Book Review: Night of the Jabberwock

By , November 30, 2013

Night of the Jabberwock

By Fredric Brown

Is anyone else a fan of After Hours, one of film director Martin Scorsese’s few forays into (dark) comedy? It’s pretty fantastic. Like Night of the Jabberwock, the film’s odd and surreal proceedings take place all in one night, compounding the effects of the waking nightmare experienced by Griffin Dunne’s character, Paul. The similarities end there, but I point it out to draw attention to what convinced me beforehand that I would love this tale – the confined temporal space of a single bizarre night.

 “In my dream I was standing in the middle of Oak Street and it was dark night.”

With this mysterious opening line, Fredric Brown begins his disorienting mystery about a crime-solving newspaper reporter who indulges frequently in both his propensity to reference Lewis Carroll, and his fondness for stiff drinks. Alcohol, in fact, makes a number of appearances and could almost be counted as a main character alongside our protagonist, Doc Stoeger. At the very least, it serves to accentuate the abundance of strange coincidences that converge upon the small town of Carmel City.

Working throughout the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s, Fredric Brown wrote primarily mystery and science fiction tales, publishing many novels and dozens of short stories. His style has continued to find new fans, and Night of the Jabberwock (1951) is consistently listed as one of his best works. But you don’t need to take the word of book critics or bloggers; check out the weird mystery for yourself…I guarantee you’ve never read anything quite like it before.

-Ben

Book review: Longbourn

By , November 28, 2013


Longbourn

By Jo Baker

Longbourn is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of the household servants. Longbourn provides a fascinating peek into the lives of those living below stairs. The story centers on Sarah the spunky housemaid, Mrs. Hill the housekeeper, junior housemaid Polly and James the newly arrived footman.

 

As in the original story, romance blossoms between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet, and so it does for Sarah as well, who learns about life, love and her place in the world.

 

Longbourn is British author Jo Baker’s fifth book, the book has been translated into eight languages and a movie deal has been optioned.

 

This year marks the bicentennial of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Time to celebrate all things Austen!

 

 

 

- Karen

 

 

 

 

Book list: Nerd Ascendancy

By , November 26, 2013

With Nashville now being a Wizard World Comic-Con stop, our hometown Geek Media Expo continuing to thrive, and the library being name dropped in Nashville Geek Life’s “An Otaku’s Guide to Nashville” it would appear that Music City is dirty nerdy to the max. And I love it. Below are a trio of books that celebrate geek culture:

 

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People that Play It
by David M. Ewalt
For those not in the know, the story of D&D creator Gary Gygax and his company TSR is the stuff of Greek tragedy. If you feel like a weirdo reading this in public, rest easy knowing Ewalt is a senior editor at Forbes so you can always pull the institutional legitimacy card. Such a tactic though is really only for closeted gamers and contradicts the spirit of the Read RPGs in Public campaign.

 

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe
by Tim Leong
This is an entire book of elegant, abstract infographics all about comics. It is a sure bet for all comics nerds / math geeks / design snobs or any constitutional combination thereof. Is it satire? Is it art? Not sure, but it is amazing. But also kind of pointless because I think he just made a lot of the data up. Truly though, it looks amazing.

 

American Nerd: The Story of My People
by Benjamin Nugent
Nugent unearths the concept of the nerd from a far more sociological perspective than the first two titles. Working from the premise nerdism is misunderstood brain power, American Nerd is the thinking man’s companion to The Big Bang Theory.

 

 

Book list: American Immigrant Experiences

By , November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving honors the earliest celebration of friendship between native Americans and recent immigrants. The Pilgrims were the first documented wave of British immigrants, now so deeply assimilated that they embody the very spirit of American identity. It’s a fitting time to look back on the experiences of some like-minded adventurers who have come to America in the intervening 392 years.

