
10. All-New X-Men Volume 6: The Ultimate Adventure by Brian Michael Bendis ***½
11. Death Note Volume 1 by Tsugumi Ohba ****½
12. Saga Volume 4 by Brian K Vaughan ****
13. Death Note Volume 2 by Tsugumi Ohba ****½
14. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan *****
15. Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin by Tim Siedell ***1/2
16. Superman: Earth One Volume 3 by K Michael Straczynski ****
17. Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi ****1/2
18. The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan ****
19. Death Note Vol. 3 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata ****
20. Death Note Vol. 4 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata ****1/2
21. Death Note Vol. 5 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata ****1/2
22. Death Note Vol 6 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata *****
23. Amazing Spider-man Vol 4 by Dan Slott ***
24. Batman: Endgame by Scott Snyder ****
25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling *****
26. Thor Vol.2 by Jason Aaron ***1/2
27. Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp ****
28. The Last Threshold by R.A. Salvatore ****
29. The Companions by R.A. Salvatore *****
30. Night of the Hunter by R.A. Salvatore ****
31. Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid ***1/2
32. Rise of the King by R.A. Salvatore ****
33. Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aarons ***1/2
34. Darth Vader vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen ***1/2
35. Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by R.A. Salvatore ****
36. Star Wars: Kanan The Last Padawan by Greg Weisman ***1/2
37. Star Wars: Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry ***
38. Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno ***1/2
39. Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray *****
40. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith *****
41. Star Wars Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka ***1/2
42. Star Wars Lando by Charles Soule **1/2
43. Star Wars Showdown on the Smuggler's Moon by Jason Aarons ****
44. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig ****
45. Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden **1/2
46. I Am Number Four: Rebel Allies by Pittacus Lore ***1/2
47. The Fate of Ten by Pittacus Lore ****

1. The Playbook by Barney Stinson *****
2. The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore ****
3. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin ****
4. Hunted by Kevin Hearne *****
5. Star Wars Crucible by Troy Denning *****
6. How to Train Your Dragon 10: How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel by Cressida Cowel ****½
7. I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore ****½
8. Gauntlgrym, Neverwinter by R. A. Salvatore ****
9. Neverwinter Book 2 by R. A. Salvatore ****
10. How to Train Your Dragon 11: How to Betray a Dragon's Hero by Cressida Cowell *****
11. The Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang ****
12. Star Wars: The Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka ****½
13. Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid ****½
14. Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller ****
15. The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore *****


Margaret's 2015 Reading by Original Year of Publication:
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass *****

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson ***½

Among the Tibetans by Isabella L. Bird ****

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad *****

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton *****

Antarctic Penguins: A Study of Their Social Habits by George Murray Levick *****

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather ***

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard *****

Random Harvest by James Hilton ****

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon ****

The Road Past Altamont by Gabrielle Roy ****
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney ***
Colossus by D. F. Jones ****

Edward Wilson's Birds of the Antarctic by Edward Adrian Wilson ****½

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut ****

The Fall of Colossus by D. F. Jones ***½

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes *****
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson ****

A Far Sunset by Edmund Cooper ****
Colossus and the Crab by D. F. Jones ****

Earth Has Been Found by D. F. Jones ***½
Shikasta by Doris Lessing ****

Terrors of Ice and Darkness by Christoph Ransmayr ****

The Blind Geometer by Kim Stanley Robinson ***

The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace

Quarantine by Jim Crace ***½

Surveyor by G. W. Hawkes ****

Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter **½

Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong ****

Antarctic Bestiary by Monika Schillat ***

The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier *****
Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht *****

Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West by Jeffery Paine ****

The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution by Dennis Danielson *****

The Last Bookstore in America by Amy Stewart *****

Buried Prey by John Sandford ****½ >
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen ****
The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman ****

Stolen Prey by John Sandford ****
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell ***½
The Walk Up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey ***½
Desolation Road: A Short Story by Andrew E. Kaufman ***½
Zoo by James Patterson **
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers **½
Halbman Steals Home by B. Glen Rotchin ***

God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell **
March Book 1 by John Lewis *****
Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz ****
Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning ***½
The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness by Rabbi James Cohn
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith *****
Abstracts from the 2013 Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies ed. by Marcel Kuijsten ****
Half Way Home by Hugh Howey ****
Mars Quake by Jon Batson ***

Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes ****
Roots of Ancient Greek Civilization: The Influence of Old Europe by Harald Haarmann ***½
The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim ***½
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong *****
Lila by Marilynne Robinson *****
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher ***½
The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder by Peter Zeihan ****½
Glitch: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
Second Suicide: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
The End is Nigh ((The Apocalypse Triptych Book 1) ***½
The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2) ***½
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert ****
Silkworm by Robert Galbraith ****
Red Rising by Pierce Brown *****
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin ****½

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill ****½
George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series by James Mann ***½
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ***½
Dinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo ****½
Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon ***
Gathering Prey by John Sandford ****½
March: Book Two by John Lewis *****
The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka ****
The Box: A Short Story by Hugh Howey ****
Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith ****
Trust No One by Paul Cleave *****
The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 3) ****½
Seveneves by Neil Stephenson *****
Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton *****
Act of God by Jill Ciment ***½
The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich **
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates ****
What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas ****
City of Echoes (Detective Matt Jones) by Robert Ellis ***½
Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade ****
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson ****
Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne ***½
Saturn Run by John Sandford ****
Golden Son by Pierce Brown ****
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz ***
Make Me by Lee Child *****
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith *****
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin ****
The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons ****
Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig ****½
Beacon 23: The Novel by Hugh Howey *****
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson ****

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel ****
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout *****
Tears in the Grass by Lynda A. Archer ****
Miasma: (Star Trek: The Original Series) by Greg Cox **

Edited: Jan 13, 2015, 11:37am Top

Buried Prey by John Sandford ****½ 1/2/15

I've been rereading the entire Lucas Davenport series and find that I remember few of them. This is a good thing! I'm enjoying them all over again, and I'll be able to read them again in a few years and have the same experience.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher ***½ 1/9/15

A consistently amusing novel composed entirely of letters of recommendation and covering one year in the life of a jaded middle aged professor of creative writing who uses his sarcastic wit to more or less destroy the chances of even his favored candidates for grants, scholarships and jobs.

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill ****½ 1/10/15

A nasty subject (an online group devoted to child abuse and snuff films) handled in a way which makes the book one of the best in the series, as Simon Serrailler goes undercover in prison. Meanwhile, his family, which is a major theme in the series, faces possible legal troubles of its own when Simon's father is accused of a serious crime.

Edited: Jan 16, 2015, 9:13am Top

George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series by James Mann ***½ 1/12/15

Previous reviewers have commented negatively on the brevity of this book, but the entire American Presidents Series is meant to provide only very brief overviews of each president. As such, they usually succeed for the casual reader and for students. I've read a number of the books in the series, although this is the first time the subject has been so recent, or even within my own lifetime. My familiarity with the events covered has meant that not much of the information was new to me, and it was obvious that the complexity of modern life (and, therefore, of modern crises) does make such conciseness difficult.

I tried to discover the author's political leanings before reading the book. Although I am not a fan of GW, I have usually thought him to be well-meaning, so while I have my own opinion of his presidency I was open to new information and wanted to know where the writer was coming from. I've been able to find little, although he writes for the New Republic and Washington Post, so my assumption has been that he's right of center, although possibly not far. Thus I was surprised to see that this was not an apologia for Bush, and in some ways my own opinions were reinforced, especially that the tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq were catastrophic mistakes which cost the country dearly. But I did come away with a few insights into Bush's character and actions as President which made me see some of his decisions in a gentler light.

Mann portrays Bush as an average intellectual whose private school performance didn't qualify him for Yale but whose pedigree did. He didn't do particularly well there and spent most of his time drinking and pulling pranks. His endeavors after graduation didn't show him as particularly thoughtful or successful, either. But there was one area he excelled at: an understanding of political tactics. Aided by his new friend Karl Rove, he proceeded to help his father and then himself find just the right tones and actions to both put candidates forward (without actually giving many policy details), and put opponents in the worst light possible, sometimes by utilizing quite nasty methods. There is also some discussion of Bush's conversion to evangelical Christianity, which the author attributes to both a need for spiritual help and a means of wooing the far right to his father's and his own candidacies, although there is no light shed on how the rather vicious political tactics he used squared with his new outlook. The point here is that Bush's political abilities, not his capabilities as a potential president, gave him the edge over both Gore and Kerry.

The two terms are presented as night and day, with first-term Bush trusting his instincts to pick aides and leave them to make policy (in hindsight based on numerous faulty assumptions and few facts), and second-term Bush taking more and more responsibility for decision-making. I found this part particularly interesting, especially in light of his actions when the Iraq effort began to fail and the economy collapsed. Mann also spends time discussing the AIDS initiative in Africa, which has been hugely successful, and the ways in which Bush fought his own party in certain areas, including the expansion of Medicare into drug coverage, and later again, as he saw the inadequacy of traditional Republican doctrine for several areas in which the country was unraveling. Interspersed throughout are quotes from Mr. Bush and his aides on events while he was in office. There is also some blame given to Bill Clinton for the failure of the economy (relaxation of federal banking regulations).

