Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Great Taos Bank Robbery, and Other Indian Country Affairs

Tony Hillerman has carved out a niche for himself writing mysteries set in Navajo country. This audio collection of anecdotes and historical tidbits, narrated by Hillerman, takes place in the same starkly beautiful landscape as those mysteries. Hillerman portrays the bank robbery of the title as an event that could only happen as described in Taos. It’s a city that’s always been loose on laws, open to eccentricity, and thoroughly couched in the individualism that made the old west so iconic. Like Hillerman’s mysteries, these short tales are witty, enjoyable and infused with a genuine love for the setting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

As someone who discards the sports section as soon as I open the newspaper, I wouldn't normally choose to read a book about football. This book by Moneyball author Michael Lewis is an exception. There's plenty of description of plays and players, told in such a way as to interest even the most reluctant of fans. But the real story here is of prodigy Michael Oher. A male Cinderella, Michael was reared (if you can describe the damage caused by a mostly absent, always disinterested addict mother as "rearing") for a life of ignorance and poverty. He was admitted to a Christian high school, and later, into a rich family--rich in cash and also in love. The tale of Michael's transformation is spellbinding.

11th Month 11th Day 11th Hour

I listened to the audio version of this book by Joseph Persico about the armistice that ended World War I. It offers a sad commentary on a brutal war fought over murky causes. Armistice Day, 1918, was unusual in war conclusions in that it was a scheduled event. All the combatants knew many hours in advance that hostilities were to end at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11. And yet there were casualties right up until the last minutes.

Persico portrays a war fought with modern weaponry using pathetically outdated strategies. There was a vast disconnect between generals moving markers around on maps and the soldiers being cut to ribbons by machine guns. Allied generals continued to order suicidal charges against the already beaten German lines right up until 11 a.m. on Armistice Day. Motivations ranged from resume-building to regimental pride. One officer claimed a wish to “tidy the map.” These officers had been woefully out of touch with the front lines for the duration of the war, one of history’s bloodiest and most appalling conflicts. Persico describes the exasperation those officers felt at the thought that the soldiers in the trenches didn’t share their enthusiasm for the cause: On Christmas, 1914, German, British and French troops crossed into no-man’s land to celebrate the holiday together peacefully, prompting harsh criticism from the officers. The overall picture is that of a vast failure of states to avert a catastrophic war that marked a turning point in military and social histories alike.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Three Junes by Julia Glass

Three Junes by Julia Glass
(unabridged audiobook)

First, I recommend listening to the audio version of this book because of the brilliant and talented narration of John Keating. His Scottish brogue, as well as American and British accents, keeps you enthralled with the characters - even smitten.

It would be simple to say that Three Junes is a story that covers the lives of the McLeod family because there are so many important themes present in this novel: love, loneliness, family, and friendship to name a few. Spread across various destinations, the intricate lives of the characters meld seamlessly into one another, across distance and time. The story begins with Paul McLeod, the father of three boys, on his two-week summer tour of Greece after his wife's death. The story unfolds as Paul examines his past and puts to rest the misconceptions of what constitutes a happy life. During the summer in Scotland, I became connected with Fenno, the oldest son of Paul, whose disillusion about his parent's marriage made me feel sympathetic and frustrated. His love of his family is unquestionable and his loneliness is undeniable. Yet, during the summer in New York (where he had moved to 20 years earlier) he is able to find fulfillment in the most unexpected way. All the characters are realistic, and are drawn by Glass into a real world where there are doubts, failures, success, and loves won and lost. Although sadness is unavoidable in life, she is able to give closure and hope in the end. A must read!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

It’s not every day that government types team up with comics artists. This graphic novel, an adaptation of the highly publicized and oft-cited report of the 9/11 commission, offers an argument that such alliances should perhaps be more frequent. In a foreword, the commission’s chair and co-chair cite the desire to get this information to as large an audience as possible as the motivation behind this surprising work.
The work is every bit as grim as one would expect, and it certainly has the tone and detail of the typical report by a congressional commission. What’s likely to catch readers off guard is the efficacy of the graphic format in conveying the tenor and immediacy of the commission’s findings. The illustrated timeline of events that somber morning is nothing short of chilling. If only all commission reports could be made so engaging.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fables: Legends in Exile

