Whitewavedarling's 2015...

Snak100 Books in 2015 Challenge

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Whitewavedarling's 2015...

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jan 1, 2015, 9:06am

Happy 2015, everyone!

Meanwhile, can I just say that I absolutely adore that reading nook in the picture on the main page of our group? Wow, would I adore having a spot like that... even if I'd probably have to fight my dog and cats for it if I wanted to use it!

Later on, I'll post my books from last year, but for now, I'm just grabbing a space, announcing that I'm in once again, and we'll see what happens! I did meet my goal last year, but I also read a lot of YA, and I got a lot of reading done in spring when I still had a semi-normal job. Now that I'm working from home and writing more, I don't seem to have as much time for reading, but I'm still going to try to meet that 100 books! I'm also keeping track of pages for the first time as a result of the 2015 category challenge I've set up, so for the first time, you'll see me listing those as well.

jan 1, 2015, 10:37am

Last year, I finished 127 books, some of which were duds, and some of which were wonderful. Rather than start out by re-listing everything here, I'm only going to list the ones which stood out to me (even now that I'm looking back at them) as absolute 5 star reads, or as strong enough 4s that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them on, at least to particular readers. Here they are, in the order I read them...and there ARE full reviews written on their pages, but just snippets here.

Saint by Christine Bell--this book was a wonderful surprise, touching and funny and memorable with great characters and surprises at every turn. If you like humorous fiction or crazy families, or simply a great story, this one is worth reading. It's also a reminder to me to go find the author's other work...

The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas--a clever take on vampires, smart and beautifully written. If you like horror or vampire lit., you need to look this one up.

The Way of the Fight by Georges St. Pierre--I never thought I'd be reading a memoir by an MMA fighter, but this was memorable and a fast read. Recommended.

The Dark Glamour by Gabriella Pierce--the second in the 666 Park Avenue series, tons of fun and lives up to the first! If you like witches or fast-reading humorous suspense...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel--You've probably already read this, but if you haven't, you should.

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett--my first venture into reading Patchett, and absolutely wonderful at every turn. This is all I could possibly ever ask for in 'non-genre' fiction.

Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway--strange and undescribable and odd, but something to sink into. This was a strange read for me, in that I didn't feel like there was anything I should be so engaged with...but I loved it.

Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach--weird and wonderful and crazy, and full of everything, from suspense to romance to sci-fi. The definition of a page-turner.

Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset--one of those books that everyone should read, if less widely known and quite a bit older than Life of Pi.

The Book of Common Betrayals by Lynne Knight--the best collection of contemporary poetry I've come across in ages. My review doesn't do it justice, nor will any other. If you read poetry, just find it.

A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher--a book, a journey, a wonder... This is now and will forever be one of my favorite books, and I bought it for two friends for Christmas. If you enjoy long magical fiction that just sweeps you away, read this. Actually, if you enjoy fiction at all, just read this. That's all. Hands down, my favorite book of 2014.

Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy--put aside the overly dramatic title, and if you live in America, read this book. Everyone should, in all honesty. My full review explains more, but one way or another, this really should be one of those widely-read pieces of nonfiction.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett--another piece of fiction and sank into and fell in love with...

House of Windows by John Langan--if you read horror or enjoy the masters like Lovecraft and Poe, you need to read this.

Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi--if you like ghost stories, suspense, or horror, again, you need to read this.

Poets Against the War edited by Sam Hamill--this is one of the few poetry anthologies I'd probably recommend on to any reader, as varied as it is.

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson--this was a fast and kind of wonderful read about lobsters, science, and fishermen. I kind of loved it.

The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman--do you read horror? If you do, pick this up.

No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal--this is one of those rare books where the title really does tell you what it's about. Considering the world today, everyone should read this book.

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut--now my favorite book by Vonnegut, full of great short stories.

God's Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi by Julien Green--touching, smart, detailed.

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe--lovely fiction, strange and wonderful.

Pig Island by Mo Hayder--dark, creepy, suspenseful, all the things I love and return to Hayder for.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham--fun, quick, easy...and if you like football, perfect.

Rhyming Life & Death by Amos Oz--strange, wandering, wonderful fiction

The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda--I HATE him for the ending, but I did find this book to be marvelous.

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman--if you like YA fantasy, or YA in general, you MUST read this.

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledso--even better than the first in the series.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee--one of my few rereads this year, and more wonderful this second time around. If you haven't read it as an adult, you should.

Hungry Gods by J.D. Brink--fun, crazy, fast-paced, full of super-heroes and zombies.

And, wow, that's a lot more favorites than I had at the end of 2013! And, I'm now even more excited for this year :)

jan 1, 2015, 10:40am

To give you an idea of where 2015 is starting for me...

I'm still in the process of reading Three Cups of Tea and I'm also wondering through Wonderbook when the mood strikes me. My first fiction of the year will probably be either Infernal Devices or Zofloya, and I'm also planning on reading T-Rex and the Crater of Doom fairly soon :)

jan 2, 2015, 2:07am

Welcome back to the group! Looking forward to seeing what you read this year, again!

jan 2, 2015, 10:11am

>4 wookiebender:, Thanks! And Ditto :)

jan 2, 2015, 10:25am

Looking forward to following your reading again!

jan 2, 2015, 11:18am

>6 mabith:, The same :) Here's hoping we start out with good ones!

jan 2, 2015, 12:07pm

Welcome back!

jan 15, 2015, 11:44am

>8 jfetting:, thanks :)

Meanwhile, finally (!!!!) my first finished book of the year:

1. T-Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, Walter Alvarez was one of a select few scientists who had a close hand in discovering the truth about how and why the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago, and this book recounts that long journey. Detailing what was once believed, and seemingly understood, and moving on to the theories and discoveries that changed those understandings completely, Alvarez takes readers through the earth-shattering change of moving from a sure belief in gradualism--the world changing gradually, including in regard to extinctions--to the point at which he and others came to have faith, instead, in the Impact Theory.

Beginning with the tragedy of the mass extinction of T-Rex and so many of the other dinosaurs which called earth home 65 million years ago, Alvarez moves through what is essentially a scientific mystery, exploring and explaining the false starts, the twists, and all of the assumptions, understandings, and discoveries which eventually led to not only faith in the impact theory, but to the discovery of the site of the impact at the Chicxulub Crater.

This is more than a book for people who have a lingering fascination for the dinosaurs they learned about as children. This a book of science, discovery, and patience--and, more than anything, a journey to discover one of our longest-standing mysteries.

Recommended, of course.

jan 16, 2015, 12:33am

>9 whitewavedarling: - Ouch, took a book bullet with that one! Thanks for the great review.

jan 16, 2015, 5:58pm

>10 wareagle78:, that's what I'm here for :)

jan 16, 2015, 9:57pm

>9 whitewavedarling: sounds like something I would like. nice review Jen.

jan 17, 2015, 12:35am

Ooh, you hit me with that one too. Dinosaurs will always be a weakness (plus I have a lot of nieces and nephews, so I obviously need to have dino knowledge so I can stay the cool aunt).

jan 17, 2015, 6:36pm

I've always loved dinosaurs. I think this one is going on the list!

jan 17, 2015, 8:33pm

>13 mabith: & >14 valkyrdeath:, I'm glad to hear it! And, mabith, you'll be the coolest aunt forever if they just happen to see the cover of the book--a T.Rex and a giant explosion? It's built to grab the interest of kids, and folks like us who still have the interests of kids :)

jan 21, 2015, 10:11am

This next one is actually one I read while proofreading it at the beginning of the month, and while I don't review everything I read in the course of my work, I told the author to get in touch with me when it was published so that I could make sure to help with the publicity. This is my first poetry ebook, and it's one I whole-heartedly recommend, to longtime poetry lovers or anyone who simply wants to dip in. You can find it through:


Meanwhile...the book and my review:

2. Gasps and Sighs by Richard Skolek

Richard Skolek's newly translated collection is a brief selection of works which are not only thoughtful, but fresh. Balanced between observation, humor, each poem pairs together moments of humanity with moments of wisdom, making for a compulsively readable collection which is not only worth brief exploration, but worth re-reading and sharing.

