[I've been
« 2014 »
The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases

This book should have been awesome. It’s got everything I like. Weird unsolved crimes, online communities, researching obscure topics. And yet it was a weird herky-jerky read where I had a hard time keeping track of what was being discussed or where in the narrative I was. And I’m not sure why it was that way. Halber is clearly a good writer and really into her topics, but this book was a weird mess that was all over the place. You’d get almost no information on one random case and suddenly you were learning about another one, then the first one would wrap up, then you were in Las Vegas. I suspect there may have been a few chapters that were magazine length essays that had to be mushed together info a longer book and it didn’t have a final edit for continuity. Anyhow: interesting topic, poor execution. Left me wanting to read a better book on an identical topic.

The Lace Reader

It’s been a while since I read some fiction that I thought was really worth the trip. This one takes place locally (Salem MA) but over several decades (mostly through flashbacks and rememberings) and is mainly a story about “quirky” women and a lot of “You can’t go home again” misplaced nostalgia. Hard to really talk about it without putting you in the narrative somewhere other than the beginning but if you like seaside narratives that aren’t too schmaltzy and are about strange women with confusing pasts, this is for you.

Cows in the Maze

I think I got off of the “popular math” books with this one.Nothing wrong with it, in fact I sort of liked it, but I just read a chunk of it and then never picked it up again and eventually it had to go back to the library.

When She Woke

One of the better books of this year and sorry I had been putting it off for so long. This is a retelling of the Scarlet Letter, sort of, in a figure where the US is hyper-religious and there has been some sort of a population scare so people are more interested in ever in controlling women’s reproductive rights. Anyhow, this woman gets pregnant from her married pastor lover and has an abortion. Which is a crime. Punishable by being tracked and DYED RED for sixteen years (because she wouldn’t name her abortionist). It’s very Handmaid’s Tale-ish except this book seems to like and care about its female characters. The women are scared and threatened but not raped as punishment. They make autonomous choices. The book doesn’t end with the perfect romance. It’s a great and complex book and really worth a good read.

The Day the Earth Caved In

I’d heard about the Centralia mine fire pretty much forever but never knew much more about it than its local oddity status. Quigley who is a descendent of local miners, spells out what was really happening, why this took so long to work out, and who the major players were as this slow motion disaster occurred/ Really well-research but a little confusing to follow in terms of timelines. The story she tells seems to be more about the people she had access to (and things she could research) and less about an overall mile-high view of the events. This makes things a lot more personal but sometimes you lose track of a character or two and it can be confusing. Great read, very eye-opening about the ways in which structural inequality can screw over people who don’t know their rights or who aren’t supported by the officials they elected.

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That: And Other Reflections on Being Human

Bering is a little jokey jokey (which I remember from Perv) but he’s also a smart scientist type who likes to talk about evolutionary biology and reasons why things might be the way they are. In this book he tackles things like the shape of the penis, the details of female ejaculation, what evolutionary purpose gay people might have and a host of other things. It’s a good book, it’s well researched and it’s funny. Also I read it on my Kindle so I didn’t have to worry about weird looks from people on the bus or subway.

Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty Of The Grittiest Moments In The History Of Hardscrabble New England

Both really loved and did not love this book. The stories, most of which I had never heard before, are great. Lots of strange stuff going on in New England, many of which sound familiar even though they may have happened hundreds of years ago. The way of conveying them was sort of strange. Mayo obviously did his research but then he wrote fictionalized accounts of the event (including made up dialogue between the characters and a lot of “what were they thinking” sort of things) which sometimes read really strangely. The book has a great bibliography and a lot of places to go for further reading. The beginning and end ("Indian attacks" and "rum running") were the least interesting parts of the book, the parts in the middle are the best.

3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White

I know Ron from MetaFilter and had followed his stories about his autistic son Ben and how much he seemed to “come alive” when he was at Walt Disney World. This book chronicles Ben’s 3500 rides on the Snow White ride at WDW before the ride was eventually shut down in a redesign. Ron talks about his relationship with his son’s mom, their divorce, their determination to continue to co-parent and their eventual move to Florida (not together, but at the same time) so that their son Ben could spend more time at the theme part. It sounds weird and the way Ron writes it it’s the most normal thing in the world. I liked getting to know their family and especially Ben a barely-verbal boy as he grows from a baby to a legal adult. A very worthwhile read.

Severance Package

Another book that came highly recommended by Ask MetaFilter. I enjoyed his book The Blonde and this has one funny crossover with that book (one same security guard, otherwise all new characters except it also takes place in Philly) and is the same sort of non-stop “what the hell is happening?” romp. Probably a bit too violent for me but I should have figured that out from the teasers about the book. The major plot: there is a Saturday meeting at the office for eight people. The boss announces that people can voluntarily kill themselves or he will kill them. No one is getting out alive. And then ... chaos! Well done, some interesting illustrations. Enjoyable book but a tough one to read late at night.

The Catch

Liked this did not love it. The book opens up with Munroe engaged in a situation that doesn’t seem to make sense and then goes on from there. I enjoyed this tale of piracy and African political intrigue but I sort of didn’t get how she even got there in the first place. A lot of out-of-character stuff for a character that we’d gotten to know pretty well over time. Not a bad book but my least favorite of all of them so far.

The Doll

Still on the gross side, these books are nonetheless fun to read. This one is about the underground system of kidnapping young girls and getting them into the hands of truly awful people. Super yikky but the plot is interesting and the lead character (away from her partner this time) gets to do a lot f what she does best. An ending that confused me until I read the next book.

The Vessel

This was a funny little novella that takes place in a timeframe that sort of also happens in the end of The Doll. Munroe is on her own and goes after the super creepy guy from the last book. I sort of blindly picked this up and didn’t really know it was a mini-novel so was surprised when it ended but otherwise enjoyed it.

The Innocent

This may have been a bit too icky for my tastes but I really like the semi-androgynous main character Vanessa Michael Munroe who we saw in the Informationist and wanted to see more of her. In this book she’s going down to Argentina trying to get a young girl out of a gross cult where children are routinely abused. But, it gets complicated. As much as I was happy they didn’t do that usual trope-ish thing of trying to get to the girl before her honor is besmirched, it still had a bit too much icky child abuse in it for my personal tastes. Enjoyed the internal conflicts of the main character. Will definitely pick up the next book.

