Book – Jon Ronson started out investigating a hoax being played on a group of neurologists, but ends up exploring the depths of what he calls the “madness industry.” A top psychologist teaches him how to recognize the signs of psychopathy in others, and he sets out to explore his new knowledge in the corridors of power.
This a was fun, funny, casual read. And therein lies the problem: I felt that the fun, funny parts of the book were distracting severely from the actual serious parts of the book. While the implications of psychopathy as a category (that is, deciding it’s a real thing and treating psychopaths as people different from the rest of humanity) range from interesting to downright scary, Ronson kind of mentions this in passing and then goes on to spend quite a lot of time with the weirdest people possible, from the criminal who insists he can’t be a psychopath to the psychiatrist who insists that that insistence proves that he is. (Confused yet?)
Maybe I’m just weird in not liking nonfiction that doesn’t seem to teach you anything. But Ronson seems to me to have caught the “objective journalism” disease – he doesn’t give away any opinions on anything. No opinions other than “these guys are weird,” that is, which is pretty much the only opinion I don’t like my authors to have. Okay, they’re weird, but nobody ever thinks of themselves as irredeemably weird, so what else is going on here? Ronson never gets to the what else.
Book – A fabulous introduction to the Cynster world and those who live in it. By Winter’s Light is the story of Daniel and Claire, a tutor and a governess for the next generation of Cynsters. Their romance is overseen and manipulated by their charges amidst a family holiday season in Scotland. With her usual deft style, Stephanie Laurens weaves a fun holiday tale that gives you insight into the personalities and abilities of the up and coming generation. I was delighted by the interactions between the cousins and really pleased with the romance that was built between Daniel and Claire. Both storylines meshed well and it was neat to see the older generation in love and happy all around.
This is the 21st book in the Cynster Saga, but they can all be read as stand-alones. I just enjoy revisiting ‘old friends’ as I continue to read about the exploits that only Cynsters seem to have and revel in.
Book – Emily Ruff, sixteen-year-old street hustler, is recruited by mysterious besuited operatives into an elite Virginia boarding school with an unusual mission. A decade later, unremarkable Wil Parke is kidnapped in a Portland airport by a man who, contrary to all appearances, claims to be saving Wil’s life. And somewhere in-between and on the other side of the world, the two will meet at the center of an unprecedented cataclysm that will destroy the entire town of Broken Hill, Australia–an event caused by nothing more or less than one very deadly word.
Lexicon is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but will appeal to fans of both. The story centers around the Poets, an organization that uses neuro-linguistic programming–technology which the text itself admits is indistinguishable from magic words–to hack the human brain and control the behavior of others. The fast-paced, exhilarating plot is rounded out with just the right amount of romance. The villain is suitably loathsome, the heroes are stalwart and clever, but all of the characters are believable and well-rounded, with faults to match their virtues. While fans of dystopian novels with gutsy heroines will love Emily, the worldbuilding in Lexicon is pleasingly distinct from the increasingly overdone post-apocalyptic genre. In fact, much of the fascination of the story lies in just how believable it can be. Overall, Lexicon is a deeply satisfying, ready-for-the-big-screen thriller.
Book – Bridget used to work as a lawyer; now she stays at home with baby Julia while her computer-programmer husband Mark supports their little family. Bridget and Julia aren’t alone in the house while he’s gone, though. There’s a shadowy figure, a ghost that creeps through the rooms. Mark can’t see the ghost, but Bridget is all too sure it’s real.
A hundred years ago, Rebecca is the daughter of a doctor, and although she’s unsure she chooses to marry a farmer, an old friend, and become a farm wife. She struggles with her new life and fights with her husband almost constantly. Their life together may be interesting, but it’s anything but happy.
While alternating between the stories of Bridget and Rebecca gives some hints about the nature of the ghost that haunts Bridget, it remains a little unclear just what the connection between the two women really is. I found I enjoyed that; I like a little mystery with my scariness. I also liked that neither of the two main characters were really, well, nice. Rebecca is profoundly selfish, while Bridget can’t stop herself from looking down on her friends. That doesn’t mean they aren’t likeable, though – Bridget’s devotion to her daughter is extremely moving, and Rebecca is caught in an impossible situation that’s hard not to empathize with. I was enthralled by both of their stories, and I only wish I could have learned a little bit more about them.
Book – What do Sokrates, the god Apollo, a nineteenth-century spinster, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a ninth-century Libyan slave, Giovanni Mirandola, and an array of twenty-first century robots have in common? They’re all inhabitants of The Just City, Plato’s thought experiment made manifest. Oh, and less than half of them are there of their own free will.
