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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore mixes books and research with romance and friendship to make a fun, light story. Pop culture references make this book feel a bit like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, but the prevalence of Google and ereaders ground the story in the present.
Robin Sloan's narrator, Clay, is an employed designer, thanks to the most recent market bubble bursting. Desperate for a job and passing a narrow, tall bookstore with a hiring sign, he pops in and speaks with the owner, Mr. Penumbra. He gets the job, but wonders at the small selection of books that are for sale and would appeal to the general public versus the more obscure books that are borrowed by members. How does the store stay afloat if they sell so little?
Another fortuitous event, aside from employment, occurs at the bookstore. Clay meets Kat, an ambitious designer and programmer at Google, who found one of his ecoupons and is cute and may be interested in him. Not many new visitors came as a result of his coupons, but Clay talks up the place to his friends and roommates in order to get some of their business. These friends are unique and make great characters to fill out a cast of what eventually becomes something of a small adventure.
I'm being vague to avoid spoiling anything. I can safely say, however, that fans of the fore-mentioned Ready Player One or Douglas Coupland's JPod will likely enjoy Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Like those books, Penumbra presents a young male protagonist and the relationships and friends that keep him afloat. Honestly, though, I'd recommend this to any fiction reader.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
July 5th, 2012 was the fifth wedding anniversary for Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne. They did not celebrate the day together. In the bestseller "Gone Girl", author Gillian Flynn takes the classic elements of a good mystery novel and transforms the story into a psychological thriller by shining a provocative lens onto the intimate details of a fragile marriage. Circumstances trigger that which once was meant to be private and between husband and wife into tantalizing fodder for a hungry public.
The story begins in New York City where Nick and Amy work for different magazines, Amy as a quiz writer and Nick as an editor. A decline in the economy leads to the loss of their jobs. This event coincides with a change in family obligations, and the couple moves their lives to Nick's hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. Nick partners with his twin sister to open a bar, and Amy settles into the role of reluctant housewife governed by Midwest values and traditions.
The "normalcy" ends here when a single event catapults husband Nick into a dark journey of suspicion, fear, and uncertainty. As his life unravels, and boundaries of truth and fantasy are tested, the audience is left to wonder if Nick is actually the victimizer or the victim.
Readers are introduced to a colorful cast of supporting characters including eccentric parents, a faithful twin sister, old flame, new flame, a nosy neighbor, a flamboyant lawyer, and two "cops" borrowed from a formula detective novel. The media also steps in as a main character to manipulate public opinion based on perceptions of the present without any knowledge of the past. Lines of guilt and innocence are blurred by flashing cameras, waiting reporters, and daily news updates. The resulting headlines are recognized as being eerily similar to those highlighting actual events of today or those in recent memory. The power given information to put Nick and Amy's future in jeopardy is nothing short of scary.
The most intense lens of scrutiny is shined into the marriage. The layers of love between husband and wife are put on trial well outside of a courtroom, and many questions beg to be answered. How well do spouses actually know each other before committing a remaining lifetime to one another? Do men and women present a true self or assume a fictional identity for personal gain? Does love morph into something unrecognizable over time? When is the actual moment that stops the clock and ignites change? One can lift up the kitchen blinds each morning to the same landscape until one morning the view out the window may look different. What happened during the night?
"Gone Girl" assembles a collection of short stories and holds them together tightly with two well-developed characters in Nick and Amy. The "he said, she said" format is very effective as it builds towards a wild conclusion that keeps the reader turning the pages in anticipation. The novel is a true reading maze, and amidst each twist and turn, one fact remains crystal clear: the honeymoon is over!
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Kenneth Ray Rogers traveled a long way from roots in the “projects” of Houston Texas. He knows what it is like to eat beans and rice for dinner, father a child while a senior in high school, suffer through multiple divorces, feel guilt over estrangement of his older children, and he was downright broke when most of us would think he was living well. His is a true rags to riches story of overcoming adversity with a lot of bumps along the road. Rogers got his start performing in a high school band called The Scholars, even though the band members were all C students. Then it was on to LA and Nashville with the First Edition’s smash psychedelic hit, Just Dropped in to See What Condition my Condition Was in to mega-stardom with Ruby, Don’t Take your Love To Town, Lucille, Coward of the County. His duets with Dottie West, Lionel Richie, and Dolly Parton are part of his best work as an artist. Through it all Kenny said the most important things to him were family, friends, and memories. He has amassed a life time of experiences. A breezy read.
Monday, January 28, 2013
This is a very worthy reference text for cooks at any level. Yes, you can now “Google” white sauce, etc and get any amount of suggestions, but this book was my go to place for all things cooking before that option was available. And it still holds.