The poems in this collection are approachable and worthwhile, those rare species of poems where readers can wander through quickly and enjoy their time, or read and re-read, finding something new to enjoy with further thought. As such, it really is a lovely collection, albeit a short one, and one for poetry readers to take notice of, enjoy, and pass on.

jan 21, 2015, 9:03pm

3. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Greg Mortenson's journey to become a great humanitarian was all but accidental, but his example is now a phenomenal model for the way in which one human being can quite literally make the world a better place, infecting thousands of individuals with a drive for education, for peace, and for understanding. The account of this journey given in Three Cups of Tea, artfully delivered by Mortenson himself and David Oliver Relin, is nothing less than required reading for any individual who feels strongly that this world--and the people who call it home--is worth believing in, and worth effort.

By tracing Mortenson's journey from grief-stricken and hapless mountaineer to humanitarian miracle-worker and educator, this work brings to life the educational and peace-driving efforts of Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute, based in Montana and working tirelessly for the education and improvement of individuals in some of the world's most dangerous environments. And yet, through conflict, through logistical nightmares, through violence, and through a lack of resources, Mortenson has managed to create a magnificent effort, and the achievements to match.

Simply, this book should be required reading for everyone, regardless of age or location. It's an inspiring account, and more than that, a representation of efforts and engagements which must be shared, understood, and celebrated. In all honesty, the world will be a better place with each single person who reads this work.

Absolutely recommended.

jan 22, 2015, 5:32pm

4. Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre

Kind of strange and wonderful and horrible, in the fashion of The Monk by Lewis, Zofloya is full of murder, betrayal, jealousy, simply horrid intentions. And, as a gothic text, there's a fair bit of lust, fainting, sighing, and exclamation points to be had as well, not to mention a number of melodramatic twists, and a great deal of stabbing...

All told, this isn't a book for everyone, but it will provide entertainment to lovers of the gothic and fans of early horror. And, probably, to fans of soap opera-like plots, played out on the page. Dacre's characters are far from sympathetic, and fairly superficial, but the book moves fairly quickly once it gets going, and has enough to distinguish it from other more popular gothics that, in truth, I'm glad to have read it, and would rather have read this than some of the more well-known ones I encountered in a class on the subject. The melodrama of the plot carries it with it a certain horrifying charm (admittedly more like watching a car accident than reading a fairy tale), and the fact that one reviewer was driven to call The Monk a chaste text in comparison says quite a lot for what you'll encounter here.

One caveat is that it takes on a rather slow start, but for interested readers, there's enough here to warrant following through on the full read...

jan 27, 2015, 6:08pm

5. Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter

This is a fun ride of a book, set with the tone of a Sherlock Holmes mystery and beautifully detailed. It isn't hard to imagine how Jeter's vision here ended up being foundational to steampunk as a genre. The way he's mixed Victorian culture with noir-ish atmospheres, technological progress and mis-steps, and humor with suspense, the work ends up being an incredibly entertaining mix of settings, genres, and characters.

All told, the book's narrator is a bit more formal and unemotional than the ones I'm normally drawn toward, but that said, his personality is so much a part of the book -- and so important to the book -- that it ends up working rather well. I can't say that the characters here are the most engaging of the fantasy and sci-fi I've come across, but they are believable and fascinating, and the plot moves so quickly that that is the driving force.

In the end, I'm glad I picked this up as my first foray into steampunk--I'll likely be looking into more of Jeter's work and more steampunk in general.

If this sounds up your alley, or if you're interested in ducking your head into steampunk, I certainly recommend this. It won't be for nearly every reader, but I imagine anyone who feels something of an interest won't end up being disappointed!

feb 1, 2015, 10:14am

6. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

My introduction to Kelly Link was actually through "Stone Animals", one of the stories in this collection, and that story combined with one of her readings left a lasting taste in my mouth for both her writing and the work put out by Small Beer Press. This collection, which I finally got around to reading in full, didn't disappoint.

The stories, as a whole, are strange and sort of wondrous affairs, sometimes moving so quickly and strangely that it's hard to keep up (admittedly), and other times progressing at a more expected pace, but with just as much fantasy involved. My favorite stories in the bunch are, without doubt: "The Faery Handbag", "Stone Animals", "Some Zombie Contingency Plans", and "Lull". Some of the shorter short stories fly by too quickly for a reader to sink into their atmosphere, but these slightly longer ones ("Faery Handbag" being the shortest at 28 pages and "Stone Animals" being the longest at 50+ pages) allow a reader to engage with the stories with more depth, and get used to the fantasy involved enough to grow accustomed to the world, at least enough to be swept up by the story and feel connected to the characters.

All together, these really are some crazy-wonderful stories of speculative fiction, and anyone who enjoys the strange, the fantastic, or the weird in their literature will be swept up by nearly all of them.


feb 1, 2015, 2:54pm

>20 whitewavedarling: Is the title story of Magic for Beginners representative of Kelly Link's work in general? I read it in the Nebula Awards collection one year, and it put me off reading any more of her stuff. It's not that I didn't like it, but it felt like she'd started writing a novel and then just given up after 50 pages and stopped writing, just as the story was getting going, with no ending.

feb 1, 2015, 4:07pm

>21 valkyrdeath:, I'm not sure if I'd call that one representative--writing-wise, it certainly is, but that definitely wasn't one of my favorites in the collection. Usually, there's a bit more engagement to be had with particular characters because there's a tighter and clearer focus, at least in the longer stories like that one. But, that said, the much shorter stories often feel more like snippets than full stories. You might try reading 'Stone Animals' or 'The Faery Handbag' over a cup of coffee in a library or bookstore, and then see how you feel. I'd say that either of those are more representative of her work. I felt like "Magic for Beginners" specifically was being pulled in different directions, and yep, I could easily imagine it being the start or a part of a novel instead of a stand-alone story. There is a fair amount of non-closure in Link's work, though..

I suppose, in the end lol, I'm not sure how to answer your question! I can see it going both ways! If you liked it enough to be curious about more, though, I'd suggest trying out one of those other stories I mentioned--they're both really wonderful.

Sorry I can't be of more help!

feb 1, 2015, 6:33pm

>22 whitewavedarling: Thanks, that was helpful. I remember Faery Handbag was in the same collection now I think about it, and I didn't dislike that one, so maybe I'll check out Stone Animals.

feb 3, 2015, 10:04am

>23 valkyrdeath:, No problem--I'll be curious to hear how you feel about it! It's slightly more disjointed than Faery Handbag, but it's so wonderfully strange that I think it really is worth taking a look at :) "The Great Divorce" is also pretty wonderful (from the same collection, and a bit shorter)--I'd rather forgotten about it when I wrote my review, probably because the title is a bit misleading, at least for me!

feb 3, 2015, 10:21am

7. Empty Bodies by Zach Bohannon

Bohannon's Empty Bodies is a fast-paced tale of a post-apocalyptic world where perceptions are constantly changing, characters are pushed from day-to-day-normality into survival mode, and strangers become the greatest confidantes. The book sucks readers in with page one, and as a new take on so-called zombies, it immediately turns into a fun and entertaining read. The characters are engaging, Bohannon's writing is well worth the time, and the story itself is frighteningly believable.

All together, this really is a thrill of a book, and comes absolutely recommended!

feb 15, 2015, 1:22pm

8. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury's vision is something both horrifying and wonderful, played out in this collection of fantastic and futuristic stories and held together by the tenuously changing and tortured skin of an illustrated man. As a framed and connected collection, its powerful is wonderful, but even on their own, the stories hold such wonder, heartbreak, and beauty that they're each worth exploring in and of themselves.

