Sunday, December 31, 2017

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect

2017 may not have been my personal best year ever, but reading-wise, it was pretty good. My reading game was upped a bit mostly because I chose not to take any vacations (except one day in Chicago to see Hamilton), instead I worked on my house. My vacations were stay-cations and I read a lot.

I subscribed to the New York Times and the local paper this year. I wanted to make sure I was pretty on top of the craziness that is the world now. I devoured those for a while, especially the books section of NYT, but soon dropped off. I have some stacks of papers I want to read, again the book sections and I'm back to working through those. I dropped off reading them because reading is my form of escapism and I ended up in a sad and sour mood after reading the papers. Where was my escape? Yes, I was informed of how things are, how horrible people can be, and how bad the world was. But it hurt my heart. I have a friend who doesn't like to watch movies or shows that hurt her soul. I feel her. Except in my case, movies and shows are escapism from the soul-crushing real world.  And books are my ultimate escape.

Goodreads is awesome in that it puts all of your stats for the year together. My goal was to read 50 books this year and I was sure I would not hit it. So I did what I do and I started reading my comics and graphic novels (they count!). I ended the year with 52 books read and reviewed.

Click to see my reading challenge results

I like looking back on what I've read. Was it out of my comfort zone? Why did I pick that book? I really tackled that monster of a tome??

I can easily say some of the best books I've read this year were courtesy of book clubs. Either my IRL book club or my postal book clubs. My current PBC is 4 years strong this coming year. Same group of ladies.  I tried a new PBC and found I didn't enjoy those books as much. A Before They Were Films club, the books I would have loved, I had already read. The others were ok. Cold Comfort Farm was the stand out to me.

I'm surprised how much I liked Call of the Wild. And I ended up missing that book club night. Boo. DisgraceKindred,  and Shadow Tag were other Book Club books that rocked my socks.

I think my all time favorite audio book was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A friend didn't care for it, so I insisted he tell me why. The footnotes. I got used to them but I imagine others would dislike them, so in that case, read the book!

I learned I really can get into Sci-Fi with The Collapsing Empire. That sometime Hollywood CAN do right by a favorite book (American Gods). I learned that someone named Jack Reacher is someone I should follow. And I learned that the alphabet stops at Y and that it can hit hard when you lose a favorite character because you lose a favorite author. RIP Sue Grafton.

So....where are we going in 2018?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Science fictions meets historical fiction? I was initially so confused about this book but it turned in to me reading WAY past my bedtime and getting a book hangover the next day. This is amazing and new and fresh and Oh My Goodness Where is Kevin???

Dana just turned 26. It's 1976 and she's married to Kevin. They have bought their first house together to solve a problem: neither of their apartments could hold all of their combined books. I love them already.

While unpacking, Dana gets dizzy, things become fuzzy and far away and she's suddenly on the bank of a river, hearing the screams of a boy who is drowning. She wastes no time wondering what happened, she'd out there grabbing the boy and performing CPR to save him. Despite his idiot mother's hysteria (she is an idiot, we get more to that later), Dana does save the boy only to find herself at the business end of a gun. Things go fuzzy and she's back home with Kevin, wet and muddy.

A few minutes away for her was 3 seconds for Kevin. What just happened??

Later, while eating dinner, it happens again. Same boy, this time setting curtains on fire and trying to burn down the house. Dana saves him again but this time questions him. Who is he? Rufus Weylen. He freely uses the N-word and says that Dana talks funny. Dana puts two and two together and realizes this (white) boy is part of her (black) family tree. And she's now in Antebellum South. As a black woman.

Well, shit.

Dana keeps getting called back to the past when Rufus' life is in danger. She saves him, if only because he's needed in her family tree so she can exist. But having to live life as a slave until she can return her to her time is more than she can handle. Back in her time, Dana and Kevin figure out that Rufus can bring her to him when his life is in danger and she can leave if her life is in danger. At one point, Kevin is holding Dana when she's called and he travels back with her. Life as a white man isn't terrible, but life back then is still miserable when you are used to modern convenience. Luckily, Kevin isn't whipped or beaten on a regular basis. How in the world Dana withstood this, I have no idea.

This was such a great story. I've never read anything by Butler before.....but I'm about to stock my library with her books.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Big Damn Classic of 2018.......Drumroll

Just kidding! Voting ends when 2017 ends so we still have time to vote!

As of right now, Slaughterhouse-Five is in the lead but seems like it could easily be knocked out by Huck Finn.

Click to embiggen

Frankly, I don't think the others stand a chance (Doctor Zhivago, we never even saw you!) .

If you want to see the contenders and vote, click on THIS HERE LINK to go to my post. Read the summaries of the books and then vote for my Big Damn Classic of 2018!

Moby Dick was the Big Damn Classic of choice for 2017 and I'm still working my way through it. I think I have less than 100 chapters to go now!!!!  (oy vey).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Paper Girls Volume 3 by Brian Vaughan

Volume 2 left us with 1988 Erin and friends jumping through a fold in time, from the helicopter flown by 2016 Erin's little sister (and technically 1988's sister too). Space snot demons are tearing apart the city, and seemingly the helicopter, when the girls jump.....

straight into pre-historic times? Whoa.

My understanding here is that the parallel universe theory is a myth and time is really in a straight line. Who created the rifts in the timeline? How are the girls jumping around like this without injury? Hey, they'd like to know the answer to that too.

Thankfully, the weird little Apple gadget really did lead them to KJ. This volume is crazy full of Apple symbols and computer symbols on pre-historic creatures and landscape. Bizarre in the weirdest way, especially since I'm not an Apple fan.

The girls meet up with a cave woman and her baby and someone from the future who may have invented time travel and may have caused this mess!

Add in KJ's disturbing visions of her future, which she might come to like, more monsters and insane cavemen. Oh, and a 12-year-old getting her period in a time where there are clearly no maxi pads to help her out. Awesome.

Keep going...... Now where is Volume 4??

Paper Girls Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Back in November, I read the first volume of Paper Girls. I bought volumes 2 and 3 immediately and finally had time to sit and read them both back to back. I might be poor if I keep using my Kindle to buy more and more volumes of this comic. Geesh.

The end of Volume 1 brought 1988 Erin face to face with 2016 Erin. Volume 2 throws them both together, along with ANOTHER Erin, into a whirlwind of "Now, how did she get here? And how will the other she get back?" goodness. 2016 Erin isn't married, has no children, and pops Xanax. 1988 Erin is a little perturbed by 2016 Erin's language and the pill popping but loves that she is single and without kids. They still need to find KJ (read Volume 1) so Erin and Erin head off to the old, dead mall. Wait, why? Ah, that Apple device 1988 Erin had? It pops a map into 2016 Erin's head to help them get to the Fourth Folding.  Oh, stick with it. It's all pretty much explained.

And there are monsters.

Mac and Tiffany try to find their adult versions, but it ends in devastating news.1988 Erin is proud of 2016 Erin and vice versa. Man, I wonder if young me is happy how old me ended up. Eh, old me is happy.

