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Mabith's 2016 Reads (meredith)

This topic was continued by Mabith's 2016 Reads (meredith) II.

100 Books in 2016 Challenge

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Edited: Sep 2, 2016, 8:21pm Top

Welcome to my very eclectic reading list. I read a bit of most genres (barring horror and thriller and dedicated romances), and read a bit more non-fiction than fiction. I'm a history junkie mainly. This year I'm hoping to read more books in translation and be properly active in the Reading Globally group. It's rough as fewer books in translation are made into audiobooks and that's mainly how I read due to chronic pain (and a need for as much distraction as possible).

I write rough reviews for each book I read and will keep the master list in this post.

Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Trick or Treat by Carl Barks
Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Rat Queens Volume 2 by Kurtis J. Wiebe
The Phoenix Program by Douglas Valentine
The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn

Saga Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Foundation: A History of England Volume 1 by Peter Ackroyd
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book One by Tove Jansson
The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book Three by Tove Jansson
Dictator by Robert Harris
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

They Do it With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Most Wanted Man in China by Fang Lizhi
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

All Decent Animals by Oonya Kempadoo
The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria
Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier
Fashion Victims by Alison Matthews David
Loneliness by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater
The Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
Freddy Rides Again by Walter R. Brooks

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre
Queen of the Air by Dean Jensen
Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Capital by John Lanchester

The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Simon the Dictator by Walter R. Brooks
Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull
Going Solo by Roald Dahl

The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Bloody Bones by Laurell K Hamilton
Love, InshAllah by Nura Maznavi, Ayesha Mattu (editors)
The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

Only for a Fortnight by Sue Read
Bolivar by Marie Arana
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Burnt Offerings by Laurell K. Hamilton
Bellwether by Connie Willis
Sabriel by Garth Nix

Know the Mother by Desiree Cooper
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
A Very Dangerous Woman by Deborah McDonald
Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Charity and Sylvia by Rachel Hope Cleves

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock
The Battle of Hastings by Harriet Harvey Wood
Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare
Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs by Barbara Mertz

Lumberjanes Vol 3 by Noelle Stevenson and others
The Language of Goldfish by Zibby Oneal
Blackout by Connie Willis
America's Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis
Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Under an English Heaven by Donald E. Westlake
F*ck Feelings by Michael and Sarah Bennett
A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
Buddha by Karen Armstrong

The Aeneid by Virgil
Blue Moon by Laurell K. Hamilton
The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O'Connor
The Terror of the Beagle Boys by Carl Barks
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Kitchen Privileges by Mary Higgins Clark
A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Mister Monday by Garth Nix
Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman
The Diary of Frida Kahlo essays/commentary by Sarah M. Lowe
438 Days by Jonathan Franklin

Rat Queens Vol 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
Magna Carta by Dan Jones
Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Bananeras by Dana Frank
Ms. Marvel Vol 4 by G. Willow Wilson
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Emma Vol 1 - Vol 7 by Kaoru Mori
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Agnes Grey by Emily Bronte
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Drowned City by Don Brown
How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman
The Prince of Medicine by Susan P Mattern

Relish by Lucy Knisley
The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong
Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart
Ms Marvel Vol 5 by G. Willow Wilson
A Silent Voice Vol 1 by Yoshitoki Oima

Lady Friday by Garth Nix
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Sapiens by Yuval Harari
The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
All Clear by Connie Willis
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Superior Saturday by Garth Nix
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
$2.00 a Day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
Queen Margot by Alexandre Dumas

The Democracy Project by David Graeber
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Children of the New World by Assia Djebar
One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid
A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters
Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn
Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee
Saga Vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughan

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
A Silent Voice Vol 2 by Yoshitoki Oima
A Silent Voice Vol 3 by Yoshitoki Oima
A Silent Voice Vol 4 by Yoshitoki Oima

Edited: Jan 3, 2016, 8:04pm Top

(When I say 'best' I mean my favorites.)

Best Non-Fiction I read in 2015:
1914: The Year The World Ended – Paul Ham
On the Brink – Ryusho Kadota
Sex At Dawn – Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Islam: A Short History – Karen Armstrong
A World Undone – G.J. Meyer
Kitty Genovese – Kevin Cook
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History – Cynthia Barrett
Open Veins of Latin America – Eduardo Galeano
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap – Matt Taibbi
Gulag – Anne Applebaum
When Books Went to War – Molly Guptill Manning
Being Mortal – Atul Gawande
Servants – Lucy Lethbridge
Austerity – Mark Blyth
The Half Has Never Been Told – Edward Baptist
Neurotribes – Steve Silberman
Ravensbruck – Sarah Helm
Red Land, Black Land – Barbara Mertz
Wrapped in Rainbows – Valerie Boyd

Best Fiction Read in 2015
Coventry – Helen Humphreys
A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
Katherine – Anya Seton
The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Pushkin Hills – Sergei Dovlatov
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld
Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown
The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman
The Voices of Glory – Davis Grubb
Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
Brat Farrar – Josephine Tey
Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Doc – Mary Doria Russell

Best Children's and YA Read in 2015
Lumberjanes - Noelle Stevenson and others
Moon at Nine – Deborah Ellis
El Deafo – Cece Bell
Listen, Slowly – Thanhha Lai
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Coot Club – Arthur Ransome
Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech
A Corner of White – Jaclyn Moriarty

Jan 4, 2016, 6:53am Top

Hi Meredith. Welcome back for another year. I look forward to reading about your progress.
With best wishes.

Jan 4, 2016, 9:49am Top

Welcome back! I look forward to following your reading again this year.

Jan 7, 2016, 12:39am Top

>3 Eyejaybee: >4 jfetting: Lovely to be back and following along with your reads too!

Jan 7, 2016, 12:40am Top

Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Trick or Treat by Carl Barks

This collection is a bit different in that it includes a pieces that Disney heavily edited or didn't run (until the 80s, I believe), including a number of Halloween themed comics. The title strip with Witch Hazel was actually written after the cartoon of the same name. As usual, another fun collection. Barks really was a genius.

My brother was just visiting and I realized I could predict his response 70% of the time during jokey conversations (especially after he was a couple beers down) largely because we both think in Carl Barks and Walt Kelly humorous arcs.

Jan 7, 2016, 12:45am Top

Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

This is an exceptionally beautiful book, a biographical sketch of Marie Curie which takes side trips into related areas of science. The whole thing is painted and illustrated chiefly with cyanotypes which are the perfect medium really. Because of how they're developed they have an x-ray type quality.

The book loses almost a full star however for NOT ONE mention of Curie's younger daughter, Eve, barring to note when she was born. I know she didn't become a scientist, but I believe (harking back to Marie Curie and her Daughters) Eve was instrumental in helping her mother fundraise in the US when Marie was quite ill.

It is just a wonderfully beautiful book, though the more extreme meandering might annoy you. I think it's a great gift for a children's biography collection because it's relatively short and encouraging children to see art and science as linked is no bad thing in my opinion.

I often moan about no one in my family getting me books for Christmas, but this one was a gift from my sister-in-law, and pretty much perfect (something I'd been wanting to read and a little out of the ordinary).

Jan 7, 2016, 12:45am Top

Rat Queens Volume 2 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

I love this comic (warning, it is absolutely not for little kids, though this volume seemed to have decidedly less swearing). It is a tribute to Dungeons and Dragons play, but with a twist and with four female main characters who have a bit of a 'shared college house' vibe. The humor in it is wonderful, but it's also just an interesting story and world. In this volume some backstory got slipped in very nicely.

Of the modern issue comics I've been reading this is the one I'd be most likely to subscribe to in single issues because I just love the concept and characters so much. I should be sensible and subscribe to Lumberjanes though, since it will be fine for my nieces and nephews to read sooner.

Jan 9, 2016, 6:51pm Top

The Phoenix Program: America's Use of Terror in Vietnam by Douglas Valentine

This book details the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, both what went on and why, and the effort made to conceal US involvement in it and the silencing of the US soldiers it used. The author also briefly talks about how this program spawned agendas in Homeland Security and became a blueprint for CIA use in other countries.

It's a necessary history, though the book is very dry. The author rarely steps into the narrative, and spends little time on the connections to modern policy simply telling the story of Phoenix. I appreciated the straight-forward nature of it, though I can see that this one might be a chore for some people to get through.

One of the bottom lines, however, is that Phoenix targeted civilians first and foremost, and a reminder that using quotas when it comes to capturing enemy agents or domestic criminals is ALWAYS THE WORST IDEA EVER and will always lead to widespread abuse and victimization of people on the bottom of the social order.

Jan 10, 2016, 1:16am Top

The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn RE-READ

The final book in Shinn's Samaria trilogy. Very satisfying read. It's been long enough that I'd forgotten all but the barest bones of plot outline. As usual Shinn writes another stubborn, slow-to-love woman, and a brusque man. Samaria deals with the clash of science and religion, and the fact that knowledge of their earliest years had been forgotten or transfigured into myth (also apparently there are no historians there).

Shinn always writes a satisfying tale, and there are usually issues or morals involved. There's a bit of a love story, though it's not the main show (as with most of her books). I just love the path of the trilogy, and the transformation of the society.

Jan 10, 2016, 1:19am Top

Saga Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Still enjoying this comic, but not with the same drive as the early issues. We've jumped ahead a fair bit and that took some adjustment. My dislike of serials and waiting has really come into play now. I just want to read all of a story and I want everything to eventually end. Is that too much to ask?

I've found comics are really helping to break up my audio listening and reading of ER books and such.

Edited: Jan 10, 2016, 11:36am Top

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I have a new online book club run by a friend and she's got a distinct knack of choosing books I've been meaning to read for ages.

This is the first book I've read by Virginia Woolf (barring some of her diaries), and it was... interesting. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. I wasn't bothered by long sentences and lots of semi-colons as I listened to the audio edition (though I don't think that stuff bugs me much in print anyway). I just floated along with it but didn't engage all that much. I enjoyed the going back and repetition of certain bits when the focus switched to a different character. The book certainly established and held a mood.

I wonder if enjoyment of stream of consciousness works is something that fades as we age? Or is it just that I went in quite certain nothing would be resolved or changed for any of the characters? Despite being character driven and stream of consciousness I don't think we get to know any of the characters all that well.

Even with my semi-mixed reaction I am still thinking about the book, and I do think it's something I'll want to re-read, maybe in print next time.

Jan 10, 2016, 7:34pm Top

I'm not sure I would have liked Mrs. Dalloway on audiobook. I found myself reading sentences over and over and over, and I couldn't have done that on an audiobook.

Jan 10, 2016, 9:16pm Top

I've been reading 80% audio for six or seven years, and grew up listening to audiobooks (and oral storytelling and lots of chapter books read aloud), so at this point I'm pretty good at judging what will work for me and what won't. But that's why if I read it again I'll probably do it in print. And like I said, I think I'd have just rushed through in print, whereas with audio there's a set speed, so I have to take in everything. I am not good at taking my time with print reading (probably part of why I like re-reading so much).

Jan 17, 2016, 2:17pm Top

Foundation: A History of England Volume 1 by Peter Ackroyd

I was not blown away by this volume in the history of England. The writing was fine, but I felt the pacing and time spent on specific periods was off in addition to having very very little information about daily life (either for the common people OR the nobles). He tries to cram too much into one volume. I think my mediocre feelings on it are also influenced by having read a very detailed book about the Plantagenets last year by a somewhat more serious historian.

It felt a bit like Ackroyd wanted to write this series but wasn't as interested in this period as he was in the later ones (for instance, the English Civil War gets an entire volume to itself).

I'm not really sure what audience this book is best meant for. The serious history reader should probably pick up a few separate volumes breaking up the period covered and getting more detail. I don't think it's worthwhile reading first to get an overview of the period (I'm sure there are good timelines online) as it's just too uneven in where he spends more/less time.

Jan 17, 2016, 2:21pm Top

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book One by Tove Jansson

My library randomly had the second book in this series (as the ONLY thing by Jansson in the system, which is a crime), and I loved it so much I decided to buy the first three volumes of the comic for myself.

The first volume wasn't quite as funny for me, maybe partly because it's less about poking fun of certain personality types, but still quite fun and I'm glad to own them. They'll be nice volumes to share with my niece and nephew in a few more years.

Jan 17, 2016, 2:37pm Top

The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban

I grew up on the Hobans' Frances picture books, which are still some of my favorites for the way they impart a lesson. This is one of Hoban's earlier children's novels, and Russell Hoban's website (he died in 2011) places this in the "young adult" age range rather than children's/juvenile presumably because it's SO dark and strange. It really isn't a young adult book by any definition though.

It is by far one of the strangest children's novels I've ever read. I feel like maybe Hoban had just spent 10 years reading Kirkegaard and Sartre when he wrote this. Here's the (only slightly cut down) synopsis on the website, which gives you a perfect idea of how nuts this book is.

The Mouse and His Child is the story of two clockwork mice, a father and son. When the key in the father's back is wound, he dances in a circle, swinging his son up and down. They begin their existence in the warmth of a toy shop at Christmastime. ... Soon they are sold to a family, and for several years are only brought out at Christmas. On one such night, the mouse child is overcome with longing for the...toyshop, and, breaking the all-important "rules of clockwork," he begins to cry. The family cat is so startled she knocks a vase onto the toy mice, and soon they're in the garbage can, smashed out of shape.

But their story is only just beginning. A passing tramp finds them in the garbage can, repairs them, and sets them on their way with the command, "Be tramps." Soon they've fallen into the murderous clutches of Manny Rat, a sleazy, tyrannical crook who uses wind-up toys for slave labor and doesn't hesitate to smash the ones who get out of line. The mice escape him with the intervention of a snake-oil-peddling, fortune-telling frog (conveniently named "Frog"), who startles Manny Rat (and himself) by uttering a terrible prophecy regarding the linked fates of the mice and the rat: "A dog shall rise; a rat shall fall."

After a brief dust-up involving some militant shrews, the mice are off, with Manny Rat, vowing vengeance on them for making him look like a fool, in hot pursuit. ... Along the way they encounter the professorial Muskrat, who promises to help them become self-winding; trade philosophy with C. Serpentina, the snapping turtle thinker, scholar, and playwright who lives at the bottom of the pond; and, in a twist straight out of Nicholas Nickleby, fall in with a traveling theater company called The Caws of Art. (It consists of two crows, a parrot and a rabbit.)

The Caws of Art are performing an experimental play called The Last Visible Dog, written by C. Serpentina, inspired by the image on the label of Bonzo Dog Food cans. The dog on the label is holding a can of dog food, on the label of which there is a smaller dog, holding a smaller can on which there is an even smaller dog, and on and on as far as the eye can see. The recurring concept of "The Last Visible Dog" becomes an eloquent metaphor for patience, persistence and determination, as the mouse and his child find that in order to realize their dreams of domestic contentment they must remain focused on a goal that seems further away than the eye can see, and travel farther than they ever dreamed.

That doesn't even deal with the totally strange ending with Manny Rat and his being trusted and breaking the trust but accidentally making it coming out all right (twice in a row, I think). I really want to know how was responsible for getting this published and why they hate children. Keep in mind that through the whole ridiculous journey they have to keep getting people to wind them up! Also I think you either go with toys are sentient or animals talk to each other, combining both of those common tropes definitely added to the strange feeling.

Jan 17, 2016, 2:40pm Top

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book Three by Tove Jansson

Another brilliant volume. I absolutely love this strip. It's one of those undertakings where you can't place the year while reading because it could have been written any time in the past 70 years basically. Very timeless.

Jansson's art style for these is also just wonderful. Simply done, but with such perfect impact and emphasis that you know it's by a seriously talented artist.

Jan 21, 2016, 3:18pm Top

Dictator by Robert Harris

This is the third in Harris' trilogy about Cicero. My completest nature led me to pick this up, but I wish I'd skipped it. I absolutely loved Harris' book Pompeii, and read the other two Cicero books not long after. Then I found out that Harris is a supporter of Roman Polanski and ugh. So read Pompeii but only if it doesn't involve giving Harris money...

This ending book was less interesting and dramatic, though it really shouldn't have been given the events it covers. I'm also just not a great Cicero fan, so there's that as well.

Jan 21, 2016, 3:29pm Top

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Deraniyagala was in Sri Lanka with her family, parents, husband and two children, in 2004 when the tsunami hit. She was the only one to survive and the book documents her life afterwards. She is in pretty severe shock for sometime, and was then actively suicidal. Her family and friends worked around the clock to try to keep her safe and help her recover. It took three years before she was able to go back to London to the house she, her husband, and children lived in (she's originally from Sri Lanka).

The book is well written and so incredibly honest. She talks about her guilt, and the difficulty of a loss so substantial that people can't really believe it (including the psychological effect of so many people saying they just can't believe it).

I listened to the audiobook in a single sitting. It's a devastating book, and I think her honesty about it is so important. Highly recommended.

Edited: Jan 21, 2016, 5:57pm Top

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill

This book didn't stand up for me. Aside from not at all living up to its subtitle, it was just too scattered and contained some misleading information, some infuriating information, and some strange conclusions.

I had to skip part of a chapter when Cahill somewhat randomly starts talking about terrorism in a way that is anti-Islamic and which puts the blame on all of Islam, basically. Which, uh, has he MET Christianity? Of course it's not okay for any group to kill innocent civilians but terrorism is not the province a single religion. He is a New Yorker and I know that makes 9/11 different for him than for me, but he's not writing a memoir, this is supposed to be a history book. I almost stopped reading entirely then, but since I was over halfway through I just skipped the rest of that chapter.

His claims of the rise of feminism... Well, we can pick out any period in history and find a few exceptional women who have been able to rise and command some power, which seems to be his definition of early feminism despite the fact that these are extreme outliers. Not to mention the fact that I don't think he ever actually uses the word feminism in the book and talks about very few women overall.

There are some interesting things about medieval Christianity in the book, but not enough to make this a worthwhile read, in my opinion. There are plenty of other books that deal with the subject. Not recommended at all.

Jan 21, 2016, 3:53pm Top

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

If you haven't read this yet or read it and disliked it, I'm sure you're tired of reading glowing reviews. Well, sorry, but I loved it.

The books is sort of "anti-feel-good-books author writes feel-good-book," if that makes sense. Ove is cranky, cantankerous, set in his ways, and incredibly impatient. He is absolutely in an 'old mold' and that shows in some of his thought processes and language but it works and just feels realistic.

I mostly skimmed reviews of this that included much detail (and haven't read one for a long while) and I think that was really good, coming into the book quite unknowing of even the most basic bits of the plot. It made everything a surprise, so I'm not going to include any plot details here.


Jan 24, 2016, 7:19pm Top

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

A classic Miss Marple tale. Marple is sent by a school friend to stay with her sister (also an old school friend) as there's something wrong in the house and she's worried. Marple goes to find Carrie Louise her usual drifting self, occupied with her husband's philanthropic efforts involving juvenile delinquents (the reforming of them).

The usual Christie set up, though this one is perhaps more predictable than many. I kind of wonder if there's an inherent internalized sexism in Christie's writing that makes Marple's mysteries simpler and easier for the reader to solve.

Jan 24, 2016, 7:29pm Top

Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

Published in 1900 it is the account of Slocum's solo circumnavigation of the earth, and he was the first person to do it. An experienced sailor and navigator, his ship, Spray, was a derelict that he refitted himself.

I feel like Slocum's ideas changed as the book went on, particularly his reporting on and dealings with various native cultures. There's a lot of 'savages' talk at the beginning that disappears towards the end along with what seemed like an attitude change.

In general it was a very interesting read. I'm wondering if the children in the Swallows and Amazons books will read Slocum's text at some point in the series! Seems right up their alley.

