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Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan (2005)

Blurb on back:  John and Jenny were just beginning their life together. They were young and in love, with a perfect little house and not a care in the world. Then they brought home Marley, a wiggly yellow furball of a puppy. Life would never be the same.  Marley quickly grew into a barreling, ninety-seven-pound streamroller of a Labrador retriever, a dog like no other. He crashed through screen doors, gouged through drywall, flung drool on guests, stole women's undergarments, and ate nearly everything he could get his mouth around, including couches and fine jewelry. Obedience school did no good - Marley was expelled. Neither did the tranquilizers the veterinarian prescribed for him with the admonishment, "Don't hesitate to use these."

And yet Marley's heart was pure. Just as he joyfully refused any limits on his behavior, his love and loyalty were boundless, too. Marley shared the couple's joy at their first pregnancy, and their heartbreak over the miscarriage. He was there when babies finally arrived and when the screams of a seventeen-year-old stabbing victim pierced the night. Marley shut down a public beach and managed to land a role in a feature-length movie, always winning hearts as he made a mess of things. Through it all, he remained steadfast, a model of devotion, even when his family was at its wit's end. Unconditional love, they would learn, comes in many forms.

Is it possible for humans to discover the key to happiness through a bigger-than-life, bad-boy dog? Just ask the Grogans.

Thoughts:  The stories about Marley are absolutely hilarious.  Anyone who has been around an American Labrador will know what Grogan is talking about - they are the (very muscular and fun-loving) ADHD kids of the canine species.  Although I could admonish the Grogans for not doing any research whatsoever before picking up a puppy, I find it quite endearing that they admit to having picked a yellow lab because of the witty dogs pictured in Larson's The Far Side.  The downside about the book is that the Marley stories are not the only thing in it - there is an awful amount of descriptions of the Grogans' work and moving and children and houses and neighborhoods, which didn't interest me very much.  It was worth the time, but (since I'm not a fan of the tear-jerker genre) not by any means a must-read.

Rating: 5/10

#71

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How Not to Die by Jan Garavaglia (2008)

                                       

How Not to Die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer, and Healthier from America's Favorite Medical Examiner by Jan Garavaglia (2008)

Blurb on back:  "There are many lessons that can be learned from the dead - lessons that can help us, the living, take better care of ourselves," writes Dr. Jan Garavaglia, medical examiner and star of a popular forensics TV show, who has performed thousands of autopsies.  Using actual cases as vivid examples, Dr. G demonstrates how most causes of death are preventable - and how we can avoid dying too young.  In How Not To Die, you'll learn why taking too much vacation can kill you - but also why not taking a vacation can damage your health; why kids are safer on long airplane or car trips than adults (hint: they fidget more) and what you can do on your next trip to be safer, too; why women live longer than men, and how men can increase their chances of living to ninety; why you should be careful if your doctor wears a tie - and also how to know when it's time to ditch him or her; the most important thing to look for when you're buying shoes.  Quirky, informative, eye opening, and surprisingly funny, How Not To Die describes in detail the careless things we do to our bodies every day and gives us the crucial advice we need to live healthier, longer lives.

Thoughts:  I was already a huge fan of Dr. G's when I read this book, so there's no surprise that I enjoyed it.  The reasons that I am a fan permeates the whole book, though - not only is she extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the area of forensics, but she is so open about her personal life and feelings that you can't help but like her.  I am particularly impressed with the way she handles the next of kin of the people she works on - very admirable.  The book is basically a guide to the main destructive things we humans do to ourselves in order to end the already short life we have - it's not a diet and exercise guide by any means, but rather just sound advice from a person who sees, on a daily basis, what happens when we don't follow the doctor's orders.  Definitely worth a read!!  If you are a follower of the show, though, be aware that the example cases that she writes about here are cases that have been shown on the show.  I think there were only one or two cases that I hadn't already seen.

Rating: 8/10

#70

                                       

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach (2008)

Blurb on back:  The study of sexual physiology — what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better — has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey's attic.

Mary Roach, "The funniest science writer in the country" (Burkhard Bilger of The New Yorker), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn't Viagra help women — or, for that matter, pandas? In Bonk, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm - two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth - can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place.