All-in-all, this is a succinct and basic outline of Bush's administration, best suited for students and those with only a passing interest. There are numerous footnotes and a four-page bibliography for those wishing to delve further.

Stolen Prey by John Sandford **** 1/16/15

I found this Lucas Davenport entry a bit less interesting than usual. Bank fraud and Mexican drug gangs don’t interest me all that much, and there’s a side-plot involving Virgil Flowers that didn’t seem necessary, as much as I enjoy his adventures also. So, fun to read and essential for fans, but not the best of the best from Sandford.

Jan 13, 2015, 1:05pm Top

This is an interesting review and an interesting take on my most disliked president ever. Thanks for making me think about it.

Jan 13, 2015, 4:16pm Top

>4 auntmarge64:

Good review (you may want to fix the touchstone though - it is going to the other Bush book).

Edited: Jan 13, 2015, 5:33pm Top

>5 dchaikin: - Yes, he's my most disliked president so far, too, although most of the presidents I've read about were from Washington through Grant. But of those I've been adult for, GW is among the very lowest in my personal estimation.

>6 AnnieMod: - Thanks for the heads-up on the touchstone. Usually I check as I go, but missed this one and have corrected it.

Jan 13, 2015, 7:50pm Top

>4 auntmarge64: While I enjoyed your review and it gave me food for thought, I'm still too close to the disliking to read it. Perhaps I'll start with earlier books in the series though.

Jan 13, 2015, 9:25pm Top

>8 nancyewhite: I hear you! I took the chance because it was an Early Reviewers book and I thought, eh, get it over with, the book's short and I can add him to the list of presidents I've read about. This book and living through those 8 years ought to just about do it.

Edited: Apr 24, 2015, 1:05am Top

Lila by Marilynne Robinson ***** 1/25/15

"Gilead, the precursor to this book, is one of the most beautiful and memorable books I've read. It's narrated by John Ames, an elderly Calvinist minister in mid-century Iowa, in a series of letters to his very young son, whom he doesn't expect to see grow up. Lila tells the story of John's much younger wife, and it's every bit the equal to "Gilead" in its power. I will be haunted by these characters for years, and re-reading their stories, and keeping company with them, will be a welcome activity for me as time passes and I search for grace in my own life.

Edited: Jan 31, 2015, 1:10pm Top

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ***½ 1/30/15

Very tense non-stop thriller, but not one likable character, which left me wondering if I'm glad I read it. I'll be interested to read other reviews.

March Book 1 by John Lewis ***** 1/31/15

Book One in a trilogy of graphic books telling John Lewis' story as a Civil Rights leader. Very moving and educational, even for those of us who lived through the period.

Jan 31, 2015, 7:56pm Top

>11 auntmarge64: Very tense non-stop thriller, but not one likable character, which left me wondering if I'm glad I read it.

Don't you just hate when that happens? I just read a book — The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric — that left me with the same thought. There was everything to like about it except the characters!

Edited: Feb 17, 2015, 6:06pm Top

God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell ** 2/1/15

Sophomoric. This could have been such an interesting and amusing synopsis of what each book of the Bible says, but it's crude instead, and the cartoons add nothing. A great concept ruined by going for the cheap laughs.

Edited: Feb 18, 2015, 9:12am Top

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong ***** 2/6/15

When I began reading this book I started asking people if they thought religion causes violence. Invariably I received some version of this response: "Duh!......" So it was intriguing to have Armstrong begin her book by declaring the problem not quite so simple and proceed to give a long, interesting and surprising history of how religion and violence have been intertwined, although not always in a strictly causative manner. In short, what I think Armstrong is claiming is that because throughout most of our known history there has been no separation between the secular and the spiritual, even theoretically, therefore our communal identity (which included the political and religious) was the cause of conflict, not religion as a separate entity. Equally to blame for the beginning of organized violence was the agrarian revolution, c9000-8500 BCE, and civilization, with its need to support and control larger populations. Armstrong also examines the dilemma religions have faced pretty much as soon as they developed: "... if a ruling elite adopted an ethical tradition, such as Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, the aristocratic clergy usually adapted their theology so that it could support the structural violence of the state."

The scholarship is far-reaching and not quickly digested, but it is fascinating. Folded into the narrative are numerous digressions which add to the conclusion that the book's question requires a much broader range of scholarship than might be obvious. And there are some very interesting facts and events to read about, among them:

The first Crusaders, "psychotic" as they massacred thousands of Muslims and Jews, then celebrating their actions in Christian ceremonies.

The siege of Béziers in 1209 by the abbot of Citeaux in an effort to wipe out the Cathari, a popular Christian sect dedicated to poverty, chastity and nonviolence. When asked by his troops how to tell the heretics from the orthodox he had them kill everyone, leaving it to God to "know his own".

John Locke's introduction into the Western philosophical canon of "the myth of religious violence", as he pushed to separate religion and politics.

The Puritan leader John Cotton, exhorting his followers on the "principle of nature" which gave "vacant" land to those who would use it and justified unprovoked attacks on the natives as "a special Commission from God to take their land"; and the Puritans' highly selective use of bellicose Old Testament excerpts rather than the pacifist teachings of Jesus as they killed their native neighbors.

Early Virginia, where it was assumed that "all citizens should have the same faith and that it was the duty of any government to enforce religious observance".

The election of 1800, in which Jefferson was accused of being a Muslim. (Doesn't that sound familiar?)

Calvin's non-literal interpretation of parts of the Bible, including Genesis, and fundamentalism's turn to Biblical literalism and denial of science as a recoil from modern life, especially after WWI.

The introduction of papal infallibility - in 1870!

The change in Israelite belief towards monotheism - but not until 6th century BCE.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say this is one fascinating book and sure to interest anyone with curiosity about the religion/violence connection.

Feb 17, 2015, 6:08pm Top

The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim ***½ 2/7/15

A very brief but moving memoir of a childhood damaged by hate and violence. The author's father was El-Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and then, from prison, helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Ebrahim was 7 at the time of his father's arrest, and what followed was a childhood lost to confusion, fear, and poverty. As a teenager, Ebrahim was offered a job at Busch Gardens, where he finally was able to meet people of other faiths and ethnicities, and he made a complete break with religion, hate, and his father. In a moving final scene, an FBI agent who had worked on Nosair's case met Ebrahim and said she'd always wondered what happened to Nosair's children. Ebrahim's response: We are not his children anymore.

Feb 17, 2015, 6:09pm Top

Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes **** 2/12/14

Israeli violinmaker Amnon Weinstein devotes much of his time to restoring violins owned or used by Jews during the Holocaust. Some arrive with moving and remarkable back stories, and this book brings together a collection of these. The musicians portrayed run the gamut from world-renowned violinists to young people who can play just well enough to avoid death, if only temporarily. The stories are very interesting, but the most powerful aspect of the book is the banality of the evil perpetuated on these people. It's just one small sub-set of victims, but in some ways that makes the horror more immediate and incomprehensible.

Feb 17, 2015, 6:09pm Top

Roots of Ancient Greek Civilization: The Influence of Old Europe by Harald Haarmann ***½ 2/15/15

Academic essays aimed at showing how the melding of indigenous Greek populations with the later Indo-European influx formed the basis of classical Greek culture.

This book is aimed at a fairly select audience, one which is already familiar with current arguments over which cultures were contributory in the development of the classical Greek culture we credit with inventing democracy, history, drama, and other innovations. There is extensive referral to Martin Bernal (who favored an Afrocentric interpretation of the evidence) and to others who have proposed alternative reconstructions. Most of the evidence Haarmann produces is linguistic, and this is the heaviest going for the layperson. As a layperson myself, I cannot offer an adequate judgment of Haarmann's arguments.

The book is very badly edited. There are many missing or misplaced punctuation marks and a few missing and incorrect words. In some cases this changes the meaning of sentences, and, at the least, it forces the reader to stop and consider various meanings before choosing one and moving on. There is no credit given to a translator, which leaves me to think the author provided it himself. Unfortunately, it appears that no native English-speaker edited the finished manuscript.

Feb 18, 2015, 3:19am Top

Very interesting review of Fields of Blood. It's been on my radar and your comments have me thinking I need to get to it sooner rather than later.

Feb 18, 2015, 9:12am Top

>18 RidgewayGirl: I read it on my Kindle - it took me several months because I kept getting sidetracked looking up references.

Feb 18, 2015, 9:36am Top

I'm reading Lila now. I can't say I mind it, but so far there doesn't seem to be much to it. I'm only on page 90.

A lot of interesting books you have been reading. Fields of Blood leaves a lot to think about, but I don't think i could read another book by Karen Armstrong. The Terrorists Son sounds fascinating.

Feb 18, 2015, 11:04am Top

>20 dchaikin: I hope Lila gets better for you! Gilead will always be my favorite, but I was so delighted to get back to that family.

I do like Karen Armstrong. I've read A History of God and The Great Transformation and have Islam: A Short History and The Battle for God (about fundamentalism) ready to go.


