Archive for the '2014 Books' Category

“Who Bombed the Train?” by Judith Yates Borger

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


Who Bombed the Train? is by my friend Judith Yates Borger, so I am admittedly biased in writing about it. I’m so proud of anyone I know who manages to put in the blood, sweat, and tears on the way to publication. It’s a hard, long process not only to write a book but to follow it through to publication.

This is the third book in the Skeeter Hughes series. You can read the three books in order but each can also stand alone. In this outing, someone bombs the commuter rail and soon after Skeeter is embroiled in the search to find out who did it. The book features a nice cast of possible suspects to keep you involved to the end, and has an interesting character reveal at the end that was both surprising but made perfect sense in context.

Most interestingly for me, it dealt with racism and prejudice against the Somali community, something that is unfortunately timely, and depressingly likely to remain so.

Skeeter is an interesting flawed character, trying to juggle a demanding job in a declining industry, a wobbly marriage and two daughters. It was fun to spend time with her again.

“Fables v. 20: Camelot”

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Like Unwritten, Fables the comic series is coming to a close. In this collection, Camelot, we have tension between sisters Snow White and Rose Red. Snow is being fierce while Rose is being stubborn about what is probably a bad idea. Leigh Duglas is up to no good, and what’s going to happen with Bigby Wolf? I enjoyed this collection a lot more than I did the previous one, Snow White, and especially the issue set in something like the afterlife.

The Unwritten v9, 10: Fables & War Stories

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

As the comic-book series The Unwritten closes in on its ending, I read the two latest collections, Unwritten: Fables and Unwritten: War Stories, back to back.

I had a moment of panic when I started Unwritten: Fables, which crosses over with the Vertigo series. The Fables-verse seemed in a very strange place from where I remembered it. Quick answer: don’t panic. This is like an elseworlds, it doesn’t fit into strict continuity, things are weird in the Fables world of this book because the Unwritten world has de-stabilized all stories. Just go with it and enjoy it, and appreciate the many similarities and differences. As always, I liked spending time with Frau Totenkinder.

The Unwritten: War Stories
has Tom recovering from the events in Fables. All the war stories begin to come alive, and Pauly Bruckner has some more tough times.

These were tantalizing reads as the series is about to end, and I’m hoping the creative team can stick the landing. As I’ve mentioned before, this series is full of geeky goodness, and fans of Sandman, Fables, and other mythic literature will likely enjoy it.

“Saga v1″ by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

The Saga comic-book series has quickly developed a rabid fan base. Vaughan is a popular writer, but I had problems with his former series Y the Last Man (too static art), and Ex Machina (hated the ending). Saga, though, reminded me of his earlier work on Runaways, which I enjoyed a lot more. Saga volume 1 collects the beginning of the series.

Vaughan describes it as “Star Wars for perverts” and that’s not inaccurate. It’s not for the weak of stomach, and has graphic violence, horror, and sex. It also has a great sense of humor, a winning cast featuring star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, a ghost babysitter, a sidekick cat who can tell who is lying, a living tree spaceship, and more, more, more. And Fiona Staples’ art is entertaining as all get out.

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I liked Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero as I read it, then even more when I read the back matter detailing the admittedly sketchy history of the actual Golden Age comics hero The Green Turtle.

Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints) writes and Liew illustrates, and it’s a good partnership. Like American Born Chinese, this mixes myth and the struggle of Chinese Americans. The main character is Hank, a young man who works in his father’s Chinatown grocery. The balance of realism, superhero tropes and Chinese myths drew me in quickly. This is a fun read with serious undertones, historical echoes, plus, perhaps my favorite part: Turtle God!

“Rat Queens v1: Sass and Sorcery”

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

A friend recommended Rat Queens volume 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. The premise had promise: “Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!” Plus, the back cover was plastered with promising blurbs.

Alas, it came off to me more as male wish fulfillment: women are boozy and foul mouthed and want sex with women, men and orcs!

Hey, I’m all for boozy, cussin’, sexy strong chicks. But Rat Queens just didn’t ring true for this girl geek. I did laugh at the bluebirds in the healers’ beard, though.

“The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sheri Tepper

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


Yet another of the books my husband G has recommended that I’ve put off for a long time is The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. What moved it off the shelf was reading Patricia Weaver Francisco’s excellent Telling, a memoir of Rape and Recovery, which got me thinking about rape, and rape culture, and how fed up I am with Violence Against Women as a staple of media entertainment.

