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AuntMarge64's Club Read for 2010

Club Read 2010

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Dec 26, 2009, 10:58am Top

Before January 1st I expect to finish Howard Fineman's Thirteen American Arguments and the introductory material to the Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, which is a group read for the next 9 months over at the 1010 Challenge (all are welcome to join the group read whether in the challenge or not). I've also started The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Fool Moon in the Dresden Files series, and Kidnapped. I'm very much looking forward to finding new additions to my TBR pile on this group.

Dec 26, 2009, 8:20pm Top

Hmmm . . . I hope Baron von Kindle did not present you with the Landmark Herodotus. His younger but more corpulent brother Sir D. Xerxes von Kindle has a much better edition.

Edited: Dec 27, 2010, 9:04am Top

My 10-year old niece and I are both keeping track of our reading here. This is our ongoing 2010 list of completed items:

1. The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham **** 1/1/10
2. The Dead Room by Robert Ellis. **** 1/3/10
3. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson **** 1/7/10
4. The Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark **** 1/8/10
5. Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment by Phil Zuckerman ****½ 1/11/10
6. Abandoned: A Thriller by Cody McFadyen ***½ 1/12/10
7. Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll **** 1/20/10
8. The Secret People by John Wyndham *** 1/22/10
9. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher **** 1/23/10
10. Pacific Avenue by Anne L. Watson ***½ 1/25/10
11. The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal **½ 1/27/10
12. Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham *** 2/3/10
13. Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell **** 2/4/10
14. Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg **** 2/6/10
15. Snow Angels by James Thompson ***** 2/7/10
16. The Fate of Katherine Carr by Thomas H. Cook ****½ 2/11/10
17. A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R. W. Day *** 2/14/10
18. Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies Table by Ted Dekker ** 12/16/10
19. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins ***** 2/23/10
20. Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer **** 2/25/10
21. Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund **** 3/4/10
22. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H. W. Brands ****½ 3/8/10
23. Ottawa Old and New by Lucien Brault ***½ 3/9/10
24. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****½ 3/15/10
25. Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland ***½ 3/18/10
26. Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer ***½ 3/22/10
27. The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason **** 3/24/10
28. William Henry Harrison: America's 9th President by Steven Otfinoski ***½ 3/26/10
29. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #3: Paragon by John Jackson Miller ***½ 3/27/10
30. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larrson **** 3/30/10
31. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson ***** 4/4/10
32. The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin **** 4/6/10
33. With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce **** 4/6/10
34. John Tyler by Gary May **** 4/10/10
35. I Heard the Owl Call My Name ***** 4/12/10
36. Backlash (Fate of the Jedi, Book 4) by Aaron Allston **** 4/14/10
37. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig **** 4/16/10
38. The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler by Norma Lois Peterson **** 4/29/10
39. Women in the Wall by Julia O'Faolain **** 5/5/10
40. 61 Hours by Lee Child ****½ 5/8/10
41. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson **** 5/10/10
42. Icefields by Thomas Wharton **** 5/12/10
43. The Good Son by Michael Gruber ****½ 5/18/10
44. The Paocher's Son by Paul Doiron **** 5/21/10
45. God is Dead by Ron Currie Jr. *** 5/23/10
46. How to Cool the Planet by Jeff Goodell **** 5/25/10
47. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know ***** 5/29/10
48. The Information Officer by Mark Mills **** 5/30/10
49. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Allies by Christie Golden ***** 6/2/10
50. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara ***** 6/4/10
51. City of Fear by David Hewson ***** 6/7/10
52. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway ****½ 6/10/10
53. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini ***** 6/14/10
54. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens ****½ 6/15/10
55. Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz *½ 6/16/10
56. Exiles on Asperus by John Wyndham ***½ 6/22/10
57. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields **** 6/25/10
58. Shadow of Ashland by Terence M. Green **** 6/28/10
59. The Cloud Book by Richard Hamblyn **** 6/28/10
60. The Cloud of Unknowing by Thomas H. Cook **** 7/1/10
61. Broken by Karin Slaughter ***½ 7/4/10
62. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths **** 7/7/10
63. Stickfighting by Olufemi Terry ***** 7/7/10
64. The Burying Place by Brian Freeman ***½ 7/11/10
65. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #4: Savior **** 7/12/10
66. Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten ****½ 7/16/10
67. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths **** 7/17/10
68. The Landmark Herodotus ***** 7/19/10
69. Time Among the Dead by Thomas Rayfiel **** 7/23/10
70. The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick **** 7/26/10
71. The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child **** 7/29/10
72. The Gourmet Cookie Book by Gourmet Magazine **** 8/1/10
73. Mawson: A Life by Philip Ayres ***½ 8/4/10
74. Red Leaves by Thomas H. Cook ***½ 8/7/10
75. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque ***** 8/11/10
76. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson *** 8/13/10
77. The Mark by Jason Pinter *** 8/15/10
78. Climate Change Science and Policy edited by Stephen H. Schneider ****½ 8/16/10
79. Prey on Patmos by Jeffrey Sigler *** 8/19/10
80. Two Rivers by T. Greenwood ***** 8/22/10
81. Tales of Wonder: Adventures chasing the Divine by Huston Smith ****½ 8/25/10
82. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins ***½ 9/2/10
83. The Museum Guard by Howard Norman *** 9/3/10
84. The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal ****½ 9/4/10
85. Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski ****½ 9/13/10 (Caitlin TBR Pick #1)
86. Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason *** 9/18/10
87. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman ****½ 9/20/10
88. One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni **** 9/24/10 (Caitlin TBR Pick #2)
89. Zachary Taylor by John S.D. Eisenhower **** 9/29/10
90. First Strike (Halo #3) by Eric Nylund **** 9/29/10
91. The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse *** 9/30/10
92. Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett ***** 10/4/10
93. Journey to Lhasa in Tibet (Silk Road Travel Series) by Brian Lawrenson *** 10/6/10
94. The Freshour Cylinders by Speer Morgan ****½ 10/12/10
95. The Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga *** 10/20/10
96. The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto ****½ 10/21/10
97. The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics **** 10/24/10
98. Worth Dying For by Lee Child **** 10/25/10
99. Room by Emma Donoghue ***** 10/301/0
100. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather **** 11/1/10
101. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson *** 11/3/10
102. The Valley of Light by Terry Kay **** 11/7/10
103. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer **** 11/9/10
104. Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About by Mike Kimel and Michael E. Kanell ***** 11/9/10
105. The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya ** 11/15/10
106. Bad Blood by John Sandford ***** 11/20/10
107. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt *** 11/26/10
108. Storm Prey by John Sandford ****½ 11/28/10
109. Tinkers by Paul Harding **** 11/30/10
110. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 edited by Freeman Dyson ****½ 12/1/10
111. The White Continent by Thomas R. Henry **** 12/9/10
112. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex by Troy Denning ****½ 12/10/10
113. The Holy Thief by William Ryan ****½ 12/17/10
114. Pavement Chalk Artist by Julian Beever **** 12/20/10
115. Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan **** 12/21/10
116. Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt **** 12/26/10

1. Poppy and Ereth by Avi. **** Very interesting, adventurous. 1/2/10
2. Taylor Lautner Magazine (a gift received at Christmas) 1/7/10
3. A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End by Avi *** 1/21/10
4. Red, White & True Blue Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman ***** 1/25/10
5. The Borrowers by Mary Norton *** 1/26/10
6. Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary **** 1/27/10
7. Trouble With Violet (Sister Magic) by Anne Mazer **** 2/9/10
8. Am I the Princess or the Frog? by Jim Benton **** 2/12/10
9. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater ****½ 2/15/10
10. Tink, North of Neverland by Kiki Thorpe ***½ 2/21/10
11. Kirsten Learns a Lesson by Janet Beeler Shaw ***** 2/25/10
12. Kirsten's Surprise by Janet Beeler Shaw ***** 2/25/10
13. Happy Birthday, Kirsten by Janet Beeler Shaw ***** 2/26/10
14. Changes for Kirsten by Janet Beeler Shaw ***** 2/26/10
15. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg **** 3/2/10
16. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan ***** 3/5/10
17. Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer ***** 3/22/10
18. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan ****3/15/10
19. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan **** 3/23/10
20. My Life In Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald ***** 3/26/10
21. Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper **** 3/29/10
22. Still Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper **** 3/30/10
23. Just Grace Walks the Dog by Charise Mericle Harper ***** 4/4/10
24. I, Lorelei by Yeardley Smith ***** 4/5/10
25. Prep School (Cinderella Cleaners) by Maya Gold **** 4/7/10
26. Miles to Go by Miley Cyrus **** 4/11/10
27. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan ***** 4/14/10
28. The Babysitting Wars by Candy Mimi McCoy **** 4/15/10
29. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell **** 4/16/10
30. Wizards of Waverly Place: The Junior Novel by Dan Berendsen **** 4/18/10
31. The Dog at the Door by Ben M. Baglio **** 4/20/10
32. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan ***** 4/25/10
33. Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest **** 4/27/10
34. The Cupid Chronicles by Colleen Murtagh Paratore **** 5/1/10
35. Bunny in a Basket by Ben M. Baglio **** 5/2/10
36. Marley, A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan **** 5/4/10
37. Phoebe the Spy (Phoebe and the General) by Judith Griffin and Margot Tomes *** 5/6/10
38. On Christmas Eve by Ann M. Martin ***** 5/7/10
39. Dear Dumb Diary: It's Not My Fault I Know Everything by Jim Benton ***** 5/8/10
40. Smile by Raina Telgemeier ***** 5/10/10
41. Red, White and Achoo by Nancy Krulik **** 5/10/10
42. Mad for Miley by Lauren Alexander **** 5/11/10
43. The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye by Bonnie Shimko ***** 5/12/10
44. The Last Best Days of the Summer by Valerie Hobbs ***** 5/13/10
45. George Washington's Socks by Elvira Woodruff **** 5/14/10
46. Finally by Wendy Mass ***** 5/16/10
47. Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson ***** 5/24/10
48. 11 birthdays by Wendy Mass ***** 5/25/10
49. Totally Boys edited by Anthony Burt *** 5/27/10
50. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: No Business Like Show Business by Nancy Krulik **** 5/29/10
51. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Doggone It by Nancy Krulik ****½ 5/29/10
52. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Everybody But Me by Nancy Krulik **** 5/30/10
53. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: My Pops is Tops by Nancy Krulik **** 5/30/10
54. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Karate Katy by Nancy Krulik *** 5/30/10
55. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Flower Power by Nancy Krulik ****½ 5/30/10
56. Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur ***** 6/2/10
57. How I Survived Middle School by Nancy Krulik **** 6/4/10
58. Rapunzel : The One With All the Hair by Wendy Mass **** 6/7/10
59. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: I'm Game by Nancy Krulik ****½ 6/8/10
60. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Bad Rap by Nancy Krulik ***½ 6/8/10
61. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Gotcha! Gotcha Back! by Nancy Krulik *** 6/9/10
62. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: It's a Snow Joke by Nancy Krulik **** 6/9/10
63. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Something Fishy by Nancy Krulik ****½ 6/9/10
64. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Free the Worms! by Nancy Krulik ***½ 6/10/10
65. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Open Wide by Nancy Krulik **½ 6/10/10
66. Can You Get an F in Lunch? by Nancy Krulik **** 6/11/10
67. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Be Nice to Mice by Nancy Krulik ***½ 6/11/10
68. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Going Batty by Nancy Krulik **** 6/11/10
69. Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle ***** 6/13/10
70. Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson **** 6/14/10
71. Magic Puppy: Classroom Princess by Sue Bentley **** 6/19/10
72. The Wedding Planner's Daughter by Colleen Murtagh Paratore ****½ 6/23/10
Caitlin's comment: I can really relate to Willa.
73. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling ***** (*****½, really!) 6/25/10
74. TTYL by Lauren Myracle **** 6/26/10
75. Katy Kazoo Switcheroo: Whirlwind Vacation by Nancy Krulik **** 6/26/10
76. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not So Popular Party Girl by Rachel Renee Russell ***** 7/1/10
77. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling***** 6/28/10
78. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling****** 7/5/10
Caitlin's comment: best Harry Potter book I've read so far!!!!!!!!!!:)
79. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling ***** 7/19/10
80. Nature Girl by Jane Kelley ***** 8/3/10
81. Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn *** 8/8/10
82. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling ***** 8/12/10
83. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling ***** 8/25/10
84. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling ********** 8/30/10 (Caitlin's comment: I would never have read this series if it hadn't been for my brother Ian and my sister Kristen.)
85. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares **** 9/2/10
86. The Loudest Beagle on the Block (Pet Trouble) by T. T. Sutherland ***** 10/10/10
87. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares ***** 10/11/10
88. Girls in Pants: Third Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares ***** 10/18/10
89. The Fall of Candy Corn by Debbie Viguie ***** 11/2/10
90. Mud-Puddle Poodle by Tui Sutherland ***** 11/8/10
91. Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb ***** 11/14/10
92. Willa By Heart by Coleen Murtagh Paratore ***** 11/15/10
93. Just Desserts by Hallie Durand ****½ 11/20/10
94. T.T.F.N. by Lauren Myracle ***** 11/28/10
95. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer ***** 12/5/10
96. L8R G8R by Lauren Myracle ***** 12/11/10
97. Who is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas by Martha Freeman **** 12/21/10

Jan 2, 2010, 12:52pm Top

How did you find The Seeds of Time? John Wyndham was one of my favourite authors as a teenager and watching The Day of the Triffids on TV over Christmas has made me think about re-reading his books, and I was wondering how well they have dated?

Jan 2, 2010, 5:32pm Top

>4 SandDune: I enjoyed it, gave it 4 stars. I've been on a mission to read all of his work. Most of it is hard to find, but we have an excellent ILL system, so I'm able to find them one or two at a time. In the last year I've read
Chocky, The Chrysalids, Consider Her Ways, The Infinite Moment, The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Outward Urge, Stowaway to Mars, Trouble with Lichen, and Web. They've just printed for the first time a novel he wrote about the same time as Triffids called Plan for Chaos, about clones and Nazis, I think. I hope to get a copy somewhere this year.

Jan 2, 2010, 5:53pm Top

I'm looking forward to a Herodotus read this year, albeit with the Salon (I think), but will look forward to reading your comments on it. And please tell your niece that we love Avi in my household!

Jan 2, 2010, 6:08pm Top

>6 theaelizabet: Thanks, will do! She called earlier to ask if anyone had commented on her participation..... She's an avid reader, and we go to the library and Borders frequently.

I'm finished with the introductory material to Herodotus and heading into the first book. I became tempted to read him when my nephew (Caitlin's 14-year old brother) came home with an assignment involving H's anecdote about the Phoenician (I think) method of practicing medicine by having the patient lie in the town square and ask passersby what they did when they had the same ailment. Delightful! Of course, we all had to role play a bit.

Edited: Jan 7, 2010, 8:25pm Top

The Dead Room by Robert Ellis 4 stars

I ran across Ellis last year when I saw his mystery City of Fire recommended. It was the first in a new series with a detective named Lena Gamble, and after giving it 4½ stars I searched out the sequel, The Lost Witness, and gave it 4½ stars also. The Dead Room is an earlier suspense thriller about a young civil attorney drawn into a gruesome criminal case in his first few months on the job. At first taking part as a favor to his boss, and certain of the accused man's guilt, he gradually begins to see all is not kosher in Denmark (as it were). His boyhood as the son of an innocent man accused of murder pulls him in several directions, but even as it becomes more and more clear that the physical evidence points towards his client, his due-diligence investigation uncovers anomalies he's drawn to question.

OK, it's a well-used scenario, but Ellis does it justice, and I found myself tearing through it, staying up way too late last night trying to finish it. There are a few rough spots, in particular several places where the details are told, rather than shown, and an ending that stretches a bit too long after the emotional climax is reached. Still, this is quite the page-turner, and with all three of these books now read recently, I'm very surprised Ellis hasn't burst onto the suspense-reading public's consciousness.

Jan 7, 2010, 8:24pm Top

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. 4 stars 1/7/10

I read Treasure Island last year and didn't enjoy it all that much. This book, though, was quite wonderful. While the end is about what you'd expect for a kids' adventure, the dialogue and dialect are beautifully put across, and there are unexpected plot developments to enjoy. Very glad I added it to my TBR list.

Jan 8, 2010, 10:40pm Top

Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark 4 stars 1/8/10

Since I'm working my way through John Wyndham's novels and short stories, and his book The Day of the Triffids is a classic, I thought I'd give this sequel by another author a try. The story begins 25 years after the end of "Day", at which point the hero, Bill Masen, had escaped to the Isle of Wight with his wife and young son. At the center of the action here is Masen's now-grown son, a pilot who finds himself in North America at the center of a fight between several groups of survivors. In Manhattan, a tyranny supported by slave labor allows half the island to maintain its pre-Blinding lifestyle, while scattered groups across the East Coast try to find a way to end the dictatorship and work together to rebuild human mastery of the world. Triffids are still evolving new abilities and forms, posing increased threats across the globe, but there are hints that some humans may be immune to their predation.

I found this book to be just as much fun as the original, with considerably more action, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the original or the movie made from it. I'd also be happy to read another sequel if Clark cares to carry the story forward.

Edited: Jan 12, 2010, 4:21pm Top

Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment by Phil Zuckerman 4½ stars 1/11/10

Reading this book reminded me of a conversation I once had with a psychotherapist acquaintance. I had asked her somewhat distractedly what she was planning to do for the holidays, meaning Christmastime. She looked at me rather strangely, and said, "Well, I'm Jewish. Christmas has no meaning for me at all. Christmas Day is like any other day for me. I'll read the paper, have breakfast with my family, and enjoy a day off." There was something so bland about the way she said it, that it really struck home how little one of the seemingly routine annual parts of community life can mean to someone who lives in the same society. I mean, I knew Jews didn't celebrate Christmas, but I figured that in a Christmas-crazy country such as the U.S., everyone was touched in some way. Apparently not.

I had the same aha! moment reading this analysis of the secular societies of Denmark and Sweden. In our own rich and self-touted "Christian" nation, we talk incessantly of faith, and of solving homelessness, poverty, hunger, joblessness, lack of health care, and illiteracy. Somehow, though, we don't fix those things. We talk the talk and then go off and pretend we've done our duty because solving such problems isn't really possible (right?), even in a country where faith would seem to be an overwhelming impetus to succeed.

Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, have almost entirely secular societies in which thoughts of religion, faith, God, and the meaning of life have little or no place in everyday life. Shockingly little, the author thought, and so did I as I read the book. And yet these two countries rank at the top or close to the top in all areas of social welfare, and certainly above the U.S. They have solved, for all intents, all the social ills listed above. With no religious nudging, at least of the type touted in the United States, they have transformed their society into what I've always thought should be a "Christian" approach to society: sharing resources so that no one suffers who need not.

In interview after interview with Danish and Swedish citizens, the author found a repeated disinterest in religion. Not rejection, but simple disinterest. Animated and opinionated in all other areas of life, subjects often fell silent or grew bored with the topic. The supernatural, it seems, is not a topic of normal thought there. Nor is the existence of the soul, the meaning of life, or existence after death. People who do have opinions on such matters consider them private, and discussing them is considered rude. One interviewee recounted a drunken evening during which a longtime friend asked if he could share a secret about himself. He was, he said, a believer in God. He was rather embarrassed talking of such a personal issue and hoped his friend wouldn't think him a bad person for his belief.

