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Reading Diary for 2009

  and earlier
"People of the Noatak"
by Claire Fejes
People of the NoatakNeat travelogue by a Fairbanks-based artist who went and lived with the native eskimos along the north coast of Alaska for weeks, even months at a time. Fejes has an obvious sympathy for the people she met (well, maybe not some of the missionaries who tried to destroy the eskimo language), and as an artist, a well-defined eye for detail. Her visits were in the 1950s and '60s, as the last generation of Alaska eskimos raised in the traditional culture were entering old age, so her observations were among the last by an outsider of traditional means of hunting, gathering, etc. Definitely recommended, although it can be a dry read at times.

"Game Six"
by Mark Frost
Game SixA wonderful re-telling of the classic 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. Author Mark Frost interviewed many of the participants, and takes us inside the dugouts of both teams for that thrilling game, and also sets the plate by giving us the back stories of man of the men who played that game. Highly recommended for all baseball fans. (Read full review.)

"Skeletons on the Zahara"
by Dean King
Skeletons on the ZaharaDrawing on memoirs from two of the survivors, Dean King's novel-like re-telling of the sinking of the sailing ship the Commerce off the west coast of Africa in 1815 captures the feeling of an old-school adventure story. Capt. James Riley and his men found themselves washed ashore on the western fringe of the Sahara – taken as slaves by the local Arabs, and as slaves, getting even less food and water than their impoverished masters had. That half the crew made it home was miracle; how they made it even more so.

"Drinking With George"
by George Wendt
Drinking With GeorgeFun tour of his life in show business with plenty of facts and history of beer tossed in from the former "Cheers" and Second City star. Ghost writer Jonathan Grottenstein turned Wendt's reminiscences into a breezy, conversational book – kind of like sitting next to Wendt's character Norm at a bar hoisting cold ones.

"I Lost My Sock"
by Lin Jakary, illustrated by Ryan Olson
I Lost My SockA fun, even funny beginning reader's book designed for the Dr. Seuss set, "I Lost My Sock" teaches basic vocabulary and grammar with a story drawn from young children's own real-life experiences. (Read full review.)

"The God Machine"
by James R. Chiles
The God MachineA popular history of the helicopter, "The God Machine" traces the roots of the whirly bird from 19th Century drawings up through the first commercially viable models during World War II. After illustrating the helicopter's height of popularity and utility during the Vietnam war, Chiles does a neat job of countering the early pop culture enthusiasm for rotor-wing aircraft and the dream of a chopper in every driveway to the more humdrum reality in which existing heliports come under fire from NIMBY neighbors.

"Candle Man"
by Glenn Dakin
Candle ManMore polished than, say, the old Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries, but not nearly as fleshed-out as J.K. Rowling's Potter series, "Candle Man" concerns a young teen named Theo – who lives the life of a prisoner, confined to his room in a London mansion, raised by Mr. Nicely and Dr. Saint, who assure him he suffers from a rare disease that requires he be sequestered from the world. It turns out that Theo suffers not from a disease, but rather is gifted with supernatural powers – and that two secretive societies are battling over him. (Read full review.)

"The Perfect Christmas"
by Debbie Macomber
The Perfect ChristmasIn Debbie Macomber's latest romantic novel, thirty-something Cassie longs for marriage and children more than anything – but has struck out at finding a suitable husband in all the usual avenues. The ending is telegraphed from the first few chapters, but there's still a sweetness and charm here that makes it work – sort of a comfort food of words. (Read full review.)

"Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre"
by Herbert Keyser
Geniuses of the American Musical TheatreCollectively, the men and women who composed songs for Broadway (and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood) from the 1920s through '60s created what we call today "The Great American Songbook." Their names are synonymous with great music: Lerner and Lowe, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Loesser, Kern, Warren, Styne. Herbert Keyser's new collection of biographies does a nice job of collecting the life stories of the composers and lyricists of Broadway, from the generation that created the modern musical in the 1920s to current megastars Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Each biography gives a bit of family background, the childhood of each subject, their introduction to music and their struggles and successes (and often struggles again). (Read full review.)

