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March 18 , 2015
MAKING NICE

Matt Sumell
2013
ISBN-13: 978-1627790932
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Making Nice
I 'recommend' this 'novel' (it's actually a series of connected short stories which share the same narrator) as a genuine challenge to all those who think that fiction can and should serve to help us understand and empathize with disparate sensibilities. 
Our hero Alby is just about a 'disparate sensibility' as it gets outside of the warped world of a Dostoyevsky fever dream. He's profane and violent (he punches his sister because "she deserved it") and condescending. But he's also funny, surprisingly caring (he feeds his ailing grandmother spoonful-by-spoonful), and self-critically aware.

He's very, very human.

Can a collection of short stories convince you to understand and empathize with him?

Can fiction teach Love?
Create it?
That's my challenge, and that's my recommendation for this book.


March 2 , 2015
THE AYLESFORD SKULL

James P. Blaylock
2013
ISBN-13: 978-0857689795
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The Aylesford Skull
Blaylock is back!

If that doesn't do it for you, then it will next time if you read the latest adventure of Langston St. Ives in this Victorian-era tale of derring-do and evil skullduggery.

Blaylock is rightly recognized as one of the founding creators of a subgenre of fantasy/science fiction called Stempunk, but his books have always been far more Blaylock and less Steampunk than other more genre-restricted examples of the form. Blaylock has a gently, whimsical quality to his writing which somehow matches nicely with the wild imaginings of his event-filled plotlines,making his world a comfortable one for a reader to inhabit even as all Hell appears to be breaking loose on the page. He also has written a number of pretty straightforward Ghost Stories and he often puts that skill to good use in his Steampunk offerings, as he does here with the supernaturally powered Skull of the title. 


Blaylock is one of my favorite authors, but he is...as is true of any distinctive voice...an acquired taste. Here's a good opportunity to pick up The Blaylock Habit.


February 19, 2015
We Are Pirates: A Novel

Daniel Handler
2015
ISBN-13: 978-1608196883
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We Are Pirates: A Novel
Yes, they really are pirates.

But not the Yo-Ho-Hoing, eyepatch-wearing ones familiar to us. These pirates are a modern day teenager and a dementia-ridden nursing home patient who set sail in San Francisco Harbor to find treasure but, more importantly, to Find Themselves. As Lemony Snicket, the author has written a series of Unfortunate Events books for children which had such a dark edge to them that they could easily have come with a Parental Advisory attached. Now he's applied the same combination of lighthearted adventure on the top with dark undercurrents underneath in this novel for adults, and he's equally marvelous at it. Some of the stuff involving the young pirate girl's dad feels a bit shallow, but that just means that the pirates steal the show along with everything else that isn't guarded closely enough. There's real heart and depth to the feelings here that make this far more than just a merry romp. (Although it IS that as well.)


February 10, 2015
ONE SUMMER, AMERCA: 1927

Bill Bryson
2014
ISBN-13: 978-0767919418
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One Summer

Bryson (A WALK IN THE WOODS, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID, etc.) is his usual breezy, engaging self in recounting the myriad of events and personalities which combined to make the Summer of 1927 a memorable one indeed.

It would be easy to underestimate Bryson's accomplishment and simply argue that the Time Itself did most of the work for him. After all, with things like the Flight of Charles Lindbergh, the Dempsey-Tunney fight, Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly setting a record for staying atop a flagpole for twelve days straight, etc one might think that it would take more effort to muck things up than it would to produce a book recounting that amazing year. But to do so would be a mistake: The real heart of the book is in Bryson's Voice which simply brims with gentle enthusiasm for his various topics and which never seems to lack for some new telling detail which makes even the familiar seem new. The book is long, but seemingly over in an instant. Just like all those summers we remember from our youth.


December 22, 2014
SCRIBE: MY LIFE IN SPORTS

Bob Ryan
2014
ISBN-13: 978-1620405062
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Scribe

Here are some things you probably already know about Bob Ryan, if you're even a casual sports fan:
He was a sports columnist for The Boston Globe for over 45 years
He's one of the most trenchant, distinctive commentators on ESPN
He lives, breathes, eats, and embodies a Love of Sports.
Those things alone should be enough to convince you to give this culminating work of his career an enthusiastic whirl.
But just in case it's not, here is one Big Thing you may not know about SCRIBE that might prove to be (basketball pun intended) the tipping point for you to take possession:
You don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy the book.

Ryan's crusty personality cranks its way across every page, the portraits of the athletes and fellow writers are unique and indelible, and the writing is so PROFESSIONAL it will make you weep for the days before blogs and tweets sent standards down to the minor leagues.

 

December 15, 2014
Tigerman: A Novel

Nick Harkaway
2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385352413
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Tigerman: A Novel
A crazy combination of Joseph Conrad and DC Comics that shouldn't work but does to produce a tale of intrigue, adventure, and soul-searching.

It's the story of two people and an island...and, believe me, each is as fully-rounded a character as the other. A battle-weary soldier now charged with keeping the peace on the  environmentally-ravaged island of Mancreau befriends a comic-book obsessed street urchin whom he would like to adopt but can't find the courage to make the moves necessary to do so.

When the island erupts in violence, however, the 'retiring' Sergeant and his young charge have to turn 'superhero' to try and turn things around.

This is a story of idealism, hope, derring-do...and of darkness, violence, and catastrophe.
It's a tale that will never stop surprising you. It's a novel that sticks.


December 8, 2014
Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation

Adam Resnick
2014
ISBN-13: 978-0399160387
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Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation
The first book that's made me laugh out loud in a long, long time. 
(I've grinned, nodded in agreement, chuckled...but not laughed out loud so long and hard I've had to put the book down and avert the eyes of surrounding strangers. This book did that to me. Seriously.)

It's a series of stories, all of which are True even if they are not actually Factual, relating certain seminal events in the life of the author as he embarks upon his quest to life a life that is "euphorically antisocial." Resnick would not like you or me if he were somehow compelled to share a space with us, but fortunately he has agreed to 'meet' with us via the unique shared consciousness that reading creates.

One Reader Beware Note: If it turns out you don't share at least some aspect of Resnick's World vVew, you'll likely just find him creepy, cruel, and very much NOT funny at all...and he KNOWS this is how he will be seen.  But I suspect that there is something 'in' most READERS that will strike a resonating chord.


December 3, 2014
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Jordan Ellenberg
2014
ISBN-13: 978-1594205224
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How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg If you think that Math is just about Numbers...and, of course, Anxiety and Failure, right?...then this is the book for you.
First of all, you'll learn that the Numbers are just the way Math 'talks' to us, and that its real substance is in the system of thought that leads to what those numbers are saying. 'Math' is a way of thinking which helps us to perceive the order and pattern beneath the chaotic reality that threatens to engulf us at each moment. Without ever having to memorize a single formula or even break out a calculator, mathematical thinking can clarify questions as diverse as: Is it worth it to play the Lottery? Why do tall parents have shorter children? And is it more to your advantage to be tried by a jury or a judge?

Secondly, you'll never feel anxious or depressed about Math ever again. (Well, maybe not. But you WILL see the World as a cleaner, saner place to live and think  And that should cheer you up a little bit, right? )

Kevin's Short Review: THIS is the book that those Freakonomics Guys would like to have written.


 


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March 25, 2015

 
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