The Peripheral

Gibson’s stories have an eerie calm about them even if he’s talking about some rather complex topics like time travel and the impending economic disaster that is maybe about the happen. This is a very Gibson-like story that spans two time periods and the intertwingling between them. Lots of good female characters. LGBT characters like it’s no big deal. Lots of good internet-style jokes and turns of phrase. Reading his books makes you realize just how much most of the books I read do not really speak to me the way Gibson’s books do. I read this over the past week and I am sorry it’s over.


Enjoyed this dystopic look at a future where drugs can allow us some semblance of telepathy and the friction that is caused by people who want to free up those drugs versus those who want to control them. That said it was super duper bloody and gory much more than I would have read if I had known that. Everyone, the good guys and the bad guys, get really relentlessly pummeled, hurt and seriously maimed and wounded. I’ve heard great things about Naam’s non-fiction work and I have no doubt that he knows his stuff, I’m just not sure if it’s the right stuff for me.

The Secret Place

Unlike French’s other book, this one was long and the descriptions seemed interesting and useful not just long “what the hell is going on” types of writing. I liked this mystery that has one of the characters from her earlier book now as a nearly-grown teenager at a private school where a murder happened. There’s a lot of whodunit stuff but it’s all mostly secondary to the actual plot which is about teenaged friendships and the general nostalgia for youth thing that French seemed to be trying to get at in her Broken Harbor novel but didn’t quite manage. I read these two books long after the first three so I didn’t relate to the cop buddy angle of the story (couldn’t keep straight who was who from before) but there is a lot of nice personal-friend dynamics to be explored there as well.

Proof Positive

Got this right when it came out from the library by getting on the hold list early. Enjoyed it. Good to see the familiar characters again. The story was a little pat in the ending but otherwise pretty nifty. A side-trip to Philly and a little more progression with Gunther’s relationship with Beverly. Enjoyable but maybe not in my top three.

Broken Harbor

This is the first book in a while that I’ve really felt I had to drag myself through. The general storyline is good and French is a great writer but something about how she told this story, how long it went on and how many times the same stuff got retold in the course of figuring out whodunit made it super duper long and sloggish in a way that I am not usually used to from her. The interplay between the two detectives was the strongest part of this (and Scorcher and his sister) and the long long “But WTF was actually going on...?” discussions with the suspect(s) just seemed to go on forever.

Jennifer Government

A fun dystopic ramble through a future where US capitalism takes over everything and you only exist to the extent that you are working for (or owned really) by a corporation. This is an older novel by Barr, the guy who wrote Lexicon and I’d heard about it in the past. It’s super violent but mostly in a cartoony way and I enjoyed watching it all unfold.


Yet another slightly dystopic future book, this one without any scifi element. Basic conceit: man raised in Skinner Box (and removed from his home at the age of 12) becomes an eerily good “protection” guy and helps spies stay safe. There’s a big bunch of turmoil, he meets some odd characters, they go romping around the world. I liked the people in this book, the wide array of non-neurotypicals, and even though it was violent it didn’t seem )mostly) sadistic. I will pick up other books by Huston.


Thrillers are tough because you spend all your time watching over the various characters thinking “Man I hope those guys are okay” and looking at the bad guys and thinking “I hope they get what is coming to them” and at the end you either know or things are set up for a sequel. You sort of knew in the last book that things were set up for a sequel. This book was not as good at the first. Less character development. More fucking people over. More tedious battle scenes. A lot of suffering by people who had suffered a lot in the previous book. I didn’t dislike it, enjoyed reading it actually, but it seemed more like torture porn and less like a narrative novel. I may not be as quick to pick up the sequel to this one, which I am sure is forthcoming.


AI takes over the world! This is the retrospective look at how the humans won. It gets a little battlefield-y at times but this is a clever way to tell a story, by looking back at the important bits of what happened and tying them all together.

The Blonde

This book is super violent. It’s got a great premise about some nanotech blood manipulation that can cause horrible things to happen and it’s one of those thrillers that (mostly) takes place in a single compressed day where no one gets enough sleep and everyone gets the shit kicked out of them. Not for everyone. I mostly liked it.

World of Trouble

Ack, I totally fucked up and read this book before the second book. This book is the last in the trilogy and basically ends with the end of the world. It was great, but since I thought I was reading the second book in such a trilogy, I had presumed there was some sort of ... aftermath, maybe? Anyhow, this story is great, but since it talked about a bunch of things that happened in the second book, I just thought it was clunky with its exposition. Wish I’d read them in the right order, I didn’t. This was a great book.

The Last Policeman

Such a great premise! The world is ending in six months, infrastructure is falling apart, cops still have jobs. This is the story of one such cop, a newly-promoted detective who takes his job more seriously than you’d expect. The plot around this is also good and the writing, especially the possible-world “What would the US look like if everyone knew with certainty that the world was ending in six months” is great storytelling. The cop is a bit of an aspy type, very dogged, not particularly good at people skills but very good at being a cop. First of a trilogy.

Shovel Ready: A Novel

Another recommended book from the pile. This was also a zipzip read. The premise: a dirty bomb goes off in Times Square and the only people left in NYC are 1. scavengers and bottom dwellers 2. rich people jacked in to a sort of do-anything immersible internet Unclear why those people don’t leave. A lot of questions actually but the story concerns one former garbageman who lost his wife in the blast and and has become a bit of a bottom dweller hired killer man. He’s the protagonist. A lot goes on. It’s borderline “too rapey” for me (even though it’s not very rapey) but I enjoyed it. Very much like Odds Against Tomorrow in some weird way. The vision these guys have of the future is just a little too creepy for me.

The Martian: A Novel

Since I have read this book--which I did in two sittings, very compelling--every time something goes wrong around here I tell myself “well at least you are not stranded on Mars popping into a plastic box” This is a great book about an astronaut stranded on Mars and the full court press to get him home. Soon to be a major motion picture, I hear. It’s interesting, you like the character and you maybe learn a little bit about science while you’re reading it.


