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Don’t Look Twice

After getting the last Gross book y accident, I got this one on purpose. Another thriller, not quite as great as the last one and with a seemingly higher body count of close friends who wind up dead but still a fast-paced good read.

The Dark Tide

Got this book by accident while trying to get the other book about the molasses flood (don’t ask) and it was actually a really good thriller

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

This book was great. Well-researched and outlines with a marvelous arc that you could only think you could get from fiction, Puelo has done an amazing job reconstructing what it was like in 1916-1925 Boston in order to explain the events leading up to the molasses flood which is a thing a lot of locals make jokes about but few really understand. I particularly enjoyed the extra outlining of the political climate of the time describing anarchist activity that was going on in the area and also describing how the tank owners tried to pin the blame on political rabble rousers instead of their own cost cutting measures.

Mad Night

Enjoyed this slightly strange mystery graphic novel about Judy Drood and her hapless pal Kaspar Keene. I missed the first installment, so there were a few things I didn’t quite get. The lettering style took some getting used to and I wasn’t prepared at all for the really high body count and some of the graphic dismemberment that happened. Overall, really good, just don’t read it before bed.

NFL Unplugged

This book was really hit or miss. It had been recommended to me as a gritty behind the scenes look at what is really going on for all the non-star quarterback people playing pro ball today. And sometimes it was that, looking into things like spring training and what the trainers are up to helping injured players play, and just about injuries generally. But sometimes it was also a play-by-play of notable games (for some reason) and sometimes it was a historical digression into this or that. I do not know that much about football. I know how the game works and recognize some of the players, so I found some of the play-by-play stuff not just inscrutable but totally annoying since I couldn’t follow it and didn’t understand why it was in the book in the first place. So, generally enjoyed this but it was definitely a book that I skimmed parts of.

Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever!

A super fun romp with a kid with a smart kid with a big imagination and his talking dog. I don’t read many graphic novels that are actually for kids but this one had enough to still be interesting to an adult lady while having kidlike themes (time machines! dinosaurs! science fairs!). I’ll definitely try to track down the other ones.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Loved this book. Somehow missed it when it first came out. It’s the story of Oscar Wao a kid from the Dominican Republic whose family moves to New Jersey. But along the way we learn about his family’s cursed past, a lot of history about the DR and more about Oscar’s nerdy interests. Its hard to sum up this book because the different sections look at totally different characters and totally different time periods. The whole idea that there is a curse on the family is one that will be familiar to people who have read One Hundred Years of Solitude and even though this is a very different book, that theme is very familiar. I was really rooting for the Oscar character, the nerd character. You’re supposed to even though you know basically after reading the title that he is, in some way, totally doomed.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)

Had forgotten how much I loved this book when I was a kid. Someone brought it up again recently and I decided to re-read it. Loved all the wordplay, the subtle kid-level mystery and the neat illustrations that Raskin did herself. This was a great junior level mystery and puzzle book with a bunch of quirky interesting characters, well worth a second read if you haven’t picked it up in a while.

Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias

I was super hot and cold on this collection. Many of the stories are interesting turns on what w world of the future would be like if we started paying attention to our environment (in both utopic and dystopic ways) and some were more typical sci fi stories in a more ecosystem-intentional setting. The few times I started reading a story and was asking myself “What the hell is going on?” were the two times when Robinson had included chapters from longer novels. These pieces read as not-short-stories and were less engaging to read. I found a few of these stories really lovely--one about a near future where fortune-telling is part of the social and political fabric of the world and one about an injured bird god king--but a few other ones I found too uneven or unclear even as I read the back matter and saw, after the fact, what the authors were trying to get at. Ultimately not for me but I’m going to try to track down some similar books on related themes.

