Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanks for the Money by Joel McHale

  • THE BOOK
    • Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be by Joel McHale
    • Published October 25, 2016
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Joel McHale, actor and comedian, has written a sarcastic/satirical memoir and self-help book.
    • There are lots of anecdotes that are true and there are several that aren't. It isn't always easy to figure out which is which.
    • He has starred in the TV shows "Community", "The Soup", and "The Great Indoors" and has been in a handful of films.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I was an avid "Community" fan and watched the last several years of "The Soup" so I was familiar with his work.
      • "The Soup" is especially notable for it gave me the only exposure I had to shows like "Keeping Up with the Kardashians", "The Real Housewives of [your town here]", "The Bachelor/ette", "Hoarders" and especially, "Gold Rush Alaska". 
    • This was cute and a quick read. I enjoyed the memoir portion more than the self-help portion.
      • My favorite thing --- because I truly laughed out loud at it --- was when he began by referring to his two sons as "Boy 1" and "Other Boy". My husband and I have always referred to our son as "The Boy" and I have a feeling we might very well have used "Other Boy" had we had another son.
    • The illustrations and photos are amusing and add to the overall amusement of the book.
    • He actually expounds on the difficulty of working with Chevy Chase on "Community". Many memoirists tend to shy away from this type of detail so it was interesting to see it in here.
      • It would have been nice, as a fan of the show, to have even more "Community" anecdotes, even though they may not be scandalous as the Chevy stories. Maybe next book.
    • Recommended for fans of Joel McHale and people who enjoy celebrity books. You'll recognize the tropes he makes fun of, including the Scientology chapter.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

  • THE BOOK
    • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
    • Published July 26, 2016
    • Other works by author include:
      • Good Behavior (TV adaptation started November 15 and stars Michelle Dockery)
      • The Wayward Pines series (also a TV series)
      • The Andrew Z. Thomas/Luther Kite series

  • THE PREMISE
    • Jason Dessen, physics professor for a minor college, happily married husband to Daniela and father to teen son Charlie, is kidnapped by a masked man. Jason gets knocked out and wakes up in a world where his wife is not his wife and his son has never been born and where he is a brilliant physicist who might have figured out the impossible.
    • He goes on the run to figure out what happened to him and to try to return to his life.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This vaguely reminded me of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode called "Parallels" where Worf keeps shifting into different universes.
    • I liked it and think it would make a good TV series like some of the author's other works.
    • A couple of plot points bothered me. For example, a woman who helps him in his quest is a huge part of the story and then she's just...not. 
    • It has a good ending. This is huge in the time of so many good books with terrible endings out there.
    • I hadn't heard of the author before seeing this book but I may need to check out some of his other works.
    • Recommended for science fiction readers and those who enjoy a fast-paced adventure story.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Shady Characters by Keith Houston

  • THE BOOK
    • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston
    • Published September 24, 2013
    • One other book by author: The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time (my review here)

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author shares the history and usage of a selection of punctuation marks and other symbols.
    • The list: 
      • Pilcrow ¶
      • Interrobang ‽
      • Octothorpe #
      • Ampersand &
      • The "at" symbol @
      • Asterisk *
      • Dagger †
      • Hyphen ‐
      • Dash -
      • Manicule ☞
      • Quotation Marks " "
      • Symbols for irony and sarcasm ;)

