Friday, October 30, 2015

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks
By David Mitchell

The latest novel from the author of Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks is divided into six sections with very different voices. It covers the period 1984 to 2043, and blends genres beautifully, with a little bit of horror and science fiction, into a literary masterpiece.

It is 1984 and Holly Sykes is a typical fifteen-year-old British teenager, positive she is wildly in love with her boyfriend, Vinny, who is twenty-four. “I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom.”

Her mother finds out about it and goes ballistic. Holly decides to leave home and go live with Vinny but ends up looking for an abandoned building where she can camp out for a bit. She’s about to find more adventure than she bargains for because there’s one particular thing that is different about Holly, she used to hear voices. She called them “Radio People,” which she means she has a gift that some very nasty people, called Anchorites, would like to use her for.

The second part comes from the perspective of a young man at Kings College, Hugo Lamb. Hugo seems to be rather amoral, or even psychopathic. It is somewhat surprising the lengths he’ll go to in accumulating a hefty bank account, most of them not legal, and definitely detrimental to those around him. Eventually, he crosses paths with a slightly older Holly Sykes in 1991 and things get even more interesting.

The next section is told from the perspective of Ed Brubeck in 2004, now a journalist who reports mainly from war torn Iraq and is home visiting Holly and their daughter Aoife. Could he be addicted to the action? There’s definitely something he isn’t telling Holly, and they’re about to deal with one of a parent’s worst fears.

In 2015, best-selling author Crispin Hershey is not so best-selling anymore when he meets Holly, who is now a best-selling author. Their paths converge and then diverge again for a while before coming back together. They become fast friends and support each other through some difficult times.

Through the first four books runs the vein of a sort of Time Lord, called the Horologists, and their fight against the predatory Anchorites. In 2025, we finally meet an Horologist from their view point, one who has lived many, many lives – the name is Marinus. The Horologists have a plan to defeat the anchorites. It’s a long term plan. It may also be something of a long shot. It also involves Holly Sykes.

Finally, we return to the viewpoint of a much older Holly Sykes, in 2043 on Sheep’s Head in Ireland during a time period referred to as the Endarkenment, after the environment is beyond broken and society has broken down too, and it’s only getting worse. Is there any hope to be had?

I enjoyed this book tremendously. It is a long journey and well worth taking. The people who gave it voice in audio did a fantastic job. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Unleashing by Shelly Laurenston

The Unleashing
By Shelly Laurenston

Kera is a former marine working as a waitress. She strikes up a friendship with a customer she refers to as “four bear claws and a black coffee” because that is about all he says. She feels a kinship because she assumes he is a vet, like her, with PTSD, possibly a brain injury, not to mention homeless. Then she is killed trying to save a girl from her crazy boyfriend in the back alley and her patron reveals who he really is.

Vig Rundstom is a viking from the Raven clan and the armorer for all the Clans. He appeals to the Norse goddess Skuld to resurrect Kera as she literally breathes for the last time.

When Kera is offered life by Skuld in exchange for her service, Kera says she won’t go unless she can take her dog, Brodie Hawaii, a pit bull she saved from a dog fighting ring.

“You do know,” the woman asked Kera, “that you’re standing in front of me with a knife sticking out of your chest? Right? I send you back now, like this, and it’s over. No second life. No feasting at Valhalla. No Ragnarok. You do understand that, right?”

Kera doesn’t care, she isn’t going anywhere without Brodie. Brodie is resurrected, in a body made whole again.

The other Crows are a motley crew of L.A. women from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and with a varied assortment of professions, from accountant to actress to tattoo artist. They actually have wings that retract into their backs, and their purpose is to kill, to mete out punishment. The Crows are one of the most feared clans because they come straight from their death, generally filled with rage, hatred and loyal only to each other and Skuld.

 “Unlike the other Nordic clans representing different gods, the Crows weren’t born into this life. They weren’t raised in the Old Way or the New Way. They didn’t worship the well-known gods like Odin or Thor or Freyja. None of them has last names like Magnusson or Bergstrom. Most Crows came to this life knowing so little about Vikings that they thought what they saw in movies was accurate. That Vikings wore those horned helmets and did nothing more than pillage the British.”

This creates a bit of a separation between the Crow Clan and the other eight Clans. The Crows become the obvious suspects when objects of power begin disappearing from the Clan strongholds. The danger is much more unexpected and far closer than they imagine. It will take the Crows and the Ravens, working together, to stop it.