And now for something completely silly that can be read in an hour:

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell ***½ 2/18/15

Feb 18, 2015, 4:08pm Top

I lived the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. I was asked for a "T dictionary" and managed to find them a thesaurus. I was yelled at by the woman who asked for Oliver Twist by David Copperfield and thought I was an idiot for handing her the one by Charles Dickens. And I was called a feminizi by admitting that I hadn't read Rush Limbaugh's fine book and didn't plan to, but that it was selling very well. Good times.

Feb 18, 2015, 6:19pm Top

>22 RidgewayGirl: Yup, I imagine living it wouldn't be nearly as much fun as reading about it. The book was pretty funny.


Terrors of Ice and Darkness by Christoph Ransmayr **** 2/18/15

I'm an enthusiast of Antarctic fiction and non-fiction and have rarely ventured into Arctic literature. That may change now. Although there is an awkward unnamed narrator and a second story wrapped around the central narrative, the majority of the book is a superb re-telling of the Payer-Weyprecht (Austro-Hungarian North Pole) Expedition of the 1870s, when nations were still trying to find a Northeast or Northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. After two winters trapped in a ship ice-bound near the 80th parallel, the officers and crew abandon the ship and proceed to walk and row (when open water is finally reached) for several months to get to the uninhabited island of Novaya Zemlya, hoping to find a whale or seal-hunting boat which can return them to Europe. The narration is perhaps 35% excerpts from the journals of the expedition members, and the rest an evocative retelling (no dialogue) of the adventure.

Feb 22, 2015, 5:58pm Top

Antarctic Penguins: A Study of Their Social Habits by George Murray Levick ***** 2/22/15

A delightful account of the Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare during the 1911-1912 summer season of the Terra Nova expedition. Levick was a keen observer with a warm sense of humor and obvious fondness for the penguins. A particularly amusing penguin pastime he describes is "floe riding", in which penguins line up at the windward end of their land, cram as many of themselves as possible on a small floe passing by, ride it to the end or their land, get off, and march back up to catch another ride. Voilà! A penguin amusement park ride.

Although Levick's photos are not included in the Kindle version I read, they can be seen in the online version at https://archive.org/stream/antarcticpeng00leviiala#page/n7/mode/2up

Edited: Mar 5, 2015, 9:15pm Top

Dinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo ****½ 2/25/15

Although this sequel to "Breakfast with Buddha" and "Lunch with Buddha" can be read independently, the events will make more of an impact if read in sequence.

In the eight years since the events in "Breakfast", 50-something Otto Ringling has been battered: his beloved wife and dog have died, he no longer has his book editing job, and he's grown depressed and fat. When he visits his sister at the meditation center she runs with her world-renowned husband, Buddhist teacher Volya Rinpoche, she talks him into another road trip with Rinpoche because she's had a dream of them driving through the mountains together. Off they go through the American west, visiting tourist attractions, meeting locals, and traveling to towns where Rinpoche has talks scheduled: Rinpoche in his usual gentle and funny manner, dressed in his maroon robe, and Otto, alternately obsessed with worries and sadness and, along the way, learning from Rinpoche. Otto's sister has told him her young daughter is the next Dalai Lama, and Otto can't decide if she's a flake, which he's always thought, or whether there might just be another path, one he's approaching with Rinpoche.

Just a wonderful, charming and funny story, with a gentle ending which gives us a definite direction for Otto and (hopefully!) leaves room for another sequel. For the Everyperson as stuck as Otto, this is a delightful way to consider alternatives to staying on one's current path.

The Road Past Altamont by Gabrielle Roy **** 3/5/15

Mar 12, 2015, 1:30pm Top

The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder by Peter Zeihan ****½ 3/11/15

Americans can rejoice, along with folks in Australia, NZ, Mexico, Argentina, Angola, Turkey, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and a few other countries. For the rest, well, the 21st century is going to be either a struggle to stay stable (at best), a downward slide, or a complete collapse. So say history, geography and demographics, according to Zeihan, who sees American energy independence as a signal of coming U.S. withdrawal from its post-Breton Woods position as trade protector for the world. As the only surviving naval power, with little need for massive international involvement and little military threat to the homeland because of geography, the U.S. will have a few years while Baby Boomer demographics get sorted out and then have a fine future, while much of the world will return to the pre-WWII resource wars.

A really interesting book, geared towards the generalist and backed up with lots of facts and maps. It certainly made me aware of aspects of international relationships and geography to which I'd paid little attention. I saw this author being interviewed by Fareed Zakaria, so if you appreciate Zakaria's opinion, this will be a must-read.

Edited: Mar 25, 2015, 10:16pm Top

Surveyor by G. W. Hawkes **** 3/11/15

A gentle story of veteran buddies who accepted a post-college job with a rather shady foundation and have spent 30 years in New Mexico, drawing maps and banking a salary, never quite sure why they are doing this job. In one summer, their privacy is invaded by a team of archaeologists, a young film maker building a fake town to record as it is flooded in the fall rains, and a second young woman who seems to just hang about. Deeply suspicious of the newcomers, Paul and John's life begins to show cracks. Beautiful.

Random Harvest by James Hilton **** 3/16/15

Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong **** 3/18/15

Edited: Apr 22, 2015, 6:55pm Top

Descent by Tim Johnston ****½ 3/22/15

Nail-biting suspense, especially the last 100 pages. The beginning is much slower and focuses on the family members of the kidnapping victim, but gradually her story is interwoven and the two threads begin to come together for the finale. There are a couple of niggling loose ends which should have been taken care of, none of which I can mention without giving away too much, but although they're irritating, they don't take away from the intensity of the story.

Mar 30, 2015, 5:58pm Top

Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz **** 3/26/15

Nawaz is a British man of Pakistani descent who turned to Islamism in his teens and was a successful recruiter for the international Islamist (not terrorist) organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Later, during 5 years in an Egyptian prison, he rethought his position and after returning to England co-founded Quilliam, a group which works to turn people away from extremism.

Nawaz is very blunt about his success in turning disenchanted Muslims to HT as well as recruiting numerous radicals, most notably the man who killed Daniel Pearl. His time in prison is sometimes nail-bitingly tense, especially the time he spent in the Egyptian equivalent of the Lubyanka, where he witnessed, and expected to receive himself, repeated torture. The last sections of the book, in which he describes the founding and purpose of Quilliam, could have been greatly condensed.

I had mixed feelings after reading this. It's certainly interesting, especially for a Westerner and non-Muslim who questions the hold extreme Islam has taken among young people living in Europe and North America. Perhaps I read too few autobiographies, but I just got tired of Nawaz's voice. Still, it's a story of great value to read and I encourage others to pick it up from their library and check it out.

Mar 30, 2015, 5:59pm Top

Quarantine by Jim Crace ***½ 3/27/15

A story of Jesus's time in the wilderness, beautifully written but with a very unpleasant character at the center of it and with Jesus largely an unseen presence. The imagined landscape is quite affecting, though, and the bleakness of the life and the position of women in the society seems plausibly horrifying.

Edited: Apr 3, 2015, 11:19am Top

The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier *****

A beautiful book, more a collection of related stories than a novel, which begins the day a 7-year old girl vanishes from her yard. This is not a novel of suspense: there are no leads in the case and Celia is never seen again. The father, a professional writer who is unable to write for several years after, is the fictional author of the book, in which he tells his own story and makes up stories from the viewpoints of his daughter, his wife, and others. Several of the tales are gentle versions of what might have happened that morning, and one is about an adult woman who can't remember her childhood before age 7. Two or three are fairy tales, almost. Yes, there's a sadness underlying the book, of course, but the stories are so compelling and the writing so gorgeous that I think most readers would count themselves lucky for having found it.

Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter **½ 4/3/15

Apr 4, 2015, 3:16pm Top

I read Kevin Brockmeier's A Brief History of the Dead and thought it was brilliant. Thanks for reminding me to read more by this author.

Apr 4, 2015, 4:26pm Top

> 32 Oh, I loved TBHOTD too! He doesn't seem to publish all that much, unfortunately.

Apr 5, 2015, 10:01pm Top

Interesting books, here. I'd be tempted to read Random Harvest if I were to find a copy. I liked the cover on your copy more than the film-inspired.

Edited: Apr 6, 2015, 6:13pm Top

>34 edwinbcn: The book and film of Random Harvest are quite different - not in the specifics but in the way the story is told. The book is told by a man who befriends the main character, an important industrialist and politician in England. The main character had a three year memory lapse caused by a head injury in combat during WWI, but after another head injury he regains the earlier memories but has no recollection of where he's been. He becomes obsessed with the missing years. The film, OTOH, starts with the missing years, and then goes on to his life after he regains his old memories. The suspense either way is whether he will ever be able to join the two parts of his memory and have a fulfilling life. I loved them both,

Apr 8, 2015, 9:15pm Top

Edited: Apr 26, 2015, 10:56pm Top

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard ***** 4/13/15

Magnificent, and easily deserving of its frequent praise as the best of adventure and exploration stories.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard (known as "Cherry") was 24 when he was invited to join Robert Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic expedition (1910-1913). The expedition, comprised of scientists and support staff, was formed to do extensive research and, as a bonus, and a major reason given in fund-raising efforts, to try to reach the South Pole, which had never been done. The first third of the book tells of the voyage to Antarctica in a dangerously unfit ship and the first summer in Antarctica, building a hut and sledging farther and farther into the Antarctic interior to lay depots of supplies for the Pole effort the following year. During this time the men built up their endurance, practiced sledging techniques, became familiar with each other's strengths, and adjusted to life in close quarters, endless bitter cold and storms, and life in 24-hour darkness. They also proceeded with their various scientific enterprises. The middle section, the actual Worst Journey, describes the winter sledging trip Cherry took with Birdie Bowers and Edward Wilson to an emperor penguin breeding ground to bring back embryos for study. The trip was done almost entirely in darkness in temperatures of -30 to -40F, and it almost killed the three of them. Nights were spent in frozen sleeping bags, the men shivering so hard their teeth cracked. Waking hours meant trying to travel a few more miles in frozen clothes. They just managed to make it back to their hut, weak and sick, and there is a famous photograph of them on their return after weeks in such conditions: (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/Return_of_Wilson_Bowers_Cherr...).