Absolutely recommended.

feb 15, 2015, 5:11pm

I loved The Illustrated Man. I think out of all the Bradbury books I've read, that was my favourite. I'm hoping to reread it fairly soon. Annoyingly, I discovered the British edition of the book had a bunch of stories removed, and at least one story from The Martian Chronicles added in, so I had to get hold of the original. I don't understand why they did that.

feb 15, 2015, 7:35pm

>27 valkyrdeath:, Really? That is odd! I read the American version, but now I'm curious to look into a British one and see all the differences!

feb 15, 2015, 9:21pm

>28 whitewavedarling: The Rocket Man, The Fire Balloons, The Exiles and The Concrete Mixer were all removed, Usher II was added from Martian Chronicles. I've just checked and apparently The Playground was added too. I didn't realise that wasn't in the US version, so I don't know where that came from. I did love that story, but I'm still annoyed at them removing some of the others.

feb 16, 2015, 12:43pm

>29 valkyrdeath:, Thank you! That is a lot to take out :( I'm going to have to read The Martian Chronicles sooner than later, both to get more Bradburyin general, and to read those extras and see how the British version would have come together!

feb 28, 2015, 11:37pm

9. The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life by Julia Kasdorf

This book is many things, but more than anything, it focuses on the path of an artist or individual working to come to terms with their own cultural identity, a society's expectations, and their devotion to writing. This may sound fairly broad, for a book apparently focused on 'writing from a Mennonite life', but while Kasdorf's concerns and questions all revolve around her place within (or outside of) the Mennonite community, the questions at the heart of the book are questions which I think every writer or artist faces in some context and moment, if not consistently. As such, this book is both more than and less than what I'd hoped for. It speaks to a broader artistic and individualistic experience against the backdrop of society, but in that almost global nature of concern, it also comes across as far more familiar, and far less unique, than what I'd actually expected. And, in all honesty, couched as it is in academic concerns and an ultra-awareness of the work it is attempting, it has far less immediacy and power than other works which tackle similar questions.

There are moments where Kasdorf focuses in specifically on Mennonite history and cultural trauma, and those are probably the most striking moments in the work. She is a gifted essay writer, smoothly melding together memoir, history, poetry, and supposition, but at many points, the essays are almost too objective and logical to be as potent as I would have expected, given her poetry.

All together, I enjoyed the read. At the same time, though, it came across as more academic than conversational or narrative, and I simply expected more based on my experience with her poetry. However, if you're looking for essays on Mennonite identity or artists, literary authority, or cultural identity, this may very well be a collection worth picking up.

mar 3, 2015, 10:47pm

10. Tehran at Twilight by Salar Abdoh

Abdoh's Tehran at Twilight is smart and artful, centering on a jaded academic who is both transplanted Iranian and American translator & professor. His interweaving of politics with intrigue, day-to-day frustration with basic emotion and common sense, and jadedness with idealism, make it a frighteningly realistic book, one which follows a man who does his best to remain impartial and jaded, and is still, irrevocably, swept up.

The book's sole failing is that, if anything, protagonist Reza Malek is portrayed too believably as he moves between the chaos of Tehran and the stale politics of his barely-retained job at a small university in America. He is, absolutely, jaded and detached from all about him, and believably so given his position. The untenable position of the novel, though, is to make a character such as this engaging and human, and in a short span of time. Abdoh succeeds at the task, but it isn't a quick journey. As such, the first half of the book proceeds as something of a testimonial to events with Malek as the witness, but his lack of emotion puts the reader in a similar position--it's difficult, at best, to engage with the humanity behind the book. Yet, for readers who follow through, drawn on by the plot, the second half of the book is all but a one-sitting read, as Malek is forced to reckon with the fact that impartiality can only take him so far, and that his two countries will, very simply, force him to make choices and acknowledge his own humanity, and that of his family and friends.

Simply, he cannot remain impartial and entirely detached in a world that refuses to view him as such.

In the end, the book is powerful, but it is also a slow-burner. I went into the second half of the book acknowledging that it was well-written, but all the same, ready for it to hurry and finish. And then, after having plodded along slowly for more than a week, I couldn't put the book down for those last 115 pages. Call it political noir or a thriller or a drama or anything else you wish--this book truly does defy boundaries; and while it is, if anything, too realistic to move quickly in the beginning, it is also unfailingly impressive by the end.

No doubt, I'll be looking for more of Salar Abdoh's work in the future, and if noir or the politics of a chaotic world could entice you to read anything...well, this comes recommended. Wander through the beginning, I'd say, and then hold on until you reach the end.

mar 7, 2015, 11:18am

An update....

I'm pretty close to finishing Tarnish by J.D. Brink (and if you like old-fashioned adventure fantasy, you should check it out...I think it's suitable for YA readers too); I'm about halfway through Station Eleven (and loving it, predictably enough); and I dipped into Queen for a Day: New and Selected Poems.

Reading is going slowly, though, partly because of work, and partly because we're home-hunting, as my husband and I are moving to Florida at the end of the month so he can take up a new (and better) job. It's taking up most of my time, honestly--wish us luck; looking for a rental is hard with a large dog and three cats!!!

Redigeret: mar 7, 2015, 9:15pm

I'll definitely be looking for a copy of Tehran at Twilight, great review!

Oogh, on your move and all those pets! Definitely hard to work out. I hope it goes smoothly though and you get back to regular reading habits soon!

mar 7, 2015, 10:43pm

Adding The Body and the Book, grew up near a Mennonite community, and had many interesting conversations with friends in the community and also those who left.

mar 8, 2015, 9:32pm

>34 mabith:, Thanks!

>35 swimmergirl1:, In that case, I'll be really curious to hear your thoughts!

mar 8, 2015, 9:57pm

>33 whitewavedarling:. Good luck with your house-hunting! Moving can be so stressful, but I hope his new job is a great step forward!

mar 8, 2015, 10:00pm


11. Tarnish by J.D. Brink

J.D. Brink's Tarnish is adventure-fantasy at its finest, and the layered narratives within make it an incredibly fun read. His characters are as distinct as they are engaging, and their realistically flawed natures are an added bonus which make the book feel as realistic as fantasy could.

Part of the appeal comes from the book not simply being any one thing---part coming-of age tale, part quest narrative, and partly an exploration of storytelling and storytellers, the book has a depth and complication that make it, very simply, compelling. With the characters being a group of wildly-varied and beautifully rounded out characters, on top of that depth of plot, the book becomes worth every moment you spend with it--and nearly each of those moments is not only engaging, but visual and exciting...not to mention enjoyable.

Absolutely recommended.

mar 8, 2015, 10:26pm


I just realized I forgot to post two different books! I suppose this means I'm involved in too many challenges since I'm sure that's why I forgot to post here. Oh well...rather than change all the numbers, I'll just add these as 12 and 13...

12. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

--PHENOMENAL. There's a full review written, but really, suffice it to say: this is a five star read, and if you're a fan of King, or ever were, or loved The Shining in any of its forms, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

13. With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads by Denise Levertov

--Full review written, but put simply, the poetry here didn't live up to her other works, in my opinion.

mar 8, 2015, 11:01pm

Well, this was a disappointing follow-up to those last few posts... on the upside, at least I'm remembering to post it?

14. Queen for a Day by Denise Duhamel

When I began reading this collection, I found myself sucked completely into the world of each poem--I found pleasure and surprise and admiration, and something to think about. And then I read the next few sections, which I found a bit flat...but that was okay, as I was still on a high from that first section, looking forward to what would come next. And then the next few sections were overly crude, and a bit boring, followed by one interesting poem...followed by sections full of poems weighted down by self-conscious name-dropping and diary-entry-sounding poems that read more like notations of ideas or emails than fully wrought and considered poems.

So, overall, the book was sincerely disappointing. By the end, I felt more like I was reading the author's correspondence, unfiltered, than a book of poems meant for a reader who doesn't know her personally, or care who she knows, so much as they would care about her work and what she had to say. It may be that I'll pick up the first book poems were excerpted from here, written in 1993, though I don't think that's the one already on my shelf. And/or, perhaps I'll read that one, or perhaps I won't.

As I said, by the end, this was more and more disappointing, I'm afraid. Not something I'd recommend, though I know I've enjoyed some of her works in the past, and I did enjoy some of those first few. They didn't make up for the whole of the book, though, simply enough.

mar 9, 2015, 9:20am

I hesitate to call this next one a book, but I'm afraid that's due as much to quality as size, so I'll go ahead and list it--I've read enough long ones this year already to qualify one short one, I suppose!

