Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or: I have a huge crush on Neil Gaiman.)

When I was a little girl, I loved my world. I loved the fresh gingerbread the Mrs Piper, old lady down the street, would serve to neighborhood children who came to see the train she set up in her house at Christmas-time. I loved the sun-warmed feel of my brother's broad shoulders, when he carried me piggy back, or the combination smell of starch and cigar that haunted my father's shirts when he hugged me. I loved the sound of a saxophone, when my other brother was practicing, or the way my mother, curled up with a book and a bowl of polly seeds* would scooch over so I could nestle in at her side, cracking the black and white shells for the seed inside.

I love my world now, too. And I love the world Neil Gaiman created in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I'd read that this book started as a short story, and couldn't be stopped. It grew. And it grew into a wonderful tale. Some of it, I feel sure, has deep roots in Gaiman's own childhood. The descriptions ring so true. And while I've heard him talk of his childhood, he's not necessarily mentioned magic, but undoubtedly that was present, for is there not a little magic everywhere, for those who care to look? This is a fairy tale -- not the sanitized, politically correct ones that are circulating today, but a real one, with good and bad, hope and fear, monsters and Hempstocks. Yes, Hemstocks. Lizzie Hempstock, who may, or may not be eleven, her mother, and Old Lady Hempstock, who remembers when the moon was made. And these Hempstocks may be distantly related to Daisy Hempstock in Stardust and Liza Hempstock in The Graveyard Book, or so says neilhimself (though in his blog, not twitter.)

Don't  bother me; I'm reading
I happily immersed myself in this small volume, delighted to be reading my favorite author again, his first adult book in ages, while also begging myself to slow down, because the next book, adult or children's, may be a long time coming. But I couldn't help myself. I gobbled it up, and sighed with contentment. He did it again. A wonderful, scrumptious book. The man is an artist, a magician, a teller-of-tales, and if all the accounts I've heard are right, he's altruistic and a truly decent man.

I think I love Neil Gaiman even more than Mrs Piper's gingerbread. And that's saying a whole lot.

Read the book.

* sunflower seeds

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffifan

Dad may be fat, but he's also an exceptionally funny man, a loving father, and a delightful story teller.

Saw Jim Gaffigan on the Colbert Report, where he talked a little about this book. I immediately went out to get it. Smiled just about the whole way through it. I parented far fewer children than he does, but as a mother, and as someone whose work put her in constant contact with children and their parents, I can say he's nailed much about how the two interact. Maybe not <i>your</i> kids, but you still will have seen or can relate (hate that term --"I can relate") to what he writes. I loved the affection and love he has for his kids and his wife Jeannie (who is not fat, and sounds like a fabulous mom.)

PS The title comes from the first full sentence Gaffigan's eldest son, Jack, (six at the time of book publication) ever wrote.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan

Even though Unspoken sucker-punched me with the ending, I really liked this book -- maybe even more-so because of the ending. No neat and tidy, kissy kissy ending, but one that makes you say, "Wow, I didn't see that coming! Now where's it gonna go?"

Suppose you had an invisible friend. (I did. His name was Rudy, and he would come visit me whenever I was taking a bath. I last heard from him over 50 years ago, but it does make me look twice at any Rudys I meet, and wonder if he was the cad that deserted a 4 year old. But I digress.) So, suppose you had an invisible friend, and the two of you shared your thoughts from the instants you were born. And suppose your name was Kami, your father was half Japanese, and you lived in a little English village, called Sorry-in-the-Vale. Having an invisible friend you could talk to in you head wasn't common amongst the other villagers, (in fact they thought you quite peculiar for being able to do so.) But, you're bright, articulate, inquisitive, and want to be a reporter. You've got a loyal friend, endearing family, and a mind that wants to squirrel out any news story it can, since you run the school newspaper.

So when the Lynburn family that buit the singularly creepy stone mansion on the hill eons ago returns after being away all of your lifetime, you smell a story. And indeed, there may be one, but first you have to get past all the creepy things that happen: animals being sacrificed in the woods, someone's attempt to kill you, and other weird stuff. Plus there are the Lynburn cousins, two boys your age, one clean cut and preppy, one Marlon Brando in The Wild One delinquent to contend with. But you've got the voice in your head to comfort you, laugh with -- until it turns out that bad boy cousin has a voice in his head, too, and guess what? It's you.

