Thursday, November 29, 2007

American Photography: A Century of Images

This book is a companion to a series on PBS. It covers a wide variety of American photographers and images. Some of the more interesting sections detail the changes in aesthetic style and sensibility over the decades, and explore trends (like the Depression, when a government program sent photographers across the country to document conditions, producing many memorable images including Dorothea Lange's famous Migrant Mother) that have driven photography.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Unburied, by Charles Palliser

Here's a whodunit in the style of a Victorian-era ghost story. It sets up all the social relationships, history of the setting, mood, politics and so on, as was the style of the time... There is a ghost story in there somewhere, but the story eventually comes to focus more on a murder most foul. Actually a couple murders, some recent, others not. It's a tough read, given the style, but ultimately rewarding.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

This is a little gem of a book about Stephen, a young Chinese college student who contracts TB. He is sent by his family to their beach house in a little village in Japan to recuperate. This story takes place during WWII and the Japanese are fighting the Chinese. The war and the racial tension don't seem to affect Stephen in the isolated village until he is confronted with reality. The Samurai is Matsu, an outwardly gruff and uncommunicative servant who lives at the beach house and works in the garden.

The story takes place over a year and is divided into four sections named for the seasons, starting with Autumn. Stephen and Matsu's friendship unfolds over this year as they deal with the ups and downs of their lives. I loved this book and highly recommend it

The Nest Newlywed Handbook: An Owner's Manual for Modern Married Life

by Carley Roney

The Nest is a shoot-off of the popular website TheKnot, which is dedicated to couples getting married. The Nest is dedicated to providing information, forums, quizzes, and commonly asked questions for newlyweds. As a newlywed myself, I found this book very informative. Everything I could possibly want to know or have questions about is covered in this book. I learned about the different ways of handling money as as newly married couple, life with in-laws, developing intimacy in marriage, dividing household responsibilities, and about starting a family.

My favorite part of this book were the questionnaires. All couples are different, and the book contains questions to find out what kind of couple you are: a 50's style couple, the love birds, the dissectors, etc. It gives explanations of each type of couple along with pros and possible cons of being that type of couple, as well as behavioral tendencies that could possibly cause marital strife. This book is great for newlyweds!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Icons of Photography: The 20th Century

This collection rounds up about a hundred or so of the most recognizable works in photography. Included are the likes of Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Weegee, Man Ray, Walker Evans and more. The text often becomes uncomfortably gushing, but overall does a good job of conveying why the included images have achieved a lasting place in the art world.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Stealing the Dragon

by Tim Maleeny

I bought this book at a library conference here in Twinsburg, Back to the Book, where the author, Tim Maleeny, spoke about his new book, read a chapter for the group, and answered questions. After hearing one chapter, I was intrigued and bought a book on the spot and had it signed by the author, "Beth - Enjoy the Trip to Chinatown - Tim Maleeny".

With the holiday season upon us, and two other book groups to read for, this was purely a pleasure read - and what a pleasure it was! To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this book, I snuck away for a few minutes at a time during Thanksgiving dinner to read a little bit more of the story, finishing it at 1 am in the morning. This is especially strange for me because I have read no other mysteries, save the Stephanie Plum series and JoAnn Fluke - very cozy reads.

Cape Weathers is a private investigator who is investigating the murder of the crew of a Chinese refugee ship that ran aground in San Francisco bay. At the same time, his friend Sally, a highly trained assassin raised by the Triads since she was a little girl, has also gone missing. Without Sally to watch his back, his dealings with the Chinese has not been as easy, yet he manages to get help from Freddie Wang, a low-life mafia type, and a few other friends in the Police department and other areas of law enforcement. Someone is out to get Cape as he digs further into the investigation, so far that he ends up with a dead body in his trunk. Each chapter is interspersed with the story of Sally's upbringing and training in the school for the Triads, where she was called "Little Dragon". So, along with the suspense of the investigation, you learn more about Sally's story, which is fascinating. I found Cape, the main character, delightfully sarcastic and found myself chuckling at many parts of the story at his antics. To sum it up, this book is funny, suspenseful, unpredictable, and a very fast read. I would love to see it made into a motion picture or a television series, or at the very least, into an audiobook so that I can hear the many unique voices of the characters. A must read! Looking forward to reading the next in the Cape Weather's series.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

I picked up this book for the first time about a year ago. Although I was intrigued by the magical subject matter, the 800 page book complete with footnotes seemed more than a little intimidating. I put it off until recently when I acquired the book on CD. The footnotes are conveniently inserted into the narration, so the reader does not have to glance down at the bottom of the page and up again, making it a very smooth read. Simon Prebble narrates the audio version, and his wonderful charismatic voice gives shape to an already imaginative story.

Although there is an enormous amount of back story and, I assume, fictional research about the history of English magic, the main plot concerns two magicians: Mr. Norrell and his apprentice, Jonathon Strange and their quest to restore magic to England. In the beginning, both magicians provide their services to the British government to aid in the war with French, to which they are successful. Yet as the story progresses, the differences between Strange and Norrell come between them, causing them to go their separate ways, mainly the reliance on faerie magic and the belief in the Raven King, John Uskglass, who was a human captured and raised in Faerie. He was the father of English magic. Yet, Norrell despised all mention of John Uskglass and vowed not to request the aid of fairies, although he did once, resulting in a disastrous effect. Strange, on the other hand, tries to resurrect the ancient magic used by Uskglass in an attempt to rescue his wife from a faerie enchantment. The destiny of Norrell and Strange is foretold in a prophecy by Vinculus, who has a surprising secret.