The author proposes various reasons for the secular versus religious natures of different societies. He discusses church monopolies and the need (or lack thereof) for marketing churches, the greater or lesser degrees of personal and national security, the percentage of working women (historically the family members with the most time and interest to devote to church activities and to getting their families involved), and the history of how religion came to be adopted in a particular society (i.e., from the top down or the bottom up). He then goes on to discuss secular religion, that is, people who define themselves by religion, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc., but who are not involved in religious activities.

The book closes with interviews with a fellow professor, first in his native Denmark, and then after a year spent in California. This fellow came to the U.S. believing himself to be a Christian and left having decided that if what he saw here is Christianity, then he wasn't a Christian after all. The author asks him, So when you go back to Denmark, if someone were to ask you, what would you say to them about the religion here?.... I mean how would you explain it to other Danes?" Here's the reply: I think I would say to them, maybe you don't believe me, but the American society is -- all politics and media discussions -- is based on that everybody is very devoted Christians. Meaning that you cannot hold an office, you cannot be a president, you cannot be whatever, if you don't publicly say that you believe in God and all of your sentences end with God bless America or whatever. That we, as Danes, have to be very, very careful with joining the United States when they want us to go to war or they want us to join them in whatever endeavors they want us to join with them, because the religious fanatics in the United States have a very, very high influence on what's going to happen in the United States, and I don't think Danes know that. I think that if Danes knew that, they would be very -- I don't think they would be afraid -- but I think they would say, "no, no, we don't want to be a part of that".

Apart from the eye-opening information on how secular a society can be, how successful a secular society can be at achieving social well-being, and how unnecessary religion is as the basis for civilization, this book offers important reading for Americans, who sometimes need to look outside our borders to see how the rest of the world operates and how we are perceived "out there".

Jan 12, 2010, 5:45pm Top

Hmm. I'd been vaguely thinking that I might be interested in Society without God, but your review has definitely added it to my wishlist.

Jan 12, 2010, 8:20pm Top

>11 auntmarge64: Sounds fascinating, auntmarge64, although, I expect that, generally speaking, there isn't much in the book that I haven't already come to understand.

Jan 15, 2010, 12:00pm Top

Never too soon to get Caitlin interested in books-about-books and writing ... maybe she'll like Avi's A Beginning, A Muddle, and an End? It's in my wishlist and this prompts me to get to it.

Jan 15, 2010, 10:26pm Top

>14 detailmuse: Thanks for the suggestion. I texted her and she wants to get a copy to read, so I'll post later and let you know what she thinks. She's quite an avid reader.

Jan 15, 2010, 10:48pm Top

11> There was a report on NPR sometime this week about Americans' feelings about intermarriage. The kind of person that most Americans did not want someone in their family to marry was an atheist.... Sheesh!

Jan 17, 2010, 7:31am Top

>16 janeajones: As opposed to, say, a murderer, rapist, wife beater, ignoramus, or what? You're right - sheesh.

Jan 17, 2010, 10:55am Top

>16 janeajones: & 17: Ouch! I'll have to go read that article. As an atheist, it hurts that many religious people associate atheism with a lack of good morals or values. But I can understand their worry about a family member marrying one. Although I have friends who are deeply religious, none of my best friends right now are, and I don't think I could be married to someone who was. (Mostly because I grew up with heavy-duty proselytizers who spent more time and energy pushing their religious beliefs rather than living them, so it's a "hot-button" issue for me.) And I think my lack of belief in their religion/God would also make them anxious/uncomfortable.

Jan 17, 2010, 12:36pm Top

I've also heard of surveys asking Americans which groups they trust most/least, and what kind of people they'd be willing to vote for for political office. Atheists finished dead last, below even such widely discriminated-against groups as gays and Muslims. Very depressing.

Jan 17, 2010, 10:27pm Top

Bonnie, I really doubt that it has anything to do with a lack of morals. It has more to do with atheists pushing their own beliefs. It is the same thing that annoys you about many religious people. Many of the atheists I know are patronizing of people that have religious beliefs. This could make someone uncomfortable at a family get together.

Edited: Jan 18, 2010, 11:20am Top

>20 fuzzy_patters: I've never had an atheist or agnostic volunteer their position to me. In my experience, it's the religious types who feel it's their mission to let everyone know what they believe, from praying to being irritated at language they find offensive to proselytizing if they find someone in their presence who might not share their beliefs. Whatever, it's very rude when its done. I'm with the Danes: people should keep whatever thoughts they have on religion to themselves or talk about it in the privacy of their own homes.

Jan 18, 2010, 10:33pm Top

I can agree with your last sentence. However, that is the issue with the NPR survey. If the person is in your family, they will likely be visiting your home. In my personal experience, the two groups of people most likely to come into your home and criticize your religious beliefs are atheists and Christian fundamentalists. I think this is because both groups deal in absolutes. One side says there is absolutely no god, and the other side says that all truth is found in a literal interpretation of the bible and should not be debated. Both points of view leave little room for the possibility that the person holding the viewpoint could be wrong.

Addendum: Please note that I am by no means saying that all atheists and all Christian fundamentalists are religiously intolerant. My own brother is an atheist and is very tolerant of other people's religious beliefs. It is just that I have met many people who fall into these two groups who seemed particularly intolerant of others.

Jan 18, 2010, 10:40pm Top

>22 fuzzy_patters: If the person is in your family, they will likely be visiting your home.

Good point.

Edited: Jan 19, 2010, 3:33am Top

Thanks for the addendum, fuzzy_patters. I can't think of any person I know who absolutely believes in a God who would truly consider that there is no God, so I don't think atheists deal in absolutes anymore than believers do.

I also don't think atheists "push their beliefs" anymore than anyone else--it's just that you really notice when someone doesn't think the same way you do--when they're bumping up against your values, so to speak. In general, the majority group is not nearly aware of how/when they are "pushing their beliefs" because those beliefs are just the norm, they're pervasive.

edit. to turn off italics.

Edited: Jan 21, 2010, 11:45am Top

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll 4 stars 1/20/10

This is a very entertaining and informative look at the lives, careers and discoveries of scientists who have contributed to our understanding of evolution in the last 200 years, beginning with Alexander von Humboldt's travels in South and Central America, through Darwin, and then to a host of others who have expanded on a science which in 150 years has changed our understanding of the places Earth and humanity have in the universe. Explorers and scientists include:

Alfred Wallace, who theorized evolution independently from Darwin but deferred to the elder scientist when it came to credit. After several years exploring the Amazon, Wallace turned to Malaysia, where he discovered what came to be known as the Wallace Line, a distinct division in biological families which threads through the islands and has been proven to define which were once part of Asia and which were once connected to Australia.

Henry Walter Bates, another Amazonian explorer whose massive collecting led him to the discovery of mimetic adaptations in animals.

Eugene Dubois, discoverer of Java Man.

Charles Walcott, who mapped the Grand Canyon and then explored the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies, where he found evidence of the Cambrian Explosion, a massive increase in biological diversity about 500 million years ago. During his long career Walcott headed the U.S. Geological Survey, the Smithsonian, and the National Academy of Sciences. (He was also an expert on trilobites, one of my favorite topics.)

Roy Chapman Andrews, possibly a model for Indiana Jones. A whale expert and explorer in Mongolia and the Gobi desert, where his teams discovered dinosaur egg fossils and new dinosaur species and Cretaceous mammal fossils.

Luis and Walter Alvarez (father and son), whose work led to proof of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, the massive extinction event which caused the end of most life on earth, including dinosaurs and all but the smallest of land animals. Their discoveries led to the location of the massive meteor crater buried under the northern Yucatan.

John Ostrom, whose work led to the recognition of birds as dinosaurs.

Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish, whose team discovered the Tiktaalik, one of the primary missing links between sea and land creatures.

The Leakey family, explorers of the Olduvai Gorge, where they found several missing links in the history of early hominids.

Linus Pauling, who won the Novel Prize in chemistry, was hounded by the FBI because of his work against atomic weapons, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and worked with Emile Zuckerkandl to unravel the molecular clock.

Allan Wilson who, with Vincent Sarich, expanded on the molecular clock to drastically change the time scale of hominid evolution, and whose lab went on the perfect mitochondrial DNA dating, with Svante Pääbo continuing their work onto sequencing Neanderthal DNA.

The book's not perfect. The treatment is uneven, with some chapters having much more detailed science while others read like a boy's life of a famous person (I'm dating myself there). The old photos are reproduced on regular paper, so some are difficult to make out. There are no numbered footnotes, but there are extensive chapter bibliographies at the end of the book as well as a detailed index. But all-in-all, this is a wonderful introduction for the general reader.

One thing I particularly liked about this book is that by the end the reader has a real feeling for what an uphill battle the early explorers had, in figuring out where to start geographically, where to get funds, and what to look for, and then in surviving in the field in primitive and dangerous conditions without a certain support system and with infrequent communication with the outside world. They often spent years at this, not knowing if there would be any success or acceptance of what they discovered and how they thought it fit into the scheme of science.

The other impression I came away with is the enormous gap in knowledge which has been filled in in just 150 years. This is no longer solely about fieldwork discoveries. Some of the most sophisticated sciences, such as DNA sequencing, are not only substantiating the original theory but taking it in wholly unexpected directions. It was a bit shocking to see laid out so clearly just how far beyond the simple question of evolution we've gone. That train has left the station. The science being done now is not concerned with whether evolution is real but in exploring in ever more deeply what that means for our place in life, and for the possibility of finding life elsewhere. And, of course, there's always the question of what's next for our own race in its evolution.

Edited: Jan 22, 2010, 11:01pm Top

The Secret People by John Wyndham 3 stars 1/22/10

This was the first novel by the author who later wrote Day of the Triffids. It was originally published in 1935 under another pseudonym (John Beynon), and in the author's introduction to the 1964 edition, which is the one I read, he explained that because of changes in the political climate the new edition altered some names of governments and organizations. The action takes place in the desert of northern Africa, which in the 1930s would have involved France, Italy, and the Foreign Legion. By the 1960s that had changed, and for some reason the new edition was updated with names which, I suppose, were designed to be usable in any future editions: the "Government" and the "Patrol Service".

The powers that be have decided to flood the Sahara to form an enormous lake with the hopes of causing climate changes which will make the land arable again. The hero and heroine take a private plane (referred to as rocket-fueled and equivalent to a private jet) for a tour by air and the plane goes down. Although unable to fly, the vehicle is watertight and the pair is struggling to make it to land when the ship is sucked into a whirlpool. They end up in a huge area of underwater caves, held by a group of pygmies who have lived underground for millennia. There are other non-pygmies being held also, and given the weight of the newly introduced water above, the caves are beginning to collapse. Drama ensues.

There are inklings of the mature Wyndham, and I enjoyed the read, but even with changes in names the story and language are definitely dated. Still, for the Wyndham fan, there's nothing like reading even the lesser of his works.


>14 detailmuse:
Meanwhile, Caitlin has finished A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End by Avi and gave it 3 stars. Thanks to Detailmuse for the recommendation! Caitlin would also be happy to hear any other recommendations. She's in 4th grade but is an excellent reader and often picks books up from the YA section. Currently she's reading The Borrowers, and she likes princesses, fairies, little animals, and stories about girls. She's about halfway through the Little House series.

Jan 22, 2010, 11:06pm Top

If she likes the Little House series, then I would recommend Caddie Woodlawn, a favorite of mine when I was her age. I read it to my daughter a few year back and she loved it too. And has she tried the Secret Garden? Please send Caitlin my best!

Jan 23, 2010, 9:11am Top

>26 auntmarge64: I just got Avi's book yesterday through interlibrary loan and am eager to take a look.

I recommend two recent Newbery winners -- Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (illustrated; about kids in a medieval village) and When You Reach Me (more intellectual; 6th-grade girl encounters mystery and fantasy in NYC). Of course my all-time favorite childhood book is about another 6th-grader, Harriet the Spy.

Jan 23, 2010, 9:36am Top

>27 theaelizabet:, 28
Thanks theaelizabet and detailmuse. She'll be thrilled to have ideas. We go to two of the local libraries quite often and she makes a beeline for the new book shelves and then the computer to browse for some favorite topics, then wanders the shelves. I always encourage her to take home a pile so she'll have some choices in case they aren't all interesting. Especially during school vacations I'll sometimes get a call that she's finished a book before the end of the day, usually over 200 pages. Things are slower now because school is in full swing. I never could understand parents who came to the library and told their kids, "only one" or "no, you've read that one before".

My SIL said to me recently she always remembers me telling her it didn't matter what the kids read, even comic books: just get them hooked. All of them are now avid readers. Caitlin's the youngest, and from the looks of things, the most voracious of them all.

Jan 23, 2010, 10:53am Top

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher **** 1/23/10

In the first book in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front, Chicago-based wizard Harry Dresden fought an evil wizard. Here it's several types of werewolves. Sounds formulaic, and I almost didn't continue after about a fourth of the book, but as with the first in the series, this entry just sucked me in. The Dresden character is consistently interesting, and his relationships with other regulars keep developing, as does the reader's knowledge of Harry's history and psyche. I haven't read much supernatural fiction so can't compare those elements to how they are usually presented in the genre, but Butcher does develop the wizard and werewolf story lines in ways which were surprising and intriguing, at least to me. I hear the next in the series involves vampires. Part of me groans at the thought, part of me wants to see what Butcher has in store for Dresden.

Jan 23, 2010, 11:11am Top

14, 26> How George MacDonald's books, The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie? I'd second and third and fourth The Secret Garden probably my favorite book as a kid along with Heidi. I liked Caddie Woodlawn too -- and there's Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. And, of course, Louisa May Alcott's books -- Rose in Bloom was my favorite -- I think I started reading Alcott in 4th grade, but maybe another year or two for those.

Jan 23, 2010, 5:48pm Top

14/26 - A few other suggestions - Lynne Reid Banks's books in particular The Farthest Away Mountain and The Fairy Rebel and Madeline L'Engle's series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time.

Jan 25, 2010, 5:50pm Top

>27 theaelizabet:, 28, 31, 32. Thanks for all the suggestions. I went to the library today and got her a selection and will be dropping them off this evening, so I'll let you know what she reads.

Jan 25, 2010, 5:51pm Top

Pacific Avenue by Anne L. Watson ***½ 1/25/10

Although told within the first-person accounts of two women who live in San Pedro, California, the bulk of the story takes place in Louisiana. In 1974, a young white woman, Kathy, arrives by bus in California with little money, no friends, and no hope. She takes a secretarial job at a small construction company and, unknown to her, piques the curiosity of the other secretary, a middle-aged black woman, Lacey, whose own daughter has just left for college. The story is told in first-person by both women in the present (1974) and by Kathy in recollections of the past two years. She is obviously running from the memory of something, and the tension grips the reader early. Slowly Lacey's discoveries and Kathy's memories come together to give the reader the solution, and it is worth the wait.

Until the middle of the book I was thinking this would be a 4 star effort, but then it got bogged down in too much everyday detail of the situation in the past. The detail could actually be interesting, but it feels out of place in the middle of a suspense novel. However, the question of what exactly happened finally starts to be clear, and many loose ends are cleared up. Recommended, but you'll probably skim the middle as I did.

Edited: Jan 27, 2010, 7:26pm Top

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal **½ 1/27/10

Set in Edison, NJ, this romance tells of a 30-something widow who is a fashion designer and owner of a sari shop with her parents. When the business founders, her overbearing but business-smart uncle arrives from India to advise, and he brings a surprise guest, whom he hopes will marry his niece. After a few twists and turns, all's well, as might be expected. This wasn't my usual fair but was offered for free for the Kindle a while ago and I decided to give it a try. The cultural setting was interesting, especially since I have family in Edison, but the plot (initial distrust, misunderstandings, family connivings, and the inevitable reconciliation were all a bit too pat for me. Fans of the genre might like it, though.

Caitlin's been reading up a storm too, despite lots of homework. In the last few days she's read:

Red, White & True Blue Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman ***** 1/25/10
The Borrowers by Mary Norton *** 1/26/10
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary **** 1/27/10

Feb 3, 2010, 5:21pm Top

Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham *** 2/3/10

Written c1950, during the time Wyndham was working on "Day of the Triffids", this novel has been published only recently. It concerns a post-WWII Nazi plot to clone a master race, told in the first-person by a news photographer who begins to see a striking resemblance between various murder victims and his own cousin, with whom he is in love. The two investigate and fall afoul of the plotters, who are led by their aunt, a rabid Nazi thought to have died in the bunker with Hitler.

This edition has a lengthy introduction which describes the efforts made by Wyndham and his agent, the sci-fi author Frederik Pohl, to edit the novel so it would appeal to an American audience, an effort they abandoned after several years and various rejections. It's hard to tell from 2010 how an American of 60 years ago would have found the book, but for a modern reader it vacillates between silliness and vintage Wyndham. The dialogue of the main character (an English-raised American of Swedish descent) is especially unconvincing, with echoes of Cary Grant's over-the-top style. But when the plot takes off, some of the dialogue fades away and Wyndham's powers of description and fantasy become more obvious.

I'm not sure if I'm glad I read the introductory material first or would have enjoyed the book more if I'd read it afterward. The editor's thoughts on Wyndham's real-life attraction to his first cousin and the books in which the idea is used as a main plot line was fascinating. "The Chrysalids" is well known to Wyndham fans, but there is also a third novel, "Foul Play Suspected" (a 1935 detective story long out of print). Until this present publication, the pattern would have been virtually invisble. It's not that shocking to a modern reader, but it's still an interesting angle. There's also the fact that Wyndham's approach to "Plan for Chaos" was to start with a plot to appeal to mystery readers and lull them in to what he saw as essentially a science fiction story. Of course to a modern reader it isn't particularly science fiction, but the idea of using multiple fission of embryos to produce copies must have been considered distasteful by the standards of the time, and especially loathsome if practiced within a Nazi society literally growing in secret. It's easy to see why publishers of the time declined.

For the Wyndham fan, a must-read, but it's not his best and it's quite erratic.

Feb 4, 2010, 8:30pm Top

Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell **** 2/4/10

This is a collection of Orwell's narrative essays about his experiences in the 1920s-1940s. Several concern remote locations such as Burma, but the greater part is taken up with his thoughts on various areas of British politics and life, especially the home front during WWII.

Orwell must have been quite an interesting individual to know. He traveled as a tramp and managed to have himself arrested briefly, both in order to write about the experiences. His wartime journal, here covering part of 1940, is full of man-on-the-street observations of life under the threat of Nazi invasion. The most interesting to me was a lengthy memoir of his time at a boarding school. His observations on how children see the adults in charge of them were priceless. Orwell also fought in the Spanish Civil War and served as a colonial policeman in Burma, and he describes, among other events: shooting an elephant because of pressure from townsfolk, the hanging of a prisoner, life as a soldier in the trenches, his treatment as an indigent patient in a French hospital. Fascinating in parts, fairly dull in others, as when he ponders the various political forces in England and Europe during the time period. Many of the essays were published in small socialist presses of the time and express views which now seem overly optimistic in their hope for societal change.

Feb 6, 2010, 8:32pm Top

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg **** 2/6/10

The first in what will hopefully be a series of mysteries. The action is told through the eyes of several major players (a detective, a police officer, several attorneys, a reporter, and a witness), most of whom would make a great continuing cast of characters.