15. Extant Shamanisms by j/j hastein

There are lovely flashes of language here, but on the whole, meaning is--at best--ephemeral and hard to come by. I have no doubt that the author has a clear idea of what they've communicated, but I'm not sure there's enough direction here for a reader to reach those same ideas.

Perhaps, if I re-read the book over and over again, or examined each fragment in turn for minutes upon minutes, I'd see more to appreciate here than the plays of language and the sounds, but there's nothing here to draw me in to giving it that much time and energy. I generally really enjoy the focus that can come with a strong and compact chapbook, but this one was a big disappointment.

mar 14, 2015, 9:33pm

16. The Witness by Zach Bohannon

Bohannon's newest work of horror is built perfectly for fans of the classic horror movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. Besides being creepy and original, it moves with plenty of turns,not slowing for a moment once it gets started. If you want a great piece of horror that proves itself a fast and scary read, this really is a perfect choice.


mar 14, 2015, 9:50pm

17. The Vanishing by David Delaney -- again, the touchstones aren't working, but if you search the work on amazon, you'll find it---the paperback is coming, but it is out on kindle :)

Delaney has written a great series beginning here--it's got all of the suspense and police procedural you could ask for, as well as depth and truly engaging believable characters. Balancing between a set of vastly different characters, the plots are woven together expertly, and there's a surprising depth here. In truth, the book rather sneaks up on you--coming off as a casual entertaining read at first, and slowly becoming something that you simply can't walk away from, and with characters you care about seeing through.

If you like suspense or detectives who go beyond their badge to show up as real people in the books you read, you'll enjoy this one. I'm looking forward to the second in the series already...

So, yes, absolutely recommended!

mar 20, 2015, 10:02pm

18. The Angel of the Garden by Scott Ely

These are hard stories. The characters are engaging, the material is engaging, and the plots are compelling...but the reality of them is, very simply, hard.

Ely's subjects are so believable as to be swept from real life, whether dealing with small-time con-men, individuals who can't tell their past from their present, or men who've been so affected by life as to feel that it is, practically, unlivable. And in each manifestation of life, the stories are harshly real--too simple to seem fictional, and with no easy answers.

There's no question that Ely has mastered the form of the short story and is a talented writer. At the same time, I'm torn as to whether or not to recommend them. Well-written as they are--beautifully written as they are, in fact--they are hard to enjoy, too much like the simple tragedies that we know from our own lives and neighbors and wanderings. I'm not sure they're something I'd ever want to read about, so much as things which I want to escape from.

For realistic short stories, these are masterful renditions, and you'll enjoy them. That's as much as I can say, I'm afraid.

mar 25, 2015, 1:31pm

19. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a compelling look at what dystopian fiction can be and accomplish. In maneuvering between very different characters, and between past and present, Emily St. John Mandel sets up a beautiful look at humanity and at life. Instead of the situation of an apocalyptic vision taking over the whole of the reader's concentration, placing the characters at the forefront allows readers to see paths more clearly, and see the background of each place and time just so much as they get wrapped up in the vision of the 'present' world. More than any other dytsopic fiction I've come across, it felt 'real', and potentially believable/familiar in a way that was actually jarring, something I haven't felt before. In the end, the style of this work made it incredibly powerful, and I'd recommend it to nearly any/every reader.

mar 25, 2015, 2:02pm

20. Riding the Bubble: The World of Housing is a Wild Ride by Dr. Scott Benjamin

Besides just being informative, this is a fascinating look into what it takes to get involved in real estate and make money. On a step-by-step basis, Scott Benjamin documented his journey into real estate and becoming a millionaire through the same. By having set up this book as a journaling project from the very beginning, he allows readers to get a glimpse of his mindset from Day One on. Readers get to see the ups and downs, the risks and the calculated guesses, and look directly into the math of how everything works out with buying and selling, 'flipping' homes, and making a fortune through real estate.

If you're curious about the ins and outs of real estate, and what it could take for you to get into the game and make some money--either a little or a lot--I can't recommend this book enough. It's built for the average reader with a keen interest in the potential profit (personal, professional, and monetary!) they could find in real estate, and the author's awareness of the personal gains (family time, vacation allowances, etc.) alongside the risks makes this read all the more worthwhile.

If you're interested in the subject, this is worth the time. It's not a short book because he does go into the pain-staking details of both the money and the risks...but then again, if you're interested, that's exactly what you want.


apr 5, 2015, 9:05pm

Good luck with the house move, especially with pets and to a different state! (I only moved to the other side of the same suburb and it nearly killed me!)

Some great reading here, I've taken entirely too many book bullets...

apr 8, 2015, 11:12pm

>47 wookiebender:, thanks! It was a journey, but one which we're so glad to have made, and now we're finally all moved in and back to work! I think we would have found any place enjoyable, just to get out of Pittsburgh, but Florida definitely feels like paradise :) And, the animals love it--we've got floor-length windows that the cats are loving, and plenty of light for them to bask in, along with a yard and plenty of space for the dog!

Meanwhile, I'm afraid I haven't been doing much reading. Between the move and a horrendous sinus infection, there's just not much time and energy left for anything but work! But, here's the latest in any case...

21. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

In truth, this book is the culmination of many obsessions centered on the Amazon. From men who lost their lives or disappeared while searching for a lost civilization, on through the men who themselves lost their lives or disappeared while searching for the explorers who came before them, the searching for something or for someone is at the center of the heartbreaks and mysteries chronicled in this work. Masterfully, the author moves from past to present and back, exploring the dangers of the Amazon and its inhabitants as well as the paths that led so many men on to their deaths. Yet, for all of this, the book is something of a journey in itself, and the paths chronicled are so similar that they blend together into what one might well call a single out-of-control obsession for knowledge.

All told, I didn't find this to be a quick read, but it was fascinating. For readers interested as much in mystery as in the many natural dangers of the rainforest, and wondering about the biographies and the men which ended in the Amazon, this is an ideal work of exploration and engagement.

apr 25, 2015, 1:31pm

22. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

Murakami's stories are masterful, as playful as they are believable. Where magical realism slips int, particularly in "Super-Frog saves Tokyo", there's also an element of adult-type wonder that isn't easy to find with other authors. It makes Murakami's work all the more special and memorable.

And though these are short stories, none particularly long, it's not difficult to get sucked in to each world. Much as the themes might overlap, the characters are as various as the plots, and nothing here is repetitive. Simply enough, you'll be hard-pressed to not read this short collection in one sitting.

Absolutely recommended.

apr 27, 2015, 10:56am

23. Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine by Jon Cohen

Examining and explaining the history of HIV/AIDS vaccine research, from its beginning rounds on up through 2000, just after which the book was published, Cohen's work explores the individuals, the politics, the bureaucracy, the funding, the scientific processes involved in vaccine research, and even past vaccine developments--all in an effort to untangle the spiderweb of developments, and more often non-developments, that accounted for work toward a vaccine over the first few decades of the world's awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Throughout the book, what is frightening clear is how many different personalities and forces did as much to hinder the process as to help. From average slow-moving politics to individuals and companies who could see only their way of doing things and refused to accept options, and on to parties who were unwilling to accept that the traditional paths of research wouldn't work in the case of HIV/AIDS, research was more spastic and half-hazard than clearly directed toward a unified purpose. Cohen at one point describes the various efforts in terms of a child's soccer game, where a team's many members are gathered in an organized fashion, all flailing and kicking in the direction of the ball so that it eventually, more by chance than direct effort of a team, shoots out into some unpredicted direction...and very rarely hits the goal. Similarly, the description above isn't to say that many smart and dedicated individuals weren't directing their efforts toward the search for an AIDS vaccine--it is to say that many of them were working at cross-purposes, or at best, working on niche goals that weren't conceived or clearly understood in relation to other efforts.

Cohen's work is meticulously researched, and includes material not just from publicly available documentation, but from personal interviews, observations, and access to personalities and documents generally kept private by the research and/or government offices involved in the research and politics at the heart of this subject. His writing is clear and detailed, giving a careful view to the race for an HIV/AIDS vaccine.

