Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Reads

August was a slow reading month. I'm going to go ahead and blame the heat. A mere 18 books last month (putting me at 191 for the year), but some of them were doozies: Ernest Cline's love letter to 80s nerd-dom, Sam Irvin's unputdownable book on Kay Swift, Steve Martin's latest novel (is there anything that man can't do?) Avi Steinberg's story of his time as a civilian librarian in a prison. Plus, now I have to track down James Reston's other books, especially Dogs of God, his book about the Spanish Inquistion (cue Monty Python jokes here).

Bujold, Lois McMaster Cryoburn

A new Vorkosigan story is always cause for celebration. Imperial Auditor Vorkosigan is sent to investigate a planet where cryogenics is the norm and, via companies holding their proxies, the dead can vote. A botched kidnapping attempt gets Miles involved with a local kid and an off-the-grid cryo-facility and more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at. There's also a powerful set-up for the next book in the series which breaks my heart, yet I can't wait to read.

Cline, Ernest Ready Player One

For its audience, this is near-about perfect. Games, quests, nostalgia, programming, hacking, trivia, movies, TV, computers—if you're into any of this, check it out. If you were into it in the 80s, stop reading this and read it right now. My full-length review can be found at

Elton, Charles Mr. Toppit

A severely (albeit comedically) dysfunctional family is turned inside out when the father, an unsuccessful screenwriter and author of a not-terribly-popular series of kids books, is run over and dies. Suddenly the American woman who rode to the hospital with him is an indispensable part of the family, the cranky German lady who illustrated the books is feeling left out and pushing her way into the funeral plans, and the 2 kids,brother and sister, are left on their own. The main character in the books was named after the brother (to his mortification) and the sister was not mentioned at all, which has torn at her mind. The key to everything is a third child who died and is never talked about. Interesting story and characters, but it was sold by quote and description as hilariously funny, which it wasn't, at least for me.

Finn, Mark Road Trip

A hitchhiker who looks like Elvis is picked up by a vintage pink Cadillac driven by a bitter and angry Cupid. They road-trip down to Texas to try to find Cupid's mom, rumored to be living in a trailer park near the beach. There's a lot here about old gods and new gods and how gods come into being and fade away, but truly I was charmed by cranky, foul-mouthed Cupid.

Gaiman, Neil The Graveyard Book

Clever readers will notice that this book popped up on last year's list as well. Stuck with a lack of new reading material, I picked up an old favorite for a re-read. It holds up very well, indeed. Bod's story is perhaps Gaiman's most effective book because it's his most accessible. Humor, horror, life, death, and through it all, love.

Golding, William; Wyndham, John; Peake, Mervyn Sometime, Never: Three Tales of Imagination

A story each by William Golding ("Envoy Extraordinary"), John Wyndham ("Consider Her Ways"), and Mervyn Peake ("Boy in Darkness") on the theme of imagination, all top-notch. Golding gives us a man thinking far ahead of his time in ancient Rome and the unexpected problems he encounters. Wyndham imagines a future without men, and Peake takes a lost boy on a surreal and dreamy trip involving human/animal hybrids and a mad animal king.

Greenburg, Martin H. and Silverberg, Robert The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse

Science fiction has long been fascinated with apocalypse stories, and this is a good collection of same. The stories are from a wide range of eras, yet don't seem dated. A particular favorite is Nancy Kress's “By Fools Like Me.”

Irvin, Sam Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise

I had no idea who Kay Thompson was, other than the connection to Eloise, and now having read the book, I can say with authority that my ignorance was a crime. What a fascinating person! Beyond her own eccentric personality, she knew EVERYBODY. And I mean everybody: Judy Garland (she was Liza's godmother), Danny Kaye, Cole Porter, Bogie and Bacall, Orson Welles, Gene Kelly, Andy Williams, Halston, Yves St. Laurent,...the list goes on and on. Staggeringly talented, brimming with ideas, and her own worst enemy—I couldn't put it down, and I can't wait to see Funny Face.
(If you're curious about Kay Swift, try Katharine Weber's The Memory of All That--Weber is Kay Swift's granddaughter and a mighty fine novelist to boot.)

Johnson, Angela A Cool Moonlight

8-year old Lila has xeroderma pigmentosum, which renders her deathly sensitive to light. She narrates the story of her reversed life in a dreamy, poetic way that's impossible to put down. Although she longs for the sun, she eventually embraces her role as “the moon girl.”