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I LOVED this book! I have been boring any family member within reach about it.
    • The story of the pilcrow is this: the ancient Greeks, Romans and other early writers did not put spaces between words when they wrote.
      • This is called scriptio continua in Latin.
        • Itisdifficulttoimaginetryingtoreadsomethingtodaythathasnopunctuation
      • When ancient scribes wrote things down they didn't include a symbol for something not heard!
        • As an example, if you hear someone speaking a language you don't know, doesn't it seem as if there are no breaks between words? To one's ear it sounds all run together. We wouldn't know where to put breaks or spaces because we wouldn't hear them even though they are there.
        • Because people didn't read in those days so much as recite there was a need for marks to indicate pauses, stops and inflection for the orators. From these marks rose our modern punctuation.
        • The first marks were three dots. One was the familiar period. The other two were placed in the middle of the line and at the top of the line (sorry, can't make those two; I tried!).
          • These dots were called, respectively, the komma, periodos and kolon. Sound familiar?
      • To indicate new topics or theses they began using a "K", short for "kaput" which meant head. As language changed from Greek to Latin the K became a "C" for "capitulum" meaning "little head". 
        • In the days of fancy lettering of the monasteries a vertical line or two were added and the mark we know today arrived.
        • Capitulum was eventually the root of the word "chapter".
        • Thus was the pilcrow created! Ad then usurped by indenting!
        • From Greek through Middle English the name kind of went like this: paragraphos to paragraphe to pelagraphe to pelagreffe to pylcrafte to pilcrow.
        • And the pilcrow is now usually used by editors but I did notice an instance in the last Entertainment Weekly. An article about the new movie "Beauty and the beast" had a bunch of text formatted together and it used a pilcrow to indicate a paragraph break in the middle of the it! The pilcrow lives!
      • And this was just from the first chapter!
    • Hyphens and dashes aren't the same thing. There are hyphens, hyphen-minuses, minus signs for math, dashes, em dashes, en dashes, and figure dashes. 
      • All different in usage but basically the same to our ignorant eyes! Much of this is because the modern typewriter --- and then the keyboard --- generally only include one version of a dash/hyphen.
    • Ampersands are stylized representation of "et" which means "and" (still does in modern French).
      • The name is a corruption of "and per se and" (per se means "by itself") because at one time people recited the alphabet ending with "...x, y, z and per se and".
    • Some symbols don't make or or catch on. Symbols to indicate sarcasm and the interrobang are two of those. 
      • The interrobang is an invention of the 1960s. It is a combination question mark/exclamation point. 
        • Are you kidding me‽
        • Are you kidding me?!
        • We seem to do fine with using them separately.
    • Some symbols took on new life with the rise of the Internet: # and @.
    • The author has a blog and I started following it last week just as he posted an entry about how he was taking a couple of months off because he and his wife just had their first child!
    • Recommended for punctuation nuts like me and any readers interested in a history of several punctuation and symbols.
    • Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hell Bay by Will Thomas

  • THE BOOK
    • Hell Bay, a Barker & Llewelyn Mystery by Will Thomas
    • Published October 25, 2016
    • Other works by author include the first 7 books in the Barker & Llewelyn series of mysteries, all of which I've read.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn (the narrator) are requested to provide security for a meeting between Lord Hargrave and the French ambassador on a private island off the coast of England in 1889. The meeting occurs under the guise of a house party for the week.
    • Once the visitors arrive on the island two murders occur: Lord Hargrave and the French ambassador's head of security. The boat has been sent away, the signal flagpost has been destroyed and the island's lighthouse has been sabotaged.
    • Meanwhile, Cyrus's special lady friend is one of the guests. He needs to protect her too but she proves resourceful in her own right.
    • Can Cyrus Barker and his trusty assistant figure out who the murder is and why? You bet!

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • For the last book in the series I had put in a special request to the library which only has books 1 to 3 in the series. I was excited to see that book 8 appeared as soon as it was published. 
    • I just really like this series. It generally takes place in 1880s London. This volume is a bit of a departure, taking place on a distant private island in the Scillies.
    • I had read somewhere that this book would be a kind of Agatha Christie/And Then There Were None homage. 
      • While both take place on a secluded island and murders occur, the differences are enough to make that comparison moot. 
      • Everyone on the island thinks they are at risk of death but the killer has a specific agenda rather than out to murder everyone.
    • It was nice getting to know Cyrus Barker's lady friend better as she has been a fleeting presence in past books.
    • The downstairs staff play a part too as a butler, a cook, housemaids, footmen and valets make appearnaces.
      • I thank "Downton Abbey" for teaching me the rules of how the servant class is structured!
    • One odd thing that I don't remember from past books is that Thomas Llewelyn makes comments indicating he is writing about this adventure at some point in the 1900s, not 1889. 
      • No big deal but I wonder what it means overall. I often wonder if mystery series writers have a grand plan to finish a character's story or if they just write until they are dead.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy mysteries.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Mr. Bass's Planetoid by Eleanor Cameron

