Book Reviews

6. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - It's a setting that just full of possibilities: the Greek Gods of Olympus are still around and most of the principles are living in a rundown house in modern London. With characters like Apollo and Athena and Hermes, there's no end to complications and plot twists, right? Phillips does come up with jobs suitable of her cast - Aphrodite as a phone sex operator just makes perfect sense. And if Apollo and Aphrodite live in the same house, they probably would end up having sex with each other, considering their particular strengths, and despite being half siblings. Altogether, wouldn't we expect the whole clan to be just as dysfunctional in this age as the one they originated in? But that's the problem with this book - the characters do act all too often just as you'd expect. They have almost no arc. I guess that's the problem with characters so deitic - they have no where to go but down, and if that's not your ending, you really don't have much of a story. There are two mortals that get mixed up with this crazy family, and they do have a journey, but you'd think with people like Zeus and Hades getting involved, the whole thing would be more.....epic?

7. The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson, read by Peter Francis James - As young adult fiction, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party, as the full title goes, is pretty astonishing in its own right. Told first from the pov of a pre-Revolutionary War period slave living in Boston, then in epistolary form from the pov of a fellow soldier in the rebel militia group he attaches himself to, and then again from Octvian's pov, this is a side of that time period rarely presented in fiction, let alone discussed in history classes. Octavian starts sout his life in a rarified condition - he receives an exemplary classical eduction. Why this slave receives such an education, and how what he has learned plays out against the common perceptions about his race and station is told in vocabulary and grammar correct to his time period. As an adult listening to the story, I thought the set up dragged a bit, but that's usually the case when an adult reads TA fiction. The second and third parts of the story, though, are a well told story for any age. The ending is a set up for a second volume, and I'm very curious to see how the author handles his character during the actual war.

8. The Guardians by Ana Castillo - Whenever I read a story told in the form of characters getting their own chapters to tell their versions of overlapping events, I hold that story to a higher standard. Why? Because it's an easier way to tell a story. The author doesn't have to pin down the voice they're going to use. In the case of this book, that higher standard is exceeded. A fifty-something legal immigrant from Mexico has taken custody of her illegal immigrant sixteen year old nephew. Her brother, a man who has crossed back and forth from New Mexico to Mexico so many time he no longer needs a coyote to guide him (but still must use one because the coyotes are all about job security), has gone missing. Regina does not want to give up hope that her brother will return, Gabo the nephew who already lost his mother to a cross over gone very bad, tries to use his extreme faith in God to guide him in all areas of his life, and a handful of interesting characters, not caricatures all share in the search. You won't forget what happens to these people because Castillo makes you care about them, no matter what your opinion on illegal immigrants.


Book Reviews

1. Person of Interest by Theresa Schwegel - Schwegel knows her setting (Chicago and the near 'burbs) well enough that that alone made this a good read. Then, she populated her story with flawed humans, my very favorite kind to read about! At the center of the story is a married couple who hit the wall in their marriage at the same time. This comes at a bad time, as the husband is an cop on a case that is far closer to his home than he can imagine, and the wife is looking to greener pastures just when her daughter's accommodating boyfriend wanders through. The police investigation is the central plot, but because of the perfectly believable way Schwegel brings all the members of the family into that plot, it's not your average police thriller story. The ending was a little too neat and nice for my tastes, but aside from that, I really liked this book.

2. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin, Audiobook read by the Author - This was good - so very good! I'd strongly recommend the audiobook over the book because Martin does small bits of his original routines, and hearing them is so much better than reading them. The audiobook also has Martin playing banjo for the chapter breaks. If you're a fan of Martin's, interested in the history of stand up comedy, nostalgic for the 1970's, curious about just how serious comedy can be, or want to study a genius's creative process, listen to or at least read this book. Covering Martin's childhood to his last days in stand-up (and explains in good part why they were his last days of stand-up), the biography ends in the late 70s. Just as I wish Stphen Fry would get busy on his second volume of memoir's, I hope Martin is planning on writing about the second third of his career.

3.Memoirs of Hadrian and Reflections on the composition of memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar - A fictional memoir of Roman emperor Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, told in the form of a very long letter to his appointed successor, Marcus Aurelius. Yourcenar has Hadrian covers his life pretty much in chronological order, occasionally jumping forward or backward to explain how he came to feel the way he did about a few of the vast number of topics he covers. As historical fiction of the Roman period, it's a so-so read, with more focus on character than place or time. As a character driven story it's true a page turner. Hadrian's rule bridged the time when the Roman gods began to be replaced by Christianity and other cults, and he made an attempt to understand (if not agree with) the Jews of the time period. He's probably better known for his great love for Antinous, and Yourcenar does a beautiful job of establishing that relationship without sensationalizing it, especially dealing with Hadrian's deification of the young man who captured his heart.

4. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - A collection of horror short stories including the one that lends its title and very basic premise to the the recent Will Smith movie. Matheson writes stories that put the terrible into the mundane. His monsters, evil spirits and boogey men cross over to our world in a way that will have you second guessing the logical explanations for those bumps in the night. He's not heavy on morals and meanings, these are simple horror stories that don't have deeper meanings. There's also some humor, especially in the almost silly but very enjoyable The Funeral. The collection also includes Prey, the basis for 1/3 of the awesome Dan Curtis production "Trilogy of Terror".

5. Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway, ready by Patrick Wilson - This book was published, unfinished, after Hemingway's death. As such, it would be unfair to criticize it as a finished novel. It's more like a third or fourth draft - still full of holes in some parts, over written in other places. The story follows a recently married couple through their several honeymoon in Europe, while at the same time the husband attempts to work as a novelist. The character of the husband voices what must have been some of Hemingway's thoughts about the writing process (and his thoughts on drinking while you write, as well), while the young wife explores her sexuality through gender switching and a first time lesbian affair. The husband falls in love with the wife's lover as well, but that may have been more out of self preservation than attraction, in my opinion. The real benefit of reading this book is to fellow writers. It's reassuring to know that someone like Hemingway sometimes wrote very badly on his way to writing the great stuff. As for the audio version - Patrick Wilson should not attempt feminine French accents. It took this listener right of of the story and had me thinking I was listening to a parody or comedy routine.


Foodie Friday: 2007 in Review

Grist.org has a post up from their food editor, Roz Cummins, discussing the high and low points of her year in food. And yeah, she's had some low points - Grapples??? I guess they're not so new, but so far, I've been spared the creep factor of seeing them. Nutritionally, they're no different than a unadulterated apple, so the only gain in eating them is the flavor. The negative? Check out the ingredients of the Grapple: apples, natural and artificial flavor. Yep, nothing like "artificial ingredients in your apple!

Ms. Cummins' post did get me thinking of some of my best and worsts of this, a very big year for me nutritionally speaking.

My worst discovery - What's happened to our corn? I read the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and became annoyingly conscious of how this simple grain has turned into a bad, bad thing, both politically, economically and nutritionally. Grocery shopping became much more complicated.

My best discovery - Meat isn't a great thing for me. At least, not in the amounts this Midwestern, middle class, German heritage person was raised to think were "right". I started cutting it out of my life, partially because of what I read in that pesky Omnivore's Dilemma, partially because it's gotten so damn expensive, and partially because I wanted to try something new as a part of a calorie reduced diet. Within a few weeks of replacing most of the meat in my diet with veggies and whole grains I noticed a lot of positive changes in my general health. I'm not a vegetarian by any definition and have no desire to become one (yet), but I gotta say - too much meat is about as bad as too much alcohol, at least for me.