A newspaper deliveryman arrives at a luxury condo in downtown Toronto to find one of his regular customers, a well-known radio host, with blood on his hands and his wife dead in the bathroom, declaring that he's killed her. The accused will speak to no one, including his attorney, and over the next few months it's up to the defense, prosecution, and police to try to piece together what happened. On the one hand, handing out the action to so many main characters makes the puzzle more complicated; on the other, although we learn of their personal lives and how they handle investigations, this approach gives the reader a certain detachment from the story, since there is no one character with whom to connect. The upshot was that while I couldn't put the book down, I didn't feel as intense an emotional reaction as I have to other mysteries or suspense novels. Definitely recommended.

Feb 8, 2010, 8:58am Top

Snow Angels by James Thompson ***** 2/7/10

In northern Finland above the Arctic Circle, the snowfields of a rural reindeer farm are the scene of a gruesome murder. The victim is a minor celebrity, a gorgeous Somali immigrant film actress. The chief of the small local police force could bring in the national police but instead keeps the case and works with his Christmas-holiday depleted staff while balancing life with his newly-pregnant American wife, his dysfunctional birth family, and, for that matter, his completely dysfunctional town: it's Kaamos, the pre-Christmas polar night, when there is darkness 24 hours a day.

While there are many suspects and more bodies to come, overhanging all is the character of a land where people are often driven to drink, violence or suicide by the lack of light. It pervades the book and is an extraordinary addition to the ambiance. I found myself depressed just reading and imaging the characters' lives, thinking about how humans came to live in such a place over the eons while slowly moving outwards from the warmer areas of the world. Along with a gripping mystery which kept me glued to the pages, the ever-present darkness of the landscape pushed me to finish and get my mind into the sunlight again, even though I was reading in a sunlit room myself.

The author is an American who has lived in Finland for the last decade, but while there is an American flavor to plot, the culture and lifestyle of Finland is a strong presence. I'll certainly be looking for a sequel, but maybe I'll read the next one in the summer. Highly recommended.

Edited: Feb 11, 2010, 6:50pm Top

The Fate of Katherine Carr by Thomas H. Cook ****½ 2/11/10

This is a wonderful book, a mystery with a hint of the supernatural, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. George Gates, a travel writer on a trip up an unnamed tropical river, passes the time by regaling a fellow traveler with the story of an unsolved missing person and his own search for possible clues.

George, whose young son was abducted and murdered, has been reduced to writing obituaries and local news items for a small-town newspaper. His only hope is a futile one, that some day his son's unidentified murderer will be punished. Unable to sleep most nights, he frequently finds himself at a local bar, where one evening he is greeted by a retired missing person's detective who tells him of an old unsolved case. Unwillingly reeled in by the story, George, along with a dying progeria patient he has befriended, face their demons while trying to find an explanation for the disappearance in a handwritten story left by the missing woman - a tale of what appears to have been her own involvement with a man who may be able to "restore the balance" between good and evil.

Edited: Feb 15, 2010, 10:12am Top

A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R. W. Day *** 2/14/10

This is a gentle gay romance presented as light post-apocalyptic fiction. Enjoyable fluff, really.

ETA: OK, that might be a bit short. I should add that while the story is typical - love blooms, love struggles, love triumphs - there is the added element of a hard-fought existence in a new ice age, and the land is beautifully drawn. The action keeps the reader interested, and I think I'll remember some of the characters for quite a while, but the post-apocalyptic theme doesn't seem necessary (the story could have taken place just about anywhere and any time), and many of the elements of the post-apocalyptic storyline are never explored, which is what makes the genre so interesting. And the hyper-religious element ("the ice age is a punishment from God, let's blame it on anyone the Bible gives us leave to") gives way awfully easily to bring the story to a semi-happy ending. If only life were that easy.

Feb 17, 2010, 9:03pm Top

Tea with Hezbollah:Sitting at the Enemies Table by Ted Dekker ** 2/16/10

I'm very much a believer that if people really want peaceful relations, whether in the large or small arenas of their lives, they will STOP for a bit and try to understand the other's point of view. It sounds so simple, but it appears to be one of the most difficult things to do. Emotions, especially those brought on by strong religious beliefs, are often too strong for people to (literally) think through. In this book, the authors attempted to really look and listen to the people of the other side in the Muslim/Christian, Palestinian/Israeli, Arab/non-Arab conflicts. The authors are Christian, and Dekker's co-author claims to have heard a voice years ago saying "When you grow up you will love Arabs". They spent two years lining up interviews with some of the top Middle Eastern Islamic scholars and powers-that-be to ask them their opinions on the Golden Rule ("love thy neighbor as thyself") and to consider the story of the Good Samaritan in the context of the Middle East today. The authors traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Beirut, Baalbek, southern Lebanon, Syria, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, and they met with ideologues and political, educational and religious leaders.

The authors endangered their lives several times over as they made their way in and out of countries either at war or with a bias against Americans. However, they did have powerful contacts who made the trip possible and safe, and they claim to have conducted extensive interviews with each VIP, as well as with various "regular" people. Sounds great, but here's the problem: most of the data they collected is not included. Instead, the book is written as a travelogue, with only very brief sections presenting verbatim questions and answers from the interviews. And unfortunately, the questions they chose to include are mostly rather silly. For instance: "What is your favorite joke", "What makes you laugh?", "What makes you cry?, "What is your favorite TV show?". Only then are some of the meatier questions asked: "What is the greatest misunderstanding between our countries?", "What are your thoughts on the Golden Rule?", "If there was one iconic teaching or event on which you hang your ministry, what would it be?" Now these are important questions, but they are given little space, and I can only hope that the authors are planning another book to present lengthy portions of the interviews. Interspersed with the travelogue and the interviews is the story of a young American woman who discovered that her mother had been in a Lebanese refugee camp and had survived a massacre. This young woman went in search of her mother's family and of the birth father she found was a mass murderer. While in Beirut, she was viciously attacked, then rescued by a Druse family who risked their lives to keep her safe. The authors use this story to illustrate the Good Samaritan principle.

I really wanted to like this book, but it left me irritated. Dekker seems to think women rule Saudi Arabia (behind closed doors, of course. Oy, haven't we heard that rationalization before?). Of course, the women he met, most of whom hate the dress code and other restrictions of Sharia, are all wealthy and live in palaces. The books' tone is giddy, which doesn't jibe with the author's constant lament of how fearful he was of each new situation on the trip. In the end I felt I'd wasted my time and the authors had wasted a great opportunity.

Feb 17, 2010, 10:39pm Top

The goal of the author sounded like a good one, but don't think this is the book for me either. Thanks for reviewing it.

Feb 23, 2010, 7:05pm Top

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins ***** 2/23/10

What a superb book! Beautifully and cleverly constructed suspense, intriguing and unique characters, and a new author for me to boot. I've never been much of a Dickens fan, but Collins was his friend and collaborator, although Collins was his junior and died almost 20 years later, and I hope to read many more of his works.

Here a complicated case of societal position, inheritance, confused identities, secrets and crimes are narrated through documents and diaries of both principal and secondary characters, slowly unfolding the events and clues. For those who have read it I'll just say I thought Mr. Fairlie was one of the funniest characters I've met (especially in his own account), although I wouldn't want to really meet him or I'd have to smack him. For newbies, you're in for a treat.

Feb 23, 2010, 7:55pm Top

Hi auntmarge64 - I've been lurking, enjoying your reviews, but haven't commented yet. That's a really nice and thoughtful review of the Dekker book, and too bad it didn't work.

Feb 23, 2010, 8:08pm Top

>45 dchaikin:

Thanks for the comments. I was sorry it wasn't that good either, because it had so much potential.

Edited: Feb 23, 2010, 8:50pm Top

Couldn't agree more about The Woman in White. I liked it even better than The Moonstone, which I loved. And you're so right about Mr. Fairlie!

Edited: Mar 2, 2010, 9:33am Top

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer **** 2/25/10

A quick SF read about the consequences of a mass suspension of consciousness throughout the world, during which every person views their future (or lack of it), 21 years in the future. It's a bit uneven, sometimes propelled along by action, then slowing considerably as various theories of physics are explained. But it held together and had a satisfying resolution.

Meanwhile, since the last time I reported, Caitlin has read and graded the following:

Trouble With Violet (Sister Magic) by Anne Mazer ****
Am I the Princess or the Frog? by Jim Benton ****
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater ****½
Tink, North of Neverland by Kiki Thorpe ***½
Kirsten Learns a Lesson by Janet Beeler Shaw *****
Kirsten's Surprise by Janet Beeler Shaw *****

Mar 2, 2010, 8:32am Top

>48 auntmarge64: Are you watching the television series of Flashforward? While it's certainly not the book, it has some interesting bits.

Mar 2, 2010, 9:34am Top

>49 avaland:. I haven't been but have added it to my Netflix queue. Is it at all similar - characters, etc.?

Mar 4, 2010, 7:47pm Top

Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund **** 3/4/10

This is the back story to the characters and settings in the video game Halo, something in which I have no interest at all, so it's not something I would ever have picked up to read. But my 14-year old nephew was very insistent that I try it, and you know how that goes, and I've been very pleasantly surprised.

In a future in which humans have spread throughout the galaxy, two events cross: a scientist who fears for the future of humanity begins kidnapping and experimenting on selected children to produce super soldiers (Spartans), and the galaxy is invaded by outsiders who have superior technology and no desire to communicate or make peace. Some of the Spartans survive and grow to adulthood, and as they do they take on the most hazardous of the alien threats. As the prequel ends, the aliens have destroyed Reach, the planet on which the Spartans were trained and which houses the headquarters of humanity's intelligence and military organizations.

The main character is the leader of the Spartans, but the doctor and various military officers are also treated with depth. There is some discussion of the ethics of what is done to the children (the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few), but for all that the Spartans grow to feel they lead the life they should, it's an unsettling proposition. I don't know if it's presented in the game itself.

Exciting, decent space opera. I intend to read at least the next in the series.

Edited: Mar 10, 2010, 12:14pm Top

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H. W. Brands ****½ 3/8/10

Andrew Jackson was a destitute frontier orphan at the age of 14, an Indian fighter, reluctant politician, enthusiastic and hugely successful general, and two-term President late in life during the tumultuous 1830s, when the boundaries between Texas and Mexico were in flux and Texas declared independence. He was also a farmer, slave holder, dedicated duelist, loyal husband, father of an adopted son and of several foster Indian children, and devoted to preserving and expanding the Union against foreign incursions and internal strife. He was an errand boy during the Revolution yet lived long enough to be photographed. He believed that the people (i.e., white males) were able to make the best decisions for themselves, an issue which divided early leaders, many of whom thought the uneducated were not knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions. (I can't imagine what he and other leaders would make of the ability of today's talk media to sway the masses.) When Jackson died, arguments over states' rights and the issue of slavery in new states was heating up towards what astute observers realized would be a war. Jackson feared for the future of the Union, not foreseeing a Lincoln to save it.

Brands' book is quite long (650+ pages) and seemed to take me forever to read it, but none of it is wasted space. Jackson is used to link our earliest history as a nation and the war that almost tore us apart, and Brands does a good job of explaining how important Jackson was in simultaneously expanding and protecting our borders and encouraging some policies, such as slavery, which led to the Civil War. Jackson could be brutal, especially in his treatment of Indians, whom he felt should get out of the way of the conquerors or face extinction. He seemed to feel badly about the possibility of wiping them out, but he felt they were responsible for their own safety and should stay out of the way of the settlers, whom he didn't expect to take the high road. (Isn't this the argument made by apologists in societies that keep women hidden away: the dominant group can't be trusted so rather than police them, the powerless group should in effect be punished?)

The book is very readable, with a good mix of anecdotes, discussion of policy and politics, and quotes from letters and documents. There were some topics which could have been treated in more depth, and I'd have liked to hear more of what happened to the various native children Jackson fostered (one apparently died of TB at the age of 16, but that isn't mentioned). But Jackson was an important participant in so many pivotal events that to do them all justice would have been impossible without a multi-volume treatment. Extensive source notes and a bibliography provide ideas for expanded reading. In the Kindle edition there was no index (although Kindle searching is much more comprehensive than with a print index), and I don't know if there is an index in the print volume. Highly recommended.

Mar 10, 2010, 4:29pm Top

Aunt Marge, Andrew Jackson seems to be interesting enough that there are several lives of him current. I have American Lion which you have just driven me closer to. If it fails to satisfy I think I will try the H. W. Brands volume.

Thanks for your review.


Mar 12, 2010, 11:02pm Top

>53 Mr.Durick: Hi Robert, I had a hard time choosing between them, and I think either will be a good read.

Edited: Mar 15, 2010, 10:00am Top

Ottawa Old and New by Lucien Brault ***½ 3/9/10

(This is a history of Ottawa, Canada). Written in 1946, this is a standard type city history of the time, with topical chapters rather than a strictly chronological treatment. Much of the information is offered to give the contemporary reader an overview of then-current conditions of politics, services, economy, religious institutions, etc, but the information on the city's history is full of quotes from accounts and documents of the period, and they give a wonderful sense of the time. There are about 2 dozen black and white illustrations, as well as an attached fold-out map showing locations for many of the historical events mentioned.

Mar 15, 2010, 3:54am Top

I've got to read Woman in White soon!

Mar 15, 2010, 4:52pm Top

Did the Jackson biography touch on his war on the national banking system and his support of his "pet" banks, and the role of these action in creating the crisis of 1837? This is one of my favorite periods of American history, and having an economics background, I would like to know how in depth the biography goes on his economic follies before reading it.

Mar 15, 2010, 6:00pm Top

I'm glad to hear that Brands deals with Jackson's treatment of the American Indians - his darkest chapter. As I understand, Meacham (American Lion) does not really go into it and Robert V. Remini - Jackson's main biographer, apparently defends Jackson in regards to this.

Mar 15, 2010, 6:23pm Top

Didn't Sean Wilentz also write a life of Jackson? Oh, he did, Andrew Jackson. From his book on that century, The Rise of American Democracy, I would expect that he showed that Jackson had a hard time at compromise and that he is vilified for it. I was talking with a Wisconsin Indian a couple of weeks ago; he has a knee jerk reaction against Jackson, but he may not have dug into the matter.

I am interested in the banking matter and in the great dislocation of Southeastern Indians, so I am hoping for a thorough biography, and Wilentz's may be too short. I also suspect of Jackson that there is a lot more to him than these two issues.


Mar 15, 2010, 7:01pm Top

>57 fuzzy_patters:. Brands' bio of Jackson does deal with the banking system and has quite a bit on his enmity toward and struggles with Nicholas Biddle. I rather doubt the treatment is deep enough for someone with an economics background, though. This is the only biography of Jackson I've read and I don't know enough about the time period to tell if it's thorough. There is some discussion of Jackson making the federal government's deposits available to various banks other than the Bank of the U.S., but I don't recall Brands describing them as being pet institutions, just that they weren't the national bank.

>58 dchaikin:. I didn't think Brands defends Jackson, although he tries to explain Jackson's reasoning.

>59 Mr.Durick:. Robert, I don't blame the Wisconsin Indian for his knee jerk reaction. Jackson was quite brutal and not at all apologetic for making the defeated enemy bear the consequences of losing. And yes, Jackson had many, many parts to his life which need to be explored in any biography, so I doubt any one-volume treatment will do justice to any particular aspect. I found the Brands' book entertaining and informative but still just an introduction, even at 650 pages.

Mar 15, 2010, 11:04pm Top

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****½ 3/15/10

This was a totally unexpected pleasure. I'd started it 2 or 3 times, reading the sample from Amazon on my Kindle, and each time I decided I really, really wasn't interested in a disgraced financial journalist/publisher and his woes. But LT readers kept posting rave reviews, so I finally bit the bullet, downloaded the entire book, and started it in earnest. It was wonderful.

It quickly becomes clear that the journalist, Mikael, is probably not guilty, but he still has to face several months in prison and a stiff fine. He resigns from his magazine, and while awaiting the beginning of his sentence he reluctantly takes a private job investigating the decades-old disappearance of a wealthy industrialist's niece. His investigation leads to much darker crimes. Meanwhile Mikael meets an investigator who has done a private report on his own life for his new employer, and she is one of the most interesting characters in recent fiction: technically an adult ward of the state, she is also an extremely antisocial techno wizard who leads two lives and turns her attention on both what Mikael is working on and the court case in which he found himself in trouble. It gets quite complicated, with each storyline both interconnecting and dividing out into further mysteries. It's easy to see why it took 600 pages to tell the story. I can't wait till I can start on the next.

I don't know much about prisons, although certainly my views have been colored by what I've read about or seen described on TV about the huge, violence-plagued prisons in the U.S. I was therefore struck by the description of Mikael's time in the low-security goal to which he finally goes: He never did quite understand the technical reasons behind his release, but it may have had something to do with the fact that he did not use any holiday leave and the the prison population was forty-two while the number of beds was thirty-one....The daily routines reminded him of living in a youth hostel. Holiday leave? Youth hostel? Population forty-two???

Larsson was a Swedish journalist whose life was repeatedly threatened and who died of a massive heart attack at age 50 in 2004. This book was meant to be the first of 10, but only three were finished and sent to the publisher before he died. He is sadly missed by legions of fans.

Mar 16, 2010, 1:14pm Top

>50 auntmarge64: well, you will recognize some of it, but I'm inclined to think that it captures more the idea of the book than the specifics. Although it is a bit more of a thriller than a meditation on the idea of fate and free will, and the thriller part dominates, imo. I read the book years ago when it came out and have forgotten a lot of it, but my husband read my copy just prior to the series and he saw more connections than I did. There is a spot early on (after a few episodes) where we thought it was too predictable and we weren't going to continue watching it, but then there was this twist...

Mar 16, 2010, 5:59pm Top

>62 avaland: we weren't going to continue watching it, but then there was this twist... Hah, that's how I feel about "24". I just keep getting sucked back in.

Mar 19, 2010, 3:31pm Top

Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland ***½ 3/18/10

This story has the makings of a terrific thriller and historical novel, but there are some unfortunate problems with it. It's exciting, and the mystery lasts up to the end, but ....

As the Tsar's most trusted confidant, detective Pekkala was raised far above his roots as a rural undertaker's son and apprentice. The fall of the Tsar sent Pekkala to the gulag, where, at the start of the story, he has labored in the forest for 12 years in a job expected to have killed him long ago by a combination of starvation, loneliness and exposure. Now Stalin has decided he wants to use his particular skills and has had him recovered and put on an assignment. This far I could suspend disbelief for the sake of a good tale.

The problems start right at the beginning, where Pekkala is described as having strong white teeth. This phrase is used at least twice more, and such repetitive phrases stand out badly. But there is an additional problem with describing Pekkala this way: as a middle-aged man who grew up a semi-peasant and spent years in the gulag, he would be lucky to have any teeth at all. It's an unnecessary dissonance at the very start of the story, setting him up, I presume, to be more romantically appealing during the series. (I've written the editor about this, so perhaps the publisher will see fit to remove the description before publication.) Then, after all these years in solitude, he burns down the rude cabin he had made for himself without a thought that he might be sent back (which is made clear to him in the beginning), is thrust into a Soviet civilian reality in which he has no experience, and flawlessly picks up his detective work as though he had left it days earlier. It's just too smooth. There is practically no attention paid to the difficulties of resuming a normal life, and the entire book takes place over only a few days, during which he takes charge, solves the puzzle, and is taken before Stalin who, as luck would have it, was also the interrogator during his torture. (I'm not giving much away in the way of plot - the author description states the next book in the Pekkala series is already in the works.) There is little depth in the characterization, and even Stalin doesn't raise much of a specter of fear.