  • THE BOOK
    • Mr. Bass's Planetoid by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published 1958
    • Other books by the author include 4 other Mushroom Planet books and many other books for children.
    • Book 1: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (review here)
    • Book 2: Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet (review here)

  • THE PREMISE
    • Mr. Prewytt Brumblydge has invented the Brumblitron and it may destroy Earth.
    • Dr. Frobisher needs help finding Brumblydge. Mr. Tyco Bass, a long-time friend of Dr. Frobisher's, is still off traveling the Universe and can't help, and that causes David and Chuck make plans to search for Mr. Brumblydge from a small Earth-orbiting rock named Lepton. Then they plan to stop him and his dangerous weapon.
    • We are introduced to "infragreen" technology and the (fictional) element Brumblium.
    • SPOILER: It's not a weapon after all! It's a device to convert saltwater to fresh water. Oops!

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Another cute story with David and Chuck and their handy-dandy rocket.
    • My only complaint was that Dr. Frobisher, the boss of Horatio Peabody in the last book, never once mentions his erstwhile assistant.
      • I understand this as these stories need to be standalone volumes with minimal reference to prior books but I wanted to know if Dr. Frobisher sacked Mr. Peabody!
    • I still love how the adults just go with the flow and allow the boys to travel into space.
    • Two more books to go!
    • Recommended for science fiction readers of middle school age and up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron

  • THE BOOK
    • Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published 1956
    • Other works by author include many children's books including the 5 volume Mushroom Planet books.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Protagonists David and Chuck have inherited the use of Tyco Bass's house and contents after the events of the 1st book in the series, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (see my entry here). It is clear that Mr. Bass isn't dead; he's just gone traveling for a while.
    • The boys start up a club for young scientists and space enthusiasts like themselves.
      • When they call an esteemed astronomer to give a talk they reach his unscrupulous assistant instead. 
      • The assistant is named Horatio Peabody. A great name for the bad guy!
    • Mr. Bass's cousin Theo comes to visit and the boys again plan a trip to the Mushroom Planet which is located about 50,000 miles above Earth's orbit and unseen by human telescopes. Mr. Bass had a special filter to see it.
      • Horatio Peabody stows aboard the rocket and has dreams of exploiting the Mushroom Planet for his own personal gain and glory.
    • All ends well, except maybe for Horatio.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I am in process of reading this series of books. Luckily my library has copies of all five books as they have been in print since the 1950s and 1960s.
    • I love the fact that David's parents and Chuck's grandfather are so supportive of the boys' adventures, even seeing them off as they take off into space for this second trip.
    • I could personally wish for a girl adventurer joining the boys but alas, the 1950s were a different time. 
    • The story itself is fun and while you know going in that Horatio will get his comeuppance, the suspense comes in finding out exactly how it will happen.
    • On to book 3!
    • Recommended for science fiction readers, especially those in middle school.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