Vintage Vermont Villainies

Loved this collection of old-tymey (and not so old tymey) tales of mystery and murder and Vermont justice going back several centuries. Bellamy has done a great job researching some old and not so well known Vermont crime stories that played out in the press in a bygone Vermont. This was a Vermont with a death penalty, and a Vermont with no state police. A Vermont even more rural than it is now and with crime fighters of widely varying capabilities. Each chapter in a separate story and there’s a long list of sources in the back. Bellamy is a former librarian who has mostly written similar books about his former home of Cleveland before he relocated to the Green Mountain state. Totally worth picking up, this book was really enjoyable.

The Eleventh Commandment

Another random “This looks like it will be a fun read on the bus” sort of popular novel and indeed it was. A political thriller with a lot of crossing and double-crossing was occasionally hard to follow but a gripping read about a deep cover CIA operative and his last (or second to last) mission.

Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World

As someone who has some of the hallmarks of sensory defensiveness but not to a “it makes my life a living hell” degree, I found this book interesting to read but ultimately not super helpful. The first part of the book details what life is like for many sensory defensive folks, people with a number of different types of defensiveness. The author herself is defensive in some ways and so she is able to describe these people’s lives with empathy and understanding.

The second part, which I was looking forward to, talks more about remedies and what people can do, and here it sort of lost me. While there was a lot of advice that seemed really on the mark, some of it seemed, for lack of a better word, woo. And that made me question a lot of other things the author had said. Maybe it’s really true that light therapy has been found to be useful for specific sorts of sensory defensiveness, or cranio-sacral work, but the skeptic in me had a hard time really getting past the “I thought this stuff was pseudoscience” feeling. That said, I’m also lucky to not really be in a place where conventional medicine is not working for me and I can’t quite put myself in that place. The book does have a long list of citations at the end of it that I didn’t really delve in to. Interesting but ultimately not-for-me book.

The Keepsake

I haven’t read any Gerritsen books in a while so was happy to stumble on this one in a thrift store and realize I hadn’t read it. This is another medical cop thriller that takes place in the Boston area and it’s a faced-paced romp of dead ends and odd but not annoying plot twists. I really liked her Medical thrillers. I’ll have to dip more into the Rizzoli/Isles series now.

Motherless Brooklyn

A really poignant story which I read while home with a low grade fever which may be the best way to read this book. Sort of an odd coming of age tale told as a first person narrative by someone with Tourette’s. And better than you would think it would be, given that description.

A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America

I really enjoyed this historical walk through the history of people being in to numbers. Since I’ve been a kid, math was just a thing you were supposed to know and it was taken for granted that in fact you needed to know math in order to be a fully fledged person. It would come up in everything and it was essential in order to have a job, run a household or understand things. This was not always the case. Cohen goes back through Colonial times to talk about why we started counting things and what the weird messy in-between times were like when some people were numerically literate and some were not.

Of particular interest to me were the attempts at various censuses--ostensibly taken for taxation purposes but actually used for things such as making a case for slavery, of all things. The long sad case of the terrible mess that was the 1840’s census is a much better story than you would really think it should be. All the chapters are like that, starting with some sort of dry topic like “When did math start to be taught in schools?” you wind up with a bunch of fun anecdotes and definitive research that not only answers the questions but makes them even more fascinating in hindsight. A really enjoyable book.

The Dark Enquiry

Another in the Lady Julia series. Slightly less momentum since her and the mysterious man are now man and wife, solving crimes together, but still a good way to pass a weekend reading.

Teach Yourself Fucking

I’d wanted to own a copy of this book since I’d seen it on the shelves of Left Bank Books and finally go a copy for my birthday this year. It’s got a lot of little comics and clippings that resonate with me of being a very particular sort of Anarchist-Jew-NYC style that I found fun to read even though a lot of the general messages were tropeish (cops suck, government sucks, capitalism sucks) even if I agreed with them. Cover is the best part of the whole thing. Was good to get to engage with Kupferberg in this way.

Swimming with the Piranhas at Feeding Time

Totally enjoyed this collection of stories about the natural world (animals bugs and birds) but longtime nature writer Richard Coniff. While I would have appreciated a bibliography at the end--ever the librarian--these fun romps to various parts of the globe to learn things and do weird things and report back was a totally enjoyable read that I picked up on one of those hotel bookshelves when I had already finished my traveling book. Was very happy I picked it up. Learned important things about hummingbirds and piranhas and ants and leopards.

