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Lost in a Book

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan
The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father - James Wight, Jim Wight This book is for anyone who has loved the All Creatures Great and Small stories by James Herriot (i.e. James Alfred "Alf" Wight). The biography is written by Wight’s son, who is also a veterinary surgeon. It tells of his father's childhood years, his training at the Veterinary College in Glasgow, and his partnership/friendship with the Sinclair brothers (aka Siegfried and Tristan Farnon). But the last third of the book was the most interesting to me because it describes Alf Wight's early attempts at writing and how he turned his years of veterinary experience and humorous observations into a series of beloved books.
Odd Thomas  - Dean Koontz Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old fry cook who sees dead people... ghosts with unfinished business that he sometimes helps. He can also sense evil and pretty much knows when people are going to die. When a stranger he calls "Fungus Man" shows up in town, Odd has about 24 hours to figure out what’s going to happen and how the mystery man is involved. This was my first Dean Koontz book, and pretty good as horror stories go. Parts of it were truly creepy.
Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Carmichael It's been awhile since I indulged in a Peter Wimsey mystery. These days I seem to prefer the ones without Harriet Vane. This audiobook version was expertly narrated by Ian Carmichael. Such a treat!

Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China

Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China - Bette Lord;Sansan The "Sansan" of the book is Bette Bao Lord's sister, youngest of three children. When their father left China in 1946 to take a position in the US, he had to leave his family behind. Eventually, their mother was able to join him and brought the two older daughters with her. Sansan, who was barely a year old, was left with an aunt. The family thought the separation would be for a year or two at the most. But after the revolution and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, it was impossible for them to return or for Sansan to leave the country. The family was not reunited until 16 years later.

The story was simple and touching. It’s not anything I hadn’t read before about life in China under Mao Zedong, but I was reminded again of what happens when ideology becomes more important than individual lives and how precious personal liberty is.
Nine Princes in Amber (Amber Chronicles, #1) - Roger Zelazny,  Alessandro Juliani This series is different from anything I've read before. But then I'm not a big fantasy reader, so maybe this is typical of the genre and just unusual to me.

The world of Amber, as the story goes, is the only "true" world. Other places are merely "shadows" that exist in parallel. Amber was once ruled by King Oberon, but he mysteriously disappeared (believed dead) and his sons are now vying and/or plotting with each other to replace him on the throne. The first five books of the Amber Chronicles follow the adventures of Prince Corwin. Nine Princes in Amber opens with Corwin waking up in a hospital in the shadow land called "Earth". He must regain his past memories and find his way back to Amber whilst fending off a myriad of enemies, including some of his siblings.

The books are curiously addicting. The dialog is an odd mixture of old-world formality and modern slang that works with the story and adds a bit of humor. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions narrated by Alessandro Juliani, whose voice and delivery seem ideally suited to the character of Corwin.

Very enjoyable. I’m up to the third book, Sign of the Unicorn, and have the remaining two waiting on deck.
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman An unusual coming-of-age story about a boy who grows up in a graveyard, adopted by ghosts. The audiobook is skillfully and charmingly narrated by Neil Gaiman.
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

It’s difficult to review a book like this. The themes are huge and there’s so much packed into a mere 350 pages.

The story is told in flashback by Charles Ryder, an army officer who comes across the Brideshead estate while moving from one camp to another. He knows it well, having been close to the Marchmain family and having spent much time at their home years before.

Charles meets Sebastian Flyte (second son of Lord Marchmain) while studying at Oxford. The two quickly become inseparable. Sebastian is a charming but tragic figure who resists growing up and drinks heavily to rebel against the expectations of his family, particularly the strong Catholic values of his mother, Lady Marchmain. Charles is eventually introduced to the family and seduced by the life of ease and privilege offered at Brideshead. The closer he gets to the family, the more distant he gets from Sebastian. Eventually, Charles transfers his affections to Sebastian’s sister Julia, but they are not destined for happiness either.

Among other things the story deals with homosexuality, the decadence of the aristocracy, and the death of unspoiled youth, but “grace” is, I think, the central theme of the book. Waugh himself had been converted to Catholicism and his characters struggle against it in vain. Over the years Charles witnesses the decline of the Marchmains, followed by each member’s return to faith in one way or another. In the end even Charles, a determined agnostic, can’t seem to escape it.

This is a book I will read again (probably very soon) for its wit and beautiful prose, as well as its thought-provoking themes.

The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie, Simon Prebble Like most people, I was interested in this book because I’m a fan of Hugh Laurie and I was curious to see if his comic talents extended to his writing.