Bad things continue to happen in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami and her merry band of misfits try to find out what's happening.  And it's a good reading ride, snazzy Gothic, in a YA blend. How cool is that?

Since I've been snookered, I'll pick up book two in the series when I get a chance. After all, I really liked some of the dialogue, and the cover art was good.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

I really enjoyed this book. It was just plain fun for me to read, tickling my geeky, bookish fancy in all the right ways.

So basic premise is that out-of-work graphic artist/web designer gets job at a seriously different sort of bookstore. For starters, there's very little available stock, and even fewer customers to buy books. But the place stays open 24-hours a day. Why? Because there are customers who use a special section of the store as a sort of library, the books there mysterious, and in code.

So what's a geek to do, but try and figure it out. Add in several startups, google and other 21st century techno-stuff, and good old fashioned bibliotech, and it makes a good mix.  Lots of tongue in cheek (and out of cheek) humor there, too. And of course, every time something was mentioned as a google search or on Wikipedia, etc, I ran to my computer.

Happy czukie.

Edited July 27, 2014 to add that we listened to the audio-version of this book, which was delightful, had an additional clue, and the author, himself, read as the voice of Clark Moffat, the author of <i>The Dragon Song Trilogy</i> aka the book within a book plot element. Definitely fun. But now I want to read Moffat's books even more.  Or go back to San Francisco. Or a bookstore. Or Google. It's all a win.

Tags: audiobooks-about-booksi-liked-itplaces-i-have-beenreadthank-you-charleston-county-libraryworth-the-reread

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Insane City by Dave Barry

I've missed Dave Barry. No doubt about it. And there's no doubt he loves his city, even when he dresses her up like an overweight tart in spangles and a spandex dress a size too small.

Imagine the most meticulously planned wedding, even down to the creation of the cake topper (hand-crafted in Italy and costing more than some college tuition.) Now imagine the bachelor party from hell, rolling like a perfect strike down the alley, toward that wedding. That's Insane City, where Dave Barry takes his reader through a different sort of south Florida than the tourist boards depict: Run-down tourist traps, characters that just might have to look up to see the underbelly of society, illegal immigrants, thugs, pimp-mobiles equipped with porn videos in the dashboard. It's even got millionaires, magic brownies, and the governor of Florida.

With typical raunchy humor, Barry describes a wedding weekend like none other, and a groom on a quest to retrieve the ring needed for the perfect wedding.

Did I mention that there's a horny orangutan involved?

Little Elvises by Timorhy Hallinan

Imagine you're a burglar. But not just any burglar; you're a very good burglar, who has been breaking into homes since you were 14, and never been caught. Not only are you good at your job, you're intelligent, self-educated, particular about grammar, a caring dad, and a loyal friend. And, you're being framed by a cop who wants you to do a bit of detecting to get his somewhat slimy uncle off the hook for a murder it looks like he committed. Got it? Good. You've entered the world of Junior Bender.

This was my second foray into Junior's world, and I still like it. I feel like I've found a successor to two of my favorite authors, who have gone to the great beyond, and left me pining for Spencer and Dortmunder.

Junior takes on the "invitation" to investigate the murder of a somewhat skeezy reporter, a murder which looks to be pinned on a former big shot in the music industry of the 1950's (aka Uncle Vinnie to a corrupt cop). Uncle Vinnie made his fortune back in Philly, promoting young singers in the style of Elvis and Bobby Darin.  Add in the attractive widow of the dead reporter, who seems to be more interested in Junior than her husband, alive or dead, the missing daughter of Junior's landlady, new romances for both his ex-wife and his teen-age daughter which create distinct pains in various parts of Junior's anatomy, a heist of valuable jade, two missing former child music stars represented by Uncle Vinne, and a growing cast of good supporting characters, and Little Elvisestakes on a beat of its own. Plus, Hallinan gives a really thorough and interesting history of the pre-Beatles music, blended skillfully into the story.