  • THE BOOK
    • Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • Published August 2, 2011
    • Second book in the Seeds of America trilogy
      • See book 1 entry, Chains, here.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The first book took palce in New York City beginning in 1776 and is narrated by Isabel, a 13-year-old slave girl, owned by Tories, those loyal to the King of England. She becomes friends with a boy named Curzon, who is 15 and also a slave but to a man on the side of the rebellion.
      • Curzon is imprisoned with the rebel soldiers after the loyalists retake New York City. Isabel saves Curzon's life and also gets him out of jail so both can escape to New Jersey across the river.
    • This book is told from Curzon's point of view as this book takes place about 9 months after the first one. Isabel has run off to search for her missing sister and Curzon has joined the rebel army. He ends up at Valley Forge when conditions were at their worst.
    • Then his owner shows up one day in the spring, sees Curzon and re-enslaves him.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I remarked in my entry for Chains that these books, despite their Young Adult status, came out too far apart.
      • It turns out that the author was caretaker of her mother before she died, and then the author herself got sick for over a year. By the time that she was on the mend she needed to take care of her dad before he died. So sad.
      • This is why the 3rd book came out over 5 years later. 
    • In this book you learn about the conditions at Valley Forge. The main characters are fictional but they interact with real people.
      • Curzon meets a Dutch-speaking slave couple named the Baumfrees. They would eventually have a daughter named Belle who grew up to be Sojourner Truth, a former slave and abolitionist activist.
    • For a while the only food was a "cake" made with flour and water cooked on a hot stone. That's it. Meanwhile the men still needed to chop down trees and build the cabins, among other duties. Their clothes and shoes were rags or non-existent.
      • Curzon makes friends among the soldiers in his unit and one bad enemy.
    • SPOILERS: Curzon's former master refuses to honor their original agreement and re-enslaves him and you get to see that side of the story too. Isabel shows up too, having not gotten far when she ran away from Curzon.
    • I am looking forward to the conclusion of the story in the final book, Ashes, which I just picked up from the library.
    • Recommended for American history buffs and readers who enjoy Young Adult series.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

  • THE BOOK
    • Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
    • Published July 5, 2016
    • Other works by author include the books Snobs and Past Imperfect, the screenplay for the film "Gosford Park" and the TV series "Downton Abbey".

  • THE PREMISE
    • At the great ball of the Duchess of Richmond's home which occurred in June 1815 the night before the Battle of Waterloo, a nouveau riche family's fate is inextricably entwined with that of an aristocratic family.
    • After a brief scene at this ball the story shifts almost 30 years ahead to the early 1840s where the rest of the story takes place.
    • The scions of the two families are threatened by the appearance of a young man named Charles Pope, raised outside of London by his minister father and his wife.
    • Belgravia is a fancy section of London with ritzy homes.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • According to the book blurb I thought the main character would be the daughter of the nouveau riche family but it turned out to be her mother Anne and the matriarch of the aristocratic family, Lady Brockenhurst, who were the main characters as well as the aforementioned Charles Pope.
    • Secondary characters cause much trouble and all is resolved happily by the end.
      • I noticed that some reviewers didn't like how neatly and quickly all is wrapped up but I think this is to be expected from Julian Fellowes so it didn't bother me. I was more disappointed that the June 1815 section of the story is only about a chapter long!
    • Given Fellowes popularity from "Downton Abbey" I wonder how long it will be before this becomes a "Masterpiece Theatre" show!
    • Recommended for those who enjoyed "Downton Abbey" --- there are servants involved in the story, just like in "Downton" --- and anyone who likes stories that take place in London in the 19th Century.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trainwreck by Sady Doyle