So basically, this is a decent suspense novel without the depth and care that made Child 44 so special. In the latter book, there is meaningful attention paid to the main character's flaws and his struggles with his actions (which are morally equivalent to Pekkala's) and his thoughts on Stalin and what has happened to his country. I had hoped for something of that sort here, but instead this is but a fun read for a long winter's night. Entertaining, but don't over estimate what you're getting.

Mar 19, 2010, 4:11pm Top

>61 auntmarge64:. I wasn't aware that Larsson had died. While I didn't enjoy the book as much as most, I do think Larsson is a incredibily gifted writer for the genre and was capable of taking an interesting direction. It's shame for him and his fans that he didn't get the chance to finish his planed books.

Great reviews by the way! Child 44 sounds intriguing.

Mar 19, 2010, 10:05pm Top

>65 stretch: Child 44 is superb. There is also a sequel, which I thought was almost as good.

Thanks for the comments on my reviews. I don't always feel inspired, but I try to review just about everything I read, since I get many of the additions to my TBR from LT and decided I should contribute too (or, IOW, why shouldn't everyone else get the benefit of my profundity? ;) )

Edited: Mar 23, 2010, 9:36am Top

Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer ***½ 3/22/10

This biography of Martin Van Buren, our 8th President, reminded me of Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which Shakespeare's Hamlet is seen through the eyes of two minor characters. In Stoppard's case, the result is very funny, although it helps to know the main story to start with. Here, Van Buren's story, which would seem to be the main topic, is seen only in glimpses sprinkled through a history of the times. For a President so little known to modern readers, the result is frustration.

I'm not sure this is the author's fault, given his subject. Most of Van Buren's career was dedicated to forging a new political party, accomplished by years of backroom (and therefore hidden, even to historians) political maneuvering, which often found him promoting a middle ground between opponents he was trying to woo. In many instances he was thought to have no strong views himself, and, unlike his predecessors, he left no reams of correspondence or voluminous diaries to give us a peak at his inner turmoil. (He did leave an autobiography written only late in life.)

Van Buren was the first of a lesser-known group to hold the Presidency between Jackson and Lincoln. It was a difficult time for the nation, as the addition of territory brought to a head the oft-sidetracked issue of slavery. Sectional divisions strengthened, and, like others, Van Buren foresaw the Civil War, but it was only in the late 1840s that he could bring himself to publicly criticize slavery and call for its end, after many years of letting the issue slide as he courted Southerners. Although his presidency was expected to be at least somewhat successful, the economic policies of previous years came to a head within weeks of his inauguration, and the Panic of 1837 was only the beginning of the downswing which led to Van Buren's defeat in 1840. Born near the end of the Revolution, he lived to see the beginning of the Civil War, having survived most of his political contemporaries.

Two quotes of note:
p. 69. To this day we still do not know how close young Andrew Jackson came to throwing his lot in with Burr's efforts to create an American empire outside the jurisdiction of the United States. (OK, that's not a thread I recall from the bio of Jackson I just read.)

p. 16. His failures showed how difficult it was to assemble a democratic coalition in the face of withering pressure from economic chaos, regional discord, and the conservative enemies who never gave him a moment's peace. (Doesn't that sound familiar?)

And I was surprised to read that Davy Crockett wrote a (very negative) biography of him leading up to the election of 1836. (RIP Fess Parker, who died this week.)

For all its brevity and lack of detail on a personal level, this entry in Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s The American Presidents Series is a very readable introduction. I would have liked more information on Van Buren's home life and children, and sometimes the author's style is off-putting, as when he refers to Van Buren by all the cute/sarcastic/nasty nicknames employed by his adversaries. But I found myself drawn in and interested till the end.

Edited: Mar 24, 2010, 10:56pm Top

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason **** 3/24/10

In an Icelandic lake which is draining out via recently-opened fissures, a decades-old body is found, head bashed in and weighted down with Soviet-made spy equipment. Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team investigate the case, which leads them to a story of Cold War espionage and a group of socialist Icelandic students drawn to study behind the Iron Curtain. The tale is told from two points of view: that of the present-day Inspector as he investigates disappearances from the late 1960s, and that of one of the students, who recalls his disastrous experiences in a 1950s Leipzig under constant interactive surveillance (being spied on by one's friends and family, and being expected to do the same).

I find mid-century Communism and espionage depressing and rather dull to read about, but the mystery here is intriguing, and after a while I couldn't put the book down. Overall the translation is good, even idiomatic, although there were a few terms which didn't make the transition to American English very well (I read the U.S. edition).

I'll be watching for more of this series, for both the mystery and the insights into life in Iceland.

Edited: Apr 4, 2010, 8:59am Top

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson **** 3/30/10

Second in the Millennium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, again starring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. The action and story are excellent, but there was too much talking and explaining in this one. Had an editor taken out a quarter of it, it would have been an airtight thriller.

Edited: Apr 3, 2010, 9:59am Top

Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #3: Paragon by John Jackson Miller ***½ 3/27/10

The third short story/novella in a long-ago prequel to the Star Wars saga. I'm primarily interested in the post-SW movie storyline which follows the lives of Luke, Han and Leia, but this is interesting background for some upcoming series developments.

Apr 4, 2010, 8:57am Top

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larrson ***** 4/4/10

A superb ending to the Millennium Trilogy, a suspense series involving a Swedish investigative journalist (of "Millennium" magazine) with an extremely troubled computer genius whose past and present weave a tale of a secret government agency so devoted to protecting a vicious spy that it will go to any length (including murder and illegal imprisonment of a child) to guard the secret of his existence. This book is an extension of book 2, and they must be read together. Book 1 is also an excellent suspense read and introduces the characters, and I strongly recommend that the reader take the three in order.

Apr 7, 2010, 3:28pm Top

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America by Don Lattin **** 4/6/10

This is an entertaining, informative, and relatively brief (228 pages of text) overview of the interactions of four men involved in the Harvard psychedelic drug trials of the early 1960s. Timothy Leary is probably the most infamous, but Ram Dass (né Richard Alpert) has had a more lasting and positive influence on the lives of Westerners interested in delving into enlarging conscious awareness. The other two main subjects are Andrew Weil (more on him in a moment), and Huston Smith, an early partner in an effort to see if religious experience could be had by use of a biological or chemical substance.

Alpert and Leary were not the first researchers to test LSD on Harvard students. In the 1950s the CIA used undergraduates, having as cover two medical doctors who worked with the blessing of Harvard. The CIA's goal was to see if LSD could be used as chemical warfare. (One of their test subjects was Theodore Kuczynski, later the Unibomber.) Leary and Alpert came on the scene a few years later, setting up the Harvard Psilocybin Project through the school's Center for Personality Research. Hundreds of graduate students, professors, and prison inmates were voluntarily given doses, although, untypical of drug trials, one or more of the Project's staff usually took the drugs with the volunteers. The researchers were barred from using undergraduates, and freshman Weil, who wanted very badly to participate and, on his own, experimented widely, became angry when he was turned down. Another undergraduate student, Ronnie Winston, who was a friend of both Weil's and Alpert's, was given some drugs, although not as part of the study. The vindictive Weil used his position as a reporter for the Harvard Crimson to bring them down. Not only did he serve as an informant for school authorities who were uneasy about the Project, but when no one would give evidence, he blackmailed Winston and his parents, threatening to name Winston in the exposé if they didn't come forward. Weil got his statement, the school got its ammunition, and Alpert and Leary were fired. Weil apologized years later after finding himself the subject of a similar attack, so perhaps karma has been served.

Famous people and events of the era populate the pages. Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsburg appear frequently, and the Haight-Ashury district of San Francisco, the Rolling Stones, the Fillmore, and other famous names rotate through the story. Near the end the author gives a synopsis of his subjects' lives for the last couple of decades. Leary, of course, crashed and burned, and he died in 1996. Ram Dass has been a spiritual teacher and guide for many of the Boomers, especially since Be Here Now was published in 1971. Smith went on to educate several generations on the underlying similarities in the teachings of the major religions, and to fight what he saw as the monstrosity of the doctrine of eternal damnation. And then there is Andrew Weil, now a famous doctor, speaker and author, who got his start by betraying Alpert and Leary. I find it hard to have much forgiveness, but it's also true that without that betrayal, Ram Dass might never have made his journey to India and returned to America to benefit so many. The experiments publicized for the first time some intriguing possibilities for the human mind, which, while not maintainable without drugs by the majority of those experimenting, were still an indication of untapped abilities. At the least, we learned more about ourselves. And for some who experimented, the whole world was changed.

A couple of tidbits of special interest:

In his book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, John Markoff shows how key Silicon Valley pioneers, including Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, and Douglas Engelbart, the man who invented the mouse, were inspired, in part, by their psychedelic experiences.

Leary was arrested several times for having small quantities of marijuana. Each time he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. The first arrest was made by G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame.

The Beatles' song "Come Together" was written in honor of Leary's gubernatorial run against Ronald Reagan.

Edited: Apr 7, 2010, 8:59pm Top

With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce **** 4/6/10

Pearce gives a broad overview of many important influences on global climate patterns and the possible consequences of some or all of them working together to bring about alterations too quick for humanity to handle. There is a great deal of information presented, on massive methane sinks in melting Arctic bogs; on weather conveyor belt systems, and changes in the Earth's albedo, which determines how much heat is absorbed or radiated from oceans, ice covers, and other surfaces; and on the weakening of glacial connections to land masses. He discusses the role of soot in global climate and the possibility of cessation of monsoons, and newer research showing the connection between stratospheric warming/cooling and climate changes in the atmosphere. Many of the leading climatologists are described, as well as their differing theories. One particularly intriguing dispute is over whether it is the arctic or the tropical climate forces which act first in major alterations.

Other than an irritating use of the word "could", as in "it could happen", this is a very readable and interesting book. Actually, it's a bit alarming. It's pretty obvious that humans don't have an attention span long enough to worry much about the dangers of climate changes, especially abrupt ones. The time scales are just too long for our serious contemplation or action. What this book does is to intelligently present more climate influences than even most worriers might know about, and it makes a very good case that we are sealing our own doom by our failure to look beyond everyday concerns and recognize the illusion of safety of our place on the planet.

Apr 9, 2010, 7:59pm Top

>72 auntmarge64: Well! (or rather, Weil!) Great comments; this goes right onto my wishlist.

Apr 11, 2010, 9:28am Top

John Tyler by Gary May **** 4/10/10

Tyler, our 10th President, had an interesting life but a disappointing presidency. He was a Virginian, slave holder, devoted states' rights enthusiast, and the first person to be elevated from Vice President following the death of a sitting President. He married twice, the second time to a woman 30 years his junior, and in all had 15 legitimate children. Although he tried to add his weight to those fighting against a Civil War, he voted for succession in the Virginia Legislature and supported the Confederacy. He is the only President not officially mourned in the Capital, because he was considered a traitor.

This particular biography is part of Schlesinger's American Presidents series, and it is one of the better ones. I recently read the volume on Martin Van Buren, which left me completely in the dark about him as a person. This volume, only 151 pages, gave me a good sense of the person and was a real pleasure to read. The author weaves the personal and political together to give the reader a good idea of what was going on at the time, how it affected Tyler and his family, and how he balanced the two. A very well-done overview.

Apr 11, 2010, 11:57am Top

I read Andrew Weil's The Natural Mind first published in 1972 a few years after it was published. I'm glad I read it before reading your review in #72, because it had some worthwhile things in it. It's thesis was that humans have a drive to change their consciousness that shows itself even in children twirling to get dizzy. I don't remember much else.

Apr 11, 2010, 4:06pm Top

>76 solla:

Hi Solla,
Yeah, he seems to have done good for many people. The theory of the drive to change consciousness, and the kids twirling, were mentioned in The Harvard Psychedelic Club. I'm trying to look at his later work as making up for the damage he did at Harvard. It's just hard to see him in a positive light after all that.

Apr 12, 2010, 10:36am Top

I have a lot of respect for Weil so something that complicates his image is all for the better :)

Today's NYTimes includes an article about current studies into psychedelics -- featuring Johns Hopkins but also mentioning Harvard and the University of Arizona (where Weil works, I wonder if he's involved?!).

Apr 12, 2010, 11:25am Top

What a great review of The Harvard Psychedelic Club, fascinating stuff.

Apr 12, 2010, 11:04pm Top

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven ***** 4/12/10

In 1960s British Columbia, Mark, a young ordinand, is sent as vicar to a remote group of Indian villages on the upper coast. He doesn't know that the bishop has been informed that Mark is fatally ill and that he is being sent to learn from the Indians and prepare to die. As Mark slowly makes his way among a people strange to him, he finds that the quiet life among the fishing towns he services grounds him, and the Indians slowly accept him and make him one of their own.

This book is a gem and reminded me of Willa Cather at her best. Yes, it's sad, and that is known from the first page, but the unfolding of the story leaves the reader feeling a bit blessed herself.

Apr 13, 2010, 11:43am Top

I remember that book! My son read it in 4th grade, so, of course, I did too. It made for some good discussions with my son about ways of living--and dying.

Edited: Apr 14, 2010, 5:35pm Top

Backlash by Aaron Allston **** 4/14/10

This is the fourth in the Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi series, and Aaron Allston is one of the best of the writers in Star Wars fiction. Fate of the Jedi takes place 39 years after the deaths of Darth Vadar and Palpatine. Luke, Han and Leia are still in the thick of things, as are other members of their family (I'll not say more about that). If you are interested in Star Wars fiction, especially the timeline following the movies, don't start with this series, because it is built on a framework of events which will be more richly enjoyed if you've read all the books leading up to them. Star Wars authors strive to maintain a consistent progression in the story line, so reading them in order pays off. For an overview of the series and how they fit into the Star Wars timeline, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Wars_books. I'm lucky - my nephew collects them all, and so I get them one at a time in order. I don't even have to think about it.

Apr 16, 2010, 4:13pm Top

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig **** 4/16/10

I think this one is going to take a bit to settle before I have much of a comment to make.

The novella, a story within a story, is about a chess match aboard a ship around the time of the beginning of World War II. The author, who killed himself shortly after mailing this off to his publisher in 1942, was convinced that the Enlightenment was at an end, and he apparently couldn't live in the new world he saw. The two protagonists here, a lumpish, almost idiot savant, chess champion who has no imagination, faces off against a man recently released from a prison where he was kept in isolation and sensory deprivation and maintained his sanity, at least for a while, by imagining chess games and playing against himself in his mind. A third party learns both back stories and is present for the game, and he relates how it unfolds.

Apr 23, 2010, 5:00pm Top

I'm taking a moment to mourn ILL in New Jersey (USA). Funding for ILL has been provided by the state for many years, but the new administration in NJ is severely curtailing education and library funding (so that a tax increase for the wealthy can be rescinded and spending not increased). The online state catalog, through which we can search most public and university libraries in NJ and beyond, will not be funded after June 30th, and effective May 1st, no more ILL requests will be processed, so I spent some time today going through my wishlist and ordering any I can't get locally or on the Kindle. I don't know how many of these will come through, but my list includes:

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
The Incident Report bu Martha Baillie
Women in the Wall by Julia O'Faolain
Icefields by Thomas Wharton

After May 1st, the service will be available for a fee of $7/transaction. At that rate, it'll probably be cheaper to buy used copies on Amazon, or just have a longterm wishlist and hope things get straightened out eventually. Hey, maybe my TBR will go down!

One nice thing here is that our library cards are good at many of the libraries in NJ, but without the online catalog, that will be hit or miss. Very sad......

Apr 23, 2010, 11:08pm Top

Ah -- how awful. Let's make the rich, richer and deny access to culture and education to the rest of us.

Apr 24, 2010, 4:22pm Top

Well, especially now, the rich will be able to buy all the books they need (all four of them!) brand new.

Apr 24, 2010, 8:51pm Top

>85 janeajones:, 86

I don't think our new governor cares much whether anyone can read....

Apr 29, 2010, 9:22pm Top

The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler by Norma Lois Peterson **** 4/29/10

Peterson is all business, giving so little on Harrison's and Tyler's personal lives one might think they were bachelors if not paying attention. The first 50 pages provide a quick overview of recent administrations, to show where these two fit in, as well as a chapter on Harrison's brief tenure. The rest is a detailed account of Tyler's difficult administration, followed by copious primary and secondary source footnotes, a bibliographical essay, and an index.

Tyler began his presidency by setting a precedent: that a vice president, stepping in for a dead president (or for one removed for other reasons), inherits not only the duties and powers but the title of president, instead of being known as an "acting president". Tyler worked hard to protect the independence of the presidency rather than allowing it to become a tool of Congress as planned by his nemesis, Henry Clay. Clay, and later the Whigs, blocked most of Tyler's domestic initiatives, but he had several successes in foreign policy, including important treaties, expansion of trade in the Pacific and Far East, and the annexation of Texas just 3 days before leaving office.

The narrative ends abruptly with Tyler accompanying Polk to his inauguration, followed by a brief analysis of the Tyler presidency. There is no mention of Tyler's later involvement in trying to stop the oncoming Civil War and then supporting the Confederacy. For this reason, I can't suggest this book as the only one someone reads on Tyler, but I found it an excellent companion to Gary May's John Tyler, reviewed above.

Edited: May 5, 2010, 4:38pm Top

Women in the Wall by Julia O'Faolain **** 5/5/10

This is an incredibly depressing book. It takes place in 6th century Gaul (France) and is based on historical characters. The story centers on two women of royal birth, one forced to marry the Frankish king who killed her family, and the other a younger woman given to her as a child for her to raise. Together they found a convent, at which most of the story takes place.

Life in a 6th century convent was brutal, although probably not as brutal as outside the "walls". Here, the world intrudes infrequently, but when it does it usually brings disruption, chaos, or death. The most disturbing part of the story is told in first person by a nun who has chosen to become an anchoress, a nun literally shut up between walls in the convent. No human contact, no light but the slit through which food and water are silently passed, no hygiene, or medical care, or even "facilities". In this case, the cell she occupies is too small to allow her to lie down. Being an anchoress was a life commitment. The practice was allowed because the presence of an anchoress brought renown to the convent and, it was thought, good fortune. Not to the poor soul immured in the wall, of course. Here, as she slowly goes insane, she tries to remember to offer up her suffering to God.

Actually, a lot of the book is concerned with the characters excusing suffering by offering it up to God while their civilization is disintegrating, and as fear and uncertainty breed superstition to explain the world to a people needing something, anything, to get through their lives. Signs and portents were seen everywhere, as guides to decision making, proof of guilt or innocence, and explanations for why things happened. The violence and the excuses for it are appalling. But as horrifying as the story is, O'Faolain holds the reader's interest up to the end. Just don't expect a happy ending.

Edited: May 8, 2010, 4:41pm Top

61 Hours by Lee Child ****½ 5/8/10

The latest and one of the best in the Jack Reacher series, about an ex-Army MP commander living a wandering life with no possessions, as usual finding trouble he can't resist getting involved in. And this time there's a powerful cliffhanger ending.