"Guac Off!"
by Nathan Myers; photographs by Jeremiah Webster
Guac Off!This new book by a pair of former Fallbrook residents is pitched as a guacamole recipe book – but it's really more an homage to the fruit and the dip we make from it. And at times, the breathless tone of wonder and over-the-top hyperbole will induce some serious cringing. But there's so much good info in here, Jeremiah Webster's photographs are so gorgeous and author Nathan Myers has collected such a strong set of guac recipes that any faults are minor when viewed against the whole. (Read full review.)

"Veil of Lies"
by Jeri Westerson
Veil of LiesJeri Westerson's first Crispin Guest book, introducing a pretty addictive little series. Guest has been stripped of his knighthood, and now earns his keep as The Seeker, a sort of private eye in Medieval London. For the opening book, Guest is hired by a rich merchant to see if his wife is cheating. When Guest reports back to his client, the man is dead – murdered – and nobody is quite who they seem. One of the my fave reads of '09.

"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid"
by Bill Bryson
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt KidEqual parts sentiment and laugh-out-loud funny, humorist Bryson explores his own childhood growing up in Iowa in the 1950s and early '60s. His wonder at mankind's blunders, triumphs and, mostly, mundaneness remains undimmed. And the beaming pride in his father's own career as a sportswriter for the Des Moines Register is a surprising – and pleasant – change from the gentle mocking his father received in earlier books for his single-minded pursuit of mileage while on vacation. Anyone who grew up in Bryson's era will get a kick out of this one.

"Serpent in the Thorns"
by Jeri Westerson
Serpent in the ThornsPretty neat concept: A dismissed knight in Medieval London earning his keep as a sort of private eye of the day, and Jeri Westerson executes the concept with great style and wit. Crispin Guest is one of the most engaging protagonists of the past several years, and this second book in the Guest series holds out real promise of continued success.

"Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones"
by Derek Landy
Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless OnesNot the end of this fantasy world (not with that cliffhanger!), but still ties up most of the loose ends of the first three books of Derek Landy's series about skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkryie, his teen sidekick. They unearth the bad guys, stop the pending invasion (no real suprises there) and bring a bit of closure to this three-part episode. (Read full review.)

"Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire"
by Derek Landy
Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With FireThe second entry in this series is where author Derek Landy starts finding his rhythm and voice. Stephanie is now known by her magic name of Valkyrie, and she and skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant are getting closer to finding out who's really behind efforts to create a rift in the space-time continuum and bring back the Faceless Ones. Landy fleshes out the characters, giving them distinct personalities and filling in their back stories, while setting up the third entry in what's a mini-trilogy in an ongoing series.

"Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients"
by Derek Landy
Scepter of the AncientsFirst book of the Skulduggery Pleasant series from Irish author Derek Landy shows a smart imagination, but a writing voice that's not fully developed. Living skeleton and private eye Skulduggery Pleasant teams up with pre-teen Stephanie when she inherits her late uncle's estate, and stumbles into a war among magicians that Pleasant is already deeply involved in. Like the equally Irish Artemis Fowl series, Landy is far more action-oriented and on-the-surface than the Harry Potter books, never immersing us as completely in this world as J.K. Rowling does with her Hogwarts books. Still, a fun read, good for advanced third grade readers and up.

"Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe"
by Evalyn Gates
Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the UniverseFurther evidence of Einstein's genius in changing how we view the universe is the ongoing development of our understanding of gravity lensing – a natural phenomenon predicted by Einstein's theories of relativity and later confirmed. If we've long known that gravity bends the path of a photon (or beam of light), we didn't necessarily grasp the full implications of that until recently. Evalyn Gates' new book on the topic explains the hows and whys of gravity lensing in easy to understand language – and then illustrates how this phenomenon is being used to try to answer one of the most vexing questions facing cosmologists today: Where is all the matter? (Read full review.)

