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The Vig

One of the early Dismas hardy books in the series by Lescroart. I haven’t been up to much “serious” reading lately and having books to talk about with my sister and read on the bus/plane is about right for now.


Hicksville is a made up town somewhere in New Zealand where everyone is a comics fan and comics are seen as real worthwhile literature. Dylan Horrocks has made the place up and populated it with real people and tells a story of one local guy made good and what happens to him there. There are quite a few little comic stories within the main story which I found a little difficult sometimes to differentiate but I’m sure that has more to do with my own linear eye than the story itself. Horrocks' style is similar to that of many other US indie comics artists but the range he displays in this graphic novel really shows off his abilities. Good story, good drawings, worth picking up.


[review pending]

A Certain Justice

[review pending]

The Heart is a Little to the Left

Gosh this book was wonderful. I kept it on my nightstand well past the overdue date because I kept swearing to myself that I would re-read it and ultimately haven’t. On the other hand, I haven’t returned the book either...

Coffin has a way with words and in this small collection of sermons he manages to put togehter a lot of good words about justice, poverty, our societal obligations to one another and why there’s no decent biblical reason for anyone to be predjudiced against gay people. It’s a really life-affirming set of essays, all of them both humorous and weighty, accessible and yet learned. For anyone who is looking for inspirational reading that’s a little deeper than the standard love yourself" platitudes, this book is a good starter tome on getting to love each other. Read it.

The Second Chair

I’m starting to get into the rhythm of these books. Someone is accused of a crime, the usual characters interact in new ways, something unforseen happens and the person who actually did it turns out to be who you least suspect. Of course, knowing that it’s going to be who you least suspect makes it easier to figure out who that might be. As a legal/cop mystery series, I like these books but I definitely enjoyed the first few I read slightly more than the later ones only because once the pattern is established the details seem less important. Lescroart does create likable characters and the whole idea of an ensemble cast for these types of books really works well for his settings and plots.

The World Without Us

[review pending]

The First Billion

This was a fun page-turner that I brought on vacation and never finished. It was good but not terrifically gripping. The loose outline is that there’s a Russian company that is doing an IPO and our hero runs a small investment firm that is bringing the IPO to market. Then there are some concerns about the viability of the company, and then all hell breaks loose. There are parts of this book that are serious snoresville and of course the main character is a strong-jawed former military man with a haunted past who just can’t lose. I picked it up on the free table at a ocal library and thought it was much better than I thought it would be, but still pretty stuck in formulaic genre thriller fiction molds.

The Worst Hard Time

This book was a little dramatic. On the other hand the topic is also pretty dramatic. Everyone has their choices as to whose “fault” the dust bowl storms of the 30s were. Egan places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the homesteaders and the fluctuation in wheat prices that made the only chance of profit-making depdent on tearing up more land. It’s a great tale, told through the eyes of people who had lived through it as young people and through the documents of others who wrote about it at the time. There are a few photos but mostly the story is told through a variety of different people -- German immigrants, young married couples, drifter/farmers trying to make a new start -- describing the open land of the praries and what brought them there and what made them stay.

Black Hole

[review pending]

The Suspect

[review pending]

The Constant Gardener

[review pending]

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft

[review pending]

The Complete Concrete

It’s been a while since I’ve read a really good graphic novel. I thought this one was going to turn out to be a superhero type comic but it totally wasn’t. This book is a collection of the first ten Concrete comics. Concrete is the name of a guy made of concrete. You can read more about his origin story in, I think, the second chapter. He decides that since he’s stuck in a super-strong body with keen eyesight, he’s going to try to travel and help people and do some other stuff. He succeeds partly, accompanied by a pretty lady doctor and a “I’m writing a novel” personal assistant guy who is always meeting chicks.

What makes this book stand apart is the excellent illustration -- I can’t imagine how hard it must be to make a 1200 pound man made of cement into a sympathetic character -- as well as the compelling storylines. All the characters are complex and the illustrations are both very good sort of “classic” comic style while also stretching the form somewhat. I finished this book very very eager to pick up the next one.