Jan 24, 2016, 8:17pm Top

Room by Emma Donoghue

While I mostly don't feel much need to read hyper-popular books, sometimes with certain titles it does override my normal reading brain. Room fits this description, I think partly because it was advertised as being different and unique in some way. I feel like everyone knows the premise now - woman kidnapped and held in a small free-standing room and raped regularly, eventually has a baby. We come into the story just as he turns five. He narrates the book and has only known this single room, though they have TV and some books.

This book didn't really work for me for a few reasons. I couldn't really suspend my disbelief. This free-standing room/shed is fully wired for electricity and plumbed, and there's chain link fencing under and around it. But the implication is that the guy did it all by himself and none of the neighbors noticed. There's a reason that in real-life cases like this the women tend to be held in basements - they're already plumbed/wired! There's even 'central' AC in this room! Not that you can't do that kind of thing by yourself, it's just kind of unlikely.

Then the narration, there are some language things that don't make sense for me in a boy of five who can read, has a large vocabulary, has an adult speech model, and who watches TV. A five year old in that situation is unlikely to say "forgetted" instead of "forgot" (numerous examples in the book where it just felt too twee and forced). You can show youth without those language mistakes. I feel like the pacing was also a bit odd and some reactions just weren't believable.

I've found I really enjoy when a young narrator is recording things that they can't make sense of but the reader can, but to me this book was only okay. Not horrible, but not great, and not worth the award nominations it got.

Jan 30, 2016, 2:39pm Top

The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey from Scientist to Enemy of the State by Fang Lizhi

This is a memoir covering Fang Lizhi's life mostly from his student days to pretty much the present (he died in 2012). While it covers his earlier childhood his life in science is the focus. He started studying physics at Peking University in 1952, where he and his future wife were two of the top students in the department. He joined the Communist party quite young and worked on their secret atomic program but events during the Hundred Flowers campaign saw him labeled as a Rightist element. His standing in China rose and fell, and his ability to teach freely and publish was heavily impacted (as well as his ability to live with his wife and their children, they had to live in different cities for something like twenty-six years, starting only a few months after their first child was born).

I come to this biography after reading a number of books about 20th century China, so I can't be 100% sure how the details of the Communist system (specifically the language used about and around the purges) will read to someone unfamiliar with the period. I think Lizhi explains everything well and understandably though.

The translator of this was a close, longtime friend of Lizhi's, and I felt the work had a very strong, consistent voice to it, which made it easy to read and connect to. He reminded me so much of my grandfather, who also studied physics. Like many of the period, Lizhi struggled with Mao's decisions and their initial belief in the ideals he professed. He is straightforward about it, and manages to keep a sense of humor about his struggles and the regime's totally hyperbolic fight against him just before he had to leave China.

I definitely recommend this, especially to anyone interested in China during this period, of course. It's an important part of a history, especially the regime's love/hate relationship with universities and education in general. Lizhi points out that Mao couldn't understand why 'true believers' suddenly began to question things once they went to university and that a scientific education does not allow for absolutes that go unquestioned. This is a theme of the book, and Lizhi always puts it so well.

It rather makes me want to start a list of books I wish I could share with my grandparents (all dead for some time now).

Jan 30, 2016, 2:51pm Top

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

One of those books I've been meaning to read for at least fifteen years. I hadn't realized that it was published in 1969, for some reason thinking it was more recent (probably due to usually seeing it with a cover done in the 80s or 90s).

It's beautifully written, and the audio edition read by Angelou is wonderful. It covers her childhood up to age 16 or 17 when she's giving birth to her first child. There are aspects that are very hard to read, particularly the sexual abuse she went through as a young child. I knew that was in her past, but if I'd known more of the specific details I might have been a bit more careful about when I picked the book up (as it was particularly triggering to me).

It has been a classic for a long time and will continue to be one. Angelou's voice is so important, and her autobiographies are so valuable. I keep forgetting that she died in 2014.

Edited: Jan 30, 2016, 4:49pm Top

All Decent Animals by Oonya Kempadoo

I picked this up after going through lists of authors for the Caribbean theme in Reading Globally for the first quarter of this year. This had the benefit of being available at my library. After publishing her first two novels relatively close together (1998 and 2001) there was a twelve year gap between the second and this, her third novel. Kempadoo was born in England to Guyanese parents and brought up in Guyana from the age of five onward. While Guyana is part of the South American continent it is considered part of the Caribbean both linguistically and culturally, and is part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The book centers around a Ata, an artist who has returned to Trinidad to live (she is not from Trinidad but has considers 'Caribbean' to be her nationality). She has worked with Carnival costume designers and is now starting an office job. The book focuses most on her, I'd say, but the always-third-person narration floats around between her and her group of friends representing a wide variety of people, backgrounds, classes and views. The book takes place mostly just before, during, and after Carnival. Some reviewers have said it felt like she tried to cram every aspect of Trinidad into a relatively short book, but I felt like that worked because of being set around Carnival.

As the focus of the narration changes so does the language, going from no Creole slang/dialect to using a fair bit (most of it totally understandable to the outsider). Having the mix change really works, though had me wishing over and over there were an audio edition (it would be an excellent audiobook, with a good reader, of course). I'm really curious about the simultaneous usage of youall and allyou and why one is chosen over another at any given time since externally they mean the same thing (for the corollaries in my part of Appalachia and the upper Ohio River valley I'd be tempted to say that 'allyou' is more personal and 'youall' more general).

The biggest plot part of the book is one of Ata's group, an architect and gay man, Fraser, having a serious medical collapse which turns out to be due to AIDS, which has already seriously damaged his kidneys. The rush to help him, but also judgement of his choices and difficult decisions, is a key part of the book, with Ata seemingly taking on more of his care than anyone else. His sickness sets some cracks running through their group.

It is a busy book, a full book, and a swift book. Towards the end there are some things that I don't really get, one of which seemed totally unnecessary and goes unresolved, but otherwise I think it's a pretty solid novel with beautiful writing. The hills are almost a character themselves, which, being a West Virginia girl, I appreciated and related to. There aren't any reviews here on LT but the top four or five reviews on Goodreads give you a good sense of it, I think. Ended up being a 3 1/2 star read for me.

Jan 31, 2016, 10:06am Top

I just read your review of the audiobook of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and immediately downloaded it from my library's audiobook site. I've always loved recordings of her reading her poetry and I am very much looking forward to this book, which I should probably have read ages ago.

Jan 31, 2016, 10:48am Top

Jennifer, that's the trouble with so many books in the world and so many new ones published each year. I'm sure we all have a giant list of books we meant to read a long time ago. One of the best bits of Angelou's reading is that when she gets to song lyrics in the text she sings them.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 11:45pm Top

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria

Zakaria gives us a history of Pakistan, and especially of Karachi, tied in with her family's history there and especially her aunt Amina's life after her husband took a second wife. The choice to layer and organize the book in that way was particularly successful, I think.

The book is more history than biography/memoir, so if you're looking for a straight memoir of this period in Pakistan I would look for something else. The balance of the book worked very well for me, and through her own and her family's experiences Zakaria is able to keep the focus largely on how individuals are affected, and how individuals in the government have acted and reacted. The result is deeply human history, and an important read right now especially.

Certainly recommended, though I'd advise against the audiobook. Zakaria reads it herself, and while she's not an awful reader she's really not the best either. In focusing on enunciation, the words often sounded disconnected from each other and have less impact than they might otherwise.

Feb 3, 2016, 5:31pm Top

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

This is the second in what will at least be a trilogy (the first was Dreamer's Pool). Marillier has sort of invented the historical fantasy mystery genre, as far as I know, and I love it. Blackthorn, and a healer and wise woman, was saved from death and removed from prison by a fey man, tasked with setting up as healer near the future Dalriadan king's residence, Winterfalls. She has to stay in the area for seven years and give help to anyone who asks it of her. Grim, a man who was in prison with her tagged along, and both are still trying to deal with the trauma of their experiences (both in prison and before). Grim is clearly stated to have PTSD, and while we learned Blackthorn's story in the first book now we learn Grim's.

The folk tale at the heard of this book is a much more familiar one to me (in numerous variations), so this book was much more predictable than the previous one. As usual, however, where Marillier really excels is in character building, and all of her books are very character-driven.

I'm eagerly awaiting the third book, especially as Marillier thinks there might be more than three so that the next book must serve as a real ending for the series as well as a jumping off point. Most of her other books can stand alone quite easily, as well as work in a series. This series is a bit more connected, in that Blackthorn has a time-specific task laid upon her, but also a drive toward vengeance that she fights. This and the previous book still have self-contained main plots though.

Feb 3, 2016, 5:45pm Top

Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David

RidgewayGirl's excellent review of this book made me immediately order a copy for myself, which is a small miracle ($30 is about six times more than I'll usually pay for a book I've never read), and I'm so glad I did. This was a great read and an extremely well done book. It's not short of text content or hard facts but includes a great selection of images, both of the fashions themselves but also advertisements, satirical cartoons, etc... The book is also neatly organized into sections covering different toxins and further organized with that, which I appreciated.

David doesn't just tell the (largely) same-old same-old stories of dangerous clothes, but brings us into the present as well. She brings in the misogynistic treatment of dangerous women's fashions vs men's, and the fact that almost identical things still happen, we've largely just moved them to different countries rather than occurring down the road.

It has slightly made me feel like burning all my clothes and knitting a new wardrobe from local wool, but it was a really fantastic read. Actually I'd also like to set some tulle on fire to see how it goes up, and maybe some old celluloid too. Not recommended for arsonists.

Feb 6, 2016, 11:45am Top

#32 I love Marillier's work anyway but I adore this series. I'd be quite happy for her to have more than 3 installments.

Feb 6, 2016, 12:01pm Top

Ditto, Sarah! I wonder if my joy in these is partly because I was less than thrilled with the second two books in the Bridei Chronicles (I absolutely adored The Dark Mirror, and that colored things, I enjoyed the other two more when I re-read them recently), and wasn't all that impressed with the second trilogy involving Sevenwaters. Though, again, I think that was partly just comparison with the original trilogy. I should probably give them another chance too. Have you read her short story collection Prickle Moon? I've never been a huge fan of short stories, but it was a fun read, and interesting to read the ones that weren't fantasy related.

Feb 6, 2016, 5:16pm Top

Because it was only an eBook for a long time, I haven't read Prickle Moon yet. But I can see it is available as a paperback now - a request as a birthday present could be in my future!

Feb 8, 2016, 12:01pm Top

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick

A good popular science read, and nice to read one that's more focused on one topic than the general "our brains are so weird" ones proliferating now. Though the topic was a bit depressing for me at times as I live alone and I am not a human who does well living alone (unless I were in a building or neighborhood where I had some friends right there).

Much of the book was just confirming things I was already pretty sure of (like the fact that being alone and lonely actually makes one MORE judgmental of strangers). It was a good read though, well written and organized.

Feb 8, 2016, 12:22pm Top

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

I am devoted to Daniel Pinkwater, and have been since I was a child. His children's and YA novels have this perfect mix of the silly, the bizarre and the philosophical and they made me excited about the world during a very dark period when I was age 12-13. He wrote no children's or YA novels for some years (only published two between 1984 and 2006), because for quite a period publishers just weren't willing to take the chance on something so different. Thankfully that changed and he published the first of a new trilogy in 2006 (The Neddiad, which he felt was the best novel he'd written).

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl is the third in the trilogy, and my favorite of the bunch. The trilogy (well, the second and third at least) take us back to the idea of different existential planes, which I generally love, particularly his explanations of them. I could barely put this one down. It's classic Pinkwater but perhaps with a new refinement (the whole trilogy is, really).

I haven't read the first one since it came out, so I'm hoping to re-read that later this year.

Edited: Feb 8, 2016, 11:07pm Top

The Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is always good, and this account of a few months sailing around collecting specimens is very good. They were sailing in 1940, I believe, and there's a fair bit of preoccupation with the war, though of course the US was not officially involved yet. I think being on a ship generally leads to philosophizing and that's evident here.

The blemish on the book was in the last section, which is a celebration/brief biography of Ed Ricketts (whom the character Doc in Cannery Row was based on, and who maintained the scientific purpose of the trip). Steinbeck describes Ricketts' sexual habits which boil down to picking out vulnerable young women who are tied up enough (by husbands, children, etc) that they won't be able to make trouble for Ricketts when he gets tired of them. Steinbeck describes this as though it's just a humorous quirk and that's pretty gross, all in all.

Feb 8, 2016, 11:15pm Top

The Price of Salt/Carol by Patricia Highsmith

This is a beautifully written book. It follows Therese, a theatre set designer, while she's working at a department store before Christmas. She is captivated by an older female customer, Carol, to the extent that she contacts her directly. They begin a tentative, nerve-wracked (for Therese) friendship which creates fallout in both their personal lives.

It says something that this one is considered to have a happy ending (compared to other books of the period involving homosexuality). I would say it's not happy or totally grim (in part because it ends quite suddenly).

It was a very good read, and I loved Highsmith's writing. Really disappointed when I was looking her up to find that she was more than latently racist and particularly vehemently anti-Semitic. I guess as least she's dead and I'm not monetarily supporting her, but it was upsetting to learn that.

Feb 8, 2016, 11:20pm Top

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston

I absolutely loved this book. It's a bit thin on the writing side, but each page is a scrapbook page with period ephemera (Preston has been a long-time collector of vintage scrapbooks). It's a joy to look at just for those wonderful vintage pieces she's found.

The premise and the way things run are a bit too sweet, maybe, but I loved looking through the book. It felt extremely honest as well. I've made accidental scrapbooks out of journals and I saw shadows of them in this. Preston captures a reality and because the images and things are all actual period pieces it does hit you as a True Thing.

I've been so good this year about writing down books I learn about (and want to read) from LT threads, but I slipped with this one. I could have sworn I learned about it here but can't find the thread anywhere now (and it could have come from BookRiot). So annoying not to know.

Feb 11, 2016, 6:52pm Top

Freddy Rides Again by Walter R. Brooks

One of my favorites of the Freddy books I've read recently. I love that the animals dream of being cowboys, just like every other kid in the 1950s. Rich neighbors move nearby and disrupt everyone's life. Freddy works to teach them a lesson or at least get their son to stop being a jerk. A great one for people who love Mr. Bean.

I do so heartily recommend these books. They're great fun and have a lot of good lessons in them delivered without hammering them.

For atmosphere here is a picture of my mother in 1955, in her own cowgirl outfit.

Feb 11, 2016, 7:05pm Top

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

This is a memoir of Grande's life going about through her college years. She was born in Iguala, Mexico and before she is old enough to remember her father goes to work in the US (el otro lado - the other side). When she is six or seven her mother leaves as well, leaving Grande and her older sister and brother with their paternal grandmother. This grandmother does not care for them or treat them well.

Later Grande and her siblings cross the border illegally with their father, having to make multiple tries before succeeding. The US is not the dream they imagined. Their father is abusive and Grande struggles to get by in school and learn English. Their lives are harsh and their father's girlfriend resents them living there while her own children cannot. Soon they learn their mother has come back to the US but has not bothered to try to contact them.

The title of the book refers to both the physical and emotional distances between Grande and her parents. It is a very good memoir, and I really recommend it. I would avoid the audio edition though, if you can. The reader is largely good but struggles with doing voices for the dialogue and ends up sounding very cartoony.

Feb 14, 2016, 9:16pm Top

The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre

This was a really interesting novel, with a fairly original format. Isabel is writing the story of her and her husband Quintin's families and their histories in Puerto Rico. Every few chapters her tale is interrupted by her husband's narration when he finds and reads various parts of her work, and writes notes in the margins. There are also chapters set in the present where Isabel talks directly about Quintin's reading her manuscript.

I definitely made liberal use of the family tree in the front of the book, but even with a few moments of confusion, it was a very interesting, enjoyable read. It deals with a lot of different issues in a very personal, family way (Puerto Rican nationalism vs statehood, colonial legacy, racism, etc...).

Reviewing it I feel like I should be raving about what a good read it was, but it's a quiet, subdued read in many ways. It is about the storytelling and the characters more than beautiful language. Definitely one I haven't stopped thinking about since I finished it.

Feb 14, 2016, 9:33pm Top

Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen

While the subject was very interesting this book mostly just got on my nerves. It is very narrative non-fiction, and feels totally geared for people who don't like non-fiction at all. Jensen speaks so much for the people involved, their moods, their inner feelings, without saying a single word about how he knows this is how they felt. No mention of any source material at all in the body of the book.

I like sources. I love being swept up in a story, but good writers do that all the time while still filling a book with primary source material (Caroline Alexander, Candice Millard, Tom Reiss). Where did he find out the story of Nellie Pelikan's early life, for example? There are only a handful of mentions of letters in the entire book. Jensen's gives us nothing, no reason to believe that this is remotely close to being accurate vs one person's prejudiced memories or largely his own imaginings.

This is a book I thought I'd love but was feeling disenchanted with during the first 50 pages. Like the fool I am though I didn't decide to give it up. It's just so much harder to call it quits with an audiobook for some reason.

Feb 21, 2016, 10:43am Top

The Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

I feel like maybe I need some more fluff reading in my life (or more children's books, they break up the rest of my fiction reading in the same way). This is the third in the Anita Blake series, I picked it up thinking it was the second. Re-read the first last year and thought I might as well go through the first nine again. They're fun, they're not horribly written (they're in first person with a very distinct, casual voice which if you hate you'll hate the books, but it's fine for me), Anita has a double career, and a whole lot of agency. I tried to read the first book in series the show True Blood is based on and found the writing to be awful and the heroine to have so little character and such little life outside her love life.

While the series as the reputation for smut now, there's really not much/any of that until book six (book ten is where there's suddenly loads of it, and by book twelve there was so much that I had to stop reading them - the crime investigation and the fights for survival are what I really liked). I'm catching myself back up reading the second book now.

Feb 21, 2016, 11:01am Top

Capital by John Lanchester

I really loved this novel. It follows a number of people/families on a single "suddenly worth millions" street in London, set before and during the 2008 financial crisis. It is so nuanced and carefully told and just a really great read. For me it felt incredibly authentic and realistic.

If you seen the previews for the mini-series based on this book, they make it seem like a thriller which it absolutely isn't. I'm also astounded they tried to break this beautiful book into only three episodes. Unless those episodes are 2 hours each, that's just not enough. Inner thoughts are such an important part of it that adapting it will be difficult anyway. They needed the person who adapted The Slap to do this one (that adaptation had the fewest changes I've ever seen in book-to-TV/movie). Also, having seen Toby Jones in the comedy The Detectorists I cannot make my brain imagine him as a city banker.

Highly recommend the book, it really was just an absolutely wonderful read, a great contemporary novel.

Edited: Feb 22, 2016, 4:04am Top

>47 mabith:. I loved Capital too, and have actually re-read it a couple of times. Like you, I was surprised that they tried to compress the book into just three hour-long episodes for television, but found myself even more shocked at the speed with which they raced through the book: they seemed to cover more than half of the novel in the first episode alone. It may well have been a great series for any viewers who hadn't read the book but I found it a brutal adaptation. You are right about Toby Jones, too - his representation of Roger was totally miscast, and the actress playing his wife utterly failed to convey the irredeemable shallowness of Arabella. The scenes in which Roger is told of his bonus, and his Christmas Day looking after his sons, which formed great set pieces in the book, were really just skated over very fleetingly.

Feb 22, 2016, 8:45am Top

That's so disheartening. Really, I'm curious who read the book and thought it would make a good mini-series anyway. Interior monologues and a heavy focus on characters' unspoken thoughts rarely make for great TV adaptations.

Feb 28, 2016, 7:04pm Top

Since we only went into one bookstore I only acquired four books this vacation (and I sold at least 20 to the bookstore so I'm ahead of the game).

