Friday, September 30, 2011

September Reads




September coincided with "buy new books for the library" month, and I went on an absolute reading binge: fiction, non-fiction, juvenile, YA--whatever sounded good I took a gander at, to the tune of 39 books all told, leaving me at an even 230 books for the year so far. There's some really good stuff here, Like Lansdale's All the Dust, Thrown to the Sky and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. I've also decided that Susan Casey is edging into Mary Roach territory for me--must-reads. Oh, and those of you with a penchant for the odd and unsettling get your orders in now for Kafkaesque. So without further adieu, the list:

Atwood, Margaret Cat's Eye

A semi-famous artist returns to her hometown for a retrospective and remembers her childhood as tormented and tormenter and how it influenced her art. Atwood is awesome, and I love the interplay between the descriptions of the paintings (which we can interpret just fine, being privy to the author's thoughts, memories, and actions) and the interpretations hung on the paintings by others, who, of course, see what they want to see.

Barnhill, Kelly The Mostly True Story of Jack

Jack is ignored by everybody: teachers, strangers, family. He's so ignored he's practically invisible. But when his parents split up, he's sent to live with his aunt and uncle, and suddenly people are paying attention to him: his aunt and uncle actually talk to him, kids want to be his friend, and he even gets beaten up by a bully. There are strange goings-on in this town, and Jack is right in the middle of it. Well-written, engaging, and Jack is an awesome character (as is Wendy).

Beauman, Ned Boxer Beetle

What do you get when you combine a closeted “gentleman entomologist” with a passion for eugenics & a man-crush on Hitler, a violent alcoholic boxer (also gay) who's almost completely controlled by his id, a group of effete, squabbling fascists, a vicious gangster, & a beetle built to be nigh-invulnerable? One of the oddest books I've ever read. It's funny (in some places hilarious) and horrifying all at once in that peculiar British humor tradition where truly awful things happen to people, but it's funny instead of sad because they're awful people.

Casey, Susan The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

Casey's account of huge waves, their unpredictability, their destructive power, and the quest to surf a 100-foot wave is absolutely unputdownable. She has a remarkable way of making everything fascinating. Awesome.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 01: Marked

Vampyres have always existed. They are not created by being bitten, they simply are, and as teens they are “marked,” physically and societally and separated to begin their education, which not all of them survive. Zoey Redbird is not just marked, but chosen by Nyx, the Goddess of Night. Marked is the story of Zoey's being chosen and of her life adjusting to her new self in a new school. Who knew vampire schools had Heathers?

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 02: Betrayed

Beginning immediately after book 01, Zoey is still trying to organize the Dark Daughters, avoid her human ex-boyfriend who may or may not be imprinted, and pining for her almost-boyfriend Eric, who's away at a contest. Then human boys start disappearing and are found dead drained of blood, causing suspicion to fall on the vampires in general & Zoey in particular, as she knew them. In the middle of all this, a teacher seemingly hits on her, a friend is sick, her grandmother is in danger, and something is off with her mentor, the High Priestess Neferet. There's a lot of story packed into this relatively small book.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 03: Chosen

Zoey is trying to do the right thing, but it all turns out wrong. By keeping secrets to protect her friends, she ends up turning the away from her just when she needs them most. She also dithers on deciding between the boys who like her, makes some truly horrible choices, and ends up all alone. Although you often want to pinch her little head right off, Zoey is so fundamentally likeable that you end up rooting for her, even when she's being bone stupid. Kudos to the Casts for a truly great character.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 04: Untamed

Zoey's trying to win her friends back because of a vision of her death that leads to a horrible human/vampire war. She makes progress, but things still go all to hell by the end of this book. Again, Zoey is awesome, and for such a dark book, I laughed out loud more than once. Excellent.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 05: Hunted

Living in the tunnels with the red fledgelings, Zoey and her friends try to deal with Neferet and Kalona. Aphrodite is convinced that Stevie Ray is hiding something about the red fledgelings. Erik is being a possessive butthead again, and Stark has reawakened as a red fledgeling and is working with Neferet and Kalona, who are pretending to be the incarnation of Nyx and Erebus. Lots of action and intrigue, leading to a climactic showdown with the evil Neferet and her consort Kalona.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 06: Tempted