The story is chock full of fantastic characters including the man (fairy) with the thistle-down hair who captures innocent humans and takes them to his home in Faerie to dance the night away in a magically morbid ball; Stephen, the African-American servant, who the fairy determines to make King of England; Lady Pole, who was resurrected from the dead by Mr. Norrell in exchange for her little finger; Childemas, Norrell's servant, who finds the lost book of John Uskglass; and the society of practical magicians who, after Norrell dispells their ability to study magic, come back in the end to aid in the restoration.

If you have the time, and the determination, I highly recommend this book. Its not as easy to read as Harry Potter, being more for adults, but it will transport you to a world that, at first glance, seems familiar yet with a layer of magic and mysticism that appears before your very eyes. The length of the book is nothing to scoff at, but I was sad when it was over, especially since I had become so involved with the story and the characters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Milk, Eggs, Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found

by Bill Keaggy

Some people collect stamps and coins, author Bill Keaggy collected thousands of people's grocery lists from around the world, enough to make into a very entertaining coffee table book. With full color images of the grocery lists and humorous anecdotes by the author, this book is a delight to read. The book includes chapters with lists such as "just plain funny", "badd spellrs", and "eating wrong". My favorite list in the book reads:

Olive Oil
Coke, Sprite, diet pop
if you buy more rice - i'll punch you
milk, frozen o.j., eggs
yogurt, bread
get deoderant, hairspray
bath. clean. TP PB
ham helper, pretzels

Its funny, trust me. Read it, and you'll see what I mean. I was laughing out loud. It reminds me of the book, "Letters from a Nut."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Storm Front

This is the first book in The Dresden Files, a sci-fi/fantasy series that was recently made into a television show airing on the Sci-Fi Channel. The show ran for only one season, which is also available to check out at Twinsburg Library. Karen Tschudy, TPL's director, recommended the book series to me, and I was incredibly impressed with the first title. I was a fan of Laurell K. Hamilton's earlier books, and this one was similar. Harry Dresden is a wizard who's also a private eye. Normally he doesn't solve crimes, but as a consultant to the Chicago Police on paranormal activity, he can't help but be drawn into a murder case. Action, intrigue, humor: this book's got it all. I can't wait to read the rest of the Dresden Files!

Seamonsters: Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep

A 3-D book for grownups! This is a companion to a National Geographic movie set to come out. It catalogs a variety of the creatures that would make swimming the oceans over what is now the American Midwest an extremely unpleasant experience for time travelers. The illustrations are fantastic, and help to make up for the stiff text. Glasses are included in a sleeve inside the cover.

Mouse Guard - Fall 1152

Writer and artist David Peterson has crafted a memorable graphic novel with this, a collection slated to be the first in a series. It follows the adventures of a group of guardsmice - similar to elite militia - as they uncover a coup attempt, investigate crimes and so on. A highly original and engrossing work.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sorcery and the Single Girl

Mindy Klasky's new book is the second one in the trilogy that began with The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft. This series of tales is about Jane Madison, a librarian in Washington, D.C., who finds out she has magical powers. I "met" Mindy online through her blog, and I also interviewed her in this month's issue of the TPL Magazine. She's a delight, and her books reflect her personality, although it's clear that Jane Madison and Mindy Klasky are two different people! Although this book is close to four hundred pages, the prose zips along, and before I knew it, I was done. Based on what had happened in the previous book, I had an idea of what was going to happen at the end, and I have my guesses about what will happen in the third book. But even if I could predict it ahead of time, the ending was satisfying, and the plot wraps itself up nicely.

Jane is a great character as well, and since she's a librarian, I can identify with her. "I'd learned to judge a lot about people by the way they responded to my job title," she tells us. "About fifty percent made Marian the Librarian jokes, apparently deluded into believing that they were the first people in the history of librarianship to make The Music Man connection. Another twenty-five percent immediately asked how long it had taken me to learn the Dewey Decimal System. I no longer had a civil answer for either group." Well put, Jane!

Monster Hunters Handbook

Finally, we have a pocket-sized guide offering sound advice on how to deal with the various types of monster we're likely to run across. The baddies are listed alphabetically (basilisk to zombie), with brief descriptions offset by quick takeaways (best strategies for combating them, and particular dangers). One of the most interesting features is a brief list of citations indicating where the monster was first or primarily mentioned.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically

A.J. Jacobs wrote The Know-it-All, which was about his experience reading the entire encyclopedia during one year. I loved that book, so I was anticipating this one, even though the topic was completely different. It was quite a surprise. Jacobs decided to follow all the rules of the Bible, literally, for one year. I remembered Jacobs's lighthearted, yet also fact-filled writing style, but I wasn't prepared for the amount of spiritual reflection I went through while reading. Jacobs makes many sacrifices to follow the Bible, and I don't know if I would be able to make them myself. The book details both Jewish and Christian traditions, and the relationship between them intrigued me as well. Overall, an engrossing and engaging read.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Missing

Author Sarah Langan takes a typical zombie story and turns it into literature. It's a finely wrought book with intricate characters, plenty of subtext, and, well, the undead (sort of undead, anyway. Maybe just a little dead). Creepy and atmospheric.