Wilson and Bowers, two of Cherry's best friends, survived that journey only to die the following summer after they were chosen to join Scott for the final push to the Pole. Much of the last section of Cherry's book is heart-breaking, relating the preparations for and much of Scott's run for the Pole, in which he was joined by Bowers, Wilson, Titus Oates, and Seaman Evans. Accompanied on the trip out by three other sledging parties who laid supply depots along the way, the five left behind the last of the other parties about 180 miles from the Pole and did get there, only to find that the Norwegians had beaten them. It was still an extraordinary achievement, but one they would not live to enjoy. On the return trip, Evans died from scurvy and a head injury; Titus became gangrenous and famously left the tent during a blizzard with the words "I'm just going outside and may be some time", hoping his sacrifice would give the others a chance to survive until the next depot. But Scott, Wilson and Bowers became trapped in their tent by a blizzard which lasted for over a week, and they died in their sleeping bags, lying next to each other. They were only 11 miles from the next big depot and almost home. It's interesting and enlightening to read the descriptions of how the line of command was followed closely, with any other method of decision-making being untenable in such dangerous circumstances. Cherry made a last-ditch attempt to take supplies to One-Ton Depot (the depot which Scott's party died so close to), but with no idea of where they might be stuck in the 900-mile expanse between camp and the Pole, he was ordered to return, since winter was closing in. Cherry describes the anguish of the party waiting in camp and finally acknowledging that the Polar party had to be dead. This second winter found them depressed and guilt-ridden, wondering what they could have done to bring about a different ending. When they were finally able to set out on a sledging trip in the spring, planning to travel about 2/3 of the distance to the Pole (after which they would not be sure of the path Scott might have taken), they were appalled to be out for only a few days before finding the tent.

I spent months reading this because I kept being pulled away to read parts of Scott's diary, or Cherry's biography, or to watch documentaries or read up on various techniques used in the expedition. Reading the book on the Kindle was a major help for understanding both polar terms and old British phrases, although the free version had no maps or illustrations, so I kept my tablet and several other books handy. Many of the people described in the book were major players in their fields, and Cherry was able to use diaries, letters, photographs and artwork from both deceased and surviving members of the expedition. More than in any other book I've read about the Antarctic, this one gave me a profound appreciation for the experience of early Antarctic exploration and the suffering endured by these men for the sake of science. Cherry was devastated by the loss of his friends and damaged physically by his own trials. His deep emotional reaction to his experiences makes the people and landscape come alive for the reader. For anyone interested in human drama, exploration, high adventure, history, or the Antarctic, this is highly, highly recommended.

Edited: Apr 22, 2015, 2:00pm Top

And now for some less superb reads...

Antarctic Bestiary by Monika Schillat *** 4/17/15

Rather uninspiring, unfortunately.

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather *** 4/20/15

What a disappointment this book was. I've loved just about all the Cather I've read, even minor works, but this seemed endless, and after about 80% I realized I just didn't care what happened to the characters and so quit.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson ***½ 4/22/15

Apr 22, 2015, 2:04pm Top

You quit 4/5ths of the way through a book? I'm impressed. If I hit the halfway mark and realize the book's a dud, I still have to keep reading (sometimes just for the joy of the revenge review). I really should try to ditch the book I'm reading now...

Apr 22, 2015, 6:09pm Top

>39 RidgewayGirl: I kept thinking, "Well, it's Cather, it has to get better", but it never did. I did take a look at the ending to see if I'd made a mistake but, no, I hadn't. My advice usually is to give it up early, but you know how every now and then you can't quite make up your mind?

Apr 24, 2015, 9:35am Top

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton ***** 4/23/15

A little gem. Boy, could this woman write! I stayed up well past bedtime last evening turning pages (on my Kindle) to see what happened.

Apr 26, 2015, 12:30pm Top

I love Wharton. I really should read something by her soon. I still have lots unread. Maybe Ethan Frome should be the one.

Apr 26, 2015, 5:36pm Top

>42 NanaCC: I've never read Wharton before but gave this a chance because it was short. It's also not about the mores of the upper classes, which I wasn't in the mood for. What else of hers have you read that you'd particularly recommend?

Apr 28, 2015, 9:19am Top

The Custom of the Country is my favorite. But The Age of Innocense and The House of Mirth are excellent, as well. I'm sure just about anything she wrote is worth reading.

May 1, 2015, 10:08pm Top

>44 NanaCC: I'll check out House of Mirth - don't know the story at all.

May 1, 2015, 10:23pm Top

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad ***** 5/1/15

I thought for sure I'd hate this, given the racist language and the locale, which doesn't interest me. Instead, it was wonderful. A British man, yachting with friends on the Thames, tells them of a time when he took a job running a rundown boat up the Congo River. The central character to his mind is Kurtz (the character played by Marlon Brando in the film adaptation called "Apocalypse Now"), but to me it was the land and the narrator's reaction to his surroundings. There is a marvelous discourse early on about sailors being basically homebodies, because wherever they go their home is with them and they rarely leave it. And then there are his observations on the cannibals he hires to run the boat - as opposed to the whites on the boat, whom he thinks stupid and incomprehensible. And, of course, there are the words he hears on a dying man's lips: "The horror! The horror!". Just brilliant writing.

Gathering Prey by John Sandford ****½ 5/1/15

A another winner in the Lucas Davenport suspense series, and an interesting decision for Lucas, the consequences of which readers will be anxious to follow.

May 2, 2015, 12:23pm Top

>46 auntmarge64: Just getting caught up on your thread. Heart of Darkness is gripping, isn't it? Despite the entirely valid criticism leveled at its contents, Conrad's prose is beautiful.

May 2, 2015, 5:01pm Top

March: Book Two by John Lewis ***** 5/2/15

May 3, 2015, 9:16pm Top

>37 auntmarge64: terriffic review of The Worst Journey in the World.

Just caugh from way back. So, I was also intrigued by Radical, and your response to Ethan From and The Heart of Darkness. Nice to see someone have a positive reaction to HoD for a change.

May 5, 2015, 10:15pm Top

>49 dchaikin: I was delighted to have had such a positive response to Conrad and plan to read more of his work. Also, HoD was a great lesson in "you've seen the movie, you must read the book". So was Random Harvest, the book and movie so different and yet both so worth the time.

Edited: May 5, 2015, 10:19pm Top

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut **** 5/5/15

Haven't read this since the 70s and, of course, had little recollection of it. Pointed social satire, a bit dated now in approach, but at the time it was unexpected and packed a punch. And it's still silly, strange, and delightful.

Edited: May 10, 2015, 7:30pm Top

The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka **** 5/9/15

A very well-written thriller that loses its way in the second half and devolves into a Dan Brown lookalike.

A scientist finds replicable proof of something (a soul/spirit/essence) that differentiates humans from all other animals, causing an uproar and, of course, finding the dogma-ridden using it to push various agendas. Then it's discovered that even among humans there are those who do not share this quality. Right there is a huge plot that could be milked for a superb suspense novel, developing the significance of what such a finding would mean in our world. But the author, who seems not to know what to do with this, goes off on a completely different tangent and supposes the existence of other beings who become the focus of the story, which could be interesting but ends up diverting the plot completely away from its more original focus. There's lots to chew here, but it would be so, so much better if even a few of the repercussions of the story line were followed through completely.

Edward Wilson's Birds of the Antarctic by Edward Adrian Wilson ***** 5/10/15

Wilson, a physician and artist, made two trips to the Antarctic under the command of Robert Falcon Scott: the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) and the Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913), during which he died with Scott and others on the return trip from the South Pole. Wilson was considered an extraordinary naturalist artist, highly praised by Scott and others for his accuracy of scale and color, much of the work done indoors by oil lamp during the dark winters. This oversized collection of his bird drawings and watercolors includes a plate section of almost 100 pages as well as excerpts from his diaries, a brief biography and bibliography, and a discussion of his merits as an artist. A beautiful and moving tribute and a gift to all Antarctic and birds buffs.

Edited: May 26, 2015, 3:47pm Top

The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace **** 5/18/15

A beautifully written and evocative story of a disabled and disfigured boy who finds his calling in being a storyteller and a wanderer, always returning to his birth village, where the proud flint carvers and merchants have little use for someone who can't work. The tale takes place as the Stone Age transitions into the Bronze Age, causing life-changing events for the villagers.