This is an excellent urban fantasy filled with humor and romance. With some rather bloody battles, it is definitely not for the squeamish though.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hubble Bubble by Jane Lovering

Hubble Bubble
By Jane Lovering

Last month our thematic book club read books set outside the U.S.A. and while I was looking for something a bit more exotic than Yorkshire, I found myself looking for something light to read one week and this filled both requirements. I am so glad I went with it! Hubble Bubble is listed as comedy in our Digital Catalog but I’d definitely term it romantic comedy. Holly is a thoroughly modern Milly and has it all together, she doesn’t want or need a man other than for the occasional session to relieve stress, ahem.

The story opens as Holly stops by to save her friend, Megan, from a refrigerator that has clearly gone kaput, due to a decaying burger. Megan had saved the remains of the last meal she shared with her cheating ex-boyfriend. “The fridge had definitely exploded. The small squat box, now minus a corner, leaned slightly forward into a green patch of ooze, sides bulging and its front flapping from one impotent hinge. It looked like R2-D2 after a really hard night on the Crème de Menthe.”

A debate ensues about the merits of being in a relationship. “I’ve got my own house, a great job – why the hell would I want a man hanging around wanting meals and laundry and doing botched DIY?” Holly questions.

Megan shows Holly an advertisement in a newspaper and tries to convince Holly to go with her. “What would you wish for?” it says. “Women interested in forming a group to practice a new branch of the magic arts, get in touch. No experience necessary, just a broad mind and the desire to make wishes come true.”

Holly thinks it’s crazy and tries to rein in Megan’s runaway imagination but to no avail. “Megan was about as grounded as dandelion fluff on a good day. Today, with the winds of romantic disappointment whistling through her life, she’d probably left Planet Sensible for geostationary orbit.”

Holly is busy, between her job scouting locations for production companies and taking care of her brother, Nicholas. Nicholas introduces her to a Welsh journalist named Kai, thinking they might hit it off. Holly is cool to the idea but Kai still offers his cottage as a possible gothic site for a film and when one of her regular clients calls, looking for just such a location, Holly jumps at the chance to call Kai.

Megan manages to convince Holly to join the wishing group and the women, led by Viviene, put together a spell to wish for something. Each of the women ask for something different but, as they say, be careful what you wish for!

Vivienne’s husband has left her, saying that he is questioning his place in life. “My wish . . . is that his life becomes full of real questions. None of this poncing about with the where is my life going? Midlife crisis rubbish, all that I have to look into my soul and find the eternal answer. Proper questions. And when he’s been called upon to find those answers, I want him put out of his misery.”

Holly announces, “I’ve thought of something. I’d wish for some excitement in my life.” She’s about to get much more than she could have imagined, between Kai, her brother disappearing and poachers chasing off the women as they meet in the woods.

Megan wants to be worshipped like a goddess. Perhaps she should have been more specific about that.

Isobel’s wish, “is to be someone’s whole world,” and she soon will be.

Eve says, “I want to meet the man of my dreams,” but she doesn’t mean that in the typical sense.

A nice feature of this book is that you get both Holly and Kai’s perspectives. Most of the action is written from Holly’s perspective but there are letters that Kai writes about his life to the mother who abandoned him, quite literally, as a newborn.

Even her brother Nicholas throws in a wish for someone via Holly.

There are several more books in the series, I went through all of them in one week on vacation. Quick, fun, reads but not too light and fluffy. There’s substance too. Oh, okay, the humor is still the best part.

“Kai stopped the jeep and peered out at the darkness. ‘Who the hell are you meeting, the three bears?’”

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

The Dud Avocado
by Elaine Dundy

Guest review by Tarren Young – Thank you, Tarren!

I LOVED this book! Although it took me a month to read it, it wasn’t because it wasn’t fascinating; rather, it was the fact that I borrowed it from the library and had to stop every two to four pages to jot down ideas, quips or quotes from the book instead of being able to highlight in my own copy. This WILL be added to my personal library!

I was floored when, somewhere around page sixty-ish, I realized that this book was fiction and NOT memoir! And that is the number one reason why I loved this book: it’s fiction, but reads like memoir.

The book is told from the perspective of Sally Jay Gorce, a young (we’re not actually told her age, somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two) American who has finally made it to Paris on her Uncle Roger’s dime, in exchange for stopping her numerous runaway attempts from prestigious, and boring, boarding schools on the East Coast of America.

But the problem is, Sally Jay is, as we learn through her foibles, The Dud Avocado—and she doesn’t realize it through most of the story - that she’s green and just a kid. In fact, she gets rather temperamental at the mere mention of someone calling her “kid” which, coincidentally, happens a lot.

