Book Review: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack


Author: Mike McCormack
Title: Solar Bones
Narrator: Timothy Reynolds
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, 2017
Summary/Review:

Marcus Conway is a ghost.  On All Souls Day, he sits at the dinner table waiting for his family to return, and unspools a stream-of-concious monologue about this life written in a single sentence (this is the second single-sentence novel I’ve read recently!).  The single sentence isn’t as apparent in the audiobook – deftly narrated by Timothy Reynolds – but I do notice that he starts a phrase with “and” a lot, adding a certain rhythm to the prose.  Marcus talks about his own father’s death, his sometimes troubled relationship with his wife and children, and his work as a civic engineer.  Local politics also plays a big part of his story, from voting to a politicians thick-headed insistence on building a school that’s not structurally sound, to even the awful stomach virus that infects his community – including his wife – caused by bad sanitation.  Over time, Marcus unravels the details of his own death and comes to terms with his mortality.  The thing about this novel is that for all the experimental nature of its narrative, Marcus is a perfectly ordinary person doing ordinary things.  McCormack’s writing unveils the fascinating stories within the everyday person.

Recommended booksBeatlebone by Kevin Barry and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Rating: ****

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Book Review: Doomi Golo : The Hidden Notebooks by Boubacar Boris Diop


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Senegal

Author: Boubacar Boris Diop
Title: Doomi Golo : The Hidden Notebooks
Translator: Vera Wülfing-Leckie, Moustapha Diop
Publication Info: East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Doomi Golo is written as a series of notebooks from the eccentric Nguirane Faye to his missing grandson Badou, who presumably will never see them.  Nguirane Faye weaves together tales of his everyday life with myths and fables and a history – albeit fictionalized – of Senegal. The novel is unique in being a rare work of fiction originally written in Wolof, the language of Senegal’s largest ethnic group, rather than the official language French. Boubacar Boris Diop also translated the novel into French from which this English translation was made.  It would be interesting to learn what differences in nuance exists in the prose of the three versions.  This is a good Around the World for a Good Book choice since it provides a good entry point into Senegalese life in culture.  That being said it was also a challenging book  and deserves a deep read.

Recommended booksThe Story of the Madman by Mongo Beti and A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: What is Yours is Not Yours  by Helen Oyeyemi


Author: Helen Oyeyemi
TitleWhat is Yours is Not Yours
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon, Piter Marek, Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

What is Yours is Not Yours is a collection of linked short stories, all of the stories including keys as a symbol, with some characters from earlier stories reappearing in later stories.  Oyeyemi creates a wide diversity of characters and settings while keeping a natural flow that veers among the weird, humorous, and practical. The stories contain elements of magical realism and mythological ideas in a contemporary setting.  This is one of those books where I feel I missed a lot of things in the reading and would definitely be worth revisiting.

Recommended books: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Figment by Jim Zub and Filipe Andrade


Author: Jim Zub
Title: Figment
Ilustrator: Filipe Andrade 
Publication Info: Marvel (2017)
Summary/Review:

The merger of Disney and Marvel creates the opportunity based on classic Disney World attractions.  This series tells the back story of Epcot’s original Journey into Imagination with the Dreamfinder (the comics reveal his given name as Blarion Mercurial) and Figment.  The story begins with Mercurial working as a reasearcher at a university in London in the early 1900s and creating an invention that harnesses imagination and makes it reality.  First he creates his sidekick purple dragon Figment, and then they’re drawn into imaginary worlds where they experience a series of adventures.  The comic basically acknowledges that the 1980s Epcot attraction was steampunk before the word “steampunk” was coined.  The story is basically a G-rated adventure akin to the Five Fists of Science or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  And being set in imaginary worlds, it benefits from lavish illustrations by Andrade.

Recommended booksThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan, The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin, and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction
Rating: ***

 

 

 

Book Review: A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Angola

Author: Jose Eduardo Agualusa
TitleA General Theory of Oblivion
Translator:  Daniel Hahn
Publication Info: London : Harvill Secker, [2015]
Summary/Review:

This book tells the story of Ludo, a Portuguese woman living in the Angolan capital of Luanda. When a revolution achieves independence for Angola in 1975, Ludo does not join the crowd of colonizers returning to Portugal, but instead bricks herself into a penthouse apartment, surviving on self-grown vegetables and trapped pigeons.  There she remains for 30 years, as Angola suffers Civil War and its original Leftist government falls to one more welcoming of capitalism.

The novel is written more as a series of vignettes, short chapters of sparse text reflecting the isolation of Ludo and other characters, physically and metaphorically.  There are other storylines in the novel outside Ludo’s apartment, which may be things that Ludo is aware from hearing out her window, or memories of earlier days, or just other people’s stories.  It’s never really clear.  And Ludo isn’t completely alone for 30 years as she has encounters with two other people over that time, one that goes poorly, and one much better, but I won’t spoil that here.