The following four stories are Kindle Singles, available from Amazon.

The Box: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/23/15

Glitch: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/24/15

Second Suicide: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/25/15

The Walk Up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey ***½ 5/26/15


The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen **** 5/25/15

Edited: May 31, 2015, 8:34pm Top

Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith **** 5/28/15

Hugh Howey is a popular science fiction author himself, but here he is a major character, locked into (and kept alive by) a cybernetic contraption 150 years in the future. The main characters are two women sailing the ocean. One of them, one of the few humans still practicing the craft of authorship, believes she has found clues in books written in Howey's style by the 23rd century's mechanized author system but which she believes indicate he is actually writing the books and is alive. She has followed those leads to an island where the two take shelter in a hurricane.

Interesting characters, intriguing plot, and a mirror to Howey's own style. What a great tribute!

(At the time of this writing, the book is available for free on Kindle Unlimited.)


The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman **** 5/31/15

An engrossing first novel in a series of psychological suspense novels with an investigative journalist as the ain character. The plot here concerns his own family, as he uncovers a connection between a long-ago kidnapped child and his own abusive mother and politically-connected uncle. Another book for free from Kindle Unlimited, which I tried because my sister wanted me to, fully expecting to cancel after a month, but am now seeing it will be a keeper.

Jun 1, 2015, 10:06pm Top


The Box: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/23/15

Glitch: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/24/15

Second Suicide: A Short Story by Hugh Howey **** 5/25/15

The Walk Up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey ***½ 5/26/15

Desolation Road: A Short Story by Andrew E. Kaufman ***½ 6/1/15

Jun 4, 2015, 8:25pm Top

The Last Bookstore in America by Amy Stewart ***** 6/3/15

A delightful read for anyone who loves books, bookstores, and libraries.

In an America where an electronic device has been taking the place of physical books (ahem), there are only 8 stores still in operation. The owner of one of these, in rural coastal California, has died and left his unorthodox bookstore and bizarre home and collections to a nephew who once spent a summer with him. The nephew and his wife drive up to assess the situation and get drawn in, despite themselves, unaware that the bookstore is kept profitable due to the efforts of the uncle's girlfriend and the unusually powerful, uh, "produce" of her secret garden. Part comedy of errors, part light-hearted suspense, part commentary on the loss of the paper-printed word. Just delicious fun.

Jun 5, 2015, 10:23am Top

>56 auntmarge64: The Last Bookstore does sound like fun. As much as I love my Kindle, I do love a print book with a great cover.

Jun 5, 2015, 3:50pm Top

>57 NanaCC: Oh, me too, on both counts. I usually have a couple of print books and a couple of Kindle books going at the same time.

Edited: Jun 18, 2015, 9:32am Top

The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution by Dennis Danielson ***** 6/11/15

A fascinating biography of the father of trigonometry, the man who convinced Copernicus to publish his ground-breaking work "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" and then spent his life promoting it. Rheticus (1514-1574) was an inveterate traveler who couldn't stay in one university post for long before disappearing for a year or two to follow some scientific quest. As a young man he journeyed across Europe to meet Copernicus, whose ideas had caught Rheticus' imagination because they suggested a solution to the multitude of irregularities in Ptolemaic astronomy. Because of Rheticus' persistence, heliocentrism eventually became accepted science.

But this book is much more than a simple biography, and the reader learns about the extensive intertwining of medicine, astronomy and astrology; medicine and the beginnings of toxicology (the teaches of Paracelsus); the effects of religion on just about every aspect of science (mining, for instance, was considered blasphemous because it represented digging in the bowels of Mother Earth, the region of the devil); the laborious political, religious and logistical processes involved in publishing; and the stupendous effort of decades of hand-written calculations required to produce trigonometric tables (out to the 10th or 15th decimal!) required to prove Copernicus' theories. And, of course, there is the ever-present bickering and machinations among the (primarily) Protestant schools over minute disagreements in theology which often affected patronage, friendships, and even survival.

Entertaining, informative, and very well-written, with interesting reproductions of various documents and title pages and lengthy notes.

Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning ***½ 6/17/15

Edited: Jun 21, 2015, 11:49pm Top

Trust No One by Paul Cleave ***** 6/21/15

Were you unable to put down "Before I Go to Sleep"? Well, this one is for you. The subject, characters and outcome are nothing like BIGTS, but, oh, the plotting!

Henry, a 49-year old crime writer, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and deteriorates quickly. Around him people are dropping like flies, and more and more evidence points to him. He doesn't believe he's a murderer, but he does have lengthy blackouts, and there is that bloody shirt and knife, and jewelry from the murdered women, found in his possession. On the other hand, he clearly remembers one murder and owns up to it, only to be told he's confessing to a crime which happened to one of his fictional characters. Can he trust himself or anyone around him? Who will believe anything he says? And if he's not the killer, then the killer is still roaming free.

Told in alternating chapters from Henry's Alzheimer's journal and a third-hand account of current events, this is a nail-biter, and while the Alzheimer's might scare off some readers, I do urge you to give it a shot. I've had family members with, variously, vascular and Parkinson's dementia, and this is not a topic I often wish to revisit. But in this setting it was refreshing (if a little scary) to read of how one very creative man tries to decipher his life with only very uncertain memories to guide him. Really highly recommended.

(Borrowed from NetGalley.com)

Jun 21, 2015, 7:27pm Top

>60 auntmarge64: Oh, that one sounds like a winner! I think it's going on my wishlist.

Jun 21, 2015, 11:50pm Top

>61 bragan: I realized I meant "Before I Go to Sleep", although "Gone Girl may be just as good (I haven't read it....).

Jun 22, 2015, 8:54pm Top

>62 auntmarge64: That's OK, I'm still interested! Although Before I Go to Sleep is still sitting on my TBR shelves.

Jun 22, 2015, 10:17pm Top

>63 bragan: - You'll love it! Quite a page-turner, and a satisfying surprise ending.

Edited: Aug 20, 2015, 11:01pm Top

Seveneves by Neil Stephenson ***** 7/3/15

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton ***** 7/6/15

Zoo by James Patterson ** 7/8/15

Pretty awful - almost no plot or characterization, repetitive writing, and way longer than needed. The TV show was entertaining for an episode or two but overall was equally awful.

Jul 17, 2015, 3:34pm Top

An interesting trilogy of new apocalyptic short stories by some well-known authors, including Hugh Howey, Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu, Carrie Vaughn, Mira Grant, Jamie Ford, Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Robin Wasserman, Nancy Kress, Charlie Jane Anders, Elizabeth Bear, Ben H. Winters, and Scott Sigler. Some of the stories have been written in three parts, one in each volume, so I'd recommend reading the books in order.

The End is Nigh ((The Apocalypse Triptych Book 1) ***½ 7/13/15

The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2) ***½ 7/17/15

The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 3) ****½ 6/23/15


And speaking of an apocalypse, there's this non-fiction award winner on the effects wrought by the most successful invasive species of all time: us.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert **** 7/17/15

Jul 17, 2015, 4:17pm Top

I'm about half way through the audio book of The Sixth Extinction and finding it fascinating.

Edited: Jul 17, 2015, 10:02pm Top

>67 japaul22: I listened to the audio book, too. The narrator was quite good, I thought.

Edited: Aug 20, 2015, 11:02pm Top

Act of God by Jill Ciment ***½

I loved two previous books I read of Ciment's (Heroic Measures and The Tattoo Artist, one of the most horrifying books I've ever read), but this one didn't do it for me. Elderly twins find a luminescent mold growing in their apartment and can't get the landlady to deal with it. But when the landlady, who lives upstairs, calls the police to report a break-in, they find it growing in her part of the house too and all the characters are forced to evacuate. Over the next few weeks their lives change drastically as the true nature of the mold is revealed and their intertwined fates take unexpected turns. Sounds like an interesting premise, but there are just too many loose ends left hanging for my taste.

Jul 20, 2015, 7:08am Top

Catching up. Terrific review of Trust No One. And I just added the book on Rheticus, The First Copernican, to my wishlist.

Edited: Aug 1, 2015, 4:28pm Top

Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West by Jeffery Paine **** 7/29/15

A really interesting look at the people who "discovered" Tibetan Buddhism when it was still an unfamiliar philosophy in a little-known and inaccessible place, and then the explosion of interest after the Dalai Lama was forced from Tibet by the Chinese invasion. The author clearly sees the displacement of Tibet's religious elite and the diaspora to the West as a huge and beneficial change for both the religion and the rest of us.

The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich ** 7/30/15

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates **** 7/30/15

What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas **** 8/1/15

A delightful memoir from a sixty/seventy-something writer. Funny and touching, these little vignettes gave me many aha! moments of recognition, sometimes leaving me laughing out loud. Other, quieter entries reflected on the difficult aspects of aging: illness of one's own or of a loved one; fears of dying and death; physical changes. This is also the story of the author's 30-year friendship with a man and it's survival despite a painful betrayal. Three of my favorite moments:

"...I look at the photograph Jennifer took of me sitting on a stool next to her twins, and really, from the back, it looks as if I have an open umbrella concealed under my skirt. How did that happen?"