Anyways, so much fun. Read read!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

I was searching for another book in my stacks when I saw this. I flipped it open, read 2 pages and didn't stop reading until I was done. That's what adults do sometimes, sit on their floor in front of a bookcase, reading comics....right??

Kamala Khan is just some sixteen year old Muslim girl in New Jersey. Nothing special, except because she's brown, Muslim, has weird diet restrictions and a crazy Muslim family, she's on everyone's radar. She just wishes to be blonde, pretty, and superhero-y. Is that too much to ask for?

After sneaking out of her bedroom to go to a party that her father explicitly vetoed, she realizes that the students whom she thought were nice...really are not nice. She leaves just as a strange fog envelopes the city. When she passes out from the fog, she's visited by her favorite Marvel heroes. When Kamala wakes, she's become what she always wanted: a pretty blonde superhero.

I really wish this type of graphic novel had been around in my teen years. Being pretty and blonde amazingly does not fix Kamala's problems. Crazy, right?  Instead, this new power of hers is something she really needs to master, all the while not pissing off her parents anymore than she has, not getting detention anymore and not alienating her friends. This part sounds very familiar to me, being a HUGE Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Which maybe why I loved this so much.

Already on my way to get the next volumes in the series.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Walking Dead: Here's Negan! by Robert Kirkman

I KNEW IT!  Negan could only have had one career in his pre-zombie life that made sense and I WAS RIGHT. I feel....validated.

This is a quick graphic novel that gives us a look at Negan's past. Yes, he was always an asshole. But he wasn't always a leader. Now we know where Lucille comes from, we know where the bat and the jacket come from (did you catch that??) and we know how Negan created the Saviors and rose up in the ranks.


He was a  GYM TEACHER. I knew it. It's the only thing that made sense, dammit.

Origin by Dan Brown

Usually I love a good Robert Langdon book. It seems odd to me that a professor gets into such physical peril and he's not Indiana Jones. Origin, just judging a book by its title, should have been an awesome book with crazy codes and patterns and running around beautiful cities.

Origin teased the questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going? Essentially, it was trying to cause "discussion" between evolutionist and creationists. Science vs. Religion. Because of this I thought we'd be in for one hell of a ride.

We weren't. Honestly, the best character out of this book was a computer named Winston. Edmond Kirsch is a futurist, and one time student of Langdon's, who believes he has answered the two questions the book poses. He is also a grandstander and apparent drama queen who always needs all eyes on him. He meets with the top three religious leaders from different religions to show them his presentation that will all but obliterate religion. Obviously, they are upset and then things started rushing along to a worldwide announcement and people dying left and right.

Somehow we get the upcoming King of Spain involved because his fiancee, Ambra, is now running around with Langdon trying to release the announcement to the world (Kirsch is.... indisposed) and set off this science vs religion firestorm.

But, we're not really running around, we're not really solving much, and the supercomputer Winston is doing the majority of the brainwork for Langdon. Yes, there's a guy out there killing people, but he seems very inconsequential. Once we get to the announcement, we seem to spend A LOT of time with Ambra and Langdon sitting on a couch just listening to something that isn't that spectacular and was really pretty obvious.

The end, I think, was supposed to have some jaw dropping revelations, but the only one I thought was pretty good was the Winston reveal. For some reason, that made me happy.

If you are new to Robert Langdon, professor-slash-action-hero, don't start here. Go back to the beginning and enjoy those. Perhaps skip Origin altogether.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I started listening to the Book Riot podcast and on a few episodes, they mentioned Sourdough. It sounded interesting: an IT woman is gifted a special sourdough starter that turned out to be magic.

I'm on the fence. I'm not really sure that I liked this although I did finish it. Maybe I just didn't LOVE it.

Lois Clary is the young woman who graduates college and gets recruited to a robotics firm in San Francisco. All was well until Slurry was introduced. She doesn't have the time or inclination to cook so she orders from a Clement Street restaurant every night. She gets spicy soup and sourdough bread. When the brothers of the restaurant are forced to leave America, they leave her their starter for the bread (as well as all the ingredients and utensils Lois needs because she clearly has nothing in her kitchen).

Amazingly, Lois learns to bake perfect bread and build a brick oven from a book. Her bread is so perfect that she is accepted into an alt-food market full of bizarre fake food, cricket food and weirdness. Because that's the next big trend, apparently.

The starter turns out to be magic and there is a "thrilling" adventure.

It was ok. Probably more of a beach read than anything serious.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson

If you haven't heard of the concept of the butterfly effect, it's essentially "small causes can have larger effects". Ronson ends up immersing himself in the porn world so he can understand how the man who started the concept of free porn has changed people's lives, usually for the worse.  This was a free download on Audible for a bit. At about 3 hours long, it's well worth downloading and listening to.

We start off listening to how a man, Fabian, made his fortune offering up free porn. Illegal porn, uploaded by users after it's stolen from other sources. He doesn't worry about that, because he put a warning on the site to tell people not to upload stolen media. That should help.  Ronson, chasing the butterfly effect, travels to San Fernando Valley and interviews a porn director who laments his lost money because, as soon as his films hit dvd, they are uploaded for free. He barely makes ends meet, but yet continues directing porn.

We meet folks who create custom porn videos for anyone who has money, as well as a porn star whose 13 year old daughter found out the hard way what her mom did for a living....on the daughter's bed. What?? That is some damn poor decision making there, mom. Seriously.

In the end, we learn that even male porn stars can't "get it up" without help from free porn sites even when their naked female co-star is RIGHT THERE WAITING. It's a little crazy how much damage sites like this actually cause. And how much money the people who run them make.

Jon Ronson is always interesting to listen to, so give it a whirl.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Sometimes, I enjoy reading books about books. My To-Read list on Goodreads is toppling at 1,775 books now so why not add more? I found this book on the new non-fiction shelf at my library, skimmed through it and decided I needed to read it.

Spence, a librarian, wrote love letters and breakup notes to the books in her library, personal or work. Through those letters, I only had one that shouted at me to mark as a to-read (Big Stone Gap series). Still, I was ok. Even getting one idea is good, right? The letters were funny and made me laugh.

The second section REALLY made my to-read list grow. Things like, excuses to make to get out of going out, book hookups, books about librarians, falling down the rabbit hole books, etc. I was constantly putting this book down and picking up my phone to add another book to my Goodreads list. Whew. I won't live long enough to read all of these, but that's ok.

This is the perfect little book to read in between your heavy hitters. I'm the type who loves to think about all the possible books I could read, and want to read, when I'm finally retired or find that sugar daddy. This indulged that habit.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Well now, this was an interesting book. I loved the premise. What happens if the women in the world fell into a deep sleep and men were left to handle things on their own? If you guessed guns and bloodshed, you would be right. I actually don't think King is too far-fetched with this notion.

The folks of Dooling are what you might think of a small Appalachian town. There's a women's prison and we meet some of the inmates and employees of the prison. Immediately, we hate Don Peters, a guard who freely takes what he wants from the inmates and threatens them if they speak up. He was a touch too on the nose to Trump (I assume King intended that). The prison psych doctor is Clint Norcross, whose wife Lila is the town Sheriff.