May 10, 2010, 8:09pm Top

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson **** 5/10/10

Part I of a trilogy, and what a beginning. Spans the first 30 years of the human colonization of Mars, from the voyage of the "first hundred", through settlement, terraforming, robotic industrialization, immigration, and rebellions. A great tale, with detailed scientific explanations and very good characterization for the main characters.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 8:18pm Top

Icefields by Thomas Wharton **** 5/12/10

A lyrical story of obsession, exploration, and, most centrally, glaciers. A young British doctor, Ned Byrne, takes part in an 1898 expedition to a glacier in Alberta (Canada), during which he falls into a crevasse and sees what he thinks is an angel embedded in the ice. He spends part of each of the next 25 years trying to determine when the ice around the now-closed crevasse (and angel) will reach the end of the glacier and melt. The story interweaves Byrne's life with those of other characters from around the glacier: a young Indian woman who tells him tales of the past while he recovers from his injuries in her cabin; an ex-guide turned guesthouse entrepreneur who wants to encourage tourism to the glacier; the guesthouse's manager, with whom Byrne begins an ongoing relationship; and a world famous female alpinist and the young guide who becomes infatuated with her.

None of the characters are revealed deeply to the reader, and the author uses dashes rather than quotes to indicate dialogue, increasing the sense of distance. The glacier is the main character. The writing is gorgeous, especially the voice used for Byrne's private notebooks, although one of my favorite passages is from Hal, the young guide, discussing his lover: She travels like the meandering heroine of a novel for children, shrugging off the entanglements of one chapter and moving on to the next, never stopping long enough in one place for it habits of defeat and cynicism to cling to her.

May 12, 2010, 8:46pm Top

91 - I've heard good things about this one and will be looking out for it.

92 - This I may have to break down and buy. I've read so many good reviews of it here.

May 18, 2010, 10:16pm Top

The Good Son: A Novel by Michael Gruber ****½ 5/18/10

I'm a huge fan of Michael Gruber's novels, but I found this one frustrating. The two main characters, a mother and son, have lived complicated and dangerous lives, split between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East. The story is told in alternating chapters: in first person by the son, an ex-jihadist warrior now serving in U.S. Army special forces (that alone strained my suspension of disbelief); and via third-person from the viewpoints of both the mother (a Muslim and Catholic and Jungian therapist), and a second women, a U.S. intelligence operative who pieces together a scheme meant to force an American invasion into Pakistan.

I found the main characters unconvincing: way too much has happened to them in their lives, and their ability to manipulate the actions of those around them is too easy. BUT, and this is the reason I gave the book 4½ stars: for all the drama, and the tale-talk-talk of Islamic theory, dream interpretation, and tribal life, the book made me think seriously about how little we Westerners really know of the interior and family lives of Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and about what motivates the murderous form of jihad. The story is overblown, but in its totality it is powerful, forcing the reader to consider the magnitude of our ignorance and the supreme stupidity of seeing the world through an ethnocentric lens.

May 21, 2010, 9:34pm Top

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron **** 5/21/10

A very interesting mystery set in rural Maine and featuring a game warden trying to clear his violent and on-the-run father of two murders. The end caught me completely by surprise. Presumably, this is the first of a welcome new series.

May 23, 2010, 10:45am Top

God is Dead by Ron Currie Jr. *** 5/23/10

This is a strange book of interconnected short stories. The first tale describes God taking human form as a refugee in Darfur and his death when the human body is killed. The rest of the stories answer some questions, such as how the world finds out God is dead, and describe how humanity reacts (quite poorly) and then how civilization recovers and what form it takes. Not a pretty picture. There's a very funny portrayal of Colin Powell, and a priceless one-sided interview with the lone survivor of the feral dogs who ate God's dead body and could then speak and think and feel as a human and had all-encompassing knowledge. Entertaining, interesting, odd.

May 23, 2010, 5:44pm Top

I have just added God is Dead to my wishlist.


May 24, 2010, 3:18pm Top

96 - Interesting. Went on my wishlist as well.

Edited: May 24, 2010, 3:33pm Top

97, 99:

If you haven't read his more recent book, take a look at Everything Matters!. This was my 4-star review:

Unexpectedly, this was a book I couldn't put down. Despite the fact that it's clear from the first few pages that the world is doomed, this story of a boy who has been given this information since before birth, and who grows up with the knowledge of exactly how long he will live and how life will end for everyone here, is mesmerizing and beautifully written. Told from various viewpoints, including that of the beings who have given Junior this information and continue to talk to him throughout his life, the simple humanity of Junior's life and of those around him pulls the reader in and forces the reader's emotional involvement. Magical.

May 25, 2010, 4:11pm Top

How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate by Jeff Goodell **** 5/25/10

Despite the unfortunate subtitle, this is a serious look at the history and current research being done into using technology to alter the climate to counteract the effects of global warming. The focus of the book is limited to serious ideas that may be workable in the near term (i.e., 50 years or so). This eliminates some extremely long-term and expensive ideas which nevertheless have promise, such as placing giant mirrors into orbit. Some ideas have potentially massive effects, others would be at most modestly successful but also less costly.

Technologies discussed at length would work towards either
-- increasing the earth's albedo (reflectivity): for example, injecting clouds or the atmosphere with various substances to increase brightness, or painting roofs and roads white;
-- removing CO2 from the atmosphere (including ideas to increase plankton in ocean deserts by dumping in massive loads of iron)

Aside from the ethical, moral and religious reasons for favoring or opposing various techniques, there is the worry that one or more methods could be used for military, political, or even terrorist purposes, not to mention greed as a motivation for non-regulated climate forcing. Without international agreement and oversight, geoengineering would probably be dangerous, and there is the fear that encouraging such techniques would lull us into a business-as-usual attitude regarding CO2 pollution. Goodell also points out that geoengineering would be messing with a system we don't really understand. He concludes that the best approach would be to do small experiments to decide what the effects and benefits of any particular technology might be, develop an international body to oversee research and its uses, and increase vigilance about and reduction of CO2 .

I've read quite a bit about climate change, and this book gave me a welcome added dimension into the options we have. Goodell's audience is the well-informed general reader who is already convinced of the seriousness of our climate situation. (NOTE: the edition I read was an advance reading copy provided electronically via NetGalley.com).

May 29, 2010, 11:46am Top

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz ***** 5/29/10

This is a sublime combination of years of studying and filming dog behavior and the author's experience with her own beloved pet, Pumpernickel. Whether they are smelling, hearing, seeing, playing, observing, or at rest, here dogs are regarded with the goal of appreciating them as they really are, and maximizing our enjoyment of them. A beautiful balance of the personal and the general. I miss Pump myself.

May 30, 2010, 5:30pm Top

The Information Officer by Mark Mills **** 5/30/10

A tense and atmospheric murder mystery which takes place in Malta over eight days in 1942. A British Information Officer (military propagandist), Max Chadwick, becomes aware of a serial killer who may be a British officer. Malta at the time was part of the British Empire and, because of its strategic position just south of Sicily and the presence of Allied submarines and airfields, it was under constant bombardment by the Germans and Italians. With the Maltese population becoming restless over the lack of resources to protect them, the murders threaten to further undermine cooperation. Max decides to investigate, even when it is made clear military authorities would rather the problem was concealed.

Jun 2, 2010, 1:36pm Top

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Allies by Christie Golden ***** 6/2/10

One of the best of the Star Wars books. Excellent characterization (especially Luke being sarcastic with a Sith), lots of action, perfect continuation of the ongoing saga that's developed over the years as a follow-up to the 6 movies.

Jun 4, 2010, 6:56pm Top

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara ***** 6/4/10

Quite simply: Magnificent.

The story of the Battle of Gettysburg, told from the viewpoints of several Union and Confederate officers; a novel, but based largely on memoirs and other primary materials, and studded with maps. The causes of the war are barely touched on. That's not the point. The focus is on the experience of this particular battle, of decisions being made and carried out, of love, fear, loyalty, and the pain of warring against friends.

The book begins with a few pages about the major characters' real lives, and it ends with a few pages about those who survived, some not for long. The two primary figures are Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Lee's second-in-command, and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, which on the second day maintained the left flank of the Union line against a Confederate charge with a desperate charge against the Confederates themselves, using bayonets after running out of ammunition. Despite Longstreet's arguments, Lee decided on the third day to charge straight into the middle of the Union forces (Pickett's Charge), bringing about a decisive defeat and the turn of the war towards the Union.

There is no political agenda here, no side taken. There are only men in an extraordinary situation. Intensely moving and beautifully rendered.

Edited: Jun 5, 2010, 1:15am Top

Aunt Marge, I, against the critics who seemed to want to give Ted Turner a few spins on the spit, very much liked the movie of The Killer Angels. Chamberlain came alive as human and a gentlemen making me, and presumably others, think that was what a man should be. I may yet read the book.


Jun 6, 2010, 9:00am Top

Robert, I'm so glad you mentioned that. I hadn't realized there was a film (named, appropriately, "Gettysburg") modeled on the book but have now ordered it on Netflix. Chamberlain was an interesting fellow. A scholar, not a solider, who seemed to be a natural. Apparently his contemporaries thought so too.

Jun 7, 2010, 10:06pm Top

City of Fear by David Hewson ***** 6/7/10

Hewson keeps up the superior Nic Costa series, with Costa's team from Rome's Polizia di Stato investigating a series of escalating terrorist threats occurring as the city prepares for a G8 summit. Italy's president (an old family friend of the Costa family) gives them a private assignment to look deeper, but each step they take increases official threats against them by the Italian intelligence community. Then one of their own is gunned down in front of them by the apparent terrorist, a follower of an Etruscan devil. All hell breaks loose as Rome is put under martial law and the team realizes that someone in the government is pulling the strings. This is a change of direction for the series, which usually centers on complicated murders, but it's among the best Hewson's written.

Jun 10, 2010, 7:36am Top

There is also a movie called Gods and Generals which follows Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara's book Gods and Generals detailing the early months of the war.

I found the whole series to be some of the best historical fiction books about the war out there.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:06pm Top

>108 stretch: Great to know. I haven't read God and Generals yet but will request the film. Thanks for the information.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:06pm Top

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway ****½ 6/10/10

Four residents of Sarajevo during the siege of 1992-1996 respond to the changes in their lives, the deaths of those around them, and the almost constant bombardment of the city. Inspired by a real event, Galloway tells of a cellist who witnesses 22 of his neighbors killed by a mortar as they line up to buy bread. For 22 days after, he sits in the street where the attack took place and plays in full view of the snipers on the hills around him. The other three main characters include a young woman sniper who is charged with protecting him, a young father running a deadly gauntlet to cross town and fill water bottles for his family, and an elderly man who risks his life each day to go to the bakery where he works and get bread. Each of the three crosses paths with the cellist, whose music helps them make decisions about how they will live their lives in this new reality, where all they have known is being destroyed around them. Compelling, memorable, and beautifully written.

Edited: Jun 11, 2010, 12:04am Top

Compelling, memorable, and beautifully written.

I couldn't agree more!

Jun 11, 2010, 7:34am Top

Just catching up here (and my, you've been busy!). Sad to hear about your library's interlibrary loan system going to fee service. But, I see you did get a copy of Icefields. I have had a copy for several years now having bought it after reading his Salamander and The Logogryph.

Glad you liked Indridason's The Draining Lake. I'm managing to stay current with his series by ordering them from the UK. I think you must have Arctic Chill next and then Hypothermia. And, of course, there is another new one coming. Did you ever get to see the movie of Jar City? It's an Icelandic production with subtitles. Of course, it was produced without handsome/gorgeous Hollywood types which made it all the more credible for me.

Jun 11, 2010, 8:18am Top

Do you and Caitlin ever read the same book? (btw, wow! she's a reading machine!) If yes, take a look at Deborah Wiles's new Countdown -- a novel about an 11-year-old in 1962, enhanced with the news/pop culture of the time, specifically the cold-war escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Edited: Jun 11, 2010, 10:05am Top

>111 bonniebooks: I liked it so much I've added Ascension to my wishlist, and hope to find a copy via BookMooch. Have you read it?

>112 avaland: Glad you reminded me of Indridason's other books. My library has a copy of Arctic Chill but I'll add Hypothermia to my Bookmooch wishlist. (Ditto Wharton's other books). Is Hypothermia the new one? Amazon shows pub date Sept 2010. Jar City isn't yet available at Netflix but I've added it to my watch list.

>113 detailmuse: No, we haven't, although she's about to start on Harry Potter. I take her to two libraries we frequent every week or two, or drop in myself to get things for her, and she just gobbles them up. She loves the fact that she's ahead of me for the year. Her older brothers both have me reading series they buy (Star Wars for one, Halo for the other) and I'm not going to encourage Caitlin to pass along titles just yet. I'm sure that will come. I did just pick up a copy of Uglies for her at a book sale. I'll look for Countdown when I'm at the library later today, and thanks for the recommendation!

Jun 14, 2010, 7:36pm Top

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini ***** 6/14/10

I doubt there's much I can add to what's been said about this book. It is superb, and I couldn't put it down once I started it.

Jun 15, 2010, 4:33pm Top

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens **** ½ 6/15/10

Wow, this is a novel you can't put down.

Realtor Annie is kidnapped from an open house, held for over a year by a psychopath, and finally makes an escape, only to find that she cannot shake the terror and even the "rules" he forced her to follow. And that's page one.

Annie's story is told in a series of therapy sessions, and as they progress she tells of her captivity, fears, and attempts to reconnect with family and friends, and of the police investigation into her case. The story is gripping, violent, and believable. Very highly recommended, and brava to a new writer in the world of suspense novels!

Jun 16, 2010, 1:06pm Top

Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz *½ 6/15/10

Based on the video game Halo, and not nearly as interesting as the prequel, Halo: Fall of Reach, this is about as dull as watching someone play a video game (or watching grass grow). Fans might enjoy it, but for the rest of us, BORING.

Jun 16, 2010, 3:01pm Top

>116 auntmarge64: Seems I have looked at Still Missing over and over, not sure I want to go into its dark territory. But you have me looking again!

Jun 16, 2010, 3:25pm Top

It's certainly no darker than, say the Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell series (Heartsick, etc.), to give you a comparison. I desperately needed something exciting and fast-paced, it arrived in the mail (LTER), and I finished it in 1 day. Sometimes it's so nice to have something you can't put down.

Jun 23, 2010, 7:17pm Top

Exiles on Asperus by John Wyndham ***½ 6/22/10

Three short works by the author of Day of the Triffids concerning space travel within the solar system. Enjoyable SF-lite, especially for Wyndham fans.

The first and third (the title story and "The Venus Adventure") are each about 60 pages and were written in the 1930s. They are scientifically simplistic, portraying both an asteroid and Venus as having gravity, atmosphere and temperature within a livable range for humans without protective gear. The middle story, "No Place Like Earth", was first published in 1951, is just 28 pages, and is a sequel to an earlier story, "Time to Rest". Wyndham's style had matured significantly by the 50s, and here Mars and Venus are treated more as hostile environments.

Jun 25, 2010, 8:12pm Top

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields **** 6/25/10

A gentle, compulsively readable story of one woman's life from birth to death, told interchangeably in the first- and third-person. Each chapter takes place in a new decade, so we see Daisy's life episodically, but the intervening story, and the very detailed descriptions and experiences of secondary characters, result in an overall impression of having been present for her entire life, which spans most of the 20th century. Daisy is born in rural Manitoba; raised in Winnipeg and then in Bloomington, Indiana; raises her family in Ottawa (Canada); lives her widow years in Florida. Surprisingly, the semi-diary format does not leave the reader feeling as close to Daisy as might be expected, but her parents, husbands, children and relatives, friends, and late career as a gardening columnist, are all imagined with a richness which was a pleasure read.

Jun 28, 2010, 4:27pm Top

Shadow of Ashland by Terence M. Green **** 6/28/10

Leo, a middle-aged Toronto man, is asked by his dying mother to find out what happened to her brother Jack, from whom she hasn't heard in 50 years. Following the few clues his mother has, and 50-year old letters which begin to arrive regularly, Leo eventually stumbles upon Jack's trail in Ashland, Kentucky, where several people seem to have known him and to recognize Leo himself. Staying in the old hotel room in which Jack lived in 1934, Leo starts to piece together what happened and, in events which bring to mind Field of Dreams, to actually experience some of the tale. Not a thriller, as it might seem, but a graceful story of family and the mystery of time.

Edited: Jun 29, 2010, 9:47am Top

The Cloud Book by Richard Hamblyn **** 6/28/10

This was an unexpected find that turned out to be a hit. I saw it listed on Bookmooch, thought, "why not", and was very pleasantly surprised by how interesting and well-illustrated it is.

The introduction explains the history and theory behind our current cloud designations. Then, each of the 27 subtypes of clouds is presented with at least one color photo and a description of its formation and attributes. In an interesting second section, the same treatment is given to accessory and special clouds, supplementary features, man-made clouds, and optical phenomena. My favorite: a supplementary cloud feature known as mamma (think mammary, or udder): for an illustration, see http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Mamma.

Entertaining and intriguing, with beautiful photos. Now I want to start photographing clouds myself.

Jul 1, 2010, 10:11am Top

The Cloud of Unknowing by Thomas H. Cook **** 7/1/10 (NO TOUCHSTONES)

A lawyer is questioned by a detective about a crime which is unclear at first. In a family riddled with paranoid schizophrenia, Dave has watched his father be committed twice and die at home under the care of his sister, and then his young nephew deteriorate and drown in the family's pond. The sister is convinced her husband killed the boy and proceeds, in a downward spiral, to try to prove it, even as she begins to exhibit their father's paranoia. As Dave is questioned, the consequences of these actions, and Dave's part in the tragedy which ensues, are slowly revealed in a tense story which is extremely hard to put down.

Jul 4, 2010, 2:04pm Top

Broken by Karin Slaughter ***½ 7/4/10

This is the 8th in the Sara Linton suspense series set in Georgia. The series is quite good, and this is no exception, although the main characters wear on me every time I read one of these. All of the main characters - all of them - feel they are worthless and guilty of whatever bad things have happened in their lives. It's quite tiresome. But the suspense is always interesting, and somehow I can't keep myself from reading the next in the series. There have been some drastic plot developments over the years (especially the death of a main character), and somehow I want to know what happens next.

Jul 7, 2010, 2:34pm Top

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths **** 7/7/10

A great beginning to a new mystery series starring Ruth Galloway, an almost-40 year old, somewhat overweight, professor of archaeology who lives by a salt marsh in rural northern England. Called in to identify and date bones found in the marsh (which turn out to be Iron Age), she becomes deeply involved in the search for two missing little girls, one taken 10 years ago and the other recently. Ruth is a wonderful character (emotionally strong, honest about herself, smart, and interested in the world around her) and the marsh and sea are described vividly. Much of the text is pitch perfect. An example is Ruth's arrival home one day, meeting one of her cats as she goes to the front door: Flint appears on her doorstep mewing piteously for admittance even though he has his own cat-flap and has, in fact, been snoozing inside all day. Yup, that's a cat.

There is one major problem: the map provided is very out of scale, and it took me most of the book to get a sense of the distances. Because of this I had a hard time understanding why some of the important plot developments were so difficult for the characters to achieve. Still, I will be looking forward to more from this new crime novelist about Ruth and her friends (feline and otherwise). (Actually, I'd like to have her as a friend myself.)

Jul 11, 2010, 5:58pm Top

The Burying Place by Brian Freeman ***½ 7/11/10

In some ways this is a terrific thriller. The guilty party isn't known until a few pages from the end, and there is plenty of action and some interesting characters. But the story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of quite a variety of characters, and it really breaks up the flow. Sometimes this works, but in this case it diminishes the suspense.