This story is apparently the first in a set of graphic novels focusing on a young woman who is living on the Ivory Coast in the 70s when things were going better. She and her friends have varying degrees of ambition and family “situations” and while I found it hard to place myself in anyone’s shoes to really understand some of the choices they made, I enjoyed being along for the ride and really felt transported to that time and place.

The Rook

This book was recommended by someone who liked other books that I’d liked, so I opened it not knowing much about it other than that. It’s great. It has one of those Orphan Black openings: character doesn’t quite know what’s going on but SOMETHING is definitely going on... and then she starts to figure out what. One of the things I like about this book is that the main character, and many of the other characters, are female. Not in one of those “Oooh check out the women being all interesting” but just, they are characters, who act like women, and are important players in this story. The book passes the Bechdel test, heartily, which is something that I don’t expect anymore in any non-specifically-feminist books. So, yes, it’s got a rousing plot, zips around a lot. Has just enough supernatural to be interesting but not so much that you feel that he author writes himself out of every difficult episode with “And then a monster appears” Was happy to hear that there’s a sequel in the works. I came late to this editions, so I won’t have long to wait.

Lock In

Hey this just came out! And I know John Scalzi a little bit. So I was excited to read this since I hadn’t read any of his stuff before. And he has a movie deal for it. So cool. I enjoyed this book about a slightly slant future in which there was a flu-like epidemic but instead of people dying they just got Parkinson’s-style locked in, unable to interact with the outside world. But there were enough people like this that a social safety net of sorts was built for them. And then people started messing with it. Hard to explain without giving too much of it away. I liked the story. I felt like there were maybe too many “And here is where I explain the thing” parts to it, some of it was a bit too pat, but that’s just me being an internet nitpicker about it. This is a good book.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

I must admit, I maybe liked this book better before I learned that Foer got a 1.2 million dollar advance for it. In any case, this book is a fun romp through Foer’s year of learning about memory and about his attempts (and successes) to compete successfully in memory competitions. The basic thesis is that you don’t need to be smart to be good at remembering things and to some people being able to remember things makes you look smart. And Foer does a really good job of explaining this through words and actions, showing the difference between people with autism and people who are just really focused, taking the reader along with him as he learns to do what he does (I still have a large jar of garlic in my memory palace). I enjoyed it.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert

This was a great book about someone I’d always wanted to know more about. I grew up reading Ripley’s books but Ripley himself had been dead since long before I was born. This is a meticulously well-researched biography of a man that even his biographer didn’t seem to like much even as he accomplished becoming a household name and the best paid cartoonist in the world. I also learned about Norbert Pearlroth, Ripley’s researcher who had a full time+ job going to the downtown NYPL every single day to find material and never got any credit. I enjoyed this book but was a little bummed that larger-than-life Ripley was just in a lot of ways a normal weirdo.


I’ve read all of Dunning’s bookseller books and enjoyed them a lot. I didn’t really know he’d written any other kinds. This book showed up on the FREE table at my local community college and even though the cover seemed sort of blah, I recognized the name and picked it up. Dunning claims he wrote this book in one sitting--well not exactly but that the entire plot came to him at once. This may explain why it’s such a simple read. It has its own momentum, a cast of characters that you can understand, and a slightly edgy mystery involving the FBI, the Amish and some 60s revolutionaries now decades older. Worth picking up to see what else Dunning can do.

Friends with Boys

I first became aware of Faith Erin Hicks when I read the graphic novel that she illustrated, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. This story about a homeschooled girl’s transition to a regular high school while dealing with the absence of her mom is written and illustrated by Hicks. It’s a great story that looks at a lot of various gender roles and expectations without bogging you down in a politicky story. The high school felt real, the story felt realistic and not preachy. Very well done.

Life Inside a Shell

I admit, I bought this book because I had some credit at Harvard University Press and this had a great cover. Plus, I like turtles. What I did not know is how interesting turtles are from a physiological perspective. They can go without air for months. Months! They also have a funny way of breathing because they don’t have a conventional ribcage. And they make use of nutrients stored in their shells during the long hibernating period that they have. And their hearts work in a weird way and they have metabolism that’s all over the map from one speed to 10000x that speed (in contrast, the human metabolism ranges from about one speed to 4x that speed). Jackson looks into many of this interesting facts and describes the research that allowed him to discover or support these assertions. It’s a short well-written book for people who enjoy biological sciences.


I think I am nearing the end of my patience with books that gradually mete out little bits of the story over time. This book is great, really terrific and Hoeg is wonderful. At the same time the combination of unreliable juvenile narrator, the jumping around of the timeline, and the “What is actually going on here?” aspect to the whole thing made this a bit less enjoyable than it might have been. Sometimes I think that this entire book list should be called “Books that were almost perfect except...” because there’s always a thing. In this book it was the above issues but also the ending which had pages and pages which were talking about the importance or relative issues concerning Time. Which were interesting but I was still struggling to pick up the plot line and it felt like a different essay by Hoeg that was tossed in here for reasons unknown. A good book. I read it in one sitting. I don’t really recommend that.

The Windup Girl

Remember how you saw that episode of Star Wars that you were really excited about and it turned out the thing that got everyone all out and fighting with each other was ... a trade war? This book is sort of like that. The textures of a post-collapse society where the world is run by calorie men and the mastodon union and generippers is really great but the plot inside the texture is a little.... slow? It’s all deal-making and deal-breaking and the “what actually HAPPENED here” story gets dribbled out over time. I enjoyed this book but there was a lot of blablabla dealmaking stuff about high level government stuff which just didn’t push my particular buttons.

Odds Against Tomorrow

I could not, for the life of me, remember the name of this book as I was reading it. It was suggested to me by people who had liked the other books I’d recently read and I liked it but did not love it. It didn’t cohere. The main character wasn’t particularly sympathetic. It seemed to end in the middle. The general topic--disaster prognosticators and insurers and what happens when NYC is well and truly underwater--is fascinating but then the story is populated with Gibson-like nearly cyberpunk cool characters who I didn’t really understand. Book was at its best talking about drowned NYC, at its worst when trying to move the story along with character development.


