slim volume serves as an excellent introduction to the career and
character of our 33rd president, and it’s perfect for
anyone who doesn't want to tackle David McCullough's 1,100 page,
Pulitzer-prize winning Truman. By frequently quoting
correspondence between Truman and his wife Bess, from whom he was
parted often and for long periods, Donald keeps this book intimate
and familiar. Along with covering his early life and two terms as
president, the book delves into the primary contradiction of
Truman's life: that, despite owing the start of his political
career to the corrupt machine politics of the time, he went on to
make his mark in the Senate by fighting corruption and fraud. And,
although others benefited personally from the abuse of power, Truman
himself maintained his integrity, no matter what the cost.
“Everybody in Jackson County got rich but me,” he wrote to his wife.
“But I'm glad I can sleep well.” Donald isn't overly-psychological
in her analysis, yet by drawing on the recently released “Pickwick
Papers”—a diary Truman wrote while staying at the Pickwick hotel in
Kansas City, where he frequently went to rest from spells of mental
exhaustion brought on by the conflict of being an “honest man in a
den of thieves”—she concludes that his fundamental character trait
was loyalty. So much so that he brewed up controversy when he was
vice president by attending the funeral of his former political
“boss,” convicted felon Tom Pendergast. Full chapters are devoted to
his most critical moves as president. Truman was a great student of
the Civil War, and knew that even one fully engaged battle could
claim tens of thousands of lives. That informed his decision to drop
the atomic bomb and sacrifice two cities in order to save millions
of lives that would have been lost in an Allied land invasion of
Japan. His leadership was not always appreciated at home, as when he
temporarily nationalized the striking steel mills rather than let
them close, threatening to harm production needed for the Korean
Conflict. For Truman that was part and parcel of his character, his
leadership skills having been honed in World War I, where as an
artillery regiment commander, he was known as a man who “means
business” and who got things done.
Magician, social commentator, and avowed atheist Penn Jillette (of
Penn and Teller) turns to the topic of holidays—sort of. Jillette
starts off by comparing and contrasting Handel's “Joy to the World”
and Isaac Hayes' “Theme from Shaft” and discussing the
“joyless” nature of holidays, which for him are “full of North
Korea.” Plenty of praise, but not joy. For atheists, he argues,
“everything in the world is enough and every day is holy.” Although
he occasionally returns to this theme, mostly the book uses the
conceit of holidays as a launch pad for Jillette to tell tales of
the crazy things that have happened during his decades-long career
with Teller, and of his life in general. Like his other books and
podcasts, the results are at once insightful, funny, and irreverent
(in both the common and literal senses of the word). Some of these
are not exactly “holy days.” His commentary on the 4th of
July tells the evolution of P&T's routine where they burn an America
flag. Canadian Thanksgiving becomes an extended commentary on the
proper use and usefulness of ethnic insults and offensive language
in general. For Martin Luther King Day, Jillette delivers a
fascinating and well-argued analysis of Dr. King's “I Have A Dream”
speech, which, though filled with Biblical imagery, “backs off” on
the topic of God, thus making it inclusive rather than exclusive.
Groundhog Day is an essay on his craft. Starting with why, even when
Jillette was merely a street magician, he always wore a suit (most
street performers look like they need the money, he got money
because he looked like he deserved it), Jillette segues into how
doing the same thing on stage repeatedly is not boring. Repetition
hones skill. Over the years, he has learned to convey the same thing
with a small head move that used to take a full turn of the body.
“It takes so little, but it takes time to get that little.”
hard to believe that one of my favorite comic strips, Baby Blues,
debuted with Darryl and Wanda MacPherson’s birth of their daughter,
Zoe, on January 7, 1990. Over two decades later, the clan has grown
to a son, Hammie, and another baby, Wren. The humor comes from the
real life struggles that every parent faces, both good and bad.
Being a parent myself, I regularly laugh at the strip, and soon
realize I had experienced a similar circumstance in my household.
beauty of this treasury is that not only have the creators of the
strip picked out their favorites from 20 years of material, they
also reflect on the strips, revealing new insight and how much their
own lives provide the comedy. The hardcover layout makes this the
perfect gift for either the parent or comic strip fan in your life.
This massive, full-color, hardcover traces the history of the
Star Trek franchise from before the original series to the J.J.
Abrams reboot and beyond. It's the beyond that separates this book
from the many Trek surveys that have already appeared over
the years. Along with covering the individual series, Greenberger
(himself a Trek novelist and former editor at DC Comics)
branches out to include publications, merchandizing, and fan
activity. Consequently, the book is lavishly illustrated with candid
snaps from conventions; book, magazine, and record covers; and
images not only of the more familiar toys and models, but rarities
like cereal boxes and perfume. Because the book is unauthorized,
it's free to discuss behind-the-scenes conflicts such as the twisty
development of William Shatner's Star Trek V and the many
disappointments of Enterprise. Greenberger also details
projects that never came to fruition, like 1970s films that were
scrapped in favor of a revival TV series, Star Trek: Phase II,
which was, in turn, scrapped in favor of the first motion picture.