I really couldn’t help but laugh at Sally’s insights on her new friends who are “artists” in Paris, or as she calls them “The Hard Core,” and her pet names for all of them - such as the two that have beards and, even thought not related, look so much alike that she calls them “Beard Boring” and “Beard Bubbly.”
I truly think the reason I connected so much with Sally Jay is the fact that she is young and naïve and reminds myself of a younger me, sans the traveling and living in Paris on a two-year monthly stipend from a rich uncle.

Bunny trail: I just realized that mirrors are symbolic in the story because they appear every couple pages or chapters at the least, and I didn’t realize how much they were mentioned throughout the book until now. But it makes sense, as Sally Jay, often looks in and at mirrors, but has a hard time seeing the truth reflected back at her because she is so young and green. She is always trying to run away from something or run into something new and exotic instead of slowing down to reflect on things in her life, until it’s too late. By then she’s already wrapped up in a hot mess of trouble.

Pg. 44 “And in a way I kind of gave up on myself. I gave up wondering if anyone was ever going to understand me at all. If I was ever going to understand myself even. Why was it so difficult anyway? Was I some kind of nut or something? Don’t answer that.” ~I just can’t get over how much Sally Jay talks and thinks like me!

Part two is laid out in a journal format, still with chapters though. Of course the whole book is in first person, Sally Jay telling her own story. But I think it was nice to read the diary format and get into some really deeper things, and some things just quick and nitty gritty.

The avocado scene brings the whole story together. The whole metaphor behind the title, and ultimately true story of Sally Jay’s naivety and realizing that for how much she tried to act and tell herself that she wasn’t naïve, that she wasn’t green, that she was part of the “club,” she never really was, and the realization that she is a Dud Avocado really depresses her.

Honestly, I think this has, hands down, the best love scene I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s very sensual without being overly erotic. It makes you stop to admire all the background details and pine away to know the backstory and dream, longingly, that you too could also be one of those beautiful woman.

I still think Sally Jay is still a bit naïve at the end, even though she is getting married. She has spent her whole life running away from what society tells her she has to do—she doesn’t want to get married. She doesn’t want to have children and cook and do the domestic thing, so when she finally decides to say yes to marriage, she still thinks that’s the end of her life. That she will no longer have the chance to be exotic. I mean, “…it’s the end…!”  Is it not?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
By Elisabeth Tova Bailey

This is a beautifully written little book, fascinating in the information it presents as well as the ponderings of the author. The language is spare and precise, painting a vivid picture. There are no wasted words here. Though the impetus for the author writing the book is quite dire, it is a soft, quiet, thoughtful, humorous book – relaxing and restorative.

 “At age thirty-four, on a brief trip to Europe, I was felled by a mysterious viral or bacterial pathogen, resulting in severe neurological symptoms. I had thought I was indestructible. But I wasn’t. If anything did go wrong, I figured modern medicine would fix me. But it didn’t.” p4

Elizabeth Tova Bailey is laid out flat on her back. Her body cannot regulate its own temperature, if she sits up her blood pressure plummets and even rolling over causes her heart to beat wildly. After one setback, she is forced to move from her beloved farmhouse to a studio apartment in order to get the care she needs. Before leaving her farmhouse, a friend goes for a walk in the woods and happens upon a snail. She digs up some violets and soil, pots them and brings the little bit of woods and the snail in to Bailey.

“Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on Earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility – especially for a snail, something so uncalled for – was overwhelming.”

It turns out to be the perfect companion. Bailey cannot stand much noise but the title of the book comes from the comfort she takes in the actual munching sound as the snail eats at night. “I could hear it eating. The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously.”

Bailey’s medical plight is interesting but she is restrained in how much time she spends on it. Even more fascinating is the information she learns and shares about snails, her observations of her own snail and her ponderings.

On its nightly forays down off the violet pot onto the nightstand, the snail munches on some interesting things. “The night before, I had propped an envelope containing a letter against the base of the lamp. Now I noticed a mysterious square hole just below the return address. This was baffling. How could a hole – a square hole – appear in an envelope overnight? Then I thought of the snail and its evening activity. The snail was clearly nocturnal. It must have some kind of teeth, and it wasn’t shy about using them.” Bailey takes to sending out envelopes with little square holes and writing “eaten by my snail” with an arrow to the hole.

They do eventually move the snail from the pot of violets to a terrarium.