Did you read about a cooking method that you have questions about? Have a recipe with an ingredient you have never heard of? Need to know what, if anything, you can substitute for an ingredient you do not have? Need some measurement equivalents? How about conversions? Nutritional information of ingredients? A picture of the fish called for in a recipe, as well as a detailed description of the same? Information about poultry production? Obviously I am just scratching the surface here, but there is a lot of useful information in this cookbook.
My favorite edition is the All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking that came out in 1997. The 2006 75th Anniversary Edition has a lot of new and updated recipes. It is edited by Ethan Becker, Irma Rombauer’s grandson. He applies his “cooking school pizzazz”, but when I compare recipes side by side, I find the recipes from the 1997 edition more to my liking. (My all time favorite pumpkin pie recipe, which includes a whipped cream with brandy topping, is from that edition).
In addition to the wealth of information within, the book is a joy to read. There is much humor, as well as explanations for why they do things the way they do, and how they came to that conclusion. These are woven seamlessly into the recipes. The authors are not the stars of the books, nor were they ever really celebrities. (I remember a contest question asking “who was the author of Joy of Cooking”. Few knew the answer at the time).
While Joy of Cooking is not they only cookbook I use, it is the most indispensable cookbook that I own. If you have never experienced the joy of Joy of Cooking, I highly recommend that you take a peek.
The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012)
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The short version: This informative book should appeal to supporters of both wealthy job creators and 99%-ers, as well as anyone interested in current events or the way money shapes our world.
Chrystia's Freeland's Plutocrats surprised me--I was fascinated by her analysis of how the super rich came to be, how their actions are shoring up their position, how they think about wealth and the less wealthy, and how they affect the rest of us. But I was most impressed and surprised by Freeland's commitment to producing an unbiased text. That's not to say there isn't a bias--a major point of the book is that the growing income inequality in the US is bad for the US, especially the middle class--but this isn't an opinion piece. She neither mocks the wealthy, nor plays the part of Robin Leach taking us into their fabulous lives.
Freeland pulls a wealth of history (US political and economic policy history, global economic development history, etc.) and economic theory (everyone from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman and current academics) into the story of how the global super rich came to be. And it's not just the risky entrepreneurs who were in the right place at the right time, like the Indian founders of InfoSys who were faced with a growing class of English-speaking educated people who could provide over the phone tech support for a much lower price than workers in developed countries. One chapter covers superstars, including investors, musicians, and chefs, and the premiums they command from those who can afford hiring them for private party performances (like the banker birthday party appearance by Elton John).
As I mentioned, her commitment to balance is amazing. She includes quotes from plutocrats arguing that the outsourcing of American jobs to developing countries is a good thing because it will help create a global middle class, while maintaining in her conclusion that income inequality--both in the US and overseas--is harmful politically and economically to those at the bottom. This timely, well-researched and expertly written documentary of a global movement would appeal to anyone interested in current events and economic issues. Readers looking for a partisan piece--supporting the job-creating super-rich or struggling 99%-ers--could learn quite a bit from reading this, but be disappointed in its lack of evidence-less claims and charged rhetoric.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Jacob Portman loves his grandfather, who tells him fabulous stories about his childhood adventures and kids he once knew. As Jacob gets older, and his grandfather disappears on mysterious hunting trips, they start to grow apart. Jacob begins to doubt the truth of his grandfather’s stories, and asks him whether they really happened. His grandfather pulls out some faded photos of childhood friends, and they are very peculiar. After this Jacob begans to doubt the truth of the stories.
When Jacob is 16, the mysterious and sudden death of his grandfather causes him to imagine things—or are they real? He finally decides to follow the clues his grandfather spoke with his dying breath. His quest to discover the truth takes him on a journey he could never have imagined.
This atmospheric debut novel features good writing, well-drawn characters and a twisting and turning plot. The haunting photographs add depth to the story. This book should be especially attractive to middle school and older students who have already read books such as the Lemony Snicket series. There are mild horror aspects, as the story does have monsters and descriptions of violence. Adults and older teens will enjoy the imaginative story and unique photos.
Monday, January 14, 2013
I came to become a fan of Ivan Coyote through seeing videos of her telling stories. My interest in reading her first novel, Bow Grip, comes from feeling connected to her as a person through her stories. You can have this same experience easily as she's got quite a few videos embedded on her site at: http://www.ivanecoyote.com/videos
But you don't need to know Coyote to read this book. Unlike her collections which contain autobiographical stories, this story is fictional. It centers around Joseph, a man in Drumheller, Alberta, who runs an auto shop and trades a car to a man called "The Cowboy" for a cello, the precipitating event of the story. Joseph feels it's a good trade as his mother and sister have been on him to get a hobby as a way to get his mind off his wife, Allison. She left him with the wife of another Drumheller man to live in Calgary, and Joseph has been understandably down about this.