This book captures the complete experience, as fans—the book's
target audience, after all—might have lived it. The result is a
must-have, multi-generational scrapbook of all things Trek.
is a novel based on a story and lyrics by Neil Peart, drummer of
rock trio Rush, tying into their new concept album of the same name.
In order to judge the novel on its own merits, I avoided listening
to the album. The book’s story is likable enough, but thinly plotted
and missing a lot of the world-building details expected in novels.
Owen Hardy is a country boy, expected to take over his father’s
apple orchard, marry his sweetheart, and settle into life in little
Barrel Arbor, where nothing much every happens. Nothing much ever
happens in the entire land of Albion, as its ruler, the Watchmaker,
runs everything to a schedule. Hardy, however, is a dreamer looking
for a little excitement. He gets more than he bargained for when, on
a whim, he catches a steamliner into Crown City and finds himself in
a power struggle between the Watchmaker and public enemy number one,
While a lyric can get away with pat names like “the Anarchist” or
“the Watchmaker,” a novel requires more meat on the bones. Lyrics
need such verbal shortcuts because of the limited time, but casually
dropping storied place names like Albion or Atlantis into a novel
leaves the reader wanting to know how it all fits together. Such
details are few and far between in Clockwork Angels, so it
ends up reading more like a fairy tale, where everything is “just
so,” than a steampunk novel.
Fans of Rush will likely enjoy this expanded version of the concept
album, but if you’re looking for a steampunk novel this is more of a
snack than a meal.
“Fobbits” are the U.S. Army desk jockeys stationed at Forward
Operating Base Triumph, one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces and
hunting preserves in Baghdad. Unlike the soldiers proper, who mostly
work outside the concrete and barbed wire, the Fobbits enjoy the
luxuries of air conditioning, a PX with its own Burger King and
Starbucks, and time to kill. Set in the summer of 2005, the novel
follows several Fobbits, but most of the attention centers on the
ill-fated Captain Abe Shrinkle. Shrinkle himself is simply
incompetent in the field, but back at the FOB he shrewdly exploits
the desire of folks back home to do “something that mattered” by
putting his name on every CARE package request web site he can find
and hoarding the loot. He also adopts a second identity in order to
party with the Australian army at their pool, complete with
unlimited Foster's lager and sunbathing female soldiers from Sydney.
The purely reactive nature of the Fobbits’ jobs makes the war feel
like an unending game of Whac-A-Mole, as they deal with problem
after problem, popping up out of nowhere, day after day. We see life
on patrol where every trip contains the danger of a roadside bomb or
indigenous sniper, but for the main characters, the most action they
see are the continual revisions of a press release (“Somewhere in
Oregon, a tree whimpered.”). This is a novel filled with very dark
humor, and it doesn't shy away from occasional descriptions of the
horrors of war and what it can do to the human body.
Gaia Lafayette was unaware of the man out in the dark, in the
station wagon, who had come to kill her.
There is simply not a better crime writer alive today than Peter
James and all his considerable skills are firmly on display in his
latest mystery Not Dead Yet, again featuring Detective
Superintendent Roy Grace of Scotland Yard. But don’t let the
impressive moniker fool you. James’ latest has a particularly
American feel to it, in large part because its heroine, actress Gaia
Lafayette has already escaped one attempt on her life when she
arrives in Brighton to shoot her next movie. It’s here that Not
Dead Yet becomes a riveting potboiler that pits Grace against an
obsessive fan who’s got Gaia kind of literally in his crosshairs.
In that respect, the book is reminiscent of the underrated Kevin
Costner film The Bodyguard. And Not Dead Yet has a
pace to match that as well as more typically “American” thrillers,
as if Gaia brought that influence with her from Hollywood. Her
issues are pretty much the last thing Grace needs, especially in
view of the personal baggage he’s carrying that gets heavier with
each book. But Not Dead Yet is the best entry in the series so far
and the best mystery of the year hands down.
The economic slump has hit Clay Jannon. Formerly the
webmaster/marketing director/typeface designer for failed start-up
NewBagel, he now works the night shift at the titular bookstore in a
dicey part of San Francisco. Almost nobody ever comes in to shop.
Instead, Clay's primary duty is as keeper of the Waybacklist, a
lending library of ancient tomes that eccentric readers borrow and
return in the middle of the night. To pass the time, he writes a
program to graph the locations and borrowing patterns of the books.
Joined by “supercute hacker girl” Kat, a Google employee (Google
gets so many plugs in this book, you'd think Sloan is hoping to get
hired, but these and other Bay Area references lend a healthy
verisimilitude), he finds that the patterns form a face. When his
boss, the mysterious Mr. Penumbra, disappears shortly thereafter,
Clay is well into a personal quest to unlock an ancient secret.
While a key dramatic scene features an army of Googlers keyboarding
away at Google HQ, and the denouement is a PowerPoint presentation,
the world of 15th century printer and font-designer Aldus
Manutius is also integral. Here cutting-edge information processing
joins forces with its very old school equivalent for a celebration
of centuries of geekdom and what technology can accomplish. Note:
the dust jacket of this book actually glows in the dark.