The Wild Girls

This was an exceptional YA book. It follows a pretty standard formula -- new girl comes to town, meets weird girl who spends a lot of time in the woods. School starts, weird girl is an outcast, new girl has to make a choice about whether to hang out with normal kids or the weird kid. However, Murphy gives this story much more depth. The characters are all fleshed out, even the grouchy Dad and the weird writing teacher, and you always get multiple perspectives on all the characters. The two girls wind up going in to the big city for a writing class and discover a bit about themselves but again it’s not the pat sort of self-discovery that I’d expect (possibly my expectations are just too low) and interesting things happen.

We Were the Mulvaneys

[review pending]

The Hearing

[review pending]


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Daughter of Fortune

[review pending]

Code to Zero

There’s really a schism between thriller mystery type books that were written pre super always on Internet, and books written afterwards. This is a nice mystery surrounding some smart scientist types and something that happens with the space progam. There are flashbacks to when they were all in college together, and then the main story takes place in the late fifties when one person wakes up with no memory in a random park men’s room and has to reconstruct his life. Better than most of the summer reading I’ve been plowing through this season.

The Rules for Hearts

My friend Sara wrote this book. I rad an early draft wich had nothing at all to do with this book. I read it all in one sitting on the plane on the way home. It’s an interesting noval following the non-main character from her last book Empress of the World. I have to say two things about this book besides that I liked it. One: I was, like many of the other reviewers, a little bummed that the main likable character from the first book didn’t show up in this one and that the relationship had sort of fizzled in to not much. I’m sure it’s realistic, but I don’t like the main character of this book as much. It just means I’ll have to wait to see if she reappears in a later book. Two: when I first read that there was going to be some sort of play as a central part of this book, my immediate thought was “Oh shit, not a bunch of heavy-drama drama people...” and actually that fear was unfounded. Sara has, as usual, created a bunch of interesting and fairly complex characters that are fun to follow around for a summer.

Bowery Girl

This was an odd YA book that friend gave me. It takes place in the late 18th Century and follows two dirt poor young women as they try to make sense of their world of violence and crime. One is a thief, the other is a whore. One doesn’t know how to read, the other is disdainful of anyone who would suggest that she might want to do somethign other than what she’s doing now. The book is full of bad sex and wanton violence and a lot of people in really destitute circumstances that don’t improve much at all as the book progresses. It was interesting enough to me, as an adult, but it seemed a little heavy to give to a teenager, though I readily admit that I may be out of touch with what teenagers are reading nowadays.

More Random Walks in Science

Fun! This book is full of fun science and engineering jokes some of which I found hilarious and many of which were over my head entirely. It’s a collection of articles, essays, poetry and illustrations of a scientific nature most of which seem designed to amuse or share some sort of professional in-joke. I understood some of it and was totally lost with others. However, one of the great things about it is the cross-disciplinaryness of the whole thing. So, you get poems about the second law of thermodynamics or drawings about how to use a small dog to teach physics.

The Associate

I feel like I need a whole new category here for genre fiction or maybe just summer reading. This was another summer reading book. It was okay. Moved along well, interesting plot. However, I felt that the writing wasn’t really up to the plot that had been devised. By the last few pages of the book I felt that there were a dozen loose ends to wrap up and I missed a few of them. The story is a somewhat complicated legal thriller about a guy at a law firm who thinks he has uncovered something unsavory about one of the law firms big pharmaceutical clients. It used to be that you could only have Nazis play the totally unsympathetic roles, now I guess you can have Big Pharm as well. The story is inteersting if somewhat far fetched and maybe I’m just slow but the wrap up at the end wasn’t quite obvious enough for me so some details remain a bit of a mystery.

The Book of Fate

This was a good summer reading by the river bank book. That is to say it moves fairly quickly, is not poorly written and is not totally offensive. Other than that, it was sort of “eh.” There is a big Masonic symbol on the book’s cover but unless I’m mistaken, Masonic conspiracy has very little to do with this book. This book also relies on one of my least favorite plot devices which is “crazy person with a gun and bizarre delusions” so that you really have no idea what he’s going to do, so whenever her showed up I’d sort of skim to the end of the section. Most of the rest of the characters were a decent combination of good and bad characteristics and the main protagonist was a decent sort. Good for beach reading, I wouldn’t even probably bother carrying it on a plane.