Martin, Steve An Object of Beauty

In his third novel, Martin takes us on a tour of the art world from the late 1990s to today, following the career of Lacey Yeager, a take-no-prisoners girl determined to come out on top. Martin tells us Lacey's story through the eyes of Daniel Franks, art writer and friend of Lacey. There's a great deal about art, both the business of it and the, well, art of it—the elusive qualities that make a painting great. It's a fascinating story, both funny and sad, and I didn't want it to end.

Reston, James Defenders of the Faith

A history of Europe and the Middle East at the end of the Renaissance/beginning of the Reformation, focusing mainly on Suleyman and Charles V, both officially Defenders of the Faith for their respective religions. Quick-moving and very readable, Reston's book makes clear just how close we came to Muslim rule up to the Rhine river during this time. There was so much waffling, back-stabbing, arrogance and intrigue going on, it's a wonder Christianity and European culture survived at all.

Rushdie, Salman Luka and the Fire of Life

Haroun Khalifi had his adventure in the marvelous Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Now it's little brother Luka's turn, and the stakes are much higher. Their father is dying, and Luka must journey through the same world as his brother did and steal the Fire of Life to save his father. There's a lot to love here: Luka is a great character, the language is beautiful, there's a sense of humor to go along with the sense of wonder. That said, I just didn't like the videogame concept, and, although the stakes were higher, I found the story weaker than Haroun's. It was still an enjoyable read, just not as enjoyable as Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Skye, Obert Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret

As with the first book in the series, there's not a whole lot new here: child treated badly discovers that he has powers and ends up on a quest. But also as with book one, the way that the story is told is quick and entertaining and fun. Clover is an awesome character, and the fact that he will be directly threatened in the next book could easily deepen the emotional impact of the story.

Skye, Obert Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Want

Leven's story continues to that mid-series, everything falls apart, how-will-we-ever-get-out-of-THIS-one point. Somebody's been lying, and everyone is suspect. Leven meets the Want, who is an irascible loony and he tells Leven that Geth has been lying to him. Geth & Winter have been captured by Geth's one-time ally Azure, who tells Geth that the Want has been working towards the destruction of Foo. Given that we're at a depressing part of the story, the humor now seems forced and unpleasant. I'm no longer sure that I want to find out what happens to these people.

Steinberg, Avi Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

A most excellent opening paragraph leads the way into a a book that's part memoir, part expose, and part biography of the prisoners Avi meets. It's funny and fascinating, but it's also thoughtful and poignant. If you're looking for answers one way or the other about prisoners and the prison system, this isn't you book. But if you're looking for a chance to meet some interesting people and see the impact of prison on them, them on prison, and all of it on a civilian employee, then definitely give this one a try. (P.S. The book cover, with Steinberg's portrait created entirely out of library date stamps, is to die for.)

Travers, P.L. Mary Poppins

Long one of my favorite movies, this was my first reading of the book, and I was nervous. There's nothing worse than really wanting to like something and just not being able to. Luckily, I very much liked the book. The book's Mary Poppins is delightfully vain and brusque. Although you eventually realize that she does really care for the children, it's not as obvious as Julie Andrews made it. Plus, Mr. Banks isn't nearly so much of a twit.

VanderMeer, Jeff and VanderMeer, Ann The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

I fell head over heels for the first Lambshead collection, and I'm loving this one, too. Many top-notch authors explicating individual treasures from the famed doctor's infamous cabinet or denouncing conspiracies involving same. I love the playfulness, and the editors do an outstanding job of creating a unifying voice. I only wish there was more from my one true love, Dr. Buckhead Mudthumper.

Willingham, Bill Fables 13: The Great Fables Crossover

After leaving (being kicked out) of the Fables narrative, con man Jack has had his own series, where he learned some of his origins and also of a threat to the Fables. This is what happens when Jack crosses back into the lives of our Fables, bringing with him someone who can change their reality at the stroke of a pen—or erase them entirely. You will never forget the sight of Bigby Wolf as the angriest little blonde girl you're ever likely to meet.


Sam Irvin said...

I am thrilled that you enjoyed my book on Kay Thompson so much. Thanks for your wonderful review. I hope more people who are not very familiar with Kay discover what they've been missing. Be sure to check out my website devoted to the book at

Sam Irvin

Peggy Hailey said...

I enjoyed it very much, and I'll definitely check out the website. What a lady! And thanks for stopping by!