I freely admit, G. was right. This was a terrific book, a compelling read with strong women characters, interesting philosophy, good men, bad men, and a nice plot twist at the end which I didn’t see coming but made perfect sense when it did.

Women’s Country is a gated community. Warrior men live outside and protect the gates. They’re let in twice a year to drink and have sex at carnival. Any boy children that result are taken to the garrison at 5, but allowed to return to Women’s Country at when they’re older if they choose. Most don’t. Outside of the women’s cities there are swaths of wasteland, and a creepy religious community.

What I loved about this book was the main character Stavia and her mother, and the details of what a post-nuclear world and establishment of matriarchy would look like. The creation of this admittedly reductive, sexist future world highlights the ongoing sexist struggle that’s shown in the repetitive representation in popular media of violence against women, as well as its continuing reality.

Less successful for me was the interspersing of a community drama of ghosts after the Trojan war, which is supposed to be satire, but doesn’t always read as such, some of which is the point, but other parts of which didn’t jive for me.

(ghost of)ACHILLES: How can I force obedience on this? In other times I’ve used the fear of death to make a woman bow herself to me. If not the fear of her own death, then fear for someone else, a husband or a child. How can I bend this woman to my will?
(ghost of)POLYXENA: I think I will not bend.
IPHIGENIA: You see, it’s as we’ve tried to tell you, Great Achilles. Women are no good to you dead.

What didn’t work, and was especially troubling to me, was the quick dismissal of homosexuality as simply genetic, and something to be “corrected” in vitro. Yikes. Everyone was male or female and supposed to be heterosexual. Reducing these complex realities, and dismissing the complex people they represent from the real world, is a major disappointment in an otherwise stirring work, and dates it.

“It All Began with ‘Jane Eyre’ or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman” by Sheila Greenwald

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

When I was searching for books from my childhood to recommend to my 8yo, after I found The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster by Sheila Greenwald, I saw she had another book entitled It All Began with Jane Eyre or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman. Since Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, I checked this out from the library too.

Oh my goodness, what a bizarre, clever, and entertaining relic of a book this is! Published in 1980, its mindset is definitely 70’s New York and the era of Ms. magazine.

Franny is chastised by her parents on two counts. One for hiding in her closet reading and eating potato chips. The other is that she took her favorite book to such an extreme that she began to see echoes of Jane Eyre in real life, going so far to believe the headmaster at her school had a mad wife at home. When one of her friends ratted on Franny, everyone thought she was beyond weird, since the wife of headmaster wasn’t mad and in the attic, only getting her masters at Columbia.

Franny’s mother gets her a new set of books, all about so-called real life, including divorce, abortion, affairs, and diabetes. Franny is urged by teachers and her family to journal about real life, not about Jane Eyre. But Franny starts to read rather too much into the people around her. Is her father having an affair, is her sister’s friend pregnant?

Franny is funny, and smart, and I especially loved her single-minded passion for Jane Eyre:

How she hated the idea of Authors and Authoresses. She could hardly bring herself to look at their photographs on the backs of books. She didn’t like the thought of them meddling in what she believed to be Real Life.


don’t talk to me about Bronte again. I read Jane Eyre, not Bronte.

I was utterly charmed by Franny, and could relate so much to her attempts to lose herself in literature, and I liked the satire of the 70’s young-adult problem novels.

But I didn’t urge this one on either of my sons. Satire and 70’s NYC and the Equal Rights Amendment were a fun fascinating read for me but I’d be hard put to explain it to them.

“The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster” by Sheila Greenwald

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

As part of the recent attempt to get my kids reading novels, my 8yo son Guppy discovered and devoured several of my husband’s old McGurk mysteries by E. W. Hildick. This got me poking around, trying to remember some of my favorites from when I was his age and one of the books and titles that stuck with me all these decades later was Sheila Greenwald’s The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster.

This book was a delight to revisit. Mariah is the odd one out in a family of bookish nerds. She’s an entrepreneur, constantly being told to quit her scheming and read a book. In a lovely a ha moment, she realized she can combine both those things: her schemes and her family’s love of books:

Mariah tripped on a stack of unshelved volumes. She flopped on the sofa and picked up one of the tumbled books and looked around her at the piles and piles and shelves and shelves of them. She was surrounded. And then it hit her. The best idea she had ever had in her life…

ThiS new idea had everything. It filled a crying need…It involved practically no investment. She had the market and she had the goods. (13-14)

Mariah is a smart and funny main character, and I winced at the affectionate swipes at bookish families with piles of books around. Our house resembles that, and given Guppy’s resistance to reading novels, it was very timely.