The premise of this graphic novel is that a mysterious force has overridden those strange lands we’ve all read about in fables, with the result that many of the characters we know from those tales have come into our own world to seek refuge. What’s interesting here is that many of the characters play out their same basic dramas in a contemporary setting (fair warning: these aren't the same kid-friendly situations). Of course, this causes some to be seen in a different light. Take Prince Charming, for example. With three wives from the storybooks (you didn’t really think they were different prince charmings, did you?), he could be seen as a bit commitment-challenged. In this book we get glimpses of the prince charming his way into mortal women’s beds and also their pocketbooks. Writer Bill Willingham knows his stuff, and the end result is a thoroughly engrossing series that will have readers rethinking stories they haven’t visited in years.

The Science of James Bond

Ever wonder if the idea of sending a spaceship into orbit that engulfs other craft and kidnaps their crews would be a feasible moneymaker? Turns out it’s not really practical, at least the way the criminal group SPECTRE tried it in the film “You Only Live Twice,” envisioned it. The idea that some of what’s seen in the Bond franchise takes some scientific liberties is hardly news. This book is interesting in that it goes into detail about exactly why certain things wouldn’t work, though. That said, this will probably be enjoyed more by fans of the superspy than by fans of sience.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dear John

Another Nicholas Sparks novel. And surprise, it might make you cry. I listened to this novel on CD and was entranced in every word. I'm a huge Sparks fan, so this is no big surprise. The characters were realistic, and so were the situations. As always it was nicely written. I'm not going to give away the ending. It was interesting but I'm not quite sure if I liked it or not.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blind Submission

Debra Ginsberg's first novel is being marketed as another The Devil Wears Prada. Having read that title as well, my evaluation is that Ginsberg's taut tale is the superior of the two. Prada, while well-written, lacked in spirit and disappointed in the end. Blind Submission keeps up the pace throughout, and it also incorporates a mystery that keeps the reader guessing. Really, the only comparison is that both books involve a boss who is difficult to work for. In Blind Submission, this boss is a literary agent, and the main character, Angel, is her assistant. While in Prada, the boss was the main focus, this story is driven by Angel as a character. Her development as a person is the impetus for the story, which is written in a frank yet lovely style. I highly recommend this one; it's finally given me what Prada couldn't.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nearlyweds

As I'm getting married in July, the title Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick appealed to me in particular. I have read several other "chick lit" titles by this author, and I have always found them funny. Nearlyweds is about three young women who've just gotten married, and each of them have a significant problem in their relationships with their husbands. When they find out their pastor has died and none of their marriage licenses have actually been signed, they each have to decide if they'll do it all over again. Like her other novels, this one wasn't especially deep, but I do think Kendrick is getting better and better as a writer. There are some interesting issues raised about relationships, though, and it's a fun little escape from reality. I'd recommend it for a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Richard Pryor: The Anthology

The late Richard Pryor is widely regarded as a groundbreaking comic for his takes on important, if uncomfortable, social issues. This audio collection of pieces from 1968 through 1992 showcases that irreverence that made Pryor one of the great comedians. The bits cover racism, Pryor’s own highly publicized drug abuse (he once set himself on fire freebasing cocaine) and the multiple sclerosis that cut his career short. For Pryor, nothing was off-limits, and it was that sincerity among Pryor’s generation of comics that brought comedy to social relevance. The jokes aren’t just funny because they’re true, as the cliche goes. In this case, the commentary is made more true because it’s funny.

Gotham Central: Unresolved Targets

Most readers of graphic novels are well-acquainted with Gotham City from the world of DC comics. This title takes an interesting approach, though. It reads more like a version of "CSI" or "Law and Order." It's Gotham from the point of view of the cops charged with its protection. In other Gotham stories, we mostly see this police force as background clutter, usually obstructing Batman or being embarrassed by the Joker. This book portrays the force as a collection of realistic law enforcement professionals who just happen to work a beat plagued with more than its share of costumed supervillains. It’s good drama and a fresh take on a genre that can sometimes get a little formulaic.