On the whole, the book is hard to read not because of Cohen's writing or because of the subject---he's done an admirable job of making the material accessible and allowing readers into the world depicted here, both in terms of science and in terms of politics--but because it is all too clear that the bureaucracy of it all, and the fear of making a mistake, has far more to do with failure than success. In fact, reading Cohen's work and putting together the different pieces makes it seem rather a miracle that our society has ever managed vaccines or scientific developments that depended on more than the power of one individual. Simply, cooperation isn't in the vocabulary of too many people who were directly involved in the work discussed here, and as a result, it is a frustrating read.

All told, Cohen's work is an admirable one, depicting a maze of research and personalities which is difficult to accept, but utterly too real. I'd recommend the work to anyone interested in the processes involved in scientific research related to inter-agency or government cooperation and/or funding, or interested in the beginning years' progression of research which is still working toward establishing some level of dependable vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

apr 27, 2015, 3:31pm

Shots in the Dark sounds like an important book, though I think I'll wait for a newer title or an update to that one. It seems like there's been a lot of progress in the last 15 years, and I'd like to read something more concise (versus trawling through a variety of short articles) about that too.

apr 28, 2015, 10:23am

>51 mabith:, It's funny--I thought a lot about that before I wrote the review, but ended not not really going into any recent work I've read. In the end, I decided a lot of the value of the book is two-fold--a big part of it is looking at the give-and-take and the way politics influenced early research (including politicians ignoring HIV/AIDS all together in the beginning). But, just as much, I think a lot of the value here is in the way it all works. The author does a lot of work to show how this process was going forward in relation to how earlier vaccines (such as polio and smallpox) had been developed, as far as where the differences were/are, both in terms of the diseases themselves and also in terms of how the scientific community has changed. So, beyond just looking at the developments (or lack there of), the author is also working to look at vaccine development and the feedback loop of the scientific community and medication/treatment trials in general. I think it's built for readers who are interested in this side of things, as well as just the development/progression of research in terms of HIV/AIDS.

Hmm. Maybe I do need to say some of that in the review lol. I'm glad you brought it up :)

apr 28, 2015, 11:25am

I definitely got that from your review, I think. Since I doubt I'll be able to find an audio edition of the book, and may end up only reading one book on the subject, that's part of my reason for waiting or looking for something newer. That kind of book they often add information to it if there's going to be a reprinting, so hopefully that happens.

apr 28, 2015, 6:05pm

>53 mabith:, Ah okay, good to know :)

apr 30, 2015, 10:01pm

24. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

In the beginning, this is a simple and quiet book, building layers upon mysteries and absent emotions as it begins. For Ishiguro fans, it will be both familiar and strange--there's that beauty of language, that simplicity of emotion, and that twist of character...but the interior is oddly apart. Of course, there's reason for it.

Like a legend or the journey of a knight, this is a wandering tale. There's battle and heartbreak, legend and myth, hope and deceit. In the beginning, it is somewhat slow-going. In the last portion, it is impossible to ignore, impossible to walk away from, impossible to forget. Truth be told, a bit into this book, I was wondering whether Ishiguro had lost his touch, or done something so apart from past works (and so apart from my usual tastes) that I simply couldn't get foothold enough to be drawn in. Or perhaps I just wasn't in the mood? And then, there was a turn.

Without realizing it, I reached a moment when the characters were more real than friends and loved ones, and when the book felt more real than all the tales of Arthur and his knights which I've heard and read and re-read so often. There reached a point when I couldn't walk away, and now I'm a bit heartbroken for the world and the characters, a bit entranced, and wondering. I'm hating Ishiguro for what he mastered and created, and at the same time believing it to be perfect.

Simply enough, this is a book to wander into, and then fall into. It is one of those rare books which I have to conclude will never leave me behind, though I may never reread it, and which deserves to be read.

maj 4, 2015, 10:47am

25. The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers

A fast-paced espionage novel, moving from scene to scene and country to country incredibly quickly. If anything, it was a bit too fast-moving, details flying by with a number of characters (mostly the 'bad guys', admittedly) moving through too quickly to get a feel for them. All told, I would have liked a bit more depth to character as opposed to the every maneuver of everyone, but it was a fun fast read. I think I'm going to read one of the earlier ones in order to see whether I want to put the time into more of the series as a whole.

maj 5, 2015, 2:57pm

26. Ribbons: The Gulf War by William Heyen

Often reading like something of a poetic journal more so than a poem, this work has some striking moments and comes across as frighteningly current & relevant--even more than two decades after publication. Heyen's blend of nature, 'current' events/war, and personal understanding is impressive, and a fairly powerful example of what a long poetic sequence is capable of when focused in to a particular exploration.

All told, this isn't a simple read, and it's also not as dated as it should be given the current conflicts. If you're interested in poetry that attempts some reconciliation of personal understanding with war, or at poetry which will both take you back to the Gulf War and also telescope you forward into now, this might very well be worth picking up.

maj 9, 2015, 10:43am

27. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

This was only my second Robin McKinley book, but it won't be my last. Though it took a few chapters to get pulled into it, primarily because there are so many characters introduced so quickly, the story was impossible to walk away from once it got started. Full of atmosphere, engaging characters, and compelling turns, the story was simply wonderful. Notably, McKinley's descriptions are gorgeous, but she also proves herself a master of writing about animals believably, both as they behave naturally and as they interact with humans.

Simply, the book made me feel rather as if I'd been sucked into a fairy tale all over again, and it was wonderful.


maj 10, 2015, 11:20pm

28. The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

O'Nan's writing is compelling and believable, as are his characters. True to form, The Odds is beautifully written and smartly paced, moving through a struggling couple's weekend with both grace and humor. If anything, the couple and the plotting are too believable--familiar, pedestrian, and so easy to accept. Yet, O'Nan's style and flawless language make the read a fast and interesting one, translating life onto the page so simply that there's nothing there to be doubted.

All together, the story perhaps isn't one that will stick with me, but I'm left (as always) with an appreciation for O'Nan's care for language.

maj 17, 2015, 7:18pm

Now that it's published, I can add in a book I was lucky enough to read last month, as an editor and reviewer. Without doubt, it'll be a bit familiar to readers of Harry Potter and other fantasy series where young wizards go off to learn about themselves and their worlds, but honestly, I found it weirdly refreshing, and really engaging. If anyone seeks it out, I'll be curious to hear further reactions. Yep, it's a bit derivative, but it's got so many twists and rather refreshing marks that I can't help but recommend it as being fun and worthwhile!

The touchstones aren't working here, but if you type in the title or series on amazon or kindle, you should be able to find it easily!

29. It Doesn't Make Any Sense (Cori Rubio Book 1) by Jennifer Ariadne Park

I was lucky enough to get an early copy of this for review, and found it to be a wonderfully fun surprise that left me anxious to read the rest of the series.

Park's first book about Cori Rubio is a refreshing twist on the young magician learning about both himself and his changing world, but rather wonderfully, he doesn't see himself as the masterful student or the hero of the story. He sees himself as the guy who's going along for the ride, and who can only make sense of things by thinking, simply, that they don't make any sense. And yet, for readers who enjoy fantasy, new worlds, and young protagonists, this book makes rather perfect sense.

Recommended as a fast and absolutely enjoyable read!

maj 19, 2015, 4:34pm

30. Empty Bodies 2: Adaptation by Zach Bohannon

I received an early copy of Adaptation to read, and found that Bohannon did a stellar job of following up the first installment in the Empty Bodies series. This was a fast-paced sequel that did a phenomenal job of following up on the characters who readers grew so attached to in Book 1, and then sweeping readers along for a twisting plot forward.

The one warning is that readers probably won't want to jump into this one without reading the Empty Bodies 1, so if you've just stumbled onto Bohannon's work and are thinking about reading this one first, just order books 1 and 2 at once so that you can get to know the characters and what's going on in Book 1 before jumping into this story :)

On the whole, the book is a lot of fun, so if post-apocalyptic action or horror is in your alley of interest, with or without zombies, I absolutely recommend it!

maj 19, 2015, 11:01pm

31. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

Krist's examination of New Orleans as it developed from around 1890 to 1920 is fascinating and detailed, examining how a city developed and how tides turned repeatedly. From immigration and race relations to prostitution and crime, and of course right on to jazz and politics, the book focuses in on various chapters, issues, personalities, and drives forward into what eventually became the city we now know. Besides being a fascinating account with meticulous research, Krist's work is clever and gracefully written, displaying a masterful balance of analysis and objective detail.