Lila is called to a homicide scene at a meth lab that is pretty brutal. En route, she clips a woman walking in the middle of the road. Evie Black is beautiful, nearly naked and seemingly crazy. Lila takes her to the prison for a psych eval.

We get into the mundane lives of the Dooling folk when, inexplicably, women start falling asleep and becoming cocooned in a gauze-like fabric.Destroying the fabric to "free the women" leaves them feral and ready to kill the ones who disturb them. Leave them alone and they end up in another place where women are the sole gender.

In this place, they form a pretty decent society and get along well. Back in reality, the men have lost their shit and are tearing up the town. They know Evie Black is the one woman in Dooling who can sleep and wake up so they form a mob (really, that's what it is) to get her.

This book is 700+ pages so much more happens and much more is explained. It really is a good story and it was slightly disheartening to read some of the threats and slurs against women in this book, only because I know they are said on a regular basis in this time.  The Blowtorch Brigade was sickening because I have no doubt that men would take sleeping women and torch them. Because, clearly, it must be the woman's fault - which is touched on here as well. My goodness, women want to wear pants and get abortions! This is their fault!

They threw a bit much into the pot, including a white cop shooting a black person, in my opinion. Not every social injustice needed to be represented. It got slightly overwhelming.

Not my favorite King book but still worth reading!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

So once again, a TV show interview intrigued me enough to read the book featured. A bit late, you say? Yes, I know. Am I the intended audience? Probably not, but I learned some things anyways and isn't that the point?

Part I

Part II

Coates wrote this (granted as a literary device) to his son, to try and explain why things are the way they are for African Americans. I remember being disgusted over the cases he talks about in the book, like Michael Brown, but I am fairly certain I won't end up in the same fate. As a woman, I probably have a different fate, but as a white woman, an even different one. I have never read anything that gave such perspective of growing up black in America. Then, in Coates' time and now, in his son's time.

This is a short audio book, around 3 hours, but so well worth the read. I cannot imagine trying to defend your child, who was shoved by a white woman, and being told that the white man could "Have you put in jail" and know that what he said is true. Coates would have went to jail without defense even though he was watching out for his kid.

To read about his friends dying because they were "driving while black", how cops, very crooked cops, got away with it and were put back on the street, how terrified he was at being pulled over because it could have meant his life. That's a world most of us do not live in, and one we really do not understand.

Basic rights and decency from others are not extended to African Amercians. And yet, people wonder why they are "so angry at everything". Wonder no more. In his eloquent way, Coates explains it to you. So you really need to listen.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

I was pretty excited to read this book for my IRL book club. I had heard a lot of good things about it and actually really enjoyed reading it. Sounds weird, considering how dark the book is, but I loved the writing. The book club was pretty full for this book and we had some great discussions on apartheid, South Africa, and what being in disgrace means. We also had some really good wine.

The basis of this novel is a professor, David Lurie, who ends up seducing (that's not the right word and I'll explain in a moment) a student of his. Lurie is 52, twice divorced and something of a sex addict (or just a man - you call it). He sleeps with prostitutes, chases young women, and views women through the filter of their attractiveness to him. His student, Melanie, is 20 and in the initial stages, this very much feels like a rape. Lurie even recognizes it:

"Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nonetheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck. "

He continues on, not caring that he, as her professor, is doing any wrong. Finally, Melanie and her father bring up charges against Lurie. He loses his job and moves to his daughter's farm to get away from Cape Town. Things really do not work out much better there. He's immediately critical of his daughter's appearance, critical of the life she has made for herself and critical of her friends. Bev Shaw is one such friend who he is initially angry with:

"He does not like women who make no effort to be attractive"

He does try to settle in and help out on the farm as well as in the animal welfare clinic with Bev.  Petrus is, initially, Lucy's help but ends up taking over part of the farm and no longer in the position to help. In fact, I believe, he cooked up an attack on Lucy and David in order to gain the rest of the farm. David is burned, Lucy is raped and all the dogs on the property are shot. Devastation.

David begins sleeping with Bev, Lucy turns inward and things start collapsing. The ending is a fairly surprising and upsetting turn of events. Disgrace is a place no one wants to live. Yet, everyone ends up there, trying to get out.

Considering the news of the day, this was a timely book to read. Amazing that the book club picked it a year ago, with no idea what was on our horizon in America. I didn't like many, if any, of the characters but they led me along with them anyway. It's astounding how people can orchestrate their own fall from grace (David) and how disgrace is forced upon others (Melanie, Lucy).

I've not seen the movie but will give it a try and report back!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Big Damn Classic of 2018 - You Choose!

My awesome friends and readers choose my 2017 big damn classic to be Moby Dick by Herman Melville and I am tackling it much like one would eat a whale....a small bite at a time. Seriously, guys, 135 chapters about whaling is what you chose??

Well, here's another chance to choose my Big Damn Classic for next year. I really had a hard time narrowing it down to just 5 choices. I consulted all sorts of books to decide on a book (people do this, right?) and between my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and 100 Banned Books, here's what I came up with:

Click here to vote!

First up, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I wanted to add in an Indiana author and one who has been banned on multiple occasions and Vonnegut fit the bill. This is kind of a big deal for me to want to read since I really don't like reading war stories, but if you've been reading my reviews you can see that I've been reading them more often. SH5 is about the bombing of Dresden in WWII and is one of the most censored books in the past 25 years according to 100 Banned Books. More than enough reason to read it....sticking it to the man.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is also on the list. An epic Russian tale that Russia banned because it "cast doubt on the validity of the Bolshevik Revolution" and Russia forced Pasternak to refuse the award for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958.  It was finally published in Russia in 1988. Don't you know that if you protest a book too much people will want to read it?

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is back from 2017's list! Don't think that makes it my preference. Just know that it's back because I've been singing songs from the musical. It's also one that I think I'll need encouragement to read, much like Moby Dick.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, lest you think I'm all about foreign writers. Why haven't I read this yet? Why haven't I followed Huck and Jim down the river? Officially first banned in 1885, immediately after being published in 1884, this one LIT PEOPLE UP.

Lastly, but not least(ly), I added Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky because it really is a big damn classic. Raskolnikov has a theory that so-called extraordinary men are above the law and can, literally, get away with murder. He tries to prove this theory by killing two women.

So there you have it. Now it's up to you to choose my book for next year. Voting will close at the end of 2017 and you can vote as often as you like!

Paper Girls vol 1 by Brian Vaughan

Sometimes it pays to grab a Kindle deal of the day. I had heard about Paper Girls on the now-defunct Books on the Nightstand podcast so I added it to my Goodreads To-Read list. Goodreads awesomely sends out deals based on your list and Paper Girls was a $1.99 deal. So I grabbed it. I actually thought I would hate graphic novels on my Kindle but it was pretty cool. I could zoom in on each section then back out to see the whole page.

I started and finished Paper Girls in one evening, probably less than an hour, and immediately bought Volumes 2 and 3, heck with the deals.