 

All Standing: the remarkable story of Jeanie Johnston, the legendary Irish famine ship, by  Kathryn Miles

All Standing: the remarkable story of the Jeanie Johnston, the legendary Irish famine ship
by Kathryn Miles
Over 100,000 people perished while escaping the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and 50s, many of these dying in the terrible journey across the Atlantic Ocean to America. The overloaded, rickety ships used to make the journey were called “coffin ships,” so grievous were the conditions on board. One exception, however, was the Jeanie Johnston, who never lost a passenger. Miles gives lively but detailed descriptions of the potato famine and the doomed escape ships, as well as the personal story of Nicholas Johnston Reilly, a baby born on the Jeanie Johnston’s first crossing who went on to live the “American Dream.”

 

The Long Way Home: an American journey from Ellis Island to the Great War by David Laskin

The Long Way Home: an American journey from Ellis Island to the Great War
by David Laskin 

Immigrants who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries arrived just in time to fight in the Great War as American soldiers. Laskin follows the lives of twelve such men, who were often barely scraping by in their new country. They came from Norway, from the Ukraine, from Italy, and from other countries across the Atlantic, ready to risk their lives defending the United States. Laskin’s well-written narrative brings fresh understanding to the ideal of an American hero.

 

Strength in What Remains: a journey of remembrance and forgiveness by Tracy Kidder

 Strength in What Remains: a journey of remembrance and forgiveness
by Tracy Kidder

Twenty-four year-old Deo had managed to escape from the horrors of war-torn Burundi only to find himself living in an abandoned tenement house in New York City. From this bleak situation, Deo went on to survive by delivering groceries while living in Central Park, teaching himself English by using dictionaries in bookstores. In time, Deo arrived at Columbia University and forged a medical career. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder once again delivers a story full of heart and redemption.

 

The Distance Between Us: a memoir, by Reyna Grande

The Distance Between Us: a memoir
by Reyna Grande

It begins with a promise to return. Like men across the globe, Grande’s father leaves his wife and three children to seek a fortune, a future for them all. Her father sets off on the dangerous journey across the border between Mexico. After many years, Grande’s mother joined him, leaving the children to live in the grim, overcrowded house of the grandmother. When at last Grande makes it to “The Other Land,” her dreams of life in the United States, as well as life with her long-missing father, are not at all what she had expected.

 

A Country Called Amreeka: Arab roots, American storiesA Country Called Amreeka: Arab roots, American stories
by Alia Malek

Author Malek asks the question, “What does American history look like and feel like in the eyes and skin of Arab Americans?” She offers a collection of narratives tracing the lives of Arab Americans whose families have lived in the United States for decades. Stories of Americans such as Ed Salem, an 1948 Alabama Crimson Tide star from Birmingham who lived the racial violence of the time. Other stories include the repercussions of the 1991 Baghdad bombings on a high school girl in Indiana and the  torment of a gay man in  Kansas in 1993.

 

From Every End of this Earth: 13 families and the new lives they made in America, by Steven B. RobertsFrom Every End of This Earth: 13 families and the new lives they made in America
by Steven V. Roberts

They’ve come from Sierra Leone, from China, from Afghanistan, and from Mexico. Their immigration stories differ from those in the past; in the age of cell phones and Internet it’s possible to keep the homeland close. Roberts’ careful research breathes life into these deeply personal stories of thirteen very diverse immigrant experiences.

 

 

 

Book review: The Southerner’s handbook: a guide to living the good life

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By , November 24, 2013

The Southerner’s handbook: a guide to living the good life
by the editors of Garden & Gun

There are some things we just do better in the South, cook, hunt, drink, garden, & grieve. Then we write about it better than most. The editors of Gun & Garden magazine have gathered some of our best writers to tell us all just how to master art of Southerness in The Southerner’s Handbook: a guide to the good life.

Here are just a few chapters to whet your appetite: Eat your Kudzu, Fall off a Horse, How to handle a snake, How to talk Faulkner and How to talk to a game warden. I haven’t even mentioned the sections on seersucker or hunting dogs.