The Bookman’s Last Fling

This was too much like a Dick Francis book and not enough like a John Dunning book. Very little old/rare book stuff, too much horse racing stuff. Still a good read, but better for Francis fans than Dunning fans.

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering

[review pending]

Time Management for System Administrators

[review pending]

Elizabeth Costello

[review pending]

Ambient Findability

[review pending]

Small Things Considered

The short thesis of this book is that there is no perfect design because everyone expects different things out of a product, whether it’s ease of use, cpst of building or ease of mass-producing. Petroski explains this for 300 pages or so with anecdotes ranging from his own reflections in his water glass to the history of the paper bag. Unlike other books of his which are often heavy research without as much reflection, this book almost swings too far the other way and has a lot of his ruminations on the design of everyday things. While this is interesting, sometimes it veers into what seems to be petty personal issues with design which are less interesting to me personally than, say, the actual history of the cup holder.

So it goes back and forth, sometimes tending towards deep explanations of everyday things and sometimes just personal observations. I didn’t feel this book was one of his strongest unless you really want to get to know Petroski the man, but it’s still full of weird little facts that you really wouldn’t find otherwise.

24 Hours

I almost did not pick this book up. It looked like one of those typical torture stories where a criminal sociopath decides to make a family’s life a living hell, most likely by torturing and/or nearly raping all their female characters. This did not come to pass. The book is more interesting than that, though Isles is still a little tawdry for my tastes. This family fights back. So when the daughter is kidnapped at the same time as the husband -- away on a business trip -- is held hostage until the kidnapers get their money, the family fights back. It’s not super predictable but it’s not a bunch of new twists and turns either. Isles has set up an interesting scenario with some predictable Iles flavor (the little diabetic girl. we cringe as she eats Captain Crunch and wonder if she’ll get her life saving insulin in time... does Iles do this just to get a tax write-off for medications?) and a decent resolution.

Mafeking Road

[review pending]

Engineersmanship, A Philosophy of Design

[review pending]

Art and Fear

[review pending]

Swimming to Antarctica

This is mostly not a book about swimming to Antarctica though that story is the culminating one in this book. This is mostly about Lynne Cox, a notable distance and cold water swimmer, describing what motivates her and some of her better-known swims. I had wanted to read this book ever since reading the article she wrote for the New Yorker, but I sort of wish I had stopped there. Being a good swimmer doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer. While I found most of these stories interesting, Cox has an almost Asperger’s-like way of telling these stories, always telling you what her core body temperature was and what she ate and drank before each swim and repeating these detals almost verbatim each time. The author she reminds me the most of is Temple Grandin. Also, depite having a team of doctors on her team with her, she talks a lot about her own folk remedy ideas like how maple syrup is good to drink before a swim because maple trees “use sap as energy” and I found this a little odd after a while.

I was sort of hoping I might learn more about Lynne the person and how she balanced living a real life along with all this high-intensity training and exercising but it seems like the answer is: she doesn’t. She has a small website without much personal information, she apparently lives at home or near her parents. She went on a corporate speaking tour where she commands fees in the five figures range. She doesh’t have a significant other of note. She has a dog. So, as a swimming book, for people who want to know what it’s like to do cold water swimming in open water, this book is great. If you want to get at the personalities or the science behind some of this -- besides the pretty basic “how to avoid hypthermia” -- you’ll have to go elsewhere.


[review pending]

The Geographer’s Library

I read this book after a friend whose opinion I greatly respect had already told me it was a disappointment to her. I liked it a little better than that, but not a lot better. It seems there is some sort of genre of books about ordinary guy caught up in some sort of deep mystery concerning Ancient Objects, Hot Women and Research. The researcha gnel always appeals to me, and some of the ancient stuff, and I’m sort of “eh” on the hot women angle, but the stories are usually interesting enough. This one was pretty good.

It might have been better if I hadn’t been reading a proof copy and had had illustrations of all the alchemical -- I hope I’m not giving away too much here -- objects rather than just a blank box with “TK Illustration” written in them. At the end of it all though, you don’t quite have the sufficiently zing-y wrap up to make it all come together and think “man I read a good book.” I liked the charachters, liked the story, enjoyd it while I was reading it, but I’ve read better versions of the same general plot and don’t think I’ll think about this book much after it’s faded from recent memory.