A Department of Homeland Security agent stumbles into a conspiracy,
and puts his life, and a local sheriff’s in jeopardy in Robinson’s
latest page-turner. Jon Hudson receives a call to investigate a
Bigfoot sighting. He thinks it’s a crank call, but heads out and
finds a supposedly abandoned military base. When the sheriff,
Ashley Collins, investigates with him, they don’t find a Sasquatch,
but they do find a lab that appears to be conducting secret
experiments. A wealthy man will stop at nothing to get a heart
transplant, even if it means murder. Unfortunately for everyone,
the experiments unleash a horror unlike anything they have ever
Robinson provides a twist on a classic monster tale, and the result
is a fun thrill ride. He is able to provide the balance between
sympathetic characters and beast carnage. Fans of monster movies
from the 50’s will want to read this for sure.
Lady Georgiana Rannoch—twenty-something, still single, and 35th in
line for the British throne—returns in her sixth mystery. It's
Christmas of 1933 and the perpetually hard-up Georgiana has taken a
paid position as “social hostess” over the holidays. She's to lend
an air of impeccable class to a country house party where a dozen
guests are paying to experience a proper English Christmas. She's
barely arrived when a wave of mysterious deaths hit the village.
They look like accidents, but locals are more inclined to blame them
on the curse put on the village by a witch burned at the stake two
centuries ago. As Georgiana investigates, the book takes readers
through the coziest of mysteries. From Gorzley Hall, where it takes
four men to put up the Christmas tree and the sideboards groan under
the weight of silver tureens loaded with kidneys, bacon, and mice
pies, to talk of pantomimes and the Yule log, the setting is
quintessentially Christmas and charming. Will there finally be
romance between Georgiana and her on-again-off-again boyfriend? Is
Colonel Rathbone really in India's Bengal Lancers regiment? Is the
village's “wild woman,” Sal, bearing a grudge because she's
descended from the witch? This is the perfect holiday, Anglophilic
treat giving us, as one character puts it “Ye Olde English Christmas
with ye olde aristocratic family”. . . plus murder.
“I’m on an emergency mission of the highest priority,” FBI Special
Agent Aloysius Pendergast tells a Georgia highway patrolman who has
the misfortune of pulling him over.
He is indeed, likely the biggest mission of his career in Doug
Preston and Lincoln Child’s spectacular Two Graves. The
great thing about their latest is that it blends the mystery and
intrigue from earlier entries in the series with the mysticism and
blisteringly high stakes of the earlier titles that made them go-to
names in thriller fiction.
The last few books have pretty much been dominated by Pendergast’s
search for his missing, perhaps murdered, wife and/or the
perpetrators behind the crime. When Two Graves opens, that
obsession remains but it’s swiftly joined by an equally perplexing
and interconnected plot involving multiple murders at the hands of a
mysterious boy with apparent supernatural powers. The NYPD turns to
the ever-reliable Pendergast for help and the result is a dizzying,
cross-continent chase leading ultimately to the jungles of South
America where terrible truths both old and new await.
Unquestionably the best paced and most satisfying entry in the
series so far, Two Graves clicks on every level, from
character study of a truly tortured soul to an eerie,
impossible-to-put-down classical tale of good versus evil.
Pendergast remains the closest thing contemporary pop fiction has to
Sherlock Holmes and his latest adventure is not to be missed.
This collection of a dozen science fiction stories by the
award-winning Doyle has something for everyone. “The Wizard of
Macataw” is set in both 1899 and 1979 (as well as bits beyond) and
hints at the secret origins of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. The story
stands alone for readers who might only be familiar with the 1939
film, but for those who know the Oz canon, this is a must-read. “A
Sense of Closure” looks at a future where the population is split
into the “Youngers,” who never age, and the “Old Ones” who did not
benefit from genetic manipulation and are now aging and dying. A
police procedural, it centers on the mandatory investigation of all
deaths (“closures”), the rarity of which has wrought new societal
assumptions and complications. “Hooking Up” reminds us that some
things never change. In the high school of the future,
digitalization means that even after the pretty girls have left the
room, their avatars can still hang around to mock you, and jerks can
“attack” you at the school dance with weapons that are virtual, but
still hurt. Artificial intelligence assistants / implants and worlds
packed with ads fill these stories. As Doyle says in one story’s
introduction, some of his tales are “science fictional attempts to
find good jobs for the insane.” The spy / hooker / artist
protagonist of “Crossing Borders” is at best a sociopath, but
nonetheless good at all her jobs. Some stories just skirt the
speculative world. “The Floating Otherworld” is a kaleidoscopic trip
through Japan’s Bon Festival—a sort of Halloween / Día de los
Muertos, and “Sea and Stars” is about Brazilian spiritualism. My
personal favorite, “Noise Man” follows the career of a young1930s
radio enthusiast as he becomes part of the search for
extraterrestrial intelligence. “The Garuda Bird” deconstructs Indian
myths and wraps them up again Bollywood-style.