Whether you’re new to the South or southern born, you are going want to take your time with this gem of a book – heck, it’s priceless to newcomers! If you find yourself lacking in any area, take to the porch with your favorite bourbon and read it slower than molasses running uphill in the winter.

-laurie

“I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”

Flannery O’Connor

Book review: The Astronaut Wives Club

By , November 23, 2013

The Astronaut Wives Club
By Lily Koppel

I, my name, have no desire (none, zero, zip, nada) to go to space. Ever. Even if this planet is doomed and we must board carrier ships to take us to other galaxies in order to save our species – I’m still gonna think twice. But if my (brand new) husband decided he wanted to go up, I’d definitely support him – after reminding him that going to space in real life is completely different than visiting it in a video game.

Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn – these are all names we grew up with (or watched on TV, depending on your age). But almost every man who went into space, with the exception of one astronaut towards the end of the Apollo missions, was married to an exceptionally strong woman who supported and encouraged her fella.

This book is about them.

Part of the reason I’ve never wanted to boldly go where no man has gone before is that what happens when something goes wrong? You can’t call Triple A over for a tune up. And the wives were stuck at home to basically endure each mission and pray that their men came home safely. Sometimes they didn’t, and they relied on the support of the other wives to get through the darkest times.

America, as a nation, put a huge amount of pressure on these families. They had to be perfect – perfectly coiffed, houses perfectly clean, children perfectly behaved and with the husbands away training or on missions, the wives were forced to bear the brunt of these expectations alone.

As a result a large percentage of these marriages broke up after the missions to space ended. It didn’t help that when the men where away at the Cape, they had plenty of other women to keep them entertained on the side. This was a part of our space history that I’d never imagined.

I thought this book gave us a great viewpoint of an important part of our past. In the 50s and 60s, everyone wanted to simply keep up with the Joneses. These ladies had to be better and they had to do it in heels…with American watching.

Who says men are the strongest?

Happy reading…

:) Amanda

Book review: The Girl You Left Behind

By , November 21, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind

By JoJo Moyes

 

Author, JoJo Moyes spins a tale of sacrifice and enduring love in her latest novel The Girl You Left Behind. Set in France during World War I, The Girl You Left Behind tells the story of a portrait through the intertwined lives of its owners.

The story begins in 1916, as the German army is invading the French countryside. Sophie Lefevre and her sister are forced to cook meals for the soldiers at their inn. Hanging on the wall of the inn is a portrait of Sophie, painted by her artist husband.  The German Kommandant develops a fixation on it and Sophie.  Shortly thereafter, Sophie is arrested and her portrait disappears.

Readers are then fast forwarded to modern day London and introduced to Liv Halston, the paintings current owner, who is desperately fighting to keep the portrait in her possession.

The past comes alive in the present, as family secrets are exposed and ultimately the discovery of the truth about what really happened to Sophie.

 

The Girl You Left Behind is well written and has an intriguing storyline and will be enjoyed by fans of historical fiction.

 

-Karen

 

 

Book review: The Secret Race

By , November 20, 2013

The Secret Race  Inside the Hidden World of Tour de France; Doping , Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

This may be the best, most truthful book about bike racing (and trying to maintain that edge) at the highest level I’ve ever read. I was a close follower of the Tour de France and other major cycling races for many years; a fan of Armstrong and admirer of those that showed gritty determination in their roles, like Hamilton. I always enjoyed the frequently over the top coverage provided by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin documenting the annual July madness in France. This book is really a cathartic, detail filled expose full of the  background and situations that puts all of this in a believable perspective while pulling no punches and sparing nobody.  Tyler Hamilton may not have won any friends here but may  have even one-upped Andre Agassi’s Open as the ultimate hero admits all biography, in a sense.