"The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II"
by Steven Karras
The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War IIA sort of real-life version of "Inglourious Basterds" without the baseball bats, this oral history lets more than two dozen Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who served in the U.S. and British militaries in Europe during World War II tell their stories. The larger themes may be familiar, but the story of Jews who fought back against their opporessors – who returned home in the conquering army – is uplifting in the face of the horror of the Holocaust.

"The Venona Cable"
by Brent Ghelfi
The Venona CableGreat thriller, third from Ghelfi's pen (word processor) – Alexei Volkovoy, Russian veteran of the Chechen campaign and newly minted capitalist, finds himself chasing down a series of questions concerning his father's defection from the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War. The ending is anything but tidy, yet still (perhaps strangely) satisfying. (Read my interview with Brent Ghelfi.)

"The Return of the Dog Team"
by William W. Johnstone
The Return of the Dog TeamImplausible plot elements, shallow characters, stilted dialogue – this tale of a super-secret Army unit on duty in Iraq makes the second and third Rambo movies seem like documentaries by comparison. Yet it's still not a bad read, if you accept it as the silly cartoon that it is.

"Rules of Vengeance"
by Christopher Reich
Rules of VengeanceStandard operating procedure on writing a thriller has been to create a flawed hero, and send him or her up against one or more bad guys. Christopher Reich has added a nice twist to that formula, though, by adding a third role to the equation: the character we can't quite classify as good or bad. In "Rules of Vengeance," the sequel to 2008's "Rules of Deception," Reich takes the already mysterious Emma Ransom and adds another half-dozen levels of intrigue to her character. As with Len Deighton's characters of Bernard and Fiona Samson (from the Game-Set-Match and Hook-Line-Sinker trilogies), it's never really clear just where Emma's loyalties lie. Is she a double agent? Triple? Free-lancer working both sides against the middle? Who knows? Perhaps not even Reich himself yet. (Read full review.)

"The Spy Who Came In From the Cold"
by John Le Carré
The Spy Who Came In From the ColdThe third book from the pen of John Le Carré, and the one that established the former real-world spy as a top-notch thriller author, there are simply no weaknesses to this novel. The nerve-wracking story unfolds organically, the characters seem all too real (unlike Ian Fleming's stylish James Bond, Le Carré's Alec Leamas could blend into almost any crowd), and the dismal grayness of Communist East Germany has all the concrete charm that the Soviet bloc was famous for. One of the first novels to carve out the spy thriller as a separate genre from the standard mystery, and still one of the best examples of the type.

"In the Company of Eagles"
by Ernest K. Gann
In the Company of EaglesFound this in a stack of books my mom gave me – and ironically finished reading it the day the news broke that the last living English combat veteran of World War I had died. The book was a mid-1960s best-seller, and a pretty riveting tale of World War I aviation. At times a bit formulaic, the ending breaks that mold. Gann, a pilot himself who had flown surplus WWI planes during the 1930s and '40s (he flew military trasnports during WWII, and was an airline pilot before and after that war), does a nice job of capturing what it must have felt like to fly those cloth-and-wood biplanes into combat sans parachute, as well as the dreary life on the ground between missions.

by Karin Slaughter
UndoneI wasn't familiar with Slaughter's earlier works featuring Dr. Sara Linton or Detectives Will Trent and Faith Mitchell, but it's pretty likely I will be going back and reading more of her stuff after this introduction. A woman is run over on a rural Georgia road late at night, and while police try to figure out what she was doing in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, a second body turns up – this one showing the same signs of torture that had so confused investigators looking at the traffic fatality. As Trent realizes he's looking at a serial killer, he and Mitchell race to find out why the victims were targeted before any more women are victimized.