Midaq Alley, The Thief and the Dogs, and Miramar in one volume by Naguib Mahfouz
Honey Bunch: Her First Summer on an Island by Helen Louise Thorndyke (well, technically written by faceless goons at the Stratemeyer Syndicate who think young kids can't describe what an island is)
Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars by Margaret Higonnet
Return to the Middle Kingdom: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China by Yuan-tsung Chen

I feel like that is the most eclectic combination of books I could have possibly picked up.

Mar 1, 2016, 8:44pm Top

The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

Since I accidentally read the third book in the series second I had to half-rectify that by reading the second quickly. Also I was on vacation, and while I don't really believe in "vacation reading" I do believe in "books that are light enough and engaging enough to read in an uncomfortable bathtub during necessary soaking." Wish I'd brought the fourth book with me rather than my bulky WWI tome I've been reading!

While I think the writing in this series is far better than a lot of 'trashy' series, I did identify one writing tic that drives me a bit nuts. Hamilton is fond have having Anita say "Damn you, insert name, damn you," in serious situations. It feels so incredibly unnatural to me with the repetition. That's how sarcastic people say it, not seriously annoyed people. I'm pretty sure this happens less and less as the books go on at least (hopefully).

That aside, the books are fun and they are engaging. The way Hamilton turns everything supernatural rather banal and everyday for Anita appeals to me. In her universe it's not just witches, vampires, fairies, and shapeshifters who are real. Trolls, giants, lamias, lots of creatures make it in too. Re-reading them is hitting home why this series kept me interested for a good while when I had no inclination to read similar things. The wide adoption of the supernatural, the criminal investigation aspect, and the fights are all part of that. For whatever reason I like a good bit of fictional violence (more in TV/movies than books admittedly), even while being quite the pacifist. Life's little mysteries...

Edited: May 6, 2016, 12:00am Top

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

One of the must-read books of US history both for the content and the good writing and organization. It is made a harder read for me now simply because of how little has truly changed. Treaties are still violated for commercial reasons, fashion campaigns use specific tribal dress as a prop, non-native actors are still cast in native roles (even the 1950s Long Ranger TV show got that one right whereas the recent movie did not).

Children are still suspended for talking in native languages in school (and I mean in between class and at lunch, not during class though that also wouldn't be reason for suspension), native kids who adopt traditional hair styles get in trouble in the same school where non-native kids wear the same styles without issue. Obviously those things don't happen at every school, but that it EVER happens is patently ridiculous and wrong.

Read the book if you haven't already, particularly if you live in the US. Pair it with Rez Life.

Mar 1, 2016, 9:06pm Top

Freddy and Simon the Dictator by Walter R. Brooks

Another encounter with Freddy's oldest enemy, Simon the Rat, this time working in collaboration with a human farmer to create an animal uprising that would displace the human farm owners. Why a human is helping with this isn't totally clear. There are a lot of references to Russia, which isn't surprising in a 1956 book. This is also the third from last novel in the series.

It's fun, though not one of my very favorites. Also the rabbits are mad because of a rumor that the Beans eat rabbit stew. Made me think that the Beans must be vegetarians or only eat mutton (no sheep on the farm). Obviously the fact that they're apparently just keeping Freddy, a pig, for a garbage disposal comes to mind early in the reading, in part because that's the only animal with no dual purpose. Maybe they eat a lot of seafood... In general though I respect Brooks for not attempting to explain any of that, it's a fantasy children's book, children know that.

Mar 2, 2016, 7:45pm Top

#52 Have had a copy for years....must read it !!???

Mar 2, 2016, 7:57pm Top

It was the same with me. It's always especially nice for me when I get one of those 'forever tbr' books read when it's a non-fiction title, as that seems more important somehow.

Mar 7, 2016, 6:30pm Top

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

I put this book on my library hold list when I was just reasonably curious about it. When it actually came in I wasn't eager to start, but once I began I just loved it.

Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar and the book is largely about the running of that company, the ideals they wanted to firmly plant in the workplace, their successes, and their mistakes. Catmull is proud of Pixar, but he is not egotistical or arrogant and in the book he shares with us the hard work of maintaining a creative workplace.

It was just fascinating to read, and especially hit home for me as I design and sell cross-stitch patterns. It can be hard to separate my joy in the act of design and stitching from the business side of things, and I've definitely stifled creativity sometimes due to what will actually sell.

Really interesting read, highly recommended.

Mar 7, 2016, 6:41pm Top

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

The second of the slim memoirs Dahl published. He is quite picky of what seems 'worthy' of going into a memoir and I wonder if he had to be goaded into writing them at all. This one basically picks up where Boy left off. Dahl is working for Shell in Kenya and Tanzania. Despite being considered far too tall (6'6") he joins the RAF and learns to fly. He survives a horrific crash early in his career due to being given incorrect information.

What is most striking about the book is the utter lack of care for pilots not stationed in the UK. They're expected to take up planes of types they've never flown before and go out solo on raids without being taught even the basics of fighter plane flying. The high death rate for the RAF overseas is immediately understandable and I felt sick reading about it.

Recommended. His memoirs are so slim and such quick reads.

I also found myself having a strange disconnect about Dahl and Spike Milligan being about the same age. Milligan's work is centered so firmly in the immediate post-war period for me whereas Dahl's children's books are timeless in many ways (they feel both newer than they are but also older than they are all at once).

Mar 7, 2016, 6:53pm Top

The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War by Peter Englund

This is a really interesting take on a WWI history. Englund has chosen 20 individuals, none of whom became well known, and takes us through their war. They come from a variety of countries, and fight or live on a variety of fronts. Englund uses diary and memoir excerpts but also tells us about their lives and the world events himself. My dad was over the moon about this book, absolutely loved it. I had a hard time settling down with it, I think because the focus switches to a different person every few pages or less. It was hard to get into a rhythm.

There's an ordinary Tommy, the American wife of a Polish aristocrat, a dedicated Scottish social worker, an English nurse serving with the Russian army, a Brazilian man who was turned down when he tried to enlist with the allies so enlisted with the Ottoman army instead, a Danish man fighting in the Germany army, a German school girl, a French civil servant, a Scot serving with the British army in Africa, etc...

The book is done really well, and Englund manages to get home points which I don't remember picking up from other WWI reads. Like the fact that when the Germans entrenched themselves they had mostly been retreating and were able to pick and choose the most defensible ground to stop at.

Very interesting book, and really well done. It is truly a personal look at the war. I can't really place whether this will appeal more or less to people who've read very little about the war. If you like social history definitely pick it up.

Mar 7, 2016, 7:38pm Top

The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton

Well once I started rereading the first bit of the series I had to continue. Part of the addictive effect of these books is the fact that they occur over quite brief periods of time. Like the first four books represent about one year in Anita's life. This is the fourth book and her personal life begins to get messy.

Apart from Anita's expressions of annoyance with people just not feeling right ("damn you, so-and-so, damn you" rather than "damn it, so-and-so" which feels much more natural), the books aren't horribly written (though she does describe clothing a lot).

Fun, silly, addictive reading. Attempting to own my enjoyment of the first nine or so in the series and banish my embarrassment. I've almost convinced myself.

Mar 7, 2016, 8:38pm Top

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters

The second book in the Amelia Peabody series. Amelia and her now-husband Emerson basically hate everyone in the world except each other and they even hate each other a bit. Which makes me love them and love Peters so much. They are snarky and ridiculous and in love.

I do feel that Peters in wishing to keep the characters feeling Victorian is sometimes putting too many stereotypes on the Egyptians. She fought that more in the first book, I think, though I can't be 100% sure. We'll see how it continues. It's not over the top in this one, just some instances really rubbed me the wrong way. Still a deeply enjoyable book with lots of laughs in it for me.

Mar 14, 2016, 8:00pm Top

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

I've been meaning to read Allende since I started working at a bookstore in 2003, and finally my new book club made me do it.

The book follows a family through marriages, deaths, affairs, births, and the varying political climate in Chile. It's dense but flowing, and I enjoyed it. It reminded me a little of Beloved (which I loved). While it's a great first novel I think the inexperience does show a bit. I also felt very sure while reading that if published today it would have been split in half, a first novel and a sequel.

Definitely want to read more Allende after this.

Mar 14, 2016, 8:08pm Top

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett RE-READ

This is the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching series. I re-read it now as a refresher before starting the fifth book in the series, and the last Discworld book, The Shepherd's Crown.

I've only read this once before, I think because I find Tiffany and her struggles so affecting. Something in these books feels MUCH more personal to Mr. Pratchett than in the regular Discworld offerings. Partly because of Tiffany's fascination with words, especially susurration (which I'm pretty sure appears in every single Discworld book).

In this volume people are suddenly very against witches, and Tiffany confronts a foe who can track her without solid form and turn people against her. She also confronts her own relative lack of experience dealing with people as she tries to help them.

It's a lovely book, and I thought a perfect ending to Tiffany's story. Now I've started The Shepherd's Crown, which is starting on quite a dramatic note. Authors never trust me about where to end their series.

Mar 14, 2016, 8:16pm Top

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This is a very important book. Desmond followed and lived with people longterm, in their neighborhoods, recording conversations often via digital recorder so the dialogue within in frequently verbatim. He spent immense time gaining the trust of people who have mostly been trained to trust no one.

I would recommend reading the "about this project" bit at the end before you start. Otherwise it might seem like Desmond is dramatizing, or putting words in people's mouths. It's a very well done book, heartbreaking in so many ways.

Since the big recession and the relatively swift decimation of the middle class, I think books like this are particularly necessary. Growing up in this kind of grinding poverty and then attempting to live in it as an adult, often with children of your own, has been shown to cause PTSD. It is an extremely different situation than someone who was raised middle class being relatively poor (in part because they likely have more resources to draw on). I have lived in abject poverty before, when my rent was eating up 70% of my income, with bills and non-food necessities taking the rest (and that was in an apartment where the electricity was paid for by the landlord). It is incredibly hard on a person, and I entered with the privilege of a thrifty middle class upbringing and the very good finance example of my mother (and I'm a strict budgeter by nature).

Desmond does a great job with this one.

Mar 14, 2016, 8:55pm Top

Bloody Bones by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

Fifth in the Anita Blake series. First one to feature Anita smooching Jean-Claude. She finds out more about him in this book, and they encounter some vampires from his past.

This one is quite a bit longer than the previous books, and focuses a bit less on the police parts (mainly because Anita's out of town and the local cops take a dislike to her so she's working outside the law). It's a darker book in some ways.

While I enjoy these, and at the time it was fun having a big series, I'm kind of glad my addictive reading now is stuff like Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom children's fantasy series. I've never been much for binge reading series books. These I've been making my night time bedroom book, and admittedly I have had some late nights because of it. It's been a long time since I've read them.

Mar 20, 2016, 9:29pm Top

Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu (editors)

This was a really wonderful collection. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, but it turned out to be a great read. The essays all come from women who identify as both Muslim and (US)American, but they are incredibly diverse, coming from many different backgrounds, coming to Islam at different periods, some straight, some gay, some bisexual, conservative or liberal, etc...

In the end it reminds us that love is love, and people are all basically act the same, no matter what their religious or cultural influences. In the US I think many white folks, especially those for whom immigration lies many generations back, like to believe that they don't put strictures on their children in terms of choosing a spouse. They outwardly rebel against people specifically looking for a certain cultural or religious criteria in a mate, while managing to hold the same expectations for their children. The number of white people on OkCupid who say they wouldn't marry outside of their race is astounding and frankly horrifying (more so since they are the dominant culture), and I've seen many who refuse bisexuals (which is quite rich when they message me, a bisexual myself, I have no interest in marriage, but if you wouldn't marry me based on that then kindly leave me be).

The essays were great, in any case, and I highly recommend this book. It would be a good one to pick up over a longer period, since each essay isn't too long. The book is also a bit dear to my heart since one of my aunts is an Egyptian Muslima (and, due to various readings, if I ever started believing in one god I'd head to Islam).

Mar 20, 2016, 9:58pm Top

The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

Sixth book in the series. Why can't I stop re-reading these?! Still haven't manage to jettison my embarrassment over these. It might be lessened if I read more similar books, but I just don't, and don't have any desire to. In this one Anita spends a lot of time being told what's going on with the werewolf power struggle involving her beau Richard's reluctance to kill the current pack leader. Edward her assassin friend is in it, as someone has taken out a contract on Anita. She is very hard-hearted and numb to the death she leaves in her wake in this one.

Mar 20, 2016, 11:59pm Top

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

Read this for the Reading Globally Caribbean theme. A good, solid, enjoyable read, though not quite five stars amazing.

It follows a line of women, spending most of the book with Telumee, who mostly grows up with her grandmother. She goes from luck to trouble several times.

SassyLassy wrote a great review here.

I did copy out several quotes:

"For the first time in my life I realized that slavery was not some foreign country, some distant region from which a few very old people came, like the two or three who still survived in Fond-Zombie. It had all happened here, in our hills and valleys, perhaps near this clump of bamboo, perhaps in the air I was breathing."

"I wouldn't say a word or utter a sigh in case I gave voice to some evil influence that might prevent the dream from ever coming true. Elie's words made me proud, but I would have rather he'd kept them to himself, carefully sheltered from bad luck."

"Everyday you must get up and say to your heart, 'I've suffered enough, and now I have to live, for the light of the sun must not be frittered away and lost without any eye to enjoy it.'"

"...people gathered in silence outside, gazing at the scene unfolding before their eyes and trying to puzzle out a story, a story with a meaning with a beginning and an end, as you have to do here below if you want to know where you are amidst the chaos of men's desires."

Mar 21, 2016, 12:17am Top

Only for a Fortnight: My Life in a Locked Ward by Sue Read

Sue Read spent a good chunk of her childhood in an adult mental institution, during the 1960s and 1970s. The book was published in 1989. She writes in a very raw way, and seems off-putting, but given what she'd been through it's not surprising. A good part of the book deals with her life for the few years after she'd left the institution.

What is striking is that diabetes, and inability to control it, are a relatively big part of the reason she was institutionalized. She was also struggling badly with the sudden death of her father, as was her mother who found it hard to cope. She was supposed to be in the institution "only for a fortnight." She was 12 when put into an adult ward, and suffered sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. There never seemed to be much effort to help in terms of medication or talk therapy.

Some medical notes are in an appendix at the end, and they shine rather favorably on the doctors involved, but those doctors were not the people who dealt with the patients every day on the wards. They are not medical notes in terms of health details we usually think of but mostly doctors writing back and forth about how it's not okay to have a child in an adult ward.

Mar 21, 2016, 12:37am Top

Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana

This is a very detailed, thorough biography of Bolivar, which attempts to redress some of the misconceptions about him (both positive and negative mythologies).

It was a really interesting read, but maybe a bit too sprawling for me. My brain would probably do better with the history broken up into a few volumes with more specific focuses.

One of the things that stood out for me was a similarity between Bolivar and Julius Caesar, which isn't a comparison I thought I'd be making.

I'm definitely still digesting this one, and feeling like I'm not grasping all the pieces of the history. Hopefully it's the start of more reading about South America.

Mar 23, 2016, 9:09pm Top

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

I've been reading Cushman's books since I was nine or ten and received Catherine, Called Birdy as my Scholastic book of the month. She's not a hugely prolific author, so I just check every few years for new books. However much I love Cushman's books I might have hesitated if I'd read the description of this one and realized it was about a physically disabled girl, as disability is often handled very poorly, particularly in historical settings. (I'm disabled myself.)

Cushman soon erased all of my doubts. She was so smart in how she went about writing this. First, she chose a real condition and researched it - hip dysplasia, which can be corrected without too much trouble, but if left means the legs don't develop in the usual way and the person is left crippled and in pain. This often results from a certain type of breech birth, and of course couldn't be corrected in the early Elizabethan period when this book is set. Cushman's choice to allow Meggy to be angry, at other people, not at herself or necessarily because of her disability, was equally wondrous. In fiction, there are two prominent disabled tropes - the Pollyanna and the bitter cripple. We are rarely allowed to be outspoken and angry and grouchy and be a protagonist. Meggy's disability impacts how she goes about things but it has little to nothing to do with the main plot of the book. Third, Cushman lets Meggy sometimes use typical historical perceptions of disability as a result of curses or demonic possession to her own advantage when trying to get people to leave her alone (I say historical, but the Catholic church still wasn't accepting men with epilepsy into the priesthood in the 1960s due to the old 'demonic possession' explanation).

After Meggy's grandmother dies, her mother sends her to London to live with her father, who she doesn't know. He's an alchemist and takes little notice of her, never even using her name. As she learns the streets and makes herself useful running errands, she befriends a variety of people. Soon she overhears men buying poison from her father with the intent of killing an Earl. She's shocked and tries to talk her father out of it, but soon must find a way to foil the plot herself.

I really loved this book, and I'm so relieved and pleased that Cushman took this representation seriously. My love for her remains undiminished.

Mar 23, 2016, 9:16pm Top

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

First off, please read all the Tiffany books before you read this one. Her development as a character is important, and these books do have a slightly different style to most of the other Discworld books (fewer pithy one-liners in the narration, a more traditional narrative style). I think because the Tiffany books have always been a bit different this one was easier to keep up to standard than some of the last adult novels (Raising Steam felt so odd to me, but I loved Snuff, so I'm not sure what was going on there).

The book opens with a pretty powerful punch to the reader, Granny Weatherwax's death (literally in the first 15 or so pages, not a spoiler, and Pratchett actually made it obvious that's where it was going in the dedication). She has chosen Tiffany to succeed her, a heavy burden which Tiffany tries to uphold. Add to that the elves are trying to break through again.

I think towards the end the pacing went off the rails a bit, but I have a feeling Pratchett knew this would be his last book. Otherwise I think it reads as solidly as the other Tiffany books, though I was dubious at using the elves again.

Mar 23, 2016, 9:19pm Top

Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock RE-READ

I'm the baby of a big family, and my closest-in-age sibling is still four and a half years older than me. I worshiped her, and liked everything she liked, but the age gap meant she didn't particularly want to share her favorites with me and would actively try to prevent me reading her books.

She did, however, share Griffin and Sabine with me, when I was 13 or 14, and I fell in love with the books, the art, and the world Nick Bantock created. They will always have a special place in my heart.

Reading them as a proper adult, perhaps a rather cynical one, I found the nearly instant love between Griffin and Sabine a bit much. Going from strangers to explaining Sabine's strange gift of seeing what Griffin draws, to “you've made life worthwhile” in a few letters and postcards was too rapid for me. The art remains absolutely enjoyable though, and there's an extreme tactile glee I still feel pulling the letters from their envelopes.

Bantock remains a wonderful artist, with a true gift for creating unique books and combining his art and writing. I would most recommend the Griffin and Sabine books to the 12-24 age range, or older if the recipient is a sensitive romantic.

If I recall correctly, his The Museum at Purgatory, was more enjoyable as a slightly older kid (read when I was 21, so my memories are not that reliable).

Mar 25, 2016, 9:08pm Top

Beverly Cleary, author of the Ramona Quimby books, on turning 100: “I didn’t do it on purpose.” (http://www.vox.com/2016/3/25/11305480/beverly-cleary-ramona-100)

Cleary's still got it.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 2:28am Top

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous (possibly Marta Hillers)

An incredibly important account of life in Berlin just before and after the surrender. It is obviously the work of a practiced journalist, and she tries to keep a very even tone even throughout fraught events (basically the whole book!). Food is scarce, rapes are incredibly common and frequent, electricity and water are mostly cut, and many have been bombed or burned out of their homes.

The book was published in Germany in 1953 were it was either “ignored or reviled.” The author did not want it republished in her lifetime so the recent edition only came out in 2003. It is widely believed that the author was Marta Hillers, but only one person actually knows, so it's ridiculous that so many spaces on the internet credit it to Hillers without reservation.