Loved this book but it was really dark. Someone suggested it to me as an intelligent and rapid specfic thriller. I’d really enjoyed other books especially Suarez’s Daemon and a few others and I tore into this right after reading Brilliance. And it was good, the two books have a very very similar format (fast paced chapters interspersed with pop culture types of references) and plot (big changes in the world and totalitarian type government secretly trying to gain more power) but other than that, they’re different. This one starts off for a long time with you pretty unclear as to what’s going on and it jumps around a lot in time. I usually hate this as a device but it worked really well in this one. I’m going to go and find more stuff that Max Barry has done.

A Better World

Saying this is not as quite as good as the first book is only a small negative since I liked the first book SO MUCH and this one was a little less interesting and a little more high-body-count. Still good. Still keeping me flipping the pages and wondering what happens next.


Suggested to me by a friend, this dystopian book is a bit like Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear. Suddenly for no particular reason people are being born smarter... a lot smarter. And what happens? The government implements a crackdown to keep these people under control. Which, as you might guess, backfires somewhat. A really good social type of thriller.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I don’t know much about Kaling. I’ve always sort of randomly liked her but mostly only knew her from The Office. So I was looking forward to getting to know more about her. And this book of essays is sometimes funny and sometimes annoying but it’s one of those books that has the feeling of a “let me tell you my secrets” thing but at the end of it, I still didn’t know why she has a different last name from her parents. I mean I think I know and I could check Wikipedia, but I am not sure. In any case, fun book, funny read.

My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t know as much as I thought about why hemophiliacs were likely to have contracted HIV. I learned that and a lot more from this entertaining but informative book by Shawn Decker. Decker (who also blogs at mypetvirus.com) has written a memoir about what it was like growing up as a kid with HIV back when most of what we knew about HIV and AIDS came from Ryan White and Bennetton ads. He’s got an engaging style, a no-bullshit manner and pulls no punches with himself or anyone else in telling his story.

Interpreter of Maladies

Trying very hard to get on my “more diverse authors” bandwagon. This book was perfect. I got it from a library book sale, had never heard of it before and was completely engrossed by the stories of people in India or Indian Americans and their experiences both at home and in the US. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this and also lived in Rhode Island which gave many of the US stories a familiar feel. A lot of places I recognized (Cambridge, Boston, the Charles) seen through eyes that made it less familiar. All in all a great collection.

The Fifth Assassin

I somehow read this book in 2014 and forgot to write a review for it. I liked it and I enjoy this series about the Culper Ring and all the weird intrigue happening in DC> This one was a little less great than the others because of the inclusion of the mentally ill assassin guy. Any time there is a first person account of someone who is mentally disabled (and not really that realistic but used as a “they could do anything!” wildcard) I lose interest. That said I’m currently reading the newest installment so it didn’t make me give up on the thing, just made me more skeptical.

Guitar Zero

Gary Marcus and I went to college together and I reconnected with him at a friend’s memorial service. He was buzzing about this book he’d written and I was just learning to play ukulele and it was kismet. I really enjoyed this look into the science of what music is about brain-wise and why it holds a special place in our brains

Born Standing Up

By the time I knew about Steve Martin, he was already famous and doing SNL. This biography covers his lie from when he was born to basically when he became stupid-famous and talks a lot about how he chose to do the stuff he did. It’s a neat look into someone who is often pretty private about a lot of his life and is a great behind the scenes look at what sort of work it takes to become not only a comedian but a sort of unique one with a very narrowband audience appeal. Martin come across like a really nice guy and is gracious about all the people he mentions even though he definitely had a bit of a rocky upbringing. A bunch of old photos really make this a book worth reading.

Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist

Sort of a random pickup from me while I’ve been trying to expand my book-reading horizons this year. Kalder is a white guy but he is a white guy from Scotland who is living in Moscow and decides to go to the weird ends of the Russian empire, looking at a lot of former Soviet places that are now sort of muddling along as sort-of independent. He talks about the history of the people who used to live there, goes in search of what’s interesting and/or cool and spends a lot of time bored and hungry. On some trips he goes with friends and on some he goes alone. While he’s not the most reliable narrator in all cases, the things he decides to discuss and talk about have a level of universal appeal. Many of these places are now places that I want to go, even though I suspect that just the intervening decade will have changed them tremendously.

Holy Sh*t!: The World’s Weirdest Comic Books

Fun collection of totally weird and crazy comics. Some of these are “OMG what were they thinking?!” and some are just weird comics, but either way this is an entertaining and well-researched look at several decades of comics publishing internationally.

Wild Life

A terrific book, given to me by a friend when we were talking about cryptozoology and the place it takes in American fiction. This book is a lot of books at once: it’s got a strong female lead who is a very non-traditional female, it’s got a lot of outdoor PacNW history and “sense of place” activity, and buried in the middle of it is a parable about how humans interact with the earth, and how it could be different. Th set up of this book (a pile of journal entries, somewhat recreated after-the-fact by a modern-day person) was a little tough to get into at first but gradually became much more appealing. I was sorry when this book was over.

Zita the Spacegirl

Everything :01 does is amazing. This is a fun romp to another planet with a nifty young girl. It has fun monsters and robots and its not too scary. Very worthwhile.

My Brother, My Sister

I suspect I don’t like memoirs. This book about Haskell’s sibling’s decision to undergo transgender surgery later in life had me gritting my teeth a lot of the way through it. Some of this was probably because I’ve come up discussing trans* issues online and I’m aware of a lot of the etiquette surrounding those discussions. How you refer to people’s sex and gender, the things you do and don’t talk about, the lazy traps you can fall into that are hurtful for trans* people and their allies. Haskell does most of these things: midgenders people, does the “but what about your PENIS” things, insists on the primacy of her own views and feelings (it is a memoir, this is not necessarily a bad thing) and just makes her sister’s difficult late in life transformation all about her.

That said, this book got a lot of positive reviews and it may be serving a purpose for people who are coming to trans* issues from a differing perspective. Privileged people who never really gave it much thought before and are suddenly confronted. Thinky people who wants to look at transgender issues through the lens of Greek Myths. Chatty people who can’t imagine having a big event happen in their family and being asked not to talk about it as if that were such a huge inconvenience. People newer to trans* issues may enjoy these parts and not mind the other parts. I found many of Haskell’s views difficult to take and found myself rooting even more for her sister than I might otherwise.