Alas, Guppy wants nothing to do with this book. It has a girl in the title, a girl on the cover, and I suggested it to him too many times. It was a lovely flashback for me, though, plus it led me to another, very interesting and surprising book, which I’ll write about next, It All Began with Jane Eyre, or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman, also by Sheila Greenwald.

“Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery” by Patricia Weaver Francisco

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

A friend in the MFA program at Hamline knows I’m writing some non-fiction-y memoir stuff and strongly recommended I read Lit by Mary Karr and Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery by Patricia Weaver Francisco who teaches at Hamline.

impressed and moved me. In it, the author braids several strands together: an account of her rape and the aftermath, information on rape and trauma and assault, modern scenes with her young son to who she is reading Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, and her continually accruing insights and aha moments from the ten-plus years after the assault.

Francisco gets into nooks and crannies of meaning and emotion that surprised me, jarred me, and kept me thinking and feeling long after I finished this book. It’s an extraordinary book.

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman

Friday, October 10th, 2014

FYI to those who find this book in the comic shop, this is not an all-ages tale.

Longtime readers know I have a complicated reader relationship with Neil Gaiman. I like most of his stuff, love some of it, and don’t care for some of it. These on their own would be fine, but what bugs me is how he is well nigh deified by geek people who embrace all he creates uncritically. I have some criticism of this book.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a fantasy tale set in Scotland, invented by Gaiman from a myth about a cave, and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. It began as a live show, and morphed into this book over time. The narrator is an unnamed man, a little person, who hires another man to take him to the mythic misty isle where there is allegedly a cave of gold.

The story of the two men, and their journey and its end, overall, is a good one, and Campbell’s illustrations, both paint and pen, are great at conveying the story, which is sometimes an illustrated text, sometimes a comic. There are secrets and lies and surprises.

The problem is with the female characters. One is beaten and raped by her husband while the other men listen and do not act. Another is killed which sets the story of one of the men in motion. A third is an old fortune teller. They fit too easily into one of Gaiman’s favorite tropes, mother/maiden/crone.

While reading reviews of this book, I learned a term called “women in refrigerators” coined back in ‘99 by comic-book writer Gail Simone about how minor and under-characterized women were so often brutalized and murdered so that a man’s story may then unfold. This is not only a common trope in comics, but in books, movies and tv.

One character’s sole purpose is to set the two men’s stories in motion. She is not characterized though she is given a name (unlike the poor raped and beaten wife, who is not).

Women are objects of violence in this story, and while that happens in real life, and isn’t something that should be silenced, I feel it’s a poor, poor thing to use violence against women as a plot point to further a male character’s story.

So while the male characters stories are interesting, and the art is arresting, the whole of it left a nasty taste in my brain. Female characters should be more than tropes.

If you’re going to include violence against women in your work, make your character complex, and don’t use her as an object of horror, or the catalyst for some guy.

“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright

Thursday, September 18th, 2014


Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief began as a long article in The New Yorker, and was expanded to book form. Sometimes, this type of expansion works, e.g., Bradley Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, though I know some wouldn’t agree with me on that. Sometimes it doesn’t, as in Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein, which seemed stretched thin at book length.

Going Clear, though a densely formatted 372 pages with many endnotes and a lengthy bibliography, was a thumping good read I found hard to put down.

Starting with the biography of founder L. Ron Hubbard, Wright carefully relates details and background that make it possible to see how the magnetism and energy of a charismatic man was able to draw people in, first to Dianetics, and later to Scientology. Hubbard began his writing career, though, as a writer of science fiction for pulp magazines, and became skilled at creating a lot of content in a little time, which he did until the end of his life.

Science fiction invites the writer to grandly explore alternative worlds and pose questions about meaning and destiny.

One interesting question Wright poses is that if Hubbard didn’t believe, and only wanted to make money, why would he continue to work until his death to shape the religion he’d begun?

An easy, facile way to read this book is to dismiss Hubbard and Scientologists as “crazy” and to marvel at some of the astonishing details and anecdotes.

But more interesting, I found, was to ruminate on legitimacy questions of new religions versus older ones, messiah and prophet figures, those who start religions and those to carry it on, and why Scientology has been so alternately demonized as a cult and embraced by followers. (I am reminded of the band Coldplay here, irreverently). Someone in the book comments at one point that the Scientologists seem like such decent people.

