A. Reader

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins.

Loosely following the format of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Dawkins acts as mine host leading us on a journey backward through time tracing evolutionary changes to the microbial beginnings. He pulls in the latest findings in cellular research, paleontology, and other scientific research and mixes them with sociology, literature, the arts, and other topics. Where there are controversies, he mentions them and picks the option he feels is most relevant. (He even touches on the Kansas School thing--without mentioning Kansas.) This is a fat book--I woke myself up when it fell on me. It's very readable and I want to leave it prominently on the Reference Desk.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

First Impressions by Jude Deveraux.

A modern Deveraux romance with a 40ish heroine. Eden Palmer has been left a house in Arundel, North Carolina so she leaves her adult daughter (spoiled, married, pregnant) in New York City and moves to her legacy. She is persued by not one, but two eligible bachelors--Jared McBride (undercover FBI looking for info about a spy) and Braddon Granville (local lawyer and hottie). This is vintage Deveraux--and the last line of the book proves it well. If you like Deveraux's romances--moderately steamy and with a sense of humor--you'll enjoy this one.

The Driveway Diaries by Tim Brookes

Yet another amusing account of the city guy who moves to the country--in this case, rural Vermont. The thought of owning "land" meant the British born author didn't really stop to consider the way the house was situated down in the hollow with a very inconvient drive, especially in the winter. Coping with wasps and birds and grass and snow are all chronicled. If you like Bill Bryson or maybe even David Sedaris, you'll probably enjoy this.

The Box Children by Sharon Wyse

Lou Ann Campbell is going on twelve and living on a ranch in northern Texas. Life for her and her brother has been circumscribed by her mother's dictates on behavior--in ways that make you long for someone to call Social Services. The Box Children are five dolls whom Lou Ann has used as stand-ins for the five babies that her mother miscarried. (This sounds a little more ghoulish than it really is). The story starts as the diary that Lou Ann begins just as her mother announces that she is pregnant again. This is one of those "out of the mouths of Babes", coming of age stories. It reads fast.

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Well, what can I say--a perfect marriage of Austen quotes (from her books and letters), social history, and recipes. It made me get up and brew a proper pot of tea. This is a small book with lots of ideas, especially if you are interested in all things Austen or even Regency.

Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self by Frances Kuffel

What do you do when you've weighed more than 300 pounds for years and food has always been an obsession? Kuffel finally said "Enough is enough" and began a twelve step program that helped her lose over half her weight. This is not a diet book nor a pity party, but a look at one person's efforts to take her life under control. I enjoyed this.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Himalaya - DVD, book and audio book

Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) is my hero. I am a huge fan of his BBC/PBS travel series', including Around the World in 80 Days and Michael Palin's Hemingway
Adventure. He brings his own substantial charm and humor to episodes that focus on out-of-the-ordinary places and adventures. This new one, "Himalaya," I think is the best ever. I missed it when it was on PBS (if it ever was) but viewing this 3-disc, six-episode series at leisure was even better. Some of the most spectacular mountain footage I have ever seen and some intriguing glimpses of the diverse people, culture and terrain that make up the Himalayan range. Palin does a wonderful job of drawing the viewer in to his adventure. I HIGHLY recommend this for the armchair traveler.

The Life Aquatic - DVD

Very strange movie. So strange in fact, that if it didn't start Bill Murray I probably wouldn't have finished watching it.
I remember the reviews when it came out weren't real positive. But still, I'm glad I saw it. I would catagorize it as a surreal comedy, with Murray as a Jaques Cousteau-type character. He sets out with his crew to find and kill the shark that ate his partner and best friend. Also stars Angelica Houston as Murray's wife, Jeff Goldblum as his arch enemy, Owen Wilson as his long lost illegitimate son and Kate Blanchett as a pregnant reporter.
It was a beautiful movie to watch, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes the "off beat" and "bazaar" stuff.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