"Guardian of Lies"
by Steve Martini
Guardian of LiesWhen defense attorney Paul Madriani runs into an attractive Latin American woman at a Del Mar cafe, he has no idea he'll end up battling drug lords and a dangerous remnant of the Cold War. Set in and around San Diego, Steve Martini's latest is a nicely paced thriller with good characters, believable developments and a nice eye for locale. (Read my interview with Steve Martini.)

by Warren Fahy
FragmentDebut author Warren Fahy has said in interviews he wanted to take the "lost world" theme, but inject some scientific reality into it. Of course, for that to work, you need a special touch and a true gift for story telling. Fortunately for us, Fahy has both. "Fragment" is a lost world tale, set in the fictional South Pacific island of Henders, way below Easter Island and even more isolated. (Read my interview with Warren Fahy; read full review.)

"Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Salutes the Armed Forces"
by the Bathroom Reader's Institute
Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Salutes the Armed ForcesStarting off with the first volume in 1988 as a kind of take-off on the old "Ripley's Believe it or Not!" panels in the comic-strips, the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series are perfect for reading on the commode: Short little articles on weird news, bits of trivia or oddities of nature. And in a way, no topic lends itself so well to this format as military history and culture. The new Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is devoted to the armed forces, and offers up hours of quicks reads on all the branches of the U.S. military, plus some items on foreign forces as well. (Read full review.)

"An Honorable German"
by Charles McCain
An Honorable GermanHewing closely to the historical record, but telling that history through the form of a novel, Charles McCain's debut novel is a fast-moving story of a Kriegsmarine officer who doesn't much like the Nazis but feels compelled to fight for his country. Seen through the eyes of the fictionarl Max Brekendorf, "An Honorable German" takes us from the early days of World War II as Brekendorf serves on the Graf Spee up through the fall of 1943, with the narrator transferred to service in the U-Boat fleet. In between are trips home to Germany, and an ending that involves Max being held stateside in a POW camp. There's a love story, of course, and evil SS troops. (Read full review.)

"People of the Book"
by Geraldine Brooks
People of the BookA neat book laid out as a series of short stories within the larger narrative of a novel – similar in construction to Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler," but Brooks uses the form more to the point Michener did in "The Source": here using a historic book to go back and imagine how it came to be in its present form through the ages. Brooks has created a likable heroine in Hannah Heath, surrounded her with worthy villains and allies, and come up with a good story line that has a touch of the thriller to it. The half-dozen unique worlds she creates for each short story are also stellar. All in all, a wonderful read that will stay with you long after you've finished.

"The City & The City"
by China Mieville
The City & the CityChina Miéville's latest is drawing comparisons to the dark political fantasies of Orwell and Kafka – but a more accurate comparison might be to his contemporary, Michael Chabon. In particular, Chabon's 2007 alternate-history murder mystery "The Yiddish Policeman's Union." Where "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" takes place in a fictional Jewish homeland on Sitka Island in Alaska, "The City & The City" is set in the fictional twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. But unlike familiar twin cities such as Minneapolis-St. Paul or Tampa-St. Petersburg, the Central European city-states of Beszel and Ul Qoma don't sit side by side, but upon the same slab of land. Miéville has created a convincing alternate world, one with its own mythology and history, peopled with real-to-life characters. It's a superb read, one of those all-too-rare books that pulls you completely into its pages. (Read full review.)

"Marine One"
by James W. Huston
Marine OneA new European-built Marine Corps helicopter ferrying the president to a secret meeting at Camp David crashes, killing everyone on board – leaving the company's legal team to prepare to defend their client in court while a publicity storm rages around them. Well-crafted courtroom drama with elements of a modern thriller. (Read my interview with James W. Huston.)

"Gone Tomorrow"
by Lee Child
Gone TomorrowSequel to last year's "Nothing to Lose," the latest Jack Reacher novel is significantly improved over its predecessors in terms of story development, character cohesion and scenic descriptions. Reacher sees a woman on a subway who matches the checklist for a suicide bomber – but as he approaches her, she kills herself with a pistol. As he tries to piece together what happened, various government agencies reveal their interest in the mystery victim, who it turns out was a Pentagon employee. Good stuff all around. (Read my interview with Lee Child.)