Essentially, we have four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls who set out to deliver their papers on November 1st, 1988 (hell morning). They team up because apparently Halloweeners out past curfew are dicks and always harass the girls (color me surprised at teenage boys being assholes). Erin is new to the job and happily hangs with Mac, Tiff and KJ after she's harassed by a Freddy Krueger wannabe. Mac seems to be the toughest of the group and the first girl to get a paper route.

Things start getting really weird when a group of guys attack Tiff and KJ and steal the walkie talkie the girls are using to communicate. The guys don't speak English but we really don't know what they speak. The girls try to follow them and end up in an abandoned house and find a ..... what is that? No time to find out because shit starts happening.

People vanish, giant bird dinosaur things come out of the sky and strange strange people are out in the streets. The girls are on their own.

This flung itself out into a crazy weird time travel but not really kind of way and I LOVED IT.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Camino Island by John Grisham

I read an interview with John Grisham where he was talking about his new book, Camino Island. Now, I like his legal thrillers quite a bit but when he veers off of those (Painted House, etc.) my attention goes elsewhere.

Camino Island had a good premise that made me decide to grab it from the library. Five of F. Scott Fitzgerald's original manuscripts are stolen from Princeton and enter the black market. Is this a mystery involving books? I'm in. And a good deal of this takes place on an island in Florida at a book store? Yep yep!

I'm sad to say I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped. I read til the end and was really not happy with the ending at all. It started well with the theft. The men involved in the theft could have really carried the book, but  *spoiler* the FBI stepped in way too quick and took nearly all of them out of play. What? Where is my mystery??

Enter a mysterious woman named Elaine who is trying to hire Mercer Mann, a "writer", to go to Camino Island and live in her dead grandma's house. Elaine wants Mercer to infiltrate Bruce Cable's life and bookstore to find the manuscripts.


Mercer is barely a writer. I couldn't stand her character and, frankly, she spent too much time "admiring her body" in the mirror and whining about her inability to write. Cable was an interesting enough character to follow so that gave me something to hope for but in the end, I was very disappointed with him and his actions. Hardly the stuff of a shady book dealer. Denny, one of the thieves, was a violent asshole who never got to shine before a convenient FBI person arrested him and threw him out of the picture. Who were we supposed to be enticed by here? Surely not Mercer.

Alas, I think we were supposed to like the whiny wannabe writer (heeey, alliteration!). The end of the book wrapped everything up in one extremely tidy bow that I disliked.

If I hear Grisham is putting out a new legal thriller, I'm in. Everything else, I'm out.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

Another junk food book. I love these things. Number four in the Nikki Heat series, in this one, Heat is tasked with the homicide of a woman stabbed and stuffed into a suitcase.

A suitcase that belonged to Heat's murdered mother....

Dun dun dunnnnnn.

And we're off, investigating the current murder and Heat's mother's murder at the same time. Rook is back, annoying but there for bouncy sex and occasional insight, but mostly Heat is on her own.

This took some twisty turns that got slightly (more than slightly) unbelievable. LOTS of dead bodies pile up but Heat doesn't seem worse for the wear of it.

Super fast read. Just enough when you need to escape the world for a bit.

These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson

War stories and war movies bother me. So, when I got this book to read, I almost didn't read it. Since it was a collection of short stories, I went ahead and read it, hoping for the best.

Mogelson did a great job depicting how wars and combat affect soldiers, both in war and in peacetime. This is actually why I dislike war stories so much: it's just commonplace to throw these men and women into horrific conditions, instruct them to kill then toss them back in to reality without any help. I've always felt that war is played as a game by the people declaring it. It's easy to declare when you never have to fight.

The characters we meet actually intertwine throughout the stories, their past, their present. Veterans of Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq. Veterans who can't handle life after war, who give up, turn angry and violent.

All in all, each story made me sad and angry about how vets are treated, or in several cases, ignored and left alone, after they have been used by the bigwigs to win their wars. Don't get me wrong, some wars were justified. But just as many were not.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

There'll be no butter in hell!!!!!!

I have never heard of this book before, let alone knew a movie existed, but I'm glad, once again, that I read outside of my comfort zone! Cold Comfort Farm turned out to be a very entertaining and funny book!

Written in 1932, Cold Comfort Farm is about Flora Poste, recently orphaned and looking for family to stay with. She does hate a mess and is determined to clean up the farm when she does to stay there. She wasn't quite prepared for the crazy side of her family and they weren't prepared for her. Flora does, in fact, come in and re-organizes in a way. In the end, everyone is much happier that she moved in with them.

At first I didn't care for Flora. When she spoke with Mary about not working but going to live off of family and "being a parasite", which doesn't sound good in any context. I felt at first that she was just a spoiled brat who refused to work. Gradually, I began to like her. She had grand plans for helping out her family at the farm and they were good plans, helpful to her family and not just herself. Somehow, all of her plans worked out perfectly.

It took a bit to get into the rhythm of the "country" talk but once I did, I moved right along. Don't let the language or age of the book dissuade you from reading. It's really a clever funny book!

I watched the movie as well and was pretty pleased that it was a faithful adaptation. I rarely ever say that!

The new Penguin cover cracked me up! I can't picture Seth as anything else now.

Cold Comfort Farm trailer

Monday, October 9, 2017

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Can I say how much I LOVE Sue Grafton's books? Each book in the series is fresh and new and I'm so sad Z is coming up. I want these to last forever. I hope, in some way, Kinsey Millhone continues on somewhere.

Based in the late 80's, Kinsey is a private detective who is called about a job for Lauren McCabe. Lauren's son, Fritz, just got out of prison where he was sentenced for murder and released at age 25. Fritz, and some of his friends, killed Sloan Stevens 10 years prior. Fritz turned on his friends but had to serve a full sentence since he pulled the trigger. His friends, Troy, Baynard and Austin, didn't have as much punishment. Lauren hires Kinsey to find out who is blackmailing Fritz now for $25,000. Turns out, Fritz and friends made a sex tape where they sexually assault a passed out 14 year girl, Iris. Sloan was trying to negotiate Austin with the tape: he gets the tape, he calls off everyone shunning her.

Austin was not pleased that Sloan had the tape, she dies, tape goes missing. Until Fritz is blackmailed with it. Kinsey goes down one hell of a messed up rabbit hole to figure out what happened 10 years prior and who was blackmailing now.

As a side plot, Ned Lowe is back and stalking Kinsey (remember, he tried to kill her in a previous book).  Anna, Henry, Ed, Pearl all play a part in this side plot.

I sped right through this one. It was a a crazy case to work through and, even though I read the accounts of what happened really, I still didn't guess the WhoDunIt. Excellent job!

Each book in the series can stand on its own very well. Start wherever you like, just start!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Look at me. I actually finished another IRL book club book. I had this one, bought from Half Price Books for 50 cents (what a deal!). It turned out to be a very quick read, and a pretty good one at that.

I've only read one other book by Tracy Chevalier - Remarkable Creatures - and really enjoyed her style of writing and the way she writes historical fiction.

For Girl, we learn the (fictitious) story of the girl who posed for the painting of the same name for Johannes Vermeer.
Very little is known about Vermeer except he left behind about 35 paintings and left his large family in debt when he died. Chevalier takes us to 1660's Holland so we can see how the painting came to be.