Thoughts:  This book is educational, amusing, and nauseating - all at once - which is quite an achievement.  It's become Roach's hallmark of sorts to educate, amuse and nauseate, and here she does it with usual gusto.  I must admit that it wasn't as shocking as I had been led to believe - most of the discoveries she made, I had already heard of (I was raised in a country where sex education is a big part of the biology curriculum), although the mechanics of some research made me gnash my teeth a little.  One thing that bothered me (and it may be over-sensitivity on my part), but Roach makes a humorous comment about doing sex studies in a hospital named for The Rambam.  It makes me wonder if she actually talked to someone there, because she would have known that it's pronounced "rombom," not Ram-Bam!  Perhaps that joke is just a little too cheap for my taste.  The biggest problem I had was not the book itself, but the audiobook reader who seemed like she had never read the book before recording it.  She reads so slowly and sometimes puts the emphasis in the wrong spot in a sentence.  Also, she insists on pronouncing "flaccid" as "flaxseed," which I know is an "approved" pronunciation, but "flaccid penis" and "flaxseed penis" give two completely different connotations!  Definitely worth a read (not a listen) and I'd say it's a few notches below Stiff and a few notches above Spook.

Rating: 6/10

#69
 

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V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1995)

Blurb on back:  "Good evening, London. It's nine o'clock and this is The Voice of Fate. It is the Fifth of the Eleventh, Nineteen-Ninety-Seven.  The people of London are advised that the Brixton and Streatham areas are quarantine zones as of today. It is suggested that these areas be avoided for reasons of health and safety...  Police raided seventeen homes in the Birmingham area early this morning, uncovering what is believed to be a major terrorist ring. Twenty people, eight of them women, are currently in detention awaiting trial...  The weather will be fine until 12:07 A.M. when a shower will commence, lasting until 1:30 A.M.... Have a pleasant evening."

A frightening and powerful story of the loss of freedom and identity in a totalitarian world. V for Vendetta is the chronicle of a world of despair and oppressive tyranny.  A work of sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta is everything comics weren't supposed to be.

England Prevails.

Thoughts:  This is one of my favorite books of all time.  I've re-read this at least once a year since its publication, not only because I enjoy the poetry of the language and the art of the drawings, but because I need a reminder now and again that I never want to fit into the norm and that one should never accept the unacceptable.  I think this is Alan Moore's crown achievement (although many would argue for Watchmen) because it's not a tale told for entertainment, but grew out of Moore's own personal frustration and anger at a place and time in history - and the story manages to reflect that call to arms, albeit with Moore's usual dry tone and cynical airs.  I love it, and will re-read it many, many times.

Rating: 9.5/10

#68

                                     

My Michael (org. Mikha'el sheli) by Amoz Oz (1968)

Blurb on back:  Set in 1950s Jerusalem, My Michael tells the story of a remote and intense woman named Hannah Gonen and her marriage to a decent but unremarkable man named Michael. As the years pass and Hannah's tempestuous fantasy life encroaches upon reality, she feels increasingly estranged from him and the marriage gradually disintegrates.  Gorgeously written and profoundly moving, this extraordinary novel is at once a haunting love story and a rich, reflective portrait of place.

Thoughts:  As far as literature goes, this is a fascinating tale of a disintegrating marriage, which fails mainly because the two people are so different that they seem to have no chance to ever emphasize with each other.  The father is a geologist, firmly rooted to the ground, and the mother is an imaginative dreamer, constantly striving towards her fantasies - even to the point that she makes herself get a fever so high she hallucinates.  It's a literature achievement, which, rightfully, put Oz on the map as a great writer.  However, for me personally, it was quite painful to read.  Hannah is not quite as bad as (what I consider) her literary "sibling," Emma Bovary, but it's quite painful to read about this woman who makes such poor decisions and then is unhappy when they don't pan out.  Great literature?  Without a doubt.  Enjoyable read?  For me, not really.  The fact that the characters are based on Oz’s own parents doesn’t really help the issue.

Rating: 6/10

#67
 

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)

Blurb on back:  A new collection from David Sedaris is cause for jubilation. His recent move to Paris has inspired hilarious pieces, including "Me Talk Pretty One Day," about his attempts to learn French. His family is another inspiration. "You Can't Kill the Rooster" is a portrait of his brother who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers and cashiers with 6-inch fingernails. Compared by The New Yorker to Twain and Hawthorne, Sedaris has become one of our best-loved authors.

Thoughts:  I had heard a lot about Sedaris when I picked up this book and I am quite disappointed.  It's actually painful when he attempts wittiness and only comes across as whiny - I even found myself feeling sorry for him at times.  Or, even worse, thinking him patronizing (to the reader), haughty (to his fellow characters), and, well, just whiny.  That doesn't mean that there are no funny stories in this book.  The story about the dog(s) had me in stitches, and Sedaris' ever butchering the French language is equally funny.  Not to mention the Israeli ex-intelligence officer who can't figure out if his best friend who is hitting on him is gay.  However, as a whole, the laughs were too few and the "observations" a little too unoriginal, and I won't go searching for more of his writing.

