Book Review Catch-Up – Spring 2008

Boy, am I behind on recording what I’ve read. I’ve had this post in progress forever trying to summarize some of these books, and I kept tacking new titles onto the end. I finally stole enough free time to get it finished.

The Geographer’s Library
by Jon Fasman
A literary history suspense novel, along the lines of The Davinci Code. it follows two separate threads – one of a rather lazy young reporter at a sleepy small-town paper investigating the death of a college professor from his alma mater, and the other thread the fate of a collection of various alchemical objects put together by a court librarian/philosopher in 10th century Sicily. It takes a rather long time for the two threads to come together, and when they finally did, I was too impatient to care much about what happened.

Locked Rooms (Mary Russell Novels)
by Laurie R. King
I’d forgotten how much I like this series of mystery novels until I picked up the latest. King’s Mary Russell series is a continuation of/homage to Sherlock Holmes, but unlike some I’ve read, this series is well done. Holmes purists tend to sniff at them — but if you think about that for a minute, the idea of there even being Holmes purists to begin with is rather silly. Conan Doyle wasn’t exactly a literary lion, and King’s novels have some weight to them in terms of character voice and plot. The series is based on a Sherlock Holmes that has “retired” from London investigations and fallen in love with the titular Mary Russell, a brilliant young woman half his age but completely his equal.

This particular novel is set in San Francisco, where Holmes and Russell have traveled to wrap up her family’s estate and to stumble into what really happened when her parents met their deaths in a long-ago automobile accident. It’s a nice picture of early San Francisco history during and post the great fire. The mystery comes together decently at the end, but I enjoyed the ride so much I wasn’t all that hung up on whether it did or not.

The Art of Detection
by Laurie R. King
The fifth book in King’s Kate Martinelli series. I haven’t read the first four (somehow I got a bit mixed up when I was buying this) but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of this book. Martinelli’s a San Franciso cop and lesbian mom with a toddler who gets a strange case indeed. A man who enjoys dressing up like victorian detective Sherlock Holmes is killed in an unusual fashion, over what turns out to be an original, lost story of Sherlock Holmes, set in San Francisco. (Yep, the book had some subtle references to the “Locked Rooms” book I read just before this. Not necessary to read both, but I love neat continuity stuff like this.)

Standard Hero Behavior
by John David Anderson
Standard Hero Behavior is a funny teen fantasy novel written by one of Stephanie’s former co-workers. Mason Quayle is a bard in in the small town of Darlington (formerly Highsmith) whose hero father went off 10 years ago with the rest of the town heroes on a mysterious quest, never to return. Now the town is threatened, and only Mason and his friend/sidekick Cowel can save the day – by locating the lost heroes and brining them home to defend the town.

I really like that Anderson wrapped up the novel completely, but there are some tiny signs of where he could go with a sequel. I’ve mentioned before that leaving fantasy fiction novels wide open at the end is one of my pet peeves, this is one satisfying example where that doesn’t happen.

I have to say there was a character in the novel I have concerns about because the character could be interpreted a couple different ways, and I could see where some folks I know might take offense. That’s a question I’ll have to ask Dave next time I run into him, though, about what he was trying to convey.

The Best of MAKE (Make)
by Mark Frauenfelder and Gareth Branwyn
I read this entire book when we were stuck on the plane for six hours on the way to SXSW. Some of the electronics stuff is way over my head, but with some specific instructions and possibly some help from Steph’s dad, those projects aren’t beyond my reach.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume 1: The Long Way Home
by Joss Whedon, Andy Owens, Georges Jeanty, and Jo Chen
The first volume of the comic book version of Season 8 of the show – it doesn’t go back and recap for new people, so you’ll want to start reading the Omnibus comics from the beginning or pick up the DVDs. Volume 1 is great – if you’re a Buffy fan, you’ll definitely want to own this.

Marvel 1602
by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
Neil Gaiman writes a graphic novel where Marvel’s classic characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Peter Parker, Nick Fury, Daredevil) come to life in Elizabethan Age. Nicely done!

