Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey


A new, small-format edition of one of Edward Gorey's "dark masterpieces of surreal morality" ("Vanity Fair"): a witty, disquieting journey through the alphabet.
My take: 5 looks

Oh. My. Goodness. This is funny like no other. I laughed out loud at some of the pages, and am SO glad that I bought this little treasure. A perfect way to teach Wednesday Addams the alphabet!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Murder Run by Shelley Frome

Murder RunSummary:
In this crime novel, a wayward handyman grapples with the suspicious death of his employer, a fragile choreographer who secluded herself in the Litchfield Hills. As the fallout mounts, the reader is taken to various locales in and around Manhattan, an escapade in Miami Springs and back again to the hills of Connecticut until this twisty conundrum is finally laid to rest.      

My take: 2 looks

I invoked the "100 page rule" on this one. After a little over 100 pages, I still had no earthly idea what I was reading, and put it down. I didn't know Jed or have any insight into him. Sure, I knew what I needed to know about his background and how he arrived to the place in the novel, but there was no depth of character or empathy at all. His drive to tie current events to the past fell flat for me, and offered no level of interest or anxiety.

The antagonists were merely irritating caricatures of know-it-all lawmen, but never raised enough rancor in me to side against them.

Time and again, I got the overall feeling that Frome was trying to go for the staccato noir dialogue and tone of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce or Double Indemnity. Instead, it read like swiss cheese and left out more than it offered.

I cannot recommend this. There are so many others available, like Cain, in this vein that are so much richer and more satisfying.

This book was forwarded to me by the author in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research— the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states—Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent.

My take: 4 looks

This lovely book took me a while to get through because I didn't want to rush the reading, or gloss over all of the marvelous facts Ackerman painstakingly presents.

The author's love and respect for our feathered friends is obvious in her summaries of quirks, personalities, and proclivities of birds. There are scientific facts, anecdotes, summaries, and observations of the level of intelligence and the sheer ingenuity of birds and how they reach their goals.

While this is not a novel, it is very easy to read, and fills your mind with the fluttering and thought processes, which various species of birds go through. As a lay-birdwatcher and ardent feeder- replenisher, I very much enjoyed this and recommend it.

Many thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

The Life We BurySummary:
College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same. Iverson is a dying Vietnam veteran--and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder. As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.  Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

My take: 3 looks

A very nice debut mystery by a new author. While it was a bit predictable, and there was at least one instance where I actually rolled my eyes, the story was very interesting. The premise of a college student interviewing a convicted killer just months before his death was a little reminiscent of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Also, Tennessee William's famous play "The Glass Menagerie" shadows the story, in a less subtle way. While the entire setup of the stories are very individual, I appreciated what I considered a nod from Eskens to both Capote and Williams.

A very fast and satisfying read, I recommend this one.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless "medical engineer" proposed the inconceivable notion of the "asymptomatic carrier" — and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.
In order to keep New York’s citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island where she was kept in isolation from 1907-1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary — spoiled by her status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking—most domestic and factory jobs were heinous. She defied the edict.
Bringing early twentieth-century New York alive — the neighborhoods, the bars, the park being carved out of upper Manhattan, the emerging skyscrapers, the boat traffic — Fever is as fiercely compelling as Typhoid Mary herself, an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the hands of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes an extraordinarily dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable character.

My take: 3 looks

I would think that it is a little difficult to write a fictional account of a real event. The author has to make many assumptions and take some literary license with thoughts, feelings, etc. when it comes to fictionalizing an historical figure. I have a feeling that Keane did a pretty good job here with Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary".

I found Mary to be an extremely likable character. At first, that is. She was no nonsense, hard-working, respectful, and very talented at her occupation as a cook to the affluent. However, once it was obvious that she was a carrier of typhoid fever, she absolutely refused to believe that it may be true, and do what the authorities asked of  her.

With that said, the book was very easy to read, and compelling. It was factual, as far as Keane could research, and the characters were very realistic. I had no sympathy for Mary, despite the author trying to convey a sense of sympathy in her writing. Nor did I have any sympathy for Mary's partner, Alfred. As a matter of fact, I came to the point of thinking that they deserved one another.

I enjoyed the book, recommend it, and will read more by this author.