As a young boyDaniel is taken by his bookseller father to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he chooses a book to care for. He choose The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax; later he discovers someone is systematically destroying all of Carax's books. In some ways this book reminds me of The Da Vinci Code. The pace is not as fast (actually, pretty snail-like), but the search for the answer is under a time constraint. It was okay, but over-hyped.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

Fat Charlie is conventional; Mr. Nancy, his father definately isn't. Only after his father's death does Fat Charlie find out his father is Anansi, the Trickster Spider god. He also meets a twin brother who is almost exactly his opposite. Life takes on a bewildering spin. Gaiman always has a slightly skewed outlook, and he doesn't dissapoint in this story of mortals caught in the battles of the old gods.

A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake told, not so much from the personal angle, as from a scientific and socialogical point of view. The first half of the story is geology--plate techtonics and continental drift--the second half is the historical part--the politics and business dealings. It's not as dry and boring as the description sounds.

San Francisco Is Burning by Dennis Smith

This is the human side of the people involved in trying to contain the fires of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It naturally encompasses many other lives when telling the stories--the good, the bad, and the almost invisible. A good compliment to Simon Winchester's The Crack at the Edge of the World, and in many ways more readable.

The Most Scenic Drives in America: 120 Spectacular Road Trips--2005 edition by Reader's Digest

Terrific photographs accompany road maps of scenic drives from coast to coast as well as Alaska and Hawaii. Numbered points of interest with explanations are detailed on the routes. The book is divided into 4 regions: the Western States, Rocky Mountain States, Central States, and Eastern States. Trip tips for each route describe the length of trip, when to go, and attractions not to be missed. You'll want to get in the car and go!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper--YA audio

On his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers that he is one of the Old Ones, destined to battle the evil Dark. He is a sign seeker, traveling through time in England to find six signs which will unify and empower the Light to defeat the Dark. There are 4 or 5 more books in the series, which was published in the 70s and 80s. Great reading for the Harry Potter crowd. I can't wait to read the rest!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Christmas Treasury

For those quick read moments. I actually like reading the CSFTS books. This one has the Christmas theme, but there are some different stories. Ranging from "The Gift of the Magi" to a story of a Santa who is Jewish to a family whose tradition of putting a straw in the manager for each good deed done in the family. A nice book to get you into the spirit of the season if you are into Chicken Soup books.

Pioneer Lady's Country Christmas by Jane Watson Hopping

Nice book of Depression era recipes along with some stories and craft ideas. (And nice craft ideas like knitting lace, not making angel toppers with toliet paper rolls.)
Some recipes are not going to happen in my house like the vinegar pie or the figgy pudding. But there are some interesting cookies that may need to be tested and a recipe for Swedish Glogg that may also need a party to go to.
Some of the stories are a great reminder of what Christmas really is about and nice to read after being in the mall with the crush of commericalism. (The week of Halloween, one grocery store had Halloween candy on one side of the aisle and Christmas decorations on the other side. ARRRGGHH) Some recipes are already being copied before I take the book back.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand

Brunvand investigates some of the scary Urban Myths. Many date back several decades, some even are found in other countries with remarkable similarities to ones that someone's brother's best friend did here in the states. He has some ones used to scare campers and for sleepovers and also some newer ones from the Internet. A few are pretty gross and some just down right disturbing, but he points out the faults as well as what other stories they are related to. He also mentions the site www.snopes.com as a good source to help debunk the stories that flow around the Internet. (Also www.truthorfiction.com is another very good site for debunking urban legends that come in on email.) Overall a good read and fun to remember when you first heard about the hook in the door or the spiders in the hairdo.