Continue ReadingBook Review Catch-Up – Spring 2008

What I Read in 2007 (38 Titles)

Definitely not a banner year for reading for me. I’m hoping with my New Year’s Resolution to concentrate more on my own library, that I’ll get through a few more books next year. This is the 11th year I’ve recorded everything I’ve read; I began in 1997, a year in which I read 92 books. Of course then I didn’t own a house or have a girlfriend, dog or DVR, and I read a lot of crap. But I did read A LOT of crap.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Sword of the Guardian: A Legend of Ithyria (Legends of Ithyria) by Merry Shannon

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

Route 66 Adventure Handbook: Updated and Expanded Third Edition by Drew Knowles

YOU: The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz

On Beauty Zadie Smith

EZ66 Guide for Travelers Jerry McClanahan

Hogs on 66 : best feed and hangouts for road trips on Route 66 by Wallis, Michael.

Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited and

Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited, volume 2 by Olsen, Russell A.

Route 66: Images of America’s Main Street William Kaszynski

Route 66 Remembered by Michael Karl Witzel

Roadside Giants Brian and Sarah Butko

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Thomas M. Myers, Michael P. Ghiglieri

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder David Weinberger

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Chicago from the Air by Marcella Colombo, Gianfranco Peroncini

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt and Julian Radcliffe

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Collage Discovery Workshop: Make Your Own Collage Creations Using Vintage Photos, Found Objects and Ephemera by Claudine Hellmuth

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel by Michael Chabon

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

Continue ReadingWhat I Read in 2007 (38 Titles)

End of Year Reading 2007

I’ve read a lot more the last two months of the year, thanks to the writer’s strike. (Go, writers!)

Collage Discovery Workshop: Make Your Own Collage Creations Using Vintage Photos, Found Objects and Ephemera
by Claudine Hellmuth
One of the best collage craft books I’ve found, I’m going to buy this one for some future projects.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel
by Michael Chabon
What if the Jews had be given Alaska after World War II, instead of Israel? Chabon’s detective novel started slow for me, but a few chapters in, I was hooked.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary
by Monica Nolan
Funny comedic lesbian novel – very entertaining.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick
Illustrated children’s book – lovely, and I enjoy anything about clocks.

The House of a Thousand Candles
by Meredith Nicholson
Nicholson wrote this novel on 1905 while a resident of my neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis. Set on an estate in Northern Indiana, it’s a rollicking adventure novel/mystery story, and much more fun than I expected.

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear
A detective novel with a female protagonist, set in post-World War I England. The first of a series; Maisie Dobbs’ history is nicely fleshed-out in a flash-back that sets this apart from a simple genre mystery.

The Jane Austen Book Club
by Karen Joy Fowler
Nice light reading, especially if you love Jane Austen.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
by Haruki Murakami
Following the first (and second!) rule of book club, I can’t summarize this one yet. But you should read it, definitely.

It seems like there’s a book I forgot to add to this list, but I haven’t figured out what it is yet….

Continue ReadingEnd of Year Reading 2007

Twilight

After complaining that I’m frustrated by my start and stop reading lately, I sat down with our next book club selection, Twilight, and finished it in less that 24 hours. Abiding by the first rule of book club, I won’t discuss the book, but obviously I blazed through it.
(it’s about vampires, and I liked it. Breakin’ rules.)

Continue ReadingTwilight

Recent Reading

It was about this time last year that I got behind in reviewing what I had read recently and gave up and simply posted a list of recent reads. Must be the time of year. I’ve definitely been having trouble getting through any book; I have tons of things half read, and I’m very frustrated by that. I used to read a lot on the weekends, but the last couple years we’ve been so busy that most of my reading is done at night before I go to bed, and I’m irritated by the stop and go effect.

Chicago from the Air
by Marcella Colombo, Gianfranco Peroncini
Crappy book. Very difficult to read, and not easy to get a good idea of what the whole of Chicago looks like from above. Could have been much better done.

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft
by Simon Houpt and Julian Radcliffe
Non-Fiction
Cool book on major art thefts throughout history, and how the current inflated price of fine art drives recent thefts.