"The Renegades"
by T. Jefferson Parker
The RenegadesPicking up where last year's "L.A. Outlaws" left off, T. Jefferson Parker's latest, "The Renegades," finds L.A. County Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood back on patrol duty, up in Antelope Valley. Leaving homicide wasn't his choice; the remote hinterlands of Antelope Valley was. As Hood continues to move past the death (in the previous book) of Allison Murrieta, he gets a new partner, one Terry Laws – who is unceremoniously gunned down with a heavy machine gun as they leave a routine call to the housing projects. SoCal locals will love the descriptions of the region, as the book takes Hood from the high-desert of Lancaster down into Mexico itself. Parker (who lives in the area) nails not only the physical descriptions of the various locales, but the feelings places like coastal Orange County or eastern San Diego County along the border possess. (Read my interview with T. Jefferson Parker; read full review.)

"Long Lost"
by Harlan Coben
Long LostPretty good myster/thriller once you get past the idea of a former Duke University basketball player turned sports agent being well-trained and tough enough to take out a Mossad agent. Tight little storyline will draw you in, though, taking you along for the ride from Paris to London to New York with a theme taken from "The Boys From Brazil" and twisted about 90 degrees.

"Balboa Park: A to Z"
by Jennifer G. Lanzrath; illustrated by Joy Raab
balboaThose of us who call San Diego County home get regular access to one of the great urban parks in all the world – and a new illustrated children's book gives Balboa Park its full-color due. "Balboa Park A to Z" reminds anew just how absolutely beautiful San Diego's jewel is, and is a nice example of the kinds of educational opportunities that exist all around us. Written by county resident Jennifer G. Lanzrath and illustrated by Poway's Joy Raab, the softcover, oversized book draws on the park's numerous attractions to teach young readers the alphabet. (Read full review.)

"Nuclear Jellyfish"
by Tim Dorsey
Nuclear JellyfishA Tim Dorsey novel isn't something you can discuss the way you would other books. His stories are so different from anything else out there that reading Dorsey for the first time is a seriously disorienting experience. The weirdness comes down to the fact that Dorsey's recurrent protagonist, Serge Storms, is a serial killer. And not just any serial killer, but a serial killer with an aesthetic that demands he kill each victim by a new and original method – most of which are cruel, all of them fairly disgusting. Despite this rather unsavory basis for Dorsey's books, though, Serge is a good guy – you find yourself cheering for him. (Read full review.)

"Towers of Gold"
by Frances Dinkelspiel
Towers of GoldFrances Dinkelspiel's biography of her great-great-grandfather is an illuminating look at California's early days as a part of the United States. While a touch fawning at times, "Towers of Gold," her history of the life of Isaias Hellman, is also by its very nature the history of the rise of California's modern economy. Drawing on a wealth of correspondence, financial records and other documentation at the California Historical Society archives, Dinkelspiel has woven a narrative that shows Hellman not simply as a beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time, but as someone who recognized opportunities and took advantage of them to help California draw on its vast natural resources. (Read full review.)

"World War II 365 Days"
by Margaret E. Wagner
World War II 365 DaysThis is one of the best single-volume histories of WWII yet published. The book is organized in two concurrent narratives, which can be a bit confusing at times. The pages aren't numbered – instead, each two-page spread is devoted to a single day of the year. Along the bottom of each page is a list of notable events (or sometimes just a single event) that happened on that date during the war (or in the immediate run-up or aftermath). For instance, the April 5 entry points out that on that date in 1941, Yugoslavian and Soviet representatives signed a treaty of nonaggression, and in 1945, Russia renounced its neutrality toward Japan. At the same time, the top 75 percent of the page is devoted to an ongoing history of the war – so the same April 5 pages that contain the mentioned entries from 1941 and 1945 also contain a lengthy entry on the British Empire on the eve of war, which has nothing to do with April 5. Despite this unorthodox approach to organization, however, the book is a welcome addition to the WWII literature for its many unique images not readily available elsewhere and its solid history of the conflict. (Read full review.)