What made Wright’s book an entertaining read for me was the history and anecdotes. He structures it around the difficult separation from Scientology of writer/director Paul Haggis. In this area, though, I think the book sometimes falters. Some of the anecdotes are told out of sequence, and some transitions are jarring. Plus, it’s clear from the endnotes that so much of Haggis’ and others’ testimony is he said/she said. The people speaking against the church would be psychologically more likely to exaggerate negatives after departure in order to internally support a difficult decision.

I highly recommend the book as a way to learning more about a controversial subject. It’s impressively detailed and researched, and makes me continue to think about who and why and when certain individuals would be drawn to Scientology, or psychiatry (which Scientology disputes), or any religion.

Best Intentions: Kid Readalong

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Making this post even more pathetic is how late it is.

At the beginning of the summer, I was all full of vim and vigor and determined to be a good summer parent. “We are going to have a family reading project!” I announced.

The enthusiasm was not infectious.

The idea was that my two boys, 8yo Guppy and nearly 11yo at the time Drake would read a book then write its title, author and a sentence about it in a notebook. I would read the same books, and we’d talk about them.

Great idea, right? Except that they both devoured all five Percy Jackson books in a week, not possible for me to follow suit given that I’m in three books groups AND FLIRTING WITH TWO OTHERS, WTH?

So I managed to re-read both Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.

All three of us liked them, we even dragged my husband G. Grod in, but the idea of all four of us reading the same books over the summer was ______

Like Mad Libs, let’s fill in the adjectives: bat$shit crazy? Crazytown bananapants? Well intentioned? Misguided? Delusional? Dumb? Silly?

And that just addresses the “all read the same book” premise. I surprisingly didn’t get much pushback on “let’s all read novels so you put down those stupid Garfield and Foxtrot collections” aspect. What I did receive floods of complaints on was the writing three things in a notebook. A couple samples:


This is Drake’s. He obviously NEEDS practice on his handwriting. Translated:

The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. Well, Westing/McSouthers/Eastman/Northrup was right; I would not buy something called Windkloppel toilet tissues!

He correctly used a semicolon, but cannot capitalize correctly.


This was from 8yo Guppy. Translation:

The Sea of Monsters. Rick Riordan. Percy sails over a a title (sea of monsters).

While using the title as a noun is clever, this is merely restating the picture on the cover. Nice try, Guppy. It was better than this one, though.


A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel. Madeleine L’engle. It is science fiction. There are people.

And that was what eventually got me to give up. At which point they stopped reading novels.

So, thanks to me, the road to hell has yet another brick.

I won’t give up, though. I’m biding my time, gathering my strength, like that titan in Percy Jackson does (I just started #4). Novels, and loving them, are just too important to give up on.

And, Drake’s handwriting still needs work. As does Guppy’s smartassery.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014


A book is a depth that presents itself as a surface.

Yes, I re-read Moby Dick. On purpose. I’d like to say it was a complete success, and that I’m glad I did. What I will says is that it was culturally useful, intermittently entertaining, and I don’t regret it. Am I damning it with faint praise? Hard to say. Then again, who am I to say about such a monolith of culture. It’s a classic for many reasons, and I can agree on lots of them, like the beauty of the prose, the slippery narration of Ishmael, the devilish character of Ahab, and more.

Whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.

A group of Twin Cities reader friends and I read about 35 pages a week over several months, then blogged or tweeted about them afterward. It was a reasonable pace, mostly easy to fit into life. Like I did with Bleak House and David Copperfield before it (both of which I read with some of the same people), I usually set aside Sunday to read the pages. While I found that a treat with Bleak House, it was something less of a treat for David Copperfield (which I half-joke didn’t really pick up until about page 485) and Moby Dick.

warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs

I’m going to put forth an idea that many will find heretical and offensive: I might have enjoyed and appreciated Moby Dick better as an abridged book. I felt similarly when I read Les Miserables and The Grapes of Wrath. All three books interrupt the narrative with informational chapters. They were the opposite of today’s writing mantra of “show don’t tell,” and instead very deliberately showed AND told.

the bread contained the only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was not very light, and it was very easy to step over into a dark corner when you ate it.

Perhaps this makes me an immature and inexperienced reader, a cretin or philistine, but I love to learn things via story. The herky-jerky nature of these particular books, in which the authors insert information dumps along the way, isn’t conducive to reading pleasure or learning for me. I want what Ahab does in the chapter “Leg and Arm”: “Spin me the yarn” already!