Milton’s Teeth and Ovid’s Umbrella: Curiouser and Curiouser Adventures in History

A fun trivia book with some well-cites short articles on why things we’ve sort of always known about (weddings, farming, folklore) are the way they are. Good for close reading as well as just idle paging through, Olmert takes us through some of the details behind a lot of older-than-we-think cultural traditions.

One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal

I did not always agree with this book but I very much liked reading it. Dreger discusses the idea of “What is normal?” by looking at the history of conjoined twins with an eye to how society determines what is normal and how these determinations, rightly or wrongly, affect how people’s bodies can become medicalized when there may not be anything wrong with them. Dreger looks at this topic via sort of a continuum, examining not only the stories of many conjoined twins, but also other things that have historically been thought of as “deformities” including cleft palates and people born with intersex characteristics. She strongly supports the idea that people should get to choose whether they want to “fix” whatever non-traditional configuration their bodies are in but also looks at the difficult question of people who want to make these decisions for children. I found that my own opinions on the subject were challenged in a thoughtful way that made me explore them more deeply. Dreger’s own opinions are fairly strongly presented in a way that was sometimes a little off-putting but overall this book was a terrific read and fills a badly needed niche in examining a thing that many of us consider a medical issue from a more sociological perspective.

The Amber Spyglass

Hey this didn’t turn into some huge war book like it hinted that it might! I was expecting either a lackluster petering out of some of the topics (like Hunger Games) or some sort of over the top religious allegory that I didn’t understand (Narnia) but this was understandable and interesting and it wrapped up just fine. Perfect summer reading series.

The Seven Crystal Balls

Somehow I had never managed to read a Tintin book before this one? This one was good, an odd story with odd characters, vaguely racist and the first of a two-partner. I will try another one soonish.

The Subtle Knife

Again, catching up on books I should have read a decade ago. I find these books sort of slow. There are a lot of slow reveals and a lot of “Huh I wonder what THAT is about...” stuff going on. The second book had even less information than the first, though the story was pretty interesting. It did rely on the “main character is hurt and you worry they’re going to die” aspect to it which is one of my not-so-favorite themes, though there was also a favorite theme, that of the lady scientist. In any case, I’m now propelled towards the third book and I only sort of care what happens.

Who Knew? Things you didn’t know about things you know well.

I’ve been trying to get better at trivia so I pick up these books when I see them. This was a little hardcover tucked away at my dad’s house. All the trivia factoids are about brand names which I guess makes sense but made it seem a little bit like a viral ad. And, in my nerdy nitpickery, I found myself wondering how much of the stuff was still true. For example, Alan Smithee is no longer the name used by producers who want to disown their relationship with a film, though it’s a great story. And I wonder if it’s still true that Cinderealla has been made into a movie more than any other story, or how you would tell? Anyhow, it was a fun quick read but I gave it the librarian raised eyebrow.

Aliens in the Backyard: Plant and Animal Imports into America

Enjoyed this book about what sort of things in the US we may think are native but are actually from somewhere else. This book goes into how we know which species of plants and animals are native, what the disputes are and what some of the notable failures of introducing species from outside including the stories that you know about like starlings and kudzu. Well-researched enough to be academicky but not dry and tough to read. Ignore the cover and pick this up and read it.

V is for Vendetta

Enjoyed the movie. Really wanted to read the original graphic novel. I found the graphic novel a bit more confusing, had a hard time telling some of the characters apart and, for once in a rare while, actually liked the movie better. There is some great extra stuff at the end including Moore talking about where they got their idea from and a few other things, but from a pure “I like this story, which version works best?” position I found the narrative structure of the movie and some of the plot choices easier to follow.