Again, a work of great importance, documenting a period and events that are frequently glossed over or not studied at all.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 2:29am Top

Silas Marner by George Eliot

This is the book that put my dad off reading anything else by Eliot after it was assigned in high school, and a good reminder that choosing a particular book by a classic author because it's short. It's a shame, as I think he'd enjoy Eliot's work. I'm glad high school only ruined me on the work of Wade Davis.

Silas Marner is Eliot's third novel, published in 1861. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did The Mill on the Floss and it didn't always hold my interest in the first quarter, but I do like Eliot's writing. Marner's story just seems more traditional and certainly more predictable (as are most Victorian novels, frankly, and that's not necessarily a shortcoming but Mill stood out to me for being less so).

Definitely going to keep on with Eliot.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 2:30am Top

Burnt Offerings by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

Seventh book in the series, trouble begins when the vampire council come basically to get rid of Jean-Claude and/or Anita. Much posturing, many clashes between Anita and Richard as she's still technically Lupa of the werewolves but he's forbidden them to talk to her and then there are wereleopards and an arsonist and coordinated attacks against all vampire owned businesses and Dolph (head of the preternatural crime division that Anita works with) doesn't like her anymore because she's dating a vampire etc etc etc...

Things start to get a bit too packed and silly and the crime aspect takes up less of the book (and without it I think the books are far inferior). This book and the next one are ones I've rarely re-read, but I'm looking forward to the ninth book, Obsidian Butterfly as it was a favorite. Anita leaves town to help Edward so it's basically all crime-based and that's the point where I will stop the re-reads.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 2:30am Top

Bellwether by Connie Willis

I've really enjoyed Connie Willis' time travel books, and had been planning to re-read one when I noticed my library had an audio edition of this title. So glad I picked it up, as it was immensely fun and funny. The narrator is a scientist who studies trends working for a relatively terrible company with a bad case of bureaucratic over-reach. She's attempting to figure out why suddenly millions of women bobbed their hair, and as the book goes along mentions various strange (and largely short) trends throughout history.

Published in 1996 you'd think the biting commentary on the current trends would be dated, but it's absolutely not. If you didn't tell people the actual publication date I think they'd believe 100% that it could have been written this year. Well, maybe you'd have to say it took place in a slightly alternate universe where cellphones aren't so advanced (or just give excerpts), but her commentary on restaurant trends, body modification trends, language, coffee, etc... is all totally on point.

I can't express how much I enjoyed this and I highly recommend it.

Apr 7, 2016, 2:21pm Top

Sabriel by Garth Nix RE-READ

I absolutely loved this book when I read it in 2008 and time hasn't changed my feelings about it. Every time I review a book by Nix I say that he's the heir to L. Frank Baum when it comes to world building. Frankly, I don't understand a world where The Golden Compass (UK title Northern Lights) is more known and read than Sabriel, which I feel is a much more original and interesting book.

Sabriel is the first of a trilogy, since expanded into four with the publication of Clariel, which I thought lacked some of the thrill and even pacing of the original three. They are in the YA market, but suitable down to age ten or so, depending on the child, and just as enjoyable as an adult reader.

Two countries are divided by a wall, and on one side, in the Old Kingdom, free magic and charter magic are strong. To the south, in Ancesltierre, magic is only found at the border and is denied by much of the country. One necromancer under the title of Abhorsen keeps the undead and other forces in check. Sabriel's father has been the Abhorsen but when he falls and sends his tools, a set of bells and sword, to Sabriel, she must cross the border and stop Kerrigor, a powerful free magic necromancer.

I suppose that might sound typical, but it's a quality book, and really good YA/children's fantasy can be tough to find. This was initially published in 1995 and would have stood out HUGELY from the crowd then, as it did in the early 2000s when it became more well known in the US. I'm excited to re-read the other books in the series now.

Apr 7, 2016, 2:22pm Top

Know the Mother by Desiree Cooper (Made in Michigan Writers Series)

I've been attempting to pay more attention to small press publications and thankfully BookRiot has a monthly series about small press books to watch for. This one was on their March list and caught my eye. Their description:

Michiganders will be especially interested in this collection from a Detroit community activist. Women will be especially interested because this book explores what looks to be some pretty gut-punching moments in the life of women (and women of color, specifically). Mothers are humanized in this collection; the archetype of Mother is explored against the complex needs of the individual.

These are all quite short vignettes, some only a page long, but they are extremely well done and powerful. Cooper comes at some angles sideways, and you need to be on your toes to catch all of the nuance or even the main point in some. Covering these in a writing class I think you could take two weeks discussing some of the vignettes. I'm really impressed with Cooper's skill in crafting these, and I know I'll want to re-read them.

Because of the shortness I feel less certain of giving a general recommendation. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but these shorter pieces (they can't be called short stories, mostly) appealed to me more. Sadly, it's probably not a book that will be widely available in libraries, but if you see it, give it a go. The pieces being so short the book sucks you in, and much as I wanted to savor them I read it in two sittings.

Apr 7, 2016, 2:51pm Top

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Maybe YA historical westerns are going to be the new trend? I found out about this one because kaylaraeintheway posted its cover in the group Cover Love and it sounded like a fun read.

Kate found her father hanged and their house burned and vowed to track down his killers. She disguises herself as a boy and kills one of the men from the gang responsible in the first ten or so pages of the book. So yeah, a quick start to old time western violence...

It wasn't the best book ever, but it was something a little different in the YA market and relatively fun. Bowman falls into a romanticized "wise American Indian guide/sage" trope, but doesn't compound it as horribly as she could have. I think she also complicated the plot a fair bit more than she needed to for a single book and I'm not convinced she did much research for it (too many aspects felt cartoonish).

Interesting to me that the author seems to have absolutely no connection to the American southwest. Her dialogue felt a little off, in terms of the dialect stuff, but I'm not the best judge for that area. She's doing another YA western, but I probably won't particularly look for it. Not a bad read, but I don't have enough interest to keep going.

Apr 7, 2016, 3:00pm Top

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua

This is a selection of essays focusing on ten Chinese words (and frequently on how their meaning changed over the course of the author's life) and how they relate to Chinese culture and life. Yu Hua is primarily a fiction writer who came of age during the Cultural Revolution.

The essays are frequently autobiographical but drawn from a wider experience as well, and are well-written and considered. They generally end talking about the word's meaning in China today. It was a really interesting read, and I'd generally recommend it.

Apr 7, 2016, 3:15pm Top

A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves, and Lies of Russia's Most Seductive Spy by Deborah McDonald

As seems to frequently be the case, I think the author/publisher went a bit wild with the subtitle of this book. Maria (Moura) Budberg was born into an aristocratic Ukrainian family around 1891. She was very intelligent, reveled in being the center of attention, and was extremely charismatic, one of those people that others can't seem to help but like.

She certainly did some spying against Germany, set up as a bit of a double agent, during WWI, and did her share of whispering important tidbits down the line to the British throughout the years following the Russian revolution. However, facts about was she/wasn't she spying past the 1920s aren't really available. There was largely just an awful lot of rumor, some of which she created herself. Whatever hints we have, they are simply hints and there really isn't any hard evidence and there will likely never be any.

That being said, it was an interesting book because she was an interesting woman. While she destroyed all of her own papers, many letters she sent were kept and she was associated with many interesting people throughout her life, including Maxim Gorky and HG Wells. The book is well written and scrupulously end-noted. It took about a third of the way in to really grip me, but made for a good read.

Apr 7, 2016, 3:33pm Top

Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

In this second memoir by the author of Call the Midwife, Worth focuses not on births but people met through her work whose lives were impacted by the Victorian workhouse system (relatively unchanged into the 20th century). These are individual tales, told at length. Some of them are so personal that I'm curious how Worth got these stories, but others she tells us. The only deviation from the workhouse theme is the story of Sister Monica Joan's petty thieving and the serious court case that came with it (pretty identical to how it's depicted in the TV show).

One of the few big changes from the books to the TV show is the story of Jane, a quiet, incredibly nervous person who worked in the convent/nurse's home. In the show it's changed pretty much out of all recognition to fit in with a story about homes for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.

I'm grateful that Worth was a young person who valued these stories and was willing to listen, as there aren't very many records of workhouse life.

Apr 16, 2016, 5:42pm Top

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (thankfully the audio edition has a better cover than the 'totally unrelated to the plot' monstrosity on most of the editions)

Sometimes seeing many reviews before reading helps me with my review, but in this case I think it's hindering me. I liked the book, but didn't love it (I'm not great with unlikable characters and the narrator and her brilliant friend are quite unlikable), which makes me feel slightly like an outsider.

I think I'd probably slate the idea of picking up the next book entirely, except that this one ended SO abruptly and Ferrante engaged me enough that I do want to know what happens to Lenu and Lila. The time and the place are interesting me more than those characters in some ways, and it feels like a realistic snapshot.

Ferrante has said that the four books making up this series should be considered as a single novel published serially, which I didn't realize at all before reading the book, and I think that is important to note. I don't know why I often rebel against reading multiple books by a single author in the same month, but I do internally find it troubling.

Apr 16, 2016, 6:15pm Top

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

I became devoted to Moriarty after reading her WONDERFUL and HILARIOUS YA novel-in-letters/faxes/notes on the fridge, Feeling Sorry for Celia, and that was cemented due to her excellent second novel The Year of Secret Assignments (UK/Australia title Finding Cassie Crazy, sorry, but the American title is so much better on that one). While I think she goes a bit too silly/magical realism-y in other works, I still love her books. I wasn't excited to read her YA full-on-fantasy books, but the first one dragged me in and was quite enjoyable.

This is the second book and it really had me in its grips! Moriarty has always excelled in getting me deeply invested in her characters and this is no different despite my low-level aversion to YA fantasy. Add to that, the fantasy world she created is quite original, which will always win my praise.

I'd start the third book immediately but it doesn't seem to be out in audio yet. The audio editions feature a few different readers and it's done very well. I want to read the last book so much that I went through the trouble of searching the author and sending her a message directly about the audiobook release date.

Edited: May 5, 2016, 2:33am Top

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

I'd like to hold this review until my book club discusses the book, but I like my reviews to be in order, and probably my brain could use the exercise.

This is a classic of the LGBT genre, and considered one of the better portrayals of homosexuality of the period. Though I think we should stop saying that, because it mostly just makes you shake your head that THIS is the good portrayal that ends with misery and death, as most of them do. Given that gay characters (particularly women) are still being killed off TV and movies at a hugely alarming rate, it's even more frustrating.

I really enjoyed Baldwin's prose, but felt his dialogue writing was stilted and unnatural. Great dialogue writing is always difficult, and some issues with it stand out hugely when you're listening to an audio edition.

I don't have much to say about it, other than that I think the people putting the main character, David, in the bisexual camp are wrong. His encounters with women always spring from anxiety about the prevalent societal and cultural standards of masculinity and normalcy. Being able to get through a sexual encounter with your non-preferred gender is extremely common now, let alone in the 1950s when the pressure and rigid gender roles were much more intense, and does not negate identifying as gay.

Edited: Apr 16, 2016, 6:52pm Top

The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

This was a interesting read, and a really well-written book. At times the magical realism moments, the narrator seeing the dead or people who aren't there or imagining whole scenes between others, were confusing, but I think overall it worked for me. Wikipeida says Dowlatabadi specifically never sought publication for the book in Iran due to political pressures, and Amazon says the book was banned in Iran but I think the former is correct. The book was written in the 1980s and not published in Germany until around 2009 (I believe). It was published in the US in 2012.

Set over the course of a single night but with many flashbacks, the colonel must bury his daughter who was tortured and killed by the current regime after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. One of the main themes is the murder and imprisonment of the leaders of change in Iran after a different group or movement takes charge. Dowlatabadi did this so well, though I know I'm not describing it well.

A very good read, and very skillfully written (and translated).

Apr 21, 2016, 6:07pm Top

Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves

This was a brilliant and refreshing read, just what I needed in all ways. It is positive, upbeat, and rigorously sourced. Charity and Sylvia moved in together, on their own, in the first decade of of the 19th century. They lived together for over forty years, and were integral parts of their town's life.

Dozens of nieces and nephews were named for the women, frequently Charity's family would name children after Sylvia and vice-versa Cleves fills in the detail and fills in why this was an unlikely turn of events (women were rarely able to set up households on their own, and unmarried women were frequently shuffled around between family members).

It's well written and I highly recommend it.

Apr 21, 2016, 6:21pm Top

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock

This new volume in the Griffin and Sabine series fits right in between the two trilogies, filling in their journey to Alexandria.

I have perhaps lost most of the romantic idealism that I ever had, but I think it falls short of the original books and the emotion felt a little forced. I question whether the volume was really necessary, and I'm not convinced it adds to the series.

Unrelated to romanticism, while Griffin and Sabine are trying to elude Frolatti and his mystical agents, perhaps postcards are not the best form of correspondence... Likewise, how on earth is there enough time for the letters to reach them as they're both traveling towards each other. This world has a much more efficient system of mail delivery, apparently. Some of the details were less well-considered than in the originals as well, such as the type written letters. In the original books they're full of typos, adding to the realism (which is necessary in a fantastical series), but in this one they're perfect and in a less real-feeling typewriter font.

As usual, the art is absolutely beautiful, and the enchantment of opening the envelopes and pulling out the pages is lovely. For new readers maybe the extra volume is nice, and perhaps appreciated, though I rather assume the difficulty of receiving mail while on the go is part of why it wasn't done originally.

Apr 21, 2016, 6:29pm Top

The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Harriet Harvey Wood

I've read a couple other books on the battle, including David Howarth's 1066: The Year of the Conquest. I found Wood's book to be superior in many ways, and it was a great read. Wood puts the Anglo-Saxon period into MUCH better focus, and the detail is fantastic without seeming dry.

Highly recommended to the history lover. The main focus is not the nitty gritty of the battle, though of course that's covered.

Apr 21, 2016, 6:47pm Top

Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare

After absolutely loving Kadare's The Siege, I had pretty high expectations for this one. It draws on Kadare's own childhood and sometimes verges into the surreal, which in some ways follows reality. The town is taken and lost back and forth between Italians, Greeks, Germans, etc... One group free the prisoners while the next rulers order the freed prisoners back into jail.

It has many comic notes, and many tragic ones, with the chapters alternating between a young boy's viewpoint and the formal tones of the town chronicler. It is a book which warrants a second reading, I think, in print for me as the audiobook reader was not good and impacted my enjoyment of the work. The translation history is a bit checkered, and one does feel that Kadare's including brief bits of Enver Hoxha (dictator of Albania from 1944-1985) towards the end was strictly a political move.

I'm certainly not done with Kadare though. A friend of mine is devoted to him, and I'll hopefully read Twilight of the Eastern Gods next. Kadare is such a good writer, and I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

Apr 25, 2016, 11:59am Top

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

Mahfouz is one of my favorite authors, and this book in particular was recommended to me by a friend some time ago. Of course my library didn't have it, so I continued reading Mahfouz's other works. This past February I found an anthology of Mahfouz that included this book (also The Thief and the Dogs and Miramar).

One of the joys of reading many works by a single author is the fact that sometimes it takes a while to figure out why you enjoy their writing or pinpoint a specific skill. Of course it's difficult with works in translation, but I think Mahfouz is very gifted at writing his characters without judgement. Yet at the same I think he subtly lets us know when he disagrees with their behavior. The writing without judgement really shone in this one.

Midaq Alley is a poor area of Cairo, and our focus for the novel. Each chapter shifts focus to a different character making up a little microcosm. We follow them for some months, seeing their trials and tribulations. Mahfouz is an excellent character writer, with a very firm grasp on psychology. I believe many of his books also have a timeless quality, both in the sense of "this could have been written any time" but sometimes a sense of "this could be any time" as well (well, within a specific range of times).

Apr 25, 2016, 1:40pm Top

Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

Barbara Mertz was a goddess among writers. I was trying to save this one for a rainy day, but I couldn't wait. She was brilliant and so incredibly funny. She's also rigorous about pointing out speculation and guesses and the various sides to various controversies among historians of ancient Egypt.

She was such a fun writer, and you can tell she was passionate about her subject. Yet didn't put it on a high pedestal and had no trouble adjusting to new information or accepting that we may never know certain things. She has her theories, of course, but she's incredibly upfront about them.

And again, she is funny! I laughed so much during this.

Apr 25, 2016, 3:09pm Top

Lumberjanes Vol 3 by Noelle Stevenson and others.

Still fun, and a very important title in terms of being suitable for kids. Different artists for this collection which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. First story is all the girls and Jen telling ghost stories, which used different artists for those sequences. That was fine. But the artist who took the last two issues... I think she went too off-model and it just felt wrong.

Buy Lumberjanes to share with your kids, buy Rat Queens to keep for your adult self!

Apr 25, 2016, 4:11pm Top

The Language of Goldfish by Zibby Oneal RE-READ

This is one of the titles from my middle school years that I re-read a number of times. It may have been the first novel I read that dealt with mental illness.

Carrie is in 8th grade and, to her parents and older sister, she is floating behind the rest of her class, not engaging in the right activities (they are a wealthy fmaily and the girls attend private school). The right activities being a fluttering group of friends, dances, and interest in boys. She tries to pull her sister back into their childhood world of whistling to the goldfish in the pond, but has negative results. She begins to experience what seem to be disassociative fugues or fugue states, particularly when reminded of sex.

She attempts to overdose during a busy party her parents are having, and spends about a month in the hospital. Her parents have told everyone she has bronchitis, which Carrie doesn't like. As she leaves the hospital she seems to have snapped into a calmer state and tries to get her family to accept that while she doesn't want this to happen again, she also doesn't want to bury it. It is part of her. She sees a psychiatrist every day and begins to work on coping mechanisms. One of the strong points is that Carrie just wants her family to accept that something IS happening to her, and accept that she is feeling literally crazy (and her dad is a doctor, COME ON).

It's not too dated a book (originally published in 1980), but I think it's a bit more than a stretch to suggest that simply not wanting to grow up could lead to disassociative states. Also, usually children that age (13-14) who are resisting moving into "normal" adolescent activities have a reason for that, if there IS a reason beyond "different people have different interests, get over it." If published today it might be assumed that Carrie is on the autism spectrum and her fugue states brought on by a sensory overload.

I was pretty bothered by the end where Carrie goes to a dance and then bequeaths the goldfish language to a little girl next door, telling her to pass it on when she outgrows it (reiterating that of course the girl will outgrow it when that's met with protest). The book also treats disinterest in dating as abnormal, which isn't a great lesson. Asexuality is one of a number of normal ranges of human sexuality, one that comes in many shades (asexual vs aromantic vs demi-sexual etc...). It may not be the most common sexual identity, but it is a normal piece of human diversity.

Alternative title: Affluenza Causes Parents to Ignore Cries for Help Over Fear of What the Neighbors Will Think.

Apr 25, 2016, 4:19pm Top

Blackout by Connie Willis RE-READ

A very satisfying re-read of the first part of Willis' long WWII-based time travel book. Loved it just as much the second time, maybe even a little more actually. Just a brilliant read, with great commentary on history and how we study it (and how we reduce it down to so little when we shouldn't).

I need to read more of her books. I've only read the Oxford time travel ones and her novella Bellwether (which I also loved).

Apr 30, 2016, 6:28pm Top

America's Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis

This is a small work of Colonial and early US history by the author of the "Don't Know Much About *insert subject*" series. They're supposed to be relatively unknown stories, and probably aren't in any of your kids history textbooks, but the scope is very limited and if you do much US history reading you'll know at least half of the material already.

Because the scope is SO narrow, I don't think I can recommend it. Go with Lies My Teacher Told Me or The People's History of the United States instead. You middle school/high school age children might enjoy using the material to contradict their teachers or put them on the spot, or just randomly impress them (if they have a good teacher).