"A Knife Edge"
by David Rollins
A Knife EdgeSequel to the best-selling "The Death Trust," David Rollins' latest again features Air Force Maj. Vin Cooper. "A Knife Edge" is a cross between a mystery and a spy thriller. Cooper is sent to investigate the seemingly accidental death-by-shark of a scientist working on a top-secret DoD research project, and while he has to deal with all sorts of threats to the nation's security (including a second 9/11, a slimy CIA supervisor and a possibly crooked British officer), basically he's trying to solve a murder. (Read full review.)

"Cream Puff Murder"
by Joanne Fluke
Cream Puff MurderAuthor Joanne Fluke has a couple of real strengths with her popular "Mystery With Recipes" series: a likable protagonist in Hannah Swenson and real-life dessert recipes sprinkled throughout the book that come from Hannah's job running a bakery (when she's not solving murders). All that, though, is undermined in the latest entry by stiff dialogue, a huge surplus of characters, and a too-high requirement for suspension of disbelief on a reader's part. (Read full review.)

by Eric M. Wilcox
CloudsWhile a scientist by profession, Eric Wilcox seems to be aiming for a fusion of science and art in "Clouds." The book's foreword is written by the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, and the first section of the book (taking up about three-quarters of its length) is largely a paean to the visual beauty of clouds. The oversized book (9.75 by 9 inches) is printed on heavy stock glossy paper, and the hundreds of color photographs of various clouds do more to capture their ephemeral beauty than any poet ever could. Wilcox doesn't really try to compete with the poets, though, preferring to sprinkle quotes from them in his descripitions of the different types of clouds (which is how this first part of the book is organized – by cloud type). (Read full review.)

"All the Colors of Darkness"
by Peter Robinson
All the Colors of DarknessThe latest entry in Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks series doesn't require familiarity with any of the previous 17 books about the Yorkshire detective. Robinson's matter-of-fact conversational style couples with enough of Banks' backstory so that "All the Colours of Darkness" easily stands on its own. It also contains a stellar mystery. A local theater producer is found hanged from a tree in the woods; when officers go to inform his gay partner, they find him brutally murdered - not what the neighbors in his tony section of town want to hear. (Read full review.)

"Ultimate Weapon"
by Chris Ryan
Ultimate WeaponA real-life British SAS veteran of the first Gulf War, author Chris Ryan sets his latest thriller back in Iraq, during the second invasion. A British physics student working on cold fusion goes missing, and both her father – a retired SAS veteran – and her would-be boyfriend, a current SAS commando, try to track her down. When the trail leads to Iraq on the even of the Allied invasion, both men find themselves heading back Baghdad. Well-drawn characters and a nice, taut story line make this one of the better thrillers in recent memory.

"Atomic Lobster"
by Tim Dorsey
Atomic LobsterLast we visited Tim Dorsey, it was a read of his 2000 debut, "Florida Roadkill." Nine books later, he's found a more developed style, a more colored voice. Same characters, though – at least some of them. Serge A. Storms, perhaps the most unlikely protagonist since Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. And even Ripley, twisted as he was, couldn't match Serge's body count. Then again, Ripley was a serious, literary study in psychosis; Serge is meant more as a hoot, a light summer read – if your idea of a light summer read includes at least a half-dozen different ways to creatively murder someone. Set deep in the heart of Florida, as all of Dorsey's novels are, "Atomic Lobster" is loosely built around a smuggling ring using old ladies on a cruise ship out of Tampa. Other than that, it's like Carl Hiassen on acid, to paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke's description of South African satirist Tom Sharpe.