A General Theory of Oblivion is an interesting and challenging novel.  For Around the World for a Good Book purposes it also a good introduction to Angola’s history since independence.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller


Author:Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
TitleThe Only Rule Is It Has to Work
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne  and John Pruden
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

A pair of stats geeks with a podcast are given the opportunity to run a baseball team to see if they can test the concepts of sabermetrics – the empirical analysis of baseball – in a real world setting.  The team they get to try this on is the 2015 Sonoma Stompers who play in the low-level independent league, the Pacific Association.  They face challenges of having a manager and players go along with their unorthodox suggestions for playing baseball, as well finding talented players to sign to the team, since the Pacific Association doesn’t attract the best talent.  To surprise of many, the Stompers do very well, dominating the league in the first half.  The authors are honest enough to admit that it wasn’t always their ideas that contributed to the overall success.  But success has its downside as it leads to many of the Stompers’ best players getting signed to contracts on teams in better leagues, leaving the Stompers weakened for the second half and postseason. Nevertheless, I did find myself drawn into their account and caring very deeply about how the Stompers would do that season.  The book is an interesting case study of putting sabermetrics into action and the real life challenges it may face, as well as just being an interesting baseball story.

Recommended booksThe Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan, Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Original Sin by Andy Lane


Author: Andy Lane
TitleOriginal Sin
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

There’s a lot going on in this sprawling Doctor Who New Adventures novel.

    • First, it introduces a pair of new companions, Roz & Cwej, a pair of Adjucators (basically, cops) from Earth in the far future.  Roz is the grizzled veteran whose partner/mentor died and Cwej is the cheerful, ambitious rookie. In addition to these buddy cop story tropes, they find themselves uncovering a conspiracy!
    • The setting is the Earth in the far future when cities like London have been build up as spaceports with the wealthy living in gleaming towers, while the rest live in the dark, decaying Undertown (a concept that was later used in the tv story Gridlock).
    • The Earth is part of a dystopian society ruled by a Divine Empress who controls the galaxy (or at least the solar system, not sure).
    • Also featuring in this story are the Hith, a species of large, slug-like creatures who.  Berenice’s befriends a Hith whose death actually prompts her and the Doctor to visit future and get involved in this story.
    • There’s an imprisoned serial killer who the Doctor calls upon for advice, very much modeled on Hannibal Lecter.
    • Finally, the big reveal is that the Big Bad behind this all is Tobias Vaughn from the 1960s tv story The Invasion, who has managed to live thousands of years as a cyborg.

It’s a very busy story with a lot of weirdness, such as Cwej spending part of the narrative resembling a teddy bear, for fashion.  It also has the New Adventures’ trait of introducing lots of characters in new places and expecting the reader to remember them. That is, when the author actually mentions the names and is not doing that trick of keeping their identity secret.  It’s rather annoying and makes this book more of a struggle to read than necessary, but otherwise it’s entertaining.

Rating: ***

Virgin New Adventures

Book Review: The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo


Author: Roseanne Montillo
TitleThe Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This book appeared to follow the formula of The Devil in the White City, focusing on a city in 19th century through the lens of major events and a mass murderer operating in that city.  In this case the city is Boston, the murderer is Jesse Pomeroy, and the event is the Great Fire of 1872.  Except, that the book isn’t really structured this way.

It is in fact more of a straightforward biography of Pomeroy, a teenage boy in Charlestown and then South Boston who tortured smaller children, and eventually began murdering them in the 1870s.  He is sometimes called “America’s First Serial Killer,” although that is not factually true, but his crimes occurred in a period of growing moral panic about children’s behavior (also not for the first or last time).  Montillo documents Pomeroy’s abusive family life, his gruesome crimes, his trial and public denunciation, and his long life in prison where he spent decades in solitary and made several escape attempts.

I’m not a fan of the true crime genre, so with the book so focused on Pomeroy it doesn’t appeal to me as much as a general history of Boston at the time of Pomeroy’s murders would.  Montillo’s attempts to link in other events are few and feel a bit forced and unrelated to the lifelong biography of the murderer.  She does also focus greatly on the life and work of Herman Melville, who has a connection to Boston but had moved to New York prior to the Pomeroy murders.  Montillo draws on themes of family dysfunction, mental illness, and monomania to draw Pomeroy and Melville together, but again the links feel strained rather than illuminating.

Recommended booksThe Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019 by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa


Author: Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa
TitleThe Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019
Publication Info: Birmingham, AL : The Unofficial Guides, an imprint of AdventureKEEN, [2019]
Summary/Review:

I’m fortunate enough to be returning to Walt Disney World soon, so I’ve been flipping through this mammoth guide to everything you’d want to know about the parks, attractions, dining, lodging, and other activities.  It appeals to my need to assiduously plan for a vacation. Honestly, sometimes I think I enjoy planning more than the actual traveling, and its too bad we don’t live in a multiverse where one could test all variations of a plan.  I reviewed the 2017 edition before and this guide is largely the same but updated to include newly opened attractions and more current advice.  I recommend it to anyone planning a Walt Disney World vacation whether you’re a planner or not.

Rating: ****

2018 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year and not necessarily books published in 2018  For previous years see 20172016201520142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

In alphabetical order:

Books Read in 2018

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews. (A) is for audiobook.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October 1918

November

December