Though for that last one you could also just give them Walt Kelly's Pogo comics (great for mid-century politics!), Rocky and Bullwinkle, and folk songs. The 10,000 Year Old Man song made my American Studies teacher do a triple-take when he asked us to name Civil War generals and I came up with General Hooker.

Apr 30, 2016, 6:33pm Top

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Lewis Herman

A serious look at the effects of trauma and how people recover. I would say the focus is a little heavier on child abuse, but it's relatively well-rounded. Herman discusses why one approach won't work for everyone and instances were received wisdom about how to treat trauma goes wrong.

Very good book, though a heavy read. If you're close to anyone who's only recently begun dealing with fallout from trauma I recommend this to get a better understanding.

Edited: Apr 30, 2016, 6:41pm Top

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum RE-READ

My second favorite Oz book (my favorite being Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the fourth Oz novel). Dorothy is on her way to Australia with Uncle Henry to help him recover his health. During a storm she is tossed overboard, clinging to a chicken cage. After the storm she finds one chicken has joined her and can talk, making Dorothy realize she must be in a fairy country.

This book introduces Tik-Tok, a mechanical man, the Wheelers, Princes Langwiidere who has 17 heads which she wears in turn, the Hungry Tiger, the Nome King, and of course Ozma who Dorothy meets for the first time. They're on a mission to free the royal family of Ev from the Nome King, one of my favorite characters.

Still feel sad that so many kids never read of the Oz books or only read the first one.

May 4, 2016, 12:13am Top

Under an English Heaven: Being a true recital of the events leading up to and down from the British invasion of Anguilla on March 19th, 1969, in which nobody was killed but many people were embarrassed by Donald E. Westlake

This was a fascinating and brilliant book, written by one of my favorite authors of comic novels. Perfect subject matter for him, as the events and actions within were frequently ridiculous and nonsensical. I'm just going to paste part of the dustjacket summary and some quotes for you, because that will best describe it.

For reference, this was published in 1972, and Westlake personally spoke to many involved and before memories had faded. Alternating italics just to help separate all this text I'm flinging at you.

“Life is real! Life is earnest!” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but of course he had never been to Anguilla, a quiet Caribbean island so far off the beaten track it doesn't even run television commercials describing how isolated it is.

But Longfellow isn't the only famous person never to have visited Anguilla in the nearly 400 years the island has been a British colony. Charles Dickens, William Gladstone, Twiggy, Lord Thomson of Fleet, and Anastasia are just a few of the great names of history who have never had anything to do with the place. Even Christopher Columbus, who originated the Caribbean cruise, passed Anguilla by.

And yet, on March 19, 1969, this obscure island was invaded by Great Britain in a pre-dawn exercise involving over 300 paratroopers and Marines, plus two frigates, several helicopters and 50 London policemen. The invasion, under the code name Operation Sheepskin (which permitted a hostile MP to call Prime Minister Harold Wilson “a sheep in sheep's clothing”), secured the island with no resistance and no casualties, and was declared by the British to have been a famous vistory. But was it?

Donald E. Westlake, a comic novelist who had been content to invent his own absurdities, took a proprietary interest in the Anguillan affair, since he considered the British action in flagrant an unwarranted competition with his own comic fiction. After a study of the matter, he came to the conclusion that the actual winner of the Battle of Anguilla was Anguilla; only now are the British coming to understand the magnitude of their defeat.

“After a summer as jam-packed with incident as Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, the fall and winter of 1967 passed with placid serenity on the island of Anguilla, as free from action as a Saul Bellow novel.”

As Nigel Fisher said before leaving, "Our job is to try to find ways of reuniting Anguilla with St. Kitts.” Of course, immediately after that remark he also said, “We have no intention of being seen to be taking sides."

"What the Trinidad Guardian had in 1967 called “the most empty diplomatic threat in history” had now become a reality. Two months after British economic aid to Anguilla had stopped because of the end of the Interim Agreement, the British decided to stop all economic aid."

Anthony Rushford, the legal Counsellor with the Whitlock group, described it in this way: “It was like handing out oranges at a children's party. Mr. Whitlock's private secretary stood up and tried to scatter them {pamphlets} over the crowd in a perfectly good-humored way. They came down like great snowflakes. There was something quite comic about it. Nothing derogatory.”

Nothing derogatory. Handing out oranges at a children's party; nothing derogatory. Something quite comic, but nothing derogatory. … There was also nothing derogatory about Whitlock's refusal to ride in the cars Ronald Webster had had polished and spruced up, nor in his refusal to have lunch with Webster.

May 4, 2016, 12:25am Top

F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems by Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett

This is a pretty good basic psychology book which largely focuses on managing expectations in order to have a less frustrating life. It's liberally dosed with profanity, which worked for me. It includes specific and general issues. The sections detailing unhelpful vs helpful responses to specific situations was very well done, I think.

The book does, however, fall into very lazy and pointless sexism which frequently spoiled my reading of it (women are 'crazy,' men are 'difficult'). I think he also largely ignores sexism and misogyny as a factor within relationships and society too, which makes the book less useful, and I believe his attitude about borderline personality disorder is outdated. I forget what exactly in the book made me think about this comic, but I felt he needed to read it: on the 'crazy' ex stories.

May 4, 2016, 12:34am Top

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

The final book in Moriarty's first totally-fantasy YA trilogy. After the second book I was very impatient for this one. Luckily I didn't have long to wait.

Moriarty gives us our regular, non-fantastical world, and a different existential plane ruled by flailing monarchy, with wandering weather patterns, and color attacks. The books make frequent use of a reference to the works of Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Lord Byron, and other greats. Moriarty is a tricksy author, and I think her books largely have a good balance of things the reader can predict and things we can't.

I will say the audio edition for this book was rather a fail, despite employing the same readers as in the first two books. In those books our main character groups are quite separate, they're not having true dialogue with each other. In this one, however, they get mixed up and one reader is suddenly having to do very different additional accents (mix of US and UK generally). While I'm not usually a fan of multi-cast recordings (when it comes to dialogue) I think that really should have been employed here. Also I think they changed the pronunciation of one character's name in this book which seriously grated on me.

Very good conclusion to the trilogy though. Moriarty is excellent as usual, and has a real skill for writing teenagers. The pure humor in Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments do still trump all her other books for me though.

May 4, 2016, 6:09pm Top

#100 sounds great, thanks mabith !

May 4, 2016, 8:09pm Top

It really was! I'm rather annoyed that it's out of print. It was a couple of years before I found a used copy cheap enough for me. Though now there seem to be a number of reasonably priced copies through the used sellers on Amazon.

May 8, 2016, 6:31pm Top

Buddha by Karen Armstrong

This can't quite be called a biography, given the scarcity of information and the nature of the history, but Armstrong does make an effort to focus it as a biography (she discusses the difficulties at the beginning). It serves as an informal history of early Buddhism, but the focus is certainly on Buddha the man.

Armstrong is a skilled writer, and good at bringing out the fundamentals without getting lost in minutiae. I'm eager to read her other books, but I really wish her memoir (The Spiral Staircase) was available as an audiobook.


May 8, 2016, 6:53pm Top

The Aeneid by Virgil

I've been feeling a need for more age in my reading life, and there was a version of the Aeneid read by Michael Page, who I love, so I went for that. This was the Dryden translation, which was pretty lovely to listen to, if wordier than absolutely necessary. I also found that epic poetry via audiobook takes so much more concentration than non-poetry.

The Romans desire for a connection to an older/more advanced culture and the need to suck up to Augustus give us this. I don't think it's a favorite of classicists or lovers of ancient literature, but it was there.

I need to stop being so silly about reading a lot of newer books though (especially since for the non-fiction lover and history nerd that's par for the course).

May 8, 2016, 6:53pm Top

Blue Moon by Laurell K. Hamilton RE-READ

I was tempted to skip this volume, never a favorite, to move straight to Obsidian Butterfly which I much prefer, and which is where my enjoyment of the series ends. While I may not be a completest in terms of authors, I was not capable of skipping a volume.

Anita has to rush off to rescue Eric and his family. Lots of werewolf politics and hired goons and vampire nonsense and increasing power. There are aspects where the writing definitely dips down (exposition was needed about a few things, and the method was so juvenile). Not that I've ever pushed Hamilton as a great writer, though I do feel she's always been better than some similar authors, but it was a pretty jarring "How do I do this? Eh, too complicated, here's an easy way out" moment.

May 15, 2016, 2:17pm Top

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece by Anne-Marie O'Connor

This is the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the portrait painted of her by Gustav Klimt, her descendant's flight from the Nazis, their stealing of their art collection, and her niece's efforts to recover the painting. It also tells the story of Klimt's life.

It's a well done book, and an interesting journey. Not to mention a reminder of all the stolen art still in museums which refuse to admit any cloudiness to their history. I think O'Connor remains pretty objective throughout. Recommended if you have an interest in the subject or period.

May 15, 2016, 2:29pm Top

The Terror of the Beagle Boys by Carl Barks

The tenth volume to be published in Fantagraphics new complete library of Carl Barks, published without editing of the panels, except for a few color choices. They are not being published in chronological order, but are first focusing on Barks' peak years containing his most well known stories, so this is actually volume 10, featuring comics from 1951.

While this volume doesn't contain any of the really big, longer, adventure stories, it does contain a few favorites from my childhood. "No Such Varmint" which features Donald as finally finding his calling, snake charming, and the nephew's insistence on trying to get him into a 'better' career as the world's greatest detective is one such.

Each volumes contains a very short essay on it by a comics professional/fan/etc... When it's relevant they discuss racist attitudes of the type and the stereotypes displayed in art. They are usually mindful that while Disney was pretty prescriptive in how things should be drawn, not allowing Barks' freedom in many ways, it's not accurate to say Barks' didn't have racist attitudes internalized himself (we still do today, after all). The essays are always interesting, no matter the subject, and it's a strength of this publication series.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the fact that I'll eventually have 30 volumes of this clogging up my shelves, but I love the Duck comics too much to hold back.

May 15, 2016, 6:22pm Top

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

For me this was a wholly good read. I really liked Wilkerson's approach, and it worked well for me. Wilkerson specifically follows three people, who ended up in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, but we hear a lot about their siblings, parents, spouses, and extended family as well, plus a few sparse mentions of her own parents experiences (now I'm forgetting if it was both parents or just her mother). She spent fifteen years researching and writing the book and the quality and depth shows that.

Dan (dchaikin) just wrote a really good, extensive review in his thread which I'll refer you to for more detail.

Towards the end the book made me cry several times (media doesn't usually), as her subjects passed on especially. I felt so attached to them and their journey. I also so wanted Ida Mae to live to see President Obama elected, but she missed it by a couple months.

Extremely worthwhile read, and I highly recommend the audio edition. Robin Miles is such a brilliant narrator.

May 15, 2016, 6:47pm Top

Kitchen Privileges by Mary Higgins Clark

This is a very slim memoir of Clark's life from childhood in the Bronx basically up to her first literary success. Her family were doing well until partway through the Great Depression. Her father died in 1939, when Clark was 11 or 12 and the family struggled to get by. Unable to find work her mother started renting out rooms, the title of the book coming from the fact that the neighbors asked her mother to remove "kitchen privileges" from the sign advertising rooms for rent as it 'brought down the neighborhood.'

I've never actually read any of Clark's fiction, but the time period of her childhood is interesting to me, and she has an interesting accent (I listened to her reading the audiobook) so why not. It was all interesting and well done, if rather matter of fact. Clark did not have an easy life, her older brother died soon after joining the Navy, and she lost her first husband (who she'd loved since she was a young girl) after fourteen years leaving her with five young children to support. Her mother-in-law died the same night her husband did, at his bedside, ostensibly of grief. She struggled for many years as a fiction writer, initially writing short stories and then two not-very-successful historical novels. She attended writing classes after she married and while there formed a writing group that would keep going for forty years.

Enjoyable, reasonably light read (Clark makes it so, despite her personal griefs). Good car-listening audiobook, I'd think.

May 22, 2016, 6:34pm Top

A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill

This is a well regarded and in-depth history of the Salem witch trials (the title coming from what one of the accusers stated later on, excusing herself from any wrong-doing). Hill delves deeply into the trials themselves, but also into the politics of Salem, which are relevant to the way the trials went.

It's a good book, well told and rigorously researched. It stays relatively chronological and doesn't stray off topic, except in the preface (pretty sure it was the preface and not the introduction), which started... oddly.

Hill opens talking about a child molestation case brought against a pre-school and other parents falling in line to coach children into accusations and somehow ties this to feminism, likewise with hypnotism recovering memories of early abuse. Which, regardless of why she's dragging feminism into this, regardless of whether the case or single instance was valid, Hill totally divorces the case from its cultural context and I think it was a weird stretch to bring it up at all (ie: a culture in which many people shame and blame those who've been sexually abused, even children, and one in which sexual predators are largely treated very leniently in court). She also makes it sound like repression is 100% impossible, which it's absolutely not (whether hypnotism is any real use in uncovering that is a different matter, but I can definitely see it being helpful as a safe-space and a way to possibly avoid the "well you seemed fine around X person for all these years so it couldn't have happened" disbelief victims of incest often face).

Honestly I almost didn't keep going with the book after reading that nonsense. I'm glad I persevered, but I won't be picking up anything else by Hill.

May 22, 2016, 6:57pm Top

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East 1978-1984 by Riad Sattouf

The first in a graphic memoir trilogy, recounting Sattouf's childhood in France, Libya, and Syria. The art is good, and the story compelling, though his father is/becomes so unpleasant.

Actually the one art problem I had is that Sattouf draws himself in pretty much the exact same way for the entire volume, which made it really hard for me to follow the chronology of how long they stayed places. Also one of the early stories had a strange feel to it. He's talking about how his speech was so much more advanced than his classmates and the translated speech doesn't really resemble how young talkers actually talk (plus then he states all the other children were crazy, and it was just a bit odd). Really throughout the book all children except him are slow, crazy, and/or violent, which makes me roll my eyes pretty hard.

May 22, 2016, 7:22pm Top

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

Here's a recent historical fiction novel that absolutely deserves distinction as an Epic. The book spans over fifteen years, and brings a diverse cast of characters who mostly begin separately but gradually overlap to greater or lesser degrees.

While of course there's less humor here than in Davis' Falco books, her dry humor still shows through in parts. As with the Falco books, I think Davis is extremely skilled at bringing in all the little historical details, usually regarding daily life, that really make me feel IN the period.

I absolutely loved the book. I have a feeling a lot of people will dislike the ending (it's quite abrupt), but the whole thing worked for me and I enjoyed every single word. It's quite a long book, but she doesn't waste words or pages, it's all necessary.

Definitely recommended, and confused as to why the average rating on LT isn't higher. Can only think it's because it's quite different from most of her other work.

May 22, 2016, 7:33pm Top

Mister Monday by Garth Nix RE-READ

It's the annual Keys to the Kingdom re-read, required because they're really such great fun, with such an original world, such great characters, and really well written.

Juvenile fantasy is a genre with a LOT of crap, and too many endless super-short book filled series with little literary merit. Doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable when you're a kid, but kids like lots of stuff. These are books you can happily enjoy as an adult too, and read to your kids without pain.

Arthur just wants to go to school, not be hospitalized for asthma so much, and enjoy time with his family. He doesn't care about the weird events/people he's seen until a mysterious plague results and the only way to help his family and world is to step up and be the hero, which is scary and dangerous, not at all fun.

Edited: May 22, 2016, 8:06pm Top

If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power

A great read, a worthy of having been a Pullitzer Prize nominee. It renforced all the reasons I've felt drawn to Islam (since I started reading about it). My brain rebels against faith pretty hard, but if the urge ever strikes, that's where I'm going. The Quran is just so much more appealing (and much better on women) than the Old and New Testaments.

If the Oceans Were Ink is Carla Power’s eye-opening story of how she and her longtime friend Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi found a way to confront ugly stereotypes and persistent misperceptions that were cleaving their communities. Their friendship—between a secular American and a madrasa-trained sheikh—had always seemed unlikely, but now they were frustrated and bewildered by the battles being fought in their names. Both knew that a close look at the Quran would reveal a faith that preached peace and not mass murder; respect for women and not oppression. And so they embarked on a yearlong journey through the controversial text.

That description sounds pat and overly feel-good, and I think the book is much deeper than that. One of the main points is the Akram is a conservative scholar, not a progressive, yet by closely following the Quran and Sunnas (rather than legal texts) his views are pretty close to Power's, a secular liberal. Akram also unearthed a VAST tradition of female Muslim scholarship, one he thought would fill a biographical dictionary pamphlet, but there's enough for over 40 volumes. FORTY VOLUMES.

May 28, 2016, 7:34pm Top

The Trouble With Women by Jacky Fleming

This is a wonderfully funny, short, illustrated book, looking at 'the history of women's history in history' and what all the male Geniuses thought about women's capacities and roles. Great gift book for history lovers and suitable for age 10 or 12 up (if they can read cursive!), I'd say.

"Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Restless Genius of the Englightenment and keen flasher, said girls needed to be thwarted from an early age, so that their natural role in pleasing men would come more naturally to them."

My one quibble is the usual semi-false view of corsets and impact on health, but I'm trying to resign myself to that (not that they can't be mis-used, but in an era where most wore them that was less likely, and I cannot overstate that benefits for some types of back pain).

May 28, 2016, 7:40pm Top

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

Another book about trauma, because I'm Miss Cheery-Reads! This one is more comprehensive, especially about the types of treatment that have really helped and the types that don't so much. It also goes into detail about how memory works and why traumatic memory is so different and isn't integrated in the story-like way regular memories are.

It also deals with struggles with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and how it has failed those attempting to recover from traumatic histories of childhood abuse in spite of his and others efforts.

A great book, very well done, recommended (particularly if you have any contact with childhood abuse survivors and those with high ACE, Adverse Childhood Event, scores).

May 28, 2016, 7:55pm Top

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman

This is an account of the murder of three small children by their parents in Brownsville, Texas, and the legacy of the crime in the community. Tillman corresponds with the main instigator of the murders (the father/step father of the children) and speaks to whoever she can about it. The community largely want the building it happened in torn down, and our relationship to these spaces.

It's a good, journalistic account, and a pretty short read. Tillman presents it well, though I'd be happy with some length added in terms of bringing up similar crimes and their aftermaths (she mentions a few cases, but only in passing related to people feeling these things 'don't happen').

May 28, 2016, 8:04pm Top

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo with commentary by Sarah M. Lowe

Kahlo kept a diary for a short period, about ten years, from the mid 1940s to her death in 1954. Apart from some letters (some transcribed into the diary before sending, some that are maybe just written in the diary), it's more like a poetry and art journal than a diary. Yet not an artist's sketchbook in the sense that it's a step before starting a larger painting, only one or two of the drawings/paintings in it were turned into larger works.

It's worth flipping through just for the art, some of which are just staggering. The commentary on the text and art from Lowe is great, and very well done, though I'd have been happier if it had appeared next to the scans of the original pages. After the entirety of the journal (it's not that long) the commentary and translations appear above and around black and white thumbnails. The scanning and printing of the original pages is well done. It's a volume I'd love to own myself, but it's too pricey for me. My library doesn't even own it, I had to get it from a university collection through inter-library loan.

It's also a kick in the butt to get back to my Kahlo embroidery piece I started years ago.

May 28, 2016, 8:14pm Top

Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Published in 1871-72, this is a classic of the vampire genre, and an influence on Dracula (the influence was even more notable in Stoker's deleted first chapter of Dracula, posthumously published as the short story, Dracula's Guest). Carmilla was also very blatantly presented as a lesbian (extremely blatant for that time, but still quite clear now).

A very quick read, interesting and not awful, but lacking the creep factor Dracula can still bring.