After being spurned by Daphne, Apollo decides to spend some time as a human in an attempt to understand “volition and equal significance,” and his sister Athene suggests that the best place to do so would be in her city. She’s creating Plato’s Republic and filling it with people who prayed to her and wished to live there. Like any utopia, the problems start piling up quickly. Plato thought you could build a civilization starting with ten-year-old children, so they buy more than ten thousand of them out of slavery, even though some of the Masters of the City worry that buying from slavers will make their city unjust before it even begins. Their hard labor is done by robots brought by Athene out of the future, but when Sokrates strikes up a conversation with one it begins to look as though the City has been relying on slavery after all. And of course everyone comes with the flaws of their own histories as well, because Plato was wrong, and a ten-year-old child is not a blank slate.
Fair warning: this book is in large part about consent, and there are several scenes depicting consent and its absence in sexual contexts. But it’s a careful, detailed exploration, tying together many different ideas about free will, virtue, and good intentions. Anyone who’s ever wished for a life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence should find this book fascinating.
Graphic Novel – Agatha Clay is a favorite student of Professor Beetle, the Spark (or Mad Scientist) who runs Beetleburg on behalf of the Baron Klaus Wolfenbach. Agatha is pretty sure she’s no Spark herself – until the day Professor Beetle is accidentally killed when he throws a bomb at the Baron’s son Gilgamesh. Agatha’s life is thrown into chaos when she’s held captive on the Baron’s airship Castle Wolfenbach, a hostage against the good behavior of Moloch von Zinzer, who everyone but Gil believes is the Spark behind the devices Agatha has been building in her sleep. And then there’s the infectious Slaver Wasps, the odd behavior of the Jägermonsters, Gilgamesh’s inconvenient crush, and the bossy and imperious Emperor of All Cats…
Girl Genius is a long-running webcomic, also available in print volumes, whose tagline is “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” And there’s certainly plenty of all three. Agatha is the best kind of adventure hero – she always runs toward the sound of gunfire. She’s smarter and more capable than she thinks she is, but she gains confidence as the series goes on. My favorite characters, though, are the Jägermonsters, half-human monsters with ridiculous German accents who like fighting, pretty girls, and hats. (“You know how dose plans alvays end. The dirigible is in flames, everybody’s dead, an’ you’ve lost your hat.”) It’s a never-ending series of wacky fun, not to be taken too seriously at all. The Library owns the first ten volumes in print – start with Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank.
Book – To her friends and classmates Karou appears to be an ordinary foreign exchange student studying art in the timeless city of Prague. She has typical relationship troubles and is dealing with the disappointment of a cheating ex-boyfriend. However, it becomes apparent how extraordinary she is when she fends off the continued advances of her ‘ex’ armed only with wishes.Then she is summoned on a clandestine mission of….tooth collecting? Karou’s true identity is a mystery hidden even from herself, until she meets a winged echo from her past.
This book was listed among the YALSA top ten best fiction titles for young adults in 2012. The audiobook was nominated for several Audie Awards, and the movie rights have been sold to Universal Pictures. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a fast paced trilogy that takes on a much darker tone with the second book Days of Blood and Starlight. Taylor is thoughtful about the impacts of war on her characters and the worlds she has created. This world-building trilogy might appeal to fans of Greek mythology and stories about angels such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series.
Book – William Talmadge is a lonely orchardist tending acreages of apricots and apples at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. His life is forever changed when two pregnant girls decide to take refuge on his property. He feels protective of these young women, since he is still haunted by his sister’s disappearance 50 years ago when she was a teenager. He slowly builds trust and a relationship with sisters Della and Jane, but tragic consequences leave him unexpectedly caring for Jane’s baby as she flees and tries to confront and take revenge on the ghost of her past. Talmadge is heartsick at her leaving and works at her redemption as he strives to protect her from her from the psychological traumas she had suffered. Set in the early 20th century this story gives a great insight into the hardships and lawlessness of the old West. Beautifully written, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin explores the complexity of human nature. This book has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus and is a great choice for book groups.
Book – Touted as a real-life Indiana Jones story, The Lost City of Z tells the adventures of Percy Fawcett. The last of the ‘amateur’ adventurers, Colonel Fawcett helped explore the Amazon and was instrumental in mapping the borders of Brazil and Argentina at the request of the Royal Geographic Society. He is most well-known for his exhaustive search for the ‘Lost City of Z,’ a city that he was convinced existed in the depths of the Amazon jungle. His expedition disappeared in 1925 and no verified account of what actually did happen exists. At least one hundred people have died in search of both the city and the fate of Fawcett’s party.
In addition to the story of what happened in Fawcett’s life, The Lost City of Z also tells the story of a writer in search of a story and how easily you can get caught up in a legend. David Grann undertook a trek of his own into the false paradise that is the Amazonian jungle and came out with a new understanding of what it meant to be an explorer in the golden era.
This book was a fascinating look at the Amazon through the eyes of anthropologists, archaeologists, and adventurers. The mystery still lingers and this book made me research so many things. I still want to know more about the events that led to the disappearance of Fawcett’s party and the subsequent discoveries made. This will be hours and hours of interesting reads.
I listened to this book and while the narrator had a dry almost monotone style, it worked for the topic.
Book – Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women. Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics. As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names. Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy. Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship. When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.
Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page. Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down. Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read. There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.