Jul 16, 2010, 12:07pm Top

Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten ****½ 7/16/10

A charming folktale set in a modern-day hamlet in Hungary. Valeria, an older spinster who loudly criticizes just about everything and everyone around her, suddenly falls in love with the village's widowed potter. She has a rival, however: the middle-aged barkeeper with whom the potter has been "carrying on". Neither woman is shy about manipulating the townsfolk to achieve their goals, and the arrival of a randy itinerant chimney sweep sets in motion a whirlwind of moves and counter-moves to win the potter's hand. Funny and somewhat vulgar (literally ALL the villagers are obsessed with sex and body parts), the story pulls the reader merrily along till the satisfying conclusion.

Edited: Jul 19, 2010, 7:05pm Top

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths **** 7/17/10

The second in the Ruth Galloway mysteries, starring the forensic archaeologist from Norwich, England, who is now pregnant and in the center of another case of recovered bones along with Harry Nelson, the chief investigating officer and the baby's married father. Easy reading, interesting characters, neat mystery mingled with obscure Roman cult customs. Very much looking forward to #3, "The House at Seas End".

Jul 20, 2010, 11:09pm Top

The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories by Herodotus ***** 7/20/10

This is a superb edition of the classic by the "Father of History", even (or maybe especially) for the non-specialist. I read the Kindle edition simultaneously with the print version (950+ pages), the first for ease of use, the second for the hundreds of maps, which don't show up well in e-ink.

This edition, one of the Landmark translations of classical literature edited by Robert B. Strassler, begins with 50 pages of introductions and prefaces, a dated outline of the text, and then the 9 books, each heavily footnoted, sourced and laced with maps. The maps alone make the edition worth its hefty price tag, but following the text there are 23 appendices (each footnoted and sourced), a glossary and bibliography, a 100-page annotated index, and a directory to place names mentioned in the text.

Appendices include:
The Athenian Government in Herodotus
The Spartan State in War and Peace
The Account of Egypt: Herodotus Right and Wrong
Herodotean Geography
Herodotus and the Black Sea Region
Rivers and Peoples of Scythia
The Continuity of Steppe Culture
The Ionian Revolt
Classical Greek Religious Festivals
Ancient Greek Units of Currency, Weight, and Distance
Dialect and Ethnic Groups in Herodotus
Aristocratic Families in Herodotus
Herodotus on Persia and the Persian Empire
Hoplite Warfare in Herodotus
The Persian Army in Herodotus
Oracles, Religion, and Politics in Herodotus
Herodotus and the Poets
The Size of Xerxes' Expeditionary Force
Trireme Warfare in Herodotus
Tyranny in Herodotus
On Women and Marriage in Herodotus

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

Jul 23, 2010, 10:19pm Top

Time Among the Dead by Thomas Rayfiel **** 7/23/10

This short novel is told in the form of a journal, written by the elderly Earl of Upton in late Victorian England. As he faces his decline, he dredges up long-buried memories of his dysfunctional birth family while trying to guide and connect with his estranged grandson and heir. The only false notes arise when the narrator addresses future readers, a device which doesn't ring true. However, this is a very small percentage of the whole, which I found moving and memorable.

Jul 24, 2010, 8:36am Top

>114 auntmarge64: Hypothermia has been out in the UK for quite a while. I usually can't wait and order them from the Book Depository.

Jul 24, 2010, 8:48am Top

>132 avaland: Jar City is now available for streaming from Netflix, so it's in my queue. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jul 27, 2010, 10:10pm Top

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick **** 7/26/10

Written by New Yorker editor David Remnick, this lengthy journalistic look at Barack Obama's life examines the influences which shaped him, the choices he's made, and the events which have propelled him to prominence so quickly. The story begins with the lives of Obama's grandparents, the story of his parents' brief marriage, and his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia. Broad-ranging information is also given on the history and leaders of the civil rights movement and the impact on Obama of the African-American heritage he investigated and made his own in his teens and later. A large section concerns his time in Chicago, and the last couple of chapters cover the race aspects of the 2008 presidential election. Much of the book is based on interviews with hundreds of people, from Obama and his far-flung family to his advisors, detractors, and adversaries. Perhaps as befits a biography of someone still at the beginning of his administration, there is not a great deal of analysis. Instead, the author delves into facts, reminiscences, and materials written by Obama and others.

I picked up this book hoping to get a better grip on who Obama is, what makes him tick, and how he works at problem-solving among people with so many competing agendas. I have profound respect for the President, a brilliant, charasmatic and highly-educated man who approaches those who disagree with him with patience and respect. I'm not sure how successful this will be in a field crippled by habitual distrust, hate, and lies, but if we have any chance to dig ourselves out of the hole in which partisanship has buried us, such an attitude is imperative.

Some of my questions, such as the details of his early life and the influences on it, were answered. Others, such as why he identifies as black rather than as white, say, are less clear to me, although the answer there may simply be a matter of what is allowed for a mixed-race child in our society. (Although Obama doesn't seem to have been embraced particularly warmly by black America, either, where his appeal to non-blacks has sometimes been used as proof that he isn't black enough.)

While it will be years before we know how successful Obama will be in finding others who will reach across the aisle (or even support his efforts from the same side of the aisle), I now have a much better idea of why he appeals to so many and what tactics he will use to promote America's well-being and future.

Edited: Jul 29, 2010, 1:03pm Top

The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child **** 7/29/10

I ran across this book on a list of novels set in Antarctica. While Antarctica actually isn't the setting, most of the action does take place in the islands off the southern tip of Chile during winter.

Funded by one of the world's richest men, a group of engineers and scientists attempt to remove the heaviest meteorite ever found from a small Chilean island so it can be displayed in a new museum in New York. The expedition is threatened by a rogue Chilean destroyer captain who is suspicious of the group's intentions, and at the same time the mysterious meteorite, unlike any ever found in more ways than weight, seems to be responsible for a series of deaths. This is an extremely fast-paced thriller with a vocal following which has convinced the authors to write a sequel (unpublished as of this writing, July 2010).

Jul 30, 2010, 8:27pm Top

>123 auntmarge64: I liked the idea of The Cloud Book and found Hamblyn's follow-up, Extraordinary Clouds through my library consortium. It finally arrived today and is great to browse through!

Jul 31, 2010, 10:31am Top

>136 detailmuse: Nice! I hadn't seen Extraordinary Clouds before but will have to find a copy.

Aug 1, 2010, 9:58pm Top

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009 by Gourmet Magazine **** 8/1/10

This charming cookbook begins with an introduction guaranteed to melt the heart of even the least-likely cook (me) and convince her to give cookies a chance: Buy a cookie, and it's just a bite of sugar, something sweet to get you through the day. Bake a cookie, on the other hand, and you send an instant message from the moment you measure out the flour.


We were so captivated by the language of cookies that we have printed the recipes exactly as they originally appeared. In the early years, they are remarkably casual, a kind of mysterious shorthand that assumes that each reader is an accomplished cook who needs very little in the way of guidance. "Bake in a moderate oven until crisp," is a classic instruction. So is "Add flour until the dough is stiff." It's interesting to see numbers creep into the recipes in the form of degrees, minutes, and cups. And it's startling to observe the recipes growing longer and longer as they become increasingly precise.

Each recipe is presented as originally published, along with a color photo, notes to help the modern cook interpret instructions, and tidbits about Gourmet's focus and the place of cookies in the magazine's contents in that particular year.

(Read on the computer as a download from netgalley.com)

Aug 2, 2010, 9:00am Top

>138 auntmarge64: you sold me with that second quote! Fascinating anthropology there, can't wait till this one's released ... ack, November!

I've grown hesitant to request ARCs of image-heavy books (the low-res, b/w photos are so disappointing) but I'm wondering about your experience with e-galleys. Are the pages laid out in their intended design? With color images?

Aug 2, 2010, 11:12am Top

>139 detailmuse: The computer download seemed to be an exact replica of the book - color photos, varied type faces, etc. I suppose there could be changes made before printing, but it actually seemed to be "the book". Another egalley I'm reading, also on my computer, is a collection of scientific studies, complete with tables and charts.

I generally have egalleys with no illustrations emailed to my Kindle and the formatting can be strange, but the price and timing can't be beat. Some of these books aren't coming out till next year.

Aug 3, 2010, 9:49am Top

Thanks, helpful info. I'm not a fan of e-text yet but this sounds interesting for image-heavy arcs.

Edited: Aug 5, 2010, 2:02pm Top

Mawson: A Life by Philip Ayres ***½ 8/4/10

Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958) was the first of the great Australian Antarctic explorers. A geologist and professor by trade, he alternated trips to Antarctica with surveying New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and writing a major work on its geology, locating deposits of minerals with radioactive properties, and proving and dating Australia's glacial history. Through his connections with geologist Sir Edgeworth David, Mawson expanded his interest in glaciation by making the acquaintance of Ernest Shackleton and joining his 1908-09 Antarctic voyage as physicist. He was subsequently invited to join Captain Robert Scott's (ill-fated) South Pole sledging group, but instead he approached Shackleton for help raising funds for an expedition of his own. This Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-1913), the trip for which he is most well-known and was knighted, is described below. Between 1929 and 1931 Mawson led two other voyages, known collectively as The British Australian (and) New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), and he was involved with Australian and Antarctic exploration policy until shortly before his death.

In Dec 1911, Mawson and his team set out for Antarctica and proceeded to set up base camp at Commonwealth Bay and do preliminary meteorological and geological studies. It was unknown at the time that this part of Australia was one of the windiest spots on earth. In November 1912, with spring coming on, the team split into several groups, planning to meet back at camp on January 15th for rendezvous with the ship. Mawson and his two companions, Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, set out with dogs and sledges to explore inland along the coast. On December 14th, 315 miles from camp, Ninnis, the main sledge, and the best dogs disappeared into a crevasse. On the sledge were the tent and most of the food and spare clothing. Unable to see, hear, or reach Ninnis, Mawson and Mertz turned back to base, with 10 days of rations, six weak dogs, and a second sledge. They ate the dogs to replace the lost food supply, but they were able to travel only a few miles a day as Mertz sickened and, on January 7th, died. Alone, with few supplies and still a hundred miles to travel through blizzards and ice fields, Mawson fought on, despite frostbite, sloughing skin, and a fall down a crevasse from which only his sledge harness gave him a chance to climb out during the next few hours. He arrived back at base camp on February 8th, only to find that the ship had departed that morning. The captain had, however, left 6 men to stay for the winter and hopefully find Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis, and they nursed him back to health while waiting for spring and a ride back to Australia in December 1913.

Mawson's extraordinary journey has been described in several books, two of which he wrote himself, with photos by the legendary Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley, who was in the larger party. It is a nail-biting tale, even knowing the end. Mawson's life as a whole, however, is much less interesting, so the biographer had a choice: use Mawson's life as a frame for the 1911-1913 expedition, or give a measured, even look at the life as a whole. Unfortunately, Ayres choice the latter approach, and large sections of the book are very dull. The author had access to the massive Mawson archives of research, notes, diaries, and correspondence, and he seems to have had trouble glossing over the minutiae, such as guest lists and side interests. On the other hand, he does attempt to unsentimentally judge Mawson's contributions to Australian science and his relationships with other greats of the period. Apparently Mawson could be unfair and hold a grudge just like regular folk, and he held himself somewhat aloof from others on his expeditions.

This biography will be of interest primarily to Mawson fans (myself included) who want to know everything about him. General readers will do better with Home of the Blizzard or Mawson's Will to read about this man's extraordinary response to the tragedy which befell his team.

Edited: Aug 7, 2010, 10:31pm Top

Red Leaves by Thomas H. Cook ***½ 8/7/10

In this tense novel, a father describes what happens to his family after his teenage son falls under suspicion of kidnapping a little girl he babysits. Once started, it is hard to put the book down: up to the end it is unclear whether the child will live or die, whether the father will have faith in his son, and whether the family will survive the ordeal, although it's obvious from the way the story is told that all does not end well.

My main problem with the story is how the boy's parents react to the little girl's disappearance. The morning after the son babysits, they receive a hysterical call from the girl's father. After reassuring the girl's father that they have no information, the family simply goes on with its routine of jobs and school. They don't go over to the girl's home, they don't offer to help in the search, they don't get an attorney, and they don't even seem all that curious as to what's happened - until the police start showing up. While I was glued to the action, I couldn't get this unlikely reaction out of my mind.

Edited: Aug 7, 2010, 11:01pm Top

I really enjoyed your review of Mawson, including some of the hair-raising details since I know I won't read it myself. Regarding Red Leaves, I think I would have the same reaction to the actions of the boy's parents as well. Implausible actions like that by characters really take me out of the story and, thus, reduce my enjoyment dramatically.

Aug 8, 2010, 11:17am Top

>144 bonniebooks: I will say that the books that are about just the expedition of 1911-1913 are wonderful, if you're looking for something along those lines.

Edited: Aug 11, 2010, 9:55pm Top

All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque ***** 8/11/10

What a beautiful book, full of humanity beset in every way on the front lines of World War I. If there is anyone who hasn't read this already, find the time and you'll be rewarded may times over by a narrator and a story which will live in your memory for years.

Aug 12, 2010, 1:14am Top

Okay. I have a copy of it here somewhere. When it surfaces I'll read it.


Edited: Aug 13, 2010, 6:02pm Top

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson *** 8/13/10


The book opens almost a century after the colonization of Mars (recounted in Red Mars), with 39 of the original First Hundred settlers still alive and active as leaders in various political and scientific movements and taking repeated anti-aging treatments. They live side-by-side with several other generations, all born on Mars, physically different and politically Martian to the core. Earth is just not a priority for them. For newer immigrants, however, Earth is still very central, as it is for the huge multinational corporations which run Earth and, increasingly, Mars, with private security forces. As life on Earth deteriorates towards a new world war, with increases in population but limited distribution of the anti-aging treatments and then the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, Martian underground leaders must decide how to foster independence from Earth while they deal with the forced climate changes they've made to Mars and a variety of factions, some quite violent, who can't agree on how Mars should be developed (if at all) and how to end multinational control.

Long, with some very tiresome scientific and philosophical debates and few really likable characters. OTOH, if you want to read the Mars trilogy, this is part II and essential to the story line. Many characters are familiar from Red Mars, and there are a couple of intriguing new ones. Be warned, though: get a map of Mars to use with the book.

I'll take a couple of months off before tackling Blue Mars.

Aug 16, 2010, 12:31pm Top

The Mark by Jason Pinter *** 8/15/10

A pulse-pounding intro to a series about a young New York City investigative reporter. Here he is attacked by a corrupt policeman while on an assignment and then accused of killing the cop. A national manhunt ensues, a beautiful woman joins him in flight, and the pair try to solve the crime while running from cops, FBI, and a mob hitman. Over-the-top but fun.

Edited: Aug 18, 2010, 11:33am Top

Climate Change Science and Policy edited by Stephen H. Schneider ****½ 8/16/10

I read this courtesy of the publisher via netgalley.com, and since they were kind enough to supply me with a copy, I felt I should persevere, although for a non-scientist it's tough going. And it's scary as all get-out.

Climate scientist Stephen H. Schneider (who died in July, 2010) here organizes 49 essays from noted experts to explore the state-of-our-knowledge of global climatic disruption and potential related policy initiatives. The essays are scholarly and, in some cases, quite technical, with charts, maps, and detailed sourcing.

There are five main sections. Impacts of Climate Change ranges over extinction, ecosystems, water, hurricanes, wildfires, forests of Amazonia, crop production and food security, human health, and unique and valued places. Policy Analysis looks at economic impacts, assessment modeling, risk perceptions, political feasibility, carbon taxes/trading/offsets, and the economic cost of reducing COs emissions. International Considerations include international treaties, EU climate policy, population, inequities and imbalances, ethics and rights, developing countries, the Clean Development Mechanism, and climate change and policy in China, India and Australia. There is a large section (9 essays) on the United States, including an interesting look at California's approach to combating climate change and at the role of media and public education in shaping policy. The fifth section, Mitigation Options to Reduce Carbon Emissions, discusses renewable energy, hydrogen and nuclear energy, coal capture and storage, "avoided deforestation" policy for tropical forests, and the pros and cons of engineering the climate.

The information presented here, current to late 2009, is quite alarming, even for someone who has been following climate change for some years. I guess someone has to make an effort to pull things together and hope to change the future, but the more I read in this field, the less hope I have that we as a species can cooperate in time and to the extent necessary to avoid changes for which we aren't prepared and wouldn't want if they were to happen today. In addition to the fact that the many, many consequences of climate change are endlessly layered and interconnected, they are also global, the scope of which most people don't fathom. We aren't talking about simple temperature warming, but massive changes in food production and water availability, location of growing seasons, food chain extinctions, and unprecedented illness and death from starvation, lack of drinking water, and political unrest as huge populations can no longer survive within their countries' borders. It doesn't help that industrial countries have the most to lose in lifestyle but the least in safety, at least for the next few decades. It is also possible that some wealthier countries will see short-term benefits from climate change, which will add to the unwillingness to alter our ways. However, the lag time in climate change is several human lifetimes, and it is too easy to indulge our species' short attention span and need to fulfill immediate wants. Add to that the political improbability of international trust and cooperation for what is needed to stop catastrophe, and the future seems quite bleak.

While this book is difficult for the non-specialist to read, it is full of data and the scientific proofs rarely found in more popular books on the topic. This is the book to read to find out exactly why most scientists are extremely concerned and some terrified by what we've set in motion. Most of the writers make an attempt to just present the facts without sounding an alarm, and the effect is perhaps more disturbing: the bald facts lay out a future we really, really don't want but seem incapable of fully grasping. And therein may lie our fate.

Edited: Aug 22, 2010, 9:22am Top

Prey on Patmos by Jeffrey Siger *** 8/19/10

An enjoyable third Inspector Kaldis mystery, set primarily on the Greek island of Patmos, where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation. A beloved elderly monk is murdered, and as Kaldis and his partner investigate, all trails lead to a conspiracy to influence the future location of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (at either Mount Athos in Greece or somewhere in Russia). The mystery is secondary here to island and church history, described in interesting detail by various characters. In fact, I'd say read this book for the setting more than the mystery. The characters are a bit too quick with repartee to be completely believable, but the book is great beach reading or entertainment for an evening before the fire. (Read in galley format via netgalley.com. The book will be published in January 2011.)

Aug 22, 2010, 10:32pm Top

Two Rivers by T. Greenwood ***** 8/22/10

A novel of love, loss, anger, and redemption, told alternately in three time lines from one man's point of view. Wonderful in every way, pitch-perfect, and haunting. I found this book as a free Kindle download some time ago and gave it a try just this week. So happy to find a new author to love.

Edited: Aug 26, 2010, 10:46am Top

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine by Huston Smith ***** 8/25/10

Huston Smith has been a well-known professor and lecturer on religion for decades, both around the world and on television. In 2009, he celebrated his 90th birthday as he was completing this autobiography.

