Saturday, March 27, 2010

158 (2010 #23). Fartiste

by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer,
illustrated by Boris Kulikov

This is an "explosively funny, mostly true story" about Joseph Pujul, otherwise known as Le P├ętomane. Pujol (1857-1945) had the amazing ability to fart (without odor) on command.

Krull mostly writes biographies for children; her husband Brewer mostly writes joke books, so this tale is an interesting collaboration. Told in hilariously clever rhyming couplets, it's classified as historical fiction. The colorful mixed media (acrylic, gouache, watercolor, and ink) pictures by Kulikov, who also illustrated Krull's Giants of Science series, add to the fun.

This is a great picture book that will appeal especially to little (and not-so-little) boys.

[This book was borrowed from my university library, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

157 (2010 #22). Ford County: Short Stories

written and read by John Grisham

This is a collection of seven short stories, all set in fictional Ford County, Mississippi. Most of the stories are funny; some are a little sad.

The audiobook starts out with "Fetching Raymond," about two brothers who take their wheelchair-bound mother to see her third son, Raymond, on his final day on Death Row.

"Fish Files" tells the tale of a small town lawyer who suddenly has a chance to escape his boring life and make big money on some long-forgotten "fish file" (because when they're that old, they smell like dead fish) cases. This was probably my favorite story, as it ended very differently than I expected.

"Casino," about a man who learns the complexities of gambling in order to mend his broken heart and gain revenge, was another favorite. "Blood Drive" was quite amusing, about three men heading to Memphis to donate blood for an injured friend, who encounter a number of distractions along the way!

"Quiet Haven" is about a con artist working in an retirement home. On the other hand, he brings joy to a resident in his last days, and I really liked this story even though I knew the con man was up to no good.

The last two stories were the most serious and thought-provoking. "Michael's Room" describes a lawyer forced at gunpoint to see the results of his legal maneuvering where he was able to deny a family with a disabled son the compensation they needed and deserved. The ending was rather surprising; again not what I expected.

The final story is "Funny Boy," set in the late 1980s in Clanton, the fictional county seat. A gay man with AIDS from a prominent family returns to die, living in the home of an elderly black lady on the wrong side of town. She was bribed by his family to care for him with the offer of full ownership of her rented home. This story has a lot to say about prejudice against blacks and homosexuals in Southern small towns, and the lack of knowledge about AIDS in the 1980s. Despite the title, this story was sad.

I generally avoid books by popular, prolific authors like Grisham, because they can be so formulaic, but this book was excellent. Grisham has said that these were mostly stories that would not have developed into full length novels, but I am glad they didn't. I would be happy to read more short stories by Grisham.

The audiobook was read by the author. Grisham's delivery is choppy, but it works well with these characters and settings and stories.

[This audiobook was borrowed from my university library, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

156 (2010 #21). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson
translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland
read by Simon Vance

This was the choice of my local book club for March. I'm not much for mysteries, but I had heard good things about this book.

Set in Sweden, the main characters are Mikael "Kalle" Blomkvist, 40-something, an investigative journalist and publisher of Millennium magazine, and Lisbeth Sallander, 24, an antisocial, brilliant researcher and computer hacker. As the story begins, Blomkvist has been convicted of libel of wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. In order to save his magazine, takes a job in far north Sweden with another wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger, to try to find out what happened to his great niece, Harriet, who disappeared in 1966. Henrik believes she was murdered by a member of his extensive family, because almost all of them were present on (fictional) Hedeby Island for a family business meeting, and access to/from the island was blocked by a major accident on the single bridge to it. Salander comes in to the story because Vanger's lawyer hires the security firm she freelances for to investigate Blomkvist. When Blomkvist learns about this, he teams up with her and they use her special skills to solve the case and get revenge on Wennerstrom.

Neo-Nazism and violence against women are major themes in the book, with a statistic about the latter in Sweden at the beginning of each of the four parts of the book. I enjoyed the "dialogue" that took place through e-mail exchanges in the book, and the way Larsson brought in his background as a photographer by using details in photographs to help solve the case.