Desert Sojourn: A Woman’s Forty Days and Nights Alone

Super mixed feelings about this book. Short form: woman goes through a divorce, is in a new relationship, is not happy, decides to go out into the desert to “find herself” and get a bit of a grip (Like Budddha and Jesus) she says. In reality, despite having grown up camping, she is poorly-prepared, deals with horrible weather and actually winds up spending only about a week or two alone at a stretch because the local-ish ranger comes to check on her (and brings her a warm jacket and a little stove for her tent). Oh and it turns out her family has a history of mental illness. This book which takes the form of daily-ish journal entries sounds more like a cautionary tale for people contemplating similar things and less of a soul-searching “What is life all about?” sort of pontification. I found myself just being ongoingly frustrated with the narrator (didn’t bring warm boots but brought nail polish "by accident"? How does that happen?) which overrode my ability to just sit back and think about the wilderness and quiet contemplation.

Three Can Keep A Secret

This was the post-Irene Gunther mystery that I’d heard so much about and I really liked it. Like the last book, Tag Man, the story doesn’t resolve neatly, but you’re not left hanging either. It’s a smart and more realistic feeling Mayor book and it’s all homegrown in Vermont and very evocative of recent events.

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont

VT has always patted itself on the back about its constitution that outlawed slavery but the constitution had some big loopholes, such as children still being able to be enslaved and people who came to Vermont still keeping their slaves, etc. Whitfield, a professor at UVM, scoured up the primary source documents that showed people exploiting these constitutional loopholes. Considering that there were maybe only 75-100 people of color in VT at the time,he did an amazing job ferreting the details out and comments on the documents that he was able to find. A short but important book about Vermont’s early history.

The Hovercraft Story

Picked this up at a library booksale thinking “Ooooh hovercrafts.” It was great plane reading where I just had to make the time go by, but other than a pretty interesting look into testing out new hovercrafts in the desert, this was a sort of dry recitation of hovercraft facts along with a few cool photos.

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

Lefèvre was a photojournalist how took a trip into Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders in 1986 during the Soviet War. This was in a pre-technological era where he carried all of his cameras and lenses over miles and miles of inhospitable terrain and through locations with inhospitable (and hospitable) people. His photographs, many of which weren’t published until this book originally came out in 2003, shows a part of the world that many of us know (or knew) almost nothing about. Lefèvre discusses the world that DWB do and explains in some detail how they manage to do the jobs that they do. This is a graphic novel (published in this country by the always awesome :01 and put together by Emmanuel Guibert) written around Lefèvre’s story and his photographs.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Another great graphic novel from :01 (First Second). Everything I’ve picked up from them has been terrific. This one is about a jock and a nerd who are friends and who face a bunch of different challenges in high school culminating in a holidaytime robot competition. Great illustrations from Faith Erin Hicks make this a really worthwhile read.

Tag Man

A really great Gunther mystery with a bit character from an earlier story taking on a much larger role. This story seemed a bit more involved than some of the earlier ones, but maybe I just liked the main character more. In any case, a good read and a nice complex story.

Red Herring

One of the more interesting complex mysteries in the Joe Gunther series. Some fun and interesting forensic stuff and a lot of deceptive clues. A few twists at the end (and a main character killed) made this a bit of a tough read in some ways but a lot more clever than some of the other recent ones.

The Price of Malice

One of the more icky stories but one that was more local to Brattleboro of a creepy supposed child molester that was found very seriously killed. Good story overall and I kept singing “A town called malice...” to myself as I’d read it.


I got this book out not knowing that it was a story about books being challenged in the library. Enjoyed it. The good guys won. It seemed a bit two-dimensional in parts--the local religious people are really out in left field and seemingly nuts--but overall the story of the fantasy-book loving kid who lives in a place where the type of book he likes to read is seen as “evil” is well written and illustrated. Yay for good librarian characters and happy endings.

I Am Pilgrim

I can not tell a lie, I got this book as a Klout Perk and it was actually pretty good. Really good in fact. A bioterror thriller involving an inscrutable terrorist and the guy working for a shady US intelligence service who was assigned to stop him from killing everyone in the world. Very nitpicky. Very well done. It’s gotten some flack for being sort of anti-Muslim since there is a lot of negative weight given to the primary terrorist who is a bit of a zealot. I paged through this, in hardcover, zip zip zip and was sorry when it was over and sorry that there weren’t any other fiction books from Hayes to read next.

The Catch

This book seemed shorter than some of Mayor’s others and had a huge cast of characters that was a bit tough to keep up with. This time the gang goes to Maine ostensibly to straighten out a cop killing but they wind up finding out some stuff about some of their own when they are up there. I liked the story, enjoyed the cop work but got a little bogged down in the sheer number of side stories even though this book went by pretty quickly.

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

I try to read all the chunky graphic novels that come into my library. Gownley is well known for his Amelia Rules books which I haven’t read so this was all new to me. It’s a great story of basically what it’s like to be a kid with an idea in a dead-end town (mining town in this case) and trying to work on your dreams. Along the way we catch a glimpse of teen romance, Catholic schooling, good parenting and good friendships. I really enjoyed this.

Lio: Happiness Is a Squishy Cephalopod

This is more a collection of strips than a graphic novel. I saw this book in the library and thought it was more the story of a boy and his squid, but it’s so much more. It’s really weird and dark in a way that makes it mostly-palatable for a newspaper strip but only just barely. Lio is a weird kid with a penchant for creepy-crawlies, robots and other weird kid stuff. These strips have almost no words i them (no one ever talks) but they are incredibly deep and layered just the same. As a huge fan of Gahan Wilson’s “kid” character, Lio has some of the same weirdnesses, updated for this century.

Killer Year: Stories to Die For.

What a great book! I picked it up at a library book sale thinking it would be good to bring on a trip and sort of wondering how crime fiction was going to translate into short stories. I read a lot of mysteries and have read some true crime in my day but it was all book length stuff. So I went into this collection --an attempt to sort of show off some of the best short crime writing from 2008--with a bit of skepticism but it was all so good. All the stories were succinct, gripping and many stuck with me for days afterwards. Most of the stories also have introductions from other crime writers which was a really nice touch. All in all it really gave the crime writing genre a palpable feel as a thing in addition to being a great collection of readable stories which I think was part of the point.