Although he was raised the son of Methodist missionaries in China and has maintained his practice of Christianity, he has also immersed himself in and practiced Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. He's a close friend of the Dalai Lama, was present for a number of the dramatic events of the 20th century, including Tienanmen Square, and Kent State, and was instrumental in integrating Washington University (St. Louis) after he invited Martin Luther King there to lecture. Aldous Huxley, another of his guest lecturers, introduced him to Timothy Leary, who invited him to participate in the 1960s Harvard experiments into whether psychedelic drugs could provide religious experiences (his conclusion: they may, if taken under the right conditions, although it is far less clear that they produce religious lives. Then he quotes Ram Dass on the continued use of these drugs - After you get the message, hang up.). After the phenomenal success of The Religions of Man (1958), Dr. Smith investigated native religions in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere and in 1991 a new edition was published with the title The World's Religions. The book has been regarded as one of the best texts in comparative religion for over 50 years.

In his autobiography, Dr. Smith explores the three areas of his life: upbringing and career, married life and fatherhood, and spiritual journey. He uses few words, but they are perfectly chosen to give the reader a sense of intimacy with his experiences. Trying to sum up my feelings about this book, my first thought was that I'd been blessed - as though I'd been touched a bit by the holy myself.

Aug 26, 2010, 10:31am Top

#153 - What an interesting person that I know nothing about. Thanks for the review. Too bad The Religions of Man / The World's Religions are essentially un-reviewed.

Aug 26, 2010, 10:43am Top

>154 dchaikin:. Funny you should mention that - I've just ordered The World's Religions and will review it when finished .....

Aug 26, 2010, 11:02am Top

Those Harvard/psychedelics experments again! I really need to get to that reading. I also have The World's Religions in my tbrs and look forward to your comments.

Aug 26, 2010, 11:22am Top

#155 - I'm very curious how that will go, and look forward to your review.

Aug 26, 2010, 4:54pm Top

I've read The Religions of Man and found it very informative. On the other hand it is only one book trying to cover a library's amount of information. I think I wouldn't mind reading the latest incarnation along with rereading The Perennial Philosophy. Both of them are very readable.

I'll have to think about Smith's autobiography, but thanks for the introduction to it.


Aug 26, 2010, 10:20pm Top

>156 detailmuse: - hah, I know, can't stay away from them. Actually, I first learned of Huston Smith from reading The Psychedelic Club.

>157 dchaikin:. Me too . It shipped today along with his The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition.

>158 Mr.Durick:. Hi Robert, the autobiography is short - I don't know how much he covers in other books but am looking forward to reading them. He has had an incredibly eventful life.

Sep 2, 2010, 10:59pm Top

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins ***½ 9/2/10

I loved The Woman in White, but this one didn't work for me nearly as well. It seemed to run on forever, and at least one of the most interesting mysteries, the life story of the doctor's assistant Ezra Jennings, is left unresolved. So, just not my cup of tea, I guess.

Sep 3, 2010, 11:18pm Top

The Museum Guard by Howard Norman *** 9/3/10

Set in late 1930s Halifax, Nova Scotia, this story of love, obsession, identity, and art takes place as Canadians are just beginning to hear of the horrors Hitler is bringing to Europe and to Europe's Jews. The writer holds the reader at arm's length, leisurely edging towards the heart of the tale, a spell-binding gem which takes up the last 100 pages. Unfortunately, the story should have been a novella, not the 300-page novel it is. I say unfortunately because I think many readers will give up in disinterest before they get to the wonderful conclusion.

Sep 13, 2010, 9:39pm Top

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski ****½ 9/13/10

Mischa Berlinski, the eponymous narrator, is an American freelance journalist living abroad. He becomes fascinated by the mystery of an anthropologist living in tribal Thailand who murders a member of a Christian missionary family which has been working in Asia for four generations. Mischa spends a year piecing together the history of the missionaries and the life of the anthropologist, tracing how their stories finally, and fatally, became intertwined. The use of the author's own name for the narrator was initially confusing and awkward. But other than that misstep, this is fine writing and a fascinating tale of the conflicts in expectations between Westerners with their widely divergent goals and approaches and the subjects of their efforts.

Sep 18, 2010, 10:31pm Top

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason *** 9/18/10

This latest in the Inspector Erlendur series doesn't have a great deal of action. Most of the mystery concerns whether a murdered Icelandic/Thai child was targeted because of his race, a question the main characters spend most of the book considering. There is a secondary mystery which interferes with Erlendur's focus but doesn't add too much to the suspense. All-in-all, somewhat ho-hum.

Edited: Sep 21, 2010, 9:18pm Top

The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal ****½ 9/4/10

Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western, offers a thought-provoking look at the development and use of the New Testament:
- its beginning as uncollected individual works which were frequently copied, edited, and passed on, with many lost or no longer part of the official canon.
- the selection of a static group of writings several hundred years later as the new official canon (the New Testament with which we are familiar).
- the current practice of Bible publishing: thousands of interpretations, versions, and groupings of writings (or Bibles), freely edited via both value-added Bible marketing and the Internet.

Beal is less interested here in tracing the earliest copies of canonical books than in discussing how early gospels, letters and revelations were used, collected, and disseminated. He describes their development from scrolls, which were sung (not read) and physically usable in completely different ways from bound pages; from a few copies of copies, traded around among groups in diverse locations so that no congregation had the same collection of religious tracts, to political decisions in the 4th century leading to an official canon; from many gospels to four, many revelations to one, and thus many "bibles" (or collections) to one. The surviving early New Testament manuscripts and fragments demonstrate the enormous variety of versions disseminated in the first couple of centuries. Then came conformity. Now we are on an expansion again, with the Internet allowing widespread discussion, and with thousands of translations and "value-added" Bible editions being published, the latter aimed at an audience which believes the Bible holds the answer to each of life's questions. But Beal believes the Bible is not meant to give specific single answers but, instead, to encourage group discussion and individual meditation. And while he sees the recent explosion in Bible variety as a means to return to its original use, he finds that value-added Bibles typically lead to exactly the opposite: keeping people from actually reading the Bible and giving them simplified interpretations which make them feel good but don't necessarily lead them to its actual study.

I found the book persuasive, well-written, and full of ideas with which I was not familiar (I'm a general reader, not a New Testament scholar). I personally have no doubt that without an original version of any of the books we cannot know exactly what was written. If our goal is to have a definitive version of any of the New Testament writings, we are in trouble. But if Beal is correct, and early writings were considered food for thought and discussion, not dogma (and this seems at least possible, given that early Christians were Jews and that is how Jewish scriptures were used), then the finalized canon has been a self-limiting entity which has choked off the very lifeblood of early Christianity, and the many-Bibles scenario may give us a second chance at discovering the true meaning (if not the actual words) of early Christian teachings.

(Reviewed from an advance uncorrected proof available via netgalley.com. Publication date February 2011.)

Sep 21, 2010, 9:26pm Top

Interesting review -- as an atheist/agnostic/pantheist, ex-Lutheran, instructor of literature and humanities -- I'm fascinated with how these texts evolved and are still evolving. I'm no religious scholar either, but understanding the history of religious texts is central to understanding the development of civilizations.

Sep 21, 2010, 10:04pm Top

Hi Jane - Yes, I'm coming from somewhat the same place, but having been raised in a small fundamentalist church which aimed at emulating early Christianity, I find the early (and largely unrecovered) history of the New Testament fascinating. Thanks for the comments.

Edited: Sep 21, 2010, 10:08pm Top

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman ****½ 9/20/10

The presidency of James K. Polk (1845-1849), rated "near great" by many historians, became largely lost from public consciousness in the furor of the Civil War, but it has been experiencing a renewed respect due to biographies such as this. Polk had four major goals as President, all of which he accomplished: establish a national treasury, reduce the tariff, settle the boundaries of the Oregon Territory with Britain, and acquire California. These last two added modern Oregon, Idaho, Washington state, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Montana to our country's territory. Polk was also heavily involved in acquiring Texas, which was annexed by President Tyler the day before Polk took office. He is also known for the strength with which he guided his Cabinet and the entire administration and the power he wrested for the Presidency, so visible in recent years.

Borneman provides an evenly-paced and very readable account of Polk's life and work and the political atmosphere in which his career flourished, failed, and then reached its apex. It was eerie, however, to read the means by which the U.S. approached gaining a strong enough foothold in Texas, California and the Oregon Territory that claims for those areas could potentially be made: the government encouraged Americans to move and settle there in large numbers without permission from either the Mexican or British governments, respectively. Sound familiar?

Sep 22, 2010, 8:36am Top

Catching up...Fieldwork sounds quite interesting, and The Rise and Fall of the Bible sounds absolutely fascinating. At one point I would have loved to read a biography of Polk...maybe I get back that mindset sometime. Great reviews, all.

Sep 22, 2010, 10:01pm Top

I read Arctic Chill recently too, but enjoyed it more than you did. Was this your first Indridason? It was mine, and I'm wondering if my favorable response was due in part to the exotic setting and had I already been familiar with the Reykjavik setting, would I have liked the book less?

Sep 22, 2010, 10:53pm Top

>169 RidgewayGirl: Hi Ridgeway - I saw that you read it too, and we both received it via LTER. I think our reading tastes are pretty similar. I also read The Draining Lake, the previous book published in English, which I liked better (4 stars). And, in fact, this evening I watched the Icelandic production of Jar City, the first book in the series. Very grim, and for me, too, the setting is exotic, but geez, it's bleak. Have you seen the movie (it's available for rental or streaming from Netflix)?

Sep 23, 2010, 2:06pm Top

No, I haven't seen the movie.

We do usually like the same books, or at least the same sort of books, so it's always interesting when our reactions diverge. I'm going to read more by Indridason.

Sep 23, 2010, 2:31pm Top

I'll be interested to see what you think.

Sep 23, 2010, 7:00pm Top

Was the video title Jar City? BN.COM hasn't heard of it.


Sep 23, 2010, 9:25pm Top

Hi Robert,

That's the English translation of the title as it appears on the US release of the Icelandic movie. The Icelandic film title was "Mýrin".

http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/Jar-City/70090306?trkid=1537777 (not sure that link will work if you're not a member). It's also available on ebay.

Sep 23, 2010, 11:13pm Top

I put Mýrin into a DVD search at BN.COM, and it responded with a bunch of books by Harlan Coben. But now I know to keep my eyes open for it.

Thank you,


Edited: Sep 24, 2010, 12:56pm Top

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni **** 9/24/10

In an unnamed U.S. city, nine people are trapped by an earthquake in the basement visa office of the Indian consulate. As the hours pass, food and water are depleted, parts of the building continue to collapse, and broken water pipes slowly fill the basement. As hope of rescue dwindles, one after another they tell their scared companions something important about their lives, usually involving why they are going to India or what brought them to the U.S. in the first place. The individual stories are spellbinding, although it takes a third of the book to get to them and until they tell their tales, most of the characters are fairly unlikable. Perhaps that's part of the power of the book. At any rate, I very much enjoyed the book, but the end is way too abrupt and feels unfinished. I want to know what happened next, for each character!

Sep 28, 2010, 12:26pm Top

Zachary Taylor by John S.D. Eisenhower **** 9/29/10

This brief biography of our 12th President does an excellent job of giving the basics of Taylor's military career and 16 months in office. The author keeps the reader engaged, giving enough information on events and the personalities involved with them to make sense of, especially, the Mexican-American War and the build-up of tensions over slavery and the possibility of its expansion into new states. Taylor's family life is given only cursory coverage, but Eisenhower, a military historian, certainly knows how to bring battles and troop movements to life even for the non-military minded.

Edited: Sep 30, 2010, 10:18pm Top

I've read two books this week for which I'm not going to publish formal reviews. The first was First Strike, the third of the Halo video game novelizations which I'm reading at the behest of my nephew. The first in the series was quite good, the second quite mediocre, and this one actually a pleasure. The author's the thing in this series: the first and third were written by Eric Nylund.

In an extreme change of pace, I then read The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse. Hesse wrote Magister Ludi, aka The Glass Bead Game, which I've read several times, and long ago I read Siddhartha (well, who didn't if they lived through, although may not remember, the 60s?). I gave this book 4 stars, but even trying to describe the plot would be torture. The book is short, little happens, and the narrator is an unreliable witness who harbors suicidal self-doubt. The narrator can remember, but only vaguely, that he was once part of something wonderful, and he has no idea how to get the connection back. I was horrified to my core at Hesse's description. I need to digest this further. Or maybe forget it for a while.

Oct 1, 2010, 3:25pm Top

I would be willing to bet actual money that those two titles have never before been put side by side.

Oct 1, 2010, 6:01pm Top

>179 RidgewayGirl: Heh, heh, heh - probably not....

Oct 5, 2010, 8:48am Top

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett ***** 10/4/10

In a small South American country, a Japanese industrialist is given a lavish birthday party in hopes of luring his company to build a factory there. His gift, and the only reason he has agreed to come: a live performance by the world's most beloved operatic soprano. As the performance ends, a group of terrorists, three adults and 15 young people, take over the compound, looking for the country's President, who had promised to be there but backed out at the last minute to watch his favorite soap opera. Furious at being denied their prize, the terrorists release the sick and all the women (except the soprano) and a long standoff ensues. As weeks go by, unexpected connections form among those in the house, especially among the prisoners and between prisoners and captors. The story edges towards its inevitable conclusion, although the characters', and the reader's, hopes remain till the end, and there is a surprise or two left to savor.

I loved this book! I fell in love with some of the characters myself, from both sides, and this is one of the very few books I've read recently which I desperately didn't want to end, partly because of what "the end" might mean, but also because I got caught up in the "life" of this sequestered group, even as they did themselves. Almost a fairy tale, but so full of humanity. Beautiful.

Oct 5, 2010, 10:23am Top

I'm so with you in your love for this novel. It's the book I most long to see on film, but that seems not to be.

Oct 5, 2010, 10:58am Top

>182 detailmuse: You know, I was thinking the same thing. It would be wonderful to see it filmed, but although it's been optioned, Patchett had this to say:

I don't think Bel Canto is a logical choice for film because of the language issues, the oversized cast, and the suffocating location. It would take someone with a great deal of passion for the project to get it right. I would, however, love to see this book made into an opera.

Oct 5, 2010, 11:27am Top

#181 just seeing the cover brings the book back to me. I can completely related to your review, esp. the last paragraph. Part of me agrees with Patchett about the movie...it wouldn't be that easy because it's all about the atmosphere. She succeeds through language. but, I can see a movie potentially go so very wrong...

Edited: Oct 6, 2010, 8:13pm Top

Journey to Lhasa in Tibet (Silk Road Travel Series) by Brian Lawrenson *** 10/6/10

A brief account of a 10-day bus trip from Nepal to Lhasa and back taken by the author and his wife in 1986, as well as a short description of a 2009 or 2010 train journey taken by friends of theirs from Beijing to Lhasa. Well-written, but, at least on the Kindle copy, poorly edited. Still, for those interested in the topic, two neat little travelogues.

Edited: Oct 12, 2010, 9:43pm Top

The Freshour Cylinders by Speer Morgan ****½ 10/12/10

In Depression-era Fort Smith, Arkansas, a part-Indian prosecutor becomes involved in stopping the mining and sale of artifacts from the Spiro Mounds, the Oklahoma site of an abandoned pre-Columbian civilization. Murder, racism, intimidation, and a basic lawlessness in the area, especially among the legal professions, are memorably portrayed in this literary mystery, which draws heavily on the actual history of the Mounds, which were largely stripped of their contents by licensed miners before the government stepped in with a preservation plan. Just as vividly drawn are the lives of people struggling to survive against sand storms, desperation, and hate. The main character, Tom Freshour, was featured in the author's earlier The Whipping Boy, which is set during Tom's teen years at an abusive Indian orphanage. This was a wonderful find and an inexpensive ebook (Amazon, B&N, etc.), but it is also available in physical formats.

Oct 20, 2010, 10:30pm Top

Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga *** 10/20/10

This novel has intriguing characters with interesting back stories, some very nice writing, and kept me reading eagerly till the end. So why only 3 stars? Well, none of it hangs together, and much of it is unconvincing.

Sunny, a Pentecostal snake handler, is released from prison after serving six years for shooting her preacher husband after he forces her at gunpoint to reach into a box of rattlesnakes. Now she enrolls in college and takes up residence in the guest apartment of one of the anthropology professors, Jackson, who dreams of either returning to his pygmy lover and their child in Africa or getting married and settling down where he is. That was the author's first misstep, portraying Jackson in his passive consideration of the only two paths he sees as his choices in life. The two characters fall into a relationship, but it isn't particularly convincing. Jackson's story is told in the third person and keeps the reader at a distance. Sunny's story is first-person, and for all her obvious intelligence, she is portrayed as a wide-eyed naïf, enthralled by literally every little fact she learns in her classes. Then there's Jackson's sudden interest in studying the Pentecostal church where Sunny was a member, and his growing spiritual connection to their practices, even as she moves toward an academic future in herpetology. Great stories, they just don't make sense as a narrative. So, enjoyable in its parts, but as a novel, not so much.

Oct 22, 2010, 10:35pm Top

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto ****½ 10/21/10

A superb popular history of the founding of European Manhattan. The personalities come alive, and Shorto's vision of a religiously and racially tolerant Manhattan of 400 souls at the southern tip of the island; with the governor, being a country boy, settling his family way out in the wilds (Greenwich Village); the building of the protective stockade which later marked Wall Street; the growing demand for civil participation in government which led to a bloodless turnover of the colony to England - well, the book is hard to put down. Dutch Manhattan is often thought of as something which disappeared with the coming of the English, but, of course, the Dutch didn't go anywhere, and America owes much of its heritage as a melting pot to this early manifestation of differences being overcome to make a successful community. My only complaint, and the reason for the half-star deduction from 5 stars, is the lack of maps. There are a few reprints of antique maps in the two sections of illustrations, but they're much too small to use for following the story. There is also no list of illustrations in the table of contents, which seemed odd.

Oct 24, 2010, 8:54pm Top

The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics **** 10/24/10

A solid thriller which takes place in the high Arctic winter, which in itself is a tense addition to the suspense. At a Canadian research facility, internationally staffed, three scientists die nasty deaths for which no one can find a cause. All died at exactly the same time, out on the ice in the dark, from what appears to have been a new pathogen or chemical. A fourth scientist with them kills himself. The Canadians bring in an American pathologist who is known for luck and intuition, and she is delivered to the facility just before winter closes the facility to normal transportation until spring. Meanwhile the Russians search for a missing sub bringing home a 5th scientist from the lab.

The science is very interesting, and the cold and dark permeate the story. The tension mounts throughout the book, with only small detours for personal dramas. As is typical in novels in which experts are being portrayed to a general readership, there is a bit too much explaining of details you'd think the characters wouldn't have to spell out for each other, and the fact that a Russian submarine can get to the station but no one seems to think the scientists can get rescued nagged a bit. But overall, this is an delicious way to while away a few hours, especially if you're warm.

(I found this on the dollar shelf at Borders - it's so nice to take a chance and be rewarded! If anyone is interested, I've listed the book on BookMooch.)

Edited: Oct 26, 2010, 10:27am Top

Worth Dying For by Lee Child **** 10/25/10

The latest Jack Reacher thriller, as great as ever. Picks up right after the last one, and, as suspected, Reacher survives :) These are for people who need a break from wondering if the good guys will win. You could probably pick up any of them and not feel like you've missed a lot in plot, but once hooked you'll want to read them all.

Oct 26, 2010, 12:26pm Top

They are the candy corn of the book world. Not a lot of substance, but awfully tempting and remarkably easy to read. And out in time for Hallowe'en as well...