On the whole, this really is a fascinating ride of a book. Journeying from the New Orleans of 1980, where the greatest problems revolve around Italian immigrants and rivalries, and where interracial marriages are all but expected (and certainly expected and accepted), on to the New Orleans where so-called vice (from gambling to prostitution) is accepted as long as you're within the confines of a given district, and finally on to the New Orleans of 1920, where race relations have disintegrated back into what we might expect of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century cities in the south, and where vice is hidden, and jazz just the same.

All told, Krist's book is both fascinating and fast-moving. Whether it's an interest in jazz, in American history, or in New Orleans itself that drives you to pick up the book, I truly doubt you'll be disappointed.

Absolutely recommended.

maj 20, 2015, 8:07pm

Excellent review of The Buried Giant. I agree completely.

maj 20, 2015, 8:48pm

>63 jfetting: -- Thanks :) That was a hard one to write!

maj 24, 2015, 7:36pm

32. Crazyball: Sports Scandals, Superstitions, and Sick Plays by Barry Wilner & Ken Rappaport

Much as I was looking forward to this book, it ended up being incredibly disappointing. Full of one-liners and fast overviews of material that most sports fans will already know, there's just not much content here.

Three very telling facts: A) I don't really follow either golf or basketball, but even I knew about many of the anecdotes that related to those sports. B) I consider myself a casual sports fan, and yet, I could give you more detail on some of the scandals and flubs detailed here. C) Perhaps most telling of all: The longest chapter of the book is a collection of sections summing up and outlining highlights from favorite sports movies. (That's right--the longest chapter in a nonfiction book about sports is related to summing up comedies that any reader will have already seen.)

The authors obviously enjoy sports, but when it comes down to it, this book is a running-through of headlines and one-liners, and has very little depth. It's written in more the style of a coffee table book that would sell itself through tons of pictures and the occasional graphic overview of statistics. But those things are missing because it's printed as a traditional book--and, as such, it's a disappointing affair.

On the whole, I just can't recommend it. It might be an entertaining read for the average middle school boy who likes sports, but doesn't know much about past craziness, but for an adult reader who enjoys sports.... well, again, there's just not much here.

maj 25, 2015, 9:11pm

33. The River Midnight

As much a look into history as it is a piece of transporting entertainment, Nattel's The River Midnight brings to life the men and women of a shtetl northwest of Warsaw. Weaving small-town gossip with frightening politics, the concerns of a small town with individuals in hope and in mourning, and half-dreamt magical realism with hard-pressed reality, the novel is a layered masterpiece, and well worth reading.

In Blaszka, this fictional village of Polish Jews, everything is paramount. Meticulously detailed, the novel moves effortlessly between characters, teaching history even as it entertains. On some level, there's a pregnant midwife named Misha who is at the center of everything. On another level, she is less important than the village community, and only as important as the young men and women who are around her, accepting or rebelling against changing politics and a seemingly shrinking village.

All together, it's difficult to say anything at all about this work. More than any historical fiction I've read in recent years, this book manages to balance daily life with historical care while still treating issues of the time which go beyond the day-to-day, and there's something magical about the way it all comes together.

Simply, this is one of those novels that is worth reading. Call it literary fiction or magical realism or historical fiction or whatever you like--it tells a wonderful story, with both grace and humor, and it is, very simply, powerful.

Absolutely recommended.

maj 29, 2015, 6:14pm

34. People Have This Thing Called 'Free Will' by Jennifer Ariadne Park

As a sequel to the first book about Cori Rubio, this is a lovely follow-up, delivering just what readers might have expected after reading the first book in the series, and still finding some shocking and creative twists. There's a lot to be admired here, in the story itself and in the characters, and the adventure is a fun one to follow. Park adeptly maneuvers between adult socio-political themes while writing believable young characters, and the end result is really worth enjoying.

As was the case with the first, I absolutely recommend it!

jun 3, 2015, 7:49am

Will have to check out the Cori Rubio series! Also good to hear good things about The Buried Giant, I've got that on Mt TBR.

jun 4, 2015, 12:38am

Just added The Buried Giant to my Amazon wish list-- thanks for the suggestion!

jun 6, 2015, 3:18pm

jun 7, 2015, 5:18pm

35. Journey Through the States by Jennifer Ariadne Park

Journey Through the States is a clever look at a United States fractured by religion, disgruntled politics, and economic chaos. As a dystopian work flavored by innocence and religious variety, it's got a flavor of On the Road and moves along at a fast pace. Readers will find a lot of depth in this work, both as a story of entertainment and as a piece of social commentary. It's got humor to spare, and characters who make you curious about what will come next.

All told, I have to recommend it to any reader who takes a look, and can't help but wondering...

jun 7, 2015, 6:25pm

36. A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century by Andrew MacGregor Marshall

Marshall's work is an invaluable summing up and examination of the political upheaval present in Thailand, from last century on through immediate history. Describing the balance of power (or rather, the sometimes lack of balance) between the people and the monarchy, and between what is said versus what actually happens, along with the frightening lack of freedom of speech, Marshall moves through recent history with an eye toward analyzing the current political crisis which has been ongoing and is now heightening as the country prepares for what will come with the current king's death, something which may not be far off, given his ill-health. With instability in the country likely to rise and with royal succession under heavy discussion, all of the matters this book tackles have been discussed only rarely because of Thailand's lese majeste law and the utter disconnect between what is said to be happening and what is actually occurring. This author, and this work, has cut through that confusion to attempt an in-depth analysis.

For any reader interested in current global politics, in free speech, or in struggles for democracy, this is worth reading, and of course, it will be of interest to readers who want more understanding of the political and cultural climate in Thailand. Marshall's work is smart and well-researched, and his style is both engaging and clear. He carefully documents the peoples' ignored struggles for democracy here, just as he explores the reason that it is still a struggle, and political crisis so clearly in view.

All together, this is a stunning and engaging piece of journalism, and well worth the time for anyone interested.

jun 13, 2015, 3:33pm

37. Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand by Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin's writing is magnificent, and the characters here are as carefully drawn as any you'll find. That said, while I enjoyed her writing and the various snippets of life here, the work didn't suck me in as Le Guin's work usually does. I read as much mainstream literary fiction as I do fantasy and science fiction, though I found Le Guin through her fantasies, but this just felt a bit more languid and disjointed than I would have preferred. Some of the usual magic was there, but then again, some wasn't.

All in all, Le Guin readers will enjoy her normal grace of language and character, but this isn't one I'll remember as one of my favorite works of hers. In fact, beautiful as the language was, this collection probably falls somewhat at a lower level than either the poetry or the fiction I've read from her in the past. A relaxing read with utterly gorgeous language and detailed believable characters...but not one that will stick with me, though the first few stories in the book may well remain with me for a while and bear coming back to.

jun 18, 2015, 12:27am

Holy cow, this next one was a surprise. It would offend many readers, so you may not want to run into it if you're looking for the average memoir, but holy cow--I'm so glad to have found this one. Definitely the biggest (positive) surprise of the year so far.

38. Starve the Vulture by Jason Carney

Carney's memoir is a something that is lyrical and brisk, a something that announces itself loudly, and stands somewhere between poetry and memory, memoir and sculpture. There's a sort of inertia to the structure that makes it both more immediate and more extreme than either what you'd expect from fiction or memoir--in fact, I have to think of my reading experience in terms of a cohesive collection of poetry that draws you along, exhausts you, and forces you to keep going to see what comes next. Though poetry itself is a small part of this (though Carney does include four or five of his poems), Carney's carefully structured work--fragmented as it is--reads like an extended song or collection or poetry. As such, it's impossible to put down.

I'm positive, even as I write this, that the work may not satisfy the reader who searches out memoirs and expects certain guidelines to be met. Carney leaves holes open, jumps in time and jars the reader out of their expectations constantly, and leaves many questions un-answered. He doesn't self-analyze so much as you might expect, and you don't see every step on the path. You see pieces and fragments, points along the way, described beautifully in all of their occasional sweetness, horror, gore, and humor.