Many top cyclists, including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and  others were popped for various doping violations and banned substance use in the ’90′s and beyond, and their situations are all detailed here.  Bjarne Riis, the great Dane with the (now revealed) frighteningly high hemocrit level of 64 in ’96 is lucky to be have lived through that (I remember his crazed surge up one mountaintop finish to seal his win, wearing a truly wild look of determination). And later, who can forget the bike throw?!  Not normal.

Of course, the elephant in the peloton and the major performance enhancing orchestrator throughout his US Postal Service/Discovery Channel years (and before!) is Lance Armstrong. I’ve now lost  all admiration for him; his bullying, lying, coercing and covering up ways undermined his determination and skill he displayed racing. Winning at all costs, for sure. These years are documented quite well here from someone who had a lot to lose at the time and with an inside perspective in riding support for Armstrong’s teams for several years. (And later under the helm of Riis at CSC beginning in 2001 - interesting times.)

More than a sordid tale of cyclists using EPO, timed blood transfusions with bags provided by their “sports doctors” and other unethical practices, this book is one person’s (who lost his Olympic gold medal to a positive test) successful attempt to finally and completely come clean. Well written with some humorous depictions to temper the otherwise matter of fact tone, Hamilton (and well known cycling author Coyne) takes you inside and behind the scenes revealing what many suspected for years. Yes, “Dopers suck” but there is also a more tenuous human side to these decisions counterbalancing the seemingly ingrained doping practices in pro cycling which Hamilton takes pains in revealing.

Docked a “star” (it’s still a solid 4!)  for no pictures – C’mon Tyler – how about one of “the look?”

-Phil

Music review: Laurel Halo

By , November 18, 2013

Intrigued by music of Laurel Halo after hearing her track “Carcass” on RBMA’s Headphone Highlights program, I was thrilled to find Halo’s entire Quarantine album, including the track “Carcass,” is available on Freegal. I never thought the words “I, carcass” would be stuck in my head as a melodic phrase. Behind all the fuzzy layers of digital static is Halo’s classical training. She’s knows when to let a melody bleed through to keep you from drifting into the void.

The use of voice as abstract musical building block is reminiscent of Bjork’s (underrated and amazing) Medúlla. The alternating layers of cold ice and warm flannel are straight up Tim Hecker – another electronic composer, whose genre defining, critically acclaimed  albums are also on Freegal. On Halo’s most recent release, Chance of Rain, she eschews vocals all together. Let’s explore this new territory together.

- Bryan

Book review: Allegiant

By , November 16, 2013

Allegiant
By Veronica Roth

Well, she did it. After leaving us with such a HUGE cliffhanger in book 2, Roth ended her trilogy – which was probably very disappointing for her publishers who were really looking forward to Divergent #19: Back Inside the Walls.*

I’ve been waiting for this one to come out all year, but due to the sensitive nature of the material in this book, I’m not even going to hint at details that might potentially be spoilers. If you’re reading this series, you already know. If you’re not reading these yet, you need to be.

Basic premise of the series: Tris and Four live in a dystopian future, in a reorganized Chicago, where one chooses where to live by their personality traits. One choice. One faction. (Like The Hunger Games, but better…)

Go back and start with the first book, Divergent. I even have some thoughts for you about it way back from March 2012. Then check out Insurgent, but make sure you’ve got this one on hold already, because you’re not going to want to stop in between books two and three.

So how does it end, you want to know…screaming at me as you wait for your copy? Well – I liked parts of it and I didn’t like parts of it. Pretty much like any other book. I will say that I did not want to put it down once I’d started. I’d love to chat once you finish reading, so we can discuss all the juicy tidbits.

If you’re looking for a new series, look no further. But just make sure you have plenty of time to set aside for a marathon reading session.

Trust me. You won’t want to take “commercial breaks.”

Happy reading…and reading…and reading…

:) Amanda

*I actually just made that up. There are only 3 books in this series. Sorry publishers…

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