My Friend Dahmer

John Backderf who writes under the name Derf Backderf was in junior high and high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer was a weird kid even back then and this well-researched (and well cited) graphic novel talks about a lot of the weird stuff about Dahmer before he became Dahmer the serial killer and was just Dahmer the weird kid who lived in the house on the hill. Well done without being overly sentimental or gruesome, this is a good way to get more of the story of just what happened to that kid to make him go so wrong as a man. Troubling but also very good and well told.


Another great one from Telgemeier this one dealing with a lot of high school drama in both the literal and figurative ways. Telgemeier is great at having her characters be complex without being inscrutable. I enjoyed this story of putting a high school play together and all the interrelated teen interactions that go into doing something like that.


As someone who went through a lot of really annoying dental stuff when I was too young to really be able to deal with it, I loved this graphic novel about the time when Telgemeier lost her two front teeth and had to deal with a bunch of corrective dentistry at just the same time that she was becoming a teenager and entering junior high school. Well written and illustrated, very very relatable.

Are You My Mother

I really like Bechdel but this book failed my 50 pages test. After the first 50 pages I found that I was no more interested in reading it than I was when I picked it up. I feel like I should qualify this. I loved Dykes to Watch Out For and I really empathized with what was going on in Fun Home with the gay dad and the creative mother who felt stultified and was sort of chilly. But this book just seemed... not engaging in that way that other people’s dreams are interesting to them but only interesting to you if you are dating them or if you are in them. Bechdel’s anguish about being worried about what her mother would think about the book take up far too much of the beginning of the book and I just got to the point where I wanted to read about her childhood and not more about her therapy appointments.


Enjoyed this book significantly more than the last Brown book I read. He seemed to get the message that keeping things a little more linear and a little less gory would go over better, or maybe I was just more interested in this story with Italy and Dante at the core than one with Masonic conspiracies and Washington DC as central plot points. Enjoyed it, did not get too deep into it.

Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability

Longmore was a disability activist and chronicler of the history of disability in the US. His central thesis--that the most disabling thing about having a disability is actually the social conditions surrounding disability in the US and not the actual physical/mental issues--is carried through this collection of essays. This all leads up to the final essay in which he outlines quite clearly how the disabled are legally punished for being productive members of society (via reductions to their SSI income if they make money via royalties or fellowships) and how difficult it has been to make any headway in changing these laws.

My favorite chapter in this book was about disability activism in WPA era where a group formed called The League of the Physically Handicapped and tried to get the same access to jobs programs for disabled people that able-bodied folks had. It’s a great narrative of an unknown (to me) aspect of US history that has had a lasting affect on anti-discrimination policies in the US in the time since.Longmore also discusses other topics dear to accessiblity/usability/disability activists which is the portrayal of disabled people in movies and the role of disability activists and disabled people generally in the Right to Die movement.

Dad is Fat

Enjoyed this despite the fact that it is a parenting book and even one that relies on some of the old tired “My wife raises five kids, six if you count me” gender tropes. Gaffigan is really funny. His delivery is great and unlike many comedians you don’t get the feeling that his humor is a thin veneer over a really serious hatred of himself and others. He and his wife have five kids all ages eight and under who they live with in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. He talks about this and a lot of the other amusing aspects of being a dad-of-five-kids (bonus: no one ever invites you to come visit!) as well as maintaining a tour schedule and all the other things that he does. I like it because it’s clear that he adores his wife--you don’t see a ton of nasty cracks at her expense--and all of his children who are given their own personalities and stories so it’s not one of those “I can’t tell you guys apart” situations. I laughed out loud at parts of this book and I think people who are looking for a humor-in-parenting book will really enjoy this.

Golden Compass

Was sort of stoked to have never read these books before so I had them available for my first plane ride in almost a year. I’d heard a lot about them and of course they were very popular at the library. I enjoyed this book a lot, liked the plucky young girl protagonist and generally this story about a place that was sort of like here only not exactly. I watched the movie shortly afterwards and felt that while the movie told basically the same story there was too much glossing over some of the parts of the book that made it really great like Lyra explaining how she knew how to read the alethiometer and the complicated relationships between people and their daemons. Off to read the next two books.