“With an old leaf here and a pine needle there, the terrarium looked as though a bit of native forest floor, with all its natural disarray, had been lifted up and placed inside. The moist, lush vibrancy of the plants reminded me of the woods after a rainstorm. It was a world fit for a snail, and it was a welcome sight for my own eyes as well.” p27
Snail behavior turns out to be fascinating. Apparently they will work together to escape from a farmer’s basket where they farm escargot in France and a copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man recounted a fascinating tale about an observation of a healthy snail searching for good forage and returning for a sickly friend which it then led to the food. p99

“I wondered what happened to snails during the last ice age, and so I asked the malacologist Tim Pearce if he thought a snail could outglide an advancing glacier. He speculated that some of the larger terrestrial snails might possibly outpace a very slow flow of ice.” p108

I highly recommend this book for the wealth of information that you never would have imagined regarding snails. They surround us in our yards and gardens but this will teach you to respect them, if not love them. I also recommend it for the sheer beauty of the writing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

How Starbucks Saved My Life: 
A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
By Michael Gates Gill

We recently began a thematic book club at our library and the first them was “beginnings.” I chose a memoir about starting a new chapter in life.

Michael Gates Gill seemed to be one of the good ol’ boys - the son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill and a creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising for over twenty-five years. Then a new, younger, boss lets him go. Thus begins a lengthy journey of self-discovery that will take him places he’s been many times and yet never seen from his new perspective.

Gill starts his own advertising firm and things go okay at first but he slowly loses clients to bigger firms. He has an affair with a younger woman he meets at the gym. She gets pregnant and his wife divorces him. Now he’s living in a small apartment and trying to drum up business for his independent firm while spending time with his young child. Then he finds out he has a rare tumor affecting his hearing.

Gill is on a financial downward spiral but he loves coffee and the one treat he still allows himself is a latte. One day, in Starbucks, Crystal, a young African American manager jokingly asks “You want a job?”

He responds “yes, I do want a job.”

She’s skeptical but does the interview. She takes all his information and asks him “Would you be willing to work for me?”

He replies, “I would love to work for you.” To tell the truth, he still isn’t sure about this job but he knows he needs a job with a steady paycheck. The deciding factor for him is the full health benefits they offer, even to his children.

A couple weeks pass before she calls him.

For all his privilege at the opening of the book, Gill’s early life isn’t precisely easy. He gets beat up, doesn’t learn to read until he is ten and has lots of trouble with math. His father is very distant. He comes home unexpectedly during Gill’s 7th birthday party and says “My mother died when I was seven.” It’s the first and last time he mentions it.

Still, Gill goes to Yale and makes connections there that end up getting him job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising.

The writing has a very introspective style. Somewhat simplistic language but I thought it illustrated his simple thinking about how life was for him. Then when his good life falls apart he starts learning new concepts and learning that life isn’t as simple as his privileged life had previously taught him.

Maybe you already know all the concepts that he learns about in this book but I found the journey interesting and there were some good reminders for all of us in it. I would recommend it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte


Sex, Murder and a Double Latte
by Kyra Davis
Sophie Katz is a best-selling mystery writer in San Francisco, divorced and enjoying life with her cat, Mr. Katz. She’s looking forward to having one of her books turned into a movie fairly soon when the director/producer turns up dead, apparently having committed suicide in the exact same way one of his characters did, right down to the vanilla scented candles around the bathroom.
The only problem is, Sophie doesn’t buy it. She had talked to him recently and this was a man with plans, not one planning to check out.
Then Sophie gets an odd note in the mail saying simply “You reap what you sow.” She promptly throws it in the fireplace. She is disturbed enough to lose sleep but turns that to her advantage by using the time to finish her latest novel. Then the prank calls start.
Sophie’s friends include Dena, who runs a shop of products just for adults, Mary Ann, a make-up artist for Lancome, and Marcus, a hairstylist. Dena and Mary Ann also happen to be cousins.
Then she meets Anatoly at Starbucks, where she has gone to get a Grande Caramel Brownie Frappuccino with extra whipped cream in celebration of completing her book, when he swipes the last New York Times right out from under her hand. He was born in Russia, moved to Israel and has recently settled in San Francisco.
“Had he just insulted my coffee drink? Unbelievable! Everyone who had evolved passed the Cro-Magnon level knew that one should never make snide remarks about a person’s weight, religion or choice in caffeinated beverages, which meant he was most likely a Neanderthal. A Neanderthal with really good hands.”
But is Anatoly really who he says he is? It is going to be so much fun finding out.
I found this in our library’s Overdrive e-book catalog but I know it is also available in hard copy. If you’re looking for a thoroughly modern cozy mystery series, I recommend checking this out.