Kalona and Neferet have been temporarily banished, but Kalona is still connected to Zoey in her dreams. Heath is back, re-Imprinted stronger than ever, Erik's still around, and now there's Stark, the red fledgeling archer who's so connected to Zoey he can sense her emotions. Stevie Ray is definitely hiding something about the red fledgelings, and now everyone except Stevie Ray has to go to Italy to attend the Vampyre Council with Neferet & Kalona, where something so terrible happens that it literally shatters Zoey's soul.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 07: Burned

Stevie Ray has saved an injured Raven Mocker and can't tell anyone. Zoey and the pieces of her shattered soul are in the Otherworld with Heath. Stark undertakes a deadly journey to try to help Zoey mend herself & also to protect her from Kalona, who Neferet Has sent to kill Zoey. Lots of intrigue and lots of hard choices as everyone (except Neferet) tries to make the right choices.

Cast, P.C. & Kristin Cast House of Night 08: Awakened

Zoey is back together, Heath has moved on in the Otherworld, and Zoey & Stark are now together. Stevie Ray has grown close to Rephaim, but still keeps him a secret from her friends. Neferet has fooled the council into thinking she was under Kalona's sway, but now she's better, so she returns to Tulsa where her first act is unspeakably evil. Zoey and her friends return to try to take back their home, but Neferet is able to twist the homecoming, leaving Zoey & friends to depart the school to make their own way in the tunnels. Again, excellent characters, and no matter how tragic, you'll still laugh out loud more than once.

Collins, Suzanne The Hunger Games

Oh. My. Dog. What am I paying you people for if it's not to insist that I read books this good? All the hype and popularity is well-deserved in this gritty tale of institutionalized cruelty and the teens forced to fight each other for everyone's amusement. You will never forget Katniss Everdeen.

Collins, Suzanne Catching Fire

Katniss has unwittingly become a symbol of rebellion, and her punishment is a return to the Hunger Games along with a slate of other former winners, including Peeta. Dark, depressing, and cruel to be sure, but there are lessons of compassion and honor as well. Katniss, taught from a very early age to make hard decisions, is torn between what she wants and what she has to do to make that happen. Incredible characters and an awesome story.

Collins, Suzanne Mockingjay

Now there's a full-scale rebellion and the rebels want Katniss to be their symbol and rallying point. Peeta is in the hands of the government, calling for Katniss to stand down. Gale's hatred for what the Capitol has done to his people leads him to create ever crueler weapons, and Katniss is slowly realizing that people who resort to inhuman acts to push their agenda are all alike, no matter what their politics.

Cook, Kevin Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything

Titanic Thompson was not just “Runyonesque”--he's the guy Sky Masterson was based on. His life was full of card sharps, hustlers, and gangsters, and it's utterly fascinating.

Crowell, Rodney Chinaberry Sidewalks

Country singer/songwriter Crowell's book is less an autobiography than a study of his parent's turbulent and sometimes violent realtionship and the effect said relationship had on them and on him. There's some terrific detail, and by the end you're encouraged to come to the same peace with these fierce, proud, volatile folks as Crowell did.

Datlow, Ellen Blood and Other Cravings

Datlow's new anthology involves vampires, but makes the point that not all vampires feed on blood. A Datlow anthology is always first rate, and this is no exception. Favorites include "baskerville's Midgets" by Reggie Oliver, "Sweet Sorrow" by Barbara Roden and Carol Emshwiller's "Mrs. Jones."

Feynman, Richard Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Less an autobiography than a manic guy telling stories at a party, Feynman is alternately completely, hilariously fascinating and something of a jerk. It's great to experience his personality first-hand, as it were, but there's not enough contextual detail to really make it stick.

Gangi, Tony Carny Sideshows

Always fascinated with sideshows, Gangi decides to attend the classes offered by the Coney Island sideshow to learn such skills as how to drive a nail your nose, how to lay on a bed of nails, and how to eat fire. Interspersed with his account of learning his new skills (and believe me, no 12-year old boy could be giddier than Gangi about sticking a nail up his nose) are interviews with sideshow folk and a bit of the history of the sideshow, its acts, and its performers.

Kessel, John and James Patrick Kelly Kafkaesque

Co-editors Kessel & James Patrick Kelly have put together a winner: an homage to a very singular writer that's more than one slick pastiche after another. The stories gathered here do manage to evoke Kafka, whether directly by featuring him as a character or riffing on a particular story or indirectly by capturing that mood that is distinctly Kafkaesque. Many favorite stories, including “The Jackdaw's Last Case” by Paul di Fillipo, “Report to the Men's Club” by Carol Emshwiller, & “Bright Morning” by Jeffrey Ford. Highly recommended.