Griet is sixteen years old when she is told she is to live with the Vermeers and become their maid. Her parents are living in poverty due to her father losing his sight in a kiln explosion, causing him to lose his trade. Her brother, Frans, is apprenticing at the tile factory because their father saved up money to send him there to carry on the trade. Griet will be the one who brings in money for the family.

Vermeer's wife, Catharina, takes an instant dislike to Griet, as does the current maid,Tanneke. Griet tries to stay out of sight and trouble and do her job well. The children in the house, for the most part, are decent kids. Cornelia immediately starts out as a problem and Griet slaps her face on her first day there. Not a good start.

One of Griet's tasks is to clean Vermeer's studio but to leave everything exactly as it was. Griet comes up with a way to clean and make it appear nothing has moved. Vermeer happens to come in and see her cleaning the windows and is mesmerized by the light hitting her face. And thus, we start the somewhat downhill trek of Griet.

Griet meets a butcher and his son, both called Pieter. The son has eyes for Griet and soon pursues her. It's becoming apparent that Griet has eyes for Vermeer and that it's reciprocated.

Chevalier delves into Vermeer's techniques of painting which were very interesting to read. Using the camera obscura and painting "false" colors, it gave new insight (to me at least!) on Vermeer's technique.

Did this really happen? Doubtful. But it's a great story to put with the painting.

There is a movie based on the book, although I have not seen it. I might be curious about it, but, knowing myself, I probably won't watch.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

1) I think it's appropriate to be drinking red wine while writing this. Who didn't drink in this book? No wonder everyone made dumb decisions, they were all drunk.

2) This audiobook was so long that I forgot what happened in the beginning (and middle) of the book so I looked it up for assistance.

I started Feast immediately after A Storm of Swords and was so disappointed. I wanted more of what Storm brought me, instead I was thrust into this other timeline of people I didn't care about. I've been keeping up with the HBO series and decided to come back to Feast to see if I liked it any better. Why yes, I did. Now that I was further along with the series, I enjoyed going back to hear the back stories and in-between stories of some of the characters I now really love.

Yes. I know the books < > the show.

So we start with Lord Tywin being killed by Tyrion (YAY!) and Tommen on the throne with his crazy-ass mother, Cersei, as Queen Regent. The show didn't show us much in Tywin's after death scenes but Feast goes in to all of it. ALL of it.

We get many chapters of Sam Tarly heading to the Citadel on orders of Lord Commander Jon Snow to become a maester. Gilly is with him and we get very long descriptions of the boat trip and all of Sam's adventures. He had more adventures in the book than he did in the show, so yay Sam.

One of my favorite characters from the show is Brienne of Tarth and she's featured fairly prominently in the book but I have to admit to despising "A highborn girl of three and ten, fair face and auburn hair" because it was repeated ad nauseum. But I did enjoy Brienne's adventures with Pod. I'm not happy with how Brienne's story was left to us so I sincerely hope something more happens in the next book.

The Dornish women were really featured, which was a bit surprising, as they didn't seem like such big characters in the show. Who knew the craziness that was happening in Dorne??

Jamie the Kingslayer is out on missions from his sister Cersei, but when she needs him most, he's doesn't respond (good for you! She crazy!). I was happy that the High Sparrow dealt with Cersei in the same way I was familiar with. What is with that woman?

Lots of main characters were not even mentioned in Feast, but we did get some glimpses into Sansa and Arya Stark. I'm looking forward to A Dance With Dragons to keep catching up.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Whistler by John Grisham

I've been away from Grisham books for a bit. I like legal thrillers but I think I got overrun by them. So I stepped away and, for reasons I can't recall, decided to try this one. As far as Grisham books go, it's not my favorite but it was a good one nonetheless. I got caught up in it and finished it up pretty quick.

Lacy Stoltz and Hugo Hatch are lawyers who work as investigators for the Bureau of Judicial Conduct. Essentially, they are underfunded, overworked, and chase down complaints of corrupt judges in Florida. Lacy receives a call to meet with a mysterious person about a corrupt judge. Hugo and Lacy head to St. Augustine to meet with Greg Myers, ne. Ramsey Mix, a corrupt lawyer who went to prison and now wants to help take down a judge who seems to be in bed with the Coast Mafia.

We get into all sorts of things in this investigation: mafia, crime lords, Indian casinos, etc etc. It was a lot thrown in to the book but, for the most part, worked. It felt a little too easy in taking down a crime lord, but what do I know about that? Once the FBI was brought it, it all fell into place and that seemed a little far-fetched as well. (j/k FBI).

Not a bad book to pass the time.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich

I'm on a roll! I found this book at the library on the new shelves and, since I like Evanovich, I decided to try this new series. Yup, I started at book #2. What the hell, Amanda?? To be fair, it just says A Knight and Moon Novel on the front. Not the number of the book in the series. Well, I liked this one enough to go find the first book.

I do like Evanovich's partners-in-crime that she creates. They are great characters who play off of each other very well (and I love the names - Knight and Moon, Fox and O'Hare, etc). This is another set of partners who end up on madcap adventures. In Dangerous Minds, a little monk is included in this group.

Riley Moon  works for the estate of the Knight family, which is immense. The estate and all the wealth was left to eccentric Emerson Moon, who has been studying Buddhism and wants no attachments, including his manor and the things and animals in it. Moon is trying to make sense of the finances for Knight when a little monk walks in with a complaint that his island has disappeared. Wayan Bagus, the monk, was booted off his island by people in khaki and when he tried to go back, it was just gone. Just the type of mystery that Knight gets involved in.

Knight, Moon, monk and Vernon (Knight's childhood friend who accepts his description of "horndog" happily) are off to investigate the island and other National Parks that are similar. All the parks have had mysterious tourist "accidents" and are on top of volcano plumes.

This spirals into a crazy adventure involving Rough Riders (yup, those Rough Riders), Parks, Volcanoes and strange matter. So far fetched and out there but a damn fun ride.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One Shot by Lee Child

Hey look, I started another series out of order! *sigh*

Luckily, I don't think it  matters. I heard Ann from the Books on the Nightstand podcast talk about Lee Child like I talk about John Sandford, ie. as soon as the author has a new book out, life stops until we read it. Ann always gave good advice on what to read next so while I was shopping at The Book Nook in Anderson, I found One Shot and picked it up (for $1!). Little did I realize that Jack Reacher is a series character. I also didn't realize it's a movie series with Tom Cruise....and I'm confused about that. Reacher is described as huge, in height and muscle mass and... well, I'm bigger than Tom Cruise. Anywho... on to the book.

We cold open with someone setting out to mass murder people in a plaza in a small town in Indiana. He sets up his position, seemingly very careless about leaving behind evidence, and ends up killing 5 people with 6 shots.  The evidence is overwhelming, down to fingerprints on a quarter left in a parking meter, and James Barr is quickly arrested and thrown in jail. He refuses to speak except to say "Get me Jack Reacher". DundunDUN!

Lawyers are hired by Barr's sister but the case seems hopeless against him. Helen Rodin is going to try to defend him anyway because the sister is so insistent that her brother would never do this. Except when he did.... fourteen years previously in Kuwait City where Reacher very nearly got him put away for it. But again, circumstances intervene and Barr doesn't serve time and everyone parts ways.