The Colorado Kid (Hard Case Crime) by Stephen King

Growing up Stephen King loved reading the hard-boiled pulp fiction books. The ones with the "dames" on the cover and usually a smoking gun or a mencing man in the background. He has gone with a publisher to reintroduce the hard-boiled detective novels to the public again. The Hard Case Crime books (Harlequin for detective readers?) have a cool premise. Take a mix of original and reprinted hard-boiled detective novels, packaged to look like lurid 1940s and 1950s thrillers at mass market size price. Great. And I might be more interested in one of the reprinted books since I could not get past the first chapter of King's novel. Part of the problem I have is that he writes with a HEAVY Maine Nor'Eastern accent. I can't understand it when spoken and in written form it is too frustrating to continue.
I actually got it from the library because Brian and I had seen a report on Sunday Morning (CBS) about the series and King. Unless you like reading accents, this is just too irrating for words.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer-YA audio

This is Mordred's story of his life as the ill-fated son of King Arthur. He resents the curse on him and fights against it, but the prophecy is fulfilled. Very well written, though the author's imagination of the ending was disappointing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten (Opera)

This opera has only a cast of six, five of whom are sopranos! There are WAAAAY too many sopranos here. The tale is suitably dark and ambiguous, as befitting the Henry James story it came from. We questioned the intelligence, moral integrity, and personal choices of every one of the cast members, from the guardian, the governess, the housekeeper, the children, and the ghosts. The voices were very good, but there was very little real melodic line for them to work with (the orchestra, also small, got the best parts). Stage sets were minimal and controlled with effective use of lighting (and four gentlemen in Edwardian suits quickly moving furniture).
This is not the opera to see if you are in the mood for something lush like Puccini or Mozart, but the story moved along very swiftly. This would not be my first choice of opera to attend, but I'm glad I went.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (book on CD)

When describing a nonfiction book about the presidential assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, you probably wouldn't expect the words "fun" and "humorous," but in the hands of Sarah Vowell, this is just the case. She makes history hip and, at times, hilarious. This book on CD is read by the author along with a little help from Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen King, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), and others. American history was never this much fun.

Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum hangs up her job?!! Wait, wait, what will happen to Lulu and Vinny? Never fear, the rush to leave the bail bond business takes longer to happen than you'd expect. Steph is threatened by an anonymous note writer and several cars blow up (what IS this fascination with burning cars?). And Joe and Ranger not only put in appearances, sort of join forces. We do learn a little more about Ranger's family. I'm getting to the point I wish she'd make her mind up about which of the two guys she's going to settle on--I'm feeling more and more like Grandma Bella with "the eye" .

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Ann Rice

Ann Rice has switched gears in a way with her new book. This is the story of Jesus as a child between the ages of seven, when his extended family moved from Egypt back to Nazareth, and eight when the family goes to Jerusalem for the Passover. Told in first person, the story uses parts of the Apocrypha and other traditions as source material. Jesus becomes more and more aware of who and what he is and will be. The interaction of various family members seems very real, although most of the people are not fully fleshed out. (But then what seven-year old really looks at adult personalities in depth?) I found the writing style a little distracting and some of the "facts" seemed contradictory, but the book was worth the read as fiction. I'm sure that theologically there is room for argument but as a story it is interesting. Be sure to read her afterword.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sick of Shadows by Marion Chesney

Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose are engaged to be married so she won't be shipped off to India. Harry has (gasp) taken up a position as a private detective which almost puts him beyond the pale of polite Edwardian society, but then Rose is somewhat of a radical herself. She becomes embroiled with Dolly, another socialite, who later turns up dead. Harry and Rose, often at cross purposes, investigate the murder. Chesney's historicals often have a biting edge--her romances often have bitter edges around them. She also writes mysteries as M. C. Beaton.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The American Astronaut (DVD)

And now for something completely different! Part B-movie science fiction flick, part musical, part western, part avant-garde art film. This is a hard film to categorize. I am a fan of strange movies, and this is one of the oddest I've seen in awhile. Beautifully filmed in black and white, I recommend this only if you enjoy less traditional movie experiences. An interesting feature of the DVD extras is the director's commentary which is done before a live audience at a showing of the film at a bar.