Rating: 4/10

#66
 

                                       

Ireland: A Graphic History by Morgan Llywelyn (1995)

Blurb on back:  Ireland, a Graphic History is a vividly illustrated depiction of the country's evolution, from Celtic roots to its present day realities. Two bestselling authors have teamed up with National Cartoon Company of Ireland to tell the story of Ireland in graphic narrative form. This combination of words and images brings history alive and makes it accessible to young and old alike. 
Ireland's six thousand year history is full of drama and intrigue, cruelty and compassion, humour and spirit. This book portrays it in a way that has never been done before and sets a new standard for history books of the future.

Thoughts:  Although Ireland and its history has always interested me (and I love graphic novels), this book fails to delivery anything spectacular for me.  The story-format (following two lovers through time) is just a little strained, because it only works in the case of Strongbow and Aoife where the love-story had an actual impact on history.  Parts of the book are not illustrated, just text describing historic events, and it sometimes feels as if the illustrated parts actually stop the flow of the text, which is hardly the purpose of a graphic novel.  I like the drawings very much and the topic is interesting to me, but all in all, it's not a hit.

Rating:  4/10

#65

                                        

Luftslottet som sprängdes by Stieg Larsson (2007) Millennium Trilogy Part 3

Blurb on back:  Två svårt skadade personer tas in på Sahlgrenska sjukhuset i Göteborg. Den ena är Lisbeth Salander, som är efterlyst misstänkt för dubbelmord. Hon har en livshotande skottskada i huvudet och måste opereras omedelbart. Den andre personen heter Alexander Zalachenko, en äldre man som Salander huggit med en yxa.  Den tredje och avslutande delen i Millenniumserien tar vid där Flickan som lekte med elden slutade. Lisbeth Salander överlevde visserligen att bli levande begravd, men hennes problem är långt ifrån över. Zalachenko har tidigare varit yrkesmördare i den sovjetiska underrättelsetjänsten. Han är dessutom Salanders far och det är han som försökt ta livet av henne. Starka krafter vill tysta Lisbeth Salander en gång för alla.  Samtidigt gräver Mikael Blomkvist i Salanders dolda förflutna och kommer snart sanningen på spåren. Han skriver på ett avslöjande reportage som kommer att rentvå Lisbeth Salander och skaka regeringen, Säpo och hela landet i dess grundvalar. Äntligen finns en chans för Lisbeth Salander att göra upp med sitt förflutna och en möjlighet för rättvisan - den verkliga - att segra.

Thoughts:  This is an excellent ending to the trilogy - full speed ahead to the beautiful end (I can't have been the only one who, out loud, was rooting Giannini on as she was sticking it to Teleborian).  There is a lot of stuff about Säpo's wheelings and dealings in this tome, but I find that interesting, so that was a plus for me.  I love how Larsson has thrown out so many threads throughout these books and manages to tie them all together in a clever manner without much strain.  And, of course, Blomkvist is still getting laid like there was no tomorrow, so no change there.  :)

Rating:  7.5/10

#64

                                         

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar (org. Le Chat du Rabbin) (2005)

Blurb on back:  In Algeria in the 1930s, a cat belonging to a widowed rabbi and his beautiful daughter, Zlabya, eats the family parrot and gains the ability to speak. To his master’s consternation, the cat immediately begins to tell lies (the first being that he didn’t eat the parrot). The rabbi vows to educate him in the ways of the Torah, while the cat insists on studying the kabbalah and having a Bar Mitzvah. They consult the rabbi’s rabbi, who maintains that a cat can’t be Jewish — but the cat, as always, knows better.  Zlabya falls in love with a dashing young rabbi from Paris, and soon master and cat, having overcome their shared self-pity and jealousy, are accompanying the newlyweds to France to meet Zlabya’s cosmopolitan in-laws. Full of drama and adventure, their trip invites countless opportunities for the rabbi and his cat to grapple with all the important — and trivial — details of life.

Thoughts:  An inventive story partly about Judaism and partly about family relations (no matter what religion you are).  The cat is a perfect mix of the most annoying human traits and the most annoying cat traits, which serves the story well since he can question things that the "educated" people take for granted.  Plus, he's a cat, so he can ask the uncomfortable questions without batting an eye.  The drawings are very good, but I wish the narrator-font was a little more legible.  This volume contains the three first books: La Bar-Mitsva, Le Malka des Lions, and L'exode.

Rating:  6.5/10

#63

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