The Gun Seller is a spoof on the classic spy novel. The protagonist, Thomas Lang, is an ex-military man who gets himself caught up in a conspiracy of murder and espionage because he’s basically a decent guy… and there’s a beautiful girl involved, of course. I doubt that the book would appeal to those not familiar with the spy genre or who don’t appreciate the kind of British humor that’s pointed, sarcastic, and absurd all at the same time. In fact, the tone is exactly what one would expect of Hugh Laurie, famous for the hapless Bertie Wooster and the misanthropic Dr. House. It’s an insistent, over-the-top kind of humor that makes you wince rather than laugh out loud because there’s a seriousness behind it. I think that must be the point of the book, because the plot is a little vague and hard to follow, and the characters are a little too distant for likeability.

But there are some memorable lines. For example:
Because, what does it mean, to say that things aren't going well? Compared to what? You can say: compared to how things were going a couple of hours ago, or a couple of years ago. But that's not the point. If two cars are speeding towards a brick wall with no brakes, and one car hits the wall moments before the other, you can't spend those moments saying that the second car is much better off than the first.

Overall, it was an entertaining audiobook. Simon Prebble is an excellent narrator and delivers the dialogue with the right amount of restraint and dry wit. Through him, I found myself rooting for Thomas Lang. I doubt I would have enjoyed the book as much if I’d read it in print.

Title: The Gun Seller
Author: Hugh Laurie
Narrator: Simon Prebble
Publisher: HighBridge Company
Abridged or Unabridged: Unabridged
Length of Production: 10 hrs, 41 mins
Year of Publication: 2012

I received this audiobook for review from HighBridge Company via Audiobook Jukebox.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel - Carol Rifka Brunt This is really a story about growing up, told through the voice of 14-year-old June Elbus. June is an odd, intelligent, dreamy, socially awkward girl who feels isolated from most people, including her immediate family. Only her Uncle Finn is a kindred spirit and June cherishes and romanticizes their relationship in the way that only a young girl can. When Finn dies of AIDS, events begin to unfold and June discovers that she doesn’t know her uncle (or indeed the rest of her family) nearly as well as she thought. The book explores the complexity of family relationships and how we inadvertently hurt those closest to us through our choices, and sometimes even our sacrifices.
Looking for Alaska - John Green Clearly, I'm too old for this book. I couldn’t find much charm in the coming-of-age-story. The kids just seemed awfully alone and awfully confused. Reading the "lessons learned" at the end of book made my heart ache.
Persuasion - Jane Austen, Gillian Beer I'm glad I read this book now rather than when I was younger. I don't think I would have fully appreciated the romance between Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth if I didn't have the perspective on marriage that I have now. And I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. This is not a playful story like Emma or Pride and Prejudice; the heroine is much wiser and more deserving. This may be my new favorite Jane Austen.
Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14) - Jim Butcher,  James Marsters Holy cow!
The Weight of Silence - Heather Gudenkauf This was a selection from one of my book groups and I was half expecting not to like it. First, the story is told in alternating character voices, a format that’s used so often these days that I’m getting rather tired of it. Second, some of the GR reviews I read complained that there was too much melodrama, something I don’t have much patience with and routinely criticize. But I was pleasantly surprised. The format actually enhances the story and the author reveals the characters’ thoughts as internal dialogues that feel "messy" and genuine. Maybe the story wrapped up a little too neatly, but I was glad to see it end happily.
The Diary of Mattie Spenser - Sandra Dallas The story read very easily and I enjoyed it for the most part, particularly the character of Mattie Spenser. Where the book fell short for me is in the abrupt ending. After building the story to the crisis point in Mattie's marriage, the author leaves it to our imaginations to figure out how it all worked out in the end. In doing that, I think she missed an opportunity to show us exactly how strong Mattie really was. In other words, what was the point of telling the story? I don't need Sandra Dallas to show me that women in Mattie's time had difficult lives and dealt with things we modern women would never accept. That's a given. What's more interesting is how Mattie survived - managing not only to overcome disappointment and heartache, but to achieve happiness as well. It would have taken great strength of character in a world where women were at a perpetual disadvantage. That's the story I was hoping for.
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley Second book featuring child-detective Flavia de Luce. I suspect I'm one of the few who doesn't find this character endearing. She's annoying, amoral, and far too precocious for belief. I did enjoy this story more than the first, though.

Thud! (Discworld Series)

Thud! - Terry Pratchett, Stephen Briggs The first of the Sam Vimes stories I've read. It was enjoyable overall, but I'm thinking I should have started at the beginning with Guards! Guards! to get a better feel for the city watch characters.