May 28, 2016, 8:29pm Top

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin

A relatively fast-paced account of Jose Salvador Alvarenga's survival in the Pacific, after his fishing boat is damaged in a storm and flung out far from the Mexican coast. Initially he is with a companion, Ezequiel Cordoba, but his initial refusal to eat anything he can (turtle blood, raw sea birds) and later poisoning after eating a bird who had eaten a poisonous sea snake, he dies relatively quickly into the journey.

It is an absolutely immense period of time to survive at sea, and Alvarenga showed a presence of mind few could summon, I think. He used everything he could find, and went through immense pain catching fish and sea birds with his bare hands. He also opened the stomachs of the animals he caught in order to find edible fish and useful trash (and picked up every bit of trash he could reach in the sea, looking for useful items). Having a companion in the beginning also helped enable his survival, putting routines in place and having to work hard to getting Cordoba to keep going.

Good book, though the telling is perhaps sparser and more basic than it needs to be. It didn't give me the feeling of going through an adventure as I've had with other survival oriented books. Recommended if you have an interest in these stories!

May 28, 2016, 8:40pm Top

Rat Queens Volume 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

New artist for this volume, Tess Fowler, though I think she does do all of the issues in this, which is better than switching more often for the same number of issues. The artist who did the second volume, Stjepan Šejić, is still my favorite of the bunch. The artists have all stuck to the same basic model though, without the huge artistic shifts found in some of the Lumberjanes issues.

Still an enjoyable comic, and feels so different.

Jun 9, 2016, 1:52pm Top

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

I was looking for a nice, old classic and my dad had recommended this one a while back. Being a dutiful daughter, I obviously went for it (also to assuage my guilt about not being an Austen fan).

This one is interesting for sometimes being viewed as a typical sentimental novel and sometimes as satire. I definitely saw the humor in it. It follows a well-off vicar and his family who suddenly lose all of their money. Much of it involves his children and their marriage prospects (and the changing of those with the loss of their fortune).

Originally written in 1761-62, it's an interesting specimen and worth a read. The Patrick Tull audio edition emphasized the humor in it, I think.

Jun 9, 2016, 2:03pm Top

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty by Dan Jones

The subtitle here is interesting, since Jones mostly points out how the Magna Carta was later imbued with a power and history it didn't actually have. The book is quite a short look, focusing on the events of 1215 in general and the later ideas about it.

Jones is still a pretty new non-fiction writer, and I think eventually he'll be a great writer but in the two books I've read by him there's been nothing particularly good or special about his writing yet and he's writing on extremely well covered topics.

Jun 9, 2016, 2:08pm Top

Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix RE-READ

Second book in the Keys to the Kingdom series. I can't express how much I love Nix's world building. The world in this one is incredibly unique and interesting, and the 'normal' world is mostly like ours but not quite. He does a very good job introducing you to the fantasy world without long exposition (I should hope so, these are children's books).

If you've got a semi-reluctant reader age 9 or so up, give them these. They're fast moving, the books run right into each other (they have a specific arc that ends but the hero doesn't get any kind of break, the minute he's back home there's another emergency (House time moving far more swiftly than the time in his world).

Highly recommended for anyone really. I keep reading children's books because I'm passionate about really quality books for young readers (have to get them hooked!) and there are so many bad fantasy kids books out there. These were such a breath of fresh air.

Jun 9, 2016, 2:13pm Top

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

Third in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series (set in Egypt in the very late Victorian period). Still absolutely loving these books. Peters is getting better with the mystery element too, though that's really not why I read them. They are hilarious books.

One nice thing is that Peters lets Amelia stay true to her character as seen in the first book. Motherhood doesn't suddenly make her super affectionate and mushy, instead her husband Emerson is the emotional, touchy-feely parent. Amelia is shown to be loving and caring, but in her own way. Too often motherhood is depicted as a single dimension and anything outside that is questioned and disliked. Peters does good here.

Jun 9, 2016, 2:27pm Top

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

A new novel set in the 80s and 90s by a Nigerian author which has gotten a lot of press in the last year or so. If you want a gentle coming of us story, don't pick this one up, as it gets very dark.

The idea for the novel came when he (Obioma) reflected on his father's joy at the growing bond between his two eldest brothers who, as children, had maintained a strong rivalry that would sometimes culminate in fistfights. As Obioma began pondering what was the worst that could have happened at that time, the image of the Agwu family came to him. Then he created Abulu as the facilitator of conflict between the brothers. On a larger thematic note, Obioma wanted the novel to comment on the socio-political situation of Nigeria: the prophesying madman here being the British, and the recipients of the vision being the people of Nigeria (three major tribes cohabiting to form a nation).

While it was well-written it felt a bit meandering and not so well paced. Apparently Obioma wrote a short story version, and I'm not sure which came first. I can see it having more punch as a short story. True to my track record of sometimes not reading much about a novel before starting, I went into this one really blind and I'm not sure if that was good or bad.

In the end I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I'll definitely be looking for Obioma's next book.

Jun 9, 2016, 2:53pm Top

The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic that Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics by Stephen Coss

This was an ER audiobook. First off, the audiobook wasn't great. Not a great reader (not the worst ever, but extremely robotic), and it came as a single disc with mp3 files. The format was not stated in the information about the book, and it should have been. In the age of smart phones and tablets replacing laptops and desktops not everyone has a CD drive and a typical CD player won't play mp3 files. Plenty of car CD players won't play mp3 files either. The third track was also just a repeat of the second track. Does these mean a chapter or preface was missing? I have no idea.

In general, I felt like Coss was writing two different books which only barely intersected and did not have the cause and effect aspect he proposes. The revolutionary aspect of this smallpox epidemic was that inoculation was used and there was a large battle about whether it was safe or efficacious. The practice was banned despite more success than failure. The idea for inoculation came from African and Asian sources, and the doctor practicing it mostly succeeded (those who died after inoculation were generally the elderly, the weak, and those who had already contracted smallpox prior to being inoculated).

The politics come in due to the battles between the Boston city council and British crown representatives, and the changing of the giving way of the Puritan powers. Also, Benjamin Franklin was working in his brother's printing shop in Boston in this period and had some anonymous editorials published. Coss states that the American Revolution started here, and that Boston was in revolt against the tyrannies of the crown, but I feel this is a pretty big stretch.

Stating that this epidemic radicalized Franklin also seems semi-ridiculous to me. His involvement with the inoculation battle came in his brother printing anti-inoculation articles (and other political items subject to censorship and arrest) solely because Cotton Mather (yes, that one) was a force in suggesting and supporting inoculation. So Franklin was radicalized by his brother unfairly vilifying someone based on personal feelings? Okay...

The two stories are interesting, but tacking them together and attempting to turn them into something extra sensational didn't serve either story well. The history of inoculation is really interesting on its own and doesn't need to be dressed up. Likewise the history of early pushbacks against Crown power in the US is plenty interesting (but since it's mostly about personal gains and losses of a few leading figures I think it's unfair to say the Boston city council was revolutionary).

Not recommended.

Jun 22, 2016, 8:52pm Top

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Rather a more original take on the classic vampire tale. Kostova sets her novel in three different time periods. A professor in the 1930s (who we hear only a little bit from), one his students and the daughter he didn't know about in the 1950s (who go looking for the professor when he disappears), and the daughter of the student and her sort of chaperone in the 1970s. The stories do not overlap, but rather fill gaps for one another as they go, which was quite skillfully done.

It's not a book I would have picked up on my own, but was one of the SantaThing books I was given last year. I found it quite enjoyable, if a bit slow moving, until the very last page or two. I thought the ending was too pat and perfect for a book dealing with such a dark villain. Otherwise, a good read.

Jun 22, 2016, 8:56pm Top

The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges

A slim volume of short stories, one of Borges late publications. I didn't enjoy these (though I'm not much for short stories at the best of times). Part of my problem was that the voice of Borges' first person narrators sounds so samey despite wild different settings, time periods, characters, etc... I think all but one or two of the stories had first person narration.

I didn't absolutely hate and despite reading them, but I also didn't even slightly enjoy any of them, I'm afraid.

Jun 22, 2016, 9:04pm Top

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

I really enjoyed Summerscale's book Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, and knew I wanted to get to the rest of her work, so here's a start on that. This one follows a highly publicized murder and the detective in charge of it, at a time when police detectives were still a new development.

Summerscale tells it in an extremely straight-forward manner, which worked well for the information within. She brings in relevant cases and issues, but they don't come anywhere close to overwhelming the book's focus. Very interesting read, written well. Quick, easy read.

Jun 23, 2016, 12:45am Top

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

A long-time classic in the genre of 20th Century China memoirs. Perhaps one of the few by women that details a lengthy prison stay.

Cheng was doing all right in Mao's China until the Cultural Revolution threw everything into chaos. After her home was looted by Red Guards (multiple times), she was initially confined to house arrest and forbidden from seeing her daughter who was viewed as innocent at that early point. Soon Cheng was arrested, largely due to having worked for Shell, despite the fact that the Chinese government specifically allowed them to continue to operate in China.

Cheng refused to admit any guilt or wrong-doing, and was frequently interrogated during her prison stays. She was in prison for over 6 years, basically in solitary confinement. She went through a specific type of torture where handcuffs are applied extremely tightly and left on for extended periods. After an untrained doctor diagnosed her with uterine cancer and as the tide was turning way from the Cultural Revolution she was released, though still kept under surveillance (she did not have uterine cancer).

The book is extremely detailed, and rather addictive reading, even though the reader knows she was eventually released. As soon as she was able to get a passport she fled China, along with many others who were arrested during the Cultural Revolution, as they knew first hand that a similar movement could happen again and they would be the first under the bus.

Recommended, though I found it interesting that she didn't address some of the 'big' policy changes or events after she left prison, such as the one-child policy.

Edited: Jun 26, 2016, 2:09pm Top

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

A slim memoir, largely focused on Nelson's relationship to motherhood, first being a step-mother to her partner's son and then having her own child. It's a rambly book, going off on tangents, and pondering how words (particularly relating to gender or sexuality) can free us and limit us.

It was a bit too philosophical for me, maybe (also I've never wanted children, I like being the 'cool aunt'), but an interesting, thought provoking read. Short enough to give it a go without much time investment.

Jul 2, 2016, 9:32pm Top

Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix

The third in Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series. Arthur's friend Leaf is with him when he's snatched back to the house to meet with Lady Wednesday who holds the third key and rules over the border sea. Astute readers will have noticed a pattern with the Morrowdays, in that each represents one of the seven deadly sins, Wednesday being gluttony. She's a departure from the other days as she wants Arthur to take her key and free her from the constantly need to eat.

Nix is such a fantastic world builder, and always a shower rather than an explainer. I respect his skills so much, especially given the dreadful stuff you frequently find in children's fantasy books. Highly recommended to give to a child or read as an adult!

Jul 2, 2016, 9:39pm Top

(I feel like that's probably not an official cover, but I really liked it.)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I struggle to read Plath in a fair, open way, as my dad always went on about her suicide making her remembered whereas other women poets (who he thought were better) of that generation were forgotten. Of course, he should really be annoyed at the male poets of the time for shutting out and devaluing the women, and Plath's marriage to a well-known poet is probably the main reason she was able to stay in the public consciousness (though I don't think that would have happened if she hadn't written a novel as well, poets never have it easy).

The Bell Jar is a good read, and earns its place as a classic, I think. It feels quick and breezy for having such a heavy subject matter, and while I didn't fall in love with it, I did like it. It's pretty heavily auto-biographical, though with all the personalities blown up a bit. Esther/Sylvia is in NYC for a summer internship before her final year of college. She finds the opportunity dull and is confused about what she really wants in life, not liking the choices open to young women of the time (mother, secretary, teacher, nurse). She spirals downward eventually ending up at a mental hospital.

One of the strengths of the book is that Esther is somewhat unlikable, and the way events are set up you feel for her but you don't just feel sorry for her. The place Plath chooses to end the novel is such a perfect stopping point too (which plenty of good authors flub).

Jul 2, 2016, 9:42pm Top

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

This was initially a web comic (written over a relatively lengthy period, I think), then collected as a graphic novel. It starts out more stand-alone but quickly gets into a longer plot.

I absolutely loved it. Funny, sweet, thought-provoking, and a bit thrilling. It was a really wonderful read. Stevenson became more well known with the success of Lumberjanes, but I just want more Nimona, frankly (it does have a firm conclusion, but it's open enough that there could be more).

Read this and make a bad day better.

Jul 3, 2016, 5:47pm Top

The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif

This is Saif's diary of the 2014 war in Gaza, which lasted for 51 days. I hesitate to use the word war, but it's what Saif calls the frequent bombardments which Gaza rarely goes more than a couple years without. Usually they only last for a week or so, and this round of attacks was particularly destructive.

Saif wrote every morning during those 51 days, and it's an important record of being powerless in a world of unpredictable death. I remember seeing pictures when this was taking place, and I wish the book had included some. It's hard to imagine that level of destruction just from the text. His generation and after grew up with these attacks every few years, and it's hard to overestimate the effect of that on the individual.

'Diary' also feels like a bit of a misnomer, as the text is very careful and detailed. However, Saif is a professional writer, and while he may not have started the diary with the intention of publication it may have been started with his children in mind.

Despite the extremely heavy subject matter, the book went by quickly. Each entry is relatively short and I found it somewhat addictive reading. Saif avoids getting into politics and merely presents the circumstances that he and most other Gazans are trying to live through.


Jul 3, 2016, 6:00pm Top

Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America by Dana Frank

This was a great, if short, read. It has the feel of a dissertation or masters thesis and is only about 100 pages long (the last quarter of the book being notes and sources). Frank is concise in her writing, but it never feels dry and focuses on the individuals who have fought for women's rights to have a say in their unions.

My only quibble is that Frank once or twice forgets that the US, and the vast majority of the world, is a misogynistic culture. It is not a trait unique to particular smaller groups. Not to mention the fact that it sounds like women's union work is far more relevant and important there than in the US. The big banana unions women's committees are dedicated to raising consciousness of a huge range of issues, as well as increasing the women's self-esteem and confidence levels.

Great book, and especially highly recommended if you're a regular reading of labour union books.

Jul 4, 2016, 8:21pm Top

Ms. Marvel Vol 4 by G. Willow Wilson

I enjoyed this volume much more than the previous one (part of that is due to first artist being back), though I'd forgotten the key events from the previous volume that come into play here.

It's an interesting series, though I find the superhero universe to be a strange world. If you don't get used to it as a child I feel like it's very difficult to adjust to (it's when the different characters meet, Ms Marvel meeting up with Spiderman, etc... that I just can't cope with). If my library weren't buying the volumes I wouldn't feel the need to buy them, but it's a fun series, and one I'd be more likely to give my nieces and nephews.

Jul 4, 2016, 8:38pm Top

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

First, let me convey my eye-rolling at the title, which seems like such a pointless attempt to be 'edgy' and 'modern.' It reeks of publisher involvement, someone who doesn't realize that the title alone is unlikely to draw readers who wouldn't have picked up this type of book already. A catchy title is a thing of beauty, but this isn't really catchy and the book doesn't particularly involve librarians (they're collectors).

The subject was interesting, and it was a good read, but the pacing and balance needed improvement (3 1/2 stars seems a little harsh but 4 seems too generous). Hammer has to fill us in on the history of Al Qaeda in Mali, which is important, but I think he takes far too long on that story and it seems to overwhelm the story of Timbuktu's history as a center of writing and copying manuscripts, the collectors who saved them from various forces, and the man who was the main force on getting them out of the country.

Still a good book, and recommended if it tempts you. At the same time, maybe just a general history of Timbuktu would be more fully interesting and a separate article on the most recent saving of the texts.

Jul 4, 2016, 8:38pm Top

The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

A relatively lengthy biography (the audiobook is not quite 24 hours long), and quite fleshed out. I made the mistake of starting this has my kitchen audiobook right before a serious health crash kept me from cooking and cleaning, so it took ages for me to finish it.

I thought I went into it with a relatively full picture of Elizabeth's life, but soon found that was not the case! I suppose it's not surprising with a life as long and rich as that of Elizabeth I.

Weir writes engagingly, and the book itself didn't feel particularly long or tiresome. I've enjoyed another book by Weir too, so I think she's one to bookmark for various English Royal-centric histories (she mostly writes of the Tudor period). Recommended.

Jul 4, 2016, 9:21pm Top

The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings

I was reminded of the website DailyLit, which allows to select (mostly public domain) books and receive portions of them via e-mail. You choose between three lengths of excerpt and which days you want to receive them and can then read them up little by little. They always include a link to have the next part sent immediately. I read plenty as it is, but decided to give it a go and see how that worked for me. I was not feeling inspired by the choices (they're quite limited), and then saw this work by Cummings, who is mainly known as a poet, of course.

The novel was his first solo publication, 1922, and is based on his own imprisonment under the French during WWI (they were in an ambulance corps). His friend had made some possibly anti-war statements in some letters and they were arrested by the French together and taken to short-term holding jail, La Ferté-Macé. Because the committee that reviewed cases had just been there, they had to wait three and a half months before the committee would return. In that time Cummings' father was mistaken informed that his son had died when a boat he was on sank, and when it was corrected realized that no one seemed to know where his son was. He eventually found out and getting no response from the Diplomatic service wrote directly to President

The book is extremely autobiographical, including using his name for the narrator. The title comes from the single large room that housed the male prisoners. It is not a novel of plot, but rather one of vignettes of various events at the jail and the people Cummings met there. There is a huge amount of French in it, single words and multiple sentences. Reading it serially via e-mail was the only way I could read it, really, since then I could highlight and past the French into an internet translator rather than having to type it all by hand, but it must have been hard reading 2008 or so (internet translators being kind of awful before then). I assume there's so much French to give the feeling of not being a native speaker that he must have had while in jail. Even with good French he would have run into slang and accents that weren't familiar (which was an occasional issue with my reading, words not spelled conventionally or slang that didn't last).

Did I enjoy this book? I'm not really sure. It was interesting, particularly in the glimpses of Cumming's usual poetical style that shine through. They are spare in the beginning and much more frequent at the end. It has the usual types of casual racism of the period (though those aspects were relatively minor), but it's also such a strange, interesting experience. A US citizen held by the French in these circumstances where 30-40 men mix together. It was an interesting read, and not unpleasant in any way (other than all the sodding French), but not something I loved either.

Jul 7, 2016, 6:38pm Top

Emma Vol 1 - Vol 7 by Kaoru Mori

Bulk review! I watched the anime series based on these books when it was pretty new. It was a nice, sweet, romancey sort of series, following a maid in Victorian England and the mutual falling-in-love between her and a wealthy young man. He, William, is Emma's mistress' former pupil, and his family has been wealthy for some time but they are merchants. They are finally accepted by the aristocracy when William, the heir, wants to buck expectations to be with Emma.

I'm not much of a romantic, or perhaps I am but it's buried rather deeply, but I did love the series. A comics website reminded me of it with the recommendation of the manga and my library had copies (at 7 volumes it's pretty short for manga).

It's drawn well, and I think Mori totally aces the pacing of it. She apparently stood her ground on taking things very slowly in the first two volumes, and I think that worked really well. She is an extreme Anglophile, but had never actually been to England until halfway through the series.

A nice shōjo series, appropriate for a wide age range. It made me want to watch the anime again, which I think differs pretty radically in some ways, and made me slightly regret that I grew away from anime and manga (you can't cross-stitch and read subtitles at the same time!).

Jul 9, 2016, 12:09pm Top

Decided to make a map of author nationalities of my reading. I'll update it as I go. I predict more memoirs to keep my current balance of women writers and also read from outside the prominent English speaking countries. I wish more straight history or general non-fiction was translated (and had audio editions). I do feel like I'm getting ever closer to my perfect reading balance.

(There are a few Caribbean countries that should be read but are too small to show up.)