Another story within a story here. I like it now that Gunther has moved on to different relationships. This one has a lot of his family who are characters that I really like. It also tangentially involves the budding internet which was a little weird (I generally dislike it when someone does internet-stuff and do it wrong) but it was mostly in service to the main story and didn’t try to get too technical and fail at it.

The Second Mouse

Yay, the folks are back in Vermont and interacting with each other in Vermont-y ways. I liked this one more than some of the other recent ones. Less Zigman, more Sammy and Kunkel. Gunther gets laid. We visit some tiny Vermont towns and a lot of weird loose end seeming things resolve. I liked this.

St. Albans Fire

Another totally good book by Mayor that takes place partly out of the state, this time in Newark NJ of all places. A good mystery, not as much State-of-Vermont stuff in it (or the other people besides Kunkle who I am getting a little tired of) and an ominous portent of the end of the relationship between Gunther and Zigman which might be just fine.

Who wants a cheap rhinoceros?

No idea at all why this never-checked-out book from the Silsby Free Public Library wound up on the free shelf of my local thrift store but I am glad it did. Previously published under his “fooling no one” pseudonym Uncle Shelby this book about how to play kid games with a very large rhino claims to be “revised and expanded” but for all I know that’s what the original claimed also. Silverstein’s great combination of amusing drawings and funny rhino situations make this a great book for young and old alike.


Even though a lot of Seinfeld’s early stuff can sound dated, I was surprised how funny parts of this book were. It’s just random observations about stuff, a lot of it nothing special, but none of it is off color and some of it is laugh out loud funny.

Dwarf: A Memoir

DiDonato is a former little person who underwent bone-lengthening surgery to become someone who is just short. This is mostly a story about that, though it covers a lot of other parts of her life mainly in fits and starts. This book is ghost written (or something) by a woman from People magazine and that might give you an idea of the tone this book is going to take. I was interested in DiDonato’s story but a little less stoked about the way it wound up being told. There was a lot of drama, her parents were weird (some of it was explained, a lot was not) and it all culminates in a perfect wedding which felt like it traded off one set of stereotypes (about little people) for another (all people want is to have a perfect wedding and it will bring everyone together). DiDonato had a fairly middle class upbringing in Central Mass so there were a lot of familiar places in her story which kept me engaged and I know the bone surgery part of this is the most controversial within little person communities. I think I would have wanted to hear more about that instead of just a lot of “overcoming adversity” types of vignettes. No big deal, I’m sure DiDonato is a great person, this just wasn’t really the story I wanted to read.


Liked this one because it game me a chance to get to know more about Sammie Martens. Unfortunately what we learn about her is that she’s impetuous and frequently puts herself in dangerous situations that she needs Kunkle or Gunther to get her out of. There was also a “wow you’ve clearly never done drugs before” description of an ecstacy trip and a sort of “And that’s how it all went down” summary at the end. I liked but did not love this one though I was happy to learn more about Martens even if it wasn’t all good.

The Sniper’s Wife

This was a departure from the usual Mayor books because it takes place to a large extent in NYC. There’s still Gunther and Sammy and Kunkle but the topic is the death of Kunkle’s ex-wife under slightly odd circumstances and everyone goes to NYC at various times to figure it out. There’s some interesting juxtaposition between NYC cops and VT cops but ultimately the thing I like about Mayor’s books is the Vermont settings and the ins and outs of all the interagency stuff and this didn’t have it for me. Good cop procedural but not really what I wanted to read.

Tucker Peak

Another mostly homegrown Joe Gunther mystery, at a fancy (made up) ski resort this time testing out the powers and the diplomatic abilities of the newish Vermont Bureau of Investigation. Enjoyed it, was sorry when it was done. Falls solidly in the middle of the pack as far as the latest run of books I’ve been reading from this series but I definitely liked it.

Marble Mask

Another good vaguely international Gunther mystery. This one takes place both in Vermont and over the border in Sherbrook Quebec and concerns a dead guy found on the top of a mountain in Stowe. It’s the first real case for the Vermont Bureau of investigation and there’s a lot of inter-agency wrangling and a lot of harkening back to old Vermont. Enjoyed it.

Occam’s Razor

This one was more my style. Lots of Vermont-y stuff going on, a lot less confusing international intrigue and a lot of dorky procedural stuff including seeing the origin story for the Vermont Bureau of Investigation which I knew about but didn’t really know about. One of my favorite of the recent books.

Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us

Was expecting this book to be different but I wound up liking it a lot anyhow. Bering takes us on a historical tour of sexual deviancy. I was expecting more of a contemporary tour maybe and some talk about furries and those people who like to be smooshed and etc, but I liked what the book was. Bering uses a lot of different studies to talk not just about what people like, but how we KNOW what we like and what implications do these likes/loves/lusts have for society in general. Bering is gay and so he talks about himself a lot in an offhand way. He’s able to be open-minded and funny but not TOO funny when discussing things like pedophilia and people who are turned on by rubber boots. There’s a lot of footnoting (maybe too much?) and a good chunk of resources at the back of it. Good book, will look up other stuff by Bering.

The Disposable Man

Another Mayor book! I think I am slowing down a little bit on these. I liked this one, but like the Asian gang one, there was too much non-Vermont content that was a little confusing. Also I am finally getting to the point where Gunther is always saying “Such a sleepy little town” and I am like “Dude you are getting shot at and people are getting killed around you every year nowadays!” This did have some of that interesting interagency cooporation stuff going on which I enjoyed, but a little confusing to stay on top of, though again a bunch of neat location stuff.

Bellows Falls

I may be at a stopping point with these for a while. I liked this book! I liked looking into the background of Bellows Falls and I thought the storyline was compelling and made me keep reading. I had originally checked out this book via Open Library and the version I got was full of OCR errors so I had to wait and get it the next day from the actual public library (which carries all of them) which threw off my rhythm. Happy to have been reading a lot more so far this year. Now I have to branch out some more.

