Blog Posts by mingh

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Ming was named after an evil Emperor. But she reads more than said evil Emperor, including nonfiction and almost all genres. She should read more in the Romance genre but that genre is forbidden on the planet Mongo.



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The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

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09/28/11
A long time ago, two magicians have a falling out over which is stronger, chaos or control. At the turn of the 20th century, they decide to have a contest to see which one of them might get the better of the other. The contestants will be students of theirs taught only by the methods preferred by that magician. The students know that at some point in their lives the contest will begin. But they may not know when it begins and who their opponent is. That will all eventually be revealed.
 
And as the two great magicians watch, their students Celia and Marco grow fonder of each other. Should the older magicians step in? After all, love has no part in the contest.
 
The Night Circus is a great work of fantasy and illusion. Many people make up the characters that run the Circus of Dreams as it calls itself. There are twins who never grow old. A fantastic clockmaker who can almost control time and a contortionist who can contort her body into beautiful creations. We meet them through their interactions with Celia and Marco. Celia joins the circus as an illusionist. Marco becomes the assistant to the proprietor. But they are both inexorably drawn to each other.
 
The language of the story flows in colorful streams of invention and imagination. The characters are vividly described as are their relationships. This is a book to get lost in just as the circus goers must be directed to leave lest they lose themselves in the Circus of Dreams. A wonderful debut.

The Taint of Midas
by Anne Zouroudi

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09/20/11
Hermes Diaktoros is distressed to find his good friend Gabrilis suffering and dying by the side of a road, the apparent victim of a hit and run. Gabrilis dies before help can be gotten and the police accuse Diaktoros of killing him. While the police vaguely investigate, Diaktoros feels he must be the one to find out who killed his friend.
 
In the small island town, the two police officers assigned to the case are ready to give it up when one becomes the victim of blackmail for information about the possible hit and run. Many events, seemingly unrelated, start to converge into one story for the police officers and for Diaktoros. Why did the son of the richest man in town visit Gabrilis the morning he was killed? How does the media truck for the local television and radio station always know where to be when something happens? Why does the city planning officer disappear so suddenly?
 
Zouroudi has crafted a great investigator in Diaktoros. He knows people and how they think. He knows the land and its history. Although the island of Arcadia is imaginary, the author has wonderfully captured the feel of a small Greek island. The reader will smell the sea, feel the sun, and taste the many delights of food in the book. This is the second book in the Seven Deadly Sins series but it is not necessary to have read them in order. You will enjoy your time following Diaktoros around the island, meeting the people, seeing the sites, and hearing their stories.

The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta

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09/12/11
The Leftovers opens with the Rapture. Well, some people believe it is the Rapture, others are not convinced, after all if it truly was the Rapture, why were Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even Agnostics taken? This has confused some people and angered others.
 
Three years on, the world still turns. Kevin Garvey isn't sure what happened, but he is now mayor of Mapleton. His wife has left him for a sect that refuses to speak and uses cigarettes like talismans. His college age son worships at the feet of a new age guru, Holy Wayne, who encourages others to give him all their money while he marries multiple times. And Jill Garvey, the daughter in high school who always got straight A's, is struggling for the first time.
 
This is a story of trying to find meaning in a world where the rules have changed. Do you become wanton and greedy because it doesn't matter anymore? Or do you become extremely devout in the hopes of a second rapture? Each of the family members chooses a different path to the new normal. These are ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Author Tom Perrota explores what leads each of them to the path they are on.
 
At the heart of the story is Kevin Garvey, grieving husband and father. While his children and wife remain alive he sees the distance growing between them until they no longer contact him. Knowing he has lost his wife he still wants to keep in contact with her and with their son. Will he lose his daughter Jill also? The struggle to save what isn't lost is at the center of this story. Kevin Garvey struggles, as everyone struggles in this new world, but in the end he is rewarded with a little piece of salvation.
 

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in all the Confusion
by Johan Harstad

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09/08/11
Mattias is a fan of Buzz Aldrin. Buzz Aldrin did everything Neil Armstrong did, but second. Mattias is a fan of being second. He says, "The more you put yourself forward, the more stones people can throw at you." When Mattias was born in Norway on July 20th 1969, his Father was torn between watching the moon landing and watching his son being born.
 
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion was originally published in Norway in 2005 and has just been translated into English. Not much action happens in the story except in Mattias' mind. After 12 years his longtime girlfriend leaves him, then he loses his steady job as a gardener in a nursery. His friend asks him to run the soundboard for his semi-known band and they are off to obscure places in and around Norway.  The next time we see Mattias, he is on his back in the middle of a muddy road on the Faroe Islands.
 