Reacher sees Barr on the news while in Florida and realizes Barr has acted out the same murder spree he did in Kuwait City and Reacher sets off to Indiana to finish him.

But things really aren't this open and shut, are they? Reacher makes some grand leaps that are needed to move the story along, and honestly, if I knew Reacher's background better I may not have seen them as leaps but as excellent intuition and experience, but alas, I started at book #9. Reacher's character is incredibly resourceful, strong and just the person you want on your side. You definitely don't want this dude against you.

More and more people enter in to this story and the open-and-shut case gets all muddy and confusing. It was a good story that really kept me guessing and a quick read, to boot, because it was so fast paced. Looks like I found a new author to keep after.

(so apparently the Jack Reacher movie is based on this book, although I can't tell that by the trailer)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

It always pleases me when I get a book I wouldn't normally pick up on my own and find myself lost in it. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens enough for me to keep reading out of my comfort zone.

Quite possibly coming from my perspective as a perpetual single person, this book made me angry. It's clearly a marriage that has gone on too long, one that should have ended years before. Irene and Gil have three children, who alternate between wanting their parents to divorce and wanting them to stay together. Both parties are faulted with the bad marriage, both manipulate, both use and take. I couldn't find sympathy for one over the other until near the end.

Gil made his art career out of painting portraits of his wife. She never paid much attention to what he painted, she just sat for him and became increasingly bitter towards their marriage. When she finally sees what Gil has done to her image, possibly what he thinks about her, she's angry. So she drinks. When Gil starts reading her diary, she makes a new diary and keeps it in a safety deposit box. And she drinks. She decides to keep writing in the diary that Gil is reading in order to manipulate his emotions, knowing full well his anger is violent. She drinks.  She's angry when he starts hitting the children but she keeps going, keeps writing stories of affairs in the diary to make him angrier.

Gil refuses to grant a divorce, refuses to leave. He even envisions that they will spend their afterlife together. Gil is an artist with such delusions that I couldn't stand one iota of his character. He clearly uses and takes advantage of Irene to keep his career going, claiming his love and devotion, but hating her all the same.

They have a terrible, toxic, love/hate/hate relationship and it was, at times, painful to read. Of all the characters, I felt for the children. I wished for their sake something would happen with their parents to help them get away from that abusive house.

Ironic. Considering the ending. I was surprised at what I read, enough that I had to go back and re-read other passages to realize what I had missed.

What started off as a good study in a terrible marriage, ended in shock and surprise.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just You Wait!

I spent a night in Chicago, a city I love to visit, because I scored tickets to Hamilton (surely you know about Hamilton?). I got them in November 2016 and made sure my two friends got seats to go with me. One friend always goes to musicals with me and the other is a Hamilton fiend. We made arrangements for hotel and travel and then waited....for almost a year.

I watched the PBS documentary in preparation before we left. It's excellent if you haven't seen it!

We explored the city a bit but the underlying excitement was there the whole time. HAMILTON! Finally! I met up with my friend who lives in Chicago and her excitement for us was palpable. She had already seen Hamilton and gave us some pointers (sippy cups for alcohol and make sure you have tissues handy). There's a place right across the street from the theater called Grillroom Chophouse and Wine Bar that has food and Hamilton inspired drinks. I indulged in the Gentleman's Agreement (Gentlemen Jack Whiskey, lemon, grapefruit, amaretto, orange bitters) but was too excited to actually eat.

Finally, through the doors of the beautiful PrivateBank Theater on Monroe Street. I had to make sure I got a drink, of course. Another Hamilton drink in a souvenir sippy cup, please!

Now, to Hamilton:

Based on the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Lin-Manual Miranda wrote a musical using hip hop, rap, and pop influence and it debuted in 2015 and it became a smash Broadway hit. Well deserved. A minority cast plays the majority of the roles but you really don't notice it, to be honest, when George Washington comes out as a tall, stately, handsome black man with great pipes, because, well, you are in the moment.  

"Our cast looks like America looks now, and that's certainly intentional", Miranda said.

I had downloaded and listened to the soundtrack so I would be familiar with the music but just listening doesn't do it justice. The actor's subtle gestures, or not so subtle gestures, make this musical what it is and make the songs convey exactly what they need to convey.

A shout out first to the cast:

Alexander Hamilton - Miguel Cervantes
Eliza Hamilton - Ari Afsar
Aaron Burr - Colby Lewis
Angelica Schuyler - Jennie Harney
George Washington - Jonathan Kirkland
Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson - Chris De'Sean Lee
Hercules Mulligan / James Madison - Wallace Smith
John Laurens / Philip Hamilton - José Ramos
Peggy Schuyler / Maria Reynolds - Aubin Wise
King George - Alexander Gemignani

A shout out because they were absolutely amazing. Their voices were fantastic, their acting was fantastic and their ability to make me tear up.... on point.

One of the most famous songs, My Shot, happens right off the bat. It's enough to get you geared up and cheering for this bastard orphan immigrant, Hamilton.

Rise up! When you're living on your knees, you rise up!

I was curious how they would enact Satisfied and was just in awe at how they rewound the entire scene. Beautiful work.

Thomas Jefferson breaking into the Carlton Dance was not expected in the slightest and I kinda lost my shit laughing at that. Proof that the soundtrack doesn't give you everything you need.

King George....oh, he's a dandy!!! The actor portraying him was great with the subtle gestures and dance moves. King George during the Reynolds Papers scene? Holy shit.... Listening to the lyrics, talk about an abusive relationship!

I wasn't entirely sure why my friend suggested tissues but found out in the second act. When Phillip, Hamilton's son, was killed in a duel, I teared up.

The song, It's Quiet Uptown, is what got me. The stage got blurry, I couldn't see the actors anymore. I'm not ashamed to admit that one hit hard when I saw it on stage. My heart ached for my dad and for my friends who have passed. My throat constricted, the tears came and I was done for.

Burr's Wait For It was more powerful than I expected. Burr essentially followed in Hamilton's footsteps the whole time, only because Burr was a cautious person while Hamilton steamrolled ahead without thought for consequence. It's an interesting paradox: be the slow-burning fire or the explosion that engulfs everyone? In the end, Burr is remembered only for killing Hamilton in a duel but is that the way he should be remembered?

Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway

If there's a reason that I'm still alive while everyone who loves me has died, I'm willing to wait for it.

I am the one thing in life I can control.

It's funny. I've been thinking about the musical ever since Friday night. I'm inspired, in many ways, by what I saw and heard. I want to learn more about American history - since we seem so dead set on repeating it - and I'm inspired to start writing again. Hamilton was a prolific writer, a writer who stirred people into action. Words are powerful, they have meaning and punch. They have the ability to build up and the ability to tear down.

It's also a lesson in your legacy. What will you leave behind? Who will write your story? Are you living a story that's worth writing about? What will people remember about you when you are gone?

If you get a chance, see Hamilton.