Keyes, Ralph Euphemania

Keyes looks at our fascination with euphemism through the ages and argue that the kinds of things that we create euphemisms for can tell a lot about the society that created them.

Lansdale, Joe R. All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky

The Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the 30s is no place to be. After Jack's mother dies and his father hangs himself, Jack hooks up with Jane & Tony, two other abandoned kids and tries to make to to East Texas to find Jane & Tony's relatives. It's a fast-moving story, with gangsters, crooked lawmen, kind widow-ladies, and carny-folk, but all of that pales once you meet Jane: smart, stubborn, clear-headed, good-hearted, and as gifted a liar as ever came down the pike. It's Jack's story, but just like him, once Jane comes along you'd follow her anywhere.

Lansdale, Joe R. Flaming Zeppelins

Two of Lansdale's alt-history mash-ups together in one package. Book one, "Zeppelin's West," tells the tale of Wild Bill Hickock, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, & the living head of Buffalo Bill Cody (it's kept alive in a jar), the Wild West show, a zeppelin crash, Frankenstein's monster, Captain Nemo, & the wildest version of the Island of Dr. Moreau you're ever likely to see. Book two, "Flaming London," involves Ned the Seal (a talking seal we met in the previous adventure), Mark Twain, Jules Verne, the Flying Dutchman, invaders from Mars, and H.G. Wells himself. Funny, fast-moving, & profane, these books are some of the most enjoyable time I've spent reading.

Lansdale, Joe R. Hyenas

A Hap & Leonard novella along with a short story featuring a teen-age Hap Collins. The novella is pure Hap & Leonard—Leonard's been in a bar fight (the other guys started it) and beaten 3 men bloody (one's had his head pushed through the men's room wall and is still dangling there). Nobody presses charges, but one of the guys tries to hire Leonard to scare his little brother (who's fallen in with a bunch of bank robbers) straight. Hap & Leonard feel sorry for the guy and decide to try, but of course, everything goes wrong in true Hap & Leonard fashion. I really love those guys.

Lansdale, Joe R. Unchained and Unhinged

A collection of Lansdale's columns for Subterranean & some short stories. As fun as reading a Lansdale story is, reading his non-fiction is even moreso. His voice is unmistakeable, a good ol' East Texas drawl that was made for telling stories. You might not agree with what he has to say, but it sure is fun to hear him say it.

Maney, Mabel Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy

Maney, author of some parodies featuring Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys, takes on James Bond. In this light-hearted romp, James Bond is a drunken cad who's been institutionalized for enforced “rest.” When the Queen wants to give him a medal, Bond's masters enlist the aid of his lesbian twin sister Jane to keep the Queen (and everyone else) from finding out Bond's not well. Jane's not much like her famous brother, except, of course, for her fondness for young women, and her adventures as a reluctant spy are quite funny.

McMann, Lisa The Unwanteds

Quill's society is very rigid: the Wanteds are strong and smart & hold privileged positions, the Necessaries are exactly that—necessary for the labor to keep the Wanteds in power, and the Unwanteds, who are all creative. Every year comes the Purge, where all Unwanteds are put to death. Aaron is a Wanted; his twin Alex is Unwanted. When Alex is Purged, he discovers the secret: all the Unwanteds have been saved by a powerful mage, who has created a perfect land for them to fulfill their creativity and grow. Naturally, conflict ensues. Some interesting stuff here, but a bit too one-sided and didactic for me.

Perez-Reverte, Arturo The King's Gold

Upon his return from Flanders, Captain Alatriste and Inigo are hired to steal some gold. The gold technically belongs to the King, but it is undeclared and being smuggled into the country. Of course, this job runs them afoul of old enemies, and of course, things don't go quite according to plan. It has been fun watching Inigo grow up, but I sincerely hope we will soon actually get to see some of the adventures he refers to in his reports. The books are quick, but I'm beginning to want more.

Roberson, Chris Iron Jaw and Hummingbird

Set in Roberson's Celestial Empire, a world where China never turned inward and so went on to be one of the Earth's dominant empires, Iron Jaw & Hummingbird is the tale of two young people, one a child of the streets, one a child of privilege, who together form a rebel army to topple the governor of Mars. It's got action and adventure aplenty, but what really shines for me is the detail of Roberson's world.