The Faroe Islands are the earth's equivalent of the moon in Harstad's book. They are barren rocks with little vegetation other than ground cover, surrounded by the ocean with no easy way home. On the main island, Mattias is finally able to connect with people. He spends time in a psychiatric facility that is more of a half-way house. There aren't many rules because you can't run far away.  It takes Mattias time to realize that he wants to return to his Earth, but first he must travel many different places to find his way home.
 
This poignant and funny story talks about what it means to be lonely. It is filled with pop culture references, from Dr. Phil (who knew he was shown in Norway), to the four chapters being album titles from the 90's musical group The Cardigans. A wonderful story about a young man who needs to go the ends of the earth to find his way home. 

The Family Fang
by Kevin Wilson

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09/01/11
Annie and Buster Fang are the children of notorious performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang. Caleb and Camille like to create small public performance art that can sometimes lead to arrests and hopefully, a mention in a local newspaper. At the beginning of the book every other chapter is a recounting of an artistic piece. Annie accusing her mother (who she pretends is a stranger) of stuffing her coat with jelly beans. As their mother then opens her coat and the jelly beans fall out, Buster enjoins all the kids to stuff their mouths with jelly beans causing a small melee in the shop. Meanwhile their father is outside of the shop filming with a hidden camera. Even if there is no mention of the event, the senior Fangs like to think about the stories all of the people at the shop will talk about with their families. Many times it is art for art's sake.
 
Both Annie and Buster can't wait to leave home as they grow older. They tire of the performances. Annie goes to Los Angeles to become an actor, and Buster writes stories and novels. But events in their lives force both of them to come back home to live. Buster gets into a fight and has to recuperate at their parents house. While Annie, becomes tabloid fodder and needs to disappear for a while since no one will hire her. Their parents are thrilled as the old performance art gang is back together and they can have the performance pieces of their lives.
 
Part of the problem for Annie and Buster is that any choice they make is perceived as performance art because of their parents. This dismays Annie because she realizes that everything she does will be perceived through this filter of art. All of her good and bad decisions will be art.  One of the comments Buster makes near the end is that their parents prepared them for bad choices because all of the art that their parents were creating was people making bad choices. And therefore, their parents gave them a gift in not fearing bad choices. Annie is not so sure.
 
This novel really makes you think about what is art? Can a life be art? Are all lives performance pieces? Is art the act of creating the piece? Or is everyone who has to respond a part of it, and are they also artists? This novel has some very funny moments in it as Annie and Buster try to escape their upbringing. But as Buster points out, they were also given some very important skills for navigating through life. A very readable book.

The Last Werewolf
by Glen Duncan

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08/29/11
Jake Marlowe is the last werewolf in the world and he is being hunted by the group known as the Hunt. Grainer, the leader of the Hunt, demands the right to kill Marlowe because Marlowe killed his Grandfather. Grainer refuses to kill Marlowe until he has turned into a werewolf because Grainer does not kill humans. In two days, Marlowe will have turned and Grainer who has been tailing him will have his chance.
 
So why have one of the Vampire families kidnapped him? Vampires and werewolves don't associate. Marlowe owes nothing to the Vampires and as far as he knows the Vampires owe nothing to him. So why are they so concerned with keeping him alive?
 
What the author does best is to get into the head of Jake Marlowe with his loneliness and inability to make a human connection. In his human life, Marlowe runs many philanthropic organizations meant to benefit humans. But then every full moon he must kill and eat human flesh. Desperate to hang on to his humanity, Marlowe toys with giving himself up to Grainer.
 
This is a psychological werewolf story, part thriller, part horror. The werewolf killings are graphic and try as he might, Marlowe cannot deny the beast in himself. The Last Werewolf reinterprets the folklore about werewolves in twists and turns that will surprise and interest readers of paranormal fiction.

Absolute Monarchs
by John Julius Norwich

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08/25/11
This book was published earlier in the UK under the title The Popes : A History. That is precisely what it is. Not all 265 popes are mentioned nor can be in this survey of the papacy. But all of the major players are here.
 
What Absolute Monarchs does best is to really show what the job of Pope was before the 20th century. The Pope had to be mediator between squabbling aristocratic families, a negotiator of treaties between countries, the civic manager of Rome, and the defender of the faith. It was the rare man who could do well at all of the functions. There are very holy men who do wonderful things for the poor of Rome but are hopelessly inadequate to negotiate treaties or mediate. Those responsibilities take a diplomat or statesmen to maneuver around all of the politics of the day.
 
The Pope was in charge of Rome and keeping its commerce rolling as well as collecting tithes and  indulgences, therefore the position of Pope could be very lucrative. So it becomes clearer how we wind up with the Borgias or the de Medicis who were less interested in the defender of the faith elements of the position.
 
