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« September, 2017 »
Funny in Farsi

This is a short easy read about Dumas’s life growing up partly in Iran and partly in the US. A lot of it has to do with her perceptions of her family and the weird things American’s do. I enjoyed it though it was a little difficult to track since it’s told in a series of vignettes, not entirely chronological.

The Bird’s Nest

I love Shirley Jackson usually but this book about a woman with dissociative personality disorder was really a slog.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

I enjoyed this book. I like XKCD a lot and partly because Munroe is so danged smart about everything. He’s managed to put that all together in this fun compendium of weird questions people have asked him, split into ones he really tries to answer and a few he just illustrates for the heck of it. Mostly fun, sometimes I feel it’s handwavey. Always enjoyable and great illustrations and humor you’ve come to expect from XKCD.

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

I am a sucker for any book that takes place in a library. Doubly so when they are written by Vermonters. And so when Ms. Halpern wrote me and said “I’ve written this book, how do I get it into the hands of librarians?” I said “Well send me a copy, for starters.” This doesn’t always go well for me. Many books sent to me languish on my To Read pile for far too long. This one, however, fit right into a reading slot and I picked it up and was instantly hooked. it’s two stories: the story of the librarian’s marriage--she’s not married anymore and you don’t know why--and the story of the 15 year old who has to work in the library doing community service over the summer. There are a host of supporting characters, some more character-ish than others.

The facts are revealed slowly. At first I had a hard time with the librarian character who said she wanted to work in a library because she liked the quiet... but eventually I realized there was more to it than that. As someone who had a cousin who was raised in somewhat similar circumstances to the kid who had to do community service, I found empathy with her off-the-grid family and her ability to evaluate the statements they made about the way to live the good life. Above all that I appreciate that even though there was another librarian-aged male character, this was not a love story, it was a story of many different kinds of friendship, and of small towns, and civics and the way we can hold space for one another’s difficult feelings. I am very happy I read it.

The Atrocity Archives

I had a hard time maintaining momentum through this book even though i really like Stross and found the storylines pretty entertaining. Turns out I did not learn until after I finished the whole thing that it originated as two novellas that were sort of smushed together into one book. Which would explain a lot of things. I may try some other Stross titles but I think the Laundry series may not click with me.

The Birdwatcher

I liked this book. It slotted in nicely with the other “moody seascape” books I read last year but this one is a UK story and it’s more of a mystery thriller than just some gloomy fiction. Had nor read Shaw before, picked this up because it was on the “new” shelf at the library. Enjoyed the story, the backstory and the general pace of the thing. Been reading a lot lately, glad to have good books to do it with.

The Colour of Law

I liked but did not love this Grishamesque novel about a high powetred lawyer who decided to do the right thing. Part of it may be that I don’t know Giminez’s bona fides. That is, I know he used to be a Dallas lawyer working for a firm and is now in solo practice but... I don’t know how much he maybe is actually like the slightly clueless main guy. There were a lot of casual racist tropes tossed about and I don’t know the author well enough to know if he did his research or if he was just lazy. Women are treated fairly poorly and not given a lot of agency. So, it’s a good legal thriller, but doesn’t deliver more than your average formulaic one. A good book if you’ve never read the genre before. Disappointing if you’re already pretty well acquainted.

Our smallest towns Big Falls, Blue Eye, Bonanza, & beyond

This is a book with a simple plan: to find the smallest towns in each of the 50 states and take a photo of as many residents as can be gathered together at one time. It’s a great project and turns into an interesting book. It has an intro by Garrison Keillor as well as a few small statements from one of the people in town. Sometimes these stories are sad, or funny, but mostly they are poignant because the bulk of these towns are slowly fading away. There are a few exceptions, places mostly populated by rich people (the town in New York declined to even be photographed) but in general the stories of how these tiny towns came to exist or are slowly ceasing to exist make fascinating reading alongside Kitchen’s great photography.

Cat Zero

I confess to not having known that LabLit (i.e. science-y fiction which is not necessarily scifi) was a thing. I am happy I do now! I got this book via Net Galley and stuck through the really weird cover to a thick book I very much enjoyed. it’s about science but you don’t really have to be a scientist to follow it. I admit there were a few places I glossed over the explanations but you can still follow the plot and the interplay of a lot of interesting and (mostly) likeable characters through a scientific mystery that is sort of layered on top of an interpersonal one.

Unlike some other books I’ve read recently (ahem ARTEMIS) this book has a smart female lead who is also believable in her strengths and weaknesses. She studies a very “unsexy” topic (FLV virus) and has a sort of crummy basement lab along with some other oddballs. Then she thinks she’s on to something. Then she tries to figure it out. This book got me continuing to pick it up to figure out what was going on and I liked the ups and downs of her character and the others. It was evocative without being flowery. Scientific without being either dull or didactic. Also, a minor concern, there is only one dead cat in evidence and it’s dealt with humanely and efficiently so if you’re someone with injured-animal-squeamishness (in which case may I suggest this website this book is still okay to read.

The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom

Fascinating but also a little dry and academicky. The authors clearly did a lot of research but I got a little bored when they would just start listing stuff that they knew instead of making it into more of a narrative. Also was wondering how 2009 compared to now.

Glass Houses

Another great Gamache. Penny has been through some shit last year--her husband who had early stage Alzheimers passed away shortly after her last novel was published--and I think you can get traces of that, of the depth of feeling, in this book. Very poingant, and taking place mostly in the village of Three Pines but also sometimes in a courtroom, this is yet another “Is it all going to work out or all get sorted at the end” novel which does not disappoint.