Our (unzoomed) view

The adventure gnomes are everywhere


We made it

And for fun

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I'm so happy I finally got back to my IRL book club. This was the book I went back on, a bit depressing but full of topics for conversation.

I read this back in high school and remember being angry with it. Actually, let's be honest, I was just an angry teenager ( morphing into an angry 20-something for a bit). I was angry at Esther's passivity, her inability to take control of her own life, her lack of taking charge.

Now, at 41, I have a different take on The Bell Jar. Growing up female and not sticking to traditional roles has been very difficult. I can't imagine doing the same in the 1950's, where you have paths set out in front of you and you didn't dare veer from them. Where I feel I fought (and continue to fight) an uphill battle, doing the same in the 1950s could end in a breakdown, much like Esther.

Depression is a very real, very consuming illness. I was diagnosed in my 30s and still struggle. Some days, the best I can do is lay in bed and that's it. Other days, I can get out, go to work, school, etc and keep moving forward. I was most struck by Esther's depiction of the fig tree. All of the figs represent every thing she wanted to become, every path she wanted to take, yet she was stuck, sitting at the bottom of the tree watching the figs dry up and fall because she could not choose a path. In the '50s, her paths were wife and mother. That's it.

Reading about Esther's descent into her breakdown made me want to shake everyone around her and yell at them "Why can't you see that she's falling?!? Why don't you just step into her view and be there??" Everyone fell away from her when she pushed them back and she kept falling.

I don't know a great deal about Plath but my understand is that Esther is Plath and, knowing Plath's end, I do wish someone would have stepped in.

It really has done a lot of good for me to re-read books from my younger days because it amazes me how my life has changed my perspective. Teenagers really don't know much.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers

I found myself tearing up a bit at some of the diary entries in this book. Dammit, kids!

First year teacher Erin Gruwell found herself handed a class of "undesirable" kids that no one wanted and no one thought would go anywhere, let alone graduate. Thank goodness Ms. Gruwell was crazy optimistic and never lost faith. Her classes, 150 kids, ended up being the center of attention nationwide for their success. And that success started through reading and writing. My 2 favorite things. This book is a compilation of their diaries that take us through their freshman year to beyond.

In Long Beach, the good neighborhoods are not that far from the bad neighborhoods but they might as well be light years apart. The kids in Ms. Gruwell's class are mainly from the bad areas, where they worry that they'll be shot coming to and from school, or beat up because they are the wrong color, or whether they will have food once they get home or even if they will have a home. It's nearly impossible for kids in these circumstances to succeed. How do you split your time fearing for your life and doing homework? Most teachers had given up on the kids, knowing they'll end up like everyone else in their families. Ms. Gruwell didn't give up.

Reading the entries as the kids mocked this young white lady, knowing she wouldn't last 6 months there and how she earned their respect and brought out the best in them was amazing. Dust got in my eyes a few times.

The Freedom Writers went on to have a movie made about them, a documentary and created a foundation to assist teachers in helping at risk youth as well as mentoring and sponsoring the youth themselves so they can graduate and go to college.

Good book for some inspiration just when this world seems a bit worse for wear.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

I love Sedaris' sense of humor. It's witty and dry and often self-deprecating. Sedaris has been keeping diaries for 40+ years and this book contains the ones from 1977 to 2002. If anything, it's inspired me to start writing in my in journals again.

The diary entries are entertaining and Sedaris does admit that he left some of the more druggie ones out because he sounded like a crazy person. Considering what he left in, I'm surprised Sedaris is still alive.

There is no plot to discuss, no spoilers. Just a witty man with an incredible ability to observe and record the mundane and the bizarre from his life. If you've never read Sedaris, I wouldn't start with this. I would start with Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim or When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Then come back to his diaries.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monster by Jonathan Kellerman

Hey look, I read this out of order. Surprise!

I've had this book for over 17 years. I know this because the bookplate in the front has my old address. I had a strange feeling of deja vu when I read this but I also don't think I've read this before. Ardis Peake is a mad man and his killings were what sounded familiar.

Anywho, Dr. Delaware is back again helping solve a series of strange murders that, on the surface, don't really look related. But somehow, things tie back to Peake, locked up in Starkweather Hospital for the criminally insane and, boy, is he insane. Or, at the least, so medicated for insanity he's practically a vegetable. Until he escapes. WHAT? Yes.

The murder that got Delaware and Milo Sturgis to Starkweather was of Claire Argent, a psychologist at the hospital. As they start snooping around, or detecting, things start to become more confusing.

Is Peake a prophet?

Why was Claire so interested in Peake?

This was a pretty decent mystery that took me a bit to guess what was going on in the end. Clever.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Look at me, actually finishing an IRL book club book prior to book club night. I actually prefer the classics as book club fodder, rather than bios and more modern books. Discussing the latter with folks just doesn't hold my interest.

This was a pretty short (and free on Kindle) book. I was really diving into my pile o'mysteries but needed to get this read. Surprisingly, once I downloaded it and started reading, I was in it for the short haul. Before long I was at 30% read then 55% then 80% and hell, I might as well finish!

Buck is our main character. He's a large dog, weighing in at 140lbs, who lives a good life in Santa Clara Valley. The gardener, needing to pay some gambling debts, steals and sells Buck to folks who mistreat and starve him and ship him to Seattle. There, Buck encounters the man in the red sweater and starts shedding his domestic existence and embracing his wild side. Having to train as a sled dog in the Yukon ("train" - ie. being beaten and whipped until he does the right thing), Buck becomes more and more feral.

People can suck and Buck encounters those people in Hal, Charles and Mercedes from the US who buy Buck and his team to mush them across thousands of miles for gold. These people are so inept and cruel they deserved their fate, but taking the dogs down with them.... broke my heart. I find I usually feel more for animals than for people lately.

Buck ends up in the hands of Thornton and finally finds love of his master, which surprisingly, he realizes he didn't have in Santa Clara Valley. When a terrible and gruesome end comes, Buck is left on his own and gives over completely to his wild instincts and runs with a wolf pack for the reminder of his days.

Despite being a domesticated dog for a good portion of his years, Buck had the instincts of his foredogs and he learned to follow them and survive.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dr. Death by Jonathan Kellerman

Looking at a regular Dr. Kevorkian here. Except in this case, the Dr. Death was Eldon Mate and he was found brutally murdered in his own "death van". Alex Delaware is a psychologist who sometimes (as in 14 books, sometimes) assists his Homicide Detective friend, Milo Sturgis, on cases.

Sturgis calls in Delaware to the scene and they meet the couple of hikers who discovered the body. It's a gruesome one and one where a considerable amount of people are happy Mate is dead, while others are sad that their confederate in assisted suicide was murdered. Very odd split of people. Delaware's first thought was to Richard Doss, a man whose daughter he counseled after her mother was "assisted" to death by Mate previously. Doss, a wealthy asshole, already has an alibi (well, isn't THAT suspicious?) but wants Delaware to see his daughter again to counsel her on college choices.

Things just start getting messy and complicated, with more and more characters filing into the scene, all with ample motive to want Mate dead. The story got interesting as you tried to sort everyone out and discard who couldn't possibly have performed such a murder.