Jul 9, 2016, 2:21pm Top

>145 mabith: That's an impressive range of author nationalities. Most of my books this year have been written by British writers, with a couple of Americans and Canadians thrown in.

Jul 11, 2016, 7:36pm Top

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe

This is a selection of letters that Stibbe sent home to Leicester while she worked as a nanny in London. Her employer, MK, is a literary editor and they frequently have neighbor Alan Bennett round for supper. It's a fun, little book, if slightly appalling in terms of "can't adult" sort of behavior (to put it in today's hip, young parlance).

I wish I could absorb from the book how to be less anxious, as Nina, MK, and the kids never seem to worry all that much about anything.

Jul 11, 2016, 7:38pm Top

Sir Thursday by Garth Nix RE-READ

Fourth in the Keys to the Kingdom series, to which I am heavily devoted. Nix gives us an amazing world, and manages to make each book feel unique and special. Many authors would have ended up with basically the same book seven times over.

Highly recommend the series.

Jul 11, 2016, 7:41pm Top

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Given that there are newer books that cover the same subjects with more depth and accuracy, given that Sacks' writing style isn't anything special, I'm not sure why this book is still considered a classic.

I RAGED at this book, and regret not setting it aside (that's so hard with audiobooks for some reason). The amount of ableism is astonishing, and it shows heavily in attitude, not just in outdated words and terms. As a disabled woman and someone is involved in disability activism I was largely appalled.

Jul 11, 2016, 7:46pm Top

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

I decided some time again that Anne was probably the Bronte for me. This was my second read via DailyLit e-mail installments and I really enjoyed it, frequently requesting four or five installments per day.

Agnes goes to work as a governess when her family falls on hard times, despite her parents and sister thinking she was unsuited for the work. Her first post is in a hands-off child-rearing household, where the children behave horribly, Agnes isn't allowed to discipline them and their parents never do. The book is humorous and issues of childcare (especially relating to discipline and routine) are still totally relevant and feel very modern. The book settles down a bit with her next post and a low-key love story.

I really liked this book, and it makes me more eager to get to her other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I also thought the way she ended the book was kind of hilarious. This is the last sentence:
And now I think I have said sufficient.

Jul 12, 2016, 3:38am Top

>149 mabith: I felt the same about The Man Who Mistook His Wife For His Hat. it regularly appears on pundits' lists of the great non-fiction books that everyone should read. I found it interesting, but it certainly didn't strike me as a particularly memorable book

Jul 12, 2016, 1:46pm Top

I can only imagine that those pundits haven't read much non-fiction (at least of the medical sort) since 1990.

Jul 16, 2016, 7:53pm Top

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Wow, this is an epic novel, and incredibly ambitious (James certainly succeeded, in my opinion). He gives us a large pool of narrators who we cycle through starting in 1976 and ending in 1991 over the course of five sections (each representing a single, specific day). The second section deals with the day unknown gunman shot at Bob Marley inside the singer's home. Marley is referred to as The Singer throughout the novel.

Politics plays a large role in the book, especially in the first three sections, primarily the struggle between the Jamaican Labour Party and the People's National Party (the attempt on Marley's life was thought to be political due to his appearance at a concert supposedly to ease tensions between the two parties but many felt it was a support rally for one side).

Our narrators cover a wide range of people with varying motivations and interests, some of whom intersect suddenly. The writing is brilliant, though the time jumps between the sections being very uneven wrong-footed me the feeling was brief (the first two take place on two consecutive days, then 1979, 1985, and 1991). I listened to the audiobook, which was read very well (multiple narrators, not sure if it worked out to one per narrator or if there was doubling up, but the voices are distinct). Was very helpful to have it as a digital loan from my library, as over drive had the narrator listed with the chapter numbers (except for the last part of the book for some reason) so if I got confused I could check that very easily.

Recommended. It's a sweeping book, worthy of its Man Booker award, I think.

Edited: Jul 16, 2016, 8:15pm Top

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown

This is a comic book telling of the events and aftermath of hurricane Katrina aimed at children and teens. The publishers say age 12 up but I'd knock that down to age 10. The book doesn't pull any punches but it's not super graphic either. It also really just sticks to the facts and doesn't elaborate in any way that I found biased for any one side.

Very good introduction for the younger set, and a nicer reminder/primer for adults too. Brown's illustration style in this is very loose and a little sketchy which really worked will with the subject.

Jul 16, 2016, 8:15pm Top

How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

Another excellent dawn to dusk book by Goodman about daily life (largely focused on the lives of the ordinary people). Goodman is a historian who has worked on a number of living history projects, actually doing these jobs in period dress, eating what they ate, etc... I am more than slightly in love with her because her passion for social history and enjoyment of those experiments is so monumentally obvious, even when the work is incredibly difficult. I suppose also because that's the sort of thing I might have gone on to do if I hadn't become disabled (in high school I discovered a great love for hard, manual labor, and I've always loved history).

It's a great book, if necessarily less full than her similar work about the Victorian period (due to less documentary evidence). The Tudor period is her favorite, and I think this book showed me why that is. It's perhaps the earliest period where we have abundant markers still with us in our lives from the language down to things like the order of courses in meals.

I recommend every bit of Goodman's work that you can possibly squeeze into your life. She is a JOY.

Jul 16, 2016, 8:30pm Top

The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire by Susan P. Mattern

While I know the name Galen and that he was an ancient doctor who influenced many periods of history, I didn't really know much more than that. Enter this book. It's a good scholarly biography, well-written and well organized. Recommended to those with an interest.

Notable points:
Galen was such a prolific author that surviving works make up almost half of all the work we have from ancient Greece as a whole. I'd say good medical texts would be more likely to survive, but use of Greek texts went into major decline with the collapse of Rome.

Doctors regularly came up with treatments taken from their dreams. Makes me wonder what kind of dreams they had. Granting if you're greatly invested in an issue you're more likely to dream about it, but I think pretty constantly about embroidery and a load of time doing it (and more time designing the patterns I use), but I've never dreamed about it. (I did have a dream about reading and posting on LT recently.)

Galen describes a patient with an anxiety disorder who worried that Atlas would drop the world. I found that strangely comforting.

Jul 16, 2016, 8:41pm Top

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

I've been meaning to check out Knisley's published work a long time. I started following a group of young, largely female, comic artists in the early 2000s and would see bits of Knisley's work (self-published) through her connection with Erika Moen.

As the title implies, this is a graphic memoir centering around Knisley's relationship to food and to cooking. Her parents were pretty serious foods in New York City and then in Rhinebeck, NY. It did amuse me that her parents' disdain for junk food and refusal to have certain things in the house was for foodie reasons whereas in my house it was for hippie back-to-the-land reasons (though her mother did turn to gardening pretty hard when they moved).

It's a lovely read, interspersed with a few recipes, and drawn in a very pleasant style. I liked Knisley's defense of junk food in moderation. The focus is more on Knisley's mother and the book made me think of my own relationship to food and cooking and how it came through (or didn't in some cases) through my mom.

Jul 23, 2016, 10:01pm Top

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong

Another excellent comparative religion book by Armstrong. This one focuses mostly on Jewish, Greek, Chinese, and Indian traditions during the Axial age (between the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE). We move up through time and go back and forth between the different places and religions.

While it was a good read (fascinating topic), and I like Armstrong's writing and clarity, I feel like the organization of the book would have benefited from separating the regions and religions. It felt too hard to keep track of so many threads and yet retain some view of the big picture.

Recommended for the religion/history junkie. Better in print than via audiobook, I think.

Jul 23, 2016, 10:05pm Top

Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

This is a graphic memoir about Hart's daughter Rosalie and her sudden death a few weeks before her second birthday. Hart talks about her, and about the incredibly turmoil he and his wife went through after Rosalie's death. It's about believing in healing even when things are darkest, and taking lessons where you can. It's about recovery, and not letting yourself split in two.

His art style isn't my favorite (I guess it's more the shading method), but it's an intense book as you'd expect, and communicates the devastation well.

Jul 23, 2016, 10:27pm Top

Ms Marvel Vol 5 by G. Willow Wilson

I go back and forth about continuing reading this series, but while my library gets the volumes I'm pretty happy keeping tabs on Ms. Marvel. I maybe wouldn't hesitate at all, but artist changes... One of the artists in this volume changes Kamala to look like every WASP female character ever drawn for Marvel/DC and that really really rubbed me the wrong way.

My other hesitation is just that the Marvel universe is so strange for the new reader. The X-Men cartoon may have been a favorite when I was a kid, but it didn't engage in the cross-over of the comics generally. Spiderman randomly showing up, Ms. Marvel running with The Avengers... It takes me aback for some reason.

Poor Kamala can't catch a break in this one, and she is still working on balancing her life. But she's a teenager and I'm pretty sure working on life/work/school balance is hard from high school through your twenties (and we're not trying to fight evil). There's lots to love about the series, especially when Alphona is doing the art.

Jul 23, 2016, 10:31pm Top

A Silent Voice Vol 1 by Yoshitoki Oima

First volume by an award winning young mangaka (manga artist/writer). A very weird moment realizing the author is fourth years younger than me...

It focuses on the bullying directed towards a deaf girl who's new to a school, from the point of view of the main bully. It's good and complex, as we see what happens when the bullying is exposed and the way the kids who happily went along with the bully try to divorce themselves from the fallout.

Very interesting and well drawn. It's a seven volume series, and I'm waiting on my library to order the final two volumes before I continue reading (they were just released in English this past spring).

Jul 23, 2016, 10:37pm Top

Lady Friday by Garth Nix RE-READ

Fifth out of seven in the series. Arthur becomes more confident though he immediately makes a serious mistake which leaves him on his own for a bit. His earth-world friend Leaf has her own troubles, and Arthur is forced to use more and more magic, making it less likely he can return to his old life.

Seriously, Nix is a genius at world building and plotting. Can't express my admiration for his work enough or my recommendation at his work for juvenile fantasy fans (there's just so much bad children's fantasy).

Edited: Jul 23, 2016, 10:46pm Top

The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin

My third subscription based read for July (via the site DailyLit. Chosen because I was looking for a book written by a women that wasn't acres long.

I didn't have any clear idea of what to expect with this one, other than being familiar with the title and the author's name. I really liked her writing style, and she kept me interested in the characters to the end. It was published in 1899.

From Wikipedia:
"...the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle between her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating a mixed reaction from contemporary readers and critics. The novel's blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary, and psychological complexity makes The Awakening a precursor of American modernist literature..."

Through the book I was chiefly reminded of Virginia Woolf. Not her writing or her books, but just HER and her life. I hadn't been going to read the short stories, but they were so short I did. Well done as well, and timed quite nicely, they felt like they were the length they needed to be, not shorter or longer. Interesting read, recommended.

Jul 23, 2016, 10:55pm Top

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

I really liked this book. It's 1976, Dana, a black woman, and her white husband Kevin are unpacking their books in their new house. Dana suddenly feels ill, swoons, and comes to by the banks of a river where a young white boy is drowning. She saves him, and is drawn back to her own time when her own life is threatened. She can't understand what happened, and Kevin doesn't really believe her. When it happens again she has a chance to question the same boy, Rufus, and learns it's 1815. Again he was in danger when she was drawn back and his name matches the name of her great-great-grandparent.

I'm a sucker for time travel stories in general, and I think Butler does so well with this. She allows the situations to be complex, she does not boil everything down to common denominators, or reduce the shades of grey in Dana's struggle with Rufus and with the realities of the period. Could little bits be improved? Maybe, but I enjoyed the straight forward, no frills narration.

Audio edition was done pretty well, other than the white Marylander accents which felt wrong, but you can't have everything. Recommended.

Jul 24, 2016, 12:38am Top

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I think Harari attempted too much and wasn't able to give everything the same level of scholarship (I noticed a few instances of relying on common knowledge when it came to daily life in the semi-recent past).

There also seemed to be a focus on the idea that people who aren't religious must have something that takes the place of religion. That whole "people who Believe in science" business, which, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, science doesn't require belief, we know it's real. I understand why people talk about Communism in those terms, because as practiced in Russia and China there was whole personality cult thing. I'd still argue that seems like a feature of most dictatorships. Harari decided to lump feminism in with the religion substitutes and that seriously rubbed me the wrong way. Patriarchy is a lot closer to a pseudo-religion than feminism, for one thing, but it's never mentioned in that way.

There was interesting stuff in this book, but it's not a subject unique to this work. The earliest parts were the most interesting, and trying to move through more recent history did the book no favors and didn't really add anything to Harari's arguments. Not really recommended.

Aug 1, 2016, 8:35pm Top

The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I didn't read this one as a kid, which is strange since the later Oz novel by Ruth Plumly Thompson that featured the Patchwork Girl (The Gnome King of Oz) was one of my favorites.

This is a classic Oz journey, and a lot of favorites make an appearance and there's an uppity cat (all of Baum's domestic cats are very self-absorbed, this one has pink brains, you can see 'em work). The Crooked Magician finally finishes a batch of powder of life and after bringing the Patchwork Girl to life petrifaction powder spills on his wife and Ojo's uncle Unc Nunkie, setting off a quest to get the materials to undo the petrifaction spell.

Baum intended to end the Oz series with the previous book, The Emerald City of Oz, but financial hardship required him to start the series again. Fans of many book series have capitalism to thank for a lot of books. I love that Baum felt it necessary to explain how he got back in contact with Oz (copied from Wikipedia):
In the prologue, he explains how he managed to get another story about Oz, even though it is isolated from all other worlds. He explains that a child suggested he make contact with Oz with wireless telegraphy. Glinda, using her book that records everything that happens, is able to know that someone is using a telegraph to contact Oz, so she erects a telegraph tower and has the Shaggy Man, who knows how to make a telegraph reply, tell the story contained in this book to Baum.

My main complaint for the book is that Ozma uses magic to make the Crooked Magician un-crooked even though he was doing fine with a crooked body. Makes me sad in disability activism related way.

One of the few survivors of Baum's short-lived film company is the silent movie version of The Patchwork Girl which I intend on watching soon (it's on YouTube).

Aug 1, 2016, 8:44pm Top

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf

I absolutely loved this book. Humboldt was fascinating and compelling and seemed like such a good human. I loved him, and just wanted to hear more. The science is very interesting, but perhaps his world view, being out of step with his time, is most fascinating.

Wulf uses a final section of the book to talk about how Humboldt influenced many important scientists of the 19th century, which felt somewhat out of proportion (as in too much time and detail devoted to each). Still loved the book though. It's one I'll be recommending all over the place.

Chris/cabegley's review is what made me pick this one up, and it's a much fuller review than I can muster.

Aug 1, 2016, 8:59pm Top

Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier RE-READ

I re-read this less than a year ago, but it's one of my go-to 'feel better' books, and my favorite in this trilogy. Marillier writes mainly historical fantasy, set in a real place and time with real groups of people. Their religion/folklore is real and that brings the fantasy element, but the focus remains firmly on the humans. No dragons, no unicorns, no fey who are best friends with the humans.

I don't quite know how she does it, but Marillier makes me really, truly care about her characters in a very short amount of time. It's a strength with most of her books, even when the content isn't my favorite (as with her fully fantasy YA trilogy, Shadowfell). I am grateful for the authors who suck me into the characters this hard.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:03pm Top

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Talk about a powerful book that unfortunately speaks across the decades since it's initial publication (1962). It was chilling to read at time, and I'm a little glad Carson isn't alive to see the current state of affairs.

Pretty much everything in the book is still totally relevant, and Carson is an absolutely incredible writer. The book remains a classic for her writing as well as the message. Highly recommended.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:08pm Top

All Clear by Connie Willis RE-READ

Finally got to the second part of this book duo that starts with Blackout. Loved it the first time, and I think I loved it even more this second time. I even still felt my suspense muscles seizing up despite knowing what would happen.

Willis has capture so much with her Oxford time travel books. She challenges our understanding of the past and what the limits of understanding are, even for those thrust into the actual period they study. She brings to light our over-complication of some issues and the simplification of others. As a life-long history fan she speaks to me so much in these books.

I was trying to explain to my five year old niece why history is awesome, if she's still doubtful once she hits middle school age I'll give her Willis' books (who am I kidding, I'll give these books to her no matter what).

Aug 1, 2016, 9:20pm Top

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare RE-READ

This play was my introduction to Shakespeare. My dad directed a number of high school theater productions when I was a kid. Somehow 90% the rehearsals were on 'his' nights to have us kids (while my parents still lived in the same time we had dinner with him twice a week, plus every other weekend at his house).

I was in fourth grade when he directed Taming of the Shrew, and attended most of the rehearsals. As well as being made a pet by the girls in the production, it started my interest in Shakespeare which would fully blossom a couple years later when he directed The Tempest. I have also seen a really wonderful performance of Shrew by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC.

Re-read this now as I've been meaning to make a project of re-reading the plays and there are a lot of great audio full cast adaptation, and because I was picking up Vinegar Girl next (Anne Tyler's adaptation of the story for the Hogarth Shakespeare series).

It was a pretty fun listen, though this audio play could have used a slightly slower pace and use of spoken stage directions.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:28pm Top

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

This is Tyler's take on The Taming of the Shrew, which seems like a particularly difficult one to adapt to modern tastes (and really what can compare to the 1990s teen film re-telling 10 Things I Hate About You?). This was written for the Hogarth Shakespeare Series. I'm lukewarm on whether or not to read Margaret Atwood's take on The Tempest, as I think I'm too attached to the play. I am sadly not a very flexible reader when it comes to re-tellings.

Tyler's take is interesting, and not un-enjoyable, but I also didn't love it, and felt it lost most of the humor of the original. I suppose because in a modern setting, without the staging, it's inherently less humorous. I think Shakespeare's comedies are funniest with the visual element. I did really like the scenes of Kate dealing with kids at her daycare job.

Interesting to read, and it's pretty short so you're not devoting too much time to it.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:45pm Top

Superior Saturday by Garth Nix RE-READ

6th book in the series! Only one battle left for Arthur who would be feeling pretty beleaguered if he weren't fighting the dehumanizing influence of the five keys he's already claimed (this is the Keys to the Kingdom series).

Strange denizens of the house, making deals with Raised Rats, going undercover with Suzy, and worrying about the situation on earth where the army is about to bomb a hospital they've identified as a plague nexus (which was brought to earth when people from The House visited). All he wants is to go back to his cozy family life.

For the nth time, I love these books, I love Garth Nix. This series deserves so much more love.

Aug 1, 2016, 9:45pm Top

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

This is Ung's memoir of her childhood in Cambodia, mostly focusing on five years, the period when her family was driven from Phnom Penh into the countryside, and their struggle to stay under the radar.

It's amazing that five of the seven surviving siblings managed to find each other again after being split up for various reasons. I'm curious about Ung's next memoir covering her life after emigrating with one brother to the US. She talks at the end of this book about throwing herself into being a US citizen and pulling away from Cambodia as hard as she could, which is a relatively common symptom of the severe traumas she experienced in the killing fields.

Recommended. She attempts to keep her child mindset front and center in this rather than examining everything through an adult lens, so it's told in a very straight-forward manor.

Aug 6, 2016, 4:58pm Top

Hello Meredith.
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your comment.
I just wanted you to know that Night of Many Dreams by Gail Tsukiyama was a 5 star read for me back when I read it and I hope you love it as much as I did. I really appreciate Tsukiyama's writing. I find her work near genius in so far as how she holds me in the palm of her hand until I have finished any book of hers.

Aug 11, 2016, 11:55am Top

Great to hear that, Belva! Getting sucked into a novel like that is one of the most pleasurable things in the world, in my opinion. Some authors just make you care so deeply so quickly. Admittedly I was kind of upset with Tsukiyama after reading The Street of a Thousand Blossoms because there were so many character deaths it left me shattered.