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Fiction
“Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax’s novels. As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide.”
I took this on the cruise with me and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Poe Shadow
by Matthew Pearl
Fiction
A young lawyer in 1849 Richmond sets out do discover why his hero Edgar Allen Poe died under strange and unfortunate circumstances. His investigation confounds and disappoints his family and friends, and eventually lands him in jail for murder. But his instinctive sense that something about Poe’s death wasn’t quite right leads him on. I enjoyed the book, but there are definitely sections that dragged, and I found myself as exasperated at the hero as his own family at times.

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place
by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
Non-Fiction
As noted in the Amazon description — “that organizational efforts tend to close off systems to random, unplanned influences that might lead to breakthroughs.” They have some very valid points, and very entertaining examples; the book was definitely worth reading.

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis
Young Adult Fiction
“After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society.”
I really enjoyed this kids book, it was very inventive and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books from childhood – The Westing Game.

Continue ReadingRecent Reading

Heir to the Glimmering World

Heir to the Glimmering World
Heir to the Glimmering World
I also can’t find enough time to write a synopsis of Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick – a book I picked up in Chicago last July and just finished reading, so again I’m going to cheat and give you the synopsis/review From Publishers Weekly instead:

Ozick’s previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family’s precarious, degrading status as “parasites,” erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children’s books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser’s research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy—all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life.

The assessment of “grinding the plot to a halt” is dead on – I found this book to be a tough slog. I also had trouble sympathizing with any of the characters; each of them was either mean or sad, and I couldn’t get over my frustration with them.

Continue ReadingHeir to the Glimmering World

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a synopsis of The Thirteenth Tale – (I’ve been meaning to since I finished this fun, enjoyable book three weeks ago!) so I’ll have to cheat and give you Amazon’s instead:

Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.

There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father’s shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it’s the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. At their initial meeting, the conversation begins:

“You have given nineteen different versions of your life story to journalists in the last two years alone.”

She [Vida] shrugged. “It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller.”

“I am a biographer, I work with facts.”

The game is afoot and Margaret must spend some time sorting out whether or not Vida is actually ready to tell the whole truth. There is more here of Margaret discovering than of Vida cooperating wholeheartedly, but that is part of Vida’s plan.

I give the book a thumbs up; it was a quite good homage to victorian gothic tales or those of the Brontë sisters. The book has a promotional website that’s also quite fun to peruse as well.

Continue ReadingThe Thirteenth Tale

What I Read in 2006 (49 Titles)

2006 was the 10th year I’ve kept track of what I’ve read, and eventually a decade retrospective is in order, but not tonight.

This year’s tally of books is roughly what it was last year – 49 titles. With a several of them being silly easy things, of course, because we were quite busy and I haven’t had the time to read that I used to. This year I managed to write a bit about most books and my impressions, which is cool, because I’ve looked at my past lists sometimes drawn a complete blank at the title and wondered what the heck it was about.

The list is pretty far from what I planned to read at the beginning of the year; that project got abandoned pretty quickly after I blew my new year’s resolution not to buy new books and when I started checking recently published stuff out from the library.

In all, it’s a decent selection of books, but I wish there were a few less throw-away titles on the list. I’m not going to make any grand plans for 2007 reading – I’m still planning to read Proust (I have the first four volumes) which is quite an undertaking, but I don’t want to kill myself in the process. Trying to force myself to read specific books was too difficult. I read to relieve stress, and I found myself resenting the books I assigned myself after awhile, which sort of defeats the purpose.

I’ve already started my very first book of 2007 – I spent the whole day riveted to my friend Garrett’s murder mystery novel, which he printed out and gave to Stephanie earlier this year to read. We only have the first 14 chapters, though, and there are 22, so I’m going nuts because I’m halfway through and I’m dying to know what happens next. I’m going to have so much fun reviewing Garrett’s book.

See the complete tally after the jump.

Fiction

A Feast For Crows

Stranger In a Strange Land

Stakeout on Millennium Drive

The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and The Hardy Boys

The Watchmen (Absolute Edition)

Al Capone Does My Shirts

The Nanny Diaries

The Time Traveler’s Wife

I, Robot

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

Black Swan Green

Cloud Atlas

The Whole World Over

Deception Point

Don’t I know you?