The Hunt Club

This was one of the better cop-type books I’ve read lately. I’m pretty bad at differentiating what is a mystery from a thriller from a cop book from a whatever. This guy is a social worker turned private investigator and he’s put together The Hunt Club (his name is hunt) and they are a crack team of folks who try to get to the bottom of a murder of a well-off judge. Along the way a woman vanishes who is a bit of a love interest and that story seems to take as much precendence as the dead judge. The characters are inteersting, the story is well written and the main lead is an interesting person who doens’t make a bunch of dumb decisions like a lot of other cop book protagonists I could name.

The only thing really perplexing about this book was the ending. I won’t say much more about it except when I finished it, a few days after my sister read it , we both asked each other “what was your take on the ending?” So, if you wind up reading this book, I’d love to know what you thought about the ending.

Likely to Die

My sister handed me this book on the plane and said there weren’t too many rape scenes in it and that I might like it. Fairstein is one of those mystery/thriller type of writers who talks a lot about cop work and forensic work and I’ve had a hard time finding good mysteries in that vein that weren’t total “terrorize the heroine” thrillers. This one has faded form memory pretty quickly but I remember enjoying reading it on the plane. It’s an Alexandra Cooper mystery loosely about the stabbing death of a very promient female neurosurgeon in an inner-city hospital. Fairstein plays her cards close and until the very end of it, you really don’t much know whodunit but the cop work is pretty interesting. On the other hand, it’s not one of those solve-it-yourself books, so until the end of the book you really don’t have enough information to figure out who the killer is. On that front I found it a little less than optimal because I felt like towards the end I was just reading along waiting for the reveal. Good airplane reading.


I call bullshit on pregnant cop stories. Apparently the cop in this story had her water burst while she was questioning a suspect and her whole delivery process shangahied by a kidnapping/siege that occurred in the hospital. I am not a parent, but I find a lot of the weird parenting that goes on in this book -- even keeping in mind the quirkiness of the main parent characters -- to be a little unbelievable. Add to that the graphic teen-rapes that happen in this book and it added up to a story that was interesting but not something I could honestly recommend to anyone.

The sex trade industry where women from other countries are forced into sex work in the US is a terrible thing, but I’m not sure if stories like this are helping raise awareness or just capitalizing on the tawdry titillation factor of subjugated women making a thriller mystery a good read. I liked the first Gerritsen book I read the best -- the one with the astronauts -- and I’ve found them sort of disappointing since.

Queen of Angels

It took me a hundred pages of this book for me to be certain I hadn’t read it before. It has the same transform policewoman that another of Bear’s books has and another crime that has to do, loosely, with therapied vs. untherapied people in a future where that sort of thing matters. I’m glad I stuck with it, even though the beginning is sort of a slog. It covers several stories at once including one sub-theme that has to do with the role of a thinker -- a computer brain type character -- whose text is all written as if it were appearing on a dumb terminal in front of you. A little tough to read early on, but the stories all come together in a really neat way and Bear’s imagination and ideas about future scenarios are excellently evident in this novel.

Beyond Heaven’s River

[review pending]

The Road to Wellville

[review pending]

Raising Demons

[review pending]

Four Wings and a Prayer

[review pending]

Uncommon Structures, Unconventional Builders

[review pending]

Tales of the Night

It’s a rare rare book that can capture the weird heat that permeates your being when you’re in love. Movies almost never do it, or swap out subtlety for explicit and over the top renditions. This is a book of short stories with a theme, two themes in fact. One of them is “love” and the other is a particular date in 1929 when all of the stories took place. From there, they run the gamut from allegorical exposition to steamy romance to the old “so *that’s* what that was all about” twist-at-the end stories. They’re great. It’s rare that a group of stories is able to cohere as a set and yet have most of the stories stand alone as individual pieces, not as, say, chapters in a book.