"A Darker Domain"
by Val McDermid
A Darker DomainCan a book be both all-but-impossible to put down from start to finish and still a bit disappointing? The new mystery from Scottish author Val McDermid might turn out that way for some readers. Wonderful characters you want to spend time with combine with two distinct cases that are enticingly drawn to make "A Darker Domain" one of those top-drawer tales that draws you in immediately and keeps you hooked throughout. But one of those characters is so badly mistreated by the story's events that it gives the closing a sort of sadness rather than fulfillment – kind of the way the uber-realistic TV police shows do nowadays. (Read full review.)

"Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature's Most Intriguing Dedications"
by Marlene Wagman-Geller
Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature's Most Intriguing DedicationsAn interesting if sometimes gushy collection of the stories behind famous dedications. The author seems a bit forgiving of her heroes' various peccadillos (which had to hurt their families), and a bit moralizing about the sins committed against them, but the tales are well-crafted and she includes all her references in an appendix. (Read full review.)

"Movie Speak: How to Talk Like You Belong on a Film Set"
by Tony Bill
Movie Speak: How to Talk Like You Belong on a Film SetKind of a smart-ass dictionary to Hollywood set jargon, big-time producer Tony Bill ("The Sting," "Flyboys") lays out what all those insider terms like "best boy" and "key grip" mean. He fills it out with several lengthy essays on his own career, and of growing up in San Diego in the 1950s. A fun read for anyone with a love of movies. (Read my interview with Tony Bill.)

"When Baseball Went to War"
edited by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin
When Baseball Went to WarAfter 9/11, when Pat Tillman gave up his roster spot on the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted in the Army, it was front-page news. The idea of someone surrendering the wealth and adoration of a professional athlete's life to go hump a 50-pound rucksack up and down the mountains of Afghanistan struck many as heroic; his death in combat from friendly fire reinforced the reality of what our men and women in uniform sacrifice for the rest of us. While Tillman was absolutely a hero for his service, there was a time when it was expected that athletes would give up their extraordinary privilege to pick up the mantle of shared sacrifice. A new book from the National WWII Museum provides a history of professional baseball players who gave up their careers to fight for their country from World War I up through Korea. (Read full review.)

"A Natural History of Seeing: The Art & Science of Vision"
by Simon Ings
Buy it now from
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  • A Natural History of Seeing: The Art & Science of VisionSimon Ings' popular science look at vision is really three narratives woven together: He explores how our eyes probably evolved from primitive light-detecting cells; he explains how our modern eyes work; and he gives a history of the science of vision – showing how our current understanding of vision came to be. It's not the most rigorously organized of books – he bounces from narrative to narrative, often in the same sentence. But Ings is so obviously fascinated by vision that even when the text wanders (as do our eyes, constantly; it's essential to our vision), the end result is still fascinating. (Read full review.)

    "The Yiddish Policeman's Union"
    by Michael Chabon
    The Yiddish Policeman's UnionLike Morechai Richler's "Solomon Gursky Was Here," Michael Chabon's newest concerns Jews living in the Great White North – Sitka, Alaska, in this case. It's an alternative history – during the Holocaust, Jews were given a 60-year autonomous region in the Alaskan panhandle, and "reversion" is approaching. It's also a noir mystery – our hero, Meyer Landsman, a Sitka detective, learns someone has been murdered in his own low-rent flophouse. On both counts – alternative history and whodunit – author Michael Chabon delivers a fully-realized creation. The ending is a bit of a disappointment, but that's as much because you've so fallen for these characters and their world you want to continue their journey with them.

    "The Awe-Manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder"
    by Jill Badonsky
    The Awe-Manac: A Daily Dose of WonderSubtitled "A Daily Dose of Wonder," the "Awe-Manac" can get a bit too New Agey at times, but her daily quotes (coming from sources ranging from Henry David Thoreau to George Clooney, Pearl S. Buck to Stevie Wonder) alone are better than most quotation collections. The book has a bright, colorful design, with an illustrated cover (almost like a children's book) and lots of primary-color drawings inside. Even the fonts are light-hearted and a bit whimsical, without being difficult to read. (Read full review.)