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Geography Club

The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pit of Vipers (Nancy Drew Girl Detective) #18 by Carolyn Keene

Company: A Novel by Max Barry

Hornswoggled (An Alafair Tucker Mystery) by Donis Casey

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Nancy Drew #4: The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Nancy Drew: Girl Detective) by Stefan Petrucha

Rough Magicke by John William Houghton

Non-Fiction

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme

Best Lesbian Erotica 2006

Scaling Down

Don’t Make Me Think : A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

A Theory of Fun for Game Design

The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island

Going for the Bronze: Still Bitter, More Baggage

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

The Seven Daughters of Eve

What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America

No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society

On Bullshit

How Nancy Jackson Married Kate Wilson and Other Tales of Rebellious Girls and Daring Young Women by Mark Twain and John R. Cooley

Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life by Paul Ekman

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things: How to Turn a Penny into a Radio, Make a Flood Alarm with an Aspirin, Change by Cy Tymony

Garden Accents: Simple-To-Build Projects to Enhance Your Yard or Garden (How-to Gardening)

Indianapolis Hoosiers’ circle city by Geib, George W.

Hoosier Century: 100 Years of Photography from the Indianapolis Star and News by Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis: a circle city history by Tenuth, Jeffrey

Greater Indianapolis: the history, the industries, the institutions, and the people of a city of homes by Dunn, Jacob Piatt, 1855-1924

Adventures from the Technology Underground: Catapults, Pulsejets, Rail Guns, Flamethrowers, Tesla Coils, Air Cannons, and the Garage Warriors Who Love Them by William Gurstelle

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Continue ReadingWhat I Read in 2006 (49 Titles)

What I Read in 2005 (51 Titles)

I’m going to change around a bit how I record the books I’ve read. This coming year, I’ll log titles by doing a short blog entry about them, instead of doing a running list as I have in years past. I’m shifting my past lists of books read over into my blog, as well under the category of “Books I’ve Read.”

Continue ReadingWhat I Read in 2005 (51 Titles)

Mini Reviews

I’ve been meaning to write reviews for all these things for a while, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time. So here are my mini reviews, because I can’t seem to keep up with everything.

All the President’s Men
I watched this movie for the first time this past weekend, and it was excellent. I knew the basics of the Watergate Scandal, but there was a lot I didn’t know, like how far beyond the simple break-in the scandal went. I was most fascinated by (and surprised by) the movie’s accounts of what Donald Segretti called “ratfucking”; the war of illegal dirty tricks waged against the Democratic Party by CREEP, using the secret six million dollar slush fund. Segretti was employed by CREEP to torpedo Democratic candidates in numerous ways, including forging letters and planting fake news stories with the press. Interestingly, Karl Rove was involved in doing some of this illegal work, and it appears he never quit.

Newsfire RSS/XML Feed Reader
I’ve been reading most of my regular news sources and favorite blogs in a piece of software that pulls in RSS or XML syndication feeds and aggregates and organizes them. Because I’m on a Mac, I chose Newsfire, which is one of the more popular readers, but there are numerous Feed readers for the PC as well, many of them are shareware or free. It’s a much easier way to keep track of my favorite websites and to make sure I don’t miss posts by my friends.

The Mermaid Chair
by Sue Monk Kidd
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as her previous book, The Secret Life of Bees. The heroine Jessie Sullivan returns to her childhood home on a tiny island to care for her disturbed mother, who in a fit of religious mania had cut off one of her fingers. While there, Jessie has an affair with one of the monks at the island monastery. I didn’t really buy into the “existential” angst that Jessie is supposedly feeling; the motivation for her affair. I kept wanting to tell her to get over it.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichl
This was a fun, quick read by Ruth Reichl, who was the food critic for the New York Times for several years in the 80s, before moving on to become a critic and editor of Gourmet magazine. Reichl recounts how she attempted to write restaurant reviews that were useful to regular people by visiting many New York restaurants in disguise to fool restaurant owners, who would otherwise recognize her and give her special treatment that other guests wouldn’t receive. The book is an enlightening insider’s view of both the New York restaurant scene and of The New York Times, as well as an education in fine dining and in gourmet appreciation. There are some great recipes in it, as well. The only thing that bothered me was that Reichl gets a bit too into the disguises she wears at times; she revels in creating characters that seemed to me a bit over the top.

Continue ReadingMini Reviews