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« August, 2015 »
Nature of the Beast

I thought this was one of Penny’s better books. She’s getting a lot better at just showing not telling, so there are a lot of parts of this story that she implies and doesn’t spell out. Just what did the bad man do to those children? Just how big WAS that gun they found? Letting the reader make up their own mind is part of what makes this book a really enjoyable read. Penny is great at getting all of her characters into the situation in new ways that you may not have seen them before without being all “Hey did you know that character X was a sky diver???” and I enjoy learning new things about the character. This book was great, sad it’s over.

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet

This book from Bruton is great, meticulously researched and lovingly recounted it talks about not just where spam came from, but what it actually IS and how people have, over the entire time the internet has been around/alive, tried to deal with it. Brunton did a lot of work gathering disparate sources and looking at more than just the big headline stories. He also clearly enjoys this topic and knowing a lot about it. That comes through in the writing. This book is actually fun to read as a story and not just as a way to learn facts about how things work. It’s delightful and I’m very happy to have picked it up.

Curious Behavior Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond

This book was fun. It looked like it might be. The author is a scientist who also enjoys a lot of “What if” sort of questions about a lot of human behaviors. This book is a combination of things he read about and researched, things he looked into personally and anecdata that he knows about things. He has a good sense of humor and his curiosity about, for example, what is really happening when we yawn or sneeze, made for very good reading. I was concerned this might be a dry academic text and it was not.

Greg’s Microscope

This is a great kids' book that I had when I was a kid and didn’t even know that it was older than me. I picked it up again at the library to show to some young friends who were visiting. It’s great. It is a story of a kid who gets a microscope and has a good time learning things and experimenting with his family (mom and dad) and there are a lot of neat drawings of what things look like under a microscope glass.

Stealing Lincoln’s Body

Craughwell is definitely an amazing researcher. This book takes what is essentially a fairly short set of anecdotes and fills it in with enough detail that it becomes a full length book. How you feel about this depends on how much you enjoy reading lists of details. The outline of the story is fascinating. A few counterfeiters, grumpy about one of theirs being carted off to jail, devises a crazy plan to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom. The plot fails. A group is formed to protect the dead president’s body moving forward.

The book includes a lot of great details about why counterfeiting was such a big deal and about the reactions of the Lincoln family, but it also includes sometimes excruciating detail about the various events. How much money each of the counterfeiters had made during their various arrests, the location of different buildings and the travels of all of the involved people, where they were at what time. It’s cool that this information can be known, again Craughwell was a great researchers, but I question whether all of this needed to be in the book. I was 70 pages into this 200 page book before I even figured out what counterfeiting had to do with the theft of the President’s body. So, a good book for people really involved and interested in this topic. Maybe a little overlong for everyone else.

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

A great creepy book about the global issues surrounding buying and selling human body parts from eggs to hair to blood to kidneys to children. Carney looks at different sketchy situation and often manages to get people talking on the record about the quasi-legal businesses that they are engaging in. Carney talks about the various kinds of legislation that have been enacted and how most of them haven’t been effective or, worse, drive the undesireable behavior underground. I learned a lot about the different markets for ... human stuff and would like to read more of Carney’s writing.

Trees: National Champions

Bosworth’s book is not just a nice coffee table picture book of lovely trees, though it is sort of that. It’s more that she looks at what it means to see and appreciate a big tree. One of the prologues talks about the difference between looking at a big tree and seeing a legacy and looking at a big tree and seeing a revenue stream. Her photos are not just tree porn, they are much more about looking at these selected best-in-class icons and seeing how they work within their landscapes. The book could almost just be a photo book about America because so many of her pictures just look like ... pictures of our country with a tree in them. She also talks a bit about why measuring trees, why caring about our big trees still matters. I’d be very curious to go back and see how some of these trees from 2005 are doing today,

Bad Houses

Sara is a friend and I’d been meaning to read this for a while. It takes on some pretty heavy stuff, both general topics like addiction and bad parenting but also just STUFF. The things we have and why we have it. The central characters are two nearly-adults one of whom has a mom who is an estate sale organizer and other other of whom has a mom who is a hoarder. Things aren’t easy for either of them. They find each other. This book is beautifully illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil and all fits together as a really wonderful slice of life that is at once relatable but also contains people who we may have never met before.

Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud

Was sort of expecting a Da Vinci Code knock off here and got something that was both better and worse. Better because it was actually written by someone from Italy (in Italian and translated) which gives it a certain verisimilitude. Bad because it was a bit of a slog through religious history (specifically the history of the Shroud of Turin) with one of those dual plot devices which I always find a bit difficult. Bonus props for two strong female leads. Demerits for the huge swath of killings in the last pages of the book. Upshot: I liked it but I’d be a little more discerning about future books by this author.

Not Just Anywhere: The Story of WHALE and the Rescue of New Bedford’s Waterfront Historic District

Picked this up when I was home with a cold and it was laying around. This book is a (deserved) self-congratulatory look back at some of the important preservation that has been done in New Bedford by a group called WHALE (Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE) since the late sixties. Getting together at about the same time as some major highways were planned to go through, this group did a ton of work to help the New Bedford urban renewal project NOT just be a bunch of bulldozers that ran roughshod over the interesting whaling and textile history of New Bedford. The book has a lot of photos and outlines key players in the project from the sixties through the nineties.