Rothfuss, Patrick The Wise Man's Fear

As irritating as the wait for book two was (and I had it a lot lighter than most), it really was worth the wait: huge and detailed with great description and fabulous characters that truly come alive. Talented and hot-headed, the young Kvothe is cunning, clever, naive, and occasionally bone stupid. We get a front row seat on how both his talents and his flaws came together to create a legend. Unbelievably awesome.

Selznick, Brian Wonderstruck

The stories of Ben, a young boy in Minnesota in 1977 (told in words) and Rose, a young girl in New Jersey in 1927 (told in pictures) converge in unexpected ways involving New York City, a bookstore, The Museum of Natural History, and a book called Wonderstruck. Selznick is a wonderful storyteller no matter what medium he's using, and he can make you feel every ounce of hurt or terror or wonder that his characters are experiencing.

Stiefvater, Maggie Forever

Book 3 in Stiefvater's werewolf trilogy brings a nice conclusion. It's not up to book one, but it's better than book two.

Tremlett, Giles Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain & Its Silent Past

British journalist Tremlett, a long-time resident of Spain, looks through Spanish history for clues to understand the Spanish people and why they think and act the way they do. It's a very general overview, and shifts between history and current times, but it's an interesting intro and piques the interest for more detailed explorations.

Vordak the Incomprehensible Rule the School

Since no one used his first book to step up and rule the world, Vordak has unretired to get rid of Commander Virtue once and for all. Unfortunately, a slight problem has left him 12 years old and in middle school. Hilarious misadventures just begging to be read aloud.

Walker, Brian Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau

A lovely retrospective and history of Doonsebury, with some fun biography on Trudeau and some surprising insight on how the comic strip works.

Willingham, Bill Down the Mysterly River

Max the Wolf, intrepid Boy Scout and Bot Detective, comes to with only hazy memories of how he might have gotten to the woods he finds himself in. While trying to figure out what might have happened, he meets a talking badger named Banderbrock. They are both attacked by someone who seems to know who they are and who holds a glowing blue sword that can do amazing things. They escape and along the way meet up with an ugly and irritable yellow tomcat who calls himself MacTavish and a not-too-bright but goodhearted bear named Walden, who fancies himself a sheriff. Still pursued by the Blue Cutters, Max & his gang make their way towards the Wizard Swift to try and solve the mystery of how they all got there. Lots of fun, a ton of humor, and a genuine sweet, gooey heart in Walden the Bear.

Wilson, Edward O. Kingdom of Ants: Jose Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World

A small monograph of Jose Celestino Mutis and his contributions to the study of ants in Central & South America and how that pioneering study shaped how natural history was studied.

Yancey, Rick The Monstrumologist

The Mostrumologist purports to be the journals of Will Henry, born in the late 1800s, orphaned, and taken in by his father's employer, a monstrumologist (one who studies monsters). This well-writen story is dark and disturbing not just for the gory stuff (and there's plenty of gory stuff), but for the character of the monstrumologist himself, a man so self-absorbed he seems incapable of noticing that 12-year old Will is actually a person. The doctor is, indeed monstrous (although not the most monstrous thing you'll run into here), but Yancey manages to make him an object of humor and of pity, too. Well done!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gianna's Challenge: the Answers

We're edging up on a week, and no one has spotted the cowbird hiding in the nest. For those of you playing at home, I will now match the descriptions with their titles:

1. In an alternate, steampunk Victorian England, an opium-addicted special agent must help his assistant and the Queen's chief investigator to find a killer.
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

2. A secret service agent in love with a married woman gets involved with a covert baseball game between the Secret Service and the CIA, and falls into disfavor when he fails to stop the White House chef from serving Spam to the President and an honored guest.
Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter

3. Raleigh Hayes, an upstanding citizen of Thermopylae, N.C., and Mingo Sheffield, his needy next-door neighbor are on a two-week odyssey. They encounter a bizarre cast of characters during their adventures, including Raleigh's criminal half-brother Gates, his prison buddy Weeper Berg, and aging jazzman Toutant Kingstree. Their quest is to recapture Hayes's ailing father, who has escaped from the hospital with a young black woman in a recently-purchased Cadillac convertible, and who has left Raleigh a strange set of tasks to fulfill before a planned rendezvous in New Orleans.
Handling Sin by Michael Malone