Ragman’s Memory

Continuing to plow through these. This was a better storyline than the last one. A real weird “What is going on here?” situation where you think it’s the one bad guy and it turns out to be another one. I’m sort of getting used to Mayor’s rhythm lately, how you are pretty sure one person is getting set up to be the bad guy but there is often multiple layers of bad guys in there. Anyhow, another good local mystery, quite enjoyable.

Dark Root

Another one of these books down as I plow through the Joe Gunther series. I enjoyed it but I found it somewhat complex. I appreciate that Mayor can take a topic like “Asian gangs in Vermont” and not turn it into a bunch of racial cheap shots (by any of his characters for the most part, not just the main ones) but it was still tough to keep track of a zillion characters with new and unfamiliar names. This book also had very little of the interpersonal Gail/Joe story that I tend to like. So, still enjoyed this and Mayor’s writing is top notch but this was probably my least favorite one so far and hardest to get into and stay into.

Sugar in the Raw

Part of my “make an effort” prgram this year. This collection of essays by young (11-20-ish) black girls in America was a good read. Lots of different perspectives, some that I could get my head around and some that I couldn’t. I tried to silence my inner “Huh?” voice and just listen to what these girls had to say, about being girls growing into women, about America versus other countries, about whether they had white friends, how they got along in school, etc. Eye-opening and well-curated by Carroll, this book is well worth a read, especially if you think it’s maybe not for you.

Fruits of the Poisonous Tree

Plowing through some Archer Mayor to make the days go by. Deciding to read them in order and this was the one I had skipped earlier because it was rapey and I usually don’t trust authors to write sympathetically about rape but rather to use it for shock value and that always bothers me. This book was better. It’s got all of Mayor’s trademarks--lots of stuff takes place in places you know about in Vermont, Joe Gunther and Gail figure prominently and move the general series arc along even as the crime is getting solved, there is a big cast of characters and some political backdrop. I enjoyed it and it wrapped up a little more cleanly than the last one.

The Skeleton’s Knee

While it’s not doing anything for my “read more non-whitemale authors” push I’ve decided to work my way sequentially through Archer Mayor’s police procedurals after picking up and enjoying one of the more recent Joe Gunther books. So this book is #4 on the list and I have maybe 18 more, though I suspect I’d read some of them before I started keeping track (which means over 17 years ago, which may be mathematically impossible). I enjoyed it. It had a lot of weird forensic work when a skeleton dug up in the dooryard of a hermit turns out to have an artificial knee. Lots of running around and a side trip to Chicago and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The book felt like it wrapped up a little quickly and I was expecting a bit more in the way of “So this is how all the things were interrelated” instead of making some of those connections myself. Still, Gunther is likeable and it’s neat to watch his motley group of friends and enemies evolve over time.

Paradise City

I really should stop reading these books out of order, but each time I see an Archer Mayor book I haven’t read, I go snagging it. But now that I’ve read this, as of now his second to last book, I already know who dies from some earlier books. Oh well. This is another great Mayor book that ventures south of Vermont and takes place largely in the Northampton MA area. I even saw Hampshire College mentioned in there for a sec. As always it’s a lively romp and you’re never quite sure whodunit. Worth reading.

Saturday Night Live FAQ

Liked this book but it’s worth mentioning that it’s part of a series called the FAQ series and doesn’t contain an actual FAQ to the series per se. That said it has a lot of interesting facts and draws on a lot of primary source material to tell you probably more about the show than you knew already. Weirdly, for such a well-researched book, the book has a lot of TYPOS in it. I’m not sure why this bugs me so much but in a real compendium-type publication like this, you’d expect better. Definitely worth a read for people who are interested in the early days of SNL, or the list of people who have said “fuck” on the air.


This is one of those just-barely fiction titles where the protagonist is basically someone with many of the same characteristics as the author. I spent a lot of the time I was reading this book thinking “Well that would have been amusing in real life but it doesn’t make a particularly good story” I’m a bird lover and sometimes watcher and the bird-y parts of this book were the best parts. The worst parts were when the somewhat loserish- main character is mooning over a woman who sleeps with him but doesn’t want to be in a grown up relationship with him. He finally has to move to Vermont to get away from her and that seems to make all the difference. Liked it okay, didn’t love it, would maybe like to read this guy’s actual biography instead of a fictionalized account of his life.


This is either the third or the fourth book in the Ty Hauck series of thrillers. I enjoyed this one as much or more than the previous ones. Lots of back and forth about what is really happening, a principled main character (though he does seem to sort of run through relationships which is maybe getting old) and a lot of intrigue without a lot of torture or other super unpleasantness, though there is a somewhat high body count.


Looks like a lot of people have mixed feelings about this book. I picked it up because I’d really loved Soon I Will Be Invincible but this book was a mess. Neat enough premise... takes place in the same suburban Boston area I grew up in, about when I grew up, characters are nerds and they start a gaming company. However, there is way too much “And then the wizard casts a spell and then you find a magic amulet in the knot in the tree and ...” sort of exposition about the games themselves and neither the games nor the characters are interesting enough and the story doesn’t cohere.

There are a lot of weird perspective shifts and some of the characters in the game sort of come to life (maybe? I never was quite sure I knew what was going on with them) and so there are maybe four levels of reality: current day, the past, inside the game and then whatever the reality is where the characters from the game come to life. Oh and there are dreams. All in all too confusing to dig through and didn’t really wrap up in a way that I found enjoyable or interesting. Not my thing.


This book was on the NEW table at my library. It had one of those “what did you think?” cards in the back of it and one of the other patrons from my library had written “A little oversexed...” in the back. I’m not totally sure I agree but there are a lot of stories of love, loss, romance and a few other things. I’ve read most of Alexie’s other works, though not recently, and some of these stirred my memory but most were either new or seemed new to me. And they’re SO great.

Alexie has a way of writing about Native American issues (he’s from the Spokane nation) without seeming pedantic or, more importantly, prescriptive. Like, his characters are Native but the point of a lot of the stories is that they’ve got the full range of winners and losers and no-shows and everything else. You get this even more by reading 15-20 stories with differing characters than I have by reading his pieces with the same characters all the way through. Really enjoyed this. Not oversexed.