This book is the first of three in the so-called "Millennum Trilogy." Steig Larsson, a journalist and editor of the anti-racism Swedish magazine Expo in real life, delivered the manuscripts for the three books to a publisher shortly before his death in 2004 at age 50 from a massive heart attack. Besides the Kalle Blomkvist nickname for Mikael, Larsson also stated in an interview that Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren also influenced the development of Lisbeth Salander - he imagined her as a grown-up version of Pippi Longstocking:
"What would she have been like today? What would she have been like as an adult? What would she be called? A sociopath?" Larsson told book store industry magazine Svensk Bokhandel in the only interview he ever did about his crime fiction. "I created her as Lisbeth Salander, 25 years old and extremely isolated. She doesn't know anyone, has no social competence."
I found Salander to be an especially intriguing character. Mikael Blomkvist fits the Swedish stereotype, sleeping with three women in the course of the story, including a long-term affair with his married boss Erika Berger (with her husband's permission!).

I would not, however, listen to another audiobook in this trilogy read by Simon Vance. His British accent was disconcerting with the Swedish setting - especially the Cockney-like accent he gives to Salander.

[This audiobook was borrowed from my university library, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

154 & 155 (2010 #s 19 & 20). Nonfiction by/about Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning

Wife No. 19 by Ann Eliza Young and
The Twenty-seventh Wife by Irving Wallace

The first of these is a memoir by the infamous 19th (or 27th, but probably 52nd) wife of Brigham Young, second "prophet" and leader of the Mormon Church, originally published in 1875. The second is a biography of her by Irving Wallace published in 1961. After reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, I wanted to read these two books as they were major sources for his novel.

Ann Eliza's memoir was a sensation when she wrote it, as she was already famous from the series of lectures she'd been giving about polygamy after filing for divorce from Brigham Young, her second of three husbands. As can be expected, her accounting when talking about Brigham is going to be biased, but she's accurate about her life growing up in a polygamous household, and one can see where Ebershoff followed her memoir and where he took creative license with the story.

Wallace's biography is valuable because it presents a more balanced view of Brigham Young (as well as of Ann's first husband, James Dee), plus it tells what happened to Ann and other members of her family after her memoir was published. Ann revised her memoir and republished it in 1908 (under the title Life in Mormon Bondage), but even then she did not mention her third marriage to (and divorce from) Moses Denning. Wallace's book has extensive acknowledgments and bibliography; I only wish it had footnotes or in-text citations connecting to those sources.

[These books were borrowed through interlibrary loan, and go back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

153 (2010 #18). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

I'll admit up front that mysteries are among my least favorite genres. I only read this book because it was chosen by an online book discussion group I belong to (the leader is excellent).

I had a hard time getting through this 370-page book. The main character, 11-year-old precocious genius Flavia de Luce, with her passion for chemistry and poison, is just not believable. The book is supposed to be set in 1950 in England, but at times it feels like it's set in the Victorian era. Narrated by Flavia, she often says or thinks ridiculous things like the following (from page 23):
Taking care not to jiggle the curtains, I peeked out into the kitchen garden just as the moon obligingly came out from behind a cloud to illuminate the scene, much as it would in a first-rate production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Oh please.

Some in our discussion group felt Flavia was a lot like Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, but Hermione's braininess fits in a fantasy series about a bunch of wizards.

The other characters - Flavia's talented but seemingly airheaded two older sisters (Ophelia aka "Feely" and Daphne aka "Daffy"), her stamp-collection widower father, the cook, the mysterious factotum (Flavia's word) Dogger, the gruff Inspector who eventually grudgingly admires Flavia - they're all stereotypes. The plot of the mystery is weak, and the book is too wordy and full of similes and metaphors. Its (unnecessary) length, and the unrealistic vocabulary and obscure references used by an 11-year-old (she usually sounds like a 70-year-old--coincidentay, the age of this first-time author) also means the book won't work for older children or young adults either.

There will be more books in this series, but I'm not planning to read them. I did like the cover though.

[This book was borrowed through interlibrary loan, and goes back tomorrow.]

© Amanda Pape - 2010