The Brain that Changes Itself

Enjoyed this book about how the brain can, contrary to previously held belief, recondition itself to new circumstances including things like recovering from strokes (even at advanced ages) and various kinds of disabilities. Each chapter is a different example of different ways the brain can adapt and learn and Doidge spends a lot of time discussing what we previously thought was true about brain science and what we are now learning is true. Very chatty and readable while still giving you a lot of places to go if you want to dig in to any one subtopic.

The Tenth Justice

Finished with the five pack of Meltzer books I got (I think I had read one of them previously). Enjoyed it enough to finish it but again wound up scratching my head as to why I never really like any of his characters, especially not the main ones. Meltzer’s plots are enjoyable and tight but they get bogged down in way too much ACTION type stuff which is not that interesting (or, to me, well-written) and his later books get super-violent. This one wasn’t super violent except a big fight thing towards the end, and I guess I prefer my thrillers more thinky and less fighty.

Dead Even

Working my way through a bunch of Meltzer books on my Kindle. This one was maybe my least favorite. Gory and, as an Amazon reviewer put it, somewhat contrived. Read it to the end, there are some likable characters but neither of the main characters are them.

American On Purpose

Wrapping up my Kindle splurge with this book, another great comedian telling a “how I got to where I am now” story. Enjoyable. Ferguson is likeable and his life has been interesting. He’s been married a few times, had a serious drinking problem that he overcame and moved to America on purpose from his native Scotland because he just fell in love with it during a visit when he was a teenager. He tells his story with wit and charm and anyone who wants more of the stories you may have heard form the Late Late Show should read this.

How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs

Loved this. Grabbed it for the Kindle. Pollack has been one of my favorite character actors since forever and he did a great interview with Marc Maron that I just got around to listening to. This book is basically a “How I got to be where I am” starting with Pollack lip synching to Bill Cosby records and ending up with a fellow poker player turning him on to Twitter and him getting an internet-based chat show. Fun read, lots of name dropping, Pollack’s charm and self-deprecating humor and breadth of experience are interesting to poke around in.

The Lost Symbol

It’s hard to tell when you like a popular fiction writer that a lot of people don’t like and they say “Don’t read his latest book” if they’re saying that because the book is a bad book of his or just a bad book. I did not like this book. I liked other Dan Brown books. It seemed to suffer from lack of editing, was too long and had a long rambly bla bla bible part at the end that was gratuitous and a little insulting. I like basic puzzle-ish books and Dan Brown’s level of “Hey let me tell you about this symbol” stuff is fine with me. But this story sort of wrapped up and then had a super long denoument part that was a snore and mostly talked about the bible which is a bit of symbolism that has sort of been done to death and I didn’t need to read more about. You may like it, I did not.

Inner Circle

I enjoyed the little parts of this book that talk about nerdy library/archives trivia stuff. The plot was one of the more far-out ones that Meltzer has come up with and was not my favorite. Too jumbled up, too all over the place, too much you looking at the book thinking “Why are they doing this, that looks like it will get them into trouble...” and sure enough, it does.

Book of Lies

Second book I’ve read for the kindle! This one was not as interesting. Had a lot of characters I sort of couldn’t get into, no characters I really enjoyed. Interesting story about the history of Superman and the search for an ancient book, a lot of son-father imagery and exposition. Some good cameos by librarians but ultimately not that awesome, though still a great page turner.

Dar Road to Darjeeling

First book I’ve ever read on a kindle! I’ve liked this series since I started it and it’s been even more interesting since I’ve been watching Downton Abbey. A lot of cultural parallels and, in this book a pretty straightforward similarity where a woman dies in childbirth and her daughter is given the name of the recently departed mother. Maybe that sort of thing was a regular occurrence but for me to see it happening twice in a week because of being involved with these two series, I was surprised. I also like these books now that the title character Lady Jane is married to the guy she was all intrigued by in the first three books. I like some smoldering romance as much as the next person but not for books and books. There are a lot of interesting discussions and explorations of what it means to be in a partnership or in a marriage that come up that make better reading than smoky looks across stuffy drawing rooms. Liked this book, will read future ones.