Prisoners of the Sun

This was the follow-up to The Seven Crystal Balls. I’d never read Tintin before and this was a gift from a young friend and I dove into the first book and he graciously sent me the second. I liked it. Don’t really know from Tintin. My favorite character is the dog. These are very “of a time” meaning they’re basically racist, for the most part, and are not really that thoughtful about cultural differences and there are barely any women in these stories. Given the context, I enjoyed this as much as I could. Nice drawings. Fun dog.

Q & A

For whatever reason I picked up this book thinking it was non-fiction. It’s the original book that became the really popular movie (that I also haven’t seen) Slumdog Millionaire. It’s tough going. Living in the slums is a really rough life with a lot of abuse and random terrible things happening. The narrative structure here is a kid from the slums who manages to get on the quiz show Who Wants to be a Billionaire

The Phantom Tollbooth

Friends could not believe I had never read this. I finally lay down one chilly evening and plowed through it. Super fun! Wordplay and great illustrations and a neat little story about how not to be bored. Super enjoyable, sort of glad I waited so long.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

A great fun book about growing up foodie. I enjoyed Lucy’s tales of her childhood and travels and her formative food experiences. Some neat recipes, some neat stories, all wonderfully illustrated in a fun slim volume that gave me an enjoyable evening’s read.

Soon I will Be Invincible

Was looking for some good fiction to read and had just finished Ready Player One and this was in the thrift store bargain shelf and my friend the librarian said I’d like it. She was totally right. General premise: superheroes are just like us and super villains are as well. They have hopes and reams and make mistakes and whatnot. This book is about a superhero and a supervillain (in alternating first person chapters) and a few months of their back and forth as the villain tries to take over the world. Very good read, went by quickly, lots of good laughs and callbacks to various superhero stories of your childhood.

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story

I am so pleased that Bagge took the time to research and write this great story about the real life of Margaret Sanger. Not only is her story important and basically the story of birth control access in the world today, but Sanger was also a complicated woman and Bagge did the research and seemed to want to specifically address a lot of the critiques that other coverage--positive and negative--has attracted. So you see him specifically covering things like her talk before a KKK audience or the death of her daughter, or her many romantic dalliances with various men and you get a fuller picture of Sanger the woman, not just Sanger the icon or Sanger the nurse or Sanger the wife. A large section at the end has Bagge going page by page through much of the 75 page book giving citations for what he knew about the events that he portrayed and how he decided what to show and what not to. A great read for fans of Bagge or Sanger.

Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

This is, as you might expect, a totally depressing book about how terrible people in positions of power were (and likely still are in many respects) when attempting to interact with “native” folks of any stripe. This particular story concerns Peary’s expeditions to northern Greenland where he frequently stopped on his quest for the North Pole. On one occasion he brought some of the “Polar Eskimos” as they were then called, back to NYC with him. Several died and one, Minik, was a young boy and was one of the survivors. The NY Museum of Natural History treated him and his fellow Greenlanders shamefully, keeping Minik’s father’s body in their archives (even going so far as to stage a fake funeral for him to assuage the boy) along with other personal possessions belonging to him. This situation was not rectified until the last few decades. Appalling.

Harper has done a great deal of research tracking down what became of Minik and others whose lives Peary touched in the latter part of the 20th century and created a narrative that is Minik-centered, not the terrible explorer-centered tales of false bravado and accomplishments at the expense of other people. Very interesting read.

Ready Player One

A kid told me to read this and it was great! Sort of like Daemon but without the overarching awfulness and war of all against all. I really enjoyed this book about a near future world where most people spend their time interacting in an online space, and then the guy who builds the online space--a fan of all things 80s--dies and there is a contest to see who will win his vast fortune. Just futuristic enough to be interesting but with enough pop culture references to seem really here and now, maybe it’s just because the setting for the quest covered a lot of the same spaces that I used to populate when I was a kid but it all felt so fun and familiar. The quest is quest-y enough, the characters are believable, good at games but sometimes bad at life, and there’s a lot of low level hackery and back and forth action. Loved it. You should read it.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

The fascinating thing that I did not know about this book before I started reading it was that Poulsen, the author and now senior editor of Wired, is a former black-hat hacker who did some prison time. This explains, I think, some of the parts of this book that I liked the best: the really thorough and knowledgeable explanations of the hacks, the lengthy discussions he seems to have had with everyone involved in order to get a good story and the general understanding of how things like IRC and BBSes and other stuff like that worked. As a reader who knows how this stuff works who is often reading books written by people who don’t know, I was really excited to get to read a book written for people like me. Poulsen is a thorough researcher and turned the whole story of Max Vision (Butler) into a linear tale of one guy and the decisions that he makes that turn him into one of the most powerful guys in the online credit card data trading markets. Along the way you learn about these markets, the other players in them and some stuff about Silicon Valley back before the first bubble burst.

Thinking in Numbers

This is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet, a mathematician and savant discussing things that are only tangentially mathematically related: the way he predicts his mother’s behavior, the things he talks about when he meets other mathematicians, what it’s like to recite pi to 25000+ places. Tammet does a good job bridging the gap between how his mind works and what he thinks other people who are not at that level of mathematical thinking would want to read about and does, to my mind, a very good job.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

An excellent collection of essays that I’d somehow managed to miss entirely the first times they appeared in various places, mostly the New Yorker. The essays range from a real-life locked room murder mystery (by a Sherlock historian) to a look inside the communities that work deep under NYC digging tunnels for new water systems. Very readable and always leave you wanting to read more about the topics and/or tell people about them in detail.

The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

Started reading this last year. Finished it this year. Enjoyed getting just a bit more Adams stuff that I hadn’t read even though some of it is a little loose-ended or seems written for a purpose that’s not “read this after I’ve been dead for a decade and the whole world of computers has changed” Even though, fun read, learned a bit more about Adams and got to read just a bit more fiction even if I’ll never know how that particular story ends.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This was free in the ibook store so I bought it and read it at the gym. Fun. Reminiscent of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole but a bit more US-centric, and more of a comic book (with great drawings) and less of a journally thing. I liked it. I’ll go get the other ones from the library.