Oct 27, 2010, 1:26pm Top

candy corn of the book world lol - yum!

Aunt Marge, just popping up to say how much I love your books and that, as usual, I've come away with several new additions to the wish list.

However, I was sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy Arctic Chill more. I've read the all other books, in order, and thought this was one of the best in the bunch.

Oct 27, 2010, 1:43pm Top

Hi sjm,

Glad to see you found a few recommendations. LT is where I get most of my new ideas for reading - that and occasional book sales.

I don't know why the Erlendur series doesn't excite me more. It has the elements I love but just hasn't clicked yet. :'(

Now I'm dreaming of candy corn.....

Oct 31, 2010, 8:31pm Top

Room by Emma Donoghue ***** 10/31/10

Just exquisite. A 5-year old boy celebrates his birthday with all the little excitements normal to any child - except that he and his mother are confined to an 11'x11' room where she's been held captive for 7 years. Jack has no idea there's anything wrong with their existence, other than nighttime visits from "Old Nick" after Jack's been safely tucked away in the wardrobe so he never has to see Old Nick - or what Old Nick does to his mother. Told entirely in Jack's voice, the reader sees his mother slowly realize she has to tell him there is an Outside, places other than Room, in which his whole existence has been lived, and she begins to plan an escape that is possible now only because Jack can help in its execution.

The genius of this book is that Jack's voice is entirely believable, and his story of the life he has with his mother, who designs each day to keep them healthy, active, interested and entertained, is phenomenal. Perseverance, love, motherhood, and trust - all are explored in ways which enthrall the reader. This book was hard to put down and will be impossible to forget.

Nov 1, 2010, 3:05pm Top

#194 The first time I saw comments on this book I thought "uh, no, I don't think so". However, after seeing several different people reading it and making comments that are universally positive, I changed my mind and added it to the wishlist. Thanks for confirming that decision. Not sure when I'll get to it, but each time I read reactions like yours I get a little more excited about it.

Nov 2, 2010, 8:44pm Top

>195 sjmccreary: I had the same reaction when I read early descriptions, but then I saw a copy at a book sale and picked it up. Definitely give it a try. It's not nearly as disturbing as you might think, although it sure makes you think.

Edited: Nov 2, 2010, 8:50pm Top

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather **** 11/1/10

Maybe because I'm spoiled by recently reading I Heard the Owl Call My Name, this didn't strike me as forcefully as, say, Cather's O Pioneers!. Still, it's beautifully written, with Cather's love of landscape very evident.

Unlike her other works which are equally famous My Antonia, One of Ours, and O Pioneers!, which are located on the Plains, this story takes place in the deserts of New Mexico and surrounding areas. In 1848, two young French priests are appointed to the newly American New Mexico Territory to organize and spread the Catholic faith. Father Latour (recently made bishop) and his friend and vicar Father Vaillant make the long journey from Ohio, where they have been serving. They face hostile Indians and Mexicans as well as a beautiful but difficult and strange land. Between them they start visiting towns, hamlets, Indian villages and homesteads throughout the southwest, making converts of some, enemies of others. Travel is extremely dangerous because of sandstorms, snow storms, outlaws, and long stretches without shelter, companionship or water. Father Vaillant proves especially adept at learning languages and appealing to everyone meets, while Father Latour, the more complicated and educated of the two, must battle to make his vision for the region become reality. He is accepting of almost all and makes friends with Kit Carson and many others, but he is plagued with depression and a recurring fear that his faith is meaningless even as he struggles to reinstate celibacy and understand Indian life and religion and how they intersect with Christianity. The Navajos and other natives are presented quite sympathetically, the Spanish-Mexican priests he was sent to guide and/or replace much less kindly. Based on the life of the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean-Baptiste Lamy.

Book no. 100 for the year!

Nov 3, 2010, 11:10am Top

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson *** 11/3/10

A brief, macabre novel, the first I've read by Jackson. It gave me the creeps, to be honest. The original insanity in it is never explained but instead is expanded on, leaving the unpleasant feeling that madness could come to any of us - or spread, in the right circumstances. I've got Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House on my TBR, but it will be a while before I pick it up to read.

Nov 6, 2010, 10:42am Top

I'm glad that you also enjoyed Room, which was my co-favorite of this year's Booker Prize shortlisted novels, along with the winner, The Finkler Question. I'm glad to see that Room did win a major literary prize, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, last week. I completely agree with you; Jack's voice will be impossible to forget.

Congratulations on finishing your 100th book!

Nov 9, 2010, 3:15pm Top

Valley of Light by Terry Kay **** 11/7/10

Still reeling from his part in freeing Dachau, Noah Locke has spent the 3 years since the war wandering the South, fishing, occasionally doing odd jobs, but mostly living off the land. His beloved parents are dead and his only brother in prison, and Noah needs to find something within himself to give him the peace to come to terms with his experiences and reenter his pre-war life. In his travels he meets an old man who tells him of a valley in North Carolina and a pond in which lives a warrior bass undetected by locals, who think the pond is cursed and devoid of fish. Noah is a gifted fisherman, seemingly at one with the water and his prey, and when he happens on the valley the fascinated residents urge him to stay for their annual fishing contest. He finds them good company and even meets a woman with whom he shares some pleasant meals and conversation, but as the ensuing week passes there is a tragedy in the town which affects him deeply. As he prepares to leave and finally return home, there is one last miracle, and it is a beautiful ending to a gentle story. I think I'll keep this book, so that now and then I can go back and read those last few pages.

Nov 9, 2010, 7:20pm Top

Congratulations on reading 100 books!

This year was the first time I've fever read Willa Cather and so far have done O Pioneers and just finished My Antonia a week or two ago. Death Comes for the Archbishop is next and I'm looking forward to it.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is already on my wishlist - not my usual thing at all, but I'm sort of excited about getting to it one of these days.

Nov 9, 2010, 9:14pm Top

>201 sjmccreary:

Thanks for the congrats!

Cather has become one of my favorites since I joined LT. One of Ours, which won the Pulitzer in 1923 but seems to be less well-known, was also quite good (I gave it 4 stars). I currently have several others of hers lined up to read: A Lost Lady, Shadows on the Rock, Song of the Lark, and Willa Cather: 24 Stories.

Edited: Nov 9, 2010, 9:30pm Top

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer **** 11/9/10

The second in a new police series starring a Cape Town detective dealing with marital problems, alcoholism, and race relations in the new South Africa. A young American hiker is found with her throat slashed, and her traveling companion is seen in the hills above the city running from assailants. Meanwhile, a famous music producer is found murdered in his home, his alcoholic wife lying unconscious near the gun, but it's clear the murder took place elsewhere. Over 13 hours the detectives struggle with both cases, made more complicated by jealousies and racial tensions among their own ranks. This last, the difficulties caused by the end of apartheid, was one of the most interesting and disturbing facets of the book. The mystery is very well-handled, as it proceeds deliberately and steadily to show the police trying to make sense of the puzzle, culminating in a can't-put-it-down final 100 pages. (I might add that the cover art has no relation to the story, making me wonder if the art department read the book.)

Edited: Nov 16, 2010, 12:47pm Top

The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya ** 11/15/10

A traditional Berber storyteller spends an evening retelling the story of a long-ago evening on which two travelers disappeared from the Djemaa el Fna, the marketplace and square of Marrakesh's old city. The storyteller's brother confessed to killing them, but it is unclear whether they are dead and why he confessed. The storyteller's audience offers their own recollections of the event. There is no resolution.

Frustrating and irritating; it reminded me of a lingering unpleasant dream. OK, I gave it two stars instead of one because the rendering of the Djemma was finely done and memorably atmospheric. Otherwise, I wanted to hit something with the book.

Nov 16, 2010, 12:54pm Top

That's my Early Reviewer's book too. Maybe I'll like it more than you did? I'll let you know what I think.

Nov 16, 2010, 7:17pm Top

>205 RidgewayGirl: Hah, I saw your name on the recent additions and wondered if it was an ER book. Yes, I'd be very interested in what you think.

Edited: Nov 17, 2010, 8:47am Top

Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About by Mike Kimel and Michael E. Kanell ***** 11/9/10

The publisher's description is what led me to read this book: Politicians and the media spend a lot of time telling Americans how the presidents and their administrations are performing, but this analysis always skews along party lines. In Presimetrics, Kimel and Kanell take a fresh look at modern politics by gathering data from numerous government sources in order to compare and rank presidential performance on critical issues, from employment and health care to taxes and family values. The results frequently defy expectations. I'm delighted to say the book fulfills its billing.

Published in 2010, the analysis covers the administrations of Eisenhower to George W. Bush, with brief inclusions of earlier presidents where there is sufficient data. It takes into account all sorts of possible arguments about what the results show and recalculates the results to take those points into account. For instance, tables might show what occurred during a President's tenure, and then what occurred during it without counting the first year. And yes, the results do defy expectations and party propaganda. It appears things aren't quite as bad when the other guys are in control as might be advertised (and not quite as good when one's own party is in power).

Topics include: Real GDP (gross domestic product) per Capita; Fiscal Responsibility; Debt (What the Real GDP Leave Out); Employment; Income and Wealth; Republican Issues; Taxes; Democratic Issues; Health Care; Crime; The Public Mood; Family Values; Investing in the Future (infrastructure). A conclusion brings it all together and gives an overall ranking of the presidents of the last 60 years based on how they scored in each of the topics mentioned above.

Congress is briefly examined, with the interesting result that the economy usually does OK if one party holds both houses, but with mixed control of the House and Senate, not so much.

There is also an eye-opening appendix on the budget of the Executive Office of the President, which includes all those "supplemental appropriations". From 1962-2000, the annualized spending by the EOP as a % of total federal spending ranged from -4% (Reagan) to +4% (Bush Sr. and Nixon/Ford), with the Democrats ranging in between. Under GW it was 31%.

The authors work in economics and statistics. There is also an associated blog: http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/

Humor, readable explanations, and numerous charts make this accessible and enjoyable to the general reader. For those wishing to judge the sources for themselves, there is a long section of annotated footnotes, and there is a detailed index.

(ETA last paragraph)

Nov 18, 2010, 11:24am Top

>207 auntmarge64: Very interesting! I think my husband will love this.

Edited: Nov 20, 2010, 8:14pm Top

Bad Blood by John Sandford ***** 11/20/10

A new John Sandford suspense novel is always cause for celebration. His Lucas Davenport "Prey" series is one of my favorites, but now that Davenport has settled a bit in life, Virgil Flowers, one of his team, has become the center of a new series. Sandford has his storytelling down pat and it just keeps getting better and better. You know you'll always find yourself hyperventilating and not being able to put the book down for the last third of the book. A great way to start the new challenge.

Edited: Nov 26, 2010, 9:42pm Top

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt *** 11/26/10

Built on many of the known facts of Nikola Tesla's life, this novel imagines his last week, living in poverty in New York City, talking to the pigeon he considered his wife, rambling through memories of inventions and theories, his few triumphs and many ill-deserved slights from the scientific world. The book is told alternately through his own first person voice and the third-person voice of a fictional maid who befriends him in those last few days.

There is some beautiful writing here, and moments of great poignance, but as a whole the story didn't hang together for me. It did, however, spur me to learn more about his life, which was of huge significance to our modern way of life but which has been largely unrecognized and undervalued.

Nov 30, 2010, 10:27pm Top

Storm Prey by John Sandford ****½ 11/29/10

Another winner from Sandford from his most popular series, about Minnesota detective Lucas Davenport, now the legendary head of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This is number 20 in the series, and for a newbie, I'd suggest starting at the beginning, both to get familiar with the characters' histories and to enjoy the ride. Virgil Flowers, a character with his own series now, is a highly visible here, too. My only complaints are that there's a bit too much from the criminals point of view, although that feeds into the excitement as the book goes along, and the detail about the separation of Siamese twins is way too graphic. Still, superb suspense.

Tinkers by Paul Harding **** 11/30/10

This short novel, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer for fiction, sketches an old man's thoughts, memories, and hallucinations as he dies surrounded by family and friends. We learn of his own life and that of his father, a peddler, and grandfather, a minister, in rural Maine. Some of the writing is gorgeous and some very difficult, and there are parts which should be read aloud or very slowly just to savor the words. Little passages, such the instructions on how to build a birds' nest (using tools shaped like a bird's tiny beak) and the descriptions of the father's experiences of grand mal seizures, are stunning in their artistry. The book really needs to be read more than once, I think.

Edited: Dec 2, 2010, 5:12pm Top

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010, edited by Freeman Dyson ****½ 12/1/10

Dyson does an excellent job editing this annual anthology of popular journalism on science and nature. Sources include The New Yorker, National Geographic, OnEarth, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, The American Scholar, Orion, The New York Review of Books, Discover, Wired, Living Bird, Conservation Magazine, and The New York Times. Topics range from astronomy and space exploration to neurology, climatology, environmentalism, and extinction. Most of the topics were of intense interest to me, most particularly recent research into what memory is (this was especially unnerving) and an apparent mass extinction taking place since humans expanded around the world (50,000 years, but a blink in geological terms).

Dec 9, 2010, 7:54pm Top

The White Continent: The Story of Antarctica by Thomas R. Henry **** 12/9/10

Published in 1950, this is an overview of Antarctic history, exploration, geology, flora and fauna. The author was a journalist who accompanied a large U.S. Navy fleet commanded by Admirals Byrd and Cruzen in their Antarctic "High Jump" expedition of 1946-47. Although unsourced otherwise, the book quotes from and refers throughout to past accounts by explorers and to observations made by the author and others on the High Jump mission.

Henry's information is sometimes inaccurate (for instance, he claims that fur seals are extinct, which even in 1950 was known not to be true), but his descriptions of human interactions with animals encountered on the expedition are evocative and sure to encourage further reading. So are his depictions of visual and weather phenomena and ice coloring. The chapters on geology are a bit slow-going, but these are more than made up for in the remaining chapters on mid-century air exploration, early assumptions about the far south (it was warmer because it was further south, and was therefore a tropical paradise; the earth is hollow and an opening into the center would be found in Antarctica); and, most intriguingly, Henry's thoughts on how Antarctica might be of use to the rest of the world, as
- a food freezer in case of famine
- a health resort (the air is pure)
- fertile land (after melting the ice with plutonium bombs)

So, well-written, entertaining and informative, but not to be taken too seriously without checking more recent sources. Definitely enjoyable for the enthusiast of all things Antarctica, though.

Dec 10, 2010, 4:39pm Top

213 - Added to the wishlist. I'm strangely fascinated by by the Arctic and Antarctic for some reason I haven't really been able to put my finger on.

Dec 10, 2010, 5:15pm Top

>214 janemarieprice: Me too, especially the Antarctic. I've got an Antarctica category on my 11 in 11 Challenge (http://www.librarything.com/topic/96707).

Dec 10, 2010, 7:03pm Top

I'm glad the plans to melt the Antarctic ice with plutonium bombs never made it off of paper.

Dec 10, 2010, 7:30pm Top

>216 RidgewayGirl: Hah, right? It must have been a sign of the times. One of the other books I'm reading, The Firecracker Boys, is coincidentally the story of Edward Teller's attempts to use nuclear bombs to carve out ports in Alaska. Didn't these guys learn anything from the war???

Hey, how's The Storyteller of Marrakesh going? I saw you're reading it now.

Dec 10, 2010, 7:38pm Top

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex by Troy Denning ****½ 12/10/10

Another great addition to the ongoing post-film story of the Skywalkers and the Solos. This one takes place about 40 years after the death of the Emperor.

Dec 10, 2010, 7:57pm Top

The Storyteller of Marrakesh is going slowly. I've been distracted with All Clear by Connie Willis, but I'll bring it with me on our various trips to visit family. Not sure what I think yet.

Dec 10, 2010, 10:08pm Top

>219 RidgewayGirl: I haven't read any Connie Willis but keep hearing great things about the series. Because of the book's length I've been waiting for Doomsday Book to become available for Kindle in the U.S.

Edited: Dec 17, 2010, 9:11pm Top

The Holy Thief by William Ryan ****½ 12/17/10

What a great beginning to a new detective series! It's 1936 Moscow, and amid the early stirrings of Stalin's purges, a police captain catches a series of nasty murders which quickly involve him with the NKVD (later the KGB) and international art smuggling by the government. It's a depressing and unnerving setting, but the characters and mystery are interesting and the dialogue is perfect. There's quite a bit of vivid victim detail, so this is not for the squeamish.

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the captain's internal musings on the new Soviet system. Unlike the main character in Child 44, who has experienced WWII and been a knowing participant in Stalin's atrocities, the detective here still has hope for Communism, as well as a willingness to suspend judgment of Stalin's methods in hope that life will improve for ordinary citizens. The 21st-century reader, of course, contributes a sense of doom and wonderment that people could have been so naive in the face of such already-evident evil.

Dec 20, 2010, 5:55pm Top

Pavement Chalk Artist by Julian Beever **** 12/20/10

Images of the work of anamorphic (3D) pavement artist Julian Beever have become quite popular on the Internet the last couple of years, and there's now a picture book in which he presents almost 60 of his works in color along with accompanying descriptions. He also describes the development of his style and technique. It's pretty interesting, and the artwork is often stunning. For examples of his art, including many works included in the book, see http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/pave.htm.

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 4:24pm Top

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan **** 12/21/10

The author, a truly remarkable humanitarian, tells the story of his unexpected involvement with the trafficked children at an orphanage in Nepal. Following a volunteer stint there, Grennan couldn't help himself from returning for another stay, and then, following the Maoist/monarchist civil war, returning to found his own orphanage. Along the way he met his future wife. The couple now lives in the U.S., where they serve as board members for Next Generation Nepal (http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org), the organization which grew out of the orphanage and which is dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children with their families.

The story is moving and inspirational, and much of it is compulsive reading. The only shortcomings for me were the diversions into discussing the couple's romance and religion, and I skimmed quite a bit of this. But the humanity and humor of Conor's story, and the dramatic discovery of the children's families and eventual reconciliation with many of them, is well worth putting up with any imperfections. Highly, highly recommended.

Dec 22, 2010, 1:03am Top

Added Holy Thief to the wishlist. I'll be following you for the 11-11 challenge - you read the most interesting books!

Dec 22, 2010, 8:08am Top

>224 sjmccreary: It's one of the things I love most about LT - finding new titles and new directions for my reading. Glad I could contribute to your TBR .....

Dec 27, 2010, 2:39pm Top

Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt **** 12/26/10

The first of a suspense series set in Algonquin Bay (read North Bay), Ontario and starring the troubled Detective John Cardinal and his new partner, Lise Delorme, whom he suspects is investigating him for corruption (she is). Keeping her at arms' length, Cardinal investigates several brutal murders which appear to be the work of a serial killer. At the same time, Delorme balances trying to get him to trust her so she can contribute to the murder investigation, at the same time setting him up for a sting to see if he is, indeed, guilty.

The murders are grisly and described in detail. The landscape (northeastern Ontario in winter) is vividly portrayed. There is an actual mystery only part way through the book since murderers are revealed not too far into the story, so this is suspense more than mystery, as Cardinal and Delorme frantically try to piece together clues from the victims they've found in order to find the common thread and rescue a boy they think the murderers are holding. Recommended!, she said, as she checked local libraries to see who owns the second in the series.

Dec 28, 2010, 1:22am Top

#226 I have this home from the library right now and I'm glad to hear it's a good one. I just hope I can get to it before it has to be returned!

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