If you want an artful book, and a book that might re-arrange what you think a memoir is meant to accomplish, this is what you're looking for. And if you want a book which is simply a fast-moving, raw and touching read, then you're also looking for this one.

In other words, whether you read memoirs or not, whether you like or have any interest in reading about poets or not, you might very well find something to admire in this book.

jul 4, 2015, 2:25pm

39. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman is masterful when it comes to tails of family which include just a bit of the supernatural, and this story is no exception. I can't say that I enjoyed it as much as many of her others, as it almost felt like some of the characters blended together rather than stood on their own, but I did enjoy it.

aug 12, 2015, 10:52pm

40. Gridiron Glory by Kevon Brown (the touchstones here don't work, but if you search for it here at LT or on amazon, you'll find it easily!)

Brown's Gridiron Glory is a fast-moving thrill ride for football lovers who also love a good book. Readers who love a great story with engaging story will be able to get into the book and relate to the characters on a non-football level while readers who are also sports fans will also get sucked into the passion and pressure of a professional football season. From start to finish, the characters and scenes are woven together in a way that fleshes out the world Brown creates while still allowing for depth in plot and character. Whether you're passing time until the next game starts, just looking for a good book, or a long-time fan of inspirational sports movies built around engaging teams and characters, you'll find something to pull you into this book.

If it sounds at all appealing, I can't recommend it highly enough. It has a little bit of everything, genre-wise, and moves so quickly that it's nearly impossible to put down.

aug 14, 2015, 11:33am

41. Lightning Bug by Donald Harington

What a strange and entrancing read this was. If Truman Capote and William Faulkner had come back from the dead to contemplate what a real love story might look like, and then written something together in the last ten years or so as a result of that drunken and zombie-ish conversation, I'm betting it would look something like this. Harington's depiction of a small town and a long, strange friendship (romance?!?) is weirdly innocent, and sort of wonderfully fresh at the same time. His humor brings every page to life, and yet, the frantic nature of the narrative is never lost because of his careful weaving back and forth from past to present, calm to craze.

No doubt, some of you may read this review, and then read the book, and be a bit horrified that I called it--even in passsing--a love story. And admittedly, I didn't think about it in just those terms until I began thinking about what to say in reaction to this book. The unpolitical, uncomfortable truth is, though, that not all love stories look the same, or look innocent, or even look like love. Some just look like life, oddly lived, and that's what Harington has delivered here. So, don't pick this up because I called it a love story. Pick it up because you love strange southern lit., good books, or books where the plots twist in so many little ways that you can't stop reading, and where the characters pull each moment of its place and turn it around for their own pleasure.

aug 22, 2015, 1:19pm

42. The Face of Fear by Dean Koontz

Fast-moving and engaging, the suspense delivered here is among Koontz's best. Although the pacing sometimes feels a bit off, moving somewhat repetitively in the middle sections of the book and then ending incredibly quickly, the book is for the most part a fun and fast read. Enough so for a distracting and relaxing thriller to provide some entertainment and escape? Absolutely.

aug 23, 2015, 12:15pm

43. Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

An unexpected and disarming story, this is one of those tales that exhibits Marquez's talent for sucking a reader into the unknown, and holding them without fail. And somehow, foreign as the many moments and characters are in age and behavior and attitude, the emotions and the engagements are so familiar as to be magical.

Simply, Marquez is unmatched in his ability to tell a strange and wonder-full love story, and this work is worth falling into.


aug 25, 2015, 9:46pm

44. A Sound of Crying by Rodie Sudbery

It's funny how a book can rather sneak up on you. In the beginning, my impressions of A Sound of Crying weren't particularly positive--the dialogue and characters seemed distractingly dated, and the children were so formal as to seem entirely unchildlike. It was easy reading, but nothing I could pull myself into. And yet. At some point, the story here became something I couldn't walk away from, with characters who felt real and true to their own world, no different from children I might happen across in reality. The story came to life, frightening me and making me wonder. And, in the end, I was charmed.

I'm glad to have found this little book--it's one I'll remember, and very likely pass on to young readers who have the patience for an old-fashioned ghost story.


aug 30, 2015, 12:13pm

45. Independence Day by Richard Ford

I can appreciate Ford's writing and characterizations, but in many ways, too much of this book felt like a drawn-out character sketch or an incredibly detailed zooming in on something of a half-engaged-in mid-life crisis. I had more patience for the book now, ten years older than I was when I first tried to read it, but not much--I'd hoped time would make something of a difference, but the truth comes down to the fact that I didn't find much to care about here, or much to engage with, and so as pleasurable as the writing was, the story itself left me uninterested and a bit bored.

I'm glad to have finished it--there were moments of beauty and thought that I found worthwhile--but I'm afraid it's not one I'd recommend. And, truthfully, being glad to have finished it probably has more to do with my determination to finish books than anything I found worthwhile in the book itself...

sep 1, 2015, 9:55am

46. Empty Bodies 3: Deliverance by Zach Bohannon

Finishing out the Empty Bodies trilogy, Deliverance is a fast-packed and incredibly satisfying read. As the characters move forward in what becomes a roller coaster of a conclusion, their stories are more engaging than ever, driving a plot that is almost impossible to look away from. And, as the ending to the series (I believe), this serves admirably--loose ends are tied up, but without anything being too easy, and with twists to keep readers second-guessing.

All together, this is a fast and action-packed read, and readers who enjoyed the beginning of the series will love this installment.

Absolutely recommended.

sep 1, 2015, 10:11am

I actually read this one back in July, and realized a few moments ago that I never got around to reviewing it because I was so busy with work. But, that said, I loved it! If you like horror...

47. Lines of the Devil by Zach Bohannon

Lines of the Devil centers on a tattoo artist whose talent has moved beyond the artistry he's known for. Suddenly, those same people who have been coming to him for ink are being horrifically murdered, and the horror behind what's happening is something almost impossible for him to accept.

From start to finish, this is one of those books that pulls you in and just drags you further into the story. And for readers like me, who have a few tattoos and can't help but be distracted by everything that goes along with them, the story has some extra power inherent in the clever way Bohannon writes about the art.

Simply, I loved it.

sep 5, 2015, 9:11am

48. Vietnam: A Traveler's Literary Companion edited by John Balaban and Nguyen Qui Duc

The stories here are full of atmosphere, containing some gems of characters and language. Each one brings in a different perspective and a slightly different take on location, so there's a great variety within the book, even with the focus on Vietnam and Vietnamese authors. The most powerful pieces are actually the ones that have less of a concentration on physical place, though, as these tend to be the stories that evolve with more attention to complex characters within the larger social or political scheme of things.

All together, though, this is a step away from the average collection, and certainly something of a trip in itself. I'd recommend it to interested readers, and I'll certainly be looking up more books in the 'Traveler's Literary Companion' series.

sep 5, 2015, 10:30am

49. Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski

In a nuanced look at history, hate, and perceptions of hate, Whitlock and Bronski present their case for thinking about changing the way we talk about hate and use the idea of hate, let alone the word, discussing how our use of the idea of hate actually affects our ability to think about and approach issues of crime and violence. Through discussions of everything from famous 'hate crimes' on to discussions of popular culture (particularly film) and changes in socio-political culture, the authors give an unflinching look to what has changed and what hasn't changed, as well as what must change.

Thoughtful readers will find a great deal to admire here, and a great deal which is capable of provoking thought. Whether you disagree or agree with their points, this is one of those books which should be read, and which will provoke discussion. There are, of course, no easy answers in the pages, but there may well be worthwhile suggestions for how we can disrupt the current and seemingly fruitless discussions, and move on to progress real change.


sep 8, 2015, 11:41am

50. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

What an absolutely wonderful and fun book.

I admit, it took me ages to get around to reading it because I grew up watching the movie/cartoon, and I wasn't sure I wanted to change that experience in any way, or that a book of the same could be half so entertaining. (Though, even as I write that sentence, I admit that's not nearly how I usually think of books vs. their movies, and is really only the case here because I grew up with it.) Nevertheless, this was such a wonderful and fun read, and I can't wait to share it with young readers I know.