Because the position of Pope was so tied up with the politics of the day, parts of the book can seem very dense. Arguing with the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and having to quell dissension in France, or disputes in Spain, reads more like international history or political history. But the Pope was very involved in all aspects of politics and international negotiations. It wasn't until Italy was united in the 19th century that the position of Pope becomes less political and more spiritual leader.
 
The author continues his survey of Popes to the present day. He has opinions on some of the conspiracies of the papacy, Pope Joan, death/murder of John Paul I and the rules of the antipopes. But the real benefit is in showing why some men were drawn to the position and others refused. The modern papacy is very different from what went before.
 
 
 

The Paradise Prophecy
by Robert Browne

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08/21/11
In the story of the War of Heaven, certain angels went against God and were plunged into the abyss. Their leader, Lucifer, was sent to the lowest depths of Hell from which he cannot escape. In The Paradise Prophecy, the war between the fallen angels and Michael the Archangel continues on Earth.  According to a prophecy, if the fallen angels can find the key and what it opens before the end of the 4th eclipse in a year, they will have freed Lucifer and will rule the Earth.
 
Agent Callahan is not sure who she works for in Washington DC, a group called the Section. But they are very keen on her finding out who killed a Christian pop star, a Turkish Antiquities owner, and others who have died with the sign of the devil beneath their charred bodies. She is not a believer but soon begins to see things that just cannot be, humans morphing into horrific creatures, beings with superhuman powers, and creatures disappearing into dust when killed.
 
Callahan is joined on her travels by a drunken Milton and Paradise Lost scholar who is capable of the Vision, When he shows her how these people died she comes to believe in demons and angels. But how are humans supposed to fight this?
 
The story travels from Los Angeles, to Sao Paulo, to London and Istanbul. Written by a screenwriter, the action builds to a thundering crescendo. This novel for fans of The DaVinci Code and other thrillers starts out with each chapter following a different character. As the reader sticks with the book, the characters start to come together to bring this war to its conclusion.
 
(Note:  Fans of the Left Behind series might find this more R-rated.)

Silver Sparrow
by Tayari Jones

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08/15/11
Dana Yarbro knows how to keep secrets. From the time she was born she was schooled by her Mother and Father that she is not to let people know about her homelife. She is the secret daughter of a married man. Even though her Mother made her Father cross the line into Alabama to marry her--they couldn't marry in Georgia because he was already married--Dana knew that she was illegitimate, no matter what her parents said. Even more troubling is that her Father has a daughter, Chaurisse, the same age as Dana.
 
The first half of the book is told from Dana's viewpoint up until her teens. Because they both live in the same part of Atlanta, the daughters apply to the same schools. But it is the legitimate daughter who gets all of the perks. For instance, Dana loves science and her teachers suggest she apply to the science magnet school to get the advanced instruction that will help her get into medical school when she grows up. But Chaurisse has also applied. So their Father asks Dana to withdraw her application. This continues to happen throughout Dana's life and it embitters her and her Mother.
 
The second half of the book is told from the viewpoint of Chaurisse, her Father's legitimate daughter, who is only a few months older than Dana. All of the lies that Dana's parents have told her force her into learning more about this other daughter. Her Mother has told her that Chaurisse is mentally a little slow, she is not attractive, and she will never do anything with her life. Dana needs to find out if that is true. But as Chaurisse tells her story, Dana learns its nothing like what she has been told both good and bad.
 
This is the story of family secrets and the ruinous effect on the children of having to keep these secrets. The story moves along at a fairly quick pace. The development of the characters, especially the daughters, is very good. You will know them and feel for the women they become.
 

Bed
by David Whitehouse

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08/13/11
Bed is the story of two brothers growing up in England. The oldest brother, Malcolm, takes to his bed at the age of 25 and allows himself to grow to morbidly obese proportions from being overfed by their mother. The youngest brother tells the story. It is hard not to focus on the oldest brother's decision. But Bed is really a story of what love means.
 
Late in the novel, Mal tells his brother that love is a continuum with a romantic giving end and an opposite end of destruction. The youngest brother is deeply in love with a woman, Lou, who can only think of Mal. She sees how her father is being destroyed by her mother's lack of love. Lou can't see how the youngest brother can help her.  The younger brother watches his family decline until he is finally able to escape to America with Lou. They leave as friends but soon become much closer.
 
 After many years, he returns to find that his brother has grown so large, 1300+ pounds, that his skin has become enmeshed with the linen of the mattress. Mal's body has become part bed and the bed a part of his body. He finds his mother happy to have someone to take care of and his father engaged in working on a contraption that will allow Mal to leave the house.
 
This book is dark and filled with depression although not in itself depressing. You will keep reading to find out if this growing horror of a situation will resolve itself. This book will make you think long after it is finished. What is love? And what does it mean to sacrifice?