In Noah’s flood, he despised Noah’s Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.

But the story, a smattering of the pastiche style, and the prose among other stellar attributes, drew me through, as did the accountability of reading in a group. Am I glad I did? Yes, mostly. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Maybe. There are so many books. Another classic might have suited me just as well or better.

Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.

I feel bad about being so ambivalent, but to be otherwise would be dishonest. To counter my concerns, though, I’m including some of my favorite quotes, and as you can see, there are many. One thing most people don’t mention is that Moby Dick can be a very funny book at times.

Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head.

As I read the book, I mentally chastised myself for my immature mental snickering at phallic or homo-erotic passages. That’s right, I’m a 46-year-old woman who considers myself a decent human being, and I kept feeling like I was laughing at penis jokes.

Then when I went to the Introduction after I finished (which I was so glad about–since it gave away the ending, and the ending doesn’t happen till the very end. No such thing as denouement for Melville.) Tony Tanner wrote that the homo-eroticism and phallic imagery was intended, and even meant as humor:

the sense or the suspicion of homosexuality, or at least of homo-eroticism, is unavoidable….Erotic feellings are engendered toa point which reads like a mixture of orgasmic ecstasy and comic exaggeration….in his ludic, hyperbolic way Meliville is inscribing a reminder of how the erotic imppulse is crucial in gnerating insticncts and impulses towards inter-connectedness, inter-subjectivity–indeed, inter-penetration. No man is an island….

Melville’s belief [is] that phallus-worship is somewhere at the source of all religions.

Does all that make it OK that I stifled snickers at the penis jokes?

Probably not.

Passages such as:

Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say,–Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill humour or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.


Ahab’s harpoon…remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch…; the sea…had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire…like a serpent’s tongue

Writing this post made me feel like a very poor reader and human being. I’ll keep trying.

“Smile” and “Sisters” by Raina Telgemaier

Friday, September 12th, 2014

smile sisters

I read Raina Telgemaier’s second book, Drama, before I read her first, the comic-book memoir Smile. I liked Drama, but didn’t love, and figured I’d check out Smile at my leisure.

In the comic shop a few weeks ago, they had a box set of Smile plus Telgemaier’s new book, Sisters. I hemmed and hawed about buying them. You know the drill–not supposed to spend money, not supposed to buy more books, not sure I’ll like them, blah, blah, blah. Then, to absolutely no one’s surprise, I bought them.

To MY surprise, however, I was not the first one to read them. 11yo Drake and 8yo Guppy tore into them as soon as we got into the car, then traded, then re-read them. I’d bought them for me, hoping the boys might, maybe, be interested in these books even if they were about girls. Both boys had read both books multiple times by the time I got to them.

And they’re just lovely. Smile is the story of Raina’s childhood accident when she loses her two front permanent teeth, and has to navigate dentral trauma and drama in her early teens. Sisters is another window that focuses on her relationship with her younger sister Amara, and a cross-country car trip in a van.

The art is well done and accessible, the stories and emotions full of stuff to relate to. It was a joy to visit Raina’s childhood both times, even when it was difficult and sad.

A few days later, one of Drake’s friends down the street borrowed the books, then returned them. Apparently his mom and older brother had also read and enjoyed them in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’ve ever bought books that were so loved by so many, so quickly! A definite win.

“Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel” by Jason Padgett

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


I first saw Jason Padgett’s Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel reviewed in Entertainment Weekly. The premise fascinated me. In his twenties, Padgett was a muscle-built party boy. One night he got beat up outside a bar, and after that is a different person, interested in math, and able to see mathematical patterns in everyday sights like water in the sink, or dew on leaves. As he fought to manage the post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional repercussions from his brain injury, he comes to embrace his new love of and interest in math, and goes on to have a very different life than anyone expected and becomes the first documented case of acquired savant syndrome with mathematical synesthesia

Padgett narrated the book to the co-author, Maureen Ann Seaberg. It felt sometimes as if the book needed a tighter editor for some of Padgett’s anecdotes. But the story was so compelling to me, as was the insight into brain and cognitive science, that these far outweighed my quibbles with style.

“Blessed are the Meek” by Kristi Belcamino

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Kristi is a friend of mine, and one of my writing buddies, so I am predisposed to like her books. Blessed are the Meek is the second in her Gabriella Giovanni series, which began with Blessed are the Dead.