You read these tales and there is a familiar heat behind the ears, you know what these characters are going through and how tough their trials must be for them. So complex, so moving and so readable, even though this collection was translated from the original Danish. The yearning of his characters is palpable and yet the whole scenario is removed just a little bit in time and space so that they also feel somewhat ethereal.

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

This book is more fun than you expect it to be. It’s a semi-autibiography written by Linus and David Diamond who seems to have done a lot of the legwork to keep the book going. It’s a fun book that gets inside the head of a true techie geek and explains how single-minded determination to solve tech problems led to him spending long amounts of time inside, living with his mom, tying up the phone line and creating Linux.

Despite the title, it’s not a “blah blah open source is the only way” title. Linus of course is a fan of open source, but this book isn’t his soapbox for OS, this is a book about him. He talks briefly about the differences between Stallman’s GPL and the open source model Linux was released under, but doesn’t get too into the various pissing matches, or open source politics much at all. He tries to set the record straight about his own personality -- he was always out to be well-known for Linux, he just wasn’t expecting a band of geeks to propel him there -- and what he’s been doing since RedHat’s IPO. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in his life since then that aren’t mentioned, but as a readable and inteersting introduction to a tech.legend, this book is worth the read.

The Book of Lists: The 90s Edition

I’m sort of embarassed that I never knew this book had come out until it was quite out of date. I have all the origianl Books of Lists and People’s Almanacs and reread them every now and then. I stopped at the Book of Predictions which wasn’t very good and then I assumed the meme had just ...died. It hadn’t, hooray! This book is not quite as great as the previous ones and is a bit too referential -- many lists end with “for more on xyz topic, consult the book of lists 1” which gets cloying after a while -- but the lists are there, they’re great and interesting and quirky as ever. I only found this book because it was on the discard shelf of the local library. I wish I knew why it wasn’t more popular. Also, it is sort of weird to publish a “nineties edition” of anything in 1993? I thought so.

Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

This book took me weeks to finish! I read two other books while I was slogging through this one. The story of this book is fascinating, I just could not help wishing that either 1) someone else could have told it or 2) the book had gone though a more rigorous editing process. The general story is about Jewish immigrants and how through sheer pluck and determination they started the entire comics book genre, including Superman and a whole lot of other famous ones you have heard of. The book starts and ends with the creators of Superman, how they started out as two dopey kids with a dream and ended up nearly destitute and penniless... almost. The main narrative is great, however it’s constantly interrupted by the narratives of other players in the comics industry. So, you’re going along reading about Batman when all of the sudden it’s ten years earlier and you’re reading about someone else. It may just be me, but I had a very hard time keeping track of all the players since they all seemed to get introduced with equal weight and seriousness.

That said, I learned a lot from this book. I learned that the guy who invented Wonder Woman had two wives (at the same time!). I learned more than I ever thought I’d know about the Comics Code, where it came from and where it went, and I learned a lot about how and why Jews came to dominate the industry of what we now know as comic books. Fascinating stuff, but as I said, I wish the story had been told better because I think I would have loved it even more.

Blood Memory

My sister could not remember which Greg Iles book this was when I was talking to her about it until I said “You know, the one where the lead character is getting raped and she bit the guy’s throat out and killed him, that one?” and she said “Oh yeah!” Not for the faint of heart, this is another great whodunit by Iles which has a lot of disturbing sexual abuse in it. That is usually a total put-the-book-down dealbreaker for me, but for some reason Iles seems to have enough sympathy with his female characters that I don’t see his writing as rape porn and enjoy figuring out what happens at the end. That said, if this sort of thing turns your stomach, you will not like this book.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

What a fascinating book. This book was well off the beaten path of what I usually pick up and I don’t even remember how I got it. It’s a story told by the grandchildren (or other relations, I don’t think she had kids) of the woman portrayed about how she went north to Alaska to help with the education efforts there. Alaska in her day was a near total wilderness and the US Government was involved in trying to Christianize and Americanize the native people living there. Accordingly they send schoolteachers to this not-yet-state territory to set up establishments and generally keep an eye on things. Hannah Breece was a spirited woman, up to the challenge, whose story is told through letters and research done after the fact by Jane Jacobs who followed some of her paths through Alaska years later. It’s illustrated with several great old photographs including a few taken by Breece herself.