  • THE BOOK
    • Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear...and Why by Sady Doyle
    • Published September 20, 2016
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The definition for trainwreck (besides the literal one) is this:
      • A chaotic or disastrous situation that holds a peculiar fascination for observers.
    • The author covers the women we consider as trainwrecks:
      • Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Paris Hilton, and more, along with women from history who were the trainwrecks of their day:
        • Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, Billie Holiday, Sylvia Plath, Monica Lewinsky, Marie Antoinette and several more.
    • Society seems to want their women to be "good girls" and when they step off that path they are "wrecked", mostly splashed across tabloids and websites for our voyeuristic enjoyment.
      • Many of the people who seem to enjoy the trainwrecks most are fellow women.
        • We can look at one wrecked woman and think, "At least I'm better off than her."
  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Lots of good quotes from this book:
      • "So, to reiterate: Someone followed a woman to her hotel, then waited in a concealed location, watching her, until she began to have sex, then photographed the sex, then promptly sold the photos to a public outlet, causing the press to then rebroadcast those photos, while explaining they had no choice in the matter, and making sure to add a link to the appropriate porn site so that the full invasion of privacy could be accessed by their readers. And somehow, in this whole chain of stalking, bad decision-making, and borderline sexual assault, the person who would up getting the harshest condemnation was the woman who'd done nothing but have sex with her boyfriend." Pages 4-5
        • I will ignore the use of "So" to begin a sentence in a book --- I know this particular thing drives some people crazy; it doesn't bother me particularly --- and all the places I would not have necessarily used commas. The point of the quote is still a good one.
      • A quote by Kathie Sarachild from 1973 included in the book about studies to establish womens' intelligence: "For every scientific study we quote, the opposition can find their scientific studies to quote...We know from our own experience that women play dumb for men because, if we're too smart, men won't like us. I know, because I've done it. We've all done it. Therefore we can deduce that women are smarter than men are aware of." Page 155
        • "I know, because I've done it." So have I many times in my life though not with my dad, brothers or the man who became my husband!
          • My dad likes having smart children (my mom, too, when she was alive) and my brothers also appreciated having a smart sister. I am also positive my husband would prefer a smart wife to a dumb wife.
      • "You could even make a case for Hillary and Monica themselves as the scapegoats for second- and third-wave feminism, respectively: The second wave told women to work for equality and advance in the workplace, which Hillary did, and was hated for doing, and the third told women to embrace their sexuality and see femininity as a source of power, which Monica did, and was hated for doing." Pages 205-206
    • In general, men who crash and burn are welcomed back with open arms, according to the author. I think this is true based on the examples she cites --- Robert Downey Jr and Chris Brown to name two --- but I also think this might change as time goes on.
      • Or not, as the Trump groping allegations seem to have made no difference to his candidacy as the Republican presidential nominee.
    • I have a new appreciation for what these celebrity women go through. I'm not one to wallow too deep in a celeb's downfall but it's hard to miss when they are all over the entertainment websites. The kind of coverage these women get makes it so easy to pass judgement on people I don't even know! Crazy. I vow to stop doing this. 
    • Recommended for those who follow culture and especially those who enjoy the whole trainwreck phenomena.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg

  • THE BOOK
    • The Baby Name Wizard, Revised 3rd Edition: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by Laura Wattenberg
    • Published May 7, 2013
    • Other books by the author are the first two editions of this book published in 2005 and 2008.

  • THE PREMISE
    • There are several baby name blogs (Nameberry.com, AppellationMountain.net, and BabyNameWizard.com to name just a few). The author is responsible for Baby Name Wizard blog and she writes about weekly on various topics related to naming children.
    • The book is a compendium of the more recent trend of distinctive names (Jayden or Adilyn, for example) as well as the old favorites (Jack or Rose, for example). It also offers advice on sibling names and how to navigate among many naming criteria.
    • Names are sorted by boy and girl lists in alphabetical order and in the second part of the book names are sorted by type. 

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I actually tried to get this book in 2013 but my library only had the 2008 version. 
      • Popular names have changed even from such a short period of time ago!
    • I have only one child and he's in his 20s with a nice classic Irish name so I am not interested in naming a baby myself but I do love seeing how the trends are changing baby names.
    • I also enjoy seeing how cultural trends are responsible for new favorites and how some old-fashioned names are starting to make a comeback.
      • On the author's blog she discusses the trends in names especially as the Social Security Administration releases name data every year for newborns.
      • Also found on the blog site (babynamewizard.com/voyager) you can enter your name and see its popularity ranked over the last 130 years. Here is my name as an example:
    • This book is recommended for those expecting a baby or those just interested in names of today.