A third Junior Bender came out last week, and I've already put in a request for it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

I had a definite problem with this book. Interspersed between the story are some of the most scrumptious sounding cake recipes, and I kept wanting to stop and bake, which put me at war with the part of myself that just kept wanting to read. What a delicious dilemma.

The inside flap reads:
In a remarkable world where many people are blessed with a special Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal ability for cake baking... and no idea of the journey that Fate set in place for her the moment she was born. But when Cady moves into an upstairs room in the town's Lost Luggage Emporium, she meets a curious cast of characters whose lives are tangled with her own in ways she never could have imagined.

Cake baking, magic, living above a Lost Luggage Emporium? What's not to like?! The reader meets the "curious cast of characters" before Cady does and we get to watch what seems to be a tangle of loose ends turn into a braid of exquisite beauty.

Another recommendation from Nancy Pearl on NPR. HAsn't steered me wrong yet.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Evil in All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson

I found Lily Moore with Hilary Davidson's first book, The Damage Done. What I loved about it, and the subsequent book in the series, was that it contained a good plot, characters that continued to grow and adjust to what life brought their way, and wonderful glimpses of other locations. Evil in All Its Disguises picks up after The Next One to Fall (though I think there's enough background given that each book could be read out of the series.) It also has an in person return of the delicious Brux, who I missed dreadfully in the last book.

Lily, who is a travel writer, has been offered a junket to Acapulco, and heads down south of the border. But things are just not right when she gets to the hotel. There's colleague/friend Skye, who, though known to be flighty, is worked up about some big secret, then goes missing. There are only a few other writers, no visible guests, and, for Lily, and unpleasant realization that the hotel belongs to the chain owned by her ex-fiance, a man she wants out of her life. And things keep not adding up, until Lily finds herself virtually a prisoner in the hotel, held for a bizarre ransom.

Though this book had much less of the travel writing I've come to love from Ms Davidson, there were moments when she teased with a little description of something Lily glimpsed from a window or heard second hand. Acapulco never quite came alive for me, either as beautiful or sinister, however the characters did. Lily's tormented sister, who died at the beginning of the first book, haunts her and provides a cynical, straight shooting moral compass. At one point, she tells Lily, "Deep down, you're pretty superficial", a line I would love to steal and store for sometime when I need a snappy comeback. The recurring characters, primarily Lily and Martin, continue to grow and evolve, keeping the story arc interesting.

I'm looking forward to book #4.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan (4/5 stars)

My favorite mystery authors have been dying off, one by one. With the demises of Donald Westlake and Robert B Parker, I was fearful of finding a decent story, told with intelligence and humor. But thanks to Nancy Pearl's recommendations NPR for books under the radar, I've discovered Hallinan, and his Junior Bender, and am a happy girl.

This is apparently the first in a newish series for Hallinan. (I've got the second requested at CCPL, and just saw that another one is due out any moment. Bender (whose first name is actually "Junior" . His father was a junior, but despised the name so much that he didn't want to saddle his son with it, so just gave him the Junior bit) is a burglar. And he's smart. He's been doing his craft since he was fourteen, and hasn't been caught yet. But, he's in for a bit of a tough time when he basically  blackmailed to work for one of LA's crime bosses. There's trouble on a movie set for a film the boss is producing and Bender is put in charge of keeping things straight and getting the job jobbed.

Only problem is, it's a porn movie that is to star a former child actress/American sweetheart, currently down, out, drugged, and on a pretty impressive downward slide. And it turns out that Junior has a heavy dose of compassion in his make-up, as well as brains.

The writing and dialog is good, filled with amusing bits. The twists and solutions Junior comes up with were also amusing. Junior is unashamed that he's a burglar, sees some benefits in a work schedule that keeps him pretty free most of the month, and lives mostly out of hotel rooms since his marriage ended. He has a good relationship with his young daughter. He reads a lot, and has pretty much charted a educational course that is probably better than what most undergrads get at a majority of universities. He's a self-made burglar, and comfortable in his own skin.

Looking forward to the next book with Junior.