Simply, the book is pretty magical.

sep 10, 2015, 11:07pm

51. One Arm and Other Stories by Tennessee Williams

Williams may be known best for his drama, but his short stories are simply brilliant, and I fell in love with his writing here on a level which was far beyond that I've experienced with his drama. I picked up the collection on a whim, and quickly discovered that his characters in prose are all-together more alive and more engaging than those I've found in his drama. In these sweeping short stories, he pulls together worlds that are simple as they are vibrant, and worth falling into with nearly every page. In fact, the flattest of the stories -- for me, at least -- was the one which touched back to the characters from his Glass Menagerie. The others, one by one, pulled me in and engaged my thoughts with every move and emotion. His flare for simple and natural language, buffeted by believable an all-too-real characters made this a collection that I wished wouldn't end.

Absolutely recommended.

sep 25, 2015, 5:24pm

52. The Great Los Angeles Blizzard by Thom Racina

Racina's vision of a major blizzard in Los Angeles is almost comedic in its beginnings, but fast becomes more real, and all the more terrifying. And, of course, that's likely how it would begin, with jokes about snow moving into terror and the unknown. His blending of short sections focused on climatology with engaging characters and a slow progression of intensity makes for a fast read, and while the book is clearly dated, for contemporary readers (having been written in 1977), Racina's focus on simply telling a fast-moving and character-driven story easily overcomes that question of period.

Altogether, this was a pleasant surprise. As a character-driven disaster novel, it had a lot to offer in terms of thought and escape, and it was an incredibly quick read. Having spent some time in Los Angeles, and having dealt with being snowed in on more than one occasion, and for more than a week at a time, it was sometimes too easy to imagine just how believable the panic would be, and how dangerously such conditions would escalate in an unprepared city like LA.

So, in the end, I have to say I'm glad I stumbled across this. It was a relaxing escape, and moved so quickly that it was, at plenty of moments, too hard to put aside or ignore.

okt 7, 2015, 12:24pm

53. A Moveable Feast: Sketches of the Author's Life in Paris in the Twenties by Ernest Hemingway

Reading Hemingway's sketches is a journey backward, and a wonderful one. With the intimate glimpses into his life that the book provides, and his beautifully simple language, each sketch of a chapter takes on a beauty of its own. Any reader of Hemingway should at some point find their way here, to this simple and lovely book.

Absolutely recommended.

okt 19, 2015, 11:05am

54. Teeth by Aracelis Girmay

Girmay's poems are varied and aware, wandering into different territories and balancing smoothly between language-play and observation. In many of them, there's such power that a reader is hard-pressed to not stop, consider, and reread the same poem once again--not because of a lack of clarity, but because there's a drive to re-experience it, and gain some more drops of meaning and emotion. It's true that not every poem lives up to this description--a few are oversoaked in description or expansion--but most of the poems here will be well worth the time for poetry lovers who want their poetry to come with an awareness of the world, and not only self-awareness.

All told, I truly enjoyed this one, and have to recommend it on to anyone who enjoys dipping into contemporary poetry; it's a lovely, thoughtful read, with much to appreciate and consider.

okt 19, 2015, 11:24am

55. The Last September by Nina De Gramont

I received The Last September from Librarything's Early Reviewer Program, and while I've had excellent experiences with their matching me up with books before, it was a struggle for me to finish this one.

The book advertises itself as something of a love story, something of a murder mystery. It advertises itself as a book where the woman at the center is examining her life, trying to make sense of her husband's murder and whether or not she may have been complicit. The books is said to be 'moving and unpredictable'. All told, though, I'd say that none of this is true.

The protagonist, Brett, is so incredibly self-involved that it's impossible to care for her, and while the back cover of the book proclaims that she loved her husband from the first day she met him...well, as the book presents the story, she might have been infatuated with him or in lust, at best, but it certainly wasn't love. And when she apparently gets involved with another man, and then engaged (out of what? boredom?), she then simply wanders away from him, at their engagement party no-less, to her ex-lover. From the beginning, I'm afraid she's painted as a conceited and immature graduate student, with little awareness of the real world or what it means to be in love, and as a result, much of the inertia that the book could have held is lost in her endless references to Emily Dickinson and her never-ending self pity. The last straw for me, personally, which probably guarantees that I won't pick up another De Gramont work, comes with Brett declaring that hers is a more powerful and extensive grief than that of another character (who is far more sympathetic)--after all, she has a child, and he never had one, so hers must be more powerful. Never mind the fact that we've seen no evidence of real connection between she and her husband, that they were estranged and cheating on one another before he was murdered, or that the other character has ever remained faithful to just the memory of his life and still speaks of her with what is clear love.

Can you tell that, by the end of the book, little as I wanted to finish, I truly wanted the other characters to leave helpless and annoying Brett to her own devices, rather than taking care of her as if she were a five year old? Perhaps this isn't a bad portrait of a wannabe academic whose life isn't what she envisioned, but she's not anyone I want to spend five pages with, let alone 300.

Simply, there's very little of a murder mystery here until the last ten pages, when that portion of the book is almost laughingly crammed in--and no, I'm afraid there's no surprise or twist there, either. De Gramont's characters may be believable, as is the plot, and her writing may be graceful and beautifully-delivered, but none of that makes up for the fact that we're presented with a boring story about characters who are unsympathetic, and closer to pathetic than interesting

Obviously, I'm afraid that this isn't something I'd ever bother recommending.

dec 28, 2015, 10:04pm

56. Open Roads by Zach Bohannon

As the fourth installment of Bohannon's Empty Bodies series, Bohannon's Open Roads takes the series to a new level that will impress all readers who've already been hooked on the series. Delving further into the histories of established characters while upping the ante and the tension, Open Roads is impossible to put down. True to the series, it delivers twists and action within an incredibly paced parceling out of horror, and shows Bohannon to be a master storyteller.

dec 28, 2015, 10:22pm

57. Bone Quill by John Barrowman

Bone Quill picks up where the first book in the series left off, delivering just as much excitement. The characters in this series are so engaging that it's almost impossible to put the book down--all told, it's exciting, engrossing, and a wonderful wandering into meditations on the powers and intricacies of imagination and art.

Absolutely recommended.

dec 28, 2015, 10:27pm

One I forgot to add earlier...

58. Project Child: Awakening by Robin Deeter

Project Child: Awakening is a fast-paced start for a series, and I'm anxious to see how things develop. The book had a lot intense and gripping moments, and the characters sucked me in immediately. Deeter's writing is a nice blend of being descriptive and fast-paced also, which seems rarer and rarer these days. Altogether, this exceeded my expectations as the start to a series, and had enough twists and surprises that I imagine the series is only going to get better from here.

dec 29, 2015, 3:04pm

59. Island of Lies by Pamela Laux Moll

A fast-paced romance with a bit of intrigue to keep things interesting. Exotic settings and a number of twists are also a constant, setting up a series that's clearly going to be balanced between romance and suspense.

dec 29, 2015, 3:22pm

60. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

In the beginning of 77 Shadow Street, I was really sucked in. The characters and the atmosphere were gripping, and I couldn't put the book down. Atmospherically, it was right on pace with what I'd hoped for, and the characters were so engaging that I couldn't believe it took me so long to pick it up.

And then, unfortunately, it stalled. About midway through the book, things simply slowed down. Too much jumping around with not enough depth made me feel like I'd rather lost touch with both the creepy atmosphere I'd been enjoying and the characters who I'd been most engaged with. In a way, it rather felt like the book lost focus, moving almost from horror into sci-fi territory, but also--really simply--losing focus and sort of wandering. I lost interest, and ended up not even bothering to take it with me on vacation, opting instead to start something else.

In the end, I finished this today, but compared to how I felt in the beginning, it ended up being a somewhat disappointing read. The ending picked up a bit, and I was glad to read through the resolution, but I think Koontz just tried to pack in too many ideas and twists into this one. Oddly, it was both sort of predictable and sort of confusing at different moments, which I have to attribute to a lack of focus, and a really off-kilter pacing.

All told, this likely isn't one that I'd find reason to recommend, I'm afraid.