4. Frank has built an elaborate device in a giant clock wherein a different death awaits the wasp put into it behind each number. He believes the death 'chosen' by the wasp predicts something about the future. He kills other animals as well, and uses their bodies to "protect" his territory. He occupies himself with his rituals and an array of weapons to control the island and occasionally gets drunk with his dwarf friend Jamie in the local pub. Frank's older brother Eric is in an insane asylum. He escapes and rings Frank from phone boxes informing him he is coming to visit.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

5. A scientist in a surrealist society kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process. When his little brother is kidnapped, a strongman joins forces with a young girl to rescue the children.
City of Lost Children directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro

6. A pilot for a cosmetics company crashes the company plane while having sex. This event causes him to be blacklisted from flying in the United States, so he accepts a lucrative offer from a doctor-missionary on a remote Micronesian island to transport cargo to and from the island and Japan. He moves to the island, along with a male Filipino transvestite navigator and a talking fruit bat.
Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore

7. When their traveling circus begins to fail, a couple devise an idea to breed their own freak show, using various drugs and radioactive material to alter the genes of their children. The results are a boy with flippers for hands and feet; Siamese twins; a hunchbacked albino dwarf; and the normal-looking baby of the family who has telekinetic powers.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

8. Doug Hoover never liked work and he changed jobs and women frequently. Dissatisfied with his current life, he hooks up with Sue Jean and takes off. When he comes to the end of his journey, a wonderful town where everything costs a nickel, he realizes he has died and must decide whether or not to go back in another form. Some of the people he discusses this with are Billy the Kid, the Red Baron, and assorted Wild West and World War I aces. The heaven they are in has cars, dogs, cats, ribs, saloons, and sex.
The Hereafter Gang by Neal Barrett, Jr.

9. Since the death of his young daughter, a successful children's book author has begun seeing the fantastical creatures from his book come to life. He's also being stalked by a lunatic who claims to be his biggest fan.
Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer

10. The president agrees to appear in a series of dangerous illusions for a magician. All seems well, but when the president dies mysteriously hours later, the magician has to flee the country. Pursued by hapless of FBI agents, he falls in love with a beautiful blind woman and confronts an old nemesis bent on destroying him.
Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

11. Recovering from the death of his wife, Jack, an engineer living in Austin, Texas, meets and falls in love with Lily, a perfect beauty except, perhaps, for her wings and clawed bird-feet. Lily is the goddess of the moon and can meet Jack only when the moon is full, and then only if he awaits her outside, stark naked. When this requirement leads to his being arrested for indecent exposure, a motley crew of friends comes to his aid.
Lunatics by Brad Denton

12. In the hospital recuperating from an attack by a rabid squirrel, Hap wonders why his best friend hasn't been by to visit. Turns out that Leonard, upset by his boyfriend leaving him, goes to the biker bar and beats Raul's new man up.When the biker turns up dead later that night, it doesn't take long to guess who the primary suspect is--especially with Leonard nowhere to be found. After Hap checks himself out of the hospital and finds Leonard hiding in his bed, they stumble onto a conspiracy involving gaybasher pornography and Leonard's ready to exact some vigilante justice.
Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale

13. A split-brained data processor is summoned by a deranged scientist and his granddaughter and told that the scientist has devised a perfect secret code by operating on the brains of selected computer workers. Alternating between these encounters with the scientist, the scientist's granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, subterranean monsters and bully-boys bent on finding out what he knows, there is the story of the ancient walled town at the end of the world.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

14. In a near-future city, there's a private dick in a world where asking questions is taboo,leaving memory as his sole resource. Government-distributed mind-altering drugs are everywhere, and each citizen carries to keep track of his or her karma points. Most of the menial work is done by genetically engineered English-speaking, bipedal "evolved" animals, and a kangaroo is gunning for the detective.
Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

15. A highly unorthodox detective and a conjurer by profession whose act has fallen on hard times has cracked some of the city's most notorious murders. Now, he's leading the investigation into a shadowy religious group aiming to overtake London and do away with its oppressive, bourgeois tendencies. His partner—a giant, milk-swigging mute—doesn't appear to be human at all, yet serves as the detective's moral as well as intellectual compass.
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Description #5, although just as odd and compelling as the others, is, in fact, a movie, not a book. The others, in all their glorious awesomeosity, are among my favorite reads.

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 RevolutionSF.com.

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.