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« March, 2005 »
Killer Smile

I picked this up because it was a mystery novel that was also loosely about Italian-American internment camps in the US during WWII. I know next to nothign about these so I figured I’d pick up the book and learn some. The newsy bits of this book were good. However the whole chick-law-firm angle wasn’t as interesting. Too much brand-name consciousness that never resonates with me [oh that woman is wearing XYZ brand shoes, does that mean she is high class or low class?!] becomes tiresome. Additionally, the red herring random threatening unhinged male character received the unlikely nickname premenstrual Tom which, to me, was the height of ridiculous, as if to say “see we’re women here, this is the language of women!” I can’t see any good reason to give anyone a nickname that is four times as long as their actual name. It seems contrived and flat, as did a lot of the rest of this book. Good for the history, not great for anything else.

The Librarian

I have read a lot of books with the word librarian in the titles. They’re usually written by librarians, in which case they’re usually fairly accurate, or they’re not in which case they are often laughable. This book is a grand exception. It’s a political mystery/thriller featuring one librarian primarily but with another librarian who helps out from time to time. The general theme is “The bad guys may be trying to steal the presidential election!” and the librarian for one of the possibly bad guys is in an awkward position of possibly having [or having access to] information that could help uncover the deception and save the free world.

It’s a good storyline, and what’s better is that the librarian character rings trup, to me anyhow. He’s a smart but reluctant hero and gets out of many tricky situations by using available resources and good problem-solving abilities, not super-strenght, dashing charm or nerves of steel. I liked him and enjoyed the story, setting and overall plot. An excellent read for all you librarians.

The Orchid Thief

The story Orleans tells here, which is all true, was somehow made in to the movie Adaptation, which I haven’t seen. The part of her tale that was highlighted and exaggerated in the movie is the least interesting part of this book. Orleans goes to Florida to write about orchid thieves for the New Yorker and comes back to finish an entire book on the subject of Floridians and their orchids and the history of orchids generally. It’s a book about fanatics and the history of orchid fanatacism and does not disappoint. The least strong part of the book, however, is Orelans’s time spent with her subject from the New Yorker. She thinks he’s cool and fascinating. I did not. As a result, she talks about him a lot in parts of the book that I found somewhat boring.


This book had a flashy cover and was in the sci fi section so I picked it up. It’s just barely sci-fi. Actually, I read in Library Journal that only losers call science fiction sci fi any more so I guess I’ll have to say sf. In any case, it’s mostly a love story, the way The Goldbug Variations was a love story but also sort of about math and science and music.

Not that this is bad, but the premise of the science in the book -- of a transhuman-ish future where the sex and gender lines blur dramatically -- was appealing and didn’t really come to the forefront until one of those long awkward “here is what the science is all about” conversations in the last pages of the book. Of course, the entire story is an allegory for this larger scientific discovery. A group of friends in college explores different sorts of relationships and lifestyles while one smart but tortured soul becomes a bit of a woman-hating feminist pundit. I was hoping for more science and less parable, but the story alone supported the book, and the writing and relationships were both sincere-seeming enough to make it worth while.

Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man

Sometimes I just want a little light reading either before bed or when I get up in the morning. This is Tim Allen from Home Iprovement fame talking about himself and the nature of men and women. It’s sortof funny. Not crazy-funny, but funny. He also talks a lot about himself. Who knew that Tim Allen’s real last name was Dick? Or that he had been to prison on drug charges before he became a comedian? The best part of this book is hearing Allen tells less-than-flattering stories about himself and his growing up and you get to know a little bit more about the funny guy that you might have only known through his tv show and movies. Perfect light reading.


I love Penn Gillette’s writing but I couldn’t get through this story of a dead woman and the guy who used to love her told from the perspective of a sock monkey with a propensity for obsessively quoting lines from eighties pop song.

Animals in Translation

It’s worthwhile to know a little bit about Temple Grandin before reading this book. She is an adult with autism who is extraordinarily perceptive when it comes to animal psychology and she uses this skill to work with the slaughterhouse industry to help them make their slaughterhouses more humane. She has an autobiography called Thinking in Pictures which is another good read

She co-authored this book with Catherine Johnson, a writer who has two autistic sons. Together they have created a clear concise book about animals and humans and the murky unknown that lies between them. It is Grandin’s well-researched opinion that people with autism lie somewhere along the spectrum of consciousness somewhere between animals and people in terms of how their brains work. As a result, she believe that she and many other autistic people have specific insights into ways the animal brain works. She outlines many of these ideas in this book and gives humans educated guesses why she thinks animals do what they do, and act how they act.