Aug 11, 2016, 7:28pm Top

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin, H. Luke Shaefer

A detailed look at US welfare before and after reforms, what life can look like for people at the very bottom, focusing especially on the food stamp (now known as SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). It does not go into the "well it's cheaper to buy fresh food" stuff except for some brief discussion of food deserts and doesn't bring up the 'food stamp challenge' stunts by politicians, which I'm grateful for. (Living on a limited, very cheap diet for a single month is nothing, they know exactly when it will end. It's a very different proposition living on it for YEARS, not to mention lack of time and energy for cooking, and the fact that home ec. is an elective where it's available at all.)

The book has a relatively narrow focus, on specific families and people, how they've coped, the economic forces acting upon them, etc... A good primer for anyone wanting to start understanding current social welfare in the US in real-world terms.

Aug 11, 2016, 7:35pm Top

Queen Margot by Alexandre Dumas

This is a historical novel about Marguerite de Valois, the first wife of Henry IV of France. It's Dumas so the writing is good, but it never had me enraptured the way The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, or The Man in the Iron Mask did. I found it very easy to start tuning out. Perhaps because so much of the action is quiet plotting and I really didn't care about any of the characters. Just realized my favorite character was the villain - Catherine de Medici.

Not sorry I picked up, but I certainly won't feel the desire to re-read it the way I do with other Dumas works.

Edited: Aug 11, 2016, 8:23pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Aug 11, 2016, 7:47pm Top

The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement by David Graeber

I loved Graeber's book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and found this title up to snuff as well. The book is partly a history of the Occupy movement, which he was heavily involved in in New York City. What he and other seasoned activists were shocked by wasn't the violence towards protestors or that the city/police managed to shut down the park occupation (which was not the end of the movement, our media just decided that end would make the best story arc), but that the movement actually came together at all, and came together naturally with a huge range of demographics.

His humor is still evident in this, particularly as he muses on the strange positions (small a) anarchists are taking in this world. He recalls being with a group throwing paint at corporate windows shouting "Pay your taxes!" The later chapters about what is meant by capitalism and communism and what they really stand for in our lives were especially interesting and useful for me. Really the whole thing was great, and I really recommend it.

"Submitting oneself to labor discipline - supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed - does not make one a better person. In most really important ways it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it's only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what actually is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. An abandonment of productivism should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less towards creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.

What would remain is the kind of work only human beings will ever be able to do: those forms of caring and helping labor that are, I've argued, at the very center of the crisis that brought about Occupy Wall Street to begin with. What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called 'the economy' (a concept that didn't even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation."

Aug 11, 2016, 8:08pm Top

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I really loved this book from beginning to end, and particularly Ifemelu, the protagonist. I really related to some of her relationship choices and personality. I have loved all of Adichie's books though, and was saving this one for when I really needed a good read.

A key aspect of the book is Ifemelu's exploration of racism in the US and the strange shift coming from Nigeria where race isn't really a social identifier or divider. Adichie said in an interview, "I became black in America and I really hadn’t thought of myself as black in Nigeria. I think that identity in Nigeria was ethnic, religious…but race just wasn’t present. …"

You can tell that so many of her experiences coming to the US for college were put into this book. Recommended, but I'd advise reading her other two novels first, if only to see how she's grown as a writer.

Aug 11, 2016, 8:21pm Top

Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian War by Assia Djebar

I found this to be a very good novel, with a randomly intersecting group of focal characters taking us through a wide swath of Algerian society. I really felt involved in the character's lives and the novel feels more recent than it's original publication date of 1962 (perhaps this is because of the recent translation though).

I'm pretty rubbish at reviewing this kind of novel, so I'll forward you to Baswood's review of it in tandem with another novel of the Algerian war for independence.


Aug 11, 2016, 9:49pm Top

One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

This is the first of a series of comic book histories for children (focusing on US history, I think), called Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales. The artist's name is actually Nathan Hale, no known connection to the revolutionary spy who is the subject of this first volume.

I checked this out to decide if they were good enough for my nieces and nephews, and I think they are. The book was accessible and interesting and funny, and made me want to know more about Henry Knox. My library has failed me there, having no biography of Knox at all.

These are the types of books I would have loved as a kid (I was a big history fan and a comic book fan) and will perhaps convince my niece Evie that history can be fun. She's only five and already telling me history isn't interesting, I argued in its favor but she is not convinced yet, and she hasn't even started school where the history will focus mostly on men. Sigh. I'll be doing some strategic book buying for her for the next few years.

Aug 11, 2016, 10:00pm Top

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

I'd put this book on my to-read list a year or more back, probably due to someone here on LT. I'd forgotten about it, as my library doesn't have it, and then my bookclub picked it for this month. In my usual fashion I didn't bother to read any summaries before I started.

It's an every day novel, focusing on Casey Han, the daughter of Korean immigrants and her family and social circle. Casey has a degree in economics and assumes she'll be hired at her choice investment banking house and so only applies there. When she's not her life goes into a bit of a tailspin. Among her friends she is one of the few who grew up in relative poverty and who is reluctant to allow others to help her.

It's a pretty long book, but never felt long and made for very easy reading. Everyone is very human and flawed, and as a debut novel I think it shines brilliantly. I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad to see Lee has a novel due out next February. The last little bit of the novel has my bookclub somewhat divided, one feeling the book was ruined by the last page ambiguous ending whereas I felt that was the perfect end for these characters and this novel (though if Americanah had ended like that I would have been raging). Another felt an incident late in the book was gratuitous, and it was a bit, but it did serve some very real purposes and again, it's Lee's debut novel.

Recommended for the contemporary fiction reader, I guess? I wasn't expecting the bookclub to be so divided on the last fifth of the book, so now I'm unsure about giving a full-throated recommendation. I do believe Lee is a novelist to watch. There were interesting twist parallels for different characters through the book which I found very skillfully done, generally.

Aug 16, 2016, 12:12pm Top

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Originally published in 1986, this is a memoir covering Mathabane's life under Apartheid rule in South Africa. He was born in 1960 and the memoir covers his early childhood through to getting a tennis scholarship at a US school in 1978.

It is a brutal book, as you might expect. Mathabane grew up in Alexandra, a part of Johannesburg, essentially in a 1 mile square ghetto housing 200,000 people. He lived with extreme daily fear throughout childhood because his parents passes to be there were not valid, meaning they could be arrested at any moment. He talks about contemplating suicide when he was ten, which is common for children growing up in poverty and extreme insecurity in their daily lives.

Highly recommended. The audiobook is well-read by Mathabane, though he occasionally gets a little too theatrical with the dialogue for my tastes (it is definitely not the majority of the dialogue though). I kind of wish I'd read this paired with July's People by Nadine Gordimer.

Aug 16, 2016, 12:30pm Top

A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim

The only trouble with trying to read a wider variety of nationalities but also keep my non-fiction ratio up is that I will end up with many depressing memoirs. Books in translation are less likely to be make into audiobooks and the non-fiction that makes it to audiobook is made up of 90% memoirs. I like memoirs, and I've always read a lot of depressing non-fiction, but we'll see if I get burnt out by year's end (luckily the next biggest genre of translated audiobook is popular science/psychology, which I'm a fan of).

Kim is one year younger than me, which lent an extra dimension to this read. While she was days away from death by starvation I was falling in love with Shakespeare while watching my dad direct a performance of The Tempest and enjoying being the only child in the house.

There was nothing left for Kim, her mother, and sister in North Korea. If they stayed they would have almost certainly died, but it took them multiple attempts to fully leave North Korea. After crossing into China the first time they were essentially sold to a Chinese man who wanted a wife to give him a son (in hopes it would move him up in the inheritance roster as his older brothers had daughters). They were eventually informed on and sent back to North Korea. After a reeducation camp convinced the guard to let them go as arrangements had changed and this guard has no paperwork on them (and thus would not be held responsible). After making it back to China again and saving money Kim and her mother paid a smuggler to help them get to Mongolia, where the South Korean embassy would get take them from there.

The book goes on to cover their adjustment to South Korea and Kim's year or so of college in the US. While Kim skims over some of the worst parts of their life and escape, and uses euphemisms for some others, she admits there are parts of her life and escape she has not told, due to the nature of the trauma. I hope she is telling someone about them though. The more we bottle up, the more negative effects those memories have on us, both mentally and physically. I wish I could look her in the eyes and tell her she is being heard and her positive action is appreciated.

Aug 16, 2016, 12:47pm Top

See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

I'd initially planned on reading this during the Reading Globally Caribbean theme for the first quarter of this year. However, Kincaid as a reader has a more sibilant voice than I can usually handle, especially in the first few minutes minutes. I'd forgotten that and gotten the audiobook out again. This time I remembered that I can usually get used to a voice (and most become less sibilant as the reading goes on) after a bit and it's less noticeable if you speed up the recording a bit. I'm so glad I gave it another go, especially since I believe it worked especially well as an audiobook listened to in one sitting.

The book is not overly loved, perhaps in part because of Kincaid's staunch insistence that it isn't about her marriage. Only it parallels 90% of her own life/marriage, so her denial is kind of annoying (I mean, she could have changed just a few surface details and it wouldn't have been looked on as such a mirror). It feels very much like a cathartic book, and the style is unconventional. She uses repetition of words and phrases and it hammers home the emotion of the main subjects - a husband and wife whose relationship is falling apart.

The book actually really worked for me and I found the style very evocative and powerful. Her language is gorgeous and our own thoughts and speech do tend to be repetitive, especially when we're dealing with periods of extreme emotion or anxiety. A negative review stating it was too-repetitive strikes me as ridiculous because it's extremely purposefully repetitive to produce a specific effect, it's not as thought Kincaid did this by accident.

I hesitate to recommend, since I imagine many people will be annoyed by the style (it is stream of consciousness writing on top of that, but this example worked particularly well for me). It is short enough that I really recommend reading it over a single day, and do not think it would serve the book or the reader to break it up over more than a couple days. I definitely recommend the audio edition if you're an audio person already.

Aug 16, 2016, 12:55pm Top

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I'm reasonably sure that this is the longest graphic memoir (specifically a memoir vs a daily diary comic) ever published at 834 pages. Tatsumi is a well known mangaka (manga artist and writer), and helped pioneer new views of manga in the 1950s. He began writing comics quite young, sending them into contests for 4 panel, usually humorous 'postcard' comics along with his brother. The memoir takes place from 1945 to 1960 and every so often he includes larger Japanese and world events taking place.

For me this was a good read but not a great read. He was a fan of and contemporary of Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion (perhaps the first anime to ever be broadcast in the US) among other things. If I were more familiar with Tatsumi's work or manga of the period I'm sure it would have been a more powerful read. As it was I just sort of got through it (the extra pain caused by trying to wrangle such a large book didn't help).

Aug 16, 2016, 1:11pm Top

Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Two graphic memoirs. I started reading Smile in 2004 when it was one of the first batch of comics on the comics subscription site Girl-a-Matic (that day's comic was free but you had to subscribe in order to read the archives). I think maybe she redrew (or perhaps just colorized) the early strips, but I can't really remember the details from back then. She has a great drawing style and I think you can see the influence of For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston.

Smile focuses on an accident which knocked out one of her front teeth and drove the other totally up into her gums. Resetting the teeth wasn't effective for various reasons, and Telgemeier goes through a LOT of dental trauma at a really difficult time in her life - 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Her younger sister is consistently teasing her about her teeth, as were her 'friends' who are generally kind of awful to Telgemeier for being less focused on dating dating makeup dating.

Sisters focuses on a family road/camping trip on the way to and from a family reunion. We see flashbacks of Telgemeier's relationship with her younger sister, Amara, a girl who has always been happy to do her own thing and did not welcome the loving attentions of her big sis at any point. It is full of bickering, as you might expect. I am envious that Amara was always so self-sufficient and confident about what she wanted. Their age difference is the same as the one between me and my older sister, though I'm the youngest in my family, and I was the opposite of Amara, constantly wanting to be part of my older siblings' worlds, especially my sister.

Two good graphic memoirs, with clear narrative arcs. I really like Telgemeier's art style, and her honesty. Both have a theme of learning to accept herself and being less concerned with fitting in. She now draws the Babysitter's Club graphic novels which I hear are good (I never read the books as a kid, as they basically represented everything I hated in children's fiction).

Aug 17, 2016, 9:17pm Top

I can't wrap my mind around the idea of a 10 yo child considering suicide. It would probably be good for me to read this - thanks for the review!

Aug 18, 2016, 6:11pm Top

>190 jfetting: It is a hard thought to stomach, but is common among children living in extreme poverty. I know it also came up in $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, a very recent book.

Aug 18, 2016, 6:25pm Top

BookRiot posted a great 'think piece' from 1885 about the dangers of children reading novels willy nilly. Just to remind us how silly we'll all be looking about X media in 100 years.

This is a great quote from it:
It is doubted by authority whether a public library confers any benefit by providing boys, who ought to be playing outdoors, with such pabulum. Ten to eleven year old children spend evening after evening in the library reading room pouring over Alger. Their parents, it is presumed, neither know nor care what they are doing.

It was doubly amusing to me due to this quote from the 1960s Addams Family TV show which I've always loved:
Well, I wasn't allowed to even touch Horatio Alger until I was 28.

Aug 25, 2016, 11:29pm Top

Blessings, Meredith.
I have heard wonderful things about Hag-Seed from readers whom I trust to steer me in the right direction. I would like to eventually get all of the The Hogarth Shakespeare Series and was disappointed to see how expensive the e-book editions are.
And I do understand your take on the distopian novels. I have tried some, read some, but put down many more than I have read. Some people just love them along with sci-fi but I am not big on either one. In fact the only one I have probably 'appreciated' was The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I found it to be amazingly well written.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:18pm Top

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

This is the only published work written by someone currently detained at Guantánamo Bay. Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen, was taken to Guantánamo Bay in 2002, after he had voluntarily gone for questioning by various authorities and been cleared several times before (while in other countries who did not just hand him to the US authorities). He assumed this was the same thing when he went to Maurtanian authorities in November 2001. He was handed over and held in Jordan for nine months before transfer to Guantánamo Bay. He has never been charged.

It is a hard read, but an important one. The process of it being published was long and there are various redacted sections, sometimes it seems clear that what is redacted here is not redacted a paragraph later. Likewise they seemed to redact every feminine pronoun referring to guards and interrogators, but not masculine ones, making it obvious when the subject is female. These kinds of pointless redactions create an extra atmosphere of annoyance to the general horror of this system. There are footnotes and explorations and the redactions are shown. The audiobook was well done, using separate voices for Slahi's writing, the notes, and the word 'redaction' when it appeared.

Slahi bends over backwards to find and respect humanity in the people holding him. A review board this past July recommended he be released but it doesn't seem to have happened yet.

Recommended. Necessary reading for a lot of reasons.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:27pm Top

Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters

Another ridiculously fun romp with Amelia Peabody and her gang. These novels are adding a lot of joy to my life. This is the fourth in the series, historical mysteries set in late Victorian Egypt and concerned with archaeology. The author herself has an Egyptology PhD and I HIGHLY recommended her non-fiction works about ancient Egypt (published under her real name, Barbara Mertz, which also showcase her sense of humor).

The mysteries in these are easy to guess, but I don't read mysteries for a challenge. I also enjoy family dynamics. Peabody is the hands-off non-smushy parent and her husband Emerson is the demonstrative one. There's also quite a good cat.

Recommended for a nice, fun, light read. The audio editions read by Barbara Rosenblat are a JOY.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:30pm Top

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix RE-READ

The final book in the Keys to the Kingdom series. Nix is such an original writer, both in his worlds and how he moves his stories along. Nothing is easy for Nix's protagonists, not ever, and that adds something.

Great juvenile fantasy series, top of the class in quality for that age group, I think.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:39pm Top

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

The book comprises the subject's side of interviews done over a period of twenty years (starting in 1991). As the subtitle suggests the focus is on the remaining people who grew up as Soviet citizens.

Extremely well done, and such an important record. The subjects cover a huge swatch of the public, a wide range of ages and histories. Recommended.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:49pm Top

Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn RE-READ

The last of Shinn's Samaria books. This one takes place just after the final events in Archangel (the first in the series). The inhabitants of this planet came from a more technologically advanced planet ravaged by war. They were set down with only basic tech in hopes of preventing war. There are angels who basically oversee things and who can sing to the god specific prayers for weather intercessions, seeds, medicines, etc...

It follows Obadiah as he moves from the host of angels at the Aerie to another angel hold. He is to serve as Gabriel's (the head of the angels) emissary to the Jansai, a deeply conservative people who were recently enslaving another ethnic group on the planet.

It's a nice addition to the series. As usual there's somewhat of a focus on romance, but there's always a lot going on in Shinn's books. I really enjoy this series and it's been fun rereading them this year. They definitely stradle the SFF line well, though there's less science in this book than in some others. In this book we get a more rounded view of the Jansai.

Aug 28, 2016, 8:57pm Top

Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein

Burstein is one of the minds behind the NPR radio show Studio 360, focusing on arts and culture and trying to "get inside the creative mind."

The book features quotes from interviews with various well known creative types and other commentary on how those people work and what seems to have made them successful.

It was an okay book, but not all that compelling in the end. The audio edition was poorly handled as well. The main end message seems to be "keep trying new things and don't stick to a single creative endeavor." Good advice, but I think the book falls short of the subtitle (How Creativity Works).

Aug 28, 2016, 9:02pm Top

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The final installment of Barker's Regeneration trilogy focusing on a handful of shellshock patients during WWI and their doctor, William Rivers, a real psychologist of the period who treated poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Owen and Sassoon also appear in the books.

The trilogy is very strong, though I think the second volume is still my favorite. It uses fewer real people or at least focuses on the fictional characters more, giving Barker a lot more freedom. Recommended in general though.

Sep 2, 2016, 8:32pm Top

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee

A memoir of the Liberian wars that began in the mid-1990s. Gbowee ended up heavily involved in the peace process via women's movements and her work with former child soldiers. She shows so much strength in just surviving, and is seemingly pretty honest about her choices and her mistakes.

Also important is showing the peace process and how their protests came together. So often we (especially those in western media) act like large scale protests grew from nothing with no planning, with no leadership and that's mostly wrong. Getting a large group to adopt the same protest method isn't easy. Gbowee started from a hard place, with a segment of the group angry that the former leader didn't choose someone already in the movement to replace her.

Gbowee admits that there are parts of her past she did not include in the book. I hate to imagine what those were. This is a good memoir, showing a piece of life not covered in conventional histories of the wars.

If you get rubbed really wrong by mention's of "god's plan" this might not be the book for you. Religion does not dominate the book, but it plays a part. Recommended. This is a piece of history that didn't necessarily make it into world consciousness. It's an important resource for protest movements too.

Sep 2, 2016, 8:36pm Top

Saga Vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The family is getting back together! A very good collection of issues, moving the story right along. Curious what the final ending (at least for this storyline) will be though.

I have feel like waiting until the series is done to read anymore. I tend to forget a fair bit from the previous

Edited: Sep 3, 2016, 9:06am Top

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Part self-help book, part popular science. This book attempts to explain some of the scientific misconceptions about habit behavior, how we form them, how they are separate from active memory, and how we can change ingrained habits.

For me this book was a bit too in-between. I don't think there was enough focus or enough normal every-day examples of changing deep habits. I just wanted a longer book, I guess. It was very interesting to learn about how Paul O'Neill, after becoming CEO of Alcoa revitalized the company by changing a single keystone habit by focusing on safety. The corporate examples were some of the most interesting to me due to my lifelong interest in worker rights and unions.

A good read but not a great read. Luckily we're not hurting for popular science titles published in the last decade.

Sep 3, 2016, 9:26am Top

New thread time!

This topic was continued by Mabith's 2016 Reads (meredith) II.

Group: 100 Books in 2016 Challenge

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