A friend lent me this book to see if it would be appropriate for her library which serves high schoolers and middle schoolers. I liked the book a lot but it’s not really a kids' book. It’s the story of one hacker--a made up guy though people familiar with the hacker scene will recognize aspects of several known hackers--from when he was a small smart bullied kid living with his grandmother to the point where he is on the run trying to stay ahead of the law who wants to prosecute him for various hacking exploits. A lot of the story is told form the vantage point of his childhood best friend and so it has sentimentality without the sort of omniscient third person perspective which works for this book. The protagonist is seen as persecuted but also sort of a sociopathic jerk in some ways which makes the story more readable than if it were just some hero hacker story. There are a lot of other side characters like the tv pundit who has sort of made his name “knowing” things about the hacker and the authorities who know something is being done wrong but aren’t sure what. A great read, one of my favorite graphic novels of the past year.

WWW: Wonder

Turns out this book which I grabbed off of the new shelf in my local library was book three of a trilogy which explains some things. Loosely put, it’s about an AI that gets loose and starts to use its immense superpowers to help the world while other people try to stop it. It’s good, and very nerdy and techy which I always enjoy. In fact, I have a tendency to be like “Bah this author clearly doesn’t understand technology like I do...” but in this case even though I might still have said that once or twice, I was wrong. Sawyer is a supergenius as far as tech stuff goes and even though this book is written towards a YA audience, its super well-researched and generally, while still fantastical, based on real-world and real life things that could be or are happening. Now I’m trying to figure out if I’ll start over at the beginning or not, since I know how it all ends.

The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends

We used to read Brunvand’s books like The Choking Doberman and similar ones when I was growing up. One of my mother’s claims to temporary fame was getting a report published in one of Brunvand’s many volumes. These books of urban legends (though to be fair, they are rural legends as well) are chock full of stories you may have heard or heard of along with some folk etymology, as much as Brunvald can determine, of where they might have come from. Very few of them are based on fact, but there are usually great stories behind the lot of them. This book is not just stories but Brunvand’s explications of the myths and legends and themes that surround them. A great read.

The Game

A friend suggested this series and for whatever reason the book I wound up with was one that was way in the middle. Historical fiction type of mystery with the premise that Sherlock Holmes has a very capable wife who he solves mysteries with. This book, though it started off with a sort of titillating “Oh my god the main character is going to die” sort of teaser which I could have done without, was a really interesting sort of mystery sort of history book that takes place in India under British rule. Lots of neat little factoids and settings and I liked Holmes' wife Mary Russell a great deal. Don’t know if I’m going to have trouble reading them out of order, but I’ll probably pick up another one.

A Woman’s Liberation: A Choice of Futures by and About Women

Loved this. A lot of thoughtful and interesting looks at different sci fi scenarios, just like you read about elsewhere except these stories all happened to be about women. I really enjoyed every story in this collection, though the LeGuin story started out pretty rapey which was essential to the story but pretty difficult to get through if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing. On the bright side, the Octavia Butler story was NOT rapey which was terrific. Don’t know how I managed to not see this when it came out; glad I found it now.

All Of Us Or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area

I received this book to review for the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. My review is in an issue of their newsletter and you can read it here.

Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion

My stupid software doesn’t allow me to add multiple authors, but this book is as much by Stern’s lifelong partner Leona Rostenberg. In a way it’s a dual autobiography of these two women who grew up in New York City in the early part of the last century and became scholars and writers and rare book dealers and all of them together at the same time. I enjoyed this story of friendship and seeing the formative things that happened in the lives of these women when they were young that helped chart their path decades later. Anyone with an interest in rare book dealing or early New York history or just women doing non-traditional things will enjoy this well-told tale of, for example, how Stern discovered Louisa May Alcott’s pen names and how Rosternberg got started running a rare book dealership out of a spare room in her parents' place in the Bronx. Two interesting women doing interesting things.