Grandin’s writing style is very precise and direct which I always enjoy. She defines many of her terms, and while she uses a lot of anecdotes, both personal and professional, she’s rarely flowery or hyperbolic. As a result I find her books a lot of fun to read, especially since they touch on difficult issues like slaughterhouse procedures and animal abuse. Seen through Grandin’s dispassionate gaze, we can learn from these examples not just get emotioanlly swept up in them.

The Summons

Reading this book made me realize just how much better Grisham’s writing has gotten even in the past few years. This is another of his tales about the evils of money, with a brand conscious young lawyer who is trying to figure out where all the cash came from that he found at the site of his father’s death. Lots of good father/son and brother/brother tension in this one, and a completely fine book, just nothing special.


My friend Sharyn is the editor of this book and I think she generally has good taste. So, when she was complaining that her [now ex] boyfriend had never read this wonderful book she edited, I decided I would read it. I’m normally not much of a fan of fantasy fiction and I don’t read a lot of young adult literature and yet I really enjoyed this book. Part of the reason is because the stories are all quite different, and yet somehow the same. There are a few “babies from someplace else raised by a town” stories and a few “dark stranger waltzes in from noplace” stories and a few retellings of better known folktales or myths, including one graphic novel-y one which mixes things up a bit. As a result, if you find even one story you like, there’s a good chance there will be another one somewhere in this thick book of stories that you will also enjoy. In any case, I am now a convert and have a short list of authors I would really like to read more of, which is probably the point of many compilations. Additionally, this book has short author bios and little “about the story” blurbs at the end of each story, which I am a total sucker for, and are also good fodder for the new reader of fantasy fiction.

First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple

This is not an easy book to read. It details a year or so in the author’s life between the time that he began having outward indications of Dissociative Identity Disorder [what many of us know as multiple personality disorder, or even "that Sybil thing"] and the time he acknowledged the disorder and began taking steps on the road to healing. West was abised as a child by at least his mother and his grandmother and instead of having terrible memories of those events, his psyche split off separate personalities deep within his subconscious that held the memories. At some point these personalities -- some of whom were female and some of whom were children -- manifested themselves into his normal life with disturbing and upsetting results. One of the personalities was angry and would injure him. Several of them were children which meant driving a car or making love to his wife became nearly impossible.

West was hospitalized many times. Through it all he has a wife who has spent over a decade with him not having DID who had an adjustment period. With her he was raising their child, who had only the vaguest understanding of what was going on with his parents. This book is at its strongest when it discusses trying to ekep the family togeter and dealing with outsiders' reactions to people with DID. It’s at its weakest when it gives first person accounts of the tantrums and extended narratives of the alter personalities. I’m sure this is part of living with DID, but since West is telling this story through his own eyes, his causal acceptance of something that is very hard for others to understand sometimes results in a glossing over of feelings or emotion that would lead to greater understanding of the reader. We learn towards the end of the book that West is working on his own denial about having DID, but since he’s been telling us about it all along, it’s hard to parse this with the explanations of denial. West now has his own Ph.D. which he was working on during the course of writing this book.

Yankee Magazine’s Living Well on a Shoestring

I’ve always had a frugality that bordered on the obsessive. I don’t like to buy extraneous paper products. I almost never buy new clothes. I reuse and repari and recycle as much as I can. It never really occurred to me until reading this book that I might be that was because I’m ffrom New England. This book is a wonderfully attractive compilation of over 1.500 tips for being frugal. The author’s dont expect that everyone is living on povery level wages, but they do explain that saving money on things that you don’t care about leaves you more money to spend on things you do care about. To this end, they intersperse little quizzes between the tips asking questions like “which of these is actually a better buy?” and then explaining why one coupon for dining out might be a better value than buying a coupon book which costs and might encourage more eating out in order to recoup that money.

The illustrations are wonderful and the tips are geared towards people who live a rural or semi-rural lifestyle. It’s a delight to read a book that actually seems to be geared towards the way I live, instead of a city dweller who might have an organic grocery or hardware store two blocks away. The Yankee editors even include little anecdotes about thrifty living and special techniques that can help out as sidebars to the rest of the good information. The writing is good enough that you can just read this book cover to cover though it would also be pretty useful hanging out as a reference on a kitchen shelf too.

The Sign of the Book

I’ve read the entire Bookman series of mysteries that Dunning has written. They all deal, more or less, with rare books, a cop turned book collector, and usually some weird stash of rare books with a mystery behind them, and some other non-book crime. Cliff Janeway is Dunning’s protagonist and he’s a flawed hero. He’s got a bad temper and sometimes acts inappropriately. However unlike sharped-tongue leading men, Janeway often takes the heat for his missteps and it’s wlays interesting to see whether he is his own undoing. This book moves more into the realm of actual mysteries with the rare books as a sort of sub-plot. Still great, still interesting, and Dunning is a master of the multi-character whodunit that have solid pacing and yet are still compelling but brief reads.