Gabriella is a newspaper reporter in San Francisco from a big Italian Catholic family. She’s got an Irish Catholic cop boyfriend, so things seem to be looking up from the challenging ending of Blessed are the Dead until the boyfriend’s ex turns up. Then a lot of other people start turning up dead.

In Blessed are the Dead, we knew who the bad guy was, but didn’t know how things would play out. In this sequel, we don’t know who is causing the trouble, or why, so there’s a strong “what happens next” factor that kept me turning pages to the end.

I enjoy spending time with Gabriella. She’s kind of a mess, but tries to keep it together at work and with her family. There’s also a lot of well-described food in the books, and I love a good book with good food. If you’re a mystery fan, this is a compelling page turner.

“Embroideries” and “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

I followed up my recent re-reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis with two of her other memoirs about her family, Embroideries, and Chicken with Plums.


Embroideries expands on the life of Marjane’s grandmother, and stories are told by her and her friends in regular women’s gathering for tea. The stories are about marriage, sex, love, and its lack. The intimate setting of a small living room contrasts with the oppressive regime outside in Iran, and makes this small book a real gem.


Chicken with Plums is the story of one of Satrapi’s great-uncles, a musician in an unhappy marriage. In flashbacks, we learn his history in music and love. This is the second time I read the book, and both times it failed to connect with me emotionally as Satrapi’s other books did. Neither the story nor images remain with me, as they do from the other books.

“Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie” by Gaiman/Vess

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


After I finished re-reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I felt ambivalent, meaning torn, not indifferent. My favorite part of the book was the Hempstock family. A friend told me that the Hempstocks appeared in two other Gaiman works, Stardust and The Graveyard Book. I took my lovely edition of the graphic novel off a dusty shelf and dove in, probably for the first time since I read it in the individual issues when they came out in 19xx, and subsequently earned a World Fantasy Award. After that, Gaiman made a prose novel out of it, and after that it was turned into a movie. But before all that, it was a four-issue comic-book series, and that is what I re-read.

The tale starts with a young man named Dunstan Thorn, but soon shifts to the future and Dunstan’s son Tristan, who makes a rash promise to a pretty girl. An adventure in the land of Faerie begins, which includes murder, mayhem, witches, unicorns, falling stars, prophecies, a weird small farting creature, truth, and lies.

Gaiman and Vess have obvious affection for a good fairy story. Gaiman’s market is straight out of Christina Rosetti’s poem The Goblin Market, and Vess’s illustrations hark back to Arthur Rackham’s classic fairy drawings. While Tristan’s tale is fun and interesting, the only Hempstocks that appear are dull and conventional, nothing like their sparkling sistren in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is an entertaining diversion, made better by its illustrations. Thus, I can’t see the value in seeking out the prose novel, but I remember the movie was pretty good.

“Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home” by Nina Stibbe

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014


Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe is yet another recommendation from my husband via Caitlin Moran, whom he follows on Twitter (@caitlinmoran). He kept laughing aloud as he read Love, Nina, which was recommendation enough in itself. Then he thoroughly qualified it, saying I should only read it if I wanted to, it was good, but not Cloud Atlas or anything.

Love, Nina
is a series of letters written by the author to her sister in Leicestershire. At twenty, Nina moved to London to be nanny for two clever, opinionated boys. They’re sons of a famous film director and the director of the London Review of Books. Nina’s letters feature walk-ons from some of London’s creative intelligentsia, observed through Nina’s her critical eye.

Nothing much happens, and I can see why some readers might be bored with it, but I found Nina’s letters and details of ordinary family life in a creative family both charming and fascinating.

Everyone keeps saying how great yoga is and that we should all go and learn to relax and let go of things that are thwarting us in life (i.e. turkey mince) and breathe properly and stretch and so on…

I’ll think about going (to yoga). But ‘m not sure I want to be that relaxed. I am who I am and I might not do so well as a relaxed person. (86)

It helped that Nina doesn’t gloss over her own shortcomings as a bad cook, a lazy housekeeper, and a teller of fibs to cover her butt, as when she “pranged” the car, or “nicked” a particular towel.

In between the lines we get glimpses of her sister’s life, hilarious as when the neighbor showers outdoors, but also Nina’s own self doubts as she applies to university, begins classes and moves on from being the official nanny and becomes one of the revolving guests at what she calls simply, “55.”

The book reminded me of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. I’m an anglophile, a book geek, and I like letters, so this was definitely my cuppa. If you’re looking for a plot, or a kinder narrator who doesn’t curse so much, this might not work for you.