Joseph winds up having a human adventure. The man he traded with disappears, and Joseph finds evidence of a woman he's connected to who may be living in Calgary. Also, while he's there searching for him, he might as well drop off the last of the books his wife left at their home. And why not seek out a cello teacher? No way is he going to find one in a little town like Drumheller.
In Calgary, Joseph befriends all sorts of people, and this connecting with others forms the heart of the story. At the beginning, I mentioned that I grabbed this book because I am a fan of Ivan, that I feel connected to her through her stories. Interestingly, this story is all about humans connecting with one another, and the ability to heal provided by these connections. And Joseph seems to learn about himself even as the reader learns how he interacts with and reacts to others.
It took this book to make me realize how much other stories I've read lately amplify the human experience to an unnecessary degree, not to mention how aggressively they thrive on conflict and the negative aspects of life. This is an excellent, quiet, authentic story that can make you feel human, happy, and whole.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Volume 1 of Bakuman introduces Moritaka Mashiro, an 8th grade student with decent grades and a habit of drawing in his notebooks during class. His drawing talent is noticed by Akito Takagi, fellow and best student in Mashiro's class. Takagi attempts to persuade Mashiro to join him in creating manga--he'll write and Mashiro can draw. Takagi's a skilled operator and manages to get Mashiro's crush, a classmate named Miho, involved, climaxing with a humorous scene in which Mashiro ultimately agrees to Takagi's plan. They know it will be grueling and require sacrifices, like giving up on any sort of elite schooling, but at the end of volume 1 they're dedicated to their goal.
This is an interesting story and I may grab subsequent volumes. The characters are enjoyably authentic, the artwork is high quality among manga, and the story is inspirational--how can I not pull for these young men facing terrible odds? The characters' view of the role of women is questionable, but growth in this area may be part of the overall story--they're in middle school, so I expect they'll grow over the course of the 20 volume series.
I'd recommend this to any teen or adult manga fan. I notice that this series is not as popular as other current manga titles at our library, but it might see more use if Death Note fans knew that Bakuman is by Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Perhaps it is the time of year, but I love reading books about trees, especially books that include awesome pictures of trees. One of my favorites is Thomas Pakenham’s” Remarkable Trees of the World”. His previous book, “Meetings With Remarkable Trees” concentrated on trees in Britain and Ireland, but this book takes him all around the world. Each featured tree is illuminated with a large picture and a page or so written about why it is included in the book. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite.
A book I have been waiting to hold in my hands is Lewis Blackwell’s “The Life and Love of Trees”. It is on order for the library, and has been for a few months now. I decided to buy it myself, and found out why it may be taking so long. This book was published in 2009 and very well received, but for some reason, it is out of print. Existing copies are selling for over $100.00. I thought I’d found one for $35.00 through an online seller, but when I didn’t hear anything about my order after a couple weeks, I inquired and found it had been cancelled. I could re-order at the higher price.
The book has very beautiful images. Even if we never get the book in, I encourage you to look it up and browse the images that are online. Here is a link to some good ones:
While waiting for this book to arrive, I looked through the catalog to find more tree books I might like and found one called “Seeing Trees” by Nancy Ross Hugo. The sub title-Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees-hints at the wonders inside. This book concentrates on glorious close up shots of leaf buds and flowers and seeds that are often overlooked when observing the whole tree. There is a lot to see and it is worth seeing. Robert Llewellyn’s photography is stunning.
Another tree book that I have on hold is called “The Meaning of Trees: botany, history, healing, lore/by Fred Hageneder. In addition to 70 pictures, the book includes botanical qualities, medicinal uses and cultural symbolism. I can’t wait to read it!
Monday, January 7, 2013
Wonderful book. The lighthouse captivated me right from the start. Seeing them in New England when I was a child gives them a special place in my imagination. I have always wanted to stay in one. My mother has told us only recently that dad actually thought about chucking it all and buying one. But back to the book. I loved it and had a hard time putting it down. The characters were alive, and every single thing felt real. There is much pain and sadness, but you feel it inside yourself without actually having to wade through depressing text. Very artfully written, hard to believe this is a first novel. Yes, I cried.
The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a former one-term congressman and two-time failed senate candidate from Illinois. Despite this feeble resume, he managed to outmaneuver the top leaders of the Republican party—all far more experienced and better known than Lincoln—and win the nomination for president. Once elected, and as the southern states began pulling out of the Union, Lincoln selected these same political rivals as the members of his new cabinet.
In this best-selling history, Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of Lincoln’s relationship with these men and how their struggles to work together (or against one another) influenced the course of the Civil War. Goodwin writes with style and vigor, providing riveting portraits of all the main characters, with a novelistic tone. Team of Rivals is also the source for Steven Spielberg’s coming film biography of Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field.
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