And then, near the end, you are walloped in the face clear from left field. Thanks to this, I ended up with a book hangover this morning because I had to stay up, damn the time!, and finish.

Good job, Mr. Kellerman.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen

I really suck at series. Apparently I read the second book in the Mick Stranahan series first and the first one second. In my defense, I didn't realize it was a series since each book really stood alone pretty well. According to Goodreads, I read Skinny Dip back in 2005 and I gave it 2/5 stars. Huh....

Skin Tight was so entertaining that I read it in one day (thank goodness for vacations!). I had been reading some pretty heavy material and really just needed a fun, light book. Our mall now has a used book store (Book Nook) that benefits the Madison County Literacy Program and since I don't need a lot of reasons to book shop, I stopped in. Skin Tight was one of the books I picked up there.

So Mick Stranahan is an ex-investigator with the State Attorney's office. Ex because he shot a judge through the nostril. Technically self-defense against a corrupt judge who was trying to kill him but it made enough people uneasy that Mick was let go with a decent pension plan. Now he lives in a house on stilts in the backwaters of Florida, preferably without seeing people at all. All is well and good until someone shows up to his stilt house and tries to kill him. Dispatching the intruder with the pointy end of a stuffed marlin, Mick is just beginning this adventure of murder and mayhem.

Seriously, almost everyone dies in this book. I don't think I've seen so many deaths - intentional, humorous and otherwise.

The characters are truly characters and not quite so madcappy (that's a word, I swear) that you are put off by them, but you definitely lead the cheering squad when they get their (odd) comeuppance.

Hiaasen is one of those authors whom I love to read but kind of forget about until I come across his books somewhere. Then I buy up as many as I can.

Skinny Dip is book #2 (of 2 books, apparently) and, since I read it 12 years ago, I can't remember why I gave it 2/5 stars but Skin Tight was pretty good and I bet Skinny Dip would be good read immediately afterwards.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hunger by Roxane Gay

I've never heard of Roxane Gay, didn't know who she was and was only half listening to Trevor Noah interview her on The Daily Show. I ended up stopping what I was doing to listen to what she was saying. She wrote a book about being fat?

Hunger is a memoir of her body. Gay was gang raped at the age of 12 and, in a very short summary, began eating and eating and eating in order to build a fortress around her. She felt that if she was bigger, men wouldn't hurt her.

The book was amazing. Gay really articulated how she has to move through this world in her body. She was a "hot mess" for a while and has since moved into a better type of mess and is able to share her history, and how she became the woman she is, to us. It pained me to read, and know as true, how people think they can offer advice and criticism to fat people without batting an eye. I hear this stuff in our break room at work almost daily - someone critiquing someone else's food choices "That's not healthy. Aren't you diabetic?", "Should you be eating that?", "How many miles do you need to walk to burn THAT off?". Some of those were said to me, and even though the BMI says I'm overweight, my food choices shouldn't invite criticism from co-workers (or anyone for that matter).

Gay talks about being invisible yet highly visible. People don't see her, but they are upset she takes up so much space. Women, all women, are not supposed to take up space. Girls are taught that, either explicitly or implicitly, throughout their whole lives. And yet, here she is, taking up space.

This is really a great book to read to gain a perspective you probably didn't know you needed. EVERYONE targets fat people. Everyone has judgments about fat people and the majority of people love voicing those opinions. It's insane that we, as a whole, can target a group of people and think it's ok.

Read this.....

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. I read reviews and summaries and passed it by. But then it fell into my lap and I thought "Why not? You just need to read 50 pages then stop if you don't like it".

I devoured it.

It's not what I expected, not written how I expected, not the story I expected. Isn't there a cliche about judging a book by it's cover??

The premise of this book is explaining the (somewhat fictional) history of the painting Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. I've not seen the painting before I started this book but admit to thinking "I don't care what that back story is".

Photo courtesy of MoMA
Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth

Kline introduces us to Christina Olson, in 1939. We don't know much about her except that she lives in a very old farm house and her young neighbor Betsy is dropping by to introduce her new beau, Andy Wyeth. Wyeth is fascinated by the story the house and the farm are telling and wants to paint and draw around their property. Christina is older, crippled with something we don't know yet, and she's taken by this artist. So he comes nearly daily to paint. Christina and her brother, Al, never get much company at the farm so they are amused by Wyeth.

The book travels back to 1896, where Christina is deathly ill with a fever. Her family is certain she will not survive, but she does, albeit with crippled legs and horrendous pain. That is the start of Christina's life - pain, falling, misery, humiliation and spinsterhood. She became, quite literally, a cat lady. Never leaving the farm, taking care of her family and never marrying.

The devil, however, is in the details. Christina was a very bright student. Her teacher wanted her to continue on with her schooling so Christina could take the teacher's place. Her father was emphatic that a crippled child needed no more schooling and she was to stay on at the farm and help there. That struck a severe blow - I felt that while reading it. Christina had a beau for a bit, but her circumstances caused rife with his parents. She had so many opportunities that other people dashed, it made my heart hurt for her. She managed to dash the opportunities of other people as well, so don't get too weepy.

The book travels us back and forth between Christina's past and present. We learn about her family history, how she was forced to grow up and how the painting came to be.

This is really a well written, well told story of a painting that I never even knew existed. I'm glad I gave this a try!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

This was an interesting book in that it basically was like reading a Buddhist book, but with more profanity. I'm not sure I needed to read this since I do read Buddhist books, but it was still a good read and, hopefully, another shock to my system to wake me up.

Essentially, Manson believes we give too many fucks about too many things. Things that are not worth our time and consideration, we give fucks about. He references Charles Bukowski (a favorite of mine) and his struggle to become a writer. In the end, even Bukowski said "Don't try" but he did become pretty famous...mostly for being kind of a loser. But he excelled at being a loser! Don't try to be something you are not! Be you!

A loser!

Anyways, you do need to give a fuck, just give the right fucks. Choose your values wisely, be aware that you will ALWAYS have problems, and choose your problems wisely.

If you’re miserable in your current situation, chances are it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control—that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve, a problem that was somehow thrust upon you without your choosing. When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
He emphasizes that money is nice, but it's not going to make you happy. Once you have a value of "Make lots of money" and you make lots of money....then what? Doing what you love is more important and that actually is a Buddhist concept. In Buddhism, the thing you are grasping for will be the thing that makes you miserable. If you grasp for money, you will be unhappy. If you are not grasping but you are doing something you enjoy, you are happier.

I actually appreciated the section on  "....And then you die" more than I probably should have. Being sick my whole life, sometimes near death, I should realize how short life can be. And I used to. I really did. Then I grew up, became an adult, got a job and I trudge along in my daily duties. WTF? That's got to change, pronto.

I'm finally starting to get into the DO SOMETHING mode. Just start something. Anything. Manson tells us that motivation follows action, not the other way around, and I believe him. If you are waiting to be motivated before starting that new hobby, looking for a new job, etc. you will be sitting for a while. Do something to start that hobby or search for that job and motivation follows quickly afterwards.

All in all, a good book. Not a swift kick in the ass but a decent sized "Go get 'em" pat on the bum.