Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Caution: if you are like me and like to read while you are eating this may not be the book for you. Mary Roach obviously likes science. In her previous books she explores space travel (Packing for Mars), sex and reproduction (Bonk), and death (Stiff). In this latest book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal she tackles digestion from beginning to end. As in her earlier works her research is fascinating and her delivery is hilarious. If you can get past the yuck factor you will be in for an entertaining and enlightening…continue reading →

Fiction Friday: The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper, a new novel by Australian author Kate Morton opens in 1961 with young Laurel Nicolson witnessing her mother stab a strange, sinister man.  Moving back and forth through time and space the events leading up to that moment are slowly uncovered. Fifty years after the stabbing Laurel’s mother is dying. Recognizing that she doesn’t have much time to learn the secrets of her mother’s past, Laurel and her brother Gerry embark on an investigation. Did the strange man have any association with their mother? What was their mother’s connection to…continue reading →

(Non) Fiction Friday: Fairy Tales from the BrothersGrimm

A little over 200 years ago (December, 1812) brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first published their collection of folk and fairy tales titled Children’s and Household Tales.  The Grimms continued to update their compilation over the next fifty years and amazingly the stories are as popular in the 21st century as they were in the 19th.  Think of the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and the recent movie adaptations of Snow White. According to National Geographic the fairytales have been translated into over 160 languages! Philip Pullman, author of the…continue reading →

Fiction Friday: The Yellow Birds

Tuesday’s post about Veterans Day, the annual John Tyler Community College Veterans Day Celebration, and military/veteran themed books brings us to today’s Fiction Friday. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, a graduate of VCU and a Richmond native, has received much attention including a feature in Parade Magazine and a National Book Award nomination. Although the story has been told many times—two friends meet in basic training, are sent to war, one of the friends dies—The Yellow Birdsgives the familiar tale a new voice. From the much praised opening sentence (“The war tried…continue reading →

The Dog Stars

How you would fare in a post-apocalyptic world? Would you be able to find food, shelter and security? If you were one of a few survivors would you be able to endure the loneliness, boredom and solitude? The Dog Stars, a debut novel by Peter Heller, explores the response of one man to catastrophe. Following a flu epidemic which claimed the life of his wife and most of the world, Hig survives with the help of his neighbor, Bangley. But where Hig is compassionate Bangley is callous. And despite Hig’s compassion, he must…continue reading →

Fiction Friday: A City of Broken Glass

Journalist Hannah Vogel is in Poland covering the 1938 St. Martin festival when it comes to her attention that thousands of Polish Jews are being deported from Germany. Her reporter instincts kick in and while investigating the death of a deportee she finds herself abducted by SS agents and taken across the border to Berlin. Before they reach Berlin, however, she is rescued by her son, Anton, and her former lover, Lars. Now unable to return to their home in Switzerland without proper identity papers, Hannah begins investigating the deportation of Polish Jews…continue reading →

(Non-fiction) Friday: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

“Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.” Imagine living in a place where you are utterly dependent on rain to grow food or having a 7-kilometer walk to buy kerosene just to light your house after dark. That is the world of William Kamkwamba as well as most of the African country of Malawi. Yet despite these obstacles the resourceful young Kamkwamba built a windmill from salvaged material to generate electricity for his family. In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Kamkwamba and co-author Bryan Mealer record the history…continue reading →

(Non) Fiction Friday: The Story of English in 100 Words

Ever wonder why lawyers use two words such as “have and hold” or “cease and desist” when one word would do? Or why there is a “b” in debt and a “p” in receipt? Those and other strange quirks of English are explained in The Story of English in 100 Words. From roe (a deer) in the 5th century to Twittersphere in the 21st author David Crystal describes the constantly evolving English language. Interesting details from the book: Captain John Smith made the first stab at spelling the Powhatan word Rahaughcum.  Today spelled…continue reading →

Fiction Friday: The Orphan Master’s Son

Hopefully, Pak Jun Do (phonetically, John Doe) is not the North Korean everyman. From his start in a North Korean orphanage selecting which orphans get food to his stint in the tunnels beneath the DMZ fighting in the dark to kidnapping Japanese citizens to mining uranium in Prison 33 Jun Do manages to survive the brutal, dystopian regime. Evoking George Orwell’s 1984, author Adam Johnson illuminates the struggle ordinary citizens endure to stay alive.  Moving quickly from one harrowing episode to another, the hero seems destined to outlast even the Dear Leader (Kim…continue reading →

(Non)Fiction Friday: Bossypants

Tina Fey is bossy and full of advice on all matters: Practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace: “No pigtails, no tube tops. Cry sparingly . . . don’t eat diet foods in meetings.” Beauty: “By nineteen, I had discovered that Retin-A was a great way to have large chunks of your skin peel off and waft to the floor during class.” The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat: “. . . there are no mistakes, only opportunities.” So to improve your life,…continue reading →