Monday, January 21, 2013

With such a variety of subjects, these bestsellers are the cure for wintertime boredom.

The Twelve (Passage Trilogy Series #2) by Justin Cronin

Kirkus Reviews –

Cronin continues the post-apocalyptic--or, better, post-viral--saga launched with 2010's The Passage. The good citizens of Texas might like nothing better than to calve off into a republic and go to war with someone with their very own army and navy, but you wouldn't want to wish the weird near-future world of Cronin's latest on anyone, even if it means that Rick Perry is no longer governor. Readers of The Passage will recall that weird things have happened to humankind thanks to--sigh--a sort-of-zombie-inducing virus unleashed by, yes, sort-of-mad-scientists who were trying to create supersoldiers out of ordinary GIs. You may be forgiven for thinking of The Dirty Dozen at that point in the plot, but the "virals" in question are far badder than Telly Savalas and John Cassavetes. Enter Amy Harper Bellafonte, known Eastwood-esquely as The Girl from Nowhere, whose job it is to save humankind from its own dark devices. Amy's chief butt-kicking sidekick is a virally compromised cutie named Alicia Donadio, "scout sniper of the Expeditionary," who has a weirdly telepathic way of communicating with the baddies. The tale that ensues is pretty generic, in the sense that the zombie/virus/sword-and-sorcery genres allow only so much variation from convention; if you've seen the old Showtime series Jeremiah, then you'll have a good chunk of the plot down. Cronin serves up a largely predictable high-concept blend of The Alamo and The Andromeda Strain, but his yarn has many virtues: It's very well-paced. It's not very pleasant ("A strong smell of urine tanged in her nostrils, coating the membranes of her mouth and throat"), but it's very well-written, far more so than most apocalypse novels, and that excuses any number of sins. And it's always a pleasure to see strong women go storming around as the new sheriffs in town in a world gone bad, even if they're sometimes compelled to drink blood to get their work done. A viral spaghetti Western; it's not Sergio Leone--or, for that matter, Michael Crichton--but it's a satisfying confection.

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (Isabel Dalhousie Series #9) by Alexander McCall Smith

From the Publisher  -

In this latest installment of Alexander McCall Smith’s endearing Isabel Dalhousie series, the Edinburgh philosopher and amateur sleuth answers an unexpected appeal from a wealthy Scottish collector who has been robbed of a valuable painting.

One afternoon over coffee at Cat’s delicatessen, a friend of Isabel’s shares a call for help from Duncan Munrowe. Crafty thieves have stolen a prized painting from his collection, a work by the celebrated French artist Nicolas Poussin that was earmarked for donation to the Scottish National Gallery. Munrowe has been approached by the thieves and hopes that Isabel will assist him in recovering the painting. Never one to refuse an appeal, she agrees, and discovers that the thieves may be closer to the owner than he ever would have expected.

Against the backdrop of this intriguing case, Isabel copes with life’s issues, large and small. She and Jamie have begun to suspect that their three-year-old son, Charlie, might be a budding mathematical genius. What should be done about it? Then there is the question of whether Isabel should help a young couple who want to move in together—against the wishes of the girl’s parents. The boyfriend is hoping Isabel might intercede.

As she wrestles with these problems, Isabel finds herself tested as a parent, a philosopher and a friend. But, as always, she manages to use the right combination of good sense, quick wits and a kind heart to come to the right solution, proving once again why Isabel Dalhousie has become one of Alexander McCall Smith’s most beloved characters.

Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend

Library Journal –

Townshend—principal songwriter and guitarist for boundary-pushing, hard-living British rock band The Who—lays his life bare in this candid and entertaining autobiography, reflecting on both his personal life and his career as the brains behind one of rock’s most successful and influential groups. Townshend details the band’s early years as a trendy 1960s Mod outfit, the creative and commercial peaks of the 1970s, and the changes forced by the sudden deaths of drummer Keith Moon (in 1978) and bassist John Entwistle (in 2002). But he also gets personal, tracing his troubled youth, a difficult and affair-ridden marriage, relationships with family members and bandmates, various scandals and legal troubles, and decades-long struggles with alcohol and overwork. Townshend covers a lot of ground and is admirably forthcoming in addressing controversies and personal mistakes, but there is frustratingly little insight into his creative process or songwriting and recording methods. Verdict The lack of perspective into the influential musician’s blending of experimental artistry and raw rock ’n’ roll power will frustrate some readers, but Townshend’s long-awaited memoir is easily recommended to anyone interested in this true rock icon’s amazing journey.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Kirkus Reviews –

A novel about the poetry and the pity of war. The title comes from an Army marching chant that expresses a violence that is as surprising as it is casual. Pvt. John Bartle's life becomes linked to that of Pvt. Daniel Murphy when they're both assigned to Fort Dix before a deployment to Iraq. Murph has just turned 18, but at 21, Bartle is infinitely more aged. In a rash statement, one that foreshadows ominous things to come, Bartle promises Murph's mother that he'll look out for him and "bring him home to you." The irascible Sgt. Sterling overhears this promise and cautions Bartle he shouldn't have said anything so impulsive and ill-advised. In Iraq nine months later, the two friends go on missions that seem pointless in theory but that are dangerous in fact. They quickly develop an apparent indifference and callousness to the death and destruction around them, but this indifference exemplifies an emotional distance necessary for their psychological survival. As the war intensifies in Nineveh province, they witness and participate in the usual horrors that many soldiers in war are exposed to. As a result of his experiences, Murph starts to act strangely, becoming more isolated and withdrawn until he finally snaps. Eventually he, too, becomes a victim of the war, and Bartle goes home to face the consequences of a coverup in which he'd participated. Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.

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