"...when it gets dark, I'm off the hook. The day is officially rolled up and put away. I'm free to watch movies or stare at the wall, no longer holding myself accountable for what I might or might not have gotten done because the time for getting something done is over until tomorrow."

and Abigail's realization that, used at the beginning of a sentence, "Yo" and "Like" are punctuation marks.

Aug 3, 2015, 4:39pm Top

City of Echoes (Detective Matt Jones) by Robert Ellis ***½ 8/2/15

Way, WAY over the top suspense featuring a newly-promoted detective in Los Angeles who finds himself getting in deeper and deeper as he begins to suspect other cops of being the killers he's trying to find. It's exciting and a fast and pulse-pounding story, but geez, this could have been two or three entries in a series and been just as enjoyable. Sort of like eating rich desert after rich desert and making oneself a bit sick.

Edited: Aug 22, 2015, 5:14pm Top

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade **** 8/9/15

The disturbing story of a Jewish-American orphan told in alternating timelines, one during her childhood (post-WWI) and the other in the 1950s, when she comes face-to-face with the doctor who did radiation experiments on her in the orphanage.

After her father kills her mother and disappears, 4-year old Rachel and her brother Sam are institutionalized and separated, with Rachel being sent to the Hebrew Infants Home in Manhattan. While in isolation as a newcomer she is spotted by a young doctor yearning to make her way in a man's profession, and Rachel becomes the subject of several experiments, one of which leaves her body hairless for the rest of her life and puts her at risk for early cancer. As a nurse years later, she finds herself with a new patient: the very same doctor, now elderly and dying. Rachel has always believed the radiation was a treatment for an illness she had, but comments the doctor makes sends her to the medical library, where she learns the truth and plots revenge. Intertwined in both timelines is Rachel's' lesbianism, which is an interesting story in itself but unnecessary for the main drama and, because of that, feels forced.

The most difficult aspect of this book for the reader is that the experiments on the children are based on actual events, and it was sickening to read. The main character doesn't shy from the obvious comparison to Nazi medical "research", while the doctor is given a chance to state her case, which is partially to see the experiments as the children's way of repaying society for caring for them. Jeez....tell that to a terrified 4-year old who has lost all she held dear in life.

Well told, but perhaps not for the squeamish.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson **** 8/16/15

Robinson will probably never surpass The Mars Trilogy in its sheer weight of ideas and memorability, but "Aurora" offers some big new ideas on human interstellar travel which will burnish Robinson's reputation further. He's never developed a talent for characterization, and he can go on (and on) in developing his theories and the rationale behind them, but they are so worthy that the shortcomings sometimes seemed planned in order to focus the reader's attention on the points he's trying to make.

Here we have a multi-generational spaceship approaching its destination after 160 years of traveling at one-tenth the speed of light. Supplies are running low as mutations and devolution alter the ability of the ship to maintain a healthy balance between all the species producing and/or absorbing various by-products of other species. The slowing of the ship and changes in gravitational pulls from the looming star system they intend to colonize further stress all things living and mechanical. Still, the colonists are able to land a small party on the moon they intend to inhabit before matters turn more deadly.

The main character turns out to be the ship itself, whose quantum computer is trained to think and write a narrative of the voyage by a latter-day engineer just as the group arrives at its destination. As the years pass, ship does gradually take on a personality, and its own ruminations are fascinating to watch.

I'll say no more on plot but mention one of the ideas Robinson explores: the question of whether any species, having evolved within a certain set of factors in one solar system, can transfer to another system where they have no outside support or natural affinity. For instance, if the colonized planet or moon is dead (completely void of lifeforms), can it be developed quickly enough to support the colony before reduced supplies and, again, devolution, being about their demise? Or, if the planet or moon does have life, even at a cellular or viral scale, can the incoming species ever develop immunity quickly enough to avoid being killed off? These are the kind of questions Robinson is so good at illustrating and making the reader remember and think about long after finishing the book.

Edited: Aug 22, 2015, 6:58am Top

The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness by Rabbi James Cohn ****½ 8/19/15

In his "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" (1976), psychologist Julian Jaynes postulated that human consciousness as we know it (i.e., introspection) is a relatively new cultural adaptation to language and the written word. He traced the change, as evidenced in ancient writings (especially Homer and the Bible), as occurring over a period of a millennium or so beginning roughly about 1800 BC. During this time the internal commands originally interpreted as the voices of gods came to be viewed as an internal dialogue and the earlier commands to be codified in writing, thus ending the age of the prophets and direct (and new) communication with deities.

In this book by Rabbi Cohn, a supporter of Jaynes' theory, the reader finds the most succinct and accessible summary of the theory I've seen, as well as a closer examination of the Biblical writings Jaynes used in his proofs. There is also a very interesting discussion of tenses as used in the Old Testament, a usage in which Cohn sees a hint of the confusion early Biblical writers suffered in perceiving and expressing their new awareness of time, as introspection and self-awareness began to intrude on their old thought ways. Hebrew in the older parts of the Old Testament included a usage of the letter vav (waw) in which it reversed the tense of a past or future verb (the only two proper tenses in Hebrew). This was called the vav- (or waw-) consecutive or conversive. Vav/waw is usually translated into English as "and", but Cohn makes this point: "One of the amusements of translation is that so many sentences in the King James Bible begin with, 'And.' Yes, those sentences begin with the letter vav, but often vav does not mean 'and'. Instead, the letter vav is our mysterious friend, the vav-conversive." This is a subject I found particularly worthy of followup, especially in a world in which the literalness of the Bible informs so much opinion.

Another interesting statement: "Neither the New Testament nor the Mishnah/Talmud will admit that it is a new religion: both Christianity and Rabbinic (modern Orthodox) Judaism claim that they are simply fulfillments of the Old Testament. This is philosophically untrue (modern Orthodox Judaism has very little in common with Old Testament Judaism), but strategically effective (and successful, historically, in terms of survival)."

And there are questions about: the dramatic difference between the Western world's religions today and the religions of the Bible; the reason for the abrupt end to the time of the prophets; the lack of concern about the afterlife in the Torah and only minimal interest being shown in the latest books included in the Old Testament; and the difference in the classical Jewish and Christian ideas of God.

I have only one criticism, and that is that the book is too brief (only 77 pages). There is a lot here which could be expanded on, although thankfully there is an interesting-looking bibliography. (The book is currently available from Amazon for Kindle.)

Aug 22, 2015, 4:35pm Top

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith ***** 8/22/15

A superb change of pace from J.K. Rowling (aka Galbraith), who has made a smooth switch from Harry Potter to begin a meticulously-paced private eye series for adults. Her skill at characterization and plot is in full view. Wow, am I impressed! I've already downloaded the second in the series The Silkworm from my local library.

Aug 22, 2015, 4:49pm Top

I loved The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm. I hope she comes out with another one fairly soon.

Aug 22, 2015, 5:13pm Top

>76 NanaCC: I hear there's a new one this fall. Hurray!

Aug 22, 2015, 5:27pm Top

Aug 23, 2015, 3:10pm Top

It's out on October 20th. Not that I've been especially interested or anything...

Aug 23, 2015, 5:29pm Top

79: Riiiight.... :)

I just reserved it at my local, only 4th in line, surprisingly. Hopefully between now and then the ebook version will be added.

Aug 27, 2015, 10:43am Top

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith **** 8/27/15

A terrifically plotted sequel to Galbraith's (aka Rowling's) suspense debut "The Cuckoo's Calling", but the subject matter is rather gross (and I usually like dark suspense). All about the murder of an author whose final book was an over-the-top fantasy featuring his acquaintances' most secret sexual proclivities. Yuck - but so well written.

Aug 30, 2015, 7:05pm Top

Among the Tibetans by Isabella L. Bird **** 8/30/15

A late nineteenth century travelogue of a trip from northern India to Ladakh and back taken by an adventurous Victorian woman and her motley caravan. The Tibetans of the title are the ethnic Tibetans of Ladakh, an area currently part of the Jammu and Kashmir district of India and closely tied to Tibet culturally and religiously. Bird became extremely fond of the people during her journey of several months, and there are some beautiful descriptions of scenery and people, but also a rather condescending and racist attitude typical of Victorian age. Some of the party's adventures are quite vividly described as well, and they underline Isabella's extraordinary character in the tightly proscribed world of Victorian English womanhood.

Edited: Sep 6, 2015, 2:41pm Top

Unthinkable & Incomprehensible: Mind-Expanding Novellas from the Golden Age of the Pulps by Rog Phillips (no touchstones available) ***½ 8/31/15

Two short works by a classic sci fi writer of the 40s and 50s. Each deals with paradoxes in perception and are quite enjoyable to read. "Unthinkable", as well as several of Phillips' novels, are available for free on Gutenberg, and the two stories together are available for Kindle under this title, free at the time of this review (2015).

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney *** 9/5/15

Edited: Sep 22, 2015, 11:34am Top

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel **** 9/10/15

An addictive tale of humanity's discovery of a huge robot, buried thousands of years ago, the pieces of which start bursting to the surface of the earth when they come into contact with certain byproducts of nuclear science. The story is told entirely in interviews and reports, which provide a natural way to fill in details without seeming obvious. Most of the characters are quite bright, and their dialogues with the unnamed behind-the-scenes man who performs the interviews are witty and, quite often, delightfully sarcastic, because the scientists and others who interact with him rarely get any answers to their own questions. A fast-paced story which will leave the reader unwilling to stop reading for long.

(Publication date is April, 2016. Ebook provided for a NetGalley.com.)

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne ***½ 9/18/15

Edited: Sep 28, 2015, 6:19pm Top

Saturn Run by John Sandford **** 9/20/15

Part first-contact sci fi, part political thriller, and entirely fun to read. Sandford, the author of the popular Lucas Davenport suspense series, has found himself a whole new niche in which he will be successful, and the book is a natural for film, to boot.

It's about 50 years in the future and the US and China are still at it. China is building a ship to colonize Mars when a US observer notices an interstellar ship approach the rings of Saturn and park next to a previously unnoticed alien artifact. The US alters the space station and China repurposes its ship, and the race for first contact is on. Political intrigue between the two countries (and ships) is intense and leads to dangerous espionage and a desperate race. What they find is enough to change humanity's view of itself in the universe (although, truthfully, that aspect of the story isn't really addressed). The science is interesting (I can't judge whether it's accurate), and the story moves right along through preparations, the journey, and the discoveries made. Characterization is largely ignored here, but in suspense that isn't necessarily a negative. It's the action that's important, and here there is plenty.

(Prepub copy made available by NetGalley.com)

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers **½ 9/24/15

Halbman Steals Home by B. Glen Rotchin *** 9/28/15

Edited: Oct 19, 2015, 8:35pm Top

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout ***** 10/3/15

I read "The Color Purple" shortly after it was published and thought it was a perfectly written and rounded book. Nothing extraneous, nothing missing, just a whole package, expertly put together. That's how I felt reading and savoring this short gem by the author of "Olive Kitteridge" (which I couldn't get into but will try again) and "The Burgess Boys" (which I rated 4.5 stars.)

The narrator, a young mother and author, hospitalized for two months with a strange infection, is visited by her long-estranged mother, who stays by her bedside for five days. They spend hours talking about people and places they knew, carefully avoiding painful subjects, and years later the narrator uses the visit as a starting point for this memoir and reflection on her childhood in extreme poverty and the ways it affected her marriage, her mothering, and her view of the world.

Beautifully realized and a joy to read.

(E-book courtesy of Netgalley.com)

Edited: Oct 19, 2015, 8:42pm Top

Red Rising by Pierce Brown ***** 10/11/15

In a well-colonized solar system a few hundred years in the future, life is highly striated, and those who work and live in the mines on Mars are told they sacrifice so that the surface of Mars will some day be habitable for the hoards of crowded Earth. So it has been for generations, while unbeknownst to them Mars is teeming with life, and humanity has long ago moved as far as Pluto and its moons. A newly married miner discovers the truth and becomes the center of a plot to overthrow the caste system so that all can partake in the richness of life that is available to only a few at the top. Now, if I had read that synopsis I'd have thought this was a young adult book, but it definitely is not, although YAs will enjoy it too. The story is told in the first person and was exciting and interesting, and a delight for this Martian-fiction fan.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown **** 10/15/15

A sequel to "Red Rising" and almost as good, although it suffers a bit from being the 2nd in a trilogy and from an abundance of battle scenes. Still, I couldn't put it down and now look forward to the conclusion, "Morning Star", coming in February, 2016.

Oct 19, 2015, 8:40pm Top

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz *** 10/18/15

I found this sequel to The Millennium Trilogy fairly disappointing. It might be that it will take the author time to feel wholly comfortable with following up after a popular and deceased writer, but I'm not sure all these problems are a result. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo began rather slowly, and it took me several tries and lots of encouragement from other readers to make the effort to continue past the first few chapters, but once there, I was hooked and quickly consumed the series. So although this one began slowly, too, I gave it a shot and read about half way before calling it a day. The characters never came alive for me, even those from the previous books, and that could have been overlooked except that by about the 40% point a whole group of stock thriller complications began to weigh down the plot: the good cop and the bad supervisor, who won't listen to reason and has his own reasons for thwarting the investigation; the disabled kid, probably able to ID the bad guy but in the hands of an incompetent doctor for whom maintaining his reputation is more important than the clues the child is giving; the kid's needy mother who can't find her way to throwing out the violent boyfriend. All-in-all, by this point not worth the time I could be spending reading something I do care about.

Oct 20, 2015, 5:35am Top

It's good to be able to read a review of The Girl in the Spider's Web and realize that my general avoidance of books written after an author has died is one I can stick with.

Edited: Oct 20, 2015, 1:44pm Top

Make Me by Lee Child ***** 10/20/15

So after shelving The Girl in the Spider's Web I dove into the latest Jack Reacher novel, and what a breath of fresh air. Perfect Reacher, well done as always, with a bit of a twist at the end hinting at a possible change in Jack's lifestyle.

I've been lucky lately with both NetGalley and my library's ebook aquisitions. Another came in just as I was finishing Make Me: the third in the suspense series J. K. Rowling is writing as Robert Galbraith: Career of Evil.

Oct 20, 2015, 1:56pm Top

Well, the Reacher is next up for me, after my book club meeting tomorrow.

Oct 20, 2015, 2:38pm Top

It certainly is a great time of year for new books. I think you'll like the Reacher book.

Oct 20, 2015, 8:50pm Top

Abstracts from the 2013 Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies ed. by Marcel Kuijsten **** 10/20/15

I'm re-reading The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes for the third time (well, actually listening to it on tape this time), and in the middle stopped for this collection of tidbits for the Jaynesian junkie. The abstracts are so interesting I'll now have to order the CD of the actual presentations. I'm especially interested in what Jaynes's theory contributes to the understanding of the changes in religious experience over the last three millennium, but even more intrigued by what it suggests those experiences really were: right hemispheric commands perceived as outside voices (of a god, a king, an ancestor) before societal complexity made such an interpretation impossible to maintain. If you're interested, read Jaynes's book first, or check out the Jaynes Society webpage: http://www.julianjaynes.org/.

Edited: Oct 24, 2015, 9:53pm Top

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith ***** 10/24/15

Another winner in J. K. Rowlings pseudonymously-authored and very dark suspense novels starring private eye Cormoran Strike.

Oct 24, 2015, 10:05pm Top

I have my name on the list for Career of Evil at the library. I'm hoping to finish Trollope's Last Chronicle of Barset before they notify me that it's my turn.

Oct 25, 2015, 12:11pm Top

Better hurry on Barset, because you won't be able to put this one down. :)

Edited: Nov 8, 2015, 3:59pm Top

A Far Sunset by Edmund Cooper **** 10/27/15

For those who love sci fi of the mid- or slightly later-20th century, this is an entertaining and thoughtful story of the lone survivor of one of the starships sent from 20th century Earth in various directions to find what they may among the stars. After almost 20 years, most spent in hibernation, the 12 astronauts land on a vaguely Earth-like planet 16 light-years from Earth. There are indeed humanoids, and after several exploration parties disappear, Paul Marlowe finds himself prisoner in a primitive town where a god-king rules in absolute power for one year before being ritually killed and replaced. As he learns the language and makes a few friends, Paul seems to make somewhat of a life for himself until tragedy forces him to investigate an ancient myth about a structure which sounds an awful lot like a another starship.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin **** 10/30/15

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes ***** 10/30/15

The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons **** 11/8/15

Nov 9, 2015, 4:38pm Top

Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht ***** 11/9/15

A marvelous, dense, but readable history of religious doubt, from the earliest writings to the 21st century. I've been working on this for about 10 months, carrying it around on my Kindle and inching along, giving me plenty of time to digest between readings of other books. It's well worth the effort and has a large bibliography I plan to use frequently. Covers Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim doubt, among others, with Buddhism, of course, beginning as a religion of non-theists. There's lengthy discussion of the various schools of doubt, as well as analysis of our America's Founding Fathers, many of whom, especially Jefferson, were doubters or downright non-believers and specifically worded the Bill of Rights to ensure that religion would never again intrude on our politics. If only.....

Given the current international situation, with fundamentalism as a core issue, I was delighted to find mention of the modern author Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym), an ex-Muslim who wrote Why I Am Not a Muslim and who castigates Western society for not subjecting Islam to the critical method, as Christianity and other religions have been, and instead being afraid to criticize it. Something to think about.

Nov 10, 2015, 4:20am Top

>98 auntmarge64: Ooh, I'm happy to see someone who liked this one as much as I did! It's truly impressive to me how it manages to be both that dense and that readable.

Nov 10, 2015, 10:35am Top

>99 bragan: I've ordered Ibn Warraq's book and will be interested in what he has to say about the foundations of Islam. I'm one of those who have tried to give Islam a pass so as not to hurt peaceful Muslims living in our midst, but he's right - as a culture the West either doesn't look too closely or condemns outright. I'd also like to get my hands on a couple of the books Hecht mentions that examine the origins of Islam with a rigorous (i.e., critical method) approach, although both appear to be on an academic level: The Hidden Origins of Islam and "Early Islam: A Critical Reconstruction Based on Contemporary Sources" (no touchstone), both edited by Karl-Heinz Ohlig. Reading descriptions for these books on Amazon was shocking. I've done extensive (lay) reading in Christian scholarship - the type of stuff taught in seminaries but not often passed on to congregations, but it never occurred to me to do the same for Islam, and if this is what Islamic academia is discussing, it's going to be an eye-opener for many of us, Muslim or not. I'm hoping the Ibn Warraq book will give the basics so I can read the other books, or something like them, and be able to follow.

Nov 10, 2015, 9:50pm Top

>100 auntmarge64: There's no question that, in places like the US, taking a critical look at Islam is touchy and culturally complicated in entirely different -- and, for many of us, less comfortable -- ways than taking a critical approach towards Christianity is. And that's over and above the fact that there are fewer of us who are qualified to comment knowledgeably on it.

I'll be interested to hear what you have to say on the Ibn Warraq book when you get to it.

Nov 12, 2015, 9:56am Top

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass ***** 11/11/15

It's interesting how the story of one person can have a greater impact than the history of a people or event. In this extraordinary autobiography of abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass, we are given an intimate window into the everyday world of slavery, and it is ugly. I have read only one other book that made me feel so profoundly the lack of humanity and the evil of which humans are capable, and that was People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, in which he describes parents who, for Christmas, gift their surviving son the rifle used by another son to kill himself. Reading Peck's description of a truly evil person, it seems he could have just read Douglass' book:

(Adapted from Wikipedia):
- Consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets while being apparently normal with everyone else
- Commonly hates with the pretense of love
- Abuses political (emotional) power
- Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so
- Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency of destructiveness.
- Is unable to think from the viewpoint of his or her victim
- Has a covert intolerance to criticism

Douglass tells his story of being born and kept as a slave, and his escape to the North in his early twenties, in a style that highlights the evil he experienced and/or observed in Maryland:

- being removed from his mother's care by the age of one, with almost no contact allowed with her for the rest of his life
- being clothed as a child only in a knee-length shirt, summer or winter, and going naked if the shirt wore out before the annual clothing allotment
- having no provision for beds or bedding except for a single blanket
- routine rape of women to increase slaveholders' assets and wealth
- deliberate near-starvation of slaves, with stock animals being well-cared for and slaves whipped for any perceived lack of attention to the animals' well-being
- slaveholders' (both men and women) and overseers' enjoyment of frequent, repeated, and lengthy slave whippings, often for no reason than satisfaction
- old slaves being put out into the forest to fend for themselves
- the inevitable degeneration into depravity of whites who were new to slaveholding (thorough marriage, for instance)

The book skips over the exact method Douglass used to escape, in order to protect others and not give slaveholders any tips, but in his final autobiography, after the Civil War, he did give a detailed account. The book ends with him in New Bedford, MA, with a new bride and making his way among the wonders of freedom, irrespective of the hostility shown blacks by northern whites afraid for their jobs.

There's also an epilogue Douglass wrote to clarify his comments on the "Christianity" he observed in both the South and the North. It's not pretty. Ministers going home to rape, preachers spending the rest of the week whipping humans, respectable citizens spending their time finding new ways to force compliance, whether it be though intimidation, murder, or forcible separation of families. More than anywhere else, this is where Douglass expresses his anger.

Dec 12, 2015, 12:55pm Top

Tears in the Grass by Lynda A. Archer **** 12/11/15

A lovely meditation on aging, secrets, relationships between mothers and daughters, and life as a Native Canadian from the late 19th through the first six decades of the 20th centuries.

Feisty, independent artist Elinor is a 90-something Saskatchewan Cree who wants to find the daughter she bore as a result of rape at the white school she was forced to attend in her early teens. She's never told her family of the child, removed against her wishes within an hour or two of the birth. She doesn't know whether the child was given to someone or killed, but she feels it is still alive. She enlists the help of her daughter Louise, a lawyer long-alienated from her tribe and heritage and with her own terrible lifelong secret, and Louise's daughter Alice, a young teacher and closeted lesbian who is struggling with whether she will ever be able to share her life with her family. As Louise and Alice struggle to find a way to identify the now elderly child, Elinor takes things into her own hands, desperate to make this connection before her death, which she feels is closing in on her.

The voices are distinctive, even including a long-stuffed museum bison Elinor is working on drawing. At times Louise's and Alice's back stories pull the reader reluctantly from the drama of whether Elinor will get her dying wish, so the story is perhaps a little long, but it's still a wonderful read with memorable characters and settings. Highly recommended.

This was a Netgalley download. The book will be published in March, 2016

Dec 14, 2015, 10:57pm Top

Mars Quake by Jon Batson *** 12/14/15

An interesting premise rather breathlessly laid out, but for the Mars buff, a little something different.

Simultaneous and planet-wide earthquakes have affected Earth and Mars. An American expert on Mars is looking through her telescope at the time and sees the aftermath on Mars: an enormous artificial structure uncovered from the sands in which it's been embedded. She heads to Washington to bring attention to this proof of intelligent life on Mars (at some point in history) and makes the acquaintance of the book's main character and primary narrator: a Congressional aide with the ability to touch someone and discover how that person has been involved in his past lives. You may wonder what the Martian structure and the psychically-aware aide have in common, but that is the core of the plot.

The aide, in particular, is a very well-drawn character, but others I sometimes found interchangeable, and a couple (the aide's boss, a very stupid and greedy politician, for instance), are pure stock. And there are some very unlikely scenes that would never happen in real life: for instance, those in which the aide gets involved with world-famous astronomers who take his theories extremely seriously. This could be fixed if the reasons were fleshed out, but instead there are many small scenes which are hurried through and, voilà!, a fait accompli. The story wraps up pretty well. If you're a fan of Martian fiction, give it a try. Available in paperback or on Kindle, including Kindle Unlimited.

Dec 15, 2015, 6:51am Top

I'll keep an eye out for Tears in the Grass. Great review!

Dec 18, 2015, 8:50pm Top

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson **** 12/18/15

Ben Jones runs a one-man trucking company for short hauls along a deserted highway in Utah. He's totally broke, about to lose his truck and livelihood, and already mourning the loss of his life among the recluses and lost souls he's served for many years. Stopping at a turn-around one day, he decides to walk up the hill next to where he's parked and he finds a lone, deserted house he's never noticed before, where he stops to, ahem, relieve himself. When he looks up he sees a woman watching him from the window. A prickly and gentle friendship develops over the next few weeks, as Ben stops every few days to get a glimpse and, eventually, to talk. Meanwhile the lives of his other customers, all cranky, lonely, and with their own stories, intertwine with the mystery of this woman's presence. Suspense develops along the way, as strangers start arriving and making odd intrusions into Ben's life, all of them apparently connected with the woman in the house.

This is not a suspense novel, although it is suspenseful. It's a gentle story in which we get a feel for the people who live in such remote country. Told entirely in first person, the story develops slowly and steadily towards an ending which seems perfect, although perhaps not what the characters had in mind. Highly recommended.

Dec 19, 2015, 9:46am Top

Miasma (Star Trek: The Original Series) by Greg Cox ** 12/18/15

A short story puffed out to short-novel length, with an interesting premise based on the copper content of Spock's blood, but otherwise rather silly. For instance, stuck on an alien planet where persistent predators kill two of the six members of the landing party within a few minutes of their landing, and with injured survivors, they decide their best alternative is to walk 100 miles with no food, water, or useful weapons. Oh, and that 40C water they land in? That's 104F, and the human body would find that warm, not cool. OK, maybe Spock would find it cool. (Copy courtesy of NetGalley.com)

Dec 19, 2015, 10:27am Top

>107 auntmarge64: That sounds intriguing. You've tempted me with your review!

Dec 19, 2015, 5:27pm Top

>106 RidgewayGirl:
>109 RidgewayGirl:

I think you'll like them both. Now I'm reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Have you run across that one? Loving it.

Dec 20, 2015, 8:52am Top

Ha! I just realized that I took two book bullets in a row from you. I don't know why this surprises me, because it really, really shouldn't.

Edited: Dec 22, 2015, 6:56am Top

>111 RidgewayGirl: This might make it a hat trick if you haven't read it yet:

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin ****½ 12/20/15

A. J. Fikry own a small bookshop on a coastal island off Massachusetts. He's also a widow in his 40s, lonely, and trying to drink himself to death. One day a precocious two-year old child is left in his shop, along with a note requesting him to raise her, and soon thereafter the body of the toddler's suicidal mother washes up on shore. To his own surprise, A. J. agrees to raise the child, and, his heart opening, becomes friends with the local police chief (who starts a Chief's Choice Book Club) and then begins a slowly-developing romance with a publisher's rep who visits his shop several times a year. Each chapter begins with a recommendation for a short story for his daughter.

This is just delightful in general, but for bookstore lovers it's a real treat.

Available on Kindle Unlimited and, of course, regular print, electronic and audio formats.

Edited: Dec 30, 2015, 9:42pm Top

Earth Has Been Found by D. F. Jones ***½ 12/22/15

Shikasta by Doris Lessing **